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Shaolin Five Elders

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

Miu Hin – Shaolin Five Elder Folk Legend

Miu Hin (Traditional Chinese: 苗显; pinyin: Miáo Xiǎn; Cantonese Yale: Mìuh Hín; lit. "Prominent Seedling" or "Prominent (Plant) Shoot"; c. 1700) lived during a time of upheaval in China. The Han Chinese Ming Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 明朝; pinyin: Míng Cháo; 1368–1644) had been conquered by Manchurian invaders from beyond the borders of Northern China. The successful Manchu invaders established the foreign Qing Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 大清; pinyin: Dà qīng; Manchu: Daiqing gurun; 1636–1912). Throughout their reign, the Qing faced constant resistance and revolts by Han Chinese rebels, though. Miu Hin was a member of the legendary Shaolin Five Elders who supported revolutionary activity against the Qing.






Henan Shaolin Temple 河南少林寺

Little is known of Miu Hin's background from the folk legends told in China about the Shaolin Temple (Traditional Chinese: 少林寺; pinyin: Shàolín Sì; Cantonese Yale: Siulàhm Jí; lit. "Young Forest Temple") and the Shaolin Five Elders. Upon the fall of the Ming Dynasty, Ming loyalists took refuge in Shaolin temples across China. Many took on identities as false Shaolin monks and nuns and formed conspiracies aimed at overthrowing the new Qing government.

Shaolin Temple Destruction

Destruction of Shaolin Temple

At different times in China's history, the Songshan Temple in Henan Province (河南省) in Central China has been razed due to political turmoil and rebuilt multiple times. The Shaolin Temple was varyingly chronicled as being destroyed 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).

Fuqing Shaolin Temple

Fuqing Shaolin Temple 福清少林寺

Folk traditions about the Shaolin Five Elders also refer to a Southern Shaolin Temple in Fujian Province (福建省), alternatively transliterated as Fukien, Fukgin, or Hokkien, on the southeast coast of China. The Fujian Temple is sometimes called the Changlin Temple (Traditional Chinese: 長林寺; pinyin: Chánglín Sì; Cantonese Yale: Chèuhnglàhm/Jéunglàhm Jí; lit. "Eternal Forest Temple"). Located in the city of Fuqing or Futsing (福清市), it is associated with accounts of the burning of a Shaolin Temple by the Qing Dynasty and with stories of the Five Elders. It is claimed to have been the target of Qing attacks and a refuge for Shaolin monks and nuns who sought to reestablish the Ming Dynasty. Whether this temple has a connection to the Songshan Shaolin Temple or a martial tradition is unclear. Two other temples in Fujian that are also considered to be possible Shaolin monasteries are found in the cities of Putian or Putien (莆田市) and Quanzhou or Chinchew (方德).

Putian Shaolin Temple

Putian Shaolin Temple 莆田少林寺

Miu Hin was not an ordained cleric like the other Shaolin Five Elders. He was instead an "unshaved" lay Shaolin disciple. A number, if not all, of the Shaolin Five Elders likely came from prominent families before beginning their training under the warrior monks of the Shaolin Temple.

Quanzhou Shaolin Temple

Quanzhou Shaolin Temple 泉州少林寺

Quanzhou Monks

Quanzhou Temple Shaolin Monks


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 attack upon the Shaolin Temple, whether in Henan or Fujian, the force assembled by the Qing 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."

Following the destruction of the Shaolin Temple, Miu Hin and the other Five Elders disguised themselves as Taoist clergy. Followers of Taoism, one of China's Three Teachings, enjoyed immunity from the Qing government. Miu Hin and the others traveled individually for about one or two years before they each arrived at Mount Emei or Mount Omei, (Traditional Chinese: 峨眉山; pinyin: Éméi shān; Cantonese Yale: Ngòhmèih sāan) in Sichuan (Szechuan) Province (四川省) in Southwest China. Being the highest of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains of China, Mount Emei was home to about 70 temples and monasteries where the Five Elders could blend in. Some legends say that Miu Hin and the other Elders sheltered at the White Crane Temple (Traditional Chinese: 白鶴寺; pinyin: Báihè Sì; Cantonese Yale: Baahkhók Jih).

Qing vs Shaolin

Qing army attacks Quanzhou Shaolin Temple 泉州少林寺

Shaolin martial arts or 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 Kyùhn; lit. "Shaolin fist technique") was taught at the Fujian Temple in the Eternal Spring Hall (Traditional Chinese: 長春殿; pinyin: Zhǎngchūn Diàn; Cantonese Yale: Chèuhngchēun Dihn; Mandarin: Changchun Dian; Cantonese: Wengchun Dein). 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.

