Today there are many Chinese styles sharing the name of Tongbiquan. Many of them have origins in Shaolin Monastery (Chin.: Shàolínsì 少林寺), but have developed externally, changing with the style of the local people from region to region. While those styles are not what is taught or practiced in Shaolin Monastery today, they can still be called Shaolin styles. However, they are visually easily distinguishable from Shaolin Monastery Tongbiquan.
The Shaolin Tongbi subsystem includes several boxing sets. For example, Small Full-Arm Boxing (Chin.: Xiǎotōngbìquán 小通臂拳) and Large Full-Arm Boxing (Chin.: Dàtōngbìquán 大通臂拳). Further, there are distinct flavors of Tongbiquan practiced by the monks of the different courtyards of Shaolin Monastery. Ven. Master Shi Suxi (Chin.: Shì Sùxǐ 释素喜) was family-head of the Southern Courtyard (Chin.: Nányuàn 南院), which has its unique flavor of Tongbi boxing sets, referred to as Southern Courtyard Full-Arm Boxing (Chin.: Nányuàn Tōngbìquán 南院通臂拳).
The name Tongbi (通臂) is sometimes easily confused with other Chinese styles called Tōngbèi (通背). In these styles, Tong (通) means "to pass through". Bei (背) means "the back" (of the body). The name describes how the energy is sent through the body passing "through-the-back", spiraling out from the spine.
Shaolin Tongbi not only has a different concept, but also different characters. In this case, the character Bì (臂), meaning "arm", is used. It can sometimes be pronounced bèi, which easily leads to confusion of the styles if the characters are not known. Furthermore, in Shaolin Tongbiquan, Tong (通) carries the meaning of the Chinese word tōngtong (通通). It is simply the character meaning "to pass through" doubled. The meaning of this word is "all", "entire", "complete", or "full".
Shaolin Tongbiquan is a type of Pictographic Boxing (Chin.: Xiàngxíngquán 象形拳). Pictographic Boxing usually refers to boxing styles that imitate the actions and mannerisms of animals. Shaolin Tongbiquan is the only type of pictographic boxing that belongs to the non-pictographic boxing styles of Shaolin. That is, it was created according to the long arms of monkeys. However, it only takes over the spirit rather than the form of monkeys. It is therefore not an imitative style in form, only in use. The monkeys' use of the entire length of their arms is what is meant by "full-arm".
Shaolin Tongbiquan sets were created based on three foundations, i.e. Shaolin Small Flood Boxing (Chin.: Xiǎohóngquán 小洪拳), Large Flood Boxing (Chin.: Dàhóngquán 大洪拳) and Monkey Boxing (Chin.: Hóuquán 猴拳). Elements of each can be found in the Tongbiquan sets.
Shaolin Datongbiquan is the most widely practiced set from the Shaolin Tongbi subsystem. The names of several movements in the set come from common Chinese idioms, or have Buddhist significance. For example, "Erlang holds mountain" (Chin.: èrláng dānshān 二郎担山). Erlang is a very powerful Chinese god who is said to be able to defeat any opponent while carrying a mountain on each arm. This is the posture which in other sets is commonly called "bow step single whip" (Chin.: gōngbù dānbiān 弓步单鞭), standing in Gongbu with one arm to the front, and one to the back in a straight line. When performing this posture one takes on the power of Erlang. Extended into daily life and practice, one develops the energy to tackle any obstacle while carrying two mountains. In a word, determination! Very important.
"Dancing Flower Kicks" (Chin.: wǔhuā qǐjiǎo 舞花起脚) is another of Buddhist significance. "Dancing Flowers" is an analogy used by Shakyamuni Buddha (Chin.: Shìjiāmóunífó 释迦牟尼佛) in the Shurangama Sutra (Chin.: Léngyánjīng 楞严经) for the aggregate of "form" (Chin.: sèyùn 色蕴). The Buddha says when you press on your eyes you see flowers dancing about in space. Basically they are an illusion. The aggregate of form is the same way. It is a fault in the seeing of unawakened beings.
