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  • forms vs quans

    I am confused a bit about the notion of style vs. quan with regard to shaolin kung fu. When we look at a southern style we see techniques that are preformed independently of forms and then we see forms. These forms are style specific and often you can recognize a style by their unique forms. Also one style has a number of forms and once you learn all of them you can say that you know the style. This often takes a number of years. In shaolin they have these “quans” which they often refer to as styles. These quans are same as forms in southern qong fu styles but shaolin seems to have either one or two forms in a given quan. For example, hong quan has xiao hong quan and da hong quan. Does completion of these mean that you know hong style qong fu or is it just one of the great many forms which make up shaolin gong fu. We all know that no one can lean all the form taught in shaolin so how can someone say they know shaolin qong fu. I mean how many form one needs to know to say “I know shaolin qong fu” (no reference to the matrix). In southern styles you have to know all of them to say you know the style but how do they do it in shaolin. Do people specialize in one or two quans like hong quan or luohan quan. What’s the deal? What are quans, what are forms, what are styles?

  • #2
    shaolin, traditionally, was not against absorbing things they liked piecemeal.

    also, forms left the temple and were expanded from there. vice versa also occurred.
    "Arhat, I am your father..."
    -the Dark Lord Cod


    • #3
      If you look at a few of these sub-systems and compare, you start to see certain things that a lot of forms have in common.

      For example, (da) tongbei quan has several things that are very similar to techniques in xiao hong quan.

      I don't know how familiar you are with the forms themselves, but if you look at the palm thrusts in xiao hong quan and compare them to the 3rd technique in tongbei quan (it's a ma bu --> gong bu/punch), you will see that both have a quality that is sort of a coiling and uncoiling energy. The two subsystems, however, do different things with this concept.

      The ones in XHQ are, on a superficial level, palm strikes that are applicable as a deflect-intercept-strike technique. On a bit of a deeper level, they can be used to train close-quarter joint and body manipulation.

      In TBQ, these are done as punches, and of course as slightly different training tools on a little deeper of a level.

      You will notice if you ever train these two forms that the palm vs punch mechanics yield somewhat of a different flavor to the energy you are uncoiling, but that they possess a similar essence in terms of how you generate the power.

      There are techniques and characteristics with in each sub-system that are both unifying and distinguishing, not only within shaolin martial arts, or just Chinese martial arts, but within a very broad spectrum of martial arts systems.

      TBQ flat out has a "white crane spreads wings" (a technique that can be found in every taiji system I have seen so far) in it.

      Taizu Changquan has a wave hands like clouds.

      Da Luohan has a very shaolinified pound mortar.

      Yin Shou Guan has staff techniques that I swear are synonymous with some of the Chen Style techniques I have learned (pounding the mortar and single whip and six directions four closing to name just a few).

      Xingyi has a lot of techniques that can be executed in virtually identical applications to some of the things i've seen come out of shaolin forms.

      One thing I will say for the Xingyi and Taiji i've learned is that they've been a lot more application-oriented than the shaolin i've learned on some pretty groundbreaking levels. But, the concepts can be applied to Shaolin techniques as well.

      On the question of who is a shaolin practitioner. Personally, i practice 3 forms that are "Shaolin" forms. Xiao hong quan, tong bei quan and yin shou guan. I'd like to pick up a luohan form just for shits, but to be honest there is enough in what I know to keep me pretty damn busy for a long time. I consider myself a shaolin practicioner, but someone who knows a ton of forms and studies with a master every week might disagree.

      As for what is a style, system, quan...honestly, you will come to find that the differences are not only very vague but often nothing more than a method of validation. I wouldn't even worry about it and simply let the understanding sink in over time.


      • #4
        really interesting

        This is really interesting, thanks. Dogchow, I am interested to know where you learned staff techniques and form applications.


        • #5
          Very interesting observation dogchow but I don’t think that’s what I had in mind. I am not talking about differences and similarities of shaolin quans I am talking about the meaning of quans in shaolin ma as opposed to styles or forms. Will practicing three forms tell you what style you are studying? For example, people often say they study shaolin style gong fu. We all know shaolin gong fu is not a style as it is made up of many styles and it is impossible to learn all of them. When shaolin gong fu is being performed announcer often says “he is doing mantis style, he is doing luohan style, ect.” If someone learned all hong quans, would that mean that he learned hong style gong fu. Perhaps quans and styles are seen differently in shaolin then they are in other cma schools.


