Tzu Men Chuan

Tzu Men Chuan (zimenquan):

Tzu men chuan is a soft style of Shaolin Kung Fu that was developed in the Shaolin Temple. The origin of this soft non-classical Shaolin system is shrouded in mystery, which means that it is uncertain who precisely the originator of the system was. This is not surprising as many of the Shaolin’s have a similar degree of vagueness about who it was who created them. What is most likely is that the Tzu Men Chuan, like many of the over three hundred and sixty systems that have been recorded as originating from the Shaolin temple, was developed by a number of people over a number of generations rather than just person.

The earliest recorded history of Tzu Men Chuan is in the Ching Dynasty, during the reign of the Emperor Chen lung (1736-1796). During this period, the style was transmitted to the Kiangsi Province and became very popular in that region.

Tzu Men Chuan means Character Gate Fist. Each character represents a set of postures. In fighting each has its own special spirit, and method. The style emphasizes a flexible approach to strategy, and practitioners should always be alert to changes in circumstances. Tzu Men Chuan is an eclectic system that is designed to teach free fighting.

The 18 characters of the system are embedded within the forms of the system. You must be taught the forms and applications correctly, and receive the oral transmission with the written transmission to truly understand the system. In this sense, it is not dissimilar to the way the authentic Tai Chi Chuan is taught.

The 18 characters here are as follow:

Tsun (stretch out hands)
Tui (speed up and forward)
Yuan (saving)
Tuo (one step earlier)
Chien (deflecting the attack)
Na (pressing down from high position)
Bee (trapping)
Hsi (contact and give in)
Tich (relax)
Tsuan (against and push aside)
Chusa (turning)
Cha (attack from high position)
Pao (step out and close up)
Toh (to lift)
Tsa (contact quickly and adhere)
Sah (meet attack with attack)
Tuen (swallow)
Tu (ejecting)

Tzu Men Chuan Main Forms

  1. Six Elbows
  2. Dragon Stands
  3. Tiger Stands
  4. Advanced Fighting Postures
  5. Free hand Against a Sword
  6. Vital Point Strikes.
  7. Large Sword.

Tzu Men Chuan’s movements are very light, fast, vicious, and accurate. There is no strength used until you reach the opponent and then your strength explodes. This idea is similar to the idea of a ‘one inch’ punch. A key notion in the Tzu Men Chuan is to be always alert to changes in the circumstances you are confronted with. Another key concept is to always use the opponents force to defeat his force. Similarly as the authentic Tai Chi Chuan the Tzu Men Chuan neutralizes the opponents force by making contact, sticking, following, neutralizing and discharging the opponent by using strength strategically.

Although a key notion in the Tzu Men is to never retreat it uses defensive strategies such as always keeping contact with the enemy and remaining light, flexible, nimble and active. The Tzu Men Chuan applies the idea of minimizing the opponents attack and escaping when an opportunity exists.

Tzu Men Chuan is sometimes referred to as the “Poison Finger System”. Tzu Men Chuan is known for its Dim Mak or vital point strikes. For this reason spear hand strikes are well represented in the system. Other key concepts within the Tzu Men Chuan include a block and strike in one action, contrasting action, broken rhythm attacks and defense.

Tzu Men Chuan is a non- classical style of soft Shaolin. Interestingly, it has some similar concepts to the Wing Chun and the authentic Tai Chi Chuan, which suggests that it was a style that was synthesized from a conceptual base that concentrated on ‘stripped down’ movements that concentrated on defeating the opponent in as efficient and timely manner as possible.

One of the main characteristics of the Tzu Men Chuan system is that the training is predicated upon full contact training.

The lineage of Tzu Men Chuan is as follows:

Senior Monk Ko-Hsiu – was a Buddhist monk famous for his Tzu Men Chuan. Senior Monk Ko-Hsiu was intimately involved in the development of the Tzu Men Chuan.

Liang Wu-Chin – was another Buddhist monk famous for his Tzu Men Chuan, he learned Tzu Men Chuan at the Shaolin temple.

Mo Ying-Tso – Learned Tzu Men Chuan from Liang Wu-Chin. Master Mo was a very kindly and polite person who never challenged anyone, but, when challenged always accepted – and never lost.

Hsiung Chien-Hsun (1895 – 1977) – Began training Tzu Men Chuan with Master Mo Ying-Tso at the age of ten. In 1922 Master Hsiung joined the army and became the officer in charge of Chinese martial arts for the Chinese Nationalists. When the civil war broke out in 1949 Master Hsiung escaped to Hong Kong. He moved to Taiwan in 1953 were he had many students until his death in 1977.

Master Hsiung was a small man of slight appearance whose fame and fighting reputation was based on a remarkable degree of control and great speed. There is no record of Master Hsiung ever losing a fight.

Chin Cheng Yen (1925 – 1998) – was the senior student of Master Hsiung and so was the natural successor and keeper of the style for Master Hsiung. He was assigned the duty of Executive Secretary of the Tzu Men Chuan Association in 1975, and after that role held the position of President of the Republic of China Tzu Men Chuan Association until his death in 1998. Master Chin also learned taijiquan from Master Tao Ping Siang and Master Wang Yen Nien. He also learned Chi Kung from Master Chiao Chang Hung.

In 1941 Master Chin joined the Chinese Nationalist armed forces and retired in 1981 with the rank of Colonel.

Master Chin, at the request of the Nationalist government in Taiwan, gave workshops and intensive training sessions to a number of intelligence and special armed services around the world. Even after Master Chin grew older he always gave the opportunity for the participants of these courses to attack him. All of these students were senior exponents of Karate, Jiu Jitsu and other martial arts. Master Chin always dispatched these students – who were generally very strong and half his age – within seconds. (The Tzu Men Chuan is characterised by the notion of finishing a fight in seconds rather than minutes.)

Master Chin was a reasonably tall person, standing around 5’ 10”. He was well built and had great strength for his age. He was a severe teacher who practiced ‘old style’ instruction based on the notion of ‘stinging his students regularly and hurting them occasionally.’ As a teacher of kung fu he focused on real full contact fighting.

Away from his kung fu Master Chin was a kind person who treated his formal students with great respect and affection. He did not have many students, because his training was too severe for most people. Master Chin was a generous person and did not judge a person based on his ethnic or cultural background, rather, was the person a serious student and was he willing to live and train with Mr Chin long enough to be a good representative of the Tzu Men Chuan. His English skills were of a high standard and he trained the basic notions of Tzu Men Chuan to many foreigners.

James McNeil – was a student of Chin Cheng Yen, Pan Wing Chow, Hsu Hong-Chi, and Chiao Chang Hung. He visited and trained with each of these great teachers on his trips to Taiwan. He has taught Tzu Men Chuan to a few of his students, only after they have demonstrated competence in at least one other martial art.

Mike Murphy – first learned Tzu Men Chuan from Mr. James McNeil. He also learned Bagua and Hsiao Chiu Tien, and other systems from Mr. McNeil.


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