Tien Shan Pai

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Tien Shan Pai (天山派) is a northern style of Kung-fu which originated in the Tien Shan mountains of northwestern China. It stresses rhythm, the demonstration of power accentuated by solid thuds made by the hands, the emitting of power from the entire body, the coordination of the hands and feet as well as blocks and strikes, high kicks and low sweeps, as well as locking and throwing techniques. At the same time it also contains graceful empty-hand and weapons forms.

Tien Shan Pai self-defense is characterized by angular attacks coupled with multiple blocks. If one block fails, the second can cover. Footwork is considered essential to countering attacks. Tien Shan Pai focuses on low and steady steps to the side, along with swift “hidden” steps to trick the opponent. Paired boxing forms and exercises are emphasized for timing and accurate evaluation of distance in reference to a moving, responsive adversary.

History:  Wang Chueh-Jen (also known as Wang Jyue-Jen), The 63rd generation head of Tien Shan Pai, is credited as the first person to teach Tien Shan Pai, in Taiwan. Wang came from a rich family. His father, Wang Ting Yuen, was a well known kung fu master in Szechuan province. Wang Chueh-Jen first studied from his father before his father hired a master to teach him and his brothers at home. Wang eventually inherited the Tien Shan Pai style from Ho Ta-Sun (also known as Ho Yuen-Ching).

Tien Shan Pai Badge

Tien Shan Pai has long been popular in Xinjiang, Gansu and other western provinces; however, it was not well known in eastern China and Taiwan until Wang Chueh-Jen taught there. Through many years of study and teaching, Wang refined a style of combat he called “radar style fighting”.

Many of his early students competed in leitai tournaments, all giving outstanding performances, with some winning championships. At that time (1955), there were no weight divisions (in 1957 three weight divisions were established) and no protection. The last such tournament without protection was held in Taiwan, Republic of China in 1986.

Wang continued to teach Tien Shan Pai, in Taiwan, until his death in 1990. Some of the curriculum he incorporated into his teaching included forms from the Central Martial Arts Academy in Nanjin.

Grandmaster Wang taught both Tien Shan Pai and non-Tien Shan Pai curriculum. The non-Tien Shan Pai curriculum, also taught and incorporated by Grand Master Wang, includes forms from the Central Martial Arts Academy in Nanjin. During the republican period the Kuomintang opened a school to teach martial arts to its citizens. To this aim the Academy recruited masters from different styles like: Hsing-I, Baguazhang, Bajiquan, Long Fist, Taijiquan, Shuai Jiao etc.

Because Grandmaster Wang was a student at the Academy, it is possible to conclude that he took some of this curriculum along side what he learned as a child and presented it under the name of Tien Shan Pai.

Regardless, Wang Chueh-Jen noted many different teachers as the sources of such styles as Taijiquan and Baguazhang; pointing out that they should not be confused with Tien Shan Pai, which was taught to him by Grandmaster Ho Ta-Sun (also known as Ho Yuen-Ching). Although he incorporated various styles into his curriculum, Wang Chueh-Jen maintained, until his death, that Tien Shan Pai was an ancient system.

Founding Legend: Tien Shan Pai kung fu originated in Xinjiang Province in Northwestern China. Legend has it that it was practiced by monks who lived in a temple nestled among the snow-capped peaks of the Tien Shan mountains.

As the story goes, a young herdsman who was searching for lost animals wandered too far from home. The grasslands he knew so well suddenly looked unfamiliar and he realized he was lost. Noticing an old monk with long white beard approaching nearby, the boy stopped him and asked for directions. When he returned to his village, the boy told his mother about the old monk. She replied he had met Tien Shan Lao Ren, a monk who was noted for his martial arts skills. The mother encouraged her son to find the monk and learn his kung fu secret.

The young boy set out to find the old monk. His quest carried him deep into the mountains. He searched for mile after mile, but could not find the old monk. At the point of physical exhaustion, the young boy stopped at nearby stream to quench his thirst. While kneeling by the stream, he saw the reflection of a beautiful temple nestled in a snow-capped mountain. Sensing he was close, the young boy hastened onwards.

After a long trek into the mountains, the boy finally arrived at the temple. However, his hopes were dashed when the monk refused to accept him as a disciple. They were not permitted to teach outsiders, the monk explained. But instead of going home as they suggested, the boy knelt in the snow outside the temple doors, refusing to leave until the old monk would agree to teach him. On the second morning, he was discovered lying unconscious from the cold and was taken into the temple.