          • #6
            I think the term "styles" is a western creation, a matter of semantics. From my discussions with various Shaolin people in China over the years, they never referred to xiao and da hong chuan as "hong" style; they always referred to them as, well, just by their names. Both forms originate from about a thousand years ago; both originated from a "Hong" family, whomever they were.

            If you want to refer to these things as "styles", well, that may be a matter of personal preference, as opposed to a methodology of categorizing things. We seem to have a lot of these "styles" talked about in America; I've never heard Decheng, Deyang, or any of the multitude of others I've spoken with put these forms into groups, or "styles". To them, it was all just Shaolin gong fu.

            Why try to complicate these things with another attempt to categorize them? Did you ever think that these CMA schools, and others, create these "styles" based upon what they understand and teach? We had a guy in Vegas who advertised himself as a "Shaolin priest" (he was a Mexican from Los Angeles) who taught Lohan style Shaolin kung fu. It was interesting to see him and his students when I brought Decheng to a demonstration in Chinatown. The "Shaolin priest" nonsense disappeared from his website, and the "shaolin" aspect got downplayed. He still taught Lohan style, whatever the hell that is.

            Point being, did you ever think that this whole idea of "styles" is a school or western creation, and not really a major part of traditional Shaolin? Or, that it's just a matter of semantics??

            I mean, I have a certain style when it comes to ****ing, but, let's face it. It's just ****ing.
            Experienced Community organizer. Yeah, let's choose him to run the free world. It will be historic. What could possibly go wrong...

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            • #7
              I studied southern style kung fu and they have different styles. They are very proud of their styles and some styles even have bitter rivalries (more in the past than now). So I doubt a style is a western creation. Perhaps, what you are trying to tell me is that in shaolin they don’t put emphasis on style as everything they learn is shaolin gong fu.
              A lot of you were saying something like “quans are different techniques”. This is interesting. Do you mean that some techniques are shown in one quan and others are shown in another quan. This raises a question how many quans do you have to know to be able to apply your techniques in a combat environment. Also are some quans better than other regarding combat.


              • #8
                You're dealing with semantics. As you are describing it, "Shaolin gong fu" can theoretically be called a "style". And animal "styles" are different from "hand" styles which are different from weapon "styles" in Shaolin, yet, they are each individually referred to as shaolin gong fu. It's all wording; does it really matter???

                As to how many "quans" (as I'm reading this, "forms") do you have to know to be effective in combat, many many years ago I wrote about a man who lived near the temple proper, back in the seventies and eighties. He wasn't a monk, but he was skilled in Shaolin basics.

                He knew only one form. Shao Hong Chuan.

                The guy reportedly was unbeatable.
                Experienced Community organizer. Yeah, let's choose him to run the free world. It will be historic. What could possibly go wrong...

                "You're just a jaded cynical mother****er...." Jeffpeg

                (more comments in my User Profile)


                • #9
                  i don't know why it matters, and i especially don't understand why one would need a certain number of forms in order to be regarded as "something." but....i rather think in styles, systems, and forms.... and tend to think the term "style" is often used a lot as a misnomer.

                  take mantis for example; that's the style. it's praying mantis (tanglangquan). within that style are many different systems. you have seven star, long fist, eight step, six harmonies, shaolin, and so on. so, praying mantis is a style, but seven-star praying mantis, for instance, is a branch or system of the praying mantis style. this system includes forms like bengbu, lipi, and tanglangshou. etc... but another branch may train in xiaohuyan, dahuyan, su lu ben dai, er lu cha chui, etc . over the years, many systems have picked up the forms of other branches. you might have a school that has half of it's curriculum filled with seven star forms, and the other half with northern ones..

                  to be honest, i don't really understand the situation with shaolin stuff, but "quan," from my understanding, is just a chinese character that means "fist" or "boxing".. in most cases it refers to the style, since forms can have a variety of different names, though quan appears in the names for systems too because it's been adopted that way. like in.. seven star (system) praying mantis (style) quan (fist or boxing). some forms have also adopted the "quan" over the years.

                  you also have pure styles without systems. take's just baji... there are no branches that i'm aware of (though there probably will be), so it's just a style: bajiquan.

                  not sure if that helps...


