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An introductory essay to the art of San Shou as an advanced training practice

One of the main tasks of San Shou as an adcvanced training practice is to go beyond set forms / katas and individual techniques into open freestyle fighting.
In this respect it is easy to see how San Shou, practiced as a style / martial art in its own right,has become little more than a Chinese version of Kickboxing. Compared to traditional oriental martial arts martial sports such as kickboxing have a small number of techniques and a heavy emphasis on sparring, bagwork and so on. In this kind of training the ability to utilise technique, to control the opponent, to react quickly and so on are much more important than the scientific and often abstract development of accurate and effective techniques and styles of fighting themselves.
Modern schools teaching traditional oriental martial arts often take the oppostite approach, dedicating long hours of practice to refining and perfecting technique, learning a large range of techniques and studying the abstract principles involved in combat, without ever actually preparing students for the chaotic and unpredictable nature of real fighting. Students of such schools may study for years but when faced with a real life fight situation all that training will often go out the window and they will revert to just basic kicking and punching like a kickboxer.
Each of these two approaches is evidently missing something. Between the two is the real traditional Oriental approach of beginning with the abstract study and practice of forms and then learning to transcend this form in the more advanced stages of training - a step which is often missing in modern schools, especially those geared towards Wushu competition which is basically a performance art rather than a martial art.
True San Shou is not simply a form of kickboxing, but rather refers to this advanced stage of training through which form is transcended. This page has been written primarily as an introduction to San Shou for students of traditional martial arts who have learned their forms dillignetly and now wish to go beyond form into the formless art of open freestyle fighting.
In other parts of the San Shou section I will look at the principles of San Shou as well as specific San Shou training and teachniques. In this section I intend to look at three areas specifically relating to the transendence of form training; they are
1 - Creating your own forms
2 - Imaginary opponent training #1 (Divergent forms and combination strikes)
3 - Imaginary opponent training #2 (free form training)
4 - Sparring
1 - Being a bit playful in your training, trying different things and creating your own forms is an important first step. If you can create effective forms yourself then it shows that you have a felt understanding of the art and are not simply repeating what you are told to do. Have fun with ti and try out many things before settling on those that feel right. You may like to use sections of other forms and put them together in new combinations or begin from scratch with single techniques.
2 - Imaginary Opponent training is a little bit like what is known in the west as shadow boxing, and it is a very important part of San Shou training. In its simplest form it just means that as you practice a technique, or a form, you create an image in your minds eye of an oppononet in front of you; imagine yourself in the kind of situation in which you would realistically use the technique that you are practicing, imagine the opponent moving to strike you and yourself striking them. This training serves many purposes; it helps to 'programme' automatic reactions, it helps you to execute your technique correctly, and it is a good way to begin to move beyond form training into San Shou training.
Although it is always useful to practice forms, at whatever level of training you have reached, at this stage you should also be looking to practice your art in a more realistic manner. In many cases forms or katas in oriental martial arts training do not, as you may think, contain combinations of techniques as they may be used in combat. Often the specific combinations of techniques in these forms are given to teach a praticular principle, to give an understanding of a particular pattern of movements, or to aid in physical development and conditioning. It is therefore important at this stage to spend some of your training time concentrating on 'combinations' rather than 'forms' with an emphasis on realism and practical application.
Another useful trick is to create forms with 'divergent pathways'. what I mean by this is that you create two forms which begin the same but then diverge in different directions after a given technique. The idea is that if you opponent reacts one way then the form goes along the best path to deal with that, but if they react differently then so must you. Think about what an opponent might realistically do and create any number of forms accordingly. This helps to open up your forms practice and make it less rigid.
3 - As your imaginary opponent training progresses not only will you have a larger and more fluid range of forms but also you will find your visualisation skills improving. As you practice the 'divergent forms' as described above you should now try to delay the decision as to which pathway to follow until the last moment, imagining your opponent moving instanly as you make your choice, until it almost seems as if this imaginary opponent is making the decisions themselves. At this stage you can practice 'continuous forms', or free form practice, in much the same way as a western boxer would shaodw box, for as long as your fitness or time allows.
4 - Sparring is obviously also an important part of San Shou training. If you find it difficult to remain within your style when sparring, and find yourself fighting scrappily and not using the majority of what you have learned then you may find it best to concentrate on two-man sets for a while before going back to sparring. You should also remember that the purpose of a sparring match is not to win but to learn and improve. It is better to stay within your style and lose, especially in the early stages when you haven't done much sparring before, than to win a scrappy fight - because that teaches you nothing. You should also consider whether fear is holding you back; if you are padded up and taking part in a semi-contact match then you should not be scared of getting hit.

San Shou Books

E-books from the Shaolin online library

Shaolin e-book

LUOHAN GONG Shaolin Internal Training Set
The history of the creation of this book goes back to Master Fan Xu Dong (life time: 1841 – 1925, according to another data - 1936). At the turn the 19-th and 20-th century Fan Xu Dong several times visited Shaolin Temple where he studied heritage of the monastery. That’s what Master Jon Funk writes about it: “Fan made several trips to the Shaolin temple and spent time there researching with the monks. From these trips to the Shaolin temple, as well as his other work with the Seven Star Praying Mantis system, he wrote five volumes titled "The Shaolin Authentic". These handwritten manuals contained concepts on fighting skills, medical information and historical aspects of kung fu. Contained in one of these five volumes is the eighteen exercises of the LUOHAN GONG complete with replicas of the original drawings of the Shaolin monks demonstrating the postures of each exercise.” These five books were later hand copied in Hong Kong by shifu Huang Han Xun. The original illustrations and calligraphy on LUOHAN GONG by shifu Fan Xu Dong was reproduced in shifu Huang's book in which he added photographs to depict the movements. Click the picture (top right) to download.


Jin Jing Zhong. DIAN XUE SHU. Skill of Acting on Acupoints.
DIAN XUE SHU that is literally means "The Art of Touching Acupoints" is more known in the West as DIM MAK ("Blows at arteries" in Cantonese dialect) or "Death Touch". It should be noted that the last two names do not fully reflect the essence of this method. DIAN XUE SHU is a profound teaching which is closely connected to Chinese traditional medicine. Besides the martial aspect, it includes a wide range of methods of reanimation and medication. You will be able to read about it in detail in the books which are offered for your attention. Besides theoretical fundamentals, the books give detailed description of the localization of basic acupoints, methods of acting on them with the aims of combat, reanimation and medication, effects of acting on a particular point, methods of exercising fingers and palms, blow techniques and many other things. Click picture (top right) to download.

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