Talking about kungfu, most of us may automatically associate it with Shaolin and Wudang schools of martial arts. Yet, there has been a third school, just as important as these two though lesser-known. It is the Emei kungfu school, which, plus the former two, had been acknowledged by the martial arts circles during the Ming-Qing Dynasties as the three major schools of Chinese kungfu. In 2009, faced with the challenge from the Thais to a contest between Chinese kungfu and Thai boxing, Emei kungfu masters were more than eager to pick up the gauntlet though the Thais threw it at Shaolin Temple.
Emei kungfu is named after its location, Mt. Emei, which has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Abundant wildlife occurs in the mountainous regions of Mt. Emei, and Emei kungfu styles draw heavily on this bio-diversity, many of its movements mimicking those of animals.
In terms of style, Emei kungfu stands between Shaolin and Wudang. Shaolin kungfu emerged and developed in connection with Buddhism, and is characterized by vigorous leaps and falls and sweeping movements. Wudang kungfu is of Taoist origin, and emphasizes the use of gentle movements as against forceful ones. The Emei kungfu styles, then, merged the advantages of the two. It advocates the combination of movement and stillness, and of internal and external forces.
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Emei kungfu distinguishes itself with its techniques of wielding sword and spear. The movements of monkeys are mimicked by Emei kungfu. Legends have it that Situ Xuankong, a hermit of the Spring and Autumn Period, lived in Mt. Emei and learned from the monkeys in the neighborhood. He was later to be better known as Bai Yuan Gong (White Ape Man), credited with the invention of the Emei Tongbi Style of flailing the arms like whips. Another famous stylist was the semi-legendary Bai Mei Dao Ren (White Eyebrow Taoist), who lived during the Southern Song dynasty and incorporated the movements of leaping, climbing, rolling etc. of the monkey into martial arts. Emei Qigong was created by a Buddhist master of roughly the same period named Bai Yun (White Cloud), integrating various techniques like massaging, acupuncture, meditation, etc.
The Emei kungfu school is described in popular Chinese martial arts fictions of Jin Yong as having been created by a Buddhist nun. Though this is not true, Emei kungfu often impresses people with feminine-inclined styles. A rare weapon style is used in Emei kungfu: the hairpin. And the names of some martial arts styles such as Yunv Boxing and Xuannv Sword carry the association of the kungfu being invented by women. A more functionalist explanation for such an impression is that Emei kungfu has been a product of the regional culture, featuring movements suited for the small frames of the local Sichuan people. Quick and agile movements may help make up for the disadvantage in this respect. And some deceptive or even “dirty” movements are employed, too, for example, beating at one’s crotch or pricking at the eyes. Emei Piercing (using the abovementioned hairpin) and Yunv Boxing both feature unexpected fatal attacks at the enemy after relaxing its vigilance by showing weakness and gentleness.