Sek Koh Sam (释高参 Shi Gao Can) 1886 – 1960
Monnik Shi Gao Can is van grote invloed op het Noord Zuid Kungfu van heden ten dage doordat hij de stichter is van het Zuid Shaolin (Sao Lim) Kungfu in Maleisië.
Hij is geboren in China en begin twintigste eeuw reisde hij naar Zuid Oost Azië, alwaar hij zijn kennis over de Shaolin vechtkunsten verspreidde. Hieronder zijn door mij gereconstrueerde levensverhaal.
Names inverted are transcripted after a dialect or English intepretation. If available also transcripted in pīnyīn.
He was a mysterious man, not even his disciples knew a lot about his life and background. After his death a lot of effort was made to research his life. Especially by Mr Liang Junyi, who wrote a big article on Shi Gao Can’s life. The information presented here is largely based on his work.
When he was alive, nobody talked about these things and nobody asked him about it. It has been said that is name was Zhen Hechang, others say Xue Baochang and still others say his name was Lin, given name unknown. His real name was difficult to find, but he indeed had the family name Lin (林)before he became a monk. His given name was Ah Hoong (林亞鴻 Lín Yàhóng), which means ‘Welcome’ and another name was Dien Pah (天豹 Tiān Bào), and he had the nickname of Fēitiān Bào 飞天豹, which means ‘Flying Leopard’.
He was born on the 27th of December 1886, and his hometown was Hailou Village, Lingtou Town, Northern Gate Outskirts, Huian County, Fujian Province, China. 福建惠安北門外嶺頭.
There were four brothers in his family, and he was the second son. Master Gao Can was a kindhearted person from a young age on. He was determined to help the distressed and succor those in peril in his childhood. He was very fond of medical science. During a long period of arduous time, Gao Can had studied many medical books energetically and practiced assiduously. He knew that if he wanted to help the distress, he must weed out the wicked; and if he wanted to weed out the wicked, he must learn Martial Arts well.
So he left his parents in tears when he was only 13 years old in 1899, and went to find a famous South Shaolin Martial Arts Master named Cho Pew (Cáo Biāo 曹彪 (or Cáo Bào曹 豹). He was a ace escort, an profession in ancient China, who protects others’ properties for a fee. Gao Can learned Ngo Cho Kun ( Wǔ zǔ quán 五祖拳) and most likely also Lo Han Kun ( Luóhàn quán 罗汉拳 ) vigorously for 3 years and 4 months (time should be until min 1901). He was very proud to have Cao Bao as his master. Cao Bao adopted 5 students and Shi Gao Can was the top one. He became an outstanding student who mastered the Hing Kung (High Leaps) and the use of different types of Ying Ju (hidden weapons).
Shi Gao Can traveled to Singapore (新加坡) for the first time accompanied by his elder brother Lin A Ya 林亞尖, making a living as a boatman at the age of 16. In 1903, when his brother died when boating, he returned to China. He was so sad, he didn´t eat for 3 days.
At the age of 18 (in 1903/04) monk Xing Liang (行亮) shaved the head of Shi Gao Can at the Huian Qingxing Temple 惠安清興寺. Or at the Wai Onn Ching Hing (Hui Ann Cheng Yim) Temple.
He was ordained at the Putian Meifeng Temple 莆田梅峰寺 by the temple abbot Wei Jia 微嘉. Monk Wei Jia came from Xi Shan Chan Qing temple in Fuzhou 福建州怡山西禪寺.\
Xing Liang was his teacher for Buddhist culture 文事.
He also went on to study Buddhist scripture at the Fu Tin Mui Fung Temple from the chief abbot Mei Kar and was to become one of the most outstanding monks of his Chan generation.
As he became a Buddhist monk he was given a new, Buddhist name. His name was from now on Gao Can, or Shi Gao Can (Sek Koh Sam). ‘Shi’ 释 is short for Shijiamouni 释迦牟尼 which is the Chinese transliteration of the Sanskrit ‘Sakyamuni’. And Sakyamuni was the original name of the first Buddha, before he became an enlightened being. ‘Shi’ can be translated as ‘Reverend’. In fact when you become a monk you leave your family behind and you are given a new family name: ‘Shi’ . A respectful way of addressing a Buddhist monk is using the word Dashi, which can be loosely translated as Great Master. Reverend Gao Can is sometimes also referred to as Gao Can Dashi.
Almost all sources agree on that Shi Gao Can studied Chinese Medicine (中醫 Zhongyi) under Master Chee Leow in Cheng Tai Mountain Temple. The location of this temple remains unknown. Not clear is when this happened; some say this was during his 6 years of travel around China.
