By Calvin Chen
Techniques of the Eight Immortals with Phillip Wong
In martial arts world, few forms are as mysterious and spellbinding as the drunken style. Its vast assortment of quick twists and turns, unpredictable falls and flips, have inspired the admiration and awe of audiences everywhere. Although the moves often appear harmless, they can be deadly against even the most skilled opponents. In the hands of experts, the drunken style is more than just an overpowering form: it is elegance and grace in motion.
Master Phillip Wong is one such expert. He has nearly 20 years of martial arts experience and still maintains a deep interest in all styles. In addition to wushu, he has also practiced traditional Northern and Southern styles, Shaolin kung-fu, and kajukempo with Master Jeff Wong in the United States. Incredibly, he has further elevated his level of expertise by training with the elite Beijing Wushu team, China's premier group of martial artists.
His extensive training and knowledge explains his impressive record in tournament competition. Wong counts among his various accomplishments grand championships at the Long Beach International Grand Championship (three times), the Battle of Atlanta, the U.S. Open, and many others as well. He was national champion several times and the all-around silver medalist at the International Wushu Championship in 1986.
He has also been featured in movies and television specials throughout Asia and recently, performed the action sequences for several video games, most notably Tekken 2 (fans know him better as Lei Wulong). Amazingly, he still finds time in his demanding schedule to teach and perform. "Whether I was performing or competing, my number one motivation has been the true love I have for the martial arts," says Wong.
Invariably, Phillip Wong is called upon to perform the drunken style, his favorite form and the style for which he is best known. He credits the 1980 U.S. tour of the Beijing Wushu team with stirring his initial fascination. "Before their exhibition, most demonstrations were not up to par in terms of skill level," he notes. Explaining the growth of his own interest in the form, Wong adds, "I saw one of the members perform the drunken style and was captivated. Not until I saw that did I realize the potential behind the style." Soon after, Phillip Wong began captivating audiences with his performances of the drunken fist.
Drunken Style Origins
Although the drunken style is not as well-known as systems like Shaolin kung-fu, it too boasts of a long, distinguished history. According to popular legend, both Buddhists and Taoists helped to develop this martial arts style.
The Buddhist version suggests the style originated with Liu Qizan, a famous martial artist during the Sung Dynasty. After accidentally killing a man, Liu became a Buddhist monk to avoid trial and to relieve his guilty conscience. Yet even after he joined the monastery, he never lost his love for Chinese wine.
Despite his monastic vows, he could not resist his fondness for drink and one day, drank a large amount of rice wine. The monks caught him in his intoxicated state and expelled him from the grounds, but not before he beat over 30 monks in individual duels. When he sobered up the next day, Liu reflected on the moves he employed. He refined the methods and movements and established drunken kung-fu as a style.
The Taoist story, the more popular of the two versions, focuses on the eight drunken immortals. Once while the immortals were together on a trip, they became so loud and rowdy after a drinking session that they angered the gods of the sea with their crazy antics. Unfortunately, the arguments that followed soon turned into a fight. The immortals, each using unique drunken techniques, easily defeated their opponents.
On the basis of these tales, the style continued to evolve and advance. Its highly flexible elements were soon combined in novel ways. The results include such styles as drunken monkey, drunken eagle claw, drunken sword, and drunken staff. Impressively, Master Wong is equally at home with drunken fist, drunken sword, and other drunken weapons forms.
Techniques and Movements
Although drunken style techniques often appear disjointed and irregular, they require the highest degrees of skill to perform. Without superior agility, flexibility, strength, and conditioning, a practitioner cannot fully bring out the form's beauty. "You must be relaxed and free-flowing," says Wong. "Just when your opponent thinks you're in a vulnerable state, then you are able to strike suddenly."
Imitating a drunkard does not mean sloppy footwork or poor fundamentals are acceptable. More than anything, the stylist needs a strong fundamental foundation to gain better control and build a strong routine. Phillip Wong puts it this way: "Many people make the common mistake of trying to act too drunk, but you must be relaxed and free-flowing. Just when your opponent thinks you're in a vulnerable state, then you are able to strike suddenly."