Learning traditional Northern Shaolin Chuan Fa styles like Yue Family Fist (岳家拳; Mandarin: Yue Jia Quan; Cantonese: Ngok Ga Kuen) took as long as ten to fifteen years, though. Miu Hin 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: àahm paai ; lit. "southern school").

Miu Hin and the nun Ng Mui (五梅) are considered to have jointly created what has come to be called Five Pattern Hung Fist or Five Animals Hung Fist (五形洪拳; Mandarin: Wu Xing Hong Quan; Cantonese: Ng Ying Hung Kuen). Miu Hin and Ng Mui observed and imitated the movements of many animals, adapting the techniques for human limbs. Five Pattern Hung Fist is rare and not widely taught. Five Pattern Hung Fist features a form (形; Mandarin: xing; Cantonese: ying) for each of the Five Animals: the mythical dragon, snake, tiger, leopard, and crane.

Five Pattern or Five Animals Hung Fist incorporates the gong (功; pinyin: gōng; Cantonese Yale: gūng; rigid or hard force) and the yau (尤; pinyin: yóu; Cantonese Yale: yàuh; soft and elastic form of force) forms of jin (勁; pinyin: jìn; Cantonese Yale: ging; "strength" or "power"). The fist or boxing forms are divided into two categories: "Major Five Patterns" and "Minor Five Patterns." The major five patterns* blend the basic hand and foot techniques with the five styles of fighting to become a continual form, while the minor five patterns focus on mastering the essence of the five styles and expressing the movement and spirit of each style.

* Patterns demonstrated by Yuen Yik Kai Sifu (元益啟師福; Mandarin: Yuan Yi Qi Shifu) in an article about Fujian/Fukgin Five Pattern Hung Fist titled "The Secret of Five-Pattern Hung Kuen: Dragon, Snake, Tiger, Leopard, Crane" in an old edition of an unnamed Chinese martial arts magazine.

Five Pattern Hung Fist Magazine Article Cover

Cover for "The Secret of Five-Pattern Hung Kuen: Dragon, Snake, Tiger, Leopard, Crane" magazine article

Dragon Pattern

Dragon Pattern 1

The dragon pattern is a yau force underlain by a gong force. The movements resemble that of the mythic heavenly dragon, emphasizing speed, mobility, and continuity. It gives voice to the old Chinese saying: "The dragon traverses; the tiger leaps." ("巨龍穿越; 老虎跳躍.") The stance in this pattern is mobile yet steady.

The dragon pattern is characterized by the dragon's head, dragon's claw, and dragon's tail.

Dragon Pattern 2

Snake Pattern

Snake Pattern 1

The snake pattern excels in twisting and twining. The snake has a lean body with no legs and can bend or straighten at will. The stance in the snake pattern emphasizes mobility and the ability to change. It follows the principles "The meek to overcome the strong" ("以溫柔戰勝強者"), "shirk the difficult and take the easy" ("推諉為難"), and "extend and retract at will" ("隨意伸縮"). The snake pattern aims at thrusting forward to attack and shirk from an opponent's assault. To approximate the serpent's tongue, one finger stiffens and straightens with gong force. One awaits the opportunity to strike that is presented by an opponent's attack.

Snake Pattern

The four types of snake pattern movements are: the serpent's head, serpent's tongue, serpent's body, and serpent's tail.

Tiger Pattern

White Tiger Pattern

The tiger is the king of the mountains. It is strong and ferocious in attack, like a gale sweeping the leaves before it. The tiger's claw is characterized by the five fingers bending apart and the claw pointing upwards, while utilizing a Goat Stance or Goat-Riding Level Stance (羊步; pinyin: Yáng Bù; Cantonese Yale: Yèuhng Bouh). The body is firm and the force is gathered around the knees with the tips of the feet slightly bent inwards, forming an Internal Rotation Adduction Stance or Yee Jee Kim Yeung Ma 二字鉗羊馬; pinyin: Èr Zì Qián Yáng Mǎ; Cantonese Yale: Yih Jih Kìhm Yèuhng Máh; Two Goat Clamping Stance) with the body's limbs angled towards its midline. The tiger is famous for its forcefulness, so its stance must be steady and firm. Unlike the other four patterns, the tiger pattern emphasizes kicking and stepping techniques. It is fierce and relentless in attack, requiring a strong body to execute its techniques.