In around 1905 Gao Can started his 6 year travel around China. He visited many places in China: Putian, Yishan Mountain, Zhaowa, Wutaishan Mountain, Zhentaishan Mountain, Jiuhuashan Mountain, Huangshan Mountain, Emeishan Mountain and Yuanluoshan Mouintain. During his travels he not only made a lot of intimate friends, but also called on many Martial Arts experts, thus enriching his knowledge of the (Shaolin) Martial Arts. It is unkown to the public exactly how many styles he studied, but among them are: Hup Gun, Phoenix (Hong Nnan; similar to the Chukka style), White Crane (Peh Hok 白鹤 ), Five animal element styles and the styles previously mentioned.
Besides the places mentioned he traveled in Shandong Province and in Zhejiang Province, in the latter one he was going to stay for 10 years.
It was the Reverend Hung Leong (Hui Jing) 慧精 of the Poh Jai Temple (Nánhǎi Pǔjì sì 南海普济寺 ) on Putuoshan Island 普陀山岛, Zhejiang Province 浙江省 who would accept Shi Gao Can as his disciple for martial teachings 武事 in 1909. Reverend Hui Jing was of the 48th generation 2nd chamber of the South Shaolin Tradition. He had just three students and only Seh Koh San fully mastered the art of Shaolin Kung Fu.
On August 6 and 7 2001 I (Scholten) visited the Zhejiang Nanhai Puji Temple (Chek Chian Nan Hai Pooi Chee See) on Putuoshan Island. I visited this temple in search of traces that might be left behind by either Reverend Hui Jing or Reverend Gao Can. But unfortunately there was nobody left to remember either of them; the last monks from the Qing Dynasty passed away 3 years ago. All the monks living at this moment in the temple were installed there after the rehabilitation and re-legalization of Buddhism in the beginning of the eighties. Temple records were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. I would like to thank Reverend Shi Yanquan of the Putuoshan Fojiao Yiyang Tong (Yangzhi Buddhist Monastery) for his warm welcome and his corporation in this matter.
Shi Gao Can practiced Martial Arts in the Shaolin tradition. Nobody is claming that he was an monk from the actual Songshan Shaolin temple in Henan province. Martial arts were (are?) practiced in many temples in China, since the Shaolin Martial Arts and Buddhism are one. There are many different schools of Buddhism, and Buddhism from Shaolin (Chan Buddhism) incorporates the Martial Arts as a way of cultivating the mind and spirit. So, although the actual teachings left the Shaolin temple a long time ago, Shi Gao Can Martial Arts can still be called Buddhist style. Therefore many other styles of Martial Art can be called ‘Layman Styles’ (Su Jia Pai). Even the Martial Arts at Songshan Shaolin temple today are a mix of Buddhist and (modern) laymen styles, since after the last destruction in 1928 there were no qualified and fully trained successors left to reintroduce the complete Martial Arts to the Shaolin temple in the beginning of the eighties.
South Shaolin and North (Songshan) Shaolin come from the same sect. Songshan Shaolin in Henan Province is the forefather of Chan. Bodhidharma is the legendary founder of the sect. After Bodhidharma there were another 5 patriarchs; together they are known as the 6 forefathers of Chan Buddhism.
They can roughly be divided into a South school and a North school. There are 5 Chambers in the style of Shaolin. These chambers are correlated to the five branches of ‘Chan’. After the fiftht patriarch of ‘Chan’, after the founder Damo, the practice of ‘Chan’ went south in China. Huineng 惠能, the sixth and last forefather and sixt patriarch, was the leader of the South school.
This style is seen as the second chamber or style/school of Shaolin, also called the second chamber of Shaolin. This school was very prosperous till the beginning of the Qing Dynasty. According to Bodhidharma’s will, sixth forefather Huineng did not ‘hand down the Mantle’ anymore. From then on, the names of the Chan Masters are no longer recorded. It is unknown to me who started the lineage of Shi Gao Can or the lineage names of the monks were.
But the ‘Door to enlightenment’ was passed on to the Nanhai Puji Temple in Zhejiang Province. Master Hui Jing was assumed to be the 48th generation after Huineng.
For ten years, until 1919, Shi Gao Can trained the martial arts in the traditional Shaolin tradition. Eventually he was going to represent the 49th generation. Besides Buddhism and the martial arts, he was also taught traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture. In the end he got superb medical skills and he tried to eliminate disease for everybody in the world and relieve people in need. Hui Jing had only 3 adopted students and Shi Gao Can was the only inner circle disciple (入室弟子) of his master. Shi Ga Can took a sacred oath and promised never to disclose the art to the outside world.