Seeing his determination, the old monk reconsidered. Tien Shan Lao Ren decided to teach the boy, whom he nicknamed Hong Yun (Red Cloud) because of the mist that rose from his bleeding knees when he was discovered outside of the temple. He stayed in the temple until he grew to manhood, and when he left, he eagerly passed on his skill to other dedicated students. Hong Yun Zu Shi, as the first to teach the monks martial artistry to the outside world, is regarded as the founder of Tien Shan Pai.

Willy Lin, Wang’s Assistant and Head Instructor in Taiwan, traveled two times to Xiangjiang province, to the area surrounding the city of Urumqi, in order to find the temple or any traces of the style. He did not find any temple or any record about Tien Shan Pai in that area. He found the lake mentioned in the legend, but nothing else. Lin spoke to Grand Master Wang about this on two separate occasions, and after two separate visits to Urumqi. Grandmaster Wang had no comment.

It is always possible that the original temple may have been located in another part of the Tien Shan Mountain range. It is also possible that there is more than one lake bearing the same name as the one outside of Urumqi. Without an archaeological team assembled for the express purpose of finding the purported ancient Temple, however, this question of the location of a temple may never be answered definitively.

Part of the reason for this is that the Tien Shan Mountain range is about the size of the state of Nevada. The mountain range also extends into Kazakhstan, Russia, and Kyrgyzstan. It should be noted, however, that Willy Lin, as well as many of Wang’s students who were senior to Lin, have repeatedly affirmed that Grandmaster Wang always spoke of the temple as being located in Xiangjiang province.

Modern Practitioners: Tien Shan Pai is an active style of Kung fu practiced by many in the United States and around the world. Current Masters in the US, all taught by Wang, include (alphabetically) Chien-Lien Huang, Tony Lin, Willy Lin and C.C. Liu.

In 1968, Willy Lin emigrated from Taiwan to Sao Paulo, Brazil. In 1970, he came to the United States, where, in 1971, he opened his first school in the Washington, DC area. Willy Lin is credited as being the first person to introduce, and to teach Wang’s system of Tien Shan Pai in the United States.

Presently, Willy Lin lives in New York City. He still teaches privately. He gives workshops and seminars regularly, around the country, on the traditional forms and practices of the Tien Shan Pai system, as they were taught to him by Grandmaster Wang, and as Lin taught them, both in Taiwan, and later, in the US. Lin has produced a series of instructional DVDs in order to record this traditional legacy of Tien Shan Pai, in both the Kung Fu, as well as the Tai Chi aspects, as taught to him by Grandmaster Wang.

In the 1980s, and while Grandmaster Wang was visiting the US, Tony Lin sponsored an exhibition of Tien Shan Pai in Baltimore, MD. Participating in that exhibition were Tony Lin, C.C. Liu, Chien-Liang Huang, their various students, and Grandmaster Wang, himself. It was during this exhibition that carved commemorative swords were given to Lin, Liu, and Huang by Grandmaster Wang. Each sword acknowledged, by name, its recipient as a student/disciple (“di-tzu”) of the Grandmaster. It should be noted that, while other students of Supreme Master Wang received swords, only Huang Chien-Liang’s sword contains carvings by Supreme Master Wang stating that he is a 64th Generation disciple. Additionally, carvings on the scabbard of Huang’s sword also affirm Wang’s position as the 63rd Generation grandmaster.

Grandmaster Huang Chien-Liang arrived in the United States of America over 30 years ago. Since that time he has been teaching and promoting Tien Shan Pai. He currently resides and still teaches at the primary school in Maryland. He claims that, although there were classmates senior to himself, none learned as much of the actual Tien Shan Pai curriculum as he did, and only he received the initiatory Taoist disciple name from Wang Chueh-Jen, as well as engraved and painted calligraphic documentation that the lineage was being passed on through him.

Images documenting this are available on Huang Chien-Liang’s website . As such, he is regarded as the Grandmaster of the system by his students, as well as by those disciples of the 65th Generation, who were inducted as well in the presence of Grandmaster Wang Chueh-Jen.

Today most practitioners of Tien Shan Pai, learn aspects of northern Shaolin kung fu, and Yang style Tai Chi Chuan and in some cases Xingyiquan and Baguazhang as well as traditional Tien Shan Pai.