Tiger Pattern 1

The tiger pattern can be classed into two different lines of attack: the first being the Hung Moon (洪門; Hóng Mén; Cantonese Yale: Hùhng Mùhn; open attack) and the second being the Hak Moon (皬門; pinyin: Hé Mén; Cantonese Yale: Hohk Mùhn; sudden attack). The tiger pattern can also be categorized into two types: "White Tiger" (白虎; pinyin: Bái Hǔ; Cantonese Yale: Baahk Fú) and "Black "Tiger" (黑虎; pinyin: Hēi Hǔ; Cantonese Yale: Hāk Fú). The "White Tiger" refers to the "Tiger with protruded eyes and high white blaze on the forehead." This type of tiger is ferocious with an attack that is violent and severe. The black tiger is also ferocious, but is more cunning and liable to launching sudden attacks.

Leopard Pattern

Leopoard Pattern Opening

Though savage and cunning, the leopard's force does not measure up to the tiger's. It excels instead in leaping, swiftness, and cruelty.

The leopard pattern relies on speedy advance and defense. It is "strength intertwining with meekness"; so its stance must be steady during rapid movement, maintaining irresistible force in numerous variations. The stance of the short-legged leopard with one knee down and the opposite foot tip-toeing the ground is the most difficult to master. Advance and retreat in this low stance must be swift. Perfecting this technique enables one to overcome the other four patterns.

Leopard Pattern 1

The leopard pattern is characterized by five fingers bending closely together towards the ground, opposite the direction of the upward facing tiger's claw. So goes the saying: "up-gazing tiger and the down-gazing leopard" (上視虎與下視豹). The leopard's claw strikes downward with greater force than the tiger's claw. When executed properly and skillfully, no opponent can escape the grip of the leopard's claw.

Leopard vs Tiger Pattern

Crane Pattern

Crane Pattern 1

The crane pattern is famed for its grace in motion. Its strength is overcoming activity through passiveness. Whether in attack or defense, the crane maintains a graceful manner. It appears to be immovable on the surface, but is deceptively fluid and active. The crane pattern assumes the "One-Legged Stance" or Crane Stance (鶴步; pinyin: Hè Bù; Cantonese Yale: Hohk Bouh). One leg stands on the ground and the other rises up in readiness to strike the opponent. The crane's wings distract the opponent, and hand strikes in the form of the crane's claw or beak dart towards the opponent with swiftness and precision.

Crane Pattern 2

The crane pattern is divided into: the crane's beak, crane's wings, and crane's claws.

A number of legends say that vehement arguments developed between the Five Elders regarding how they should involve themselves in plans to rebel against the Qing and how many disciples they should each take on. According to some records, Bak Mei (白眉), who was one of the most formidable fighters among the Five Elders, supported withdrawing from revolutionary activities since he had come to believe that efforts to overthrow the Qing would fail. The others saw his withdrawal as a betrayal. Ming loyalists hunted him Bak Mei afterwards. Bak Mei slew numerous assassins, but was eventually killed after many years.

Bak Mei

Bak Mei

In other accounts, Bak Mei is said to have supported greater involvement in the revolutionary movement against the Qing and taking on many students. The other Five Elders preferred to live in seclusion and accept few, if any, disciples. In an attempt to settle the disagreement, Bak Mei agreed to a match with another of the Five Elders, Ji Sin (至善).

Bak Mei was renowned for both his internal and external skills. 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 the match, Ji Sin used well-honed Long Fist (長拳; Mandarin: Changquan; Cantonese: Jeungkuen) 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 of his injuries afterwards.

Miu Hin then challenged Bak Mei to another match. In a close fight, Bak Mei emerged victorious once again at the cost of Miu Hin's life. Details of the match are scarce.

Fung Dou Dak (馮道德), the most senior of the Five Elders and Bak Mei's training brother, next issued a challenge to Bak Mei. 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 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 remaining Five Elders, Fung Dou Dak and Ng Mui, parted ways to teach on their own. Fung Dou Dak passed much of the remainder of his life in remote western China, where he taught the White Tiger Style (白虎派; Mandarin: Bai Hu Pai; Cantonese: Bak Fu Pai). and other Shaolin martial arts to his disciples. Ng Mui taught Singing Spring Fist (咏春拳; Mandarin: Yong Chun Quan; Cantonese: Wing Chun Kuen) and other styles she developed to followers in southeastern China.

In alternate accounts, Miu Hin left the White Crane Temple as well. He was said to have eventually made his way to Ping Qing prefecture or Pi Ching fu (平清府) in Gao Yao district (高要区) or Gao Yao county (高要縣) in Guangdong (Kwangtung) Province (廣東省), a coastal territory in South China on the north shore of the South China Sea. In other tales, Miu Hin is instead placed in the city of Zhaoqing (肇庆市), which also lay in Guangdong. Miu Hin lived an ordinary life. He had a grandson named Fong Sai Yuk (方世玉), who was a possibly fictional Chuan Fa master and folk hero of South China during the rule of the Qing.