In 1926 he started travelling and visited Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Singapore and Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). In every place he visited he treated the sick and spread Buddhism, for which he eventually would gain his greatest fame. He stayed in the Royal Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) for 21 years and became the abbot of the Cheng Yuen Kong (Zhènyuán gōng 镇元宫 ) temple in Medan (now Zhènyuán sì 真元寺). He was responsible for the construction of nine Buddhist temples in the area.
Only when he was becoming older (56) he asked for permission to spread the Shaolin teachings. He learned so many Martial Arts and considered it to be a waist if he didn’t teach others. He send a letter to his teacher in China asking his master for permission to teach, only to find out that Reverend Hui Jing had already passed away years ago. Then he made an important decision; he broke the promise to his teacher not to teach. This is where he really broke the mould and broke the secrecy of the Shaolin Martial Arts.
Others say that he got a reply from an ‘ older brother’ telling him their master had died and gave him permission to teach (as he was his senior)
This was at the beginning of the second world war (1940?).
From then on he started spreading his teachings all over Southeast Asia. The style would become famous under the name Hood Khar Kun (Fó jiā quán 佛家拳 ), which means Buddhist Boxing, (Cantonese would write ‘Fat Gar Kuen‘) Hokkian Hood Khar Pai 佛家派, which means Buddhist Style. In Medan he adapted only 5 students. They were an Indonesian prince and: Huáng Jǐnzhāng 黃錦章, 莊慶錦 Zhuāng Qìngjǐn (nicknamed ‘old monkey’老猴), Zhuāng Shùnlái 莊順來 and Lín Jīnjù 林金聚.
The Martial Arts of Shi Gao Can, though, can be called true ‘Buddhist Style’ 佛家派 because it was practiced by (Shaolin) monks only. (Although he learned martial arts during his travels in China; one might assume that he people he learned from were not all monks) Shi Gao Can was the only fully trained and closed door disciple Hui Jing Dashi 慧精大师 , and therefore the only 49th generation successor in this lineage. After 49 generations of cultivating and refining the art, it left the Buddhist society as Shi Gao Can was the first in the lineage to teach his complete knowledge to non monk disciples (Sujia Dizi). One exception would be Monk Fachuan in Medan, Indonesia.
As said before; his teachings compasses many different topics. As we may assume he spread and taught Buddhism everywhere he came. But preaching Buddhism also means, in this case, preaching Martial Arts and other related subjects.
Shi Gao Can taught many different things to many different students. Although he did taught many students (at least 50 in Singapore alone), the number of his actual disciples is said to be restricted to 18. In Chinese Buddhism, Sakyamuni Buddha had 18 disciples (of which Bodhidharma was one), so in the Buddhist tradition Shi Gao Can was said to have had 18 disciples only; that tradition is observed by all true Buddhist teachers. It is my belief that the students were trained in the ‘athletic associations’ set up by Shi Gao Can and that the disciples were taught in the temples. The disciples were probably also living in the temples.
After the second world war, in 1948, master Song hui (松輝), the abbot of the Singapore Shuanglin temple (Siong Lim See 双林寺) asked Shi Gaocan to become the “Zhuchi” 主 of the Shuanglin temple. Zhuchi is the one with the highest position in a temple. Initially he practiced martial arts privately in Singapore. Friend witnessed this and encouraged him to accept disciples in Singapore.
From 1949, aged 63, he started teaching Shaolin martial arts in Singapore. Here his teachings spread readily.
The disciples of Shi Gao Can in Singapore who lived and resided in the Shuanglin temple, who were responsible for cooking, cleaning maintenance of the buildings and premises. In addition to these disciples there were many students, however they studied differently and were usually supervised by some of the disciples rather than by Shi Gao Can himself who was primarily a Buddhist Monk and being busy with other tasks rather than teaching martial arts. Shi Gao Can had the habit of teaching different things to different people, this created differences amongst the group (so often one school to another teaches different things).
Millions of people there, including both monks and laymen, praised him for his merits. On May 6th, 1954, the Great Master was promoted to the rank of “Fangzhang” Abbot. With thousands of monks, shouts of joy, firecrackers banging and music, Gao Can ascended the throne of “Fangzhang” rank.
All over South East Asia Shi Gao Can is especially known for the martial arts teachings. Different from what one might expect, he taught different things to different students. This implies that there is not one set curriculum of movements. How it was decided to teach different curriculum is unknown to me, but important factors were the capabilities and talents of the different students. Because his teachings were so different, there are now many schools which, after so many years, all have developed in different directions.
