This interview was conducted in 2008 –
Eagle Claw Kung Fu is one of those styles that you could easily build a martial arts movie about. It has the lineage and history that any martial artist will enjoy reading. The words Kung Fu mean ‘time and effort’ and Julian Dale has certainly put in the time and effort required to attain a level of mastery in the art. He has sought out the top instructors in the Eagle Claw lineage and travelled to get the required instruction from them.
His story along with that of Eagle Claw makes fascinating reading…
SR Hi Julian, welcome to the Martial Arts Standard, it would be great today if we could get the readers to understand what’s involved in Eagle Claw Kung Fu.
JD Hi – I’ll do my best to help.
SR How long have you been involved in Chinese Martial Arts?
JD I’ve been practicing Chinese Martial Arts since the age of 17, I am now 41.
SR Where did you start learning Kung Fu?
JD I initially started learning in England, and then began travelling over to Hong Kong in 1991.
SR How did you meet and begin learning with your current Sifu?
JD A good friend of mine, Sifu Lung Kai Ming (who teaches Northern Shaolin in Hong Kong) in 1991 told me to if I wanted to learn Eagle Claw then I should learn with one the descendants of the famous Eagle Claw ‘King of Hong Kong’, the late Grand Master Lau Fat Mang – that descendant turned out to be my current Sifu, Master Gini Lau.
SR Can you tell the readers a bit about the history and skills of Eagle Claw?
JD I’d love to, it’s called Bak Siu Lum Ying Jow Faan Tzi Mun which translates as ‘Northern Shaolin Eagle Claw Tumbling Boxing’.
Today’s Eagle Claw descends directly from two main systems of Northern Kung Fu, the first being Yue Fei San Shou or ‘Yue Family Boxing’, developed by the famous General Yueh Fei (1103 – 1141) of the Sung Dynasty, although not a direct student of the Shaolin Temple, he was extensively trained by the Shaolin priest, Jao Tung. During the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644), one of the great periods of Chinese cultural history, a Shaolin ‘martial monk’ named Li Chun, famous for his abilities in Faan Tzu (Turn Over Boxing/Martial Tumbling), chanced upon a demonstration of General Yueh Fei’s Chin Na (Chinese grappling). Li Chun saw the power of Eagle Claw hand techniques as well as the beauty of the form and was determined to combine it with his Faan Tzu. Li Chun combined the two systems creating Northern Shaolin Ying Jow Faan Tzu Mun . (Eagle Claw as we know it today.)
The tumbling element of the eagle claw system can be seen in many ways, it is not just the acrobatic part of the system. It can be seen as the palms ‘tumbling’ or turning over, to a person being turned over by throwing or ‘tumbling’ them.
SR What a great history! How did it progress after that?
JD The monk Li Chun passed Northern Shaolin Ying Jow Faan Tzu to the monk Tao Chi of the Li Chu’an monastery Pao Tin in the Hopei province, an area famous for it’s martial arts. The Li Chu’an monastery maintained the system as the Ming Dynasty gave way to the Ching. Near the end of the Ching Dynasty, a Confucian scholar named Lau Shr Chien entered the Li Chu’an Monastery and studied the Eagle Claw system. Lau Shr Chien then moved to Peking (now known as Beijing) and gained great fame as a martial artist, he was especially skilled with the staff, becoming known as Ta K’an Tse Lau (Master Lau of the Staff). Master Lau passed Eagle Claw to his third son Lau K’ai Wen and nephew Ch’ung Tzu Chung.
It was Ch’ung Tzu Chung who took the system to Shanghai, becoming an instructor at the famous Ching Wuacademy of martial arts. The Eagle Claw form became very popular and it soon became apparent that having just one instructor of the Eagle Claw system was not enough. Ch’ung Tzu Chung returned to Hopei province and convinced Lau Tzu Chang, Lau Chan We and one another Eagle Claw artist, destined to become one of the most famous martial artists of the era – Lau Fat Mang, to return to Shanghai and assist with the teaching.
SR Lau Fat Mang was a famous martial artist, what time period was this and how was his training different?
JD The Late Great Grand Master Lau Fat Mang was born in 1902, the nephew of Lau Shr Chien and close relative of Lau Ch’ung Y’o. This family connection allowed him to be trained in the inner “secret” forms of Eagle Claw that were not taught to the general public. Lau Fat Mang had already made a name for himself in martial art circles by winning honors at the Peking civil service exams (these exams were very difficult and competitive, encompassing both Confucianism and martial arts). Lau Fat Mang’s specialties included a unique style or routine which he created himself called Joy Lhok Tong (Six Drunken Falling Form).
