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White Ape Swings Through the Branches

Within the Hao family of Mantis, Through the Branches in Four Sections (Si Duan Chuan Zhi 四段穿枝) are regarded as the fist that "guards the home" and are not passed on to ordinary students.

 

 

Zhou Zhendong applies snatch the treasure a move in the form Through the Branches to Cunyi.  

According to Master Zhang Kaitang 張楷堂, Haosi (Hao Hengxin's nickname) greatly treasured Through the Branches, he only passed them on to those trusted disciples who had studied for 5 or more years. Those who were capable of learning all four sections were even fewer. Zhang Kaitang was the closed door disciple of Hao Si and the shifu of my shifu Zhou Zhendong.

Some years ago some disciples of the Hao family came one after another to my Shifu Zhou Zhendong after learning that he knows the four sections of Through the Branches.

One famous Mantis master, a certain master Zhang, had studied Hao family Tang Lang with Hao Zhongyue 郝忠岳, but never learned Through the Branches. When Master Zhang heard that Zhou Zhendong knew this form, he asked others to plead on his behalf to learn Through the Branches from Zhou Zhendong. Master Zhou taught Master Zhang the first section of Through the Branches, never expecting that this Master Zhang would go back to his teacher Hao Zhongyue and show off his new kung fu. When Hao Zhongyue saw Master Zhang do Through the Branches, he said in great surprise, "This is our family's house guarding fist, how is it that you can do it?"

Master Zhang proudly proclaimed that it was taught to him by Zhou Zhendong. When Hao Zhongyue discovered that Master Zhou was Master Zhang Kaitiang's 張楷堂 disciple, he angrily stomped off to Master Zhang Kaitang's home to condemn and denounce him for teaching Through the Branches outside the family, and complain that Master Zhang should not be teaching this form to outsiders. Master Zhang said, "Zhou Zhendong is my relative, he wishes to study , how can I not teach him? 周振東是我的親戚,他願學,我怎么能不教?"

From this we can see that Through the Branches is truly precious.

The White Ape of Mantis


The first move of Through the Branches is called White Ape Exits the Cave. It shows up many times within the form in different combinations and is one of the characteristic techniques of this form. But who is the White Ape and where is his mysterious cave? To quote the White Ape himself from a popular Ming stage drama.

I live in Misty Cave on Misty Mountain, and named Misty Great Sage.

China presently promotes tourism to Misty Mountain and Misty Cave. This is the view from Misty Cave looking out over the mist covered peaks of Misty Mountain.

 

The story of the White Ape begins sometime during or after the 8th century. By the Ming dynasty, nearly one thousand years later, the White Ape was a well known subject of popular stage drama. The script of these dramas have been preserved in obscure books of literary history not commonly read by people of the current era. The writing style is a combination of vernacular conversation and songs of the classical Chinese language, making them hard reading. Luckily, the translations into English vernacular are much easier.

 

Locking Up White Gibbon 鎖白猿

 

A famous play written in the early Ming called Realized Master Shi the Fourth Sage Locks up White Gibbon 時真人四聖鎖白猿 and nicknamed Locking Up White Gibbon 鎖白猿 starts with White Ape walking onto the stage to describe himself and his great powers (translated below).

 

White Ape then goes on to describe his next victim Shenbi 沈璧. White Ape waits for Shenbi to leave home on a trip before starting his evil plot. White Ape transforms himself into an exact likeness of Shenbi and visits Shenbi's family just before the real Shenbi returns home. When the real Shenbi arrives home the White Ape uses his power of transformation to cow Shenbi into submission. After the tragic-comic confrontation between Shenbi and "Shenbi", the White Ape transforms back into his original form. Shenbi describes White Ape,

He opened up his pair of imposing tiger-wolf pupils

He extended his pair of fierce wolfish ape arms

睜開他雄赳赳兩點虎狼睛

舒展他惡狼狼兩隻猿猱

Shenbi is given the ultimatum, "Forfeit your family and household to me or receive death by dismemberment into 10,000 pieces! You have three days!"

 

The White Ape gives Shenbi three days because,

I must attend the Party of Immortal Peaches

 

我今赴蟠桃會去也

No wonder there is a technique of White Ape stealing peaches!

 

Shenbi enlists the help of an ineffectual exorcist who fails miserably at helping Shenbi escape the present calamity. Finally Immortal Master Shi 時真人, the hero of the story, captures White Ape.

