Sunday, 1 December 2013

History of Wen Hsiu Quan

The Founder at his happiest- training!


This blog was probably supposed to start with a post about the history of what is my very own fighting style.
Fact is, though- I actually thought about doing it now. I have only realised now that the process of learning, training and modifying which felt up to this point to have been so recent and so fast actually happened over more than a decade now...

It is also because I realised that I have not yet really had the chance to teach this art to anyone yet. Right now I am actually worried that this art- this system of techniques, tactics and beliefs will follow me to the grave. On the one hand I can leave as much as I can on this blog, but what I'd really appreciate is the opportunity to see the art itself blossom and grow within someone right here with me.

One of the main reasons why Wen Hsiu Quan got developed is simply that it suited me- as a person. In karate students are known to have their "tokuiwaza" (favourite techniques) and in essence- Wen Hsiu Quan is a collection of my favourite techniques. 

Does that mean that it is limited? Well- yes and no. It is capable of adapting to any kind of fight, to attack in any direction and to defend from any position, but it does have a limit to the techniques employed. The reason why I actually chose it to be like this is that a combatant needs a quick, efficient response that comes to meet the situation at hand without thinking. Having too many options to choose from makes that difficult and in some split-second instances- impossible. 

Efficiency aside- I do like katas and I do like high kicks. That's why I have them. I know Bruce Lee removed forms and I understand why. But- unlike many MMA practicioners you see nowadays- I do want to spend time on stretching, flexibility and technique. These things- after all- are what give the Wen Hsiu Quan student an advantage over the brawler who tries to deal him physical harm.

Being able to fight does not make you a martial artist...

  Chapter 1: The kid with his nose in the books

Ever since I can remember a family tradition which was maintained throughout my childhood was the fortnightly trip to the town library. That gave me access to a source of knowledge and entertainment that rivalled television.A couple of years later I would of course actually go to the trouble of buying music and playing video games, but before all that- I had books. 

I can tell you now that I have not always read about martial arts. I actually had a huge love for science and a large number of the tomes I have perused in my preteen and early teen years were on subjects ranging from Astronomy, Physics and Chemistry (Mention should be made that I had a huge interest in robots at the age of 11...).

Now in these years I have found books on karate and judo. Having been really lazy to read and only copying the pictures I have actually thought that I now possessed what was necessary to defend myself- knowledge of a fighting art! Disappointment soon followed, however, when this knowledge did not prove to be enough in the informal sparring sessions I had at home with my father or with my friends at school. Still- instead of giving up I have decided to actually READ the books next time...

The first technique I can remember learning and executing with success was an outer leg throw from a book on Judo. Being 13 at the time I had a favourite book on Judo which I have borrowed from the library more than once. Although it was not able to teach me how to send somebody flying with a flick of the wrist I did find that it was simple and effective in its own way. A definite milestone on my road was the day an older, larger boy dragged me around the schoolyard and after having timed his force and momentum just right I yielded with the last tug he gave my wrist and rushed past him, grabbed his arm and hooked his leg from under him. I still smile when I remember him spitting out dirt in disbelief...

Other books followed of course. Books on karate, kung fu and even a book on boxing... I loved Judo, but nowhere in any of the towns in South Africa where I have lived have I ever come across a school that teaches it. Karate, though, that was another story...

Chapter 2: Karate Class

I was 14 years old when my parents finally agreed to enrol me into a karate club. The dojo was in a huge gym hall at the Mogol Sports Club in Ellisras where we lived at the time. This was where I was to learn my first style of karate from an actual Sensei, Sensei Piet Oosthuyzen.

The first technique I have practiced in that class was age uke, the basic rising block. As a white belt I was very quickly taught a large part of the basics- large enough for me to be able to participate in kumite (sparring) practice at the same level.

The style was Shukokai. Compared to the Shotokan I was to practice later in my teens this was a simple, no-nonsense style which was as combat ready as I have ever experienced. I quickly soaked up the technique and underlying principles like a sponge and the only thing difficult about the gradings ended up being the toughness of the kumite tests. I was always fairly timid by nature and forced myself to assume the tough attitude needed to get through kumite sessions. Despite this disadvantage I left that style having obtained my purple belt.

During this time with Shukokai I have kept on reading and researching whenever I had the chance. I also practiced religiously at home when I was not at school or the dojo. One of the things I had sent my pocket money was a monthly magazine called the Taekwondo Times. I was 16 when I found the article on Zen Meditation in one of the issues I had bought. This changed my life.

I made a point of incorporating meditation, and later also qigong into my training regimen although it was not taught by my sensei. At this time I have also learnt the basics of Taekwondo and found that its techniques, as well as that of Judo, fit seemlessly into my style at the time and devised attacks and defenses incorporating what I have learnt. The benefits of meditation and the Zen mind I had cultivated proved to be of immense value during practice at the dojo- especially during kumite practice. I actually started winning some fights for a change...

In High School, having been known as a timid boy often subjected to bullying (at one point I actually felt that karate was pointless as it id not solve this problem), my new mind actually enabled me to intimidate would-be attackers at school. Where I had spent the years of 14 and 15 in fear, I was actually a lot more confident and at peace with myself at 16. Still- I will admit that hitting hard was not a priority for me and I concentrated on developing quick reflexes and an impenetrable defense.

