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Shaolin Five Elders

Fung Dou Dak (center) and the Shaolin Five Elders: Ng Mui (far left), Bak Mei (second from left), Ji Sin (second from right), Miu Hin (far right)

Fung Dou Dak – Shaolin Five Elder and White Tiger Style Creator

The middle 17th century was a turbulent time in China. The country was invaded by the Manchu people from beyond its northern borders. The Manchu overthrew a faltering Han Chinese Ming dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 明朝; pinyin: Míng Cháo; 1368–1644) and established the foreign Qing dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 大清; pinyin: Dà qīng; Manchu: Daiqing gurun; 1636–1912). The Manchu then had to contend with resistance by Han Chinese rebels throughout their reign. One controversial resistance figure was Fung Dou Dak, who was a Shaolin Five Elder and the founder of the White Tiger Style (白虎派; Cantonese: Bak Fu Pai; Mandarin: Bai Hu Pai).

Oral folktales provide little information on the life of Fung Dou Dak (Traditional Chinese: 馮道德; Pinyin: Féng Dàodé; Cantonese Yale: Fùhng Douhdāk; c. 1700). His surname of Fung (Traditional Script: 馮; Simplified Script: 冯) is a variation of the character of Ping (冯) which means "to gallop"; "to assist"; "to attack"; "to wade." It is part of the Chinese chengyu (成語; idiom consisting of four characters) saying: bào hǔ píng hé (暴虎冯河; lit. "Fight tigers with one's bare hands and wade across raging rivers (without a boat)"; it is an expression for taking great risks with reckless courage or being foolishly brave. His given name of Dou Dak is transliterated as "Dao Virtue."






Henan Shaolin Temple 河南少林寺

Fung Dou Dak is one of the Five Elders or Five Generals of Shaolin (Traditional Chinese: 少林五祖; pinyin: Shàolín wǔ zǔ; Cantonese Yale: Siulàhm ńgh jóu), who survived one of the razings of the Shaolin Temple or Monastery (Chinese: 少林寺; pinyin: Shàolín Sì; Cantonese Yale: Siulàhm Jih) by the Qing. The Shaolin Temple at Mount Song (Chinese: 嵩山; pinyin: Sōngshān; Cantonese Yale: Sūngsāan) in northern Henan province was varyingly recorded to have been burned in 1647 by the Shunzhi Emperor (順治帝; r. 1643–1661), in 1674, 1677, or 1714 by the Kangxi Emperor (康熙帝; r. 1661–1722) or in 1728 or 1732 by the Yongzheng Emperor (雍正帝; r. 1722–1735). Fung Dou Dak is said to be the oldest in learning rank among the Five Elders.

Shaolin Temple Destruction

Destruction of Shaolin Temple

Shaolin martial arts are called Shaolin Quan (Traditional Chinese: 少林拳; pinyin: Shàolín Quán; Cantonese Yale: Siulàhm Kyùhn); more precisely, Shaolin Chuan Fa, or Quan Fa (Traditional Chinese: 少林穿法; pinyin: Shàolín Chuān Fǎ; Wade–Giles: Shao Lin Ch'üan Fa; Cantonese Yale: Siulàhm Chyūn Faat; literal: "Shaolin fist technique"). The term chuan is the Chinese transliteration of the Sanskrit term mukti (मुक्ति; "clasped hand"). The suffix fa is the Chinese transcription of the Sanskrit word dharma (धर्मा; "teachings of the Buddha"). When reverse translated back into Sanskrit, Chuan Fa means Dharmamukti (धर्मामुक्ति; "closed hand of the Dharma"). Shaolin Chuan Fa became part of what came to be called Ch'an (Chinese Zen) martial arts (Traditional Chinese: 禪宗武術; pinyin: Chánzōng wǔshù; Cantonese Yale: Sìhmjūng móuhseuht) which combined Ch'an philosophy with the martial arts of the Shaolin Temple.