As mentioned before; Shi Gao Can taught different disciples different skills. Apparently there are two exceptions to this rule; Yizhimei 一枝梅 and Luohan Quan 罗汉拳 are the only 2 common forms. These are the only 2 sets that can be found amongst almost all the students of Shi Gao Can, albeit in many different versions. For example, Erzhimei 二支梅of the Penang Sao Lim Athletic Assaciation. Though they vary in their appearance, these to sets can be seen as the core of the Martial Arts teachings of Shi Gao Can.
But a few aspects almost all the school share. One, and I think the most important one, are the foundations of the Martial Art. As far as I can judge the foundations are practically the same everywhere. This also implies a way of thinking, a theory, closely related to these foundations. A way of reasoning and a guideline for further development, thus causing many separate, but related, schools. This is, what I think, what the Martial Arts of Shi Gao Can are all about.
In the summer of the 1954 Shi Gao Can founded the Singapore Sao Hua San National Arts Association 少华山国术健身社, which opened up a new way propagating Chinese Martial Arts in Southeast Asia. It was the first school outside the Shuanglin temple where Shaolin Martial Arts were practiced. The school is now located at 276B MACPHERSON RD. He also founded the Seow Tin San Athletic Association 少雄山國術健身社 in 1954.
On 16 September 1954 the third successful renovation of the Shuanglin temple was completed with a big celebration.
Later about 10 other schools founded by his students, followed. Many of the associations had the words ‘Sao’ (or Seow 少) (and ‘San’ 山)in them, and almost never use the term ‘Shaolin’ in the name of the association. It is not certain why this was, but even to this day it means that the schools are easily seperated from other branches of Shaolin, although there are exeptions to the ‘Sao .. San’ rule. Note that in the past years some of these associations have closed due to lack of financial support. Shi Gao Can’s organizations are non-profit.
Other associations sprung up that can be traced back to his teachings like the Hui Hwa Pugilistic Association 星州惠华国术研究社 , 少南山, 少忠山, 少林得英堂, 少林佛山堂… etc. Some of the students still run martial arts schools, many of them have already passed on and others lead lives in which the martial arts no longer play any role. He accepted approximately 50 students and disciples, all of them living in or in the direct vicinity of the temple.
In 1955 Shi Gao Can had already passed 70, his hair was completely white, but still the traveled to Malaysia in order to develop the Shaolin Martial Arts there. There he renovated the Penang Shuang Qing temple (Pinang Siong Kheng See 摈城双庆寺 ) on 59 Jalan Perak.
In Penang Shi Gao Can again accepted students and taught the Shaolin martial arts and Chinese medicine. He started teaching to his disciples inside the temple grounds.
” The original students who went to Shaolin to learn kungfu were solemnly initiated personally by Master Sek Kok Chum; they had to burn and eat the ashes of a “fu”(yellow paper) each signifying obedience, accepting disciplinary actions, not to follow another teacher/master and not to disgrace the name of Shaolin*. And if they did leave due to bad conducts or get “kicked-out” of Shaolin by the Master, they were forbidden to use the name Shaolin in the schools they formed nor say they practise Shaolin kungfu.
Master Sek kok Chum used to teach his students at night at the Siong Kheng See. The temple is still there and can be found behind the Zhulin Temple, but it has changed a lot since the time of Shi Gao Can’s presence. Sadly there are now no traces of Shi Gao Can or martial arts left inside the temple grounds. Even the name Siong kheng See is no longer there at the back.”
Koay Ah Kean 郭亚建师傅 in 2018:
“I think those whoe really did baisi (traditional initiation ceremony) to Sek Koh Sam are not more than 5 (still alive) today. I went out when there was any event in the Seng Kean Si (双庆寺) temple. Due to Sik Koh Sum was not permanently staying in Penang to teach kungfu, many people left the class in Seng Kean Si after a few years but some of us still continued to train at there. Then, Sik Koh Sum told us to train at the Saolim Association which was taught by Sik Koh Sum’s diciple from Singapore. Sik Koh Sum requested him to teach in Penang. That senior is Zhuang Ke Bu and he was the first Chief Instructor of Penang Saolim Association. He also formed Sao Hua San Association in Singapore. Then we went to the Penang Saolim Association to learn from our senior, Zhuang Ke Bu. He was the Chief Instructor before Phng Chye Khim. When I started to train in the association, Phng Chye Khim has not joined the class yet.
