Close Encounters of the Canine Kind
— Wushu Pioneer Kenny Perez and His Pursuit of Dog Boxing

By Emilio Alpanseque

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May+June 2018 Kung Fu Tai Chi magazineMaster Kenny Perez is a lifelong martial artist who started his journey into Chinese martial arts in the early '70s under highly respected Kung Fu masters Augustine Fong and Douglas L. Wong.  He later became the first non-Asian student of the legendary Wushu Grandmaster Wu Bin (March+April 2007 cover master 吴彬), whom he has followed for 37 years, and is the only American certified with the 8th duanwei under him.  Master Perez has been involved in the promotion of Wushu in every imaginable way – from Beijing to Berlin – through competitions, demonstrations, seminars, videos, books, movies, television, stage, gaming, and more.  He is undoubtedly a man of lofty goals, on a mission, and well aware of all aspects surrounding traditional and contemporary Wushu.  Perez’s personal experiences around the genesis of the sport in the US has led to one long-time interest – Dog Boxing.

It’s Called "Wushu"

“The birth of modern Wushu in the US happened in the '70s,” Master Perez recounts.  “In 1974, a Chinese Wushu delegation toured the country the first time.  This was the time when Jet Li got to perform in the White House; it was an eye-opening experience for many in the martial arts.  Until then, only traditional Wushu was practiced in the U.S., but two years later, immigrant Master Bow-Sim Mark (麦宝婵) started to teach in Boston.  She was one of the special persons who was able to bridge traditional and modern training together, and she published some of the first books here as well.  While on the West Coast, kudos go to Anthony Chan and the late Roger Tung.  Anthony and Roger were the first to train in China in the late '70s, both training with the 1974 all-around champion of China, Master Wang Jinbao (王金宝) from Jiangsu.  Roger also trained in his hometown of Shanghai while Anthony went to Beijing, and not too long after that, Anthony competed in the open martial arts tournament circuit and also published a few books.”

Master Perez further elaborates, “At the time, I was a student of Kung Fu Master Douglas L. Wong.  Sometimes after training, my shifu and I would watch films and video recordings of martial artists from China, and that is where I saw contemporary Wushu for the first time.  I asked shifu what that was and he told me it was called 'Wushu.'   Needless to say, I was inspired to learn it and one day he introduced me to Anthony Chan.  Then, my eyes were opened wide when the young athletes of the Beijing Wushu Team came to the Oakland Coliseum in 1980 at the World Martial Arts Exposition.  It was the nighttime finals and the Beijing team had just arrived in the US for their American tour and came to do an impromptu performance.  This historic event brought the house down!  I became awestruck and became their groupie and followed their performances in as many cities as I could, becoming friends with the athletes and coaches of the team, with the hopes to be able to visit them one day.”

Destination Fujian Province

In 1981, Masters Roger Tung, Anthony Chan and Bow-Sim Mark organized the first-ever American Wushu team to set foot in China.  The athletes included Kenny Perez, Keith Hirabayashi Cooke, Christopher Pei (September+October 2013 cover master), Warner Lew, Craig Gee, Frank Hiradryl, and the son of Master Bow Sim Mark, Donnie Yen (July 2000 cover master), years before he became an international film star.  The team flew to Hong Kong and entered China through Guangdong, then travelled to the city of Fuzhou in the Fujian province to see firsthand the China National Wushu Championships, where legendary athletes Zhao Changjun (November+December 2006 cover master赵长军) from Shaanxi and Hao Zhihua (郝志华) from Beijing conquered the all-around titles.  This experience was the equivalent of having a group of amateur basketball players watching a game of the NBA star-laden "Dream Team" at the Olympics, as the American delegation was exposed to the enormous ability and high standards of China’s professional athletes.

