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19th September 1999

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Continuing our series on the martial arts

Wushu ways

By Udena R . Attygalle

Wushu is an art originating in China and is closely tied with Taoism and Buddhism. There are over one thousand variations or styles of this art.

It was originally given the name of Kung Fu by French missionaries who introduced it to the rest of Imagethe world.

The priests who originally practised Wushu were also well versed in medicine, music, art, history, languages etc... In short this was a complete way of life taught in temples .

The ranking system was simple: beginner, disciple and monk. Even today the ranking is done according to seniority. The true Wushu artiste depends a lot on Ch'i or inner strength rather than brute force.

The various styles came about when priests not being satisfied with one "truth" began pioneering their own innovations. Then there were those who left the temples and became civilians and taught their own methods combined with the temple ways. Later the civilians taught by them adapted the styles according to their own needs.

And so Wushu styles were divided into three main classes: the Shaolin temple styles, temple derived non-temple styles and family styles.

The Shaolin systems were developed from animal actions; cobra, dragon, praying mantis, tiger, crab systems etc........

Hard styles are ones that meet force with force (like Karate and Taekwondo). The soft styles teach ways of deflecting the incoming blow away from its target (Aikido and T'ai Chi).

There is also a classification of external and internal styles. But many believe that classifying a style is incorrect as many systems have both hard/soft and internal–external aspects.

With Wushu being recognised as an international sport in the '80's, a set of rules was devised to Imagegovern the new sport.

Manel Dharmakeerthi, Secretary General of the Sri Lanka Wushu Federation explained the seven styles recognized by the international federation as follows:

Bare hand styles = Thaijiquan, Nanquan and Chanquan.

Short apparatus styles( broad sword play, long sword play ) = Dao Shu ,and Jiang shu

Long apparatus styles ( spear play, cudgel play ) = Quiang shu and Gun shu.

At an international event, a competitor has to perform one style from each category as a routine/ ImageTaolu event ( i.e like a gymnastic routine ). These events are non-combative and are done alone.

The combat/ Saushou events are done according to weight categories. Here a fighter can only compete till he/she is 35.

Says Manel, "Many Wushu instructors don't know the international regulations of this sport, and so it will be some time till we can make our mark in this sport."

The knowledge of the finer points of this ancient art like ch'i among Sri Lankans, seems to be minute. A young instructor Neil Roshan said the Chinese don't give out the secrets of the real fighting systems like the Shaolin systems. "The internationally recognized systems are not as dangerous," he says.

A few of the Shaolin systems

Tiger system- rendering, tearing and breaking any open spaces of skin or limb left unguarded. Powerful kicks and grim clawing.

Snake system -mimics a snake in its coiling, undulating movements. Flowing and rippling with emphasis on the fingers. Stabbing hand motions to throat, face and genitals.

Crane system - Light, rapid foot work with an evasive attacking system. The graceful one-legged movements require a lot of meditation.

Cobra system - Here the basis is a stance like a cobra rising from the grass with a spread hood .The manoeuvres are swift and devastating.

Dragon system - Ch'i or inner power is used as the basis of this system. While a tiger stylist would use sheer force to break a rock, a dragon artist would do it with Ch'i projection.

Praying mantis system -Virtual lack of block. Believes in yielding to conquer.

Eagle system -is a vicious, ripping system with the bulk of the strikes at the eyes and throat.

Crab system - Closing off blood vessels and pinching nerves, thereby immobilizing part of or the whole body.

Drunken system- Seemingly unstable lurches that strike with little power, but exhausts the opponent with a series of arrhythmic oddly placed blows to tender parts of the body.

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