Zhuan Shu Kuan

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Zhuan Shu Kuan (meaning “Fist Art Association”) is a Northern (wu shu) kung fu style. Zhuan Shu Kuan was created to be a practical fighting system which retains its traditional Chinese martial arts heritage whilst meeting the needs of modern self-defence.

Thus while the syllabus contains traditional wu shu forms and movements, there is a heavy emphasis on practical fighting techniques.

The training syllabus covers all aspects of unarmed fighting including grabs, throws, locks, etc. but concentrating on punching and kicking techniques. Black belts also learn how to use traditional weapons (long staff and broadsword). Classes will typically teach a range of techniques, from boxing through to more complex jumping kicks. Sparring is encouraged, working up to full contact for senior grades.

Zhuan Shu Kuan Symbol

Zhuan Shu Kuan (pronounced “tchwen shoo gwan” pinyin:quán shù guÇŽn) is a martial art mainly incorporating striking techniques similar to taekwondo and muay thai, but also includes forms adapted from Changquan (‘long fist’). It is ostensibly a Northern Shaolin style, though the average class has many similarities to kickboxing training.

History: Zhuan Shu Kuan’s history can be traced back to taekwondo’s arrival in the United Kingdom during the late 1960s.

Shortly afterward, a group of taekwondo instructors, with additional experience in Chinese styles, decided to combine the kicks of the former with the traditional forms (known as kata in Japanese styles) of the latter. Aiming to create a realistic stand-up martial art, the new system was named Wu Shu Kwan, led by Grandmaster C.K. Chang.

In 1988, two senior Wu Shu Kwan masters, S.H. Koh and L.Y. Kam, left the system along with their senior black belts. This resulted in a new organisation, named Zhuan Shu Kuan (fist art association).

Master Koh had learned Tiger Crane (a Northern Shaolin style) from Master Ang Lian Huat during his youth in Singapore, before becoming one of the first taekwondo black belts in the UK.

Co-founder Master Kam studied traditional Chinese martial arts under both his grandfather and at school in Malaysia, later taking several years of judo before beginning Wu Shu Kwan in the UK.

Their experience was combined leading to a martial art akin to full contact kickboxing with a traditional element. The goal of this new style was to further develop practical fighting skills, keeping the organisation small in order to cultivate high standards.

Origins: Zhuan Shu Kuan is a Northern kung-fu style. Kung-fu originated in China, and is widely regarded as being the most ancient of all the martial arts. Kung-fu owes much of its history to the Shaolin monks (and other warrior monks) who were chiefly responsible for the development of organised fighting “styles” and training regimes. The Buddhist monks carried the arts from temple to temple both for self-defence and meditation.

Kung-fu spread and regional differences in styles started to show. In the North of China, where the people were generally taller, Northern styles heavily emphasised kicking techniques. In the South, the shorter stature of the people made in-close fighting preferable and Southern styles (like Wing Chun) place great emphasis on fist techniques and fighting in close.

Kung-fu itself is a misnomer; it simply means a dedicated effort. Often applied to kung-fu, a better term would be Wu Shu – fighting art. Northern kung-fu styles are generically called wu shu. Wu shu is the national sport of China – children are taught kung-fu in schools instead of football.

Kung-fu was taken to Okinawa by monks, where there was in existence a local boxing style simply called (Okinawan) “te”. The monks’ kung fu skills were combined with the local fighting style to create kara-te do – the way of the open (empty) hand.

Okinawa was occupied by the Japanese, and the occupiers met with much resistance from the locals. In response the Japanese banned weapons on the island for the locals, thus karate weapons are based on farm implements (e.g. kama based on a sickle, nunchaku based on a rice-flail, etc.). The Samurai developed their own armed martial arts. They also devised a self-defence system for when they were dismounted or unarmed. Jiu Jitsu converted existing unarmed styles (kung-fu/karate/etc.) to the needs of Samurai self-defence – hence it became heavily grappling oriented. From Jiu Jitsu we now have styles such as Judo, Aikido and Hap Ki Do (Korean).

Kung fu spread to Thailand and the local fighting style there became Muay Thai (kick-boxing) – the national sport of Thailand.

Japan occupied a large part of China (Manchuria) and Korea until after the second world war. During that time, local fighting arts were abolished and Karate/Ju Jitsu schools set up to help spread Japanese culture. Of course, local fighting styles continued in secret. When the Japanese were expelled there was a resurgence in the local arts and several Korean schools (kwans) sprang up. A surge of Korean nationalism prompted the unification of these schools and the South Korean General Choi Hong-Hi brought most of the major kwans together to create Tae Kwon Do in the 1950’s (the exception being the Moo Duk Kwan which remained independent with it’s Tang Soo Do style). Tae Kwon Do effectively became an umbrella style for many of the Korean schools – it sorted out training regimes/syllabus/etc. Today it is taught to Korean police and military, both North and South. Both Tae Kwon Do and Tang Soo Do were heavily influenced by the martial arts taught during the Japanese occupation, especially Karate (look at the first forms for Tae Kwon Do and Shotokan Karate – they are almost identical).

