Lama Pai Kung-Fu’s Fundamentals

1 May

The following is a re-print of an article I wrote which appeared in “Inside Kung Fu” magazine in the 1990’s

Traditionally, there have been many ways of differentiating the many systems of martial arts found in China. Sometimes they are divided into “internal” (Taiji, Ba Gua and Hsing Yi) and “external” (Hung Ga, Choy Lay Fut, Wing Chun, etc.) or classified as either northern or southern systems. Perhaps the most famous differentiation is between the Shaolin (Siu Lam in Cantonese) and Wu Tang (Mo Dang in Cantonese) traditions. The Shaolin tradition, further divided into the northern and southern, is suppossed to represents the martial arts practiced by Chinese Buddhists while the Wu Tang tradition issaid to represent the martial arts practiced by Taoists. However, there exists a third tradition of martial arts most Americans know little to nothing about. That tradition is the Lama school.


There have been numerous debates concerning the exact nature of the Lama school. While it has often been labeled “Tibetan”, it appears in many respects to be very Chinese. Furthermore, the martial arts that exists in what is modern Tibet in most respects do not resemble the Lama school as preserved in China. The truth is that Lama represents the vast tradition of Western Chinese martial arts. It represents the martial arts practiced in Tibet but also the martial arts practiced in Outer Mongolia, inner Mongolia, Qinghai, Sichuan, Yunnan, and Xinjiang provinces. It also represents the martial arts of Tibetans, Mongolians, Manchurians, Ethnic Han Chinese and a wide variety of minorities. What these very different groups have in common is a common faith, Tibetan Buddhism, better known as Lamaism. Therefore, the Lama school, Lama Pai, is named for its common religious influence, not its ethnic inspiration.


Lama Pai was founded in the Ming Dynasty by an ethnic Chinese who became a Buddhist Monk. He is known either as Ah Dat-Ta or the Dai-Dat Lama. Neither of these are real Chinese names and are Chinese approximations of this person’s Buddhist name. While we know very little about this person, we do know he was ethnically Chinese, a follower of Tibetan Buddhism, lived in Qinghai province and studied a wide variety of martial arts. These martial arts were Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian and even Indian in origin and a good representation of the martial tradition in Western China.


Ah Dat-Ta’s system was originally known as “Lion’s Roar” and consisted of 8 fist strikes, 8 palm strikes, 8 elbow strikes, 8 finger strikes, 8 kicking techniques, 8 seizing (clawing) techniques, 8 stances and 8 stepping patterns. It included techniques derived from a wide variety of influences including Mongolian and Manchurian wrestling (Shuai Jiao), Northern and Western Chinese long arm and kicking techniques, and Tibetan and Indian close range hand techniques and evasive footwork. However, the more time it spent in China, the more “Chinese” the system became.


Presented here are the eight divisions. In most cases, techniques were never intended to be limited to these fundamentals. Instead, they were designed to preserve various basic principles from which other techniques could be derived. For example, in Lama Pai all straight punches are derived from Chyuhn Choih. However, when Lama Pai came into contact with other Chinese martial arts, straight punching techniques such as Chaap Choih were added to the basic punches within this category. The basic punch Paau Choih represents all techniques that rise up from a lower point, such as uppercuts. The basic punch Kahp Choih was also expanded to include Pek Choih (45 degree hammer fist) and Cham Choih (90 degree hammer fist).

The 8 fists strikes

chan tai san chyuhn choih solo
– Straight punch

chan tai san jyu geng paau choih
– Uppercut

– Overhand punch

– Horizontal backfist, with the thumb toward the sky

– 45 degree backfist strike, with palm toward the sky

jit choih 1
– Forearm strike

guaai mah lahp choih
– Hook punch

th pak yik paau
– Wing Flap

There are also;
The 8 palm strikes
The 8 elbow strikes
The 8 finger strikes
The 8 kicking techniques
The 8 seizing (clawing techniques)
The 8 Stances
The 8 footwork patterns

These eight divisions were then used to create three distinct “forms”, sometimes thought of as different levels or fighting theories. The three forms were “flying crane hands” (Fei Hok Sau), “Maitreya hands” (Neih Lahk Sau), and “Dou Lo hands”. Thus, the system was actually quite complex.

“Flying crane hands”
(Fei Hok Sau)
was devoted to all of the fundamental level fighting techniques of the system and was composed of both fist strikes and open hand techniques aimed at vital points, kicking and sweeping techniques, evasive footwork, and continuous circular striking combinations.

“Maitreya hands”
(Neih Lahk Sau)
was devoted to the advanced fighting techniques and was composed of seizing, holding and twisting techniques and a very specialized skill known as the “vein seizing hand”.

The third and final division was known as “Dou Lo hands” and was named for a plant indigenous to India, whose seeds have a hard outer shell but a soft, cotton like, substance within it. “Dou Lo Sau” was devoted to internal aspects of the system such as vital point striking and the special “vein changing skill”. The needle in cotton hand set is derived from techniques of the “Dou Lo Sau” division.
After several generations, teachers of Lion’s Roar kung-fu created a number of hand sets named after the Lo Han (Buddhist Saints) and the Gam Gong (literally “diamond” but referring to Buddhist Guradians). Furthermore, once Lion’s Roar came to southern China its was renamed Lama Pai kung-fu and incorporated many techniques and ideas from Chinese martial arts. The original eight divisions, eight fundamentals in each division, and the three forms were gradually either forgotten or only explained to advanced students. If it were not for the recorded history left by earlier teachers, we may have never understood how Ah Dat-Ta developed the original Lion’s Roar kung-fu system.


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