GUEST AUTHOR: Michael Heveran has spent the past ten years practicing a variety of martial arts, especially European sword arts such as Girard Thibault’s rapier system and Achille Marozzo’s sword and buckler. His unarmed background includes Wing Chun, American Kenpo, Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu, and Capoeira. Michael’s writings can be found at Antitheses, a blog devoted to conceptual questions in martial arts.
Note: This article contains many Chinese characters. If your computer can’t read Chinese characters, you will probably see empty squares or question marks instead. If you want to see the Chinese characters but can’t, refer to Wikipedia’s guide to installing East Asian language support.
In the world of martial arts, China is incredibly influential. Unfortunately, few martial artists have taken the time to learn anything about the Chinese language. A surprising number of misconceptions are due to simple ignorance of the language. I believe that every martial artist should be a cosmopolitan martial artist, knowledgeable about a wide range of arts from across the world. With that in mind, I’ve put together this primer on Chinese. A little bit of knowledge about the Chinese language will go a long way to set a foundation for learning more about Chinese martial arts.
Names matter. It’s very hard to learn about a subject without a name you can assign attributes to. Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion over the names of Chinese martial arts. This is very bad, because when naming systems are inconsistent, it can disrupt the way your mind stores information. Suppose I read a book about Xingyi. In my mind, I file that information under the “Xingyi” column. Then I see a video about Hsing-I, and I file that information under the “Hsing-I” column. But Xingyi and Hsing-I are exactly the same art, just written differently. If I didn’t understand that fact, I might even waste my time trying to find differences between Xingyi and Hsing-I.
With that in mind, there are three things that you need to know in order to understand the names of Chinese martial arts.
1. The Western World Doesn’t Know How to Romanize Chinese
Chinese uses a non-Roman writing system. There is no alphabet, so any attempt to represent Chinese sounds with our alphabet is necessarily an approximation. For example, the characters could be romanized as gong fu, kung fu, gung foo, and so on.
To avoid confusion, the Chinese government has adopted a standard Mandarin romanization system called Hanyu Pinyin, or “Pinyin” for short. Pinyin is a good system that is used almost universally by modern students of Mandarin, and is ubiquitous in mainland China.
However, the Western world doesn’t seem to realize that there is a standard system. Westerners continue to use older romanization systems such as the Wade-Giles system, and that’s when they use any system at all. That’s why Chinese names are so inconsistently written in the West; the writers don’t adhere to the standards.
2. Some Martial Arts Use Mandarin, Others Use Cantonese
Chinese is famously comprised of many dialects. Mandarin is the official dialect of China and by far the most useful. Both systems that I mentioned above – Hanyu Pinyin and Wade-Giles – are meant for Mandarin.
Cantonese is also important for martial artists. Cantonese is spoken primarily in southern China, especially Hong Kong and Macau. Most of us know about Cantonese because it is over-represented in the West, although it may only be the 3rd or 4th most commonly spoken dialect in China.
Because Cantonese is not the national language of any country, there is no standard way of romanizing it. Two common romanization systems are Yale and Jyutping, but there are several other systems in common use.
Cantonese is commonly used for southern Chinese martial arts such as Wing Chun and Hung Gar. However, any teacher is free to teach in whatever dialect he likes. It’s not uncommon to see the same martial art under a completely different name depending on the origins of the teacher.
3. Chinese Characters Can be Simplified or Traditional
Chinese characters are the clearest way to express a Chinese name. If you can read Chinese characters, it’s best not to translate or romanize them at all. But even then, there’s a problem. In the 1950s, the Chinese government simplified the writing system in an effort to increase public literacy. Since then, there have been two sets of Chinese characters: Simplified and traditional.
Mainland China and Singapore use simplified characters, while traditional characters are used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and many Chinese communities overseas. Both sets of characters are useful, depending on where you live or what you study.
Case Study: Tai Chi or Taiji?
“Tai Chi” is perhaps the best example of romanization problems. Let’s take a look at how this is supposed to be written:
Hanyu Pinyin: Taijiquan
Wade-Giles: T’ai Chi Ch’üan
The name “Tai Chi” seems to be a bastardization of the Wade-Giles form. In other words, someone saw the Wade-Giles version but didn’t understand the apostrophes or the umlaut. As a result, in the West you can see all kinds of variations: Taijiquan, Tai Chi Chuan, T’ai Chi Ch’uan, Taiji Chuan, T’aichi Quan, etc.