Master Perez agrees.  “The Chinese National Championships really had the best of the best.  There are videos on the internet of this competition where I can be seen in the background sitting with members of the Beijing Team.  Suffice to say, they were surprised to see me there.  This was also the first time I became aware of Dog Boxing.  Fujian is famous for it, so obviously there were athletes performing Dog Boxing.  Their skills were totally different from the other styles performed.  Some movements reminded me of breakdancing, which was also very popular in the '80s.  I became intrigued.  Dog Boxing struck me as another form of Ditangquan (Ground Tumbling Boxing 地躺拳) but with southern characteristics.  Afterwards, our team trained with the Jiangsu team, and later Donnie and I were formally invited to train with the Beijing Wushu team under coaches Wu Bin (吴彬), Li Junfeng (李俊峰) and Cheng Huikun (程慧琨), and we all returned to the US full of fire for our sport.”

Dog Boxing Guide and Origins

Dog Boxing or Gouquan (狗拳), more properly known as Dishuquan (Ground Methods Boxing 地术拳), is one of the main seven traditional styles of Fujian, usually categorized under the "Southern Shaolin" classification.  Sometimes referred to as Dishuquanfa (Ground Methods Dog Techniques 地术犬法) or Dilongquan (Ground Dragon Boxing 地龙拳), Dog Boxing evolved over time and tightly integrates a series of distinctive leg techniques for sweeping, throwing, binding, and joint-locking from the ground, in addition to most hand-to-hand combat moves found in other Fujian styles.  In fact, Dog Boxing’s interrelation with arts like Five Ancestors Boxing (五祖拳) or White Crane Boxing (白鹤拳) is heightened by the emphasis on the same principles of breathing and force generation, as well as the practice of staple "Southern Shaolin" routines such as the "3 Battles" (三战), the "4 Directions" (四门), and others.  In regards to weapons, the classic style includes staff and broadsword techniques, but not complete routines.

The history of Dog Boxing is clouded in mystery as it was ostensibly practiced underground for generations, with several different oral traditions trying to force events, figures, and actions to create consistency with certain formulas.  So instead of exploring each one of them, it is more reasonable to start from the current representation of the style and drill down from there.  In 2011, traditional Dishuquan was included in China’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Protection List thanks to efforts by the Fujian Dog Boxing Association (福建地术拳会), working in conjunction with the Fujian Wushu Association Dog Boxing Committee (福建省武术协会地术拳委员会).  Upon observation, the style is strongly represented by a few generations of descendants of one single person, Grandmaster Chen Yijiu (陈依九), including his son Chen Zhenglu (陈政禄) and his grandson Chen Weiqiang (陈伟强), who is the current keeper of the style.

The Ancestral Master of His Generation

Grandmaster Chen Yijiu was born in Fuzhou in 1902.  Starting at age 5, he learned from folk masters several traditional local styles such as Golden Lion Boxing (金狮拳), Dragon Boxing (龙形拳), Tiger Boxing (虎形拳), and Arhat Boxing (罗汉拳).  During his late teens, Chen spent time with his family in Singapore operating a gold and jewelry shop, where he continued to practice martial arts including Muay Thai and Jujitsu.  In 1920, a famous Dog Boxing master from Fujian, Chen Ayin (陈阿银), was involved in a case of accidental homicide and fled to Singapore, where for years he stayed with Chen Yijiu’s family.  In return, he taught the style of Dog Boxing to Chen Yijiu, who trained diligently and became very famous for his "Iron Leg" skills, capable of bending steel bars and withstanding hammer blows to the shins.  After beating a Russian challenger during a public match in 1929, in which he shattered one of the Russian's legs with continuous low kicks delivered from the ground, he earned the nickname Magic Legs Jiu (神腿九).

Chen Ayin received the Dog Boxing style from his father Chen Biao (陈彪), who, according to oral traditions, learned clandestinely from a run-away Buddhist nun.  The legend, somehow consistent with the narrative of other styles from the same geography, mentions the existence of a Shaolin Temple situated near Qingyuanshan (清源山) in the city of Quanzhou, with a Bailian Nunnery (白莲庵) located adjacent to the temple.  The story then suggests that during the Qing dynasty (1644–1991) these temples often took in laymen and laywomen (including Ming supporters) as refugees, who, disguised as monks and nuns, were later involved in anti-Qing maneuvers, becoming the focus of persecution and forced to flee in all directions.  This would explain how Venerable Si Yue (四月大师) escaped from Quanzhou to Yongchun, finding shelter with the Chen family and passing down the style of Dog Boxing to Chen Biao in return.

