Red Boats of the Cantonese Opera: Economics, Social Structure and Violence 1850-1950

Introduction The “writing sabbatical” continues and I am happy to report that the book chapters and papers are progressing nicely. This weekend’s post comes to us from the early days of Kung Fu Tea, and it covers a topic that has played a central role in the creation mythology of many of Southern […]

via Red Boats of the Cantonese Opera: Economics, Social Structure and Violence 1850-1950. — Kung Fu Tea


Ba Duan Jin

Ba Duan Jin or Eight section exercises dates back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Ba Duan Jin is characterised by easy movements and impressive health benefits for practitioners that dedicated themselves to correct and regular practice.

Clinical tests undertaken in China have proven the medical benefits of Ba Duan Jin practice. These include improvements to the respiratory system, limb strength, flexibility of the joints and fortification of the nerves as well as overall enhanced balance. Improved cardiovascular function from consistent practice helps cure coronary artery scleroses and osteoporosis. Other benefits include strengthening the immune system and increasing overall longevity and vitality.

Origins and Development

“When practiced between one in the morning and noon Ba Duan Jin brings practicionares into harmony with the universe” – Gao Lian, Ming Dynasty Scholar (1368-1644)

Ba Duan Jin was traditionally practiced both sitting and standing. The standing being the easier and more popular of the two which where practiced.

“Holding the with palms up to regulate the internal organs, and posing as an archer shooting both left and right handed. Holding one arm aloft to regulate the functions of the spleen and stomach, and looking backwards to prevent sickness and strain. Twisting the head and lower body to relieve stress, and moving the hands down the back and legs  and touching the feet to strengthen the kidneys. Thrusting the fists and making the eyes glare to enhance strength, and raising and lowering the heels to cure various diseases.” – Newly published Health and Fitness Illustrations, Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)

The Development of Ba Duan Jin

The southern school is characterised by being primarily a gentler standing style while the northern school is characterised by being primarily a firmer sitting style. There is no one person credited with Ba Duan Jin’s creation. Instead it is more like to be a working health care exercise added to by specialists throughout the ages.


Chinese Health Qigong Association
Chinese Health Qigong Association

Gentile slow smooth and consistent

In order to gain the maximum health benefits of Ba Duan Jin the movements should be gentle, relaxed and gracefully extending, on the basis of a well balanced stance. The flowing movements of the postures should be initiated by the spine to the extremities in a coordinated manner. Calmness and uninterrupted flow helps smooth the internal circulation of vital energy and improve the partitioners health and vitality.

Rhythmic combination of relaxation and strength, and dynamism and inertia

The relaxation of mind, muscles and joints is essential. The mind, should guide the breath gently in a relaxed state of being without compromising correct stance and posture. Stance and posture should gradually be deepened from the exterior to the interior.

Strength should be applied during the practice only for a moment between the end of the previous movement and the start of the next one.

For example:

  • with the hand movement in “Holding the Hands High with Palms up to Regulate the Internal Organs,”
  • the archer’s horse stance in “Posing as an Archer Shooting Both Left and Right handed,”
  • the one-arm lift in “Holding One Arm Aloft to Regulate the Function of the Spleen and Stomach,”
  • the head and hand movement in “Looking Backwards to Prevent Sickness and Strain,”
  • the horse stance in “Swinging the Head and Lowering the Body to Relieve Stress,”
  • the hand movement in “Moving the Hands down the Back and Legs, and Touching the Feet to Strengthen the Kidneys,”
  • the fists thrust in “Thrusting and Fists and Making the Eyes Glare to Enhance Strength,”
  • and the head movement and retraction of the toes and buttocks in “Raising and Lowering the Heels to Cure Diseases.”

Strength is required only for an instant, when changing movements; relaxation should be maintained at all other times. This gives a desired balance between Yin and Yang. When applying strength calmness should remain as the mind guides.

Combining Mind and Body to Cultivate Vital Energy

Mind in Qigong refers to one’s mental state, and how the movements are guided by thoughts. These must be combined and in harmony for best practice to occur. Harmony and symmetry should be seen within movements, sections, and the practice as a whole. When the mind, body and spirit is combined in practice profound inner strength can be seen outwardly in the form, which will display firmness and gentleness. In practice, spiritual cultivation and physical exercise combine to improve health and fitness. This is enhanced through deep natural breathing.

