Wu Song Breaks Manacles (Wu Song Tuo Kao)
Rare Kungfu Form Inspired by Outlaws of the Marsh Re-emerges

By Chan Kai Leung and TC Media

Wu Song For centuries, traditional kungfu evolved mainly for use in war and self-defense. Some well-known kungfu styles and forms were used by famous Chinese historical martial arts heroes. Others are rarer, and some secretly passed to only a handful of people. For years, little has been known in the West about the obscure form "Wu Song Breaks Manacles," or Wu Song Tuo Kao. It is best recalled as an esoteric form used by legendary kungfu hero Wu Song in the Chinese historical kungfu novel The Water Margin (aka Outlaws of the Marsh). Last year the public got a fascinating glimpse of it live when Master Chan Kai Leung performed it at several national U.S. tournaments. The Wu Song Breaks Manacles form was also featured in Monkey Style Boxer Kau Sze, a Hong Kong kung fu movie hit from the 1974 based on the real history of Tai Shing Pek Kwar featuring Grandmaster Chan Sau Chung.

Heroes of Song Dynasty
The style Wu Song Tuo Kao is inspired by a hero of the beloved Chinese folk tale in Outlaws of the Marsh, aka The Water Margin, a 14th century novel by Shi Nai?an and Luo Guanzhong written about rebel heroes during the Song dynasty. Wu Song was a hero of this saga who was captured, but succeeded in defeating his captors despite being manacled. This kungfu style is unique, since the practitioner must hold his or her wrists together as if manacled and rely only upon leg, hip, shoulder and elbow techniques. Generally practiced as a solo form, there are also two-vs.-one and four-vs.-one sparring techniques.

Outlaws of the Marsh (aka The Water Margin) is one of the best known of all ancient Chinese novels. Set in the 12th century Song dynasty, its some 2500 pages tell the stories of 108 men and women who banded together in what is now modern Shandong province on a marsh-edged mountain called Mount Liang. There they become leaders of an outlaw army fighting against the despotic and corrupt leaders of their society. Most of the men in this ?gallant fraternity? are skilled kungfu artists; some are also scholars and war strategists, who practice Buddhism and Confucianism.

Historically the story is based in fact, as some events and characters have been confirmed as real. Chinese scholars note that authors Shi Nai?an and Luo Guanzhong gathered the facts and legends in the 14th century to create a novel. As with the more modern Wong Fei Hung, the heroes of Shandong?s marshes became folk legends, fully integrated into Chinese culture for centuries to come in a variety of media, from market fairs to puppet theater, stage and, in modern times, movies and television. But whatever the medium, the story of rebel heroes speaking and acting for an oppressed society is an enduring theme, making the story as relevant now as it was some half dozen centuries ago.

Variations on a theme, however, are important when it comes to the martial arts of Outlaws of the Marsh. As the story transmutes from history and legend into the art form of the novel, and on into oral storytelling, wuxia and film media, it is constantly in a state of narrative and symbolic flux. Details change, actions become embellished, some parts are left out, others put in. Characters become shaded in different tones. The story remains fluid, and subject to interpretation. This is essential to understanding the martial arts of the story.

While the version of the 14th century novel describes numerous martial arts, fights and weapons, the martial arts aspect has certainly been strongly emphasized since then by specific kungfu-dominated literary and artistic genres. The exact epistemology of the form Wu Song Tuo Kao is as slippery as the origins of the many versions of the narrative story. Certainly more research can be done into both topics, martial and literary. But whatever the literal source, it is clear that a wide imagination has brought Wu Song's martial adventures alive both in fist and mind for nearly a millennium.

Wu Song, the Tiger Slayer
Wu Song is one of the most remarkable and respected heroes in The Water Margin. Wu Song was the top Bo Tau (police chief ) before he was forced to become an outlaw. He is famous in Chinese legend for killing a notorious man-eating tiger with his bare hands; (Wu Song Da Hu) is the meaning of extreme courage in China.

In Western culture, the lion is known as the king of beasts, but Chinese believe the tiger is the strongest and most vigorous animal. Some Chinese phrases associated with the tiger illustrate its authority like, "as powerful as a tiger (Hu Hu Sheng Wei)," and "by walking together with a tiger, even a fox becomes fierce (Hu Jia Hu Wei).? For ancient Chinese, tiger hunting was not an easy job without the aid of poison or a trap.

In the novel, Wu Song has finished a special mission and passed by a small village (Mount Jinyang) on the way to visit his brother. He reads a notice warning travelers to avoid going out after sunset because of a big, man-eating tiger in the surrounding woods. The villagers are terrified and refuse to leave their homes at night.

For the safety of the people, Wu Song decides to kill the tiger himself. After drinking three bowls of wine, he went in search of the tiger with his staff. When the tiger leaped out at him in the woods the staff broke, and Wu Song grabbed the neck of the tiger. Finally, he killed it with his bare hands. One might also read the battle with a man-eating tiger as a political allegory.

