Inside the Eagle's Claw
By Victor Smith
(Also see "Making
the Eagle's Claw")
the martial arts today there is so much diversity
that students rarely get a chance to peer past the
veil of an art to really understand how it is composed.
Instead, preconceived notions, suppositions or movies
fill in the gaps to create something else. I would
like to give everyone a glimpse into a traditional
Northern Chinese system of study, that of Fann Tzi
Ying Jow Pai -- Northern Eagle Claw.
If you have ever felt the grasp of an Eagle Claw
master, the pain is intense. No ordinary grip, the
fingers close like white hot talons of steel piercing
into you. It can be agonizing.
Eagle Claw's roots stretch back over 850 years to
the legendary Shaolin Monastery nestled in mountains
of Northern China. And like many other systems, it
too was inspired by the fighting movements of animals
(White Crane, Tiger,Snake, etc.). Eagle Claw's specialty
is developing the hand grip and finger pressure to
grasp, trap, seize and manipulate opponents' limbs,
joints, pressure points, veins and other targets.
In this way it resembles Japanese jujutsu with its
joint locks and fast take downs. Testimony
to its effectiveness is also seen in the fact that
many other Chinese arts have adopted Eagle Claw techniques.
Historically Eagle Claw was the result of China's
Oldest Chin-Na tradition (the art of seizing, locking,
breaking and pressure points) being mixed with Northern
Shaolin Arts. Created during the Sung Dynasty by General
Yui Feh (Ngok Fei in Cantonese, also credited with
creating Xing-i), he is said to have formed the art
after seeing how an Eagle effectively used its claws
against its enemies. The art was then taught by the
general to his soldiers.
Passed down over the generations, the art was later
modified to include a Chinese form of gymnastics called
Fan-Stu (Faan Tzi), adopted as a method of countering
and maneuvering along with Shaolin long range fighting
skills and the use of weapons. The branch of the system
I studied eventually passed down to Hong Kong and
to Master Sheum Leung who later moved and taught in
New York City. Master Sheum in turn passed the system
down to a few 'Master Instructors'. (1)
Today the art represents a vast cultural heritage
and repertoire of martial arts techniques and methods.
Included is a progressive mix of striking and kicking,
grabs, locks, throws, and counters to the grabs, locks
and throws, and the open use of pressure points for
all of the above. Lightening fast circular movements
are used rather than the direct totally committed
punches of karate. It also employs subtle deflections
and body moves to attack and avoid strikes.
The Structure of Eagle Claw
The system itself consists of acrobatics, the 10
beginning sets used by the Ching Mo Association, in
excess of 50 eagle claw empty hand sets, a very large
number of weapons sets, two person empty hand and
weapons sets, climaxing with the 108 locking form
with over 860 individual movements to be remembered.
Then there are the Eagle Claw sparring practices,
using only techniques from the Eagle Claw system and
requiring all fights to go to a completed lock.
The forms are lengthy in the Northern Shaolin tradition.
The complete Eagle Claw curriculum is comprised of
more than 75 sets.
The beginning sets used by the Ching Mo Association
are not simple. They are complex systems of study.
One of the most basic sets, Tam Tui, can be a complete
system of kung fu in its own right. This makes even
the beginning training in Ying Jow Pai quite challenging.
The study of those Eagle Claw sets builds on the
strikes, kicks and eagle claw grabbing techniques.
Decades of work on those claws are one of the major
tools to develop the hand's ability to grasp specific
pressure points. This is supplemented with additional
hand and finger strength drills as well as hands on
The empty hand forms build in complexity until such
sets as Hon Kuen (Walking Form) which incorporates
all of the Eagle claw hand and foot techniques, Lin
Kuen (the 50 rows) which contains every variation
of eagle claw locks and may well be more complex than
the entire body of Okinawan Karate itself, and the
form Eagle Tames Tiger.
Accompanying these forms are the Eagle Claw formal
2 person practices. They begin with The Eagle Claw
Principles designed to teach the underlying principle
of Eagle Claw technique. They also teach students
how to fit or use their techniques against various
attackers and attacks.
Students study many two person sets in order to develop
more skill applying Eagle Claw's locks as well as
to learn the counters to those locks. Here is where
the use of acrobatics enters. Acrobatic skills are
used to gain freedom from some of the locks, and well
as to retain the lock on the adversary.
The major two person set is the 108 Locking Form.
It teaches108 different locking techniques. The set
is structured to handle 3 to 5 attacks with counters
setting up the individual locking technique. The set
is structured to instruct the practitioner how to
enter an attack and move the opponent so he can be
locked. Different sections of the form focus on locking
different body segments: the elbow, throat, wrist,
foot, waist, finger, head, legs (stance) and arms
(in both high strikes and low strikes). Also included
are special death locks. (2)
Complement this with a very wide range of traditional
Chinese weapons sets and two person forms and one
sees how the skill and strength of the Jing Jow Pai
student continues to increase.
This is a long road of study, with no shortcuts.
Attempt to learn the forms solely from video tapes
or books and you will not receive the fine detail
the proper instructor can offer. There is a rather
tactile way to understand whether instructors developed
their clawing techniques properly. When they grab
you, it feels like two needles are being pushed into
your arm. Without the long specific training, the
locks feel simply like grabs and are vastly less effective.