For those interested in qigong courses and retreats. Click the following link.

My Bleeding Eye

It’s a late Sunday afternoon and I’m sitting in a Nero Café nearby my apartment in South Boston and I finally have the urge to write about some of my passions. One in particular that began just down the street from the café I’m sitting at now on West Broadway. This passion, otherwise known as […]

via My Bleeding Eye — Site Title

Lau Bun-A Kung Fu Pioneer in America

Kung Fu Tea

Lau Bun demonstrating a form in the late 1960s. Source:


Given that this post will be released on Columbus Day, I thought that it might be fun to think about some “new world” martial arts history.  Lau Bun was both a colorful and critical figure in the early Bay Area Chinese martial arts scene.  If you are interested in learning more about him or other individuals like T. Y. Wong, James Lee or Bruce Lee, be sure to also check out my review of Charles Russo’s recent book Striking Distance: Bruce Lee and the Dawn of Martial Arts in America.  Enjoy!

 Choy Li Fut’s place in southern Chinese martial culture.

Let me ask you a question.  What was the largest and most socially important martial art in Guangdong during the late 19th and early 20th century?  What was the first martial art to organize an…

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Fighting Words: Four New Document Finds Reignite Old Debates in Taijiquan Historiography

Kung Fu Tea

A recent scene in Beijing as smog clouded the skyline. Source:


As I mentioned last week, I am currently in the middle of a couple of writing projects.  As such, our weekend post will be covered by Douglas Wile, author of the SUNY Press volume, The Lost Tai Chi Classic (1996).  In addition to being a friend of Kung Fu Tea, Wile must also be considered to be one of the essential (indeed foundational) thinkers within the field of Martial Arts Studies.  We are very lucky to have him with us on the blog.

In this article, published in the most recent issue of Martial Arts Studies, Wile takes a closer look at the evidence surrounding a number of recent document finds that purport to rewrite the history of Taijiquan.  Moving beyond these texts he then asks what these controversies signal about the state of martial…

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Lives of Chinese Martial Artists (8): Gu Ruzhang-Northern Shaolin Master and Southward Bound Tiger. — Kung Fu Tea

Introduction Gu Ruzhang is one of the best known martial artists of the Republic of China era. He is remembered today as a pioneer who helped to bring Northern Shaolin to Southern China. Most accounts of his illustrious career start with his appearance at the first National Guoshu Exam held in 1928. At the conclusion […]

via Lives of Chinese Martial Artists (8): Gu Ruzhang-Northern Shaolin Master and Southward Bound Tiger. — Kung Fu Tea

China’s Confucius Institute

confucius_institute_logoWhat is the Confucius Institute?

The Confucius Institute is a non-profit public educational organization affiliated with the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China. Since its founding in 2004 it has been the main educational organization tasked with the job of promoting Chinese language and culture to the world outside the Middle Kingdom. It seeks to do this through Chinese language courses, and cultural exchanges. These cultural exchanges normally focus on language music, calligraphy, and martial arts.

Due to its status as a non-profit the course and cultural exchanges offered through the institute are not only affordable but often include the chance for student participants to gain free scholarships.

These scholarships allow high school level Chinese language students, college level Chinese students, self-taught Chinese language students and Chinese language teachers and researchers to go to China for a specific period of time and have the chance to choose from more than thirty different destinations from the most well-known and “obvious”, like Beijing and Shanghai, to Harbin, Chengdu, Chongqing, Dalian, and Qingdao, which are less known to the general public. There aren’t yet any scholarships from the Confucius Institute that go to Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Confucius Institute Locations throughout the world

Confucius Institutes’ can now be found all over the world, and through its educational programmes links and relationships are fostered through the promotion of Chinese language and culture. The aim being to promote China, its culture history and language to the world.


Scholarships are awarded for exceptional knowledge of Chinese culture by the Office of Chinese Language Council International (HANBAN) through Chinese Bridge. These scholarships are checked on this site and generally fall into four types.

1 – Brief program of 4 weeks

Financial contribution from Hanban with complete coverage for lodging and the price of the course. Minimum requirements: having completed a HSK exam and not have previously studied in China (that last requirement is decided by the individual Confucius Institutes).

