The Origins of Ngo Cho Kun

The Meaning of Ngo Cho

Ngo Cho Kun 五祖拳 is from the Hokkian language that is predominantly spoken in the Fujian province of China and also by overseas ethnic Chinese in the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Taiwan. The words translate to “Five Ancestors Fist”.

The Song Dynasty and the migration of Kung Fu to the South

During the Yuan Dynasty 1271- 1368 AD, China was ruled by the Mongols who had defeated the people of the Song Dynasty after a long war.

For hundreds of years, the Mongols, under Kublai Khan, ruled China. In order to survive the invasion, the Tai Cho 太祖 martial art system expanded to fight back against the Mongols.

The Tai Cho martial art system was established during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) by the Song Emperor Zhao Kuangyin 趙匡義 . Known as a great martial artist, the emperor displayed reputable martial art style that represented the imperial prowess of the emperor’s dynasty. At the time, the Tai Cho system by Emperor Song consisted primarily of kung fu styles known from Northern China. However, when the Mongols invaded and conquered China and established the Yuan dynasty in 1279, the Song Tai Cho martial arts went underground and made its way to Southern China.

By the end of the Yuan Dynasty, a great warrior stepped forward and led a rebellion against the Mongols. Using an evolved system of Tai Cho that expanded on close range fighting techniques, Zhu Yuanzhang was able to lead his troops to victory, liberating China from the oppression of the Mongols. This new martial art system emphasised more on short range and heavy conditioning applications of fighting skills designed for easy manoeuvring on the battlefield. This adaptation of Tai Cho became known as Ming Hung Quan (Ming Great Fist).

Admiral Zheng Gong (Koxinga)

The Ming Hung Quan was developed mostly in the south of China, primarily in the Fujian province. When the Manchurians invaded and conquered China, replacing the Ming Dynasty with the Qing Dynasty, the Fujian Province prepared to resist with the training and development of the Ming Tai Cho Martial Art. The last Ming official military to resist the Qing was Admiral Zheng Gong, known as Koxinga in the west. Admiral Zheng expelled the Dutch from Taiwan and established a strong naval base that successfully held off the Qing army advances towards Quanzhou, Xiamen and Taiwan. The unit suffered a blow with his death in 1661. The Ming forces soon surrendered to the Qing, marking the end of the Ming Dynasty.

Resistance against the Qing

Resistance against the Qing’s rule continued even after the fall of the Ming dynasty. Secret societies were formed where the members plotted to overthrow the Qing and restore the Ming. During this time, the concept of combining the styles and essence of the Five Ancestors were introduced by these secret societies. The most notable secret society was the Tien De Hui (天地会 Heaven Earth Society). The introduction of the Five Ancestors was to remind local Chinese about the Ming dynasty, the legacy of past dynasties and its history. These memories would keep the spirit of resistance alive.

The Five Ancestors were:

  • Tai Cho – who represents the emperors and dynasty of China,
  • Guan Nim Ma – the goddess of mercy who is worshipped by both Taoism and Buddhism, the two major religions of dynasty China at that time,
  • Lo Han – who represents the loyal warrior monks, their loyalty to the emperors and their contribution in helping local villagers,
  • Da Mo – the monk responsible for introducing Buddhism to China,
  • Xuan Nu – the female monk that is believe to be responsible in advancing pressure point science and medicine.

The Five Ancestors were venerated with altars set up at the kung fu clubs and training halls of the secret societies.

In honour of the Ming Dynasty, the Ming Hung Tai Zu style continued to be practised as a symbol of resistance to the Qing and in hope that China would find liberation and that the Ming Dynasty would be restored. It wasn’t until 1911 when the secret societies practising this style of kung fu succeeded in overthrowing the Qing and established the modern China. Led by Dr. Sun Yet Sen, this China was based on the three principle San Min Zhu Yi:

  1. Minzu – the nationalism of a government for the people of the people;
  2. Mingquan – the democracy of a free government elected by the people of a government with check and balance between the legislative, judiciary and executive branches of government;
  3. Minsheng – the social justice education, jobs, land reform and right to private ownership and commerce.

The Shaolin Temple’s Involvement

After the Qing fully conquered northern China in 1661, many Ming loyalists, family members and military officials retreated to the south where some sought refuge inside the south Shaolin and other Buddhist and Taoist temples in Quanzhou and Fujian. It was at these temples where they began to train in martial arts, using the temples as a base to conduct anti Qing movements.

