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  Home  ->  Classes  ->  Northern Kung Fu  ->  History of Tien Shan Pai
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History of Tien Shan Pai

Tien Shan Pai

Hung Yun Szu (Red Cloud) was a monk in the monastery T'ien Shan Szu. The story of his rise to prominence as head boxing master there is perhaps apocryphal, but it is part of the legend of the rigorous devotion required of those who would master the martial art of kung-fu. When he was named to his position as head boxing master, Hung Yun Szu left the monastery. He felt that if he stayed he would only cause dissension because of jealous seniors to the position.

In his travels Hung Yun Szu perfected the forms and styles of other systems of martial art. Finally he returned to the T'ien Shan mountain area near the Russian-Chinese border and established his own monastery. Hung Yun Szu taught boxing and the devotion and purity required by his former masters. His system was widely used, especially when the Han Tsu (Chinese population) fought the invasion of the Man Tsu (Manchurian barbarians). The temple was called the Hung Yun Szu and the founder was called Hung Yun Lao Tsu (Reverend Elder Monk Yung Yun). His system of kung fu is now known as T'ien Shan Pai Kung-Fu.

T'ien Shan is the name of a harsh, desolate mountain range near the western border of Russia and China. During the later days of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.), a group of Buddhist monks inhabited the eastern region of these mountains and built a temple they called T'ien Shan Szu. Here they devoted themselves to the dictums of their religion. And, to stay fit and capable of defending themselves against bands of marauders, they used their leisure hours to practice and develop a form of boxing.

Between their monastic occupations and boxing, these holy men lived a secluded but fulfilling life, led by their head priest Yuan Chueh. It is said that Yuan Chueh had a face as round as the moon but as eternally warm and vital as the sun. Even at 80, few wrinkles lined his face and legend has it that much of his vigor and youthfulness came from his order's regimen of boxing exercises. From his parents' farm a few miles south of T'ien Shan Szu, an extraordinary peasant boy of about twelve became familiar with life inside the temple. Gradually, his interest grew to fascination, then admiration and finally, devotion. He dreamed constantly of what was said to be the monks' pure, simple and divine existence. But, he was hesitant and unsure of how his dream might become a reality.

Fortunately, the young boy came to know two priests from the temple. Through them, he learned that prospective novices, to prove their sincerity and purity of heart, must ask for mercy at the gates of the temple, kneeling there for three days and nights, without food, water or shelter.

Tien Shan Pai

At that wintry time of year, the rugged vastness of T'ien Shan was armored in snow, ice and blistering cold. But the youth was eager and impatient. To delay would cause greater pain than any injury the mountains could inflict. So, he set out for the temple gates, slipping on ice-covered rocks that, in their density and sharpness, seemed to reach out for him, ripping his flesh. By the time he reached T'ien Shan Szu, darkness had poured over the mountains and a maniacal blizzard drove in to continue the assault on his tired body.

Tapping at the door, the boy knelt before the front gate. Although no one answered, he continued to wait. The winds slapped at him angrily, again and again, freezing his tears of pain The cold arrogantly blew numbness into his arms and legs. Yet, with no response from within the temple, he continued his vigil until, finally, the blizzard's relentless attack brought oblivion.

The next morning, after the storm had retreated, his two friends from within the monastery came out to replenish the water supply. To their surprise, they found an unconscious form, blanketed in snow, kneeling outside the front gate, frozen to the ground, body stiff with cold. Brushing the snow off its face, they recognized the peasant boy from the farm below who had shown so earnest a desire to be part of their order.

The two monks rushed inside to tell Yuan Chueh about the boy at the gate. The old man, palms together in a salute to Heaven, murmured, "Have mercy on him," and accompanied his subordinates outside. On seeing the near lifeless youth, he carried him inside with a profound sense of urgency. But, as he bent to pick the boy up, he inadvertently pulled the skin off the youth's knees, which were frozen to the ground. As they reentered the temple, thick crimson stains of blood remained on the snow, showing where the boy had so diligently knelt in devotion.

Inside, cradling the youth in his arms, the old priest lay the silent form on a mattressed platform in front of the temple shrine. By using a heated metal slap to go over different parts of the youth's body and feeding him a medicinal soup of ginger and herbs, the old man was able to revive the frozen devotee. Deeply moved by the degree of sincerity and dedication shown in one so young, Yuan Chueh accepted the youth's pledge and had his hair shaved to signify his membership in the order.

Tien Shan Pai

Meanwhile, outside, with the storm gone, the sun grinned wildly and brushed warmth over the mountains. As the snow melted, the crimson stain left by the boy's knees spread shyly. Then, growing bolder, it formed a red mist and rose, floating higher and higher, happily following the sun's knowing smile as it faded into the horizon. Observing this strange scene, the old priest was greatly inspired and called out, "Red Cloud! Surely this is the boy's name." And so, the boy came to be called Hung Yun (Red Cloud).

All the disciples were taught various forms of boxing and normally, each of them excelled in one or two of these forms. Hung Yun, however, learned and excelled in every form taught and as his precocious intelligence and assiduity began to assert themselves, he mastered and developed each form in a uniquely effective manner. By the time he was 20. He had risen above the abilities of his eleven classmates and none of them dared challenge him.

Yuan Chueh left this life and achieved Nirvana at ninety. As was the custom, before his death, he summoned all his disciples to his chamber to name a successor. While he named Chih Hui, the eldest disciple, head priest, he designated Hung Yun boxing master of the temple. Hung Yun, however, while pleased with his master's decision, was not unaware of the jealousy and antagonism it caused among his fellows. Recognizing, too, that discretion is indeed sometimes the better part of valor, he secretly left the mountain. As a mendicant monk, he traveled widely and, through meetings and conversations with fighters he met as he wandered, Hung Yun broadened and developed his own advanced boxing skills. Through persuasion, contributions, boxing demonstrations of his skills and even begging, he collected a substantial amount of money. But, because the material needs of a Buddhist monk are minimal, he saved most of it, returning to the western region of T'ien Shan to pay homage to Yuan Chueh.

Here, he used the money collected to build another temple, Yuan Chueh Szu. When the temple was complete, he recruited disciples of high intelligence and marked physical and mental potential. And, in accordance with his late master's desires, Hung Yun taught not only devotion and purity but various forms of boxing. Also, he generally named the boxing taught in the temple T'ien Shan Pai. The rest of his life was spent as the master of this temple. He left this life and achieved Nirvana at ninety.

Eventually, the Ming Dynasty collapsed and was succeeded by the Ch'ing Dynasty, established by the northern barbarians, the Man Tsu (Manchu). The Han Tsu (the Chinese population proper), the conquered people of the Ming Dynasty, however, balked at what they considered subjugation by uncivilized, inferior heathens. Although they were never successful in their attempts to overthrow the Manchurian regime, they cherished the hope of driving out the northemers and reestablishing the Han aristocracy. Because their patriotism, combined with their boxing skills, provided some measure of retaliatory action, the disciples of Hung Yun were invaluable to the resistance efforts of the Han Tsu. In memory of their efforts and in recognition of Hung Yun's development of the art of boxing, the people renamed Yuan Chueh Szu, calling the temple Hung Yun Szu. Hung Yun himself was elevated to a position of high honor and respect and came to be called Hung Yun Lao Tsu (Reverend Elder Monk Hung Yun).

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