It’s worth noting that origination myths of this kind are a form of cultural symbolism and folklore that should not be discarded or ignored, but rather embraced as an inevitable element of traditional Chinese martial arts.  In regards to Dog Boxing’s inclination towards ground fighting techniques, Chen family’s lore proposes that during the days of Venerable Si Yue, also known as "Magical Nun" Si Yue (四月神尼), a great percentage of women in the Quanzhou area practiced foot-binding – the process of applying tight binding to the feet starting at an early age to alter their shape and size.  Since this would severely limit their mobility and balance, Venerable Si Yue developed this system based on the observation of certain dog attacking traits to allow women with bound feet to defend themselves by delivering surprise counters and finishing techniques effectively from the ground – a notion in line with how Grandmaster Chen Yijiu conquered his much taller and stronger adversary in 1929.

Subsequent Development and Expansion

Grandmaster Chen Yijiu decided to return to China after the Japanese occupation of Singapore (1942–45), settling in Fuzhou in 1947 and working in a plastic factory for many years.  Not until 1973, near the end of the Cultural Revolution (1966–76) did he return to his passion, actively teaching the art of Dog Boxing.  In 1979, Grandmaster Chen and several students demonstrated Dishuquan routines at the First National Wushu Exhibitions and Exchange Festival held in Guangxi.  Ever since, the promotional work done by them has been remarkable.  In 1984, Grandmaster Chen formed the Shaolin Dog Boxing School (少林地术拳馆) in Fuzhou, and soon after that several disciples like Zhou Jinhuo (周金伙) and Cai Zuxian (蔡祖贤) began to publish articles and books.  His group travelled to Japan, starting exchange sessions that have lasted until our days.  One of his main disciples, Lin Zaipei (林在培), became one of Dog Boxing’s leading international ambassadors.

Another of Grandmaster Chen’s students, Chang Dayong (张大勇), graduated from the Shanghai University of Sport and became one of the coaches of the Fujian Wushu team, influencing the Nanquan (南拳) competitors with many movements and the distinctive flair from Dog Boxing.  Among these athletes, the most famous ones are the multiple-time Chinese National Champion Wu Qiuhua (吴秋花); Wei Dantong (魏丹彤), who is the current coach of the Fujian Wushu team; Zhao Peide (赵培德), who performs a complete Dog Boxing routine in the 1983 documentary This is Kung Fu (中华武术); and Chen Zurong (陈祖荣), who performs Dog Boxing segments in the 1985 movie The Holy Robe of the Shaolin Temple (木棉袈裟).  Other students like his grandson Chen Weiqiang and Hu Chengwu (胡成武) became involved in national Sanda free-sparring competition as well as in provincial police and armed forces instruction.  In 1997 Grandmaster Chen passed, but his traditional teachings have been well-preserved and continue to be practiced today.

Continuous Training and Education

Master Perez recollects, “Since the first time I went to China, I was in a unique position.  Being among the first foreigners to venture there, we were welcomed with open arms back when it wasn’t too commercialized, so I had access to many coaches and athletes.  Consequently, I was able to pick up various skills and movements of Dog Boxing, particularly from Huang Jiangang (黄建刚) and Yang Shiwen (杨世文) from Guangdong, both national Nanquan champions from the ‘golden age’ of modern Wushu.  Since Dog Boxing combines the intensity of Nanquan with the tumbling of Ditangquan, I was excited to learn all these movements.  As a matter of fact, I even mixed some Dog Boxing skills into my subsequent movie and TV stunt work career.”

“Later, to further familiarize with both the traditional and modern performance versions, I acquired a couple of Dog Boxing books and eventually was introduced to Master Chen Weiqiang, the head of the official style in Fujian.  His focus was on the mechanics of striking, locking, binding, and joint attacking.  I practiced the ‘3 Battles’ and ‘Double Bats’ (双蝙蝠) routines, and over time I found some of these applications to be very effective.  As a fighter of open competitions in the '80s, before mixed martial arts, I was well adept at fighting with my legs.  I used sweeps, scissors legs and drop kicks to my advantage.  My opponents were always surprised with these unique ground fighting skills – little they knew they were from a strange-sounding but legitimate style called Dog Boxing.  Recently I have been in communication with the Fujian team coach Wei Dantong to gain more knowledge.”

