LUOHAN & MARTIAL ARTS
It is historically accepted that Bodhidharma, Ta Mo for the Chinese, came to China from India around the year 520 to spread the Buddhist teachings and founded the Shaolin Temple from where sprouted Ch`an Buddhism known in Japan as Zen. Bodhidharma not only spread Buddhism, but finding that his disciples would often fall sleep during the long periods of meditation and were unable to endure the rigorous spiritual training often in cold and inhospitable weather and observing that they suffered from bodily pains and aches, he created a set of exercises called “The Hands of the Eighteen Luohan”.
This system of physical, mental and spiritual development was created by combining exercises that Bodhidharma brought from India, plus his observation of the animals in nature, (the movements of the crane, the tiger, the leopard, the snake, etc.) plus exercises that existed in China.
In the Shaolin Temple and through generations of monks of which the most famous was Gok Yuen who enlarged the exercises of the 18 Luohans to 72 movements and later still enriched by Lee Sau and Bak Juk Fung to 173 movements the original exercises of Ta Mo became the basis of the Shaolin Chuan Fa or Kung Fu, which in turn greatly influenced the rest of the Oriental Martial Arts.
The Hands of the Eighteen Luohan has reached us trough Dr. Chen Yong Fa, the Jeung Mung (the Guardian of the System) of Choy Lee Fut and the fifth generation descendant of Chan Heung, the founder of the system. Choy Lee Fut is the most popular style of Kung Fu in Southern China and traces its roots to the original Shaolin Temple and its teachings encompass the Luohan System of Chi Kung.
Dr. Gaspar García is the maximum exponent of this system in the West and has been the first to introduce and extend this system in America and Europe. He holds regular seminar in these continents. But the power and the depth of “The Hands of the 18 Luohan” do not only rest in its historical foundation; but in its theory and practical application which validates its mythical origin.
Here follows a brief description and explanation of these principles as applied to the Martial Arts: The Hands of the 18 Luohan are the physical blue prints from which Kung Fu movements have risen; and Ta Mo’s most important contributions to the martial arts can be generalized into five basic domains: The Vision of Warrior and Breath, Mind, Energy and Body Control.
THE VISION OF WARRIOR
When Bodhidharma arrived in China he had as his mission to spread the teachings of the Enlightened One. He and his followers were non violent, spiritual seekers that filled with compassion, wanted to lead mankind out of its eternal suffering and so founded the Shaolin Monastery; a center for self transformation.
The moral, ethical and spiritual values that Ta Mo taught to his disciples would forever shape the spirit of the Shaolin Martial Arts and bring it in the realm of the Noble Arts. But any change also demands courage, discipline, perseverance, humbleness and determination: the very same qualities that a soldier must have. A martial artist in the traditional sense (from Mars the god of war) is a soldier; a spiritual soldier whose real objective is to fight the evils of ignorance, desires, anger, envy , egoism, etc. that lure within.
The true martial artist, is some one looking for the meaning of life, with the honesty, and seriousness that such quest demands, and as a spiritual warrior, two of the most important qualities of the martial artist must be: discipline, and a spirit of determination; he must do exactly what he has to do when he has to do it and he must never give up until he reaches his goal: overcomes his lower instincts, his ego.
Of course these qualities are also indispensable for a martial artist facing a combat. The Physical, mental and spiritual training associated to the training of the Hands of the 18 Luohan, as well as to the traditional martial arts are a fine compliment to the spiritual seeker.
THE MIND AND ENERGY CONTROL
Without breath, mind and energy control the martial arts remain a mere physical exercise and even as such it can never reach the highest level in actual application; that is combat. The relationship between breath, mind, and energy control is well known to martial artists and to those that have ever ventured into the world of energy control.
Physiologically a correct and good breathing pattern (high oxygen intake and elimination of carbon dioxide using the diaphragm) is fundamental to all the body functions.
All the metabolic reactions that take place in the body need oxygen and thus a cell without it will promptly die: Breathing is essential to life, to the nervous system, the digestive system, etc. Breath is also the master POWER. It is also important to examine the role that Chinese medicine attributes to the breath; according to it, human beings have two ways of obtaining energy: Gu Qi or the energy in the grains or food and Kong Qi, the energy in the air. In other words, when we do Qigong we are not only purifying our system but we are also nourishing it, strengthening the body, making it more vital, energetic, more fit and thus, in the case of a fighter, getting his body machine into optimal conditioning.
