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A History and Style Guide of Eagle Claw Kung Fu

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A History and Style Guide of Eagle Claw Kung Fu - When most of us think of kung fu, theatrical kicks and fighting from a distance come to mind. And that's how Eagle Claw differs from the majority of kung fu systems out there. Eagle Claw is more based in Chin Na techniques- in other words, grappling. From grabbing and gripping techniques, to pressure point strikes and joint locks, Eagle Claw has it all.

Here is its story.

Eagle Claw History

The history of Eagle Claw Kung Fu is clouded in mystery for the same reasons that all of the Chinese martial arts types are- a long martial arts history in the area, a lack of written documentation, and political upheaval throughout the country at various junctures that impacted traditional practices. Regardless, there are many beliefs we have regarding the Chinese martial arts, and Eagle Claw is no exception.

The creation of the Eagle Claw System is most often attributed to General Ngok Fei, also known as General Yue Fei. Ngok Fei lived during a time of conflict between the southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) and the Jurchen tribes of the Jin Dynasty. A military path became evident for him early on, which led his grandfather to hire a man named Chen Guang to teach his 11 year old grandson how to use the Chinese spear. Ngok Fei became highly adept at this by age 13, which led to his relationship with Zhou Tong (AKA- Jow Tong), who was brought in to continue Fei's training in archery.

Zhou's actual martial arts background as it relates to hand-to-hand combat is difficult to know. Though many believe that Ngok Fei did in fact train in Chinese boxing as a youngster, it is difficult to ascertain how much of this, if any, was taught to him by Zhou. In addition, Zhou has been credited with everything from being a monk at the Shaolin Temple (where he studied martial arts with the monks), to being associated with them in a martial arts sense, to having no association with them at all.

Regardless, Ngok Fei eventually became a general and trained his soldiers in fighting techniques that he had learned over time, which were seemingly based in Elephant style, a style of heavy, fixed stances with an emphasis on hand techniques over kicking. These fighting techniques helped Ngok Fei's troops defeat the invading Mongolians on several occasions. The techniques eventually became known as Ying Fuen, helping to form the martial arts system called Ying Sao (Eagle Hand) from the 108 Locking Hand Techniques Ngok Fei invented.

Legend also has it that the Eagle Claw system attributed to Ngok Fei eventually found its way to the Shaolin Temple where a monk named Lai Chin- also known as Liquan Seng- came across it. Lai Chin was an expert in the Faan Tzi system, known for its kicking and use of legs. However, Chin was so impressed by what he saw that he combined Eagle Claw with his preexisting Faan Tzi techniques to form a style called Ying Quan/Eagle Fist, which is also called Faan Tzi Ying Jow Moon and Faan Tzi Ying Jow Pai.

Later, when the Ming Dynasty gave way to the Ching Dynasty (1644-1911), the Ming family felt threatened and was forced to flee. One member of the family, Toa Jai, became a monk as a result, practicing Eagle Claw in secret. He passed his system to Far Shing, who did the same to Lau Shu Chun. And from there, the Lau family kept the tradition of Eagle Claw alive, passing it to family members like Lau Shu Chun's third son, Lau Kai Man, and his sister's boy, Chan Tzi Ching.

Eagle Claw Lineage

Most schools of Eagle Claw trace their origins directly to the following three groups. The Lau family, of course, were major players in this:

  1. Liu Qiwen (劉啟文) (Lau Kai Man)
  2. Chen Zizheng (陳子正)(Chan Tzi Ching)
  3. Zhang Zhan Wen (张詹文)(Chian Jin Man)

Characteristics of Eagle Claw

Eagle Claw, unlike the majority of kung fu styles, focuses more on grappling. Along with this, gripping techniques, joint locks, takedowns, and pressure point strikes are emphasized. The Faan Tzi system also added a level of leg techniques not found initially within Ngok Fei's art. Traditionally, the system focuses more on hand strikes.

Eagle Claw Training

Like any other martial arts type, Eagle Claw training depends on the instructor and school. That said, training is generally broken down in three categories:

  • Xing Quan: Also known as walking fist, this represents techniques from what is now called Shaolin Fanziquan.
  • Lian Quan: This aspect of Eagle Claw correlates with almost all of the techniques taught. Also known as Linking Fist, it provides the basis for the seizing, gripping, joint locks, and grappling maneuvers inherent in this art. Qigong skills are also incorporated.
  • Yue Shi San Shou: This refers to the 108 seize or grab techniques associated with Ngok Fei. These are done with a partner over and over again until they can be done without forethought.
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