Luohan (martial arts)
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Luohan quan (Chinese: 罗汉拳; pinyin: luohan quan), also known as "Arhat boxing", literally means "Buddhist Saint Kung Fu". Luohan quan is the most representative style of Shaolin Kung Fu, so that sometimes the name Luohan quan is considered an equal name for the whole vast system of Shaolin Temple martial arts. Luohan quan is an ancient style. The original roots of the style date back to the early eras of Shaolin temple.
In Shaolin temple, Luohan quan originally has a few famous routines, small (Chinese: 小; pinyin: xiao) and big (Chinese: 大; pinyin: da) Luohan quan, where small Luohan quan has 27 postures/36 movements and big Luohan quan about 54 postures/72 movements, which is 108 movements in total. Big Luohan quan is itself divided into 3 smaller 18-posture routines. The 3rd famous routine is a set of "108 Arhat combat methods" (Chinese: 罗汉散打108招; pinyin: luohan sanda yi bai ling ba zhao). There are some other sets of Luohan in Shaolin temple kung fu. Shaolin temple has also an 18-routine Luohan quan style, which was developed in the Ming Dynasty, one routine for each one of the 18 Arhats. There are numerous other Luohan quan styles in Shaolin area and other provinces all over China. As far as seems, all these styles claim Shaolin temple's Luohan quan as their origin.
The name Luohan, meaning Buddhist Saint, referring to those who have achieved Nirvana, is a first concept in Buddhism. Therefore, the ultimate goal of the monks of Shaolin temple, in particular, has always been to reach the level of being Luohans. This is the reason why they have used the name Luohan and Luohan-imitating methods for their martial art. Luohan quan and Shaolin martial arts are, thus, often considered synonyms and therefore interchangeable.
A mythical story states that Bodhidharma, while visiting the Shaolin Temple taught the monks a series of exercises. By observing and imitating the forms and expressions of each Arhat statue in the temple, meditation and practice, the exercises evolved into a form called "eighteen hand movements of Arhat", which consisted of eighteen combat skills and techniques. Through this, 24 new movements were then created for advancing and retreating during combat.
Luohan's 18 hands
The oldest documented, systematized style of Shaolin Kung Fu is "18 hands of Luohan" (Chinese: 罗汉十八手; pinyin: luohan shi ba shou). According to the historical official text of Shaolin temple, "Shaolin Kung fu Manual" (Chinese: 少林拳谱; pinyin: shao lin quan pu), in the Sui dynasty (581-618 AD) Shaolin monks had a selected set of 18 simple movements; until the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD) the set had developed into 18 martial postures, that were combined into a routine (Chinese: 套路; pinyin: tao lu); the number of the postures increased to 36 until the early Song dynasty (960 AD); and in the Jin-Yuan dynasty (1115-1368 AD) it was developed into 173 movements; finally, in the Ming dynasty the system of the 18 hands of Luohan was completed in the form of 18 routines, each routine having 18 postures, making a total of 324 postures.
small & big Luohan quan
Luohan quan was developed based on the 18 hands of Luohan, and is considered the first and the central excellent kung fu style of Shaolin temple. Luohan quan has been created in the early ages of Shaolin temple, but it was first officially documented in the "Shaolin Kung Fu Manual" in the early years of the Song dynasty in 960s AD, together with many other styles that were developed later. This refers to small (Chinese: 小; pinyin: xiao) and big (Chinese: 大; pinyin: da) Luohan quan, which are considered the oldests.
18-routine Luohan quan
During the centuries, the system was developed. A major contribution was by monk Jue Yuan and two others named Li Sou and Bai Yu Feng. Finally, as a result of the developments since the Jin and Yuan dynasties until the middle and late Ming dynasty, a Luohan quan system of 18 routines was created, one routine for each one of the 18 famous Luohans in Chan Buddhism.
There is a famous quote that Arhat Boxing or Luohan Quan has in total 108 different movements; from six different forms of fist movements, two forms of palm movements, four forms of locking and grappling. Technically, sach movement in the art of Arhat Boxing is simple and straight. Each movement represents the simplicity and beauty of the expressions of the Arhat Statues. Each powerful attack is hidden through the movements of Arhat forms.
In Shaolin temple, Luohan quan has a few famous routines, small and big Luohan quan, where small Luohan quan has 27 postures/36 movements and big Luohan quan has about 54 postures/72 movements, so both have 108 movements in total. Big Luohan quan is itself divided into 3 smaller 18-posture routines. Shi Deyang, 31st generation Shaolin monk talks about 6 routines of big Luohan quan, but most people only know these 3 routines. The 3rd famous routine is "108 Arhat combat methods" (Chinese: 罗汉散打108招; pinyin: luohan sanda yi bai ling ba zhao). Shaolin temple has also a very famous but rarely known 18-routine Luohan quan, which was developed in the Ming Dynasty, one routine for each one of the 18 Arhats. There are numerous other Luohan quan styles in Shaolin area and other provinces all over China. As far as seems, all these styles claim Shaolin temple's Luohan quan as their origin.
One of these styles is a form called Xi Nu Luohan Quan which literally means Angry Happy Luohan Quan.
Here is a quote from Xi Nu Luohan Quan:
Shi De Qian from Henan Shaolin Temple in China, wrote the history of Shaolin and included Xi Nu Luohan Quan; Angry Happy Luohan Boxing, in the (Shaolinsi wushu baike quanshu) Complete Encyclopedia of Shaolin Temple Martial Arts, volume I & II. Only 18 of the 108 postures were documented in the book.
Scattered around this page and the other pages of this are many pictures in, for some people, unusual and strange postures. This is Xi Nu Luohan Quan; Angry Happy Luohan Boxing. I was told that Sek Koh Sum knew he was passing and arrange for a photographer to shoot the full 108 postures of his beloved Luohan Quan for future Shaolin disciples.
It is one of the highest levels of art and includes attributes of emotions and sounds (thus the facial expressions).
This art was said to have been practiced by only 4 of the original 18 disciples (of the Shuanglin Temple Singapore); it is said that common students such as those in Indonesia or Malaysia did not learn it. At the moment only 1 person knows it as the rest already have sadly passed on.
In fact most students/disciples did not learn the entire Luohan tradition because Sek Koh Sum taught different skills to different students. That is why over 30 schools of the Shi Gao Can tradition appeared in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia over the years.
- Shaolin small Luohan quan
- Shaolin golden-child small Luohan quan
- Shaolin big Luohan quan
- Shaolin Luohan Sanda (not all the 108 methods)
- Shaolin 18-routine Luohan quan (routines 1-10 of 18)
- Shaolin Luohan 13 postures (the base methods of Shaolin small Rou quan)
- Shaolin 24 postures of Luohan quan (smaller 24-posture version of Shaolin Xiao Hong quan)