I have spoken with many old teachers in Hong Kong who recount stories of Grandmaster Lau Fat Mang being asked to perform his famous Eagle Claw Drunken boxing routine at dinner parties and martial arts gatherings, the stories include talk about Lau Fat Mang doing handstands on the dinner tables and being able to spring on his hands from table to table, also to fall down as if drunk, landing on his hands and feet as if in a press up position and spring up in the air with his body horizontal to a persons head height. This is extremely difficult to be able to do, and shows the level of ging and ‘springy energy’ he was able to generate
SR How did he get to Hong Kong?
JD In 1929 Lau Fat Mang was asked to travel to Hong Kong as Head Instructor for the new Ching Wu martial arts academy, this was a very famous period of growth for martial arts in Hong Kong and led to the Ching WuAcademy and Eagle Claw being introduced to the West. He also taught at the Hong Kong Restaurant workers union whilst he was there.
SR How did he cope with the war?
JD As China became embroiled in war Grand Master Lau was requested by the army to train the troops. Whilst his military career was brief, he went on to become a national war hero. He organised and trained a Special Forces troop named the Tao Tao Brigade. This group specialized in making night-time raids on enemy encampments. The exploits of the Tao Tao Brigade are legendary and are still a point of pride in China today.
SR What happened afterwards and how did Master Gini Lau receive her training ?
JD After the war Lau Fat Mang opened his own school and taught in Hong Kong in the Mong Kok area for several years. Toward the end of his career he retired to the New Territories of Hong Kong (Cheung Chau Island) and taught only his family. Master Gini Lau the fourth child of three daughters and two sons was born late in her father’s life and was chosen by him to carry on the Eagle Claw tradition. Many hours of hard grueling training, and sweeping away the old rules of Chinese kung fu tradition of Eagle Claw only being taught to the son and heir, gave Master Gini Lau the complete Eagle Claw system as taught by her father.
Lau Sifu moved to San Francisco during the 70’s, she was widely accepted as being the top female forms competitor in the USA during the 70’s and early 80’s, both with her Eagle Claw and most notably for her ‘long tasseled’ sword. Master Gin Lau had developed her skills with the gim/jian (double edged sword) to an extremely high level, the ‘long tassel’ sword makes the level of difficulty very high due to having to control not only the blade, but to retain power and focus with each strike or cut and to control the tassel so it flows and moves in unison with the blade. During this time she also featured in a number of Hollywood movies with the director Sam Pekinpah.
SR And from there it has been passed to you in the UK and from here tostudents across England , Czech Republic, Germany and South Africa?
JD That’s right. I teach 6 nights a week at the European headquarters in Maidenhead Berkshire. We also visit other schools to give seminars on Eagle Claw skills and methods.
SR Is Eagle Claw considered to be internal or external?
JD The Eagle Claw style in it’s early stages can be clearly considered an external style, but as one progresses within the system and starts to build understanding, the style becomes more internal, using elements that are commonly only associated with classically defined internal styles, such as compression, coiling, rolling, sinking, pushing and pulling to name but a few.
Building true skill within the Eagle Claw style takes time and can only be passed on from a teacher who has fully mastered the style in its entirety. The increasingly difficult forms demand a lot of practice, as does the daily conditioning and strength training.
SR How does it change at a higher level of training?
JD At an advanced level it is soft, fluid and extremely effective in it’s application, with solid stances, swift footwork, a fluid waist, piercing eyes, strong kicks, fast hands and a piercing/crushing grip that all go to make up the style at that level.
SR Can you talk a little about the ‘Eagle Claw’ (Ying Jow) itself?
JD The ‘specialty’ of the style is the Eagle Claw hand skill, which mimics the talons of the eagle. It takes time to firstly build the power and strength for gripping in the fingers, the wrists must be strengthened to provide strong twisting power, all this is combined with the other elements of the body, hand and foot work combined with the waist and shoulders that all work in harmony together, the ‘Eagle Claw’ should seize and grasp with power delivered internally to the fingertips.
SR How do you train for power?
JD Training (as with many Chinese martial arts), begins with stances, footwork, footwork patterns and stepping, kicking drills and leg skills, hand, fist, palm and grabbing skills, built up in layers and systematically practiced for structure, torque thrust and compression; this moves into the breakdown of individual techniques and is then applied into two man drills.