Sik Koh Sum only taught in Seng Kean Si temple. Those who learned at the temple were his close diciples. We took care of our sifu. Sik Koh Sum told me not to register my name at the Penang Saolim Association because during that time, it was very difficult to get the association registration approved by the government and those registered were rich people. My sifu did not want to affect the association so he asked me not to register my name in the association.
There was a photo of ex Penang Police Chief in the temple. In an occurence, someone has made a police report against out class in the temple. But when police came and saw the picture of their Chief, they went away and did not come back again. The brother of the chief police was learning kungfu in the temple too.
Our responsebility was to protect and guard the association. Last time, the Saolim Association has recieved bullets, threatening letters, request for money etc. from triads. I went to deal with them with some buddies of Saolim. We did not let Zhuang Ke Bu to involve in this as this will affect the association name. He (Zhuang Ke Bu) stayed on the second floor of the Penang Saolim Association and he was a Tit tar physician. Sik Koh Sum explained to us how to treat injuries.
When my sifu was promoted as abbot of a temple in Singapore, I went to Singapore for 18 days. When the Singapore Saolim headquarter has an even, I also went to Singapore for 10+ days.
Those who learned at the Saolim Association were students and those who learned in the temple were diciples. We took care of our sifu. When there was a problem, we helped to settle it such as fighting. The Saolim Association registered members can’t help to do this. For example, if the instructor involve in fighting, then the association will be closed by the government. That was why, we, those have no names in the association, helped to do this job.
There was only one sifu who was Sik Koh Sum. We adressed the chief instructor Zhuang Ke Bu as senior. After my sifu passed away Phng Chye Khim became the Chief Instructor of the Penang Saolim Association. Zhuang Ke Bu was hired as a bodyguard in Kuala Lumpur and that was why he needed to stay in Kuala Lumpur and can’t teach in Penang anymore.
Sik Koh Sum did not teach lion dance. (Many Sik Koh Sum lineage have lion and dragon dance) I think it was not taught by Sik Koh Sum. He said if we want to learn lion dance, we must have good kungfu and we need to use green lion. Green lion with white eyebrows means that we welcome any challenger, means I am the greatest. It is not easy task so we did not have any lion dance. After that Sik Koh Sum lineage people have lion dance, I really don’t know whether they learned it. ”
With the help of his student Quek Heng Choon 郭逢春 he opened the Penang Sao Lim Athletic Association 槟城少林国术健身社 which he founded in 1956.
” The Penang Sao Lim Athletic Association had a Grand Opening ceremony at the New World Park and Shi Gao Can and all his students incl. monks were there to perform various feats. One performance by Shi Gao Can was “contraction” of his bone structures … he was a tall man and in the feat he became quite small, this was a very advanced form of kungfu I was told.”
” A storm was brewing and Shi Gao Can did a “special” prayer, he had compassion on the huge crowd attending, whether it was coincidence or not the skies cleared; everyone there was able to stay for the whole occasion. Then, there was fantastic kungfu using just umbrellas etc to demonstrate one can use anything as a weapon.”
“He instructed his students not to eat beef as long as they are active in kungfu ; apparently beef caused the body to be “heavy”. When his students got injured in practices, he healed them using herbs, acupunctures. My dad was one who got injured in the left chest area while doing a somersault in the air; Master Sek used 2 knuckles of the index and middle fingers to punch and pluck several times at the injured area, then used acupuncture and then 2 applications of whole-freshly steamed crushed crabs together with some herbs to apply to the area, 2 days in a row. ”
Other schools were opened by his students in Penang, and the same structure in the names was used as in Singapore. The art still flourishes in Penang, and all over Malaysia for that matter, until today. Some practice in privacy and behind closed door, other promote the art more openly. Other schools opened by Shi Gao Can are: the Penang Seow Chu Sang Association, the Penang Seow Seet San Health Culture Association, and the Persatuan Jasmani Seow Hay San Pulau Pinang.
Here a short anecdote from Pei from Penang, whose father was a student of Shi Gao Can at the time he was residing in Penang:
“Yes, my encounter with the old master (the monk from China):I was just a young kid then, I don’t know his name but my dad asked me to address him as “tse-kung” (grandfather), my dad was a student there. Used to go early in the morning and evening to practice.
My dad came home from practice one day and told my mom: When he first joined SaoLin the old master observed his students during the practice; that’s when my dad got injured (I think either his shoulder or knee). The old master rectified the injury right there on the spot using acupuncture and manipulation. Then he told him that his body built was not suitable for the kungfu they were practising and advised that he used the twin swords instead; since then he taught my dad that.