One Master Instructor is Ernest Rothrock, owner of
Rothrock's Kung Fu & Tai Chi Studies in Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania. He has been training in Faan Tzi Ying
Jow Pai and Wu Tai Chi Chaun with Master Sheum for
almost 30 years.
Many contemporary instructors in other martial arts
are also exploring the utility of grappling and striking
the opponent within their systems.
One of the strikes often taught in those studies
can be found in the Faan Tzi Ying Jow Pai system.
In the accompanying photos Mr. Rothrock demonstrates
how this technique is performed in the Eagle Claw
The attacker grabbing the
The defender grabs the
The defender strikes across
the triceps tendon of the attacker.
One of the fascinating parallels in martial arts
development can be found where almost theentire
48 self-defense techniques described in the Okinawan
Bubushi (a once secret text owned by many of Okinawa's
early 20th century karate founders), reportedly from
Crane Fist and Monk fist systems, are basic techniques
within the Faan Tzi Ying Jow Pai system.
While one would not surmise that Eagle Claw was a
source for the training behind the system described
in the Okinawan Bubushi, the parallels are uncanny.
Such study offers a new way to understand the original
Bubushi art. Here Mr. Rothrock demonstrates several
of the Eagle Claw answers to those diagrams in the
An attacker throws a right
punch to Defender's face.
The defender parries with left outer arm.
The defender turns 180
degrees to the left and parries attacker's
arm with left palm.
The defender strikes down
into the groin with the right arm.
I hope this brief article provides the reader with
a glimpse into a truly fascinating martial art, Faan
Tzi Ying Jow Pai, Northern Eagle Claw.
Readers who practice other Chinese kung fu systems
might recognize some Chin Na (seizing and locking)
components in their own art.
For karate students the connections is more obscure.
Eagle Claw probably did not directly influence the
development of Okinawan Karate since it remained in
Northern China up until the 1920's, well after Karate's
development. But, Chinese kung fu systems did provide
inspiration and influence upon the development of
karate on Okinawa. Thus undoubtedly some grasping,
seizing and joint manipulation knowledge bled over
into early karate.
Early 20th century Okinawan masters, such as Gichen
Funakoshi, spoke of developing the hands and grip
so as to be able to seize an opponent tightly. In
his early works he also demonstrated joint locks and
take downs. Others, such as Goju Ryu's founder Miyagi
developed his hands to the point that he could rip
off chunks of bark from trees or be used to penetrate
soft areas of the body.
Within most karate systems today, however, this training
is not longer emphasized. Only within older karate
kata are the ancient skills of grasping and piercing
techniques still retained.
Master Instructor isn't simply a title; in the case
of Faan Tzi Ying Jow Pai, it represents a series of
concrete acomplishments. It is awarded upon completion
of a very grueling examination requiring extensive
knowledge of a most complex system. Only a qualified
instructor with decades of work on the system would
be able to pass the complexity of this examination.
The requirements for this examination are a complex
story in their own right.
There are two main Eagle Claw lineage's
in the USA at this time. General Ngok Fei developed
Ying Kuen (eagle fist or system) and in1920 Ching
Mo Gymnasium invited Chan Tzi Ching to teach the system
at their location. It was from here that the two lineages
The first lineage:
Chan Tzi Ching -> Ng Wai Nung -> Shum Leung
(NYC) -> Ernest Rothrock
In a separate lineage Giny and Lilly Lau are also
teaching Eagle Claw on the West Coast of the USA.
Their lineage is:
Chan Tzi Ching -> Lau Kai Man -> Lau Fat Mang
(their father) -> Lili Lau
Both the Lau line and the Sheum Line go back to Chan
Tzi Ching teaching at the Ching Mo Gym in the 1920's
(2) Sections of the form work
Rows 1 - 10 Locking the Elbow
Rows 11 - 20 Locking the Throat
Rows 21 - 30 Locking the Wrist
Rows 31 - 40 Locking the Foot
Rows 41 - 50 Locking the Waist
Rows 51 - 60 Locking the Finger
Rows 61 - 70 Locking the Head
Rows 71 - 80 Locking the Stance
Rows 81 - 90 Locking High Strikes
Rows 91 - 100 Locking Low Strikes
Rows 101 - 108 Special Death Locks of Eagle Claw
About The Author:
Victor Smith is a respected teacher of Isshinryu
karate (6th degree black belt) and tai chi chuan with
over 26 years of training in Japanese, Korean and
Chinese martial arts. His training also includes aikido,
kobudo, tae kwon do, tang so do moo duk kwan, goju
ryu, uechi ryu, sutrisno shotokan, tjimande, goshin
jutsu, shorin ryu honda katsu, sil lum (northern Shaolin),
tai tong long (northern mantis), pai lum (white dragon),
and ying jow pai (eagle claw). Over the last few years
he has begun writing on, researching and documenting
his studies and experiences. He is the founder of
the martial arts website FunkyDragon.com/bushi
and is Associate Editor of FightingArts.com. Professionally
he is a business analyst, but also enjoys writing
ficton for the Destroyer Universe.
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