The Shaolin temple became a depository, storage and library for much of martial art sciences, training and information. Many retiring officials, generals, soldiers, martial arts fighters, including former bandits, assassins etc., came to the temple to seek a new life of penance and repentance and found solace in their residence at the temple. The Shaolin temple in line with their Buddhist teachings of compassion and forgiveness openly welcomed these repenting people. The temple gave them refuge while the retired fighters gave their knowledge of martial science to safeguard within their libraries.

While they trained religiously, there was little the temples could do to stop the sufferings and atrocities caused by the conquering Qing armies. The temples had to make a choice of whether to close their gates to these refugee official and soldiers, surrender them to the Qing, or allow them to stay and train in secret to rebel against the Qing.

The resistance against the Qing was intense and southern martial arts continued developing in order to train the southerners to fight off the Qing invaders. The Chinese fought with the slogan fan Qing, fu Ming, which translates to “destroy the Qing, restore the Ming.” But as the resistance grew stronger, so did the efforts of the Qing armies.

The Shaolin temple made no secret that they opposed the Qing. In 1734, the Qing decided to attack and destroy the Shaolin temples to eradicate the rebels. They succeeded in killing almost all of the inhabitants in the monastery. Although there were many other temples that sheltered rebels and promoted the teaching of martial arts, the Shaolin temple was singled out mainly because of the large number of rebels residing within the temple and because of the Shaolin’s history of aligning itself with the Ming. The Qing used the destruction of the Shaolin temple as an example to all other temples hosting rebels, warning them that if they continued to resist, they would be destroyed as well.

As Tai Cho martial art started to spread to the general population, the Qing created strict rules so that all martial art schools would be strictly regulated. However, many rebels continued to practice in secret and did their best to avoid the prying eyes of the Qing to avoid getting shut down or attacked by the Qing army. Even though they were against the Qing, many martial arts schools hid their sentiments and created a coded hand signal to recognize fellow patriots.

Martial Art Style

Song Tai Cho Martial Art

The Tai Cho martial art system continues to exist, but is now more commonly known as Tai Cho Chang Chuan (Emperor Long Fist).

This is a long-range fighting system. A popular motto for this style is “the best defence is a strong offence,” in which the practitioner uses large, extended movements to counter attacks.

This style use full extended kicks and striking techniques and is considered a long-range fighting system. The three basic stances of Long Fist include Horse, Dragon and Snake. Practitioners of this style used their forearms and shins as well as feet and fists.

The Chang Chuan (长拳) is identified with Northern or Song Tai Cho martial arts. Its system was founded by the Song emperor Zhao Kuangyin and is known as “Chang Chuan”. The meaning behind the name long fist was due to the way its fighting concept emphasises long circular punches. This style contains whirlwind hook punches, swinging punches, circular upper cuts, cross cuts, and reverse swing punches, as well as various kicking techniques, such as circular round house kicks, jump kicks and spinning kicks. The fighting stance tends to be wide with low outstretched stances, like the arrow bow stance. A style of kung fu that has evolved from the Song Tai Cho Fist is the Choy Li Fut martial art system.

Ming Hung Quan Tai Cho

Ming Hung Tai Cho Quan (明洪太祖洪拳) was introduced during the Ming dynasty in honour of the Ming emperor Zhu Yuanzhang. This style was different from the Song Tai Cho martial art system in a way that the Ming Tai Cho concentrated more on close combat and the utilisation of powerful and explosive techniques to drop and defeat an opponent quicker. The system was an amalgamation of all the known kung fu styles at that time tested and proven for its practicality and effectiveness. The system uses explosive bursting technique, training in hitting and striking conditioning, and training to toughen the body to take, absorb and deflect hits. Strength training is also a big part of Ming Hung Tai Zu. The striking and kicking techniques are concentrated and directional with less long range swinging punches. The forms include straight punches, jabs, and angle punches, as well as powerful snap kicks, tripping, sweeping, and flying scissor kicks. The fighting stances are triangle-shaped in proportion to the body size of the individual person; the stances are as wide as the shoulder and are not very low. This style also includes the training in the use of weaponry such as swords, cutlass, spears, knives, cudgel, lance, trident, crescent pole blade and many more.

Both the Song and Ming Tai Zu martial arts had a significant role in the development of modern martial arts. They are the blueprint and core of a number of other martial arts styles, such as Hung Gar, Choy Li Fut, Ngo Cho Kun and Japanese karate.

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