Also called “Dishu Quan – 地术拳” (Ground techniques Fist), “Dilong Quan – 地龙拳” (Ground Dragon Fist), or “Dishang Feilong – 地上飞龙”, the “Gou Quan – 狗拳” or “Dog Fist” in English, is a rare south China Wushu style, registered in 2011 as a national cultural heritage. It it sometimes mentioned as the Chinese Wushu version of Jiu-Jitsu.
This zoomorphic style is supposedly born in the Quanzhou Shaolin Temple in Fujian province. It is a very unique style easily recognizable from others due to the large quantity of ground techniques and movements mimicking the behavior of a dog.
The legend says that Gou Quan was created between the late Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and the early Qing dynasty (1644-1912), by the nun “Si Yue Shen Ni” 四月神尼, who lived in the White Lotus Nunnery, located in front of the south Shaolin Temple. She created the Dog Fist based on women’s body characteristics, and the fact that they sometimes lack physical strength compare to men. To overcome these shortcomings, she developed a large set of ground techniques with the aim of attacking the joints and destroy the balance of the opponent, based on dog’s movements characteristics : tumbling and fluttering feet, dexterous and unpredictable, fast and fierce, alert and instinctive. The style then improved to perfection through years of training.
The temple being suspected of hiding rebels fighting for the restoration of the Ming dynasty over the Qing dynasty, the government burned down the temple and the nunnery, killing numerous nuns and monks.
Si Yue Shen Ni managed to escape, and took shelter with the Chen family in Yongchun county of Fujian province. To thank the Chen family for saving and taking care of her, she secretly taught the style to their son Chen Biao 陈彪 for 10 years, day and night, refusing to pass it down to his sister.
Later, Chen Biao trained his disciple Chen A-Yin 陈阿银 in dog fist system. One day, Chen A-Yin killed a local villain to stop injustice. He then escaped to Singapore, where he would live in Chen Yijiu’s 陈依九 house.
Chen Yijiu was himself a great martial artist and had practice many styles including Muay Thai, Jiu-Jitsu, Drunken Boxing, Dragon and Monkey Boxing since his childhood.
To thank him, Chen A-Yin taught Chen Yijiu the whole Gou Quan system. Chen Yijiu became very famous in South-East Asia, where he is also called Master “Tie Jiao Jiu” (9 iron feet) or “Shen Tui Jiu” (9 god legs) – 9 being pronounced “Jiu” in mandarin Chinese (same sound as the “Jiu” from Chen Yijiu’s name.
He inherited his surname 9 god legs in 1929 after he fought a huge Russian fighter called Bernepov, by using the ground techniques from Gou Quan, he broke Bernepov’s right tibia with a single swipe. He was considered as the only living iron leg in the world.
Chen Yijiu was also the President of the Singapore Wushu Association.
In 1942, Chen Yijiu came back to China and settled down in Fuzhou (where he was from), from where he started to spread Shaolin Gou Quan around Fujian province.
In 1970 the dog fist system was already a famous Nanquan style, and in 1979, Chen Yijiu and two of his disciples (Zhou Jinhuo 周金伙 and Chen Chenghai 陈承海), performed at the very first “National Wushu Observation Exchange Conference” in Nanning (Guangxi province). After seeing this uncommon style and Chen Yijiu’s performance of the “flying legs tie-up two people” technique, the National Sport Commission requested them to perform nationwide at numerous events.
In 1982, Chen Yijiu was the consultant of the first Wushu association in Fuzhou, the “Fuzhou Gushan Martial Arts Association”. In 1984 he became the curator of the Fuzhou Martial Arts Museum.
The iron legs, combined with the Gou Quan ground techniques also won the first prize at a Japanese Martial Arts Competition, and astonished the audience to the point that Okinawa traditional Karate Master and Cultural and Military Museum director Nakamoto Masahiro asked Chen Yijiu to take him as a disciple.
Chen Yijiu was not only famous for his martial arts skills but like a lot of traditional master, he was also a renown Traditional Chinese Medicine Master, especially for his orthopaedics and traumatology treatments combined with his martial arts skills.
He was what we call a true “Master of a Generation : 一代宗师”.
See below a demonstration of Grandmaster Chen Yijiu (blue) and Master Zai Peilin (yellow).
His son, Chen Zhenglu 陈政禄, was born in Singapore in 1930 and learned Gou Quan with his father since his childhood, as well as bone injury treatment traditional medicine. 7th Duan (or Dan in japanese), he was the honorary chairman of the Fujian Wushu Association, and consultant for the Fuzhou Wushu Association. His deeds have been recorded in the Chinese Martial Arts Dictionary.
Famous researcher, he excavated many style materials and has compile all the theories and practical skills of the style in 1985. His skills, both in dog fist and traditional medicine were so outstanding that many people from all over the world, especially Japan, asked him to train them for years.