One day my dad took my mom and me to a temple-like building with a big courtyard to meet with this old master (not the building in Muntri St) (Shuang Qing Temple). I guess he wanted to meet with us. There we performed some rituals and had tea and in the conversation he said when I’m a little older he’ll teach me kungfu too. Unfortunately, before I was “old” enough he passed away. My dad was very sad and he left the twin swords in the Muntri St Bld in memory of him.
I got injured as mentioned and my dad went to the bld. on Muntri St to get help and it was the 5th disciple (the 5th disciple used to live at Muntri St with his wife and children and I’ve met them all when my dad took me there occasionally) who came to our house. I was in pain and had problem breathing and lying across the sofa chair; this “tse-heng” (elder kung fu brother) of my dad pressed on pressure points on my body and that relieved my pain and discomfort. Then I had to take Chinese Medicines for sometime. I heard from my dad that the 5th disciple learned alot from the old master.”
After one year, in 1956, Shi Gao Can returned to Singapore. Until his death he travelled back and forth between Penang and Singapore.
In 1958 Gao Can initiated the Nanyang Siao Lim National Arts Association 南洋少林国术总会, in Singapore and he himself took up the post of the Chief Instructor, teaching the students in Southeast Asia the orthodox Shaolin Martial Arts. The Association is located at 54 SOMME RD (Jalan Besar).
They are one of the oldest Wushu association in Singapore and was well known in the 60’s, 70’s and even 80’s as the Head Quarters of all Wushu Associations teaching the Shaolin form as taught by the late grandmaster Shi Gao Can.
Teaching there greatly contributed to promoting the Shaolin Martial Arts and building up the health of many people from different countries of Southeast Asia. It also serves as the headquarters of many, if not all, the different schools opened by Shi Gao Can’s students in Singapore.
Shi Gao Can’s actions contributed to in heightening the unity of the Shaolin students in Southeast Asia, to make making friendly contacts between people and Shaolin students from different nations. To build people bodies and catering to the needs of different people in the society.
The Great Master came from a poor family, he had gone through all the vicissitudes of life, he had scaled mountains and forded rivers, traveling thousands of kilometers to relieve people in need. But at last, he broke down from constant overwork, failed to respond to any medical treatment. Unfortunately, on May the 16th 1960 Shi Gao Can parinirvanaed (passed away), aged 75.
His mortal remains were placed in the temple for a period of 7 days for his students, disciples and Buddhist monks to pay their last respect. His cremation took place on the 22nd May 1960 on the Guang Ming Shan (Kuang Ming Hill) crematorium and was attended by more 5 to 6 thousand mourners. He was cremated and there were some white balls of bones left after cremation(apparently only found in people of very advanced levels of kungfu) and they were sent to different schools in remembrance of him.
His memorial tablet was set up in the Singapore Shuanglin Temple.
“Teaching and explaining the method by using my own experience as an example, being magnanimous and tolerant, helping the needy and relieving the distressed will make everybody happy.”
The Great Master always regarded this verse as the maxim of his life. He often economized on food and clothing, raised money to buy medicines and donated them to the poor. He also taught the poor Martial Arts for free, and never thought about fame or wealth. He practiced the Martial Arts to the highest degree, he got excellent medical skill, profound knowledge and noble character, so he was admired and respected by millions of people.
People still cherish the memory of him, the Great Master is immortal! Portraits of Gao Can were hung up in all the branches of the Nanyang Siao Lim National Arts Association for people to remember the Great Master. His student mourned for him, and made a poem for him:
“Gao Can was born in Fujian Province, he had experienced a time of tribulation in his childhood. He left his hometown in tears, traveled across the ocean to get a livelihood. He was proclaimed a Buddhist, then studied the Buddhist Sutra energetically, and studied the Martial Arts and medical science assiduously. His charitable and pious deeds was spreader all over Southeast Asia, and he had performed immortal feats. He worked his heart out in Shuanglin Temple and initiated the Sao Hua San National Arts Association. He taught students in Nanyang Siao Lim National Arts Association painstakingly, and he had students everywhere. His heroic posture was known by all the Martial Arts learners in China. He will go down in history as a shining example in Songshan Mountain.”
Abbott Shi Gao Can was respected by countless individuals mainly for his Buddhist compassion and medicine, also for his martial arts traditions and pure spirituality.
