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History & Lineage
The Five Elders

 
The Sil Lum (Shaolin) temple was noted for its religious and military arts scholars.  Many Ming dynasty generals and prominent Chinese families sent family members to study at the Sil Lum temple.  Ming generals and high officials often sought for their sons the rigorous military arts training from the warrior monks of Sil Lum temple.  However, in the 17th century, political turmoil swept through China.  Ming political power and economic might began to wane through decades of border warfare.  The most costly was the protracted war in Korea against invading Japanese armies.  The once-close Ming ally, the Ching, grew stronger and bolder, gaining political control of the northern Chinese provinces in the early 1600's.  By the year 1644, the new Ching government controlled all major territories held by the former Ming Emperor.  The fleeing government and military survivors of the now vanquished Ming Dynasty faded into the Chinese communities throughout China.  The warrior monks (Ming supporters) of Sil Lum temple in Honan province relocated to the southern Sil Lum temple in Fukien province.

It is at the Fukien Sil Lum temple that the five Chinese youth, each from prominent families, began their training under the warrior monks.  These five were destined to become known as the famous "Five Elders of Sil Lum".  Four of the five were males and trained together in the Weng Chun Dein (Eternal Springtime Hall).  Their names were Fung Doe Duk (eldest in learning rank), Bak Mei (eldest in biological age), Jee Shin, and Mew Hin.  The fifth youth was a female named Ng Mui and would join her four older Kung Fu brothers several years later.

The Sil Lum military (martial) arts were taught in the great training hall named the Weng Chun Dein.  In this hall, two prominent arts were taught, the Weng Chun Dein Dragon and the Weng Chun Dein Tiger.  Other major animal Kung Fu fighting arts were also taught in the great fighting hall.  The other major animal forms included the Weng Chun Dein Crane, Weng Chun Dein Leopard, and the Weng Chun Dein Snake.  Numerous other long fist and weapon Kung Fu arts were also taught in the same hall.

Of the many styles of Sil Lum Kung Fu arts, the Dragon and the Tiger systems were the most prevalent.  It is because of these two dominant systems that the famous hot urn was used to tattoo Sil Lum graduates with a Dragon and a Tiger.  All five youth trained and specialized in the Weng Chun Dein Dragon and Tiger systems as well as a number of special hand and weapons arts.  (The term Dein or "Hall" is often assumed and left out.)

More than ten years passed before the five youths became mature Sil Lum experts.  Taking an oath to restore the Ming Dynasty, the five experts began to train other Chinese loyalists in kung fu.  It was hoped that a trained army of kung fu fighters could be raised to overthrow the northern Ching barbarians.  It was this same movement that gave birth to the most notorious Chinese secret societies known as the "Triads".  Of the five leaders (Five Elders), Bak Mei was not firmly behind the overthrow effort nor was he really interested in the ever shifting political winds.  Bak Mei began to feel the growing scorn from the other four elders for his non-alignment.

The traditional religious sanctuary across China soon began to unravel as the numbers of political refugees seeking new identities grew.  Like the Five Elders, many Ming political officials, hiding behind the veil of religion, still harbored political hate and malice towards the new Ching government.  An increasing number of partisan attacks against the new Ching government's establishments and officials caused increasing concern.  The Ching government knew that these anti-Ching partisans used the religious monasteries as sanctuaries, especially the Sil Lum temple.  Ching tolerance of the long-held tradition of religious sanctuary became unacceptable.

The alert monks in the Sil Lum temple, sensing the growing political animosity by the Ching government, started to evacuate the temple's premise and sent many monks and nuns off on long pilgrimages to the west.  Many of the best Sil Lum martial artists, carrying many secret scrolls, left the temple before the Ching army could attack.  With the use of firearms and blade weapons, the new government ordered thousands of monasteries destroyed and all Buddhist monks killed.  Many thousands of monks, nuns, and religious followers lost their lives as the Ching army purged all suspected religious sanctuaries.  In 1673, after a long siege, the Sil Lum temple in Fukien province was destroyed.