Fung Dou Dak and the other Shaolin Five Elders likely came from prominent families before beginning their training under the warrior monks of the Shaolin Temple. Learning traditional Northern Shaolin Chuan Fa styles like Yuejiaquan (岳家拳) took as long as ten to fifteen years, though. Fung Dou Dak and the others developed a number of Southern Shaolin Chuan Fa styles that were taught within two to three years to Ming loyalists who were fighting Qing forces. The new systems were centered around two animal forms and one weapon. The new systems let the Ming loyalists specialize in certain areas of Chuan Fa that suited different body types at an accelerated pace. Southern Shaolin Chuan Fa can also be called Nanquan (Traditional Chinese: 南拳; pinyin: Nán quán; Cantonese Yale: Nàahm kyùhn; lit. "southern fist") or Nan Pai (Traditional Chinese: 南派; pinyin: Nán pài; Cantonese Yale: Nàahm paai; lit. "southern school").

Quanzhou Shaolin Temple

Quanzhou Shaolin Temple 泉州少林寺

Quanzhou Monks

Quanzhou Temple Shaolin Monks

In the annals of Năm Anh, a Vietnamese Wing Chun Kuen master, it is recorded that one of the Five Elders, Chan Master Ji Sin (至善禪師) was chosen to succeed Hong Mei ("Red Eyebrows" 紅眉毛), who was the abbot of the Southern Shaolin Temple at Quanzhou City in Fujian province on the southeastern coast of China. The selection occurred during the founding of the Qing dynasty. Chu Long Tuyen (朱龍圖恩), another of the Five Elders and Fong Dao Dak's training brother, was said to have opposed the selection. He believed that the Ming had become corrupt and he preferred to serve the rising Qing.


Anonymous Tibetan Dobdo Monks


Unknown Dobdo Monks at Lhasa City, capital of Tibet, 1938

Dobdo Monks

March 6, 1937. Tibetan dobdobs, monk policemen, outside the entrance to the Shira gate on the south side of the Jokhang, Tibet's most sacred shrine, in the heart of old Lhasa town. The dobdobs wore padded clothing and wielded long wooden staves and branches to control the crowds during a Monlam Torgyap ceremony. The ceremony marked the end of the Monlam Chenmo, the Great Prayer Festival, held to celebrate the New Year. A group of lay officials stands in the background at the entrance to the Jokhang.

To help ensure the success of the Qing operation against the Southern Shaolin Temple, the Qing attack force included a contingent of specially recruited Tibetan lama dobdos (ldab-ldob) or "fighting monks." Many dobdos were Khampa monks from the Tibetan province of Kham. The dobdos sometimes acted as self-appointed policemen for monasteries in Tibet. They were also personal guards for the successive Dalai Lamas. They were often the less academic and pious monks of the Tibetan monastic order who had interests in sports, fighting, and other "worldly" matters. Many dobdos entered the Tibetan monastic order to escape the hardships of village life or they were enrolled by their families regardless of their wishes for the honor of having clansmen being ordained monks rather than from genuine piety. They served as peacemakers within the Tibetan monasteries, but were also liable to be disruptive influences and were thus prone to adventurism. The Tibetan dobdos were expert in unarmed combat as well as the use of the lethal "flying guillotine" (Traditional Chinese: 血滴子; pinyin: xuèdī zǐ; Wylie Tibetan Transliteration: hyut dik zi; lit. "blood-dripper"). The Tibetan flying guillotine was shaped like a bell-shaped hat connected to a chain. The "hat" was loaded with razors that wound around a foe's neck and ripped the foe's head off.

Flying Guillotine

Flying Guillotine


Portrayal of dobdo master wielding hyut dik zi from 1967 film "Master of the Flying Guillotine."

In 1647, Qing forces attacked and destroyed the Southern Shaolin Temple. Fung Dou Dak and the other Five Elders fled during the attack and survived.

Qing vs Shaolin

Qing army attacks Quanzhou Shaolin Temple 泉州少林寺

Ji Sin established another temple at Mount Jiulian (Traditional Chinese: 九连山; pinyin: Jiǔ lián shān; Cantonese Yale: Gáu lìhn sāan; lit. "Nine Lotus Mountain") in Fujian province, where the rest of the Five Elders and other survivors sheltered. Chu Long Tuyen declined to reveal his true name in order to protect his family and students from retribution by Qing authorities. Ji Sin gave him the Dharma name of Bak Mei ("White Brow" 白眉).

Bak Mei

Bak Mei

In some accounts, Bak Mei betrayed Ji Sin and other Ming loyalists by informing the Shunzhi Emperor about their plan to overthrow the Qing. Bak Mei and Fung Dou Dak joined a Qing army that outnumbered the monks by 10 to 1. After the second temple was destroyed, Fung Dou Dak and Bak Mei left on their own paths to study Taoism.