In the late 1960s Tae Kwon Do spread to the UK, spearheaded by Grand Master Rhee Ki Ha. A short time later a small group of martial arts exponents teaching Tae Kwon Do, but with a wealth of experience in Chinese Wu Shu, created Wu Shu Kwan. Wu Shu Kwan aimed to be a hard fighting style, like Korean Tae Kwon Do, but drawing on the wu shu experience of its teachers. Traditional Chinese wu shu forms were introduced into the grading syllabus.

In 1988, Wu Shu Kwan split. The Grand Master of the system stayed, but two senior masters, sifus Koh and Kam, left with their black belts and students to form Zhuan Shu Kuan (fist art association). Zhuan Shu Kuan has been developed from there. The ethos of the founders has always been of a practical martial art devoted to the science of self-defence. Hence there is much emphasis on practical fighting skills. Zhuan Shu Kuan is much less expansionist than other martial arts, instead aiming to remain small but with high standards.

Zhuan Shu Kuan is distinct from traditional wu shu due to its modern, practical approach to fighting. Whilst fighting, we do not use traditional stances and transitions between movements – our fighting style is much less constrained and more organic.

Zhuan Shu Kuan is distinct from Tae Kwon Do in our training methods, fighting style (Tae Kwon Do is much more competition oriented), stances and forms. Tae Kwon Do owes more to karate than Zhuan Shu Kuan does – like wu shu, Zhuan Shu Kuan aims to flow from one movement to the next, rather than hard, sharp movements as in Tae Kwon Do and karate. Neither is Zhuan Shu Kuan like Muay Thai – our fighting style is similar but the training methods, forms, etc. set us apart.

Thus due to the history of Zhuan Shu Kuan’s development and the experiences of its founders, Zhuan Shu Kuan can be seen to be a modern fighting art, designed to be practical for today’s self-defence needs whilst maintaining traditional training methods such as compulsory movements, forms, etc. Effectively Zhuan Shu Kuan is like a blend of Tae Kwon Do and Wu Shu, but with a heavy emphasis on hard fighting like San Shou or Muay Thai. This for me is why Zhuan Shu Kuan is such a good martial art to study.

Training: Training is mainly concerned with punching and kicking techniques, but also includes some joint locks and throws. While several instructors are skilled at ground fighting, it is rarely taught (for example, Sifu Glen Cudjoe also practiced Judo). In Zhuan Shu Kuan, there is the option of taking either a traditional or a kickboxing syllabus, the latter run by Master Kam.

Classes vary, but always include a warm-up at the beginning of class, consisting of common bodyweight exercises such as press-ups, sit-ups and squat thrusts. This is followed by intensive stretching, particularly for the legs due to Zhuan Shu Kuan’s numerous kicking techniques. Linework and/or padwork will usually come next, sometimes accompanied by the grading syllabus (forms, fixed spars and compulsory movements, required to pass each belt level). Finally, class will finish with free sparring.

This varies depending on the practitioner, but works up to full contact for senior and experienced members of class (non-ZSK stylists are welcome to train). Gum shields and groin guards (for men) are compulsory, with participants also expected to wear boxing gloves and shin pads. Conditioning of shins, forearms and knuckles is a part of class, but does not continue into free sparring. At this point in class there are clear similarities to muay thai in terms of technique and style. Black belts also learn how to use traditional weapons, such as the broadsword and long staff.

Gradings: Zhuan Shu Kuan gradings consist of a form, compulsory movements (such as kicks from back stance, building to jumping kicks at higher grades) and a fixed spar (blocks, locks, strikes and throws). After reaching 6th grade, a candidate will also be tested on their free sparring (wearing gloves, shin pads and gum shield, along with a groin guard for men or a chest guard for women).

The contact level increases until eventually full contact after 2nd grade (though contact up to that point is often dependent on the particular candidate; they may well reach heavy contact at earlier gradings). To obtain a black belt, there is a destruction section (breaking bricks, tiles and wooden boards with punches, chops and kicks) instead of compulsory movements, multiple forms and considerably more free sparring, including a two-on-one. From second degree onwards, weapons become part of the syllabus. The main centre for gradings is in Kensington. The kickboxing syllabus does not include training in forms or fixed spars, concentrating instead purely on fighting techniques.

Ranks:

  • 8th Grade – Junior White Belt
  • 7th Grade – Senior White Belt (blue stripe)
  • 6th Grade – Junior Blue Belt
  • 5th Grade – Senior Blue Belt (red stripe)
  • 4th Grade – Junior Red Belt
  • 3rd Grade – Senior Red Belt (brown stripe)
  • 2nd Grade – Junior Brown Belt
  • 1st Grade – Senior Brown Belt (black stripe)
  • First Degree (or higher) – Black Belt Status
  • Master Status – 5th Degree Black Belt
  • Senior Master Status – 6th Degree Black Belt
  • Grand Master – Chief Instructor & Examiner – S H Koh & L Y Kam