Many people ask why Shaolin Warrior Monks (Chin.: wǔsēng 武僧) practice such violent techniques. There are more peaceful exercises that can be done. Why punching and kicking?
Basically Shaolin Wugong is only as dangerous as one's state of mind. As John Milton said in Paradise Lost in 1666; "The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven." Harmfulness comes from the confused mind. "Violent" and "pacifist" are dancing flowers. When one understands this, punches and kicks are too just dancing flowers. When the seeing is faulty they can be solidified and harmful. It is a huge mistake. That is why traditionally a student of Shaolin is instructed in Warrior Ethics (Chin.: Wǔdé 武德) before ever being trained physically, and must study the Buddhadharma (Chin.: Fófǎ 佛法).
Shaolin Datongbiquan Mnemonic (Chin.: gējué 歌诀).:
少林大通臂拳第一段 dìyī duàn - first section
Shaolin Large Full-Arm Boxing
(3 sections. 25 postures)
Shaolin Large Full-Arm Boxing
(3 sections. 25 postures)
1. golden sand flies from palm (Chin.: 金沙飞掌 jīnshā fēizhǎng)
2. beat tiger lean on mountain (Chin.: dǎhǔ kàoshān 打虎靠山)
3. nail heart with fist (Chin.: dīngxīn biǎoquán 钉心表拳)
4. erlang (Chinese god) holds mountain (Chin.: èrláng dānshān 二郎担山 )
5. double close iron gate (Chin.: shuāngguān tiěmén 双关铁门 )
6. flash gate with cannon fist (Chin.: shǎnmén pàoquán 闪门炮拳)
7. golden child offers diagram (Chin.: jīntóng xiàntú 金童献图)
8. thousand pound smashing fist (Chin.: qiānjīn záquán 千斤砸拳)
第二段 dìèr duàn - second section
9. draw bow release arrow (Chin.: lāgōng shèjiàn 拉弓射箭)
10. sparrow hawk overturns mountain (Chin.: yàozi fānshān 鹞子翻山)
11. hide flowers under arm (1) (Chin.: yèxià cánghuā (yī) 腋下藏花 (一))
12. hide flowers under arm (2) (Chin.: yèxià cánghuā (èr) 腋下藏花 (二))
13. single wind pierces through ear (Chin.: dānfēng guàn ěr 单风贯耳)
14. chase wind join together (Chin.: zhuīfēng xiānglián 追风相连)
15. steal sheep in passing (Chin.: shùnshǒu qiānyáng 顺手牵羊)
16. fierce tiger jumps mountain stream (Chin.: měnghǔ tiàojiàn 猛虎跳涧)
第三段 dìsān duàn - third section
17. use seal to overturn heaven (Chin.: zhíyìn fāntiān 执印翻天)
18. heavenly king supports pagoda (Chin.: tiānwáng tuōtǎ 天王托塔)
19. observe scenery move mountain (Chin.: guānjǐng yíshān 观景移山)
20. pearl roll curtain (Chin.: zhēnzhū juǎnlián 珍珠卷簾)
21. thunder god (leigong) flies across sky (Chin.: léigōng fēitiān 雷公飞天)
22. double wind pierces through ears (Chin.: shuāngfēng guàn ěr 双凤贯耳)
23. calm fist reins in horse (Chin.: lèmǎ ānquán 勒马安拳)
24. dancing flower kick (Chin.: 舞花起脚 wǔhuā qǐjiǎo)
25. five flowers sit on mountain (Chin.: wǔhuā zuòshān 五花坐山)
Master Shi Deyang (Chin.: Shì Déyáng Fǎshī 释德扬法师) demonstrates Shaolin Datongbiquan inside the Thousand Buddha Hall (Chin.: Qiānfódiàn 千佛殿) of Shaolin Monastery.:
-少林禅城 Shaolin Chan City
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