Until the late 19th century Taiwan maintained fairly close contact with South China; in particular, the coastal province of Fukien (Fujian). Many people, mainly Fukienese, and to a certain extent Hakka, emigrated from this and other parts of China to Taiwan. They included all levels of people from scholars to farmers and a number of kungfu masters and teachers. The kungfu they brought with them encompassed many styles, some believed to be connected with the Shaolin Temple and others claiming no such relationship. Some of the styles originating in the Southern areas of China, however, were often referred to as 'South Shaolin'. As the years went by and kungfu in Taiwan changed and developed, the possible origins of South Shaolin were less attended to so that some of the Southern styles are now thought of as being intrinsically Taiwanese.
The Golden Eagle style or, as it is known in Chinese, 'Jin‑Ying Chuan' 金 鷹 拳 , was brought to Taiwan in the 1830s by the famous master Ah Sen‑Sai, a native of Fukien. Ah Sen‑Sai was a practitioner of Chinese medicine and a martial arts expert. Having connections with other Fukienese people in the town of Hsilo, Southern Taiwan, he decided to make his home there.
In the history of kungfu in Taiwan, Hsilo has always held an important position. There were a number of very rich landowners and farmers in Hsilo who, for various reasons, hired the best kungfu teachers they could find to teach their families. Thus Hsilo gradually became the center of martial arts excellence in Taiwan and was still highly regarded until recent years.
When Ah Sen‑Sai arrived, Hsilo already had a strong kungfu tradition and keen rivalry between schools; a rivalry which sometimes led to violent, even fatal consequences. Setting himself up as a doctor and martial arts teacher, Ah Sen‑Sai had to be prepared to meet tests and challenges from other masters and their students. It was quite accepted for groups of kungfu students, armed with various weapons, to attack anyone claiming to be a master and find out if he really had any skill.
Ah Sen‑Sai not only survived but became known, and is still known, as one of Taiwan's greatest martial arts heroes. A number of years ago one of the National TV channels showed a popular series of programmes devoted to the life and exploits of Ah Sen‑Sai.
In the 19th century the richest family in Hsilo was the Liao clan. They paid Ah Sen‑Sai to come to their house to teach the young men of the family. Ah Sen‑Sai taught them outside in the courtyard. While he taught he was covertly observed by a poor labourer named Chen‑Cheng. Inside a nearby building Chen had to push a great circular stone used for milling rice around, a job usually performed by a donkey but given to Chen in view of his considerable strength. As he followed his circular route, he passed by the one small window in the room allowing him to catch a glimpse of the activities going on outside. Passing by the window many times an hour, hour after hour, Chen began to understand what Ah Sen‑Sai was doing, so that, in his free time, Chen managed to put together the movements and practice a little by himself. He was engaged in this activity one day when Ah Sen-Sai himself came by and caught him. Chen was very worried about what Ah Sen‑Sai would say since the master may well have been outraged if he thought someone was trying to steal his techniques. Ah Sen-Sai asked Chen‑Cheng what he thought he was doing and where he had learned such movements. But Chen claimed he was just exercising. Master Ah refused to accept any excuses until Chen admitted the truth. Rather than being angry, the master admired Chen's diligence and actually invited him to become his student.
A NEW STUDENT
When Chen-Cheng attended Ah Sen-Sai's private kungfu class one of the senior students, Tsai Cho-Feng, complained to Master Ah. Tsai was a wealthy young gentleman who cound not tolerate the idea of being the kungfu brother of a peasant. Ah Sen-Sai prevented them from coming to blows and eventually they became Ah's best students and masters in their own right. On the death of Ah Sen‑Sai, Tsai and Chen were left the leaders of the Golden Eagle style. Now, without Master Ah's influence, the two masters parted company and opened separate kungfu schools. Tsai's school was called the Jen Shin Si and Chen's was known as the Jen Shin Guan. Both masters taught their own way, adding and refining techniques as they saw fit so that two parallel strains of Golden Eagle began to emerge over the years. Later the schools ceased to exist as such but the best disciples continued to teach new students in their courtyards outside their houses. Usually the teacher reserved the most advanced techniques to his own immediate family. The descendants of the Jen Hsin Gwan were Liao Shen, Chen Sung, and Tan King-Hong also a master of chi-kung (qigong) and Chinese internal medicine who lived into the 1980s. After Tsai Cho‑Feng the leaders of the Jen Shin Si line were mostly from the Cheng family including in chronological order Cheng Jin‑Jan, Cheng Wan‑Jung, Cheng Yin, and Cheng Sung who died about 25 years ago. One of the most senior masters is now Cheng Chia‑Miao 程嘉苗.
