Emei Kung Fu

Written by Sally Guo Updated Jun. 17, 2021

If you mention kung fu, most people think first of Shaolin or Wudang Kung Fu. But you know what, there is a third school just as important in the martial arts world as these two, though lesser-known.

Emei Kung Fu is one of the three major Chinese martial arts, along with Wudang Kung Fu and Shaolin Kung Fu.

One of the four famous Buddhist Mountains in China, Mount Emei (峨眉山), in Sichuan province, is home to Emei Kung Fu, and Emei Kung Fu is very influential in the southwestern region of China.

The style of Emei Kung Fu stands in between the vigor of Shaolin and the softness of Wudang. Integrating the positives of the other two, it advocates a combination of movement and stillness, and of “external” and “internal” forces.

Three Stages of Emei Kung Fu

Emei Kung Fu was founded on Taoist teachings. During the Tang dynasty (618-907), Buddhism started to appear in China and many Buddhist monks came to Mt. Emei with their teachings and Shaolin Kung Fu skills. Emei Kung Fu later became a combination of Taoist and Buddhist teachings and skills.

The Creation of the Emei Style

A hermit named Situ Xuankong lived on Mt. Emei during the periods of the Spring and Autumn (770-476 BC) and Warring States (475-221 BC). By learning from monkeys, his neighbors at the time, and mimicking their movements, he created a set of “Emei Tongbi Quan”.

This boxing style involved flailing the arms dexterously like whips, and it focused on body-building. Always wearing white clothes, Situ Xuankong was later known by his apprentices as “Bai Yuan Gong” (White Ape Man).

The Development of Emei Martial Arts

In the early Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279), Emei Qigong was created by a Zen master named Bai Yun (White Cloud), merging various techniques like massage, acupuncture, meditation, etc. During the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), Emei martial arts flourished, with many talents emerging and skills becoming consummate.

The Enrichment of Emei Theory

During the reign of the Kangxi Emperor (1661-1722), Wu Shu wrote the book “Records of Arms”. It accurately describes various techniques for using a lance, including movement and stillness, defense and attack, judgment and caution, and so on. It has greatly enriched the theory of Emei martial arts.

Emei Boxing – A “Self-Contradictory” Art

Sichuan people live in the Sichuan Basin, with its unique climate and complex terrain. People there are industrious and brave, renowned for their dexterity.

With a foundation of inheriting the intrinsic skills and movements of traditional martial arts, Sichuan people made full use of their quick and agile skills, creating a unique style of boxing.

Strong and Soft

It is normal for Emei Boxing to couple strength and gentleness. On the one hand, the boxing must be strong but not stiff, with speed and power; on the other hand, the movement needs to be soft enough to stretch muscles to the maximum extent.

Fast and Slow

Fighting fast with slow techniques, waiting to strike with slow movements, and combining fastness with slowness is the characteristic style of Emei Boxing; fast but not chaotic, slow but not scattered. It features unexpected fatal attacks on the enemy after appearing to relax vigilance by showing weakness and gentleness.

Dynamic and Static

Movement, called “external” force, is the basic offense skill of Emei Boxing, including kicking, striking, knocking, stabbing, swinging, as well as footwork; while the opposite, stillness, called “internal” force, refers to the fluency of blood, the integration and agility of spirit, the accuracy of judgment, and the timeliness of response.

Virtual and Real

Emei Kung Fu is a product of regional culture. The physique of Sichuan people is relatively small and they are not as strong as northerners, thus they usually win by stealth. The “recoil from real strikes and attack using virtual moves” during free fighting, which means they often strike the enemy with unexpected attacks by imitating moves to confuse the opponent while preparing to attack.

Up and Down

The structure of Emei Boxing’s movement is full of variation, with ups and downs, twisting and folding, pitching and stretching, etc.

Lithe and Forceful

One important technique of Emei Boxing is to imitate lithe moves like a dragonfly swimming on the surface of the water and to attack with heavy force like a tiger springing on its prey.

Feminine-Inclined Style?

In the popular Chinese wuxia fiction of Jin Yong, the Emei Sect was created by a Buddhist nun, which of course is not true. However, Emei Kung Fu has always impressed people with feminine-inclined styles. Why?

There are three major kinds of weapons in Emei Kung Fu: sword, hairpin, and needle (hidden weapons). The corresponding names of these martial arts are Xuan-Yuan Sword, Emei Piercing (using the abovementioned hairpin), and Yun Boxing, which carry associations of feminine-invented kung fu.

A functionalist explanation for such an impression is that, as mentioned above, the physique of local Sichuan people is relatively small and their force is not as strong as northerners, so the Emei kung fu features quick and agile movements to help make up for disadvantages in this respect.

In free fighting, they often use deceptive moves to relax opponents’ vigilance and then attack unexpectedly, for instance, pricking at the eyes or using hidden weapons.

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