So we see that breath, like food is a source of energy, but the breath is fundamental also in guiding andfocusing the energy. That is in reality what Qigong is all about: not only increasing the quantity and quality of man’s vital energy, but also directing this energy to specific parts of the body (the spine), for spiritual progress.
But this energy can also be directed to any activity or purpose; in the case of the Martial Arts it is used to increase the effects of the punches or blocks, to protect an area that has become vulnerable or to maintain balance and equilibrium through out the movements by centering the energy in the lower abdomen, Dan Tien or Hara as the Japanese call it. Every action whether it is defensive or offensive should start and finish there, and breath control is fundamental to reaching this objective.
It is also fundamental to mention the relationship of the breath and the mind. A slow and deep respiration brings with it a mental state of calm and serenity. On the other hand anguish, anxiety, fear, and stress in general is accompanied by fast and superficial breathing. A fighter must learn to use the breath to control mental and emotional states inherent in any confrontation before and during the encounter, and in daily life or in combat. One thing is to posses strong powerful punches and kicks and another one is to be able to use them in critical situations when the mind may be in a state of confusion.
Control of the breath will not only calm the mind and give unsurpassable power to the martial artist, but better jet Wisdom of the highest level; for in coming in contact with this energy, he will discover all the mysteries of the universe, all the secrets, all the harmony and the understanding of a Higher Reality; Pure Compassion.
See our page on “Qigong and Breathing”
Just like it is impossible to become a good Martial Artist without breath control, it is also unthinkable to reach a certain level of mastership, in anything, without concentration and mind control. Concentration is fixing one’s attention on a single object.
For the martial artist as well as the qigong practitioner, mind control will give energy control since “the Mind is the Master of the Energy“ and as the Sutras explain “with mind control everything is possible” the mind is the key to the unlimited power of the universe.
If breath control is important in energy control, so is mind control; the most powerful tool to energy Empowerment. How many examples are there of situations where the mind has “forgotten” its self-imposed limitations and seemingly incredible feats of strength and survival have come about because of the will power and determination of the individual?!! In the case of the martial artist full concentration means to strike or block, not with his body but with his whole being, it is to focus and discharge all his power, all his strength at one point, this is known as YI, intention.
To be fully concentrated on something it is to be fully there in time and space; it is to take oneself into the highest level of union and identification with the object of his attention and thus understand it, sense it, and even foresee its actions. Sensibility is increased and reaction time is faster.
To be fully concentrated is to avoid dispersing one’s energy on irrelevant matters at that time; and this of course is fundamental in a combat situation. We should not forget that in former times, the combats were to death and the martial artist was actually putting his life on the line. It was not a game or sport; it was literally a matter of life or death, and for almost all of us nothing is moreprecious than life itself. It was this particular characteristic that modeled the training and mentality of the martial artists and served as an important incentive for the practitioner to strive for the highest level in concentration and energy control.
Although in our days, combats are not to death and martial arts has become in most cases a sport, it is true that still the martial artist is faced with pain and with a certain amount of stress and our organisms interpret these harmless combats, as imposing experiences that trigger our alarms systems, forcing the practitioner to a high degree of concentration and control of his thoughts and emotions. Here lies an important benefit in the practice of the Martial Arts for those interested in self development.
At the beginning during the training of the Hands of the 18 Luohan, the practitioner is taught to be fully present (Think of one thing to forget one thousand); To execute each movement with YI (intention), as Yi is the foundation of Qi Flow. The practitioners is asked to observe his body position, his breath, and his mind; this is called San Shou (Shou Xing, Shou Chi, Shou Yi) at later stages , this one pointed attention on the position, the breath, and the mind will give rise to San Wang or Forget the Three: a mental stage known as No-Mind (Wu Hsin) whereby one forgets his body, his breath and his mind. In Wu Hsin he is fully present but free from disturbing, foreign or secondary thoughts (Wu Nien). He is completely awareof the situation because emotions and thoughts do not cloud the Mind, the real Self and thus it can be natural, spontaneous (Tzu Jan), free in all its splendor.
It is much the same as when the moon reflects on the waters of a tranquil lake. “When the mind is calm and void the real Chi will be under control“. For the martial arts it means to be fully there, in body, mind and soul and at the same time to be free, to act and react. When the mind is calm and relaxed its sensitivity also increases; it perceives the outer phenomena much better and is able to react faster. Any exercise of Push Hand (giving in and countering spontaneously) is thus improved.