2 – Six month program

A half year in China completely covered by Hanban. Minimum requirements: having reached the HSK at level 3 or greater and the HSKK of any level.

3 – Year Program

Completely covered for a year. Minimum requirements: having reached HSK level 4 and the HSKK intermediate level.

4 – Graduate course for Chinese language education

Complete coverage for two years. Minimum requirements: having reached HSK level 5 and HSKK intermediate.

A few partner universities with the Confucius Institute also make Masters available in conjunction with universities in China mainly centred on production, to put it briefly, two degrees for the price of one. Quite appealing!


Standardised testing

The Confucius Institute organizes Chinese language exams recognized throughout the world. The most important when applying for a scholarship, are HSK and HSKK.

HSK is an acronym for Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (汉语水平考试, Chinese language level exam). The HSK is subdivided into 6 levels. To pass this exam, the Chinese language student must have a strong knowledge of Chinese grammar but above all, Chinese characters. In fact each level requires the knowledge of a certain number of words:

  • HSK 1 – 150 words
  • HSK 2 – 300 words
  • HSK 3 – 600 words
  • HSK 4 – 1200 words
  • HSK 5 – 2500 and more words
  • HSK 6 – more than 5000 words

The HSK exam consists of various tests that require just the spoken and written language.

The HSKK, which stands for Hanyu Shuiping Kouyu Kaoshi (汉语水平口语考试, Spoken Chinese language level exam), is an exam that mostly tests the ability to read out loud and speak the Chinese language.

The HSK and HSKK are the minimum requirements to be able to apply for a scholarship in China. The exams are open to all, just go on the site (or directly on the site of the closest Confucius Institute), enrol in the exam with the Confucius Institute you prefer and show up on the day of the test with the document and admission ticket you can print on the site.

The prices for these exams are:

HSK 1 = 20 USD, HSK 2 = 30 USD, HSK 3 = 40 USD, HSK 4 = 50 USD, HSK 5 = 60 USD, HSK 6 = 70 USD.

HSKK basic = 20 USD; HSKK intermediate = 30 USD; HSKK advanced = 40 USD.

A 1918 Account of Traditional Martial Arts in the Chinese Labor Corps

Kung Fu Tea

THE CHINESE LABOUR CORPS ON THE WESTERN FRONT, 1914-1916 (Q 8514) A sword display in a Chinese labour camp in Crecy Forest, 27 January 1918. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:


Co-authorship of today’s post is shared with Joseph Svinth, the editor of the EJMAS and multiple other important works on martial arts studies.   He brought the following account and historic photographs to my attention, and we both agreed that they were worth sharing here.

It seemed as though the events of WWI had largely receded from the public consciousness over the last few decades.  Yet the Great War has been making a comeback in popular culture.  It served as the setting for the hit 2017 film “Wonder Woman,” as well as several other projects appearing on the small screen.  It is often forgotten that China was officially a combatant in WWI (having declared war on…

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The Sword Shops of Beijing’s Bow and Arrow Street

Looking over my posts from the last few months I realized that it has been too long since we discussed new (to us) images of the Chinese martial arts. In this post our friend Sidney Gamble will help to rectify that oversight. Regular readers may recall that Gamble was an American sociologist who documented […]

via Through a Lens Darkly (47): The Sword Shops of Beijing’s Bow and Arrow Street — Kung Fu Tea

Jack Dempsy in full colour

The Tai Chi Notebook


Heavy weight boxing champion Jack Dempsy is one of those legendary old school boxers whose name is still talked about with reverence. He fought in the 1920s, when cars still looked like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Jazz was just becoming popular and the BBC started broadcasting public radio.

He wrote a book on boxing that is still regarded as a classic, Championship Fighting: Explosive Punching and Aggressive Defense and also co-authored How to fight tough.

A new video has been released showing him in full colour. One thing I always notice about Dempsy is his head and neck alignment. He’s always “pressing up the head top” as it says in the Tai Chi Classics. His neck is kept extended and (crucially) aligned with the direction of his spine, so that his chin doesn’t stick out. I think this is one of the keys to his legendary power. Have a…

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