by Adam Hsu
Long a couple hundred Chinese martial art styles, it's a pretty safe bet to say that long fist (chang quan) is the largest style of them all. Now, if you count heads based only on the name "chang quan," you are likely to lose your bet. But as a matter of fact, as a matter of reality, long fist is truly the largest.
Some styles in this family are actually called "chang quan:" tai zhu chang quan (tai zhu long fist), jia men chang quan (Islamic style long fist), mei hua chang quan (mei flower long fist), and so forth. Others have totally different names, but still are long fist: for instance, mizong quan (lost track style) and even taiji quan (grand ultimate style). Yes, taiji quan is chang quan.
Long fist technique is rooted in ancient Chinese philosophy. Its theory emerged from China's traditional wisdom. Long fist fighting techniques, based upon this theory, evolved over centuries of trial and error: private bouts, skirmishes to defend family, employers, and villages, and the bloody battlefields of war.
Chinese martial arts has a huge number of impressive fighting styles. Some are quite unique, many are superb. What makes long fist stand out among them, what makes it unique is the balance and even development of its techniques and its versatility in fighting situations.
Does it emphasize arm or leg techniques? Long fist develops both.
How about long-range, midrange, or short-range fighting? Where is its strong point? Not a relevant question: long fist uses all of them.
Does it specialize in palm strikes? No, long fist uses fist, palm, elbow, shoulder, torso: everything and everywhere.
Which method of power-issuing does it employ? Long fist uses all possible ways.
Does long fist's fighting strategy call for initiating the first strike or waiting for the opponent to attack before responding? Long fist uses all different fighting strategies. And very importantly, the fighting plan must never be pre-designed.
Equal Opportunity Training
We might conclude, from looking at its theoretical-philosophical basis, all-inclusive range of fighting techniques, and flexible approach to handling situations, that a long fist training program—from its basic beginnings through the most advanced levels—has to be evenly composed and very well-balanced. And this is true. This is the fundamental personality of long fist.
All of them are excellent styles, and all have definite specializations.
Long fist, however, went to the opposite direction. You could say that long fist provides "equal opportunity" training for the entire human person. Its more generalized approach is quite comprehensive and develops the student's abilities in a more even manner. It prepares its practitioners to face any situation with an arsenal of different techniques at their disposal.
Looking at it from this point of view, we can see how many kung fu styles grew out of long fist. Long fist is like a mother to northern Chinese martial art styles. All of her children carry characteristics inherited from the mother, yet each has its own personality, interests, and abilities. Each picked a certain area or perhaps several techniques from long fist and developed them fully, in many cases pushing them to a very high level.
Long fist's well rounded training makes it an excellent choice to start out one's kung fu training. It gives its students a solid, basic foundation in kung fu—the building blocks necessary for the highest martial art levels. In contrast, there are major risks to beginning one's kung fu training in a specialized style. Assume that I have a strong attraction to bagua zhang. I am serious about my kung fu and spend years practicing bagua, only to find down the road that I have no future with this style. Instead, my talents lie in xing-i quan. What a waste! All my time and effort in bagua do not transfer over to this new style. I must begin all over.
Perhaps I am naturally gifted and have a bright kung fu future. I begin my training with a very specialized style. I practice hard and do very well. Later, if I wish to switch to another style, I will encounter big problems. When I practice my new style, the old techniques and flavor show through in all my movements. My progress is slow and the shift extremely difficult. In the end, my original style might well be the only one in which I can excel. Long fist won't present this kind of problem.
When a child starts practicing kung fu, it's almost impossible to know where his potential lies or how good he can be. In the field of music, for example, we may see that a child has great ability. But will he be a composer, conductor, a vocalist, master the cello? Will she become a professional, a talented amateur, a world-class performer? Most often, we first steer children to the piano and later on, support their interest in other instruments such as drums, or fields such as film score composition or musical analysis.
Long fist can somehow be compared to the piano: students may choose to specialize in it or not but no matter what they eventually do in music, it will help them a great deal. Long fist is an ideal path for fledgling kung fu students.
This is an era of specialization. Every field imaginable—medicine, computers, and so forth—is filled with specialists. Moreover, everyone is in such a great hurry. Therefore, many people today will automatically consider this lack a weakness in long fist. I myself don't agree—especially in view of modern times.
In the old days, a narrowed focus and speedy improvement were practical necessities. Not everyone who practiced martial arts had any love for them. Many had no real future in kung fu. It wasn't at all a question of talent, a burning interest, or a desire to achieve. You were a farmer who labored from dawn to dusk; there was a need for defense and you simply had to learn. You wanted to know just enough to effectively protect yourself and your village and the quicker your training progressed, the better. Social necessity, then, was one of the prime motivators in the development of specialized martial art styles.
Today the situation is altogether different. Given modern needs, the evenly balanced, comprehensive training for both body and mind is a shining treasure long fist offers to the contemporary person. This is an excellent style for us to practice and use throughout our entire lives. It is also an ideal way to begin our training, even if we later switch to other styles. If we switch, we won't have wasted our time, efforts, or hopes for our kung fu futures. And our experience with long fist will make us beneficiaries of the many valuable gifts it gives to ourselves personally and to our society.
End of Pt. 1