Shi Gao Can life’s is mysterious even to Singaporeans. They were told that he sleeps on the roof top of Shuanglin temple, he was able to leap 10 feet walls etc…
Traditional Shaolin Kungfu nowadays is not so popular in Singapore for reasons unknown, perhaps I guess maybe too difficult to learn and not enough Shaolin masters. It seems it is dying art there…
One of the last wishes of Shi Gao Can was that the Shuanglin temple continuous to promote the Shaolin martial arts and that within the temple grounds the Damo Hall would facilitate training.
“I met a few of the “old” students and that’s all I’m allowed to disclose. They all have great reverence for their Master and very fond memories of him. ”
The life story I present here has been reconstructed from different sources. Fact is that his course of life was filled with mysteries; the story above is most likely full of mistakes and inconsistencies. So if you have ANY additional information (including anecdotes) to give me (being legend or fact), or wish to correct some errors, please do so! All mistakes are mine: please forgive me …
The term ‘Yizhimei” 一支梅 is a reoccurring term among the schools emerged from Shi Gao Can. Strangely enough Shi Gao Can changed the name into ‘Erzhimei’ when he was in Penang; there are a few different moves as well. ‘Luohan’ is a more general term than ‘Yizhimei’. On the one hand as a set form, but also a style of martial arts. Shi De Qian from Henan Shaolin Temple in China, wrote the history of Shaolin and included ‘Yizhimei’ in the (Shaolinsi wushu baike quanshu) Complete Encyclopedia of Shaolin Temple Martial Arts, volume I & II.
Below a translation of part of the description in the book:
“Yizhimei Quan of South Shaolin temple.
Chan Master Gaocan, originator of Southern Yizhimei Quan, is responsible for spreading it. According to records in the Boxing Manuals in Songshan Shaolin temple, the source of Chinese Shaolin Kungfu, Yizhimei Quan came from Shaolin temple.
In Jiaqing time of Ming Dynasty, pirates often violated China. Southeast coast. Many times the government ordered the fighting monks of Shaolin temple to go and suppress the bandits. Some of these monks died and others were heavenly injured on their legs. The latter couldn’t return and stayed in the area and started teaching to the locals. Because of their injuries they had to mainly teach arm movements and only a few kicking skills. As a result, later a saying emerged in Chinese Wushu circles called: ‘Southern Punch, Northern Kick’.
Then in Qing Dynasty, a monk and his five students names Jingren, Jingliu and so on left Songshan and moved to the South, traveling through Fujian, Guanzhou, Hainan, Taiwan and Nanyue. And they deeply propagated Shaolin Kungfu. As the years went by the boxing skills from Songshan gradually changed into South Shaolin boxing. After that it spread all over China and became the best Kungfu skill in South China.
Southern Yizhimei Quan is a branch is a branch of South Shaolin Boxing. Yizhimei Quan is the evolution of Shaolin Luohanquan. Gaocan improved Yizhimei Quan over the years by long time actual combat as to make it more consummate. He started teaching in Singapore and over the years the practitioners of Yizhimei Quan numbered over the thousands. It is now famous in South-East Asia and beyond.
The main characteristics of Yi zhi mei quan are:
1. Punch and mind united, deeply distilled,
2. Simply vigorous, couple hardness with softness;
3. Having both offense and defense, suitable for actual combat;
4. Special footwork and punch to all directions.
In the 87 movements of Yizhimei Quan ‘the body shape is like sitting down’ from beginning to end. Therefore the horse-step is very common, just like an old monk sitting in meditation, especially the triangle horse step, just like someone side-sit there, reading books or striking bells. Although there are movements, the range is not so big. The names of boxing skills are usually Buddhist technical terms, for example, Arhat, Buddha, Old Monk, Prostrate and so on. It is thus clear that, Yizhimei Quan, is originated from gestures of monks who sit in meditations, combined with hand and feet movements. It then gradually developed until now.
1. Punch and mind united, deeply distilled.
The unity of punch and mind makes skills and movements, therefore shapes are found. Only have shapes but now power cannot subdue your opponents, so if you want to subdue your opponents you should have power. You can also win even when you are controlled by your opponents, this is the essence of Yizhimei Quan.
With the long time hard combat exercise by the master of Yizhimei Quan and their students it is becoming better. And now there are eyes in every movement, there are divisions in every gesture, there are rhythms in every division, playing in quick rhythm. All the movements are fierce, accurate, firm in offense and airtight, hard as iron in defense. If you use is suitably and properly you can win every battle. As a result of using Qigong, Yizhimei Quan has its deep essence.