Some writers try to get around romanization by translating the name into English. This might work for simple names, like White Crane or Northern Praying Mantis, but Taijiquan does not translate well. “Taiji” is an ancient and complex metaphysical concept. “Quan” literally means “fist,” and signifies that it is a method of fighting. Some English translations of Taijiquan include: “Supreme Ultimate Boxing,” “Fist of the Great Ultimate,” “Supreme Pole fist,” etc. These are essentially meaningless translations, so the name is best left untranslated.
If you can’t translate the name and Chinese characters aren’t an option, then you had better pick a romanization system and stick with it.
Bring on the Names
What follows is a table of names for a variety of Chinese martial arts. Each name is written in English, romanized Mandarin and Cantonese, and both simplified and traditional characters. It is meant as an extended list of examples, not anything like an exhaustive list of Chinese martial arts. Names are sorted alphabetically by their common names, which are frequently inaccurate. When there are multiple entries in succession in a single cell, that means that there are multiple valid options.
If you’d like to know more about the information in this table, please refer to the FAQ at the bottom of the page.
Frequently Asked Questions
What do all of those numbers and lines mean?
They tell you the tone of each syllable. Both Mandarin and Cantonese are tonal, which means that the tone of a syllable affects its meaning. Mandarin has four tones – or five, if you count “neutral.” Cantonese essentially has six tones, but it’s a little more complicated. In Pinyin, tones are expressed with little lines above certain vowels. In the other romanization systems above, tones are expressed with numbers.
If you’re only interesting in reading small amounts of Chinese in the West, tones may not matter to you. Most of the time, Chinese is not romanized with tones.
What does Quan/Ch’üan mean?
The word Quán is the most common suffix in Chinese martial arts names. It literally means “fist,” but it’s often translated as “boxing.” In reality, it means something like “way of fighting” or “martial art.” So to fully translate the name of White Crane(bái hè quán), you would actually end up with “White Crane Martial Art.” This translation is redundant, although it’s more accurate than “White Crane Fist” or “White Crane Boxing.”
I don’t think that we should translate the word Quán. “Fist” is a literal translation, but doesn’t really make sense. “Boxing” is antiquated and inaccurate, chosen by translators who were under the false assumption that Chinese martial arts are analogous to Western boxing. If you want to preserve this part of the name, just say it in Chinese instead of English.
Are there other ways to romanize Chinese? Why did you pick these four romanization systems?
Of course, there are all sorts of romanization systems, but I picked the four that seemed most widespread. For Mandarin, this is an easy decision: Pinyin is standard in China, while Wade-Giles still clings on in the West. Cantonese isn’t nearly so standardized, but Yale and Jyutping are both relatively well-known systems.
What about dialects other than Mandarin or Cantonese?
There are many dialects of Chinese other than Mandarin and Cantonese, some of which are more widely spoken than Cantonese. But Mandarin is by far the most common, and Cantonese is disproportionately well-represented among martial artists in the Western world. Most names of Chinese martial arts that you can encounter in the West can be traced to one of these two dialects.
How do I find the equivalent pronunciation in Japanese, Korean, or Vietnamese?
First, copy the traditional Chinese characters for the name you are interested in. Then paste the characters into an appropriate online dictionary. It’s important that you find a dictionary that is dedicated to that particular language, not an all-in-one dictionary like Google Translate. You’re not just looking for the English equivalent, you’re looking for how it is romanized.
Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese all have multiple writing systems, so you may be required to use a specific search field for Chinese characters. Each of the following terms refers to Chinese characters:
Vietnamese: Hán tu.
Why did you choose these particular martial arts?
Chinese martial arts can be grouped together or divided infinitely. I’ve seen “exhaustive” lists and came away no better for it. With that in mind, I couldn’t include them all.
I tried to include as many well-known arts as possible, but without too much redundancy. For example, I added Praying Mantis, but not Southern Praying Mantis, Seven Star Praying Mantis or Plum Blossom Praying Mantis. For the purposes of understanding names, I don’t think it’s necessary to include the latter three.
That said, it’s not hard to add more to the list. If there’s a name that you’re curious about, drop me a line in the comments section.
What about martial arts with variations of the names posted above? (e.g. Bagua Quan vs. Bagua Zhang)
This is common. In some cases, it’s the same martial art(or similar) under a different name, but there is no general rule. It may be helpful to know that Chinese martial arts tend to reuse a lot of the same words over and over. A lot of the time, the following words show up as suffixes:
Why didn’t you include Wushu/Gongfu/Guoshu/Quan Fa/etc?
These are generic Chinese terms and not the names of specific martial arts.
Why isn’t there an English translation for X?
