Interview With Grand Master Leung Shum
(Originally Published in the July/August 1996 issue of the Wu Gong Journal)
Eagle Claw is one of the oldest and most famous Chinese martial arts systems of Northern China. Would you please give us an account of the system’s origins and background?
The Eagle Claw system is a Northern Chinese Martial Arts style. It originated in the Sung Dynasty and was made famous by General Yue Fei, a great hero in China’s ancient history. Yue Fei taught his soldiers 108 techniques which were known as 108 Eagle Claw Locking Hand. With these techniques. Yue Fei’s army was able to defeat the Mongolian soldiers on many occasions. However, Yue Fei was betrayed to the King by the Prime Minister, Qing Hui, and shortly after being recalled from his post, he was executed.
After his death, many of the soldiers left the army and dispersed, taking the 108 techniques with them. A monk named Li Quan was a great master of Fan Zi. He incorporated the jumping, kicking. and tumbling of the Fan Zi style with the powerful locking techniques of Eagle Claw, thus making a more powerful and complete fighting system known as Fan Zi Ying Jow.
The next significant person in the history of the style was Dao Ji, who taught Fa Cheng. He in turn taught Liu Sui Jun, who passed the system on to his nephew, Liu Cheng You, who in turn taught his son, Liu Zi Wan and his sister’s son, Chen Zi Zheng. Chen Zi Zheng was a formidable fighter who never had to use more than three techniques to defeat an opponent. He became known as the Eagle Claw King. Chen Zi Zheng was invited to teach at the Jing Wu Association in Shanghai. Later, other Jing Wu branches were established, one being in Hong Kong where Liu Fa Meng propagated the style. My teacher, Wu Hui Nong, was a senior disciple of Liu Fa Meng. I learned from him for twenty years and brought the style to the United States in 1972.
What are some of the characteristics that make Eagle Claw different from other styles?
The movements look very much the same as other Northern styles, but the claw is different than the hand position of other styles, for example. praying mantis and tiger claw styles. Although the hand is used, they form it and use it differently. The special thing in Eagle Claw is the catching. After you catch you can do any technique that you want. You control the opponent. You build up strong fingers. You go for pressure points. Even some of the other styles that have pressure points got them from Eagle Claw.
Hun Quan and Lin Quan are considered among the core forms of Eagle Claw. They are unusually long and complex. Would you please discuss with us the importance of these forms as well as their origins?
These forms are pure Eagle Claw. Lin Quan is the Mother, containing 50 rows with different techniques in each row. In it are the different techniques, different Qi applications, and different breathing. It is like the dictionary of Eagle Claw. Hun Quan is the Father (or King) of Eagle Claw, containing 10 rows. Each row contains a minimum of 15 movements. Each movement is useful: locking, hitting, sweeping. This is an excellent form for fighting.
The system of Eagle Claw contains many forms. Certain techniques recur several times in each form. What is the significance of this?
In all the systems, techniques repeat in the forms. For example, in the Taiji form, single whip is repeated several times. This is the case in all Gong Fu. The techniques are repeated for different reasons: a certain technique has good application, or perhaps it trains a certain skill. In Eagle Claw, some clawing techniques are common in many forms, but then this is the heart of the system.
Taming the Tiger Fist is an advanced Eagle Claw form which develops proper breathing methods. Please share the essence of its practice with us.
I still am not really sure if this form is an original Eagle Claw form. I saw a demonstration of this form at the Singapore Jing Wu Association by someone who did not do Eagle Claw. It was the same form though some of the actions were different. He had no name for the form, but it looked the same as our form. Taming the Tiger Fist is easy to learn but hard to master. As for the benefits, from it we learn cooperation between soft and hard energy, up and down, fast and slow, exhaling and inhaling. If you practice it for a long time, your body changes. The hand and chest muscles as well as the internal organs become very strong, and the mind becomes clear. A clear mind allows you to make quick judgments in fighting.
Another important aspect of Eagle Claw is the practice of the 108 locking techniques. What is the significance of their practice?
There are 108 different kinds of locks. For example the 108 locks contain 10 different kinds of elbow locks, 10 different kinds of wrist locks, etc. Each of these 10 is an example, or foundation that can be built upon to create many variations. Originally, there was no set order to learning these locks, and so they were very hard to remember. My Shifu kept a big notebook of all these locks, and when he taught, he numbered 10 locks for each joint. Three techniques were used with every lock so that it could be used effectively for fighting. So far, I have only taught 80 of the 108. The 20 remaining are very gymnastic and hard to learn. Mostly head and waist locks. The last 8 are death locks and I will only teach them to someone who is proven to be the right person, who will not misuse or abuse them. These can be only used for matters of life and death.
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