                  • #10
                    The main determinant in what people are calling a "style" these days is, in my opinion, lineage.

                    Personally, I would say that if you absolutely have to categorize styles of fighting in your mind, look at the way the combat is applied.

                    For example, I would put the mma fighters in a style called "attempts to go to the ground" style.

                    I would put San Da (which to my understanding consists of martial arts practitioners from every "style" imaginable) into a style called "strikes and attempts to take down without being taken down" style.

                    Boxing could also be a style, "Bludgeon until the first man loses the ability to continue standing" style.

                    But...each of the styles i just described consists of many of what people might call a style in and of itself.

                    You need to be able to read between the lines when it comes to this sort of stuff. At some point you might want to change the question from "what is a style/system/quan?" to "why do these terms even exist?"

                    This is the question I started asking myself after seeing the similarities amongst the "styles" I've practiced, as I described in my previous post. I think that the healthiest thing you can do is break yourself free of these literary shackles and just see it as fighting techniques and fighting by means of applying the human body as a weapon.

                    Understand that these terms- form, style, quan, system, etc. They're all very arbitrarily applied.

                    Generally, when someone says "form" they mean one choreographed set of techniques, such as Taiji's Lao Jia or 7-Star Praying Mantis' Beng Bu.

                    But, its not always that clear cut. One person might say "form" and mean the entire Xiao Hong Quan choreography, and then that same person will turn around and say that a form is one specific technique out of Xiao Hong Quan.

                    The concept of a style/system is even more chaotic.

                    Someone might call Chen Taiji a style, someone else might inclusively call all the Chinese martial arts as a collective style "Kung Fu".

                    See what I'm trying to say? These terms are as relevant as they are consistent.

                    I personally refrain from seeing things as systems or styles; although I will admit that I give merit to the idea of a "form" because it is simpler to approach.

                    Construct your own reality when it comes to this. There are many ways to do this, and some are better than others (Hint: if it requires time, patience and a deeper understanding of things, you are probably on the right track).

                    In regards to a few other questions you asked-

                    how many quans do you have to know to be able to apply your techniques in a combat environment

                    The most to-the-point answer I can give to this question is "none".

                    You do not need to know any single form in it's entirety to be able to apply the techniques within the form in a combat situation. The guy that Doc mentioned that only knew Xiao Hong Quan...I believe what they say about him, and it is probably because he didn't obsess over learning as many forms as possible. Learning these forms and practicing them takes a lot of time out of your training schedule. If you are training to fight and have a really good teacher who really, really understands the techniques found within a form, you want to spend your time working on that one form. You wil notice something about these people, too. You can give them a form they have never seen in their life, and they will immediately start pulling out applications from it.

                    It's not so much what style you practice and how many forms you know, its all about how well you understand the content.

                    There's a saying:

                    "I do not fear the thousand kicks you have practiced once, but I am cautious of the one kick you have practiced a thousand times".

                    Will practicing three forms tell you what style you are studying?

                    To answer directly- yes. I mainly say so because it seems the trend to classify "styles" of Chinese martial arts by what forms the practitioners know and what they look like. Given this approach, yes I would say that I do know what "style" I am studying. In fact, in some ways I feel that I have a deeper understanding of what I know than some other students who get to train regularly with a teacher.

                    Ultimately, however, you will see that this whole thing of style, system, form, and how much you know of each is simply not important. it is quality over quantity, and the colors just don't matter.

                    Anyway, i hope this has been helpful : )


                    • #11
                      Here you go. This is from


                      When you remember that there are three main parts to shaolin kungfu training, being jibengong, talou and then application, whilst doing any of those you are training shaolin kungfu.

                      When you understand that there are different fists that go with stances to form one animal or descriptive stance and series of those that come to together to form different animal styles and then different combinations of those same stances contained therein that end you up at a totally different form or style, and the duans off those even where there be might be some difference of expression and development of certain aspects that cause variations, then I think maybe you can understand the difference.
                      Doc is right. it is pretty much semantics, because all of it is kungfu, even if you're new and even if you suk at it. and thaat would be because at shaolin kungfu, there's always something to improve. .

                      Blooming tianshi lotus.


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