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Han Tong's White Ape Boxing

"Wang Lang's Praying Mantis defeats all opponents" is the last line of Surnames of the Founders of Eighteen Styles. When you hear people say that the Praying Mantis style comes from Wang Lang you know why. Surnames of the Founders of Eighteen Styles is recorded in several hand written books dating back several hundred years.

Zhou Zhou Lei Performs "Through the Branches"

Luohan Short Strikes

Luohan Duanda 羅漢短打

 

True Transmission of Shaolin

Shaolin Zhenchuan 少林真傳

 

Praying Mantis Manual

A hand written version by Cui Shoushan

Tang Lang Quan Pu 螳螂拳譜

 

Zheng En Watches a Fight

 

Zhen En watched from the side and saw a problem. Some versions of this Praying Mantis Manual, such as those penned by Heaven-Ascended Daoist, include an encounter between the first three masters listed in Surnames of the Founders of Eighteen Styles. The seven character description includes their name and the specialty of their fighting style.

1. Taizu's longfist is the beginning

2. Han Tong's tongbei is the mother

3. Zheng En's wrapping and sealing is marvelous

Taizu was a general who became emperor in 960 A.D. and Han Tong was a general who was executed in the same year. Heaven-Ascended Taoist describes a dramatized event between these three men in his True Transmission of Shaolin singing the praise of Taizu's longfist. The man who later became the very popular first emperor of the Song dynasty.

Taizu's Longfist is exceedingly commendable.

He roamed everywhere under heaven visiting great masters.

This is followed with a comparison to Han Tong and Zheng En

From that time Han Tong made a great name for himself.
Zheng En watched from the side and saw a problem.
The Tongbi 通臂 Gibbon style is not bad yet,
Straight fists can be defeated by the wrapping sealing strikes.

White Ape Exits the CaveThe sentence "Zheng En watched from the side" hints of a fight that he is watching between Han Tong and Taizu, but it is not stated explicitly. It is assumed that the reader knows the story. But what story? Did Zheng En ever watch a fight between Han Tong and Taizu? To answer this question I looked up all the scant historical records of the Zhou Dynasty (951-960) as collected by modern scholars of ancient Chinese history. As you would expect there is no historical record, at least that I have been able to find, of such an encounter between these three heroes.

 

The first evidence of an encounter between these three doesn't show up until several hundred years later in the Ming Dynasty. I found it in the play Muling Guan Shang Da Han Tong 穆陵關上打韓通

 

Beating Han Tong 打韓通

 

This Ming era play Beating Han Tong at Muling Guan (Muling Guan Shang Da Han Tong) was nicknamed "Beating Han Tong." The play starts with Han Tong walking on stage and boasting of his greatness by reciting a poem of himself.

拳打山東一地方
腳飛拳起世無雙
寰中好漢聞吾怕
方今之世把名揚


My boxing has beat all of Shandong
My flying feet and lifting fists are without peer in this generation
My reputation is feared by heroes throughout
My name's fame spans a lifetime

Following the poem Han Tong sums up the greatness and accomplishments of his life.

I am Han Tong. My native birth place is Muling Pass (穆陵關) of Shandong. Since I was young I have been good at contending with others in fighting and wrestling. My pair of fists can overthrow a ferocious tiger and my feet can knock down a qilin 麒麟.

A Qilin

Qilin 麒麟


 

Han Tong finishes by explaining to the audience that he is bothered by the rumors of Zhao Kuangyin's great fighting skill. Han Tong tells his two disciples that he must find Zhao Kuangyin and challenge him to a test of skill and strength.

 

The events of the play takes place during the Zhou Dynasty before Zhao Kuangyin became Song Taizu first emperor of the Song Dynasty in 960 A.D. His original name was Zhao Kuangyin, often shortened to Zhao Dalang 趙大郎.

 

Later in the play Han Tong and Zhao Dalang finally meet up for their fight. Han Tong and his disciples have gone to the Zhao family Inn to challenge Zhao Dalang to a fight.

Each of you disciples stand along the side. Don't let Big Zhao escape!

 

I am the number one hero under heaven. Han Tong of Muling Pass. Whoever wishes to die come and fight me.

At this point the script tells us that Han Tong brandishes his fists in the "pulling fists" posture. Heaven-Ascended Daoist leaves behind an illustration of "pulling the short fist."

 

Pulling Fists

[Zhao Kuangyin sings] Look at his posture. I can't stop myself from laughing. Ya! To measure your powerless body how bold are you?

Some onstage fighting action takes place. We can imagine that Zhao Kuangyin's skill is outshining Han Tong.

[Han Tong speaks] Disciples! Zhao Kuangyin is a good fighter.

The details of the stage performance are not included except what we can glean from the dialogue. Han Tong seems to have problems tripping over stones and steps. All while Zhao Kuangyin sings and Zheng En and Han Tong are commenting and shouting.

[Zhengen speaks] Han Tong has lost.
[Han Tong speaks] I have not lost! It was the edge of these stone steps that caused me to stumble.

The fight goes on for several rounds until Han Tong runs out of excuses and finally admits to being bested by Zhao Dalang.

 

Han Tong of White Ape Boxing

 

The play "Beating Han Tong" is a story of the first encounter between Han Tong and Zhao Kuangyin having a fight and witnessed by Zheng En. The proud Han Tong is defeated by Zhao Kuangyin.

 

Heaven-Ascended Daoist's True Transmission of Shaolin describes the fight between Han Tong and Zhao Kuangyin witnessed by Zheng En. It seems likely that Heaven-Ascended Daoist had this play or a version of this story in mind when he wrote of the encounter between Zhao Kuangyin and Han Tong in his True Transmission of Shaolin.

 

Based on Heaven-Ascended Daoist's line

From that time Han Tong made a great name for himself.
Zheng En watched from the side and saw a problem.
The Tongbi 通臂 Gibbon style is not bad yet,
Straight fists can be defeated by the wrapping sealing strikes.

We can see that Heaven-Ascended Daoist saw Han Tong's style as  White Ape boxing

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