In other accounts, Fung Dou Dak and Bak Mei raised an anti-Qing force. They and their force were captured, though. The two Five Elders was then forced to train and lead a Qing army of 50,000 troops in an attack that saw the second Shaolin Temple destroyed. Bak Mei also killed the "invincible" Ji Sin in single combat by breaking his neck. Fung Dou Dak and Bak Mei claimed their actions were taken in order to save the comrades captured with them from being tortured and executed.

In yet another tradition, Bak Mei couldn't agree with the other Five Elders on the number of followers they should each teach nor the amount of political involvement their followings would have. Bak Mei and Ji Sin therefore decided on a match to settle the dispute. Bak Mei was renowned for both his internal and external skills and was considered a formidable fighter. He was distinguished for being able to light high lantern fires along the walls of the Fujian Temple by whipping his legs and back joints to raise his body to twice his height.

In their match, Ji Sin used well-honed Long Fist techniques to strike Bak Mei many times. But Bak Mei's crouched Tiger stance was an effective defense against the attacks of Ji Sin. Bak Mei defeated Ji Sin with a series of Phoenix Eye punches that gravely wounded the latter. Ji Sin died following the match.

Miu Hin (苗顯) challenged Bak Mei to a second match. Bak Mei emerged victorious again, but Miu Hin died during the second match.

Fung Dou Dak, the most senior of the Five Elders, challenged Bak Mei next. Having observed the first two matches, Fung Dou Dak evaded injury from Bak Mei's favorite techniques. Bak Mei avoided harm from Fung Dou Dak's opening attacks as well. The decisive strike came during a close quarters clash when Fung Dou Dak dealt a crushing kick to Bak Mei's foot. Bak Mei died shortly afterwards from the resulting compound fracture.

Ng Mui and Shaolin Five Elders

Ng Mui and Shaolin Five Elders

The two surviving Five Elders, Fung Dou Dak and the nun Ng Mui (五梅 or 五枚), parted ways to teach on their own. Ng Mui taught her martial arts skills to a young woman named Yim Wing Chun (嚴詠春) and other disciples in southeastern China. Fung Dou Dak passed much of his last years in remote western China.

Ng Mui Trains Wing Chun

Ng Mui Sitai (師太 "Grandmaster") or Dashi (大師 "Great Master") Teaching Yim Wing Chun

Accounts from White Tiger schools say that Fung Dou Dak did not help Bak Mei with destroying the Shaolin Temple. Fung Dou Dak remained loyal to the Shaolin Temple and the Ming cause. As the Temple burned down, he saved a number of herbal medicine texts and escaped through a secret passage. With a bounty placed on his head, Fung Dou Dak took up Taoism to evade Qing forces who were hunting for Buddhist monks.

Fung Dou Dak found protection with Doo Tin Yin (杜天胤) an imperial physician. Doo Tin Yin possessed vast healing knowledge as his family had a tradition of healing that went back over 3000 years to the root of ancient Chinese folk medicine. At the risk of his life and that of his family's, Doo Tin Yin sheltered the fugitive Fung Dou Dak in his home. Using his influence as a Qing court physician, Doo Tin Yin gained admittance for Fung Dou Dak at the Taoist temple on Emei Mountain (Traditional Chinese: 峨眉山; pinyin: Éméi shān; Cantonese Yale: Ngòhmèih sāan) in Sichuan province in southwest China.

Fung Dou Dak gained knowledge about Daoist internal martial arts, medicine, and life extension, which he combined with his Shaolin Chuan Fa and healing skills. He journeyed for many years through remote western China, learning fighting and healing techniques from many tribes and villages. He combined and refined his knowledge to create his White Tiger system, which he shared with Doo Tin Yin in thanks for his life and liberty.

Chinese folklore speaks of other survivors of the destruction of the Southern Shaolin Temple who dispersed in the coastal Guangdong province in south China. Many of these survivors settled in or around the provincial capital of Canton (also called Guangzhou or Kwangchow). They taught their Chuan Fa skills among the general population, which led to the rise of several masters across the years. A group of ten masters emerged in the 19th century during the late Qing dynasty, who were said to be the greatest fighters in Guangdong during this time. They were called the Ten Tigers of Canton or Ten Tigers of Guangdong (Traditional Chinese: 廣東十虎; pinyin: Guǎngdōng Shí Hǔ; Cantonese Yale: Gwóngdūng Sahp Fú).