The Luohan practitioner is also taught to flow from one movement to the next, not to let his mind stop on anything; this is called Mo Chih Ch`u (To go on without hesitation). It is that quality that allows the practitioner to “move on”, not to get stuck on anything, much the same way as a ball on a stream, never stopping going up and down, to the left or to the right, always moving. For the martial artist this means that he will not stop after one punch is blocked but that he will continue without stopping to punch, block and kick without intervals, as continuous, as immediate, as the sounds that comes when the hands clap. Mo Chih Ch`u state allows one to perfectly adapt in time and space to the moving situation.
Luohan also shows Wu Wei (No Action), which means to act in accordance with the current of life, not to oppose, but to go with the flow of the universe. Wu Wei teaches, along with many other things to use the minimum force, and to reach the goal by yielding. To understand this concept think of not letting a harsh word to reach the intended target by putting no opposition (a drop of water on a lotus leaf will slide off) or for a martial artist letting the right shoulder go back due to a push and thus naturally watching how the left one comes forward with a strike or saving energy by intercalating soft, yielding movements when needed, with forceful ones.
The 18 Luohan Hands has been used for generations of great martial arts masters to keep their body machine at an optimum level of efficiency. The tremendous results obtained through its regular practice has rendered it an indispensable training tool and thus the secrecy that has surrounded it. The extremely potent manner in which it works the body with its demanding positions and movements of body, legs and arms, is specially suited to the martial artists. The concepts of relaxation (both physical and mental); the correct work of the leg positions for solidity as well as balance and liveliness in movement; the exercising of the waist, hips, back and shoulders; the coordination between the lower and upper body, the ability to develop different types of Gings (relaxed explosive power) and the extension and stretching practiced following the Ying and the Yang theory to increase the flexibility and elasticity of tendons and muscles as well as the draining of the energy channels, make this Qigong system an ideal training tool for both the beginning as well as the experienced martial artist of any system.
YIU – MA – BO: Waist – Horses (foot work) – Shoulders
“The higher you want to go, the deeper that your roots have to be” This applies not only to the spiritual realm where the security and steadiness offered by the legs allows the soul to fly to the infinite , but also to the physical world. Solid, stable stances are a prerequisite to power and speed…. the well known song based on Muhamed Alí the greatest boxer of all times for many people said “….moves like a butterfly, stings like a bee…” All martial arts understand this universal truth.
The Hands of the 18 Luohan with its low stances, its continuous shifting of the body weight from one leg to the other and its one leg standing position, strengthen the muscles and increase the balance.
Yiu or waist, is another of the basic pillars of both the martial arts and of Qigong. In the spine one finds the most important energy centers and channels of the body. Through the turning of the waist and the spine, as is done in the Luohan Kung, these points are activated and the energy is made to circulate to and through these points and channels. In combat the power rises from the feet and it is increased by the motion of the waist and the back muscles. A loose and relaxed waist adds an explosive power to the movement, and it is the determining factor when yielding, for in reality , the waist is the base, the turning center which absorbs and spews all attacks. The power originated by the motion of the waist is enhanced by the coordinated whipping action of the “three gates” (lumbar 3 vertebrae – dorsal 3 vertebrae and cervical 1 vertebrae) in the spine, which is another important element that contributes to the generation of maximum power in the martial artist. All this energy that has been developing finds a further push by the action of the shoulders.
Bo, the shoulders on the other hand, not only add power to the strike but also extension. Extension is another of the qualities of the good fighter. He must reach his opponent and The Hands of the 18 Luohan is an extremely effective method to learn extension. During its practice, the muscles of legs, back, shoulders and arms are stretched and thus the martial artist learns to gain those few more inches that are crucial in an encounter. These potent stretches practiced in Luohan Kung not only allows the practitioner to better reach its target, but also to relax and eliminate tensions which makes the movement faster; for speed actually come from quick reflexes and loose muscles and both are related to physical and mental relaxation. Through out Luohan Kung the practitioner concentrates and focus on certain areas of the body, hand/ forearm and foot/leg and positions them in certain ways: closed, open, hooked, etc. The mind, which is taken there drags the energy, and thus these areas and positions like the fist, the palm, the tiger claw, the finger poking, the crane’s beak, the forearm sweep, the strike with the ball of the foot, tibia, heel, etc., increase their strength, flexibility and sensitivity.
The Hands of the 18 Luohan teaches and trains the martial artists to use the breath, and the mind and to use his body correctly to maximize his physical strength as well as to develop his inner power (Chi) and to use and to guide this energy to generate tremendous power in his strikes, blocks or kicks; but above all it teaches the martial artists the beauty, unity and harmony within and without. You can be a qigong practitioner without learning martial arts; but you can not be a martial artist without being a qigong practitioner.