 

The custom of Chinese drama is to introduce oneself when entering the stage. White Ape's description of himself is written in elegant 7 meter non rhyming verse and has a hypnotizing rhythm to the cadence in the original Chinese which I was sadly not able to reproduce here.

 

Great Sage of Misty Mountain

Conquering the misty peaks of lofty mountains coming and going as I please.
Climbing mountains and crossing the peaks I display my bravery.
Overturning rivers and stirring the seas I flourish my magic powers.
Mounting the clouds and riding the mist I ascend the violent rain, throwing rocks and hacking sands with my demonic wind.


When idle I climb harsh mountain ridges of the thousand year old tree.
In boredom I play at the summits of the 10,000 foot pine.
In the evening I'm holding fruits while the apes cry at the moon.
During the day I'm at the foot of the forest as tigers roar with the wind.


I am a mist that reaches the heavens and penetrates the earth.
I'm nothing less than Yuling's aged Bai Shen Gong (a famous master of Yuling).
I am the divinity Misty Great Sage.
I live in Misty Cave on Misty Mountain, and named Misty Great Sage.
Born with heaven and earth and growing up with the sun and moon my vast magic powers can perform transformations of many kinds.
As I Leave Misty Mountain I stand high as the clouds.

 

占斷煙霞萬里峰. 任吾來往自縱橫. 爬山過嶺施英勇. 翻江攪海顯神通.騰雲駕霧昇狂雨. 走石砍沙起怪風.

 

閑攀峻嶺千年樹. 悶戲巔峰萬丈松.夜隨獻果猿啼月. 件林前虎嘯風.

 

我是箇通天徹地煙霞. 不弱如庾嶺多年白申公. 吾神乃煙霞大聖是也. 在於煙霞山煙霞洞居止. 號曰是煙霞大聖. 某與天地同生. 日月並長. 神通廣大. 變化多般. 某離了煙霞山. 立於雲端.

 

White Ape Offers the Blade

 

Besides the magic powers of White Ape's transformations, he also carried a sword attached to his waist. This was not lost on the White Ape's theatre audience. Military manuals containing techniques named after White Ape are a further demonstration of the popularity of White Ape during the Ming Dynasty.

The spear technique White Ape Applies the Saber comes from a late Ming era manual called Wu Bei Zhi. This manual was a complete listing of all the martial arts and military methods popular just before the fall of the Ming Dynasty. This is also the collection where Thirty-six Mantis Warriors are mentioned. This copy comes from a Japanese collection.

 

 

 

From the same book Wu Bei Zhi this version comes from a Chinese collection. Two White Apes training saber against each other. The manual describes names and applications of techniques with the saber.

 

 

The History of Through the Branches

 

In April 2013 I returned to China to train with Shifu Zhou Zhendong. I asked him about the details of Hao Lianru's Mantis Monkey form Through the Branches. This is the story told to him by his Shifu Zhang Kaitang.

Near the close of the Qing Dynasty Hao Lianru ran a martial arts school in Beijing where he taught Shaolin Fist and Monkey Boxing. Liang Xuexiang's son Liang Jinchuan was in Beijing selling textiles. Two masters met and swore to brotherhood. Their friendship resulted in the creation of Hao Lianru's Monkey and Mantis style of boxing. You see similarities between this form and Liang Jinchuan's form Praying Mantis Hands.

 

Hao Lianru learned Luanjie from Liang Jinchuan as well as empty hand fighting techniques. No doubt they were those that Liang had learned from his father Liang Xuexiang. From this exchange Hao Lianru created Through the Branches. It combines the applications of mantis in a series of four forms of about 50 moves each.

 

The move called White Exits the Cave is shown here.

These photos taken from a video grab as Shifu Zhou Zhendong is performing.

Two moves that go to left and right happen to be similar to the method used in Zhou Zhendong's Bengbu form

 

Zhou Zhendong's Bengbu form shows a direct relationship to the move White Ape Exits the Cave. In both forms you move side to side with the mantis hand using a forearm strike to the bottom.

 

White Ape takes treasures by force. Within Through the Branches we often see techniques with this name. Names such as Snatch the Treasure from the Bottom of the Sea and Take the Pearl.

 

No wonder Through the Branches has the technique of stealing pearls and snatching treasures, it comes from the White Ape

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