Wu Song Breaks the Manacle
Killing a huge tiger proved the extraordinary power and courage of Wu Song. However, it is the story of Wu Song breaking the manacles that shows his gifted talent of kungfu, especially in the more martial arts oriented versions of the story, below.

Outlaws of the Marsh

Wu Song?s sister-in-law Golden Lotus, with her lover Ximen Qing, poisoned his brother. They tried to kill Wu Song as well to cover up the crime. To bring justice for his brother, Wu Song went to arrest them, but in a subsequent fight, avenging his brother's death, Wu Song killed Golden Lotus and Ximen Qing. Wu Song was sentenced to prison and exile, but was willing to accept the punishment.

During the escort to prison, his two escort guards suddenly attacked him. They had been bribed by criminals caught by Wu Song few years ago, who wanted him dead. With both hands bound by the handcuffs, Wu Song was at a great disadvantage to fight two armed escort guards (one with a staff and the other one with a broadsword). He had no choice but to fight with both hands tied up.

Since Wu Song's hands were bound by the by the handcuffs, with a chain in the middle, fist striking was powerless or nearly impossible. His kungfu instinct triggered him to cross both hands together. The escort guards split up to attack Wu Song from the front and the back. The first escort guard attacked with heavy staff strikes. At the beginning, Wu Song crossed his hands and blocked the staff with his hands. Then he unexpectedly blocked the staff with both hands open so the staff struck on the chain, which bounced both hands together. Then, he crossed his hands to trap the staff and grabbed it with his hands.

He pulled the staff so the escort guard tumbled closer to him and lost his balance. He kicked him and the escort guard flew 20 feet away. In a split second, the other guard slashed him with broadsword, attacking Wu Song on the head and hoping to kill him as soon as possible. Therefore, Wu Song used Ditang kungfu to roll closer to the guard and attack his lower body while avoiding the broadsword. This tactic was very successful. Wu Song broke the ankle of the guard with a scissors kick and hit him in the stomach with the elbow. Then, he held the guard's right sword hand, and broke it with his upper leg.

Wu Song then used all his power and hit the chain against the right upper leg and broke the chain. Even wounded, the guards pursued their attack on Wu Song anew. However, with both hands untied Wu Song's fist punching was like an unstoppable tornado, and there was no escape. He finally killed both escort guards. Killing a government officer was a serious crime, but Wu Song had lost faith in the corrupt government. The guards were also hired assassins, and Wu Song was acting in self-defense. Therefore, he went to Liang Mountain, where other people were also dissatisfied with the government, and offered his kungfu talents to help to weaker and poor citizens.

How Wu Song Tuo Kao Passed to Tai Shing Pek Kwar
Tai Shing Pek Kwar master (Sigong) Kan Tak Hoi was one of the top kungfu masters in China. He first opened a school and served in the army as the chief kungfu instructor in China before moving to Hong Kong. Most kungfu schools also offered security services, which helped to escort valuable goods. It was on one such trip that a young Kan Tak Hoi first discovered Wu Song Breaks Manacles.

Kan Tak Hoi was on a trip to escort for a bank when he saw a man in a forest practicing kungfu. The stranger looked like he had both hands tied up. Kan Tak Hoi was immediately interested in this kungfu because the man did some rolling, which is very much like the Ditang kungfu he himself specialized in. Kan Tak Hoi was very curious and asked the man if it was indeed Ditang style. The man was proud of his kungfu, and asked if Kan Tak Hoi would even dare to challenge it. The stranger added that he could fight him with both of his hand being tied up. Young and not willing to take such an insult, Kan Tak Hoi accepted the challenge without hesitation. He wanted to give this man a lesson.

The stranger really did hold his hands together, although with no chain, and fought with Kan Tak Hoi. Kan Tak Hoi used his secret Pek Kwar fist strike and Ditang techniques, and the man use Wu Song Breaks Manacles to fight. The action was very intense. After a few minutes they suddenly stopped, due to mutual respect of the others? kungfu ability. Kan Tak Hoi was amazed by the agility and the uniqueness of the techniques the man in the woods used, and the Wu Song stylist was very impressed by the explosive power of Pek Kwar arm strikes his opponent released.

They talked about their backgrounds and Kan Tak Hoi learned that the man was the heir of Wu Song. His name was Wu Sai, and came from a family background of martial artists training the imperial guard. With their mutual prestigious backgrounds and admiration of each other's kungfu, they agreed to exchange some forms. This is a common practice for top (and open) kungfu artists to do in order to heighten their kungfu knowledge. Sigong Kan Tak Hoi taught his new friend Wu Sai Pek Kwar Kau Da, Detong Sei Ping Fist and Pek Kwar broadsword; in exchange, he himself learned Wu Song Breaks Manacles, Wu Song Staff and Wu Song Fist. This contributed to Tai Shing Pek Kwar's 128 unique fist and weapon forms.