Power is generated from the feet (root) and through legs; torque is applied via the waist, alignment of the body on a vertical plane and rotation on a horizontal plane. Striking power via punches then drives through the elbow and out into the hand. The use of compression in the ribs is applied when grabbing – there are a number of grabbing skills, not all grabs are applied using 100% compressive power in the finger tips, some are for leading or redirecting, good eagle claw uses clear principles of yin and yang energy, and is more evasive than confrontational when fighting. Of course there are hard skills/power in Eagle claw and these are used when applicable, the Eagle Claw method prefers to be more like water and not to be hit, but rather guide and redirect using soft power and then applying hard power. The three bows, or Saam Gung are used extensively in the body, this gives eagle claw it’s springy power as generated through the tendons of the body and utilises the support of the skeletal infrastructure. The three bows are, the legs, body and arms.
The Eagle Claw practitioner uses different joints in the finger for different types of seizing, power via the end joint of the finger or power via the middle joint at different times. Some of the various grabs are Deu Sau (rolling over seizing hand), Ngoi Cum Sau (outside seizing hand), Loi Cum Sau (inside seizing hand) andFaan Jow (back claw). A Little known skill is that of Ngau Sau or ‘hooking hand’ – it is normally seen as simply a hooking hand formation but this is only one use of the Ngau Sau, it is one of the hidden claws, usingNian – sticking and guiding via the finger tips.
SR What are the principles of Eagle Claw?
JD The principles of Eagle Claw Kung Fu are Jow Da Cum Na (seizing hitting and locking), Dim Yut Bye Hei(attacking pressure points and stopping/closing the flow of breath), Cow Wai Sau Fung (locking), Diu Cow Fing Lau (controlling, pushing and pulling), Sim Jim Tong Na (twisting, jumping and dropping to the floor), Noi Sup Chung Dit (falling and techniques using the waist) Jow Gun – Gripping tendons, La Yuet – Pressure point control, Lau Chor – Twisting and dislocating the joints, Fun Gung Chor Gwat – Splitting the tendons and breaking the bones
SR Can you tell the readers about the forms?
JD The Eagle Claw system is quite large, with progressive skills set or Shen Fa training through the forms, my Sifu has categorized our curriculum to give the students different Shen Fa development as they progress upwards, it requires the students to develop a softer, more flexible body as time passes. The key to the Eagle Claw system is contained in three core forms known as the ‘trinity of Eagle Claw’ or ‘heart’ forms, they interlink and teach key aspects of the system. Until one has all three and understands their sequencing and songs contained in each the system is locked. Those forms are : Hung Kun Sup Loh – 10 section walking form, Lin Kuen Ng Sup Lho – 50 section connecting fist and Yhat Ling Bhat Cum La Sau 108 point Eagle Claw form. The trinity or ‘heart forms’ are taught only at the higher levels of the system.
People mistakenly think that Yhat Ling Bhat Cum La Sau is attacking or locking 108 different points on the body, there is a form that teaches 108 locks on the body, but the one passed onto closed door students and disciples is the family version as named above, this is a two man form that teaches the internal flow of skill and softer energy in the system, it is only once a student has this that the real skill of eagle claw is unlocked and available to the practitioner.
Forms are a road map, that not only preserve the essence of the system but they lead the student in sequencing movements. When you read a map you can see the direction you need to go, it does not however show you all the subtle nuances and changes of your journey that you need to adapt to, this is where the Sifu can explain the route and changes you need to make to facilitate your journey. Forms are nothing without clarification and transmission.
Transmission can only come from those who have received it from their Sifu, it is this transmission that holds the key to the preservation of the essence of the system and unlocks the true skills.
Form, technique, application – different people sequence these in a different order, each in their own way, but they must eventually follow the rules above.
SR Can you tell the readers a little bit about your personal training.
JD I practice on my own as well as working out with my students, daily I practice Nei Gung, conditioning , cotton palm, strength exercises specific to Eagle Claw, like grabbing training with pots, bags filled with steel ball bearings for seizing and tearing, forms, weapons, kicking drills, stance drills, two man forms and combat drills. I also practice Chen style Tai Chi Pao Chui or ‘Cannon Fist Boxing’. I practice 2 -3 hours a day plus classes, which probably totals 6 hours a day.
SR Thank you Julian, that has been really instructive, I’m sure readers of all disciplines will find the history and information you’ve given fascinating!
JD Thanks Steve for giving me the opportunity to explain what Eagle Claw is.
Sifu Dale is the first student of Master Gini Lau in 30 years of her teaching to receive complete instruction and transmission, on the inner skills of Yhat Bhat Ling Bhat Cum La Sau and Hung Kune Sup Loh of the Eagle Claw system as taught by her father the Great Late GrandMaster Lau Fat Mang.
For more information on studying Eagle Claw Kung Fu, or arranging a seminar with the
Lau Fat Mang World Claw Kung Fu Association, contact Julian Dale Sifu on 01628 780743 orSifudale@worldeagleclaw.com