It’s not useful to translate every name. For example, Shaolin is just the name of a temple. It doesn’t clarify the issue any further by explaining what Shao and Lin mean. Choy Li Fut is another example of an art which is almost impossible to translate. The first two characters are family surnames, while the last character refers to Buddha. It has been said that Choy Li Fut was a synthesis of three preexisting systems, and that each character refers to one of its predecessors. The name is therefore meaningful in Chinese, but gibberish if translated literally.
Some names contain references to complex philosophical concepts, like Taiji or Bagua. Bagua can be translated literally (Eight Trigrams), but that doesn’t express the meaning behind the concept. Taiji is even more complex, and it’s pointless to translate it.
Where do you get your translations?
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post in the comments section below.
GUEST AUTHOR: Bill Antonitis is a high school English teacher and freelance writer. He has studied Shohei-Ryu and Uechi-Ryu karate since 1987 and Gracie jiu-jitsu since 2009. He blogs about martial arts at http://moaimartialarts.com and teaches karate at http://graciefv.com.
I recently began teaching a brand-new karate class for preschoolers and kindergarteners. Let that sink in a moment. If you have worked with this age group before, I’m sure you have a definite opinion about them. (They’re super fun! I’m now an alcoholic.) If you’ve never worked with this age group before, I’m sure you have a definite opinion about them. (How hard can it be? I’ll just lay down the law!)
Let me humbly suggest that no matter your level of experience as a martial artist, teacher, or parent, each class of little kids offers a unique and rewarding challenge. Each meeting of each class offers a unique and rewarding challenge. Each minute of each class offers a unique and rewarding challenge.
They say you never step in the same river twice. That’s especially true when each of your students is riding a miniature emotional rollercoaster during class. (I love karate! I hate karate! I need to go potty! I love karate! Where’s my mommy?) It’s also very difficult to balance the entertainment and interactivity that kids need to enjoy the class with teaching the techniques, traditions, culture, and values of your art. I have yet to achieve this fine balance.
Observing the “Little Dragons” in the Wild
I am admittedly a novice in teaching this age group. I’ve taught them before but always as a substitute for a great class at an exceptional school. It really was easy. Now I’m starting from scratch. This is not so easy. Here are a few of my observations so far.
- Little kids these days have more energy and less attention span than ever.
- Capturing their attention is easy as long as you don’t focus on one thing for too long.
- Working with little kids can cause adult-onset ADHD.
- Kids LOVE structure and routine.
- Structure and routine are your friends.
- Structure and routine go out the window when there’s a new student in class.
- Kids are unbelievably cute.
- Kids know how cute they are.
- Kids use their cuteness to work things over on you.
- Parents are simultaneously your saving grace and your worst nightmare. They alternately focus and distract their children throughout class time—especially if they bring cameras.
- Kids enjoy learning basic punches and kicks. Kids love using basic punches and kicks on each other when you’re not looking.
- Never underestimate the power of positive reinforcement. A little praise goes a long way.
- McDonald’s got it right when they started offering toys in their Happy Meals. You’d be surprised how hard a little kid will work for a prize at the end of class!
- Remember not to be too serious. They’re only children.
- Finally, never sit down. Ever. No matter how good you are at jiu-jitsu, you will not escape the imminent pig-pile.
So far, teaching 4-6 year-olds has been a blast. A loud and exhausting blast, but a lot of fun nonetheless. As I better learn to meet the needs of my new students, I know I will only improve as a teacher and martial artist. I encourage you to try working with these kids if given the opportunity; it will only help you grow in your art. The smiles and hugs at the end of each class are more rewarding than anything else I’ve accomplished in karate!
If you are an experienced teacher, please share some of your undoubtedly hard-earned wisdom. Your guidance will not only help the children, but some highly interested, somewhat frazzled, and extremely appreciative adults as well.
GUEST AUTHOR: Jeffrey Riggs is a Viet Nam War Veteran with over 30 years in Law Enforcement. He is Kaicho of the Okinawa Kenpo Karate Renmei of America, teaching for over 25 years. His extended biography and training information can be found on his homepage: http://iwatanakarate.tripod.com.
When I was a kid the public perception of a police officer was, positive. He was an honorable and trustworthy protector of the public, who could be trusted with your most valuable possessions, even your life. This perception was reinforced by movies and televisions shows such as “Dragnet” and later “Adam 12”. As I grew older, my perception, and that of the public, became more realistic with police involvement in civil rights violations and excessive force becoming common knowledge. Of course these issues were addressed and continue to be. Through all that, Law Enforcement continued to retain the public trust, though we now know that officers do make mistakes and as in all professions, there are some bad ones. But the bad ones don’t last long due to established safeguards.