Putian Shaolin Temple

Putian Shaolin Temple 莆田少林寺

A story is told of one survivor named in Cantonese Wu Wei Kin (胡惠乾; Mandarin: Hu Hui Gan). When Wu Wei Kin was a boy, his father was killed and he had been severely beaten by members of the local Weavers Guild. Wu Wei Kin entered the Southern Shaolin Temple at Putian in Fujian province to learn Shaolin Chuan Fa and take his revenge on the weavers one day. When he felt he had learned enough, he left the Putian temple (莆田寺) before completing his training and returned to Canton. Shortly after his arrival in Canton, Wu Wei Kin got into a fight with the weavers in which he slew thirteen of their number.

Leitai platform

Illustration of fighter throwing opponent from léitái platform. Source

The Weavers Guild hired a master, who was a disciple of Fung Dou Dak's and had studied the White Tiger style. The disciple challenged Wu Wei Kin to a match on a raised four-sided léitái (擂臺; lit. "striking platform") platform without railings. Classical léitái fights were held on stages that were at least 1.6 (步; Chinese length unit of 1915; 2.5 meters) high and had an area of 6.25 (100 square meters).

Wu Wei Kin defeated and killed the disciple. When Fung Dou Dak learned of the death of his student, he was outraged and desired revenge. In varied accounts, the situation was resolved by Ng Mui who interceded. The story is a popular one that can be found in numerous books. Multiple movies have also portrayed the story, including the 1978 Hong Kong film "Showdown at the Cotton Mill" (Traditional Chinese Title: 胡惠乾血戰西幝寺; pinyin: Hú Huìqián xuèzhàn xī chǎn sì; Cantonese Yale: Wùh Waihgōn hyutjin sāi chín jih; lit. "Hu Huigan's Bloody Battle at Western Chan Buddhist Temple").

Fung Dou Dak himself is portrayed in the 1979 Hong Kong Movie "Abbot of Shaolin" (Traditional Chinese: 少林英雄榜; pinyin: Shàolín yīngxióng bǎng; Cantonese Yale: Síulàhm yīnghùhng bóng; lit. "Shaolin Heroes List").

The White Tiger style or Bak Fu Pai of Fung and the Bak Mei Pai system of Bak Mei resemble one another closely and are often confused. The White Tiger school is rooted in life balance, moderation, and discipline. It utilizes an internal/external approach to martial arts practice that cultivates a strong body and sound mind. Its internal training generates core energy through breathing and mental focus techniques that creates force and power with less physical efforts. Students use breathing techniques, herbs, and meditation to focus and practice with a clear mind.

White Tiger practitioners adhere to the following creed:


• 尊重你的國家(中國), 尊重人民.

• 尊重你的師父, 尊重所有的武術.

• 學義, 學大度, 學拳法.

• 如果您能夠完成藝術, 請保持謙虛.

• 藝術大師不會濫用他的知識, 錯誤地使用它.

• 如果一個人不是一個正直的人, 即使他給你一萬兩黃金, 也不能教他.

• 如果一個人是親戚, 但不是義人, 他們可能不會被教導.

• 如果一個人是親戚, 並且是正義的, 他們應該被教導.

• 如果你能學會白虎拳和法杖, 雖然它看起來像一塊無用的石頭, 但把它當作一塊金磚.

Bak Fu Pai System Creed

• Respect your country (China), respect the people.

• Respect your Shifu, respect all martial arts.

• Learn righteousness, learn magnanimity, learn Quan Fa.

• If you are able to accomplish the art, be humble.

• A master of the art does not abuse his knowledge by using it wrongfully.

• If a person is not a righteous person, he must not be taught even if he offers you ten thousand ounces of gold.

• If a person is a relative, but is not righteous, they may not be taught.

• If a person is a relative, and is righteous, they shall be taught.

• If you are able to learn the White Tiger Fist and Staff, though it may look like a useless rock, treat it as a brick of gold.

Men and women can learn the practical techniques and culture of the Shaolin monks and nuns in martial arts classes offered by the Michigan Shaolin Wugong Temple.


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