Just before I turned 17 my family moved to Nelspruit. It did not take long at all to find a new karate school. This time around there was no Shukokai club to be found. It was time to start learning a new style, which was the dominant style in the area at the time- Shotokan. The main source of Shotokan karate is the Japanese Karate Association and the dojo at which I have studied was a JKA dojo. The allowed me to keep my belt rank that I got from my previous style and in this style I proceeded to 1st kyu brown belt.
Although I vowed to fully embrace the new style a large part of its techniques I did not agree with and took to practicing more favorable techniques at home. One of the most prominent of these deviations was replacing the stiff and uncomfortable blocking of karate with the fluid sticking hands of Wing Chun Quan kung fu.

By this time I have concluded that my ideal martial art would have striking, kicking and grappling techniques. I was not happy with the cultivated habit of relying on only feet and fists that got cultivated by competition practice and made an effort to incorporate techniques like knife hand and palm thrust into my private training. I also loved weapon practice and my first nunchuck was a prized possession.

By now I have also learnt what I could of Aikido and Ju Jitsu and incorporated these techniques into the style which was still in formation. Fact is- these techniques are not so foreign to Shotokan karate, but are not seen much as they are not allowed in competition. Determined to experience what it would feel like to employ these forbidden techniques as a second nature when they were needed I continued my training.

Just after I had finished school I happened to get attacked at a social event in Ngodwana. My inability to use any of the techniques I had learnt was the last straw. I found myself forcing me to use the techniques taught by my school while the situation definitely called for something else. At the time I had no idea how I was going to fix the mess, but soon afterward I had left Shotokan.

Chapter 3: Zanshindo- The Way of Calm Awareness   

It is the year 2000 when I came up with the name for my personal style with its fluid movements and its focus on what is required by the situation and not by the style. By now I have left the last formal dojo at which I have studied and pre-set katas now made room for a new form of kata practice...

I actually began visualising myself being attacked, sometimes by one, often by more than one opponent. Incorporating Musashi Miyamoto's guidelines for dealing with multiple assailants and the techniques with which I came up I soon developed quick responses. Sparring sessions a year later showed that this way of practice was quite effective.

The Zanshindo practicioner has no will of his own in battle. He is one with his entire situation and his techniques come automatically to meet the attacks of his opponent. It felt perfect up to a point, but I was to discover a fatal flaw in my training...

Chapter 4: Internal Strength       

Chen Yu Chi

On 12 November 2001 I have finished my exams for the year. I was busy studying for my Law degree and worked at a Chinese Restaurant to cover the little expenses I had as a student. By now I was satisfied with Zanshindo and did not further research. I just practiced religiously. It was at my job at this restaurant where a Taiwanese girl called Wang Xing Yin visited and gave me the name: "Wen Hsiu". This name is often the only name by which Chinese people in my hometown know me...

It was on this day, about a year after I got my Chinese name, that I have met Chen Yu Chi, a lovely young Taiwanese who came to visit my boss and her family. We quickly became friends and she did not talk much about it, but apparently had training in Wushu. Being of much smaller build than myself, and looking really delicate, I was not prepared for what I was about to discover...

It was during a quiet day in the restaurant when we spoke about self defence. I wanted to demonstrate a simple technique for escaping a wrist hold and turning it against the opponent when I asked her to grab my wrist. Her grip was tight and secure and her wrist was almost impossible to turn for the escape to work. And she did not even seem to be trying!

In another demonstration she blocked my punch by thrusting her palm straight into my fist. Talk about "Iron Palm"... I soon found myself caught in a wrist lock. Yu Chi's friend Wei Jie Yu studied Taiji and Judo. The ease with which she could push me off my feet was amazing.

These encounters revealed a gap in my fighting art that needed to be filled: I needed Internal Force to be cultivated in my techniques.

Chapter 5: Wen Hsiu Quan- My style of Kung Fu

By 2002 I have learnt enough of Shaolin Qigong and Force Training to understand how one develops the power to break bones and subdue and opponent with a single wrist hold. By this time I have also developed a strong affection for the Chinese martial arts. Now Zanshindo's Japanese name no longer suited me. I chose to name it Wen Hsiu Quan- literally "Wen Hsiu's Fist".

The one thing which sets this style apart from others is that it suits me. It was designed by myself for myself.

When Bruce Lee created Jeet Kune Do he abandoned forms and intricate rituals to focus on what was absolutely essential for an effective way of fighting. That was Bruce Lee- not me. I admit that I have studied his Tao of Jeet Kune Do religiously and for a long time adopted the techniques taught by him at the cost of my own, but in the end I felt that I was not meant to copy a master who had created his own system by following his own way. Bruce Lee's way was born from a strong Chinese martial influence which came from the Taijiquan he had learnt from his father and the Wing Chun Quan he had learnt from Ip Man. With this foundation he later went on to explore other styles and found his way.

I, however, started with Judo and Karate. I came to realise that, although I have learnt many techniques and methods- my heart and body is that of a karateka. Whether it is Zanshindo or Wenhsiuquan, a style of Kung Fu or a style of Karate or maybe just a new version of the MMA movement that is now here to stay does not matter at all.

The important thing is- It works.

I know I have left a lot unsaid in this blog. That is the idea. Anyone who wishes to learn can contact me by email at

My contact number is +2784 799 7030.