The Modern Wushu Approach

Apart from the generic Nanquan divisions, the championships in China often offer divisions for Dog Boxing; however, as Master Perez clarifies, “You may be able to find some athletes competing in Dog Boxing, but not all of them represent the formal style.  There are some exceptions, but in general most can pick up an existing routine and tweak it to their personal preference.  But these athletes that we use as models have spent many years of intensive training and achieved excellence in Wushu basics.  Therefore, they can create a new routine in a few hours.  I have seen them do it.  World champion He Jingde (何敬德) once developed a Monkey Boxing (猴拳) routine for my student, he based it on traditional, modern and his personal vision, and 30 minutes later it evolved into a fantastic routine, the most intense routine I ever saw him perform.

“Professional athletes are incredibly driven.  They need to stay ‘cutting edge’ or they can quickly lose their spot on the team.  That’s another reason why the ‘bar’ is so high there.  More than likely, in America it will take more time to develop these skills.  If practitioners lack the proper conditioning and strengthening, injuries can result and their athletic years can be drastically shortened.  When I teach Dog Boxing, we learn basics and use them to develop the body strength progressively.  Performing kip-ups, dive rolls, coil ups and falls is not easy and it takes time to develop muscle and ligament strength and the body’s toughness and resilience.  In fact, I would recommend using support for knees and back, as well as practicing on a soft surface.  We focus on routine practice, and while training, each move is broken down 3 ways: performance, strength development, and application, so my students can understand and explain and apply each application.”

In Search of Synergy

An advocate for learning as many styles as possible, Master Perez reveals, “My philosophy for Wushu is that an athlete or fighter may specialize in one style but should not hesitate to benefit from learning multiple styles.  From the artistic interpretation of physical combat perspective, the benefits are obvious, and the same can be said for those focusing in actual combat.  Look at MMA fighters.  They all cross-train in multiple disciplines such as Boxing, Jujitsu, Muay Thai, etc., to be able to familiarize themselves with the different ‘realms’ of fighting.  Wushu also has all these different specializations.  In fact, many of these disciplines originated from Chinese Wushu in the first place.  In Wushu we cover all major fighting zones including the kicking zone, punching zone, grabbing zone, sweeping and takedown zone, and ground skill zone.  We also have the upper gate, middle gate, and lower gate as the target areas.

“Wushu is extremely diverse and has some wild styles.  Each style offers a specialized dimension and they are all part of a whole.  Check out the following breakdown: Changquan, kicking skills; Nanquan, open hand skills; Praying Mantis, grabbing and controlling skills; Eagle Claw, bone breaking twisting tendon muscle attacking skills; Fanziquan (翻子拳), rapid-fire and oblique attacking; Wing Chun, close-range fighting; Taijiquan (太极拳), pushing hands skills.  Xingyiquan (形意拳), straight-line explosive hand/fist striking skills; Baguazhang (八卦掌), circular stepping spine attacking skills; Bajiquan (八极拳), shoulder elbow body drilling power skills; Ditangquan, ground-fighting skills; Dog Boxing, leg wrestling leg attacking skills.  And the list goes on… I see Wushu as a continuous project.  Learning skills from all these styles will only enhance the individual and lead the way towards becoming a more complete martial artist.”

 

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Kung Fu Tai Chi Magazine - May + June 2018


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About Emilio Alpanseque :
For more information on Master Kenny Perez please visit DynamicWushu.com. The author wishes to express his gratitude to the following experts for their valuable insights and support for this article: Chen Weiqiang (陈伟强) from the Fujian Dog Boxing Association, Prof. Wang Peikun (王培锟) and Prof. Zhu Dong (朱东) from the Shanghai University of Sport, and Dai Linbin (代林彬) from the Fujian Wushu Association. Emilio Alpanseque currently teaches in El Cerrito, CA, and can be contacted through his website EastBayWushu.com

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