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Hakka Warriors: Tracing the Roots of Chow Gar’s Martial Secrets

Hakka warriors, Hakka Kung Fu, Chow Gar

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Chow Gar uncovered

Part 2

Since our system is related to the Hakka ethnic group, in order to establish a better foundation for the thought process started in the previous section, let’s first look at who the Hakkas are.

The Hakka people originate from the central plains of China, the areas near the Yellow River. In the old historical eras, it was typical for many Hakkas to serve in various positions in the imperial palaces, mainly providing combat and administrative expertise.

During the Jin Dynasty (266–420) and the turmoil of the subsequent Northern and Southern Dynasties, the Hakka people were part of waves of migration caused by political instability and nomadic invasions.

Hakka warriors, Hakka Kung Fu, Chow Gar

Hakka Warriors: Cultural and Martial Heritage

The migration of the Hakka people from central China to the southern regions brought with them a rich martial arts heritage that was honed over generations as they served as army generals, military trainers, and even bodyguards for the Jin Emperor. This profound martial arts expertise was practical, forged in battle and the trials of personal combat.

The story of Chow Ah Naam, set in Fujian province—a key area where many Hakkas settled—reflects this tradition.

His legend, which is more than just a metaphor, probably served as a narrative strategy to preserve the ‘secret’ knowledge of Hakka martial arts during Manchu persecution.

Survival and community identity

Hakka warriors, Hakka Kung Fu, Chow Gar

For the Hakkas, martial arts meant more than just fighting techniques, they were tools for preserving community identity and ensuring survival.

The legend of Chow Ah Naam, in which he gains recognition and acceptance in the Shaolin Temple after developing a unique fighting style, reflects a more general theme of the Hakka community’s quest for cohesion and identity.

It illustrates how the martial arts were critical elements in establishing belonging and respect within the new communities.

Hakka Warriors: Preserving Traditions in a Changing World

Hakka warriors, Hakka Kung Fu, Chow Gar

The importance of preserving martial arts is deeply rooted in tradition, as illustrated by the example of Sijo Lao Sui.

According to tradition, Lao Sui accepted only Hakka disciples. This exclusivity was broken when he decided to teach Ip Shui, the first non-Hakka student, breaking with this centuries-old cultural tradition.

His decision was not taken lightly by the Hakka community. Ip Shui’s acceptance caused the disapproval of many among his peers, which only increased when he later became the Grandmaster after the death of Lao Sui.

Let us share a personal story here, which also helps to shed light on the traditional attitude.

In 2008, we visited our master, Grandmaster Sifu Ip Chee Keung, who is the son and heir of the late Grandmaster Sikung Ip Shui. During this visit, Sifu Ip Chee Keung took us to Master Li Tin Loi‘s school to meet others who are emblematic in the community for their achievements and efforts in popularizing the style.

During this visit, the complexity of the traditions in the Hakka martial arts community became clear to us.

Traditionally, these arts were closely guarded, reflecting broader social norms such as loyalty and suspicion of strangers. According to their own account, this exclusivity also extended to the female members of the family in the old days, who were not taught their martial arts in order to prevent the secrets from passing on to strangers through marriage.

The case of our leader, a respectable 70-year-old practitioner, exemplifies the existing tensions. At first, he was friendly and welcoming, but his behaviour changed dramatically when he was left alone with us in an elevator.

He expressed serious resentment that we outsiders have access to what was once strictly guarded knowledge. “You are very lucky,” he remarked, his voice filled with pride and bitterness, “for you are learning from the grandmaster. You would not have had the opportunity to learn this system long ago.”

His words showed not only personal resentment, but also deep respect for the martial arts as a precious heritage.

This encounter not only reflects the internal struggle in traditional societies to preserve heritage, but also emphasizes the emotional weight these traditions carry for individuals.

 

The transition from guarded exclusivity to wider inclusion shows a significant cultural transformation, where traditions once kept within ethnic or family boundaries are now shared with a wider audience.

As we look back on the development of the Hakka martial arts, this personal story is a powerful reminder of the deep personal and cultural significance these practices hold.

Looking Ahead: Unraveling the Secret of Chow Gar

Hakka warriors, Hakka Kung Fu, Chow Gar

As we explore the complex pattern of migration, cultural adaptation, and martial development of the Hakka population, one element remains tantalizingly unsaid – the mysterious martial knowledge given to Chow Ah Naam by the abbot as told in the origin story of Chow Gar.

This knowledge, deeply rooted in Hakka martial traditions, transformed Chow Gar into a formidable martial art system, renowned for its explosive techniques and extraordinary strength.

In the next part of our series, we will delve deeper into this mysterious aspect.

What is this ‘secret’ knowledge that has been so carefully guarded and selectively passed down from generation to generation?

How does this knowledge continue to make Chow Gar effective in the modern world?

Hakka warriors, Hakka Kung Fu, Chow Gar

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