For over 30 years I was one of those police officers (a good one). After Viet Nam, I went to the Police Academy and my destiny was set. I also became a martial artist, teaching Okinawa Kenpo Karate for nearly as long. Because of my history and profession, I chose the more practical approach to Karate, focusing on combat and self-defense rather than the sport aspect. It proved to be a wise choice and served me well over the years. Retired now, my second career is full time teaching an art that saved my butt several times.
There is one issue that doesn’t fall into “normal” self defense or martial training. That is; what do you do when your “Threat” is a police officer or someone impersonating one?
It’s a new day and wackadoos abound, gone are the days when a regular person can venture forth in public without at least some concern for their safety and well being. Everyone needs to take certain precautions and increase their awareness to ensure their safety and the safety of their possessions. Even trust in our police officers has eroded, unfortunately for some valid reasons. Though perhaps not as valid as some might think.
I have been asked, “How can I be sure the police officer pulling me over is real”? Due to the occasional rapist impersonating a police officer to isolate his victims, this is a very valid question. There is also the question, “How do I know the police officer who stopped me won’t rape and kill me”? Yes, that has happened.
I’ll address the impersonation of an officer first. Uniformed officers in marked police cars perform the vast majority of traffic stops. I have never heard of a rapist or someone intent on committing some type of random assault go to the trouble of reproducing the “police car” and “uniform”. So, if you learn what police cars and uniforms look like in your area, you’re OK. If someone in a Security Vehicle or is wearing something that doesn’t look like a uniform, tries to pull you over call the police and ask for verification. Red, or Red/Blue, means Police, don’t stop for Orange or Yellow, and call 911 if someone with these lights try to pull you over.
Police do use unmarked vehicles and there are some marked cars that don’t have overhead lights. If you are familiar with police cars these cars should be easy to spot. If not, look for permanently mounted lights on the bumper or grill. Is the officer wearing a uniform that you recognize? Is he using the radio to call in his location, your tag number and description and reason for the stop? Fake police officers don’t have anyone to call in to and would have to “act the part”. Be cautious of a single “Bubble Light” on the dash. They are used by police but rare for traffic enforcement, usually reserved for getting through traffic and not stopping traffic. Police stop traffic offenders; did you commit a traffic offense? If so act accordingly. If you are pulled over by an officer, marked police car or not, if you see the word “Security” or any phrase that doesn’t contain the words “Police”, “Deputy”, “Sheriff”, “Law Enforcement”, drive immediately to a well lighted and public area calling 911. Those words are exclusive to legitimate police officers. Other words, meant to deceive include “Agent”, “Bail Enforcement”, “Officer”, “Investigator” and “Detective”. These are not totally inclusive, just examples. Security Guards, Private Investigators, and Bail Bondsmen use these legally, but that also makes them available to one whom would impersonate a Police Officer.
If you suspect that the officer pulling you over isn’t legitimate let him know you see him and slow down a bit so that he knows you intend to comply with his stopping you. Hand gestures and eye contact work well for this. Legitimate police officers, especially those in unmarked cars understand this. Drive to the nearest populated and lighted area. Call the police and ask if this officer is legitimate, request another officer if they don’t know. You may have a different agency on the phone that the one who’s officer is pulling you over. When the officer approaches tell him you have the dispatcher on the phone to verify his identity. A real police officer will understand, a fake will run. On the outside chance you are accosted, drive off. Tell the dispatcher where you are and keep them on the line.
Things Not To Do
Here are some things not to do. Don’t have a bad attitude. It never makes the situation better and anger is not fear. If you suspect the officer is not legitimate, you should be afraid, not angry. Anger tells me, and it should tell you, that you don’t really suspect the officer to be fake. Don’t drive to any other location at the direction of the officer, except to clear traffic or get further off of the road. Don’t be afraid to ask for credentials, identification, or another officer to be present if you are still suspicious. Don’t be an unreasonable idiot, if the uniform is legitimate, the car properly marked, and he has all the appropriate equipment such as gun, radio (working), citation book, pepper spray, and black shoes. It would be unreasonable to not comply with this person. Do not let your opinion as to the validity of the reason for the traffic stop influence your “suspicion” as to the validity of the officer’s identity. You may have committed an infraction that you were not aware of or he may have stopped you for some other legal reason of which you have no knowledge. In most cases a simple question will result in a proper explanation.