Traveling for nearly a year-and-a-half after the Sil Lum temple's destruction, the Five Elders made their way to the western mountains of China.  Traveling independently, the elders disguised themselves as Taoists priests and a nun.  Although the Buddhists were being slaughtered throughout China, the Taoists still enjoyed religious immunity and were often not questioned by Ching troops.  During their long travel, nearly nine hundred miles in the west-by-northwest direction, the Five Elders continued to refine their martial arts skill and developed a number of refined fighting systems that required shorter periods of training.  In the year 1675, the Five Elders reached a temple on O-mei mountain in Sezchuan province.

Agreement by the Five Elders as to how much political involvement and how many students they should teach was tenuous at best.  Bak Mei could not agree with the other elders about the amount of political alignment their followers should have.  The dispute would be settled with a martial arts match between Bak Mei and Jee Shin.  Bak Mei was known for his internal and external physical abilities.  He was a noted lantern fire lighter in the Sil Lum temple in his younger days.  Able to whip his legs and back joints to propel his body to twice his own height, he lighted the high lantern fires along the Sil Lum temple's walls.  With this deadly skill, Bak Mei was a formidable fighter.

In the first match, a fierce fight broke out between Jee Shin and Bak Mei.  Jee Shin, using his favored long fist techniques, was able to hit Bak Mei with more blows, but Bak Mei's tucked-in, crouched Tiger posture proved to be an effective defense against the blows.  In turn, Bak Mei countered aggressively and defeated Jee Shin with a devastating series of phoenix eye punches.  The implications of this match were far reaching.  The well-liked Jee Shin soon died from the wounds that he received during the match with Bak Mei.  Jee Shin's death shocked the other elders.  The enraged Mew Hin soon challenged Bak Mei to another fight.  Although closely matched, fate did not favor Mew Hin in the fight, and he lost his life.  With the deaths of Mew Hin and Jee Shin, the animosity increased.

The eldest brother, Fung Doe Duk, was next to take up the challenge against the undefeated Bak Mei.  Having witnessed the first two deadly fights, Fung Doe Duk was able to avoid Bak Mei's favorite techniques.  Bak Mei was also able to avoid injury from Fung Doe Duk's initial maneuvers.  The final blow came during a close-in clash.  Fung Doe Duk was able to deliver a bone crushing kick to Bak Mei's foot.  Bak Mei did not recover from this compound fracture which led to his death a short time later.

The surviving Fung Doe Duk and Ng Mui soon parted ways to travel and to teach on their own.  Fung Doe Duk taught his Bok Fu Pai and other Sil Lum arts to his followers.  He spent much of his remaining years in western China a good distance from most of society.  Ng Mui taught her Mui Fa Pai and the other Sil Lum martial arts to her followers.  She also became the matriarch of martial arts to her blood relatives in the powerful Fong clan.

The complete Sil Lum Kung Fu teaching system took Ng Mui and her kung fu brothers nearly fifteen years to learn.  After leaving the Sil Lum temple, Ng Mui found it necessary to modify her teaching practices.  In order to teach the large numbers of Ming loyalists, the traditional ten-to fifteen-year Sil Lum Kung Fu curriculum had to be divided into shorter, two- to three-year teaching systems.  Each two- to three-year portion was a complete fighting system and usually formed around two animal forms and one weapon.  This allowed the many Ming followers to specialize in certain areas of kung fu that fit various body types and levels of aggressiveness at a quicker pace.

Ng Mui renamed her Dragon-Tiger system to Mui Fa Pai.  Today, there are many versions, with many names, of this concave chest postured (crouched) Dragon-Tiger system.  The Mui Fa fighting system is nearly identical to sister arts like those of Bak Mei, Lung Ying, Southern Praying Mantis, Bak Fu, and later Yau Kun Moon.  These sister systems utilize the concept of being very aggressive from the best possible defensive posture (crouched posture).

Not all of Ng Mui's teachings were centered on offensive abilities.  Some of her students were taught counter-fighting principles.  Ng Mui instructed Fong Weng Chun (a male student) to specialize in the two animal systems known as the Weng Chun Dein Fu-Hok Sheong Ying.  Most Fong clansman preferred the Crane techniques.  Ng Mui also instructed Yim Wing Chun (a female student) to specialize in the two animal fighting systems known as the Weng Chun Dein Sae`I-Hok Sheong Ying (the Eternal Springtime Hall's Snake and Crane form).  Yim Wing Chun was not taught a weapon because she was young and not expected to be involved in the ongoing fight against the Ching army.


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