Fong Sai Yuk

Fong Sai Yuk

Folk stories speak of a man named Fong Tak (方德), who was a prosperous silk merchant and the head of the Fong clan, which was powerful in Guangdong. One day Fong Tak closed his store early due to the arrival of a heavy thunderstorm over the city. As Fong Tak closed his shop, he saw an old man carrying two large baskets of salt along the nearby street. Fong Tak pitied the old man, who was thoroughly soaked by the heavy rain, and invited him to take shelter in his shop.

The old man was none other than Miu Hin. Miu Hin had been widowed following the death of his wife and he had fallen on hard times, becoming a salt peddler in order to make a living. His health, which had been severely affected, was made worse from being exposed in the thunderstorm. Fong Tak took notice of Miu Hin's bad condition. After much persuasion, he convinced a reluctant Miu Hin to stay the night at his shop in order to recover.

Miu Hin and Fong Tak soon became friends. Miu Hin offered to teach martial arts to the other's two sons. Fong Tak agreed to this. Miu Hin also had a daughter, Miu Tsui Fa (苗翠花), whom he had educated in Chuan Fa. In some stories, Miu Tsui Fa was also said to have been a student of Ng Mui. Since Miu Tsui Fa had come of age, Miu Hin suggested to Fong Tak that she would make a fine additional wife.

Fong Tak agreed to the marriage proposal and wedded Miu Tsui Fa shortly afterwards. Sadly, less than two years later, Miu Hin became gravely ill and passed away. Several months after his funeral, Miu Tsui Fa gave birth to Fong Sai Yuk.

According to legend, starting immediately after his birth, Miu Tsui Fa would intentionally break every bone and limb in Fong Sai Yuk's body and bathe him in Dit Da Jow (Traditional Chinese: 鐵打酒; pinyin: Tiědǎ jiǔ; Cantonese Yale: Titdá jáu; lit. "Iron Building Wine"), a healing Chinese herbal liniment. As her son grew older and stronger, she used various techniques to condition his body. Her treatments made Fong Sai Yuk virtually invulnerable and gave his body the quality of "copper skin, metal bone" (銅皮, 金屬骨; pinyin: tóng pí, jīnshǔ gǔ; Cantonese Yale: tùhng pèih, gām suhk gwāt). Miu Tsui Fa also trained Fong Sai Yuk in martial arts. While a boy, Fong Sai Yuk met Bak Mei whom he viewed as a cherished foster uncle. In some folktales, Ng Mui was a member of the Fong clan. Many Fong clansmen favored the White Crane Style (白鹤派; Mandarin: Bai He Pai; Cantonese: Bak Hok Pai). Instead, Ng Mui taught both Miu Tsui Fa and Fong Sai Yuk the Tiger and Crane form (虎鶴形; Mandarin: Hu He Xing; Cantonese: Fu Hok Ying) from the Fujian Shaolin Temple, which was the predecessor of the Hung Ga (洪家; Mandarin: Hong Jia; Cantonese: Hung Gar) style.

By the age of 14, Fong Sai Yuk had become an accomplished Chuan Fa master with a high regard for justice and integrity. His sense of right and wrong soon led him into many fights and adventures.

Tiandihui Certificate

Certificate given to new Tiandihui member

Contradictory legends hold that Fong Sai Yuk worked with Ng Mui and/or Bak Mei to establish secret Han Chinese revolutionary societies called the Tiandihui (Traditional Chinese: 天地會; pinyin: Tiāndì huì; Cantonese Yale: Tīndeih wúi; lit. "Heaven and Earth Society") or "Triads," aka Sam Hop Wui (Traditional Chinese: 三合會; pinyin: Sān Hé Huì; Cantonese Yale: Sāam Hahp Wúi; lit. "Triple Union Society," "Three Harmonies Society," or "Three United Association"; referring to the union of heaven, earth and humanity). The Triads started as patriotic societies that kept strict discipline over the behavior and activities of their members. The followers saw themselves as blood brothers and blood sisters and they were expected to be loyal and upright. The Tiandihui later devolved into organized crime syndicates, though.

Fong Sai Yuk eventually decided to join the hunt for Bak Mei. In some stories, Fong Sai Yuk was slain at Bak Mei's hands. In other accounts, he is credited for killing Bak Mei.

Though little is known about Miu Hin's life aside from folk legend, he was a venerable and influential member of the Shaolin Five Elders.

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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