Chen Weiqiang 陈伟强, grandson of Chen Yijiu, is now the official representative of the style. Executive director of the Fujian Wushu Association, he is also the former chief instructor of Chinese Wushu at the Fujian Police School and Sanda head coach at the Fuzhou Wushu School.
The characteristics of the dog fist are the ground techniques, including a lot of locks and ground control movements, as well as binding techniques, that cannot be found in other Wushu styles. The aim of the leg techniques are to surprise the opponent by getting on the ground and take over control from there.
Training in Gou Quan involves a lot of bones and muscles reinforcement, similar to traditional Muay Thai, especially for the legs, which are hit in mornings and evenings with wood sticks, hammers, or by swinging the legs to hit metal pipes. These exercises easily cause trauma to bones and skins, therefore these techniques are combined with the use of traditional plant based medicine to heal the skin and muscles after training.
It is said that whomever wants to master dog fist must first learn how to land lightly.
There are 8 reinforcement techniques :
- Body reinforcement 身
- Basics reinforcement 基
- Waist reinforcement 腰
- Horse stance 馬
- Might training 威
- Power training 勢
- Energy training 气
- Strength training 力
And 6 character change tactics :
- Strange 奇
- Clever 巧
- Changeable 变
- Light 轻
- Fast 速
- Hard 硬
Another part of the training includes conditioning methods such as mallet and stone locks manipulation, as well as hitting and lifting heavy sandbags.
We can also list the following general movements :
- Rolling 滾
- Flipping 翻
- Fluttering 扑
- Falling 跌
- Hooking 勾
- Running 跑
- Jumping 跳
- As well as falling to the ground while locking the opponent and pressing acupuncture point to weaken the opponent’s energy.
As most traditional styles, there is a lot of internal and “Qigong” training, as the power comes from the Qi rising from the Dantian. When practicing, the breathing is heavy and vigorous as if you hit the opponent with the air coming out of your mouth.
The Gou Quan forms (Taolu) are divided into upper, middle, and lower sets, and the practitioner should be moving as the saying tells :
“The hands move like the body of the Arhats moving like a dragon,
the legs move like the tail of a tiger and steps like a dog,
they bend like the butterfly legs of Damo (Boddhidarma) seating in meditation,
the lively dragon combines with the tiger to form the dog,
the legs to the ground as deep as the ocean, and fly to the sky,
the dog lands rolling like a wheel.“
Below are the names of a few Taolu of the system :
- San zhan (basics training) 三战拳
- San zhan xia pan (basics training for lower body) 三战下盤
- Seven star 七星拳
- Seven star (for lower body) 七星下盤
- Double bats 双迟蝙蝠
- Double bats (for lower body) 双迟蝙蝠下盤
- 36 hands 三十六手
- Continuous step fist 连步拳
- Four gates arrows 四门箭
- Eighteen linked beads 十八联珠
- Plum blossom form 梅花秀
Finally, though the dog fist has lots of hands techniques, it is mostly known for its wide range of leg techniques. The most famous one being the so-called “Wind Wheel – 风车轮” where the performer is lying with both hands on the ground and rhythmically and vigorously turning up and down both legs.
Besides the Wind Wheel, the Gou Quan has 10 leg techniques :
- Step on 蹬
- Kick 踢
- Cut 剪
- Hook 勾
- Sweep 扫
- Bounce 弹
- Trip 跌
- Entangle 缠
- Bind 捆
- Twist 绞
The hand techniques are divided by the levels of the opponent’s body (upper, mid and low body level), and include techniques such as :
Higher level (Upper Body) :
- Push 推
- Punch 冲
- Intercept 截
Mid-level (pelvis, waist) :
- Hit 击
- Point 点
- Hook 勾
- Push 顶
- Press 压
- Entangle 缠
Low level (legs and feet) :
- Grab 抓
- Wind ／Coil 绕
- Twist 绞
Not mentioning the numerous Qin Na 擒拿 techniques on all body parts, including when on the ground.
See below a demonstration of Gou Quan from the classic documentary “This is Kung Fu”. You can spot many examples of the “Wind Wheel” movement, the first one being at 19 seconds.
Great article! Thanks for writing this. I wonder if you’re familiar with a book on gou quan published in Japan (in English) back in the 1980’s with Chen Weiqiang? I had this book once and lost it a long time ago and I’ve been searching around for it online ever since. It was book 4 of a series, with the first three books featuring a woman and teaching Yang and Chen Taiji. If you ever come across that book definitely check it out. This article made me want to find it again. lol. Thanks again!
Hi Mark! Wow Thank you for you kind words! That means a lot coming from you as you’ve been one of my favourite wushu content editor since the beginning!
Unfortunately I’ve heard of the book, think I’ve seen it in some museum some day in taiwan, but never could buy it either ???? I can’t find it. Maybe Singapore or Japan might be an option but have to go there haha