While Wong also points out that even "a well-studied martial artist would find much difficulty in the falling movements and the drunken state," the form is not impossible to master. It consists of three basic movements: drinking movements (hand techniques); waist movements (dodging); and falling movements (dodging and attacking). These relatively simple moves though, mask powerful ways to disable unsuspecting opponents.
Drinking, Swaying, and Falling
When drunken stylists reach for another swig from their wine cups, they are really demonstrating grabbing and striking techniques. These often involve wrist holds and then an attack with the hand holding the imaginary wine cup. These attacks are directed against sensitive pressure points and the opponent's center.
Many of the moves are attributed to the eight immortals. Li Tieguai, for instance, is depicted as an old beggar who focuses on attacking the opponent's arm. Once he grabs the opponent and paralyzes him with hits to various pressure points, he then breaks the opponent's arm or elbow. Similarly, He Xiangu uses her left hand to hold the opponent's wrist while she delivers a phoenix-eye strike with the other hand.
In contrast, waist movements trick opponents into thinking that practitioners are off balance and thus vulnerable to attacks. Drunken style martial artists will sway from side to side, almost falling over at times. Yet these moves double as dodges, preventing the opponent from landing strikes and attacking successfully.
Finally, falls make up the remaining moves of the drunken form. While some falls serve as dodges just like waist movements, they can also trap opponents. Once a drunken stylist pins an opponent to the ground with a fall, he or she can assault critical points and areas. This is precisely what Han Zhongli likes to do. Too inebriated to stand, he hangs on to opponents and forces them to reel in pain from his strikes to vital areas like the groin.
In order to practice the drunken form, one must be especially aware of the potential dangers. If, for example, falls are done incorrectly, serious injuries to the back and head could result. "You can't just go out and fall around. You have to build up your ability to take falls step by step," observes Phillip Wong.
Strong conditioning helps the stylist immensely. A skilled practitioner needs strength and agility, but flexibility and fluidity are also a must. Above all, excellent body control makes the set look realistic. Stylists have to work hard to appear drunk instead of aimlessly relaxing their bodies.
A deep understanding of the form's applications is necessary. Wong comments that, "There are many wushu practitioners who only know forms and not fighting. Understanding fighting applications is essential in helping you to know forms better." Indeed, this helps the stylist achieve stronger and more dynamic performances.
Way of Life
Although the martial arts contain deadly fighting techniques, they are also art forms and a means of self-improvement. No one stresses this point more than Phillip Wong himself. He recalls that, "In the beginning, the only reason I took martial arts was to fight. But I was fortunate to have an excellent instructor like Master Jeff Wong who taught me meditation and other non-fighting aspects." These are lessons he continually expresses to his own students.
Whenever he is asked about the potential benefits of practicing the martial arts, Wong always tries to downplay the overwhelming focus people place on combat. Instead, Wong emphasizes that, "Fighting should only be done in the ring or in the class. You can fight to protect yourself or when your life is threatened." He concludes, "The key though is to not let yourself become uncontrolled. Martial arts should always be done in a controlled environment."
For himself, he points out that, "Whether I was performing or competing, my number one motivation has been the true love I have for the martial arts." For Wong and many others, the struggle is not with another person. Instead, he feels, "Your only true opponent is yourself."
Martial arts then is a means for improving self-discipline and self-control. Truly, it is a way of life that requires hard work, but also one which offers great personal satisfaction in return.
Currently, Master Phillip Wong continues to busy himself with spreading the virtues of the martial arts. "In the future, I hope to see more people carry on the drunken style. Just as much, I would like to see interest in the martial arts flourish," he comments. With ambassadors like Phillip Wong, such dreams will undoubtedly be realized.
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Written by Calvin Chen for KUNGFUMAGAZINE.COM