Master Cheng Chia‑Miao is related through his mother's family to Tan King-Hong and was able to study with him as well as with masters on his father's side of the family such as Cheng Sung. So Cheng Chia‑Miao and younger brother Cheng Chia-Min (Gavin Cheng) had the opportunity to learn both lines of the Golden Eagle style and are probably the only people to do so.
After mastering the Golden Eagle style in Hsilo, Cheng Chia‑Miao moved to Taipei to work as manager of a book company. In Taipei, Master Cheng sought out mainland Chinese kungfu experts in order to expand his knowledge by learning Northern styles unknown in Hsilo. He practiced Chang Chuan, Xingyi, Black Tiger and Seven Stars Praying Mantis with the Shandong master Lu Chin-Han. After about 10 years practice Cheng became so proficient in Seven Stars Praying Mantis that he became Master Lu’s assistant and designated successor. As co-instructor in the late sixties, he taught Praying Mantis to two well-known Western martial arts experts: the late UK master Danny Connor and the American expert Bruce Kumar Frantzis. Several years later when Cheng Chia-Miao opened his own martial arts classes he decided to teach Golden Eagle style rather than Praying Mantis. A few years ago he was employed to teach combat to the bodyguards employed by the Taiwan government to protect visiting heads of state and dignitaries.
The martial art Cheng Chia-Miao taught emphasises fast evading and dodging techniques, suppleness and flexibility of the body; grabbing and holding movements reminiscent of the eagle itself. Like Tai Chi Chuan, the Golden Eagle style utilises waist-turning to generate power and to deflect and re-direct attacks, avoiding or parrying rather than using forceful blocks. In fact, Golden Eagle style has all the characteristics of what is sometimes referred to as an ‘internal style’.
As in many forms of kungfu, the elementary straight punch ends with a wrist-twisting action focusing on the first two large knuckles. The punch, starting from above the hip, moves up to shoulder height with a 45 degree angle at the elbow then moves forward to twist at the end to a palm down position. The elbow is not fully straightened and the punch may be allowed to recoil back slightly. The shoulder is permitted to move forward with the punch but is kept down. The body is thus not held rigidly square as in some forms of kungfu. This punch is usually used to attack the sternal region or lower. For higher attacks, the back-fist strike or cow‑horn punch is preferred. The cow-horn punch also involves raising the fist to shoulder height, like the basic straight punch, but from that position it curves outward slightly, like a boxing hook. The fist is twisted so that on contact the thumb is pointing down i.e. the fist is rotated 90 degrees further than the usual punch. This technique is especially useful for attacking the opponent's temple or ear.
When punching, hip action is utilized. For example, if the right leg is forward and the right hand is punching the left hip is drawn back while the punch travels to the target but, when the punch connects, the left hip snaps forward at the moment of contact thereby increasing the impact of the punch. The body and the punching arm are kept relaxed until the last moment when everything is tensed on completion of the strike.
Punching techniques are usually practiced starting from the hip, but when utilised this is seldom the case. Punches are actually delivered from wherever one's hand happens to be at the time. It is, then, necessary to learn how to produce power in a very short distance, possibly a few inches from the target. Thus Golden Eagle style involves methods of developing what is referred to as ‘Tsun‑Jing’ or 'one inch power', important for the close‑in fighting characteristic of South Shaolin.