I have arrested and successfully prosecuted a police impersonation/rape case. It was a terrible thing and had several things in common with many such cases. Solitary woman driver, isolated location, alcohol (the victim had been drinking), bubble light on the dash of a civilian car, uniform shirt with a badge. Healthy skepticism would have prevented this case, but the first thing alcohol does to you is impair judgement, before anything else. After this victim was pulled over she did become suspicious, but she didn’t know what to look for and how to react.
In all my years I only know of two cases that involve real Police Officers committing crimes such as Rape/Murder while on duty to random victims during traffic stops. So the odds are very good that this kind of thing won’t happen to you. But the horrendous nature of such a crime, who the criminal is, the vulnerability of the victim, and the law requiring compliance with a supposed trusted public servant, makes this an issue to be addressed.
On December 27th 1986, California Highway Patrol Trooper Craig Peyer stopped a woman on an isolated off ramp in San Diego and killed her. On March 4th 1990, Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Timothy Harris stopped a woman on I-95 in an isolated area of Indian River County then raped and killed her.
The odds of even knowing one of these guys is so remote it warrants no concern. So being a victim of an officer like this is nearly impossible. But only nearly, there is no guarantee that it won’t happen again. Life doesn’t work like that. Years ago I worked with Harris when he was a rookie, and no, there wasn’t a clue to what he would ultimately do.
There are some common factors in both of these cases. A lone female driver, isolated location, both victims were relocated to more secluded locations nearby. Neither trooper called in the traffic stop. Both troopers appeared to have some type of issues involving “power”. Both victims were traveling greater distances and not near their home or destination. Both crimes occurred at night. The fact that both cases involve troopers of large state agencies whose focus is traffic only and that both cases were on Interstate Highways suggests a dynamic that is beyond my understanding. Investigation into both of these cases revealed that both of these officers engaged in obviously questionable behavior in traffic stops and other incidents leading up to their ultimate crimes. If at any time an officer acts inappropriately or overly personal, you should report this to a Police Supervisor as soon as possible.
Preventing this type of crime is best effective by the Law Enforcement Agency and the certification process of police officers. But there are things you can do. Avoid being a lone female driver or driving at night if you can when traveling. If stopped in an isolated area, ask the officer to call for another officer to be present, especially at night. If stopped, pull well off of the roadway making a request to move to a “safer location” unreasonable. Turn off your radio/music but not your car, leave it running. Check to see if the officer is using the radio to call in his traffic stop, if not ask for another officer to be present. If the officer asks you to exit your vehicle, ask him to have another officer present. If you are uncomfortable for any reason, say so and ask for another officer to be present. If the officer refuses, call 911 and ask yourself. Be reasonable, the odds that the officer will assault you are extremely remote. But if he does, drop it in drive and leave, immediately and call 911. But you have to remember; unreasonably fleeing an officer will put you in jail. Unsubstantiated allegations will probably get you little sympathy from other officers, but an immediate call to 911 will verify, something happened and you were not fleeing police, just that officer.
Now there is good news. The process to become a police officer takes a long time. They don’t take just anyone. There is a lengthy waiting list. A candidate has to pass a background check and a psychological examination to get into the Police Academy. The Police Academy is designed to weed out poor candidates as well as teach. There is another waiting list for employment at a police agency. There is another background check, more detailed, and another psychological examination, also more detailed. There is written, verbal, and physical testing, as well as oral review boards, followed by interviews by administrative heads. All of this is designed to weed out the less than acceptable. If a candidate makes it this far he may be offered a job. This job is “probationary”, one year in some cases, two in others. The new police officer now becomes the property of a Field Training Officer. The training officer has two jobs. One is to train and familiarize the new officer to policies and procedures, and to teach him how to be a police officer. The other is to weed out the less than acceptable. The likes of Craig Payer and Tim Harris are looked for throughout the entire process and I have faith that the system works.
After the “Field Training Process” and “Probation”, officers are still held to the highest standards. Any complaint of inappropriate behavior is treated seriously, thoroughly investigated and appropriately dealt with. Many times it is a misunderstanding, or a mistake that can be corrected. Sometimes it’s not and the officer looks for a job more conducive to his character, not to forget that criminal acts result in appropriate prosecution. Just remember that revenge for a citation is not a good motive for an officer complaint. Providing false information on such a complaint is not only illegal and can result in you being prosecuted, you can also be sued for liable by the officer.
Being familiar with the contents of this article, paying attention while using common sense and logic while being stopped by that officer will result in a safe encounter, though maybe not an enjoyable one. Nobody likes that citation.