The following is a short excerpt from my upcoming book detailing the Shaolin 18 Lohan Palm I have learned from Master Chen Qi Ming.
18 Lo Han Palm as Martial Art
The legend of Shaolin Kung Fu claims that Bodhidharma created three exercises and these three exercises gave birth to the foundations of Shaolin Martial Arts. While this is very suspect as history the legend itself serves a purpose. The three exercises are heavily weighted to their purposes. The Muscle Tendon Change is meant to train and transform the body inside and out. The Bone Marrow Washing meant to help transform the mind and spirit, and the 18 Lohan Palm acts as the balancing point in the middle. Working both the mind and body to integrate with one another in the balance of motion and stillness, yin and yang. The Lohan Palm then is the most movement-based and martially useful of these three exercises from a combat point of view. It has a balancing point between movement in the body and stillness in the mind coupled with movements and shapes of the body that are easily adapted for fighting.
When I had been training with Master Chen for several years, one night we began talking about Lohan as a martial art. It is important to realize that Shifu began his martial arts training as a child in Guangzhou in Wong Fei Hong’s Hung Ga for many years before meeting the Monk Dan Zhen Dat Ga who taught him, Lohan. Shifu also was a Master at the Chin Woo Martial Arts Association and help to found the Guangzhou branch. This means before he trained me, he had forty to fifty years of martial arts experience in different styles including some matches against others. He was no stranger to applications and combat training or fighting.
At the time I had been training for many years and was running my own Kung Fu school and so Shifu asked me to show him the applications of the art. At this purely physical level of combat, I went through the form movement by movement and demonstrated what I thought was good uses for each. Joint locks and breaks, groin attacks, head butts, strikes, throws… and each and every time I was met with the same response.
“Yes, but be Buddhist. More Buddhist.”
This was the beginning of the real training. I had been training under the eyes of Master Ma for years and my interpretation of applications had become coloured by his views. Everything was always about the quickest way to do the most damage and everything he taught was this way.
Ma was no Buddhist.
Master Chen began going through each of the movements with me and showing me the simplest, most kind to the opponent applications I had ever seen. Breaks turned into locks and pushes away. Strikes were aimed away from vital spots on the body. Kicks became pushes and ways to knock people off balance – the leg mangling methods I was taught by Ma looked so far from Buddhist it nearly made me sick to my stomach. I suddenly felt so embarrassed I had shown Shifu my applications because I had shown him my mind and the mind of my teacher. I had always tried to be a kind person, studied Buddhism and meditated but to me at that time martial arts was not about peace at all. I practiced methods only for harming others and practiced getting better at it. Unsure of myself I would go out with some of my more ruffian friends and find trouble to see if I could actually fight.
Now here I was, trying to be a badass in front of the kindest martial artist I had ever met. Luckily for me, Shifu Chen had seen this all before and was kind enough to patiently take me through the combat strategy of Lohan while starting me on the most important aspect of the training – transforming myself.
Rule 1 – Be Nice
The cardinal rule of 18 Lohan Palm in Combat is to do as little harm as possible to the opponent. But, do not interpret this as “no damage” to the opponent. It means instead that you should defend yourself while keeping their well being in mind. Ideally, an opponent should never raise their hands against you in the first place. However, when it is unavoidable, the Lohan player should choose to try keep the opponent unable to harm them, while giving them a deterrent as well.
Rule 2 – Not that Nice
If arm banging has been trained properly, for example, the first touch of an opponent’s arm or body should be heavy and powerful. The ideals of the art mean we will try to move them to a position where they will not harm us. Either throw them far away, bumping them into the air, tripping them to the ground, or striking a nonvital part of their body with enough force to deter more violence. If the opponent persists the Lohan player will increase the 56amount of damage they will do to an opponent as needed. This can be such a powerful blow that an opponent may drop to their knees from it stopping the encounter. So long as the damage is not permanent the Lohan is still remaining compassionate for the opponent. A good example I was given of this is striking with the Ox Tongue palm as a chop downwards on the top of the shoulder (GB 21 – Jiang Jing). This is the most down bearing point in the body as a heavy strike like “1000 Soldiers” done down into it should drive an opponent to their knees. I know it sure worked on me. (Do NOT use this point on pregnant women it can inspire labour).
Rule 3 Try not to kill anyone
This can mean broken bones, dislocations, and so on, ideally nothing that cannot be healed from. The word Shifu took the time to translate to English carefully for me was “wounded”, an opponent should never be wounded by a Lohan – Be Buddhist. Even when in dire straits the Lohan should choose to not take a life unless absolutely necessary. The entire purpose of taking an art like this into physical movement and combat is to use it as a way to transform the mind and body. Here the mind must remain still and calm in order to remove emotions like fear or anger which lead to the intention of doing harm to the opponent.
This trinity of ‘rules’ of conduct for the Lohan mirror the art itself. The earthy base of the Jing “try not to kill anyone” versus the ideals of the Shen / Heaven “Be Nice – Do No Harm.” To the reality of “Nice. But not THAT nice.” That is the relationship between the Virtue and the Ills of the mind being expressed – the Qi of the whole mental state. Reality just is. It doesn’t care about your hopes or ideals, so if you must fight, you likely need to be all the things that will help you win. Just try not to be a dick about it.
The book started as organizing of my thoughts and notes from my training with Shifu. But now it has taken on a life of its own. Currently, it is separated into three books – Jing, Qi, and Shen – Foundations, Practice, Combat.
It will be available on my: Books Website
Help me keep sharing everything! https://www.patreon.com/rjma