2. Simply vigorous, couple hardness with softness
Yizhimei Quan, just like the Kungfu in Songshan Shaolin temple,is not flashy, and every movement is for actual combat, standing in winning the battle against your opponent. When using punching and palm skills of Yizhimei Quan, hands usually roll out, move suddenly and strike hard as the thunder.. So an important point is ‘firm’. Firm makes power, and power makes sub dual. Nevertheless, it is firm but gentle. For instance, when taking back our hands, we should turn outward or inward, using gentle and turning power. Gentle as the virgin, move like the clouds. Gentleness can conserve strength, and then becomes firm suddenly. And firm power makes the punch firmer and more powerful, and as a result the practitioner can be unmatched. This is to couple hardness with softness, using every movement like this, and using wisdom and skills together.
3. Having both offense and defense, suitable for actual combat.
Yizhimei Quan has both offense and defense not only in the whole series, but also in every movement. Whenever we use a skill, we usually hit our opponents’ vital part fiercely, meanwhile we also should be strict on guard against our opponents’ plot. In other words,” if I cannot hit you, I will not let you hit me either’. Just like ‘double palm hit’ and ‘triple punch’ in the series, have both offence and defense. The key is, use one palm or fist to hit opponent’s vital part and put the other near the side of the body as a way of defense.
4. Special footwork, punch toward all directions.
Yizhmei Quan has obvious characteristics in footwork, that is; it has only a few kinds of footwork but each kind is very concise, having the merit that it can adapt itself to changing conditions, pay more attention to defense, use defense to confuse the enemy and attack where the enemy is unguarded. For example, when practicing Yizhimei Quan one usually use the horse-step, triangle-step and bow-step. And one use the horse-step the most. Its merit is that one can stand as a stake, still as the mountain. Though being attacked fiercely, we can’t fall over, nor lose balance, out limbs can’t be seized. Especially, we can use constant defense to confuse the enemy and let him attack recklessly, therefore, we can then attack him and then subdue him. Here are some examples:’ little rabbit uses a fan’, ‘turn over your palm to make rain’ and ‘God picks eggplants’.
In all the 87 movements of Yizhimei Quan, we usually use fist-attacking or palm-attacking as the offence and almost never use kicks. No matter moving forward of backward, dealing with the left of the right, we usually use palm or fist. To attack, spit, tease, grasp, beat, flick, snatch, smash or rub. So that is ‘using Yizhimei Quan to attack all directions’. In fact, we can not only use it to punch towards each direction separately, we can also use it to attack all directions at the same time. ‘No matter which directions my opponent comes from, I can defend. My gesture is like a buried stake, and my body movers and turns like a mill. Therefore, even when 8 opponents attack from 8 different directions together I can use a pair of fists or palms to block’.
These words are the purport of Yizhimei Quan.”
Luohan Quan: Xi Nu Luohan Quan; Angry Happy Luohan Boxing.
Shi De Qian from Henan Shaolin Temple in China, wrote the history of Shaolin and included Xi Nu Luohan Quan; Angry Happy Luohan Boxing, in the (Shaolinsi wushu baike quanshu) Complete Encyclopedia of Shaolin Temple Martial Arts, volume I & II. Only 18 of the 108 postures were documented in the book.
On this page and the page are many pictures in, for some people, unusual and strange postures. This is Xi Nu Luohan Quan; Angry Happy Luohan Boxing. It is one of the highest levels of art it includes attributes of emotions and sounds (thus the facial expressions).
This art was said to be practiced by only 4 of the original 18 disciples (of the Shuanglin Temple Singapore), it is said that common students such as those in Indonesia or Malaysia did not learn it. At the moment only 4 people know the entire 108 techniques/postures of the Xi Nu Luohan.
In fact most students/disciples did not learn the entire Luohan tradition because Shi Gao Can taught different skills to different students. That is why over 30 schools of the Shi Gao Can tradition appeared in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia over the years.
Venerable Gao Can can be transliterated in many different ways, in different Chinese dialects. Mainly in a dialect from Fujian (Hokkian), Guandong (Canton) or in Kejia (Hakka) dialect.
The most frequent transcriptions are: Sek Koh Sam and Sik Koe Chum. Other spellings that I encountered were:
Ven Ko Cham;
Seh Koh Sam;
Sik Koe Chum;
Shi Gao Sen;
Sik Ko Sum;
Sek Koh Sum;
Sik Gau Sum;
Shi Gao Can, however, was his full Buddhist name pronounced in Mandarin, the standard Chinese dialect and transliterated using the Hanyu Pinyin system. One last problem is that the last character of his name “Can” can also be pronounced as “Shen” and “Cen’, and some seem to prefer that spelling/pronounciation.