Although used for long range attacks as well, the fast snapping back-fist strike is often favoured for very close fighting. Back-fist strikes are used in many forms as both strikes and as blocks, to the wrists and shins for example. Golden Eagle style also employs a variety of elbow strikes for close combat. The elbow techniques include all angles of attack and seem to be far more highly developed than those found in other similar martial arts.
BLOCKING & EVADING
Blocks are mostly circular, usually moving from inside to out and often finishing with a grabbing technique to control or unbalance the attacker. These grabs can involve the squeezing of pressure points or nerves. Many blocks use both hands to confuse the opponent. Thus a right face punch can be blocked with a left outer block pushing the punch inwards while the right hand goes unnoticed under the left to grab the attacker's wrist, the original blocking hand turning into a finger strike to the eyes. It is common for the blocking hand to change immediately into a strike or for the other hand to attack at the same time as the block. Both the open palm and the edges of the wrists are used to block. However, blocks are rarely performed without some attempt at avoiding the main attack and re‑directing the attacker's power, a practice which is always emphasised in this style.
To develop the ability to evade one's opponent, it is necessary to pay great attention to footwork, body-shifting, and the use of the waist. Three-angle stepping (San-Jao Bu) is extensively practiced which involves bringing the leading foot back to the rear foot then to the side, the rear foot following and then stepping forward. A triangular pattern is made. This technique permits one to evade an attack, move to the side of the opponent and then step in to counter attack. This type of triangle stepping is also found in the Southern White Crane style popular in Taiwan
An extension of San Jiao Bu is the 4 angle stepping method or 'Si Jiao Bu'. If you are standing in a forward stance with the left leg in front, for example, facing your opponent who attacks with a left punch you move your rear leg (the right leg) a step forward diagonally to your opponent's left side, using an open hand deflection. Having stepped forward, you move your left leg (now the rear one) over to a position parallel with the right one into a high horse-stance. This technique must, of course, be done very quickly and efficiently but, if one has sufficient proficiency, it is possible in this way to evade a punch or kick, to get to the side or rear of one's opponent and to deliver whatever counter attack is suitable. These techniques are considered to be fairly elementary and are taught very early in one's training. Later, more advanced methods of body shifting, dodging and evading are introduced at the appropriate time. Flexibility, speed, and manoeuvrability are, therefore, thought to be more important than physical strength or power.
In practicing the various methods mentioned above, a basic Golden Eagle forward stance is used. To do this stance, you step forward about one pace. The rear leg is bent so that the knee is well beyond the toe but the knee of the forward leg does not go over the foot. Unlike some forms of kungfu, the back leg is always kept bent and flexible so it can be straightened if required, for instance in certain types of throwing techniques. The bodyweight is approximately in the centre or slightly on the back leg. The thighs are turned inwards and the feet grip the floor. When punching, for example, one is supposed to bring one's power up from the feet and ankles through the legs, hips, and body into the arm. This is the most used stance. Other stances include the horse-stance, high and low, back weighted stances and various others.
Having learned the forward stance, some stepping methods, and a few punches and blocks, Golden Eagle students are taught the first of the 30 short forms. The first four are used to practice evading, side-stepping, punching, turning, the forward thrust kick and a few grabbing methods. Golden Eagle style includes a wide range of joint‑locking and grasping techniques known as Chin‑Na. Further forms involve elbow and back‑fist strikes, foot sweeps, unbalancing and throwing, numerous kicks, dodging, jumping, and so on. There are, in addition, several staff, iron rods ('Tie-Chiu'), sword, and short-stick forms.
Master Cheng Chia‑Miao, unlike some martial arts teachers, taught his students how to apply all the techniques in the forms and when a suitable level of training was reached, encouraged his students to practice free sparring, something not always done in martial arts schools in Taiwan. Cheng Chia‑Miao still lives in Taipei (2015) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5U81c3ywQs
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