Characteristic of Wu Song Breaks Manacles
Outlaws of the Marsh Wu Song Breaks Manacles is an advanced form which requires high physical ability and the capability of releasing explosive power quickly. Since there are many ground rolling and lower body attacks, Ditang kungfu is a must. In general, the secret of the form is to overcome the limitation of being tied up by both hands while still maintaining mobility and power. The training uses a heavy-duty chain to bind both hands together. Moving with a heavy chain alone requires strength, and moving with both hands tied up becomes awkward. When both hands are tied in front of your chest, your lung has less room to expand for breathing. With less intake of energy (air) for such a form, it can also train your lung capacity and endurance.

To make the form more demanding, strikes are concentrated on the fist and elbow. We know that the further back we pull the string of a bow, the harder the arrow will hit. Likewise, Wu Song Breaks Manacles requires much internal power.

In addition, balancing and coordinating the body is very important in the form. Extending your hands makes balancing and coordination much easier. In case of falling, you can still use your hands to support. Your first instinct is to use your hand to touch the ground for support when you fall. People who practice kungfu will use their hands to support and roll to minimize the injury. Again, with both hands being tied up, balancing is a great challenge and falling is more likely to produce injury. The skill of ground rolling, balancing and lower body attack is the key to Ditang kungfu. The smooth rolling and various kicking techniques (scissors and tornado kick) are the core of this part of the training.

Since the hero Wu Song was in a life and death situation, every movement was fast and each strike had to be deadly. This is a fighting form, which shows us how to overcome the obstacle or limitation to survive at any time. The implication (overcome the limitation) and the application of the form are equally important. Moreover, the increase in speed and the intensity of the strike shows the stunning choreography of the form.

Having such a special history and unique quality, Wu Song Breaks Manacles style was featured in the 70's hit Hong Kong movie Monkey Style Boxer Kau Sze. Grandmaster Chan Sau Chung fought with escort guards with his hands locked very much like in the story Wu Song Breaks the Manacle in the classic novel.

Ties that Bind
Master Chan Kai Leung strives to perpetuate the legend of his father Grandmaster Chan Sau Chung, and has worked diligently to re-create the exact image of Wu Song?s martial character in his manacle form. Chan Kai Leung has been training kungfu since he was 6. When he was still a teenager, he won many international competitions, and also competed in professional full-contact fighting in Hong Kong when he was 17, winning two matches by knockout in the first round using the Pek Kwar fist strike and monkey kungfu. He is grateful to his father?s profound training and the experiences shared with his four kungfu brothers (Chan Koon Tai, Chan Siu Chuen, Seen Lam Yuk and Wong Chi Wai) who were Asia full-contact fighting champions.

After Chan Kai Leung graduated from high school, he chose to study abroad to explore the world. Studying in Australia, he earned his Bachelor?s degree in accounting and his Master?s in Computer Information Systems in just 4 years. However, total respect for his father took precedence, and he has chosen teaching and promoting kungfu as his full-time career. Emigrating to Canada last year when he was only 25, he and his father opened the new Tai Shing Pek Kwar school in Vancouver, to promote the traditional Chinese kungfu to the West in the new millennium.

A Martial Artist's Qualities
Chan Kai Leung lives by the martial ethics of kungfu, and sets a strong and positive example to his students. He believes that strength and endurance training is very important to one's overall martial arts. Everyday he runs and practices kungfu in the early morning, followed by sand bag training and weight lifting. Then, he starts to teach his class in the afternoon until 9:00 p.m. Finally, he will keep developing his kungfu knowledge by learning Chinese medicine and bone setting with his father.

Wu Song was a hero in Chinese culture. His kungfu style passed on to us today must reflect his justice, character and integrity. Having trained kungfu since he was a child, Chan Kai Leung had developed the physical ability to master the Wu Song Breaks Manacles form. However, Grandmaster Chan Sau Chung only taught his son the form after Chan Kai Leung decided to make kungfu his career.

When Wu Sai and Sigong Kan Tak Hoi exchanged forms it was out of mutual respect for each other's kungfu knowledge and deep martial backgrounds. Wu Sai would only pass his forms on to the people who truly treasured kungfu and believed in life that one should follow the heroic acts of Wu Song. When Grandmaster Chan Sau Chung saw his son sacrificing the modern professional job in accounting and management to teach kungfu full time, he saw a young master eager to learn and promote kungfu. When Chan Kai Leung offered give his life to kungfu, his father gave him the manacles that would set him free.

Click here for Feature Articles from this issue and others published in 2002 .

About Chan Kai Leung and TC Media :
For more information please visit the official web site of Tai Shing Pek Kwar at www.TaiShingPekKwar.com or www.TSPK.com .Tai Shing Pek Kwar has just opened a new school in Vancouver, Canada ( Unit 2 ? 8271 Westminster Hwy, Richmond, B.C.)

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