Kung Fu books….

24 Jul

Almost as soon as I started training in New York’s Chinatown, I discovered Chinese book stores and kung fu books. Now, mind you, this was years before I met Chan Tai-San and long before I could speak or write Chinese. I’d just look at the pictures and try to figure out what the book was about.


It was kind of fun to go back years later and find out what I had bought, not knowing what they really were. I had both the Hap Ga “Siu Lo Han” book and Chan Daau’s “Do Pai” books.

south fist one

The first Chinese martial arts system I learned was Hung Ga, so I of course acquired the three famous Hung Ga books. I also managed to collect a few other Hng Ga and other “Nam Kyuhn” books. I was young, I had just started Chinese martial arts, and I couldn’t even read the books I was buying. At first, I was looking for books to learn styles, or at least forms from those styles. I remember I did learn a Choy Lay Fut crane set, a tiger set that was just labeled “Shaolin” and a tiger fork set from these books.

kahm na 3

People who collected these books probably remember how little application was addressed. Initially, I’d say almost all the books I bought showed the sets but almost none of the applications. Were they “keeping their secrets”? Or just didn’t have any applications to show? It seemed like the only application books were Chin Na/Kahm Na (grappling) books.

kahm na 6a

Why was Chin Na/Kahm Na the only application skill you could find in book form? I can’t tell you. I can tell you much of the technique in these books were silly wrist locks that would never work in real life. They were also, characteristic of much Chinese martial arts, pretty horribly organized and presented. Only one was rather brilliant, showing the attack, the Chin Na response and then the counter to the Chin Na. I may translate that one for you all one day.

quan fa

In the 1990’s, after I had met Chan Tai-San, and as I learned some Chinese, a new sort of book started to appear in these book stores. Suddenly, there were books with nothing but applications? I have been told that “sanshou” manuals were initialy considered only for the military and police and that you could get into significant trouble for having them in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. Then, suddenly, things changed.


At some point, the Chinese Wushu Association decided that sanshou, which had been military and police training, was going to become an international sport. The first world championship was held in Beijing in 1991 and suddenly not only was it no longer illegal to have sanshou manuals, they started publishing them!

throwing pages

I have a rather extensive collection of these books, including reprints of the original 1956 military manual called just “sanshou.” They are a strange collection of trends. Many are filled with illustrations of people in traditional kung fu uniforms. Others show western “track suits” to indicate how modern the methods are. Most are bare knuckle, a few show boxing gloves. Some are almost desperate to show the applications of traditional Chinese martial art. Others are clearly mis-moshes including clearly non Chinese martial arts. A few seem to have lifted their illustrations from Japanese Judo and Russian Sambo manuals. Addresses all this will have to be another project.

In the meantime, my Chan Tai-San Lama Pai book is still available at https://www.createspace.com/4891253


One Response to “Kung Fu books….”

  1. Jason Wang September 7, 2014 at 11:58 pm #

    Great article and interesting pictures. But what do you mean by “some were desperate?”was there that little homegrown variety which they found effective?

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