Shaolin 36 Leg Techniques

"Strange Bird Searches Sky" of Shaolin 36 Leg Techniques

When I first mentioned many years ago that there are more kicks in Shaolin Kungfu than all the kicks in all other martial arts put together, some people became angry, though behind my back. I am glad that now no one expresses his anger, not even behind my back, probably they now realize the truth. I knew the truth because I knew more than 36 kicks in Shaolin Kungfu, but when I counted all the kicks of all other martial arts put together there were less than 20.

The Shaolin 36 Leg Techniques were top secrets, sometimes heard but very rarely seen. They are called "Techiques" and not "Kicks" because while kicks form the great majority of the techniques, some techniques are not kicks. In Chinese (Mandarin) the Shaolin 36 Leg Techniques is "Shao Lin San Shi Liu Tui Fa", not "San Shi Liu Ti" which means 36 Kicks.

Each of the 36 techniques may be executed by more than one pattern or kick. For example, the famous technique of "organ-seeking kick", sometimes called snap kick in some martial art literature, can be executed by patterns like "White Crane Flaps Wings{, "Fui Sin Kicks Bushel", "Yellow Oriole Drinks Water", "Golden Cockerel Stands Solitarily", and "Little Bird Shows Toes".

On the other hand, the same pattern may be used for different techniques. For example, "Little Bird Shows Toes" can be used as a "nail kick", and "Golden Cockerel Stands Solitarily" can be used as a "knee strike". Whatsoever, there are more than 36 kicks, and also more than 36 leg techniques in Shaolin Kungfu.

I believe the concept of Shaolin 36 Leg Techniques is relatively new, probably being established during the Ming or even the Qing Dynasty, i.e. between 13th and 20th century. This concept was not mentioned in the famous collection of Shaolin Classics of the Song Dynasty (10th to 13th century), although the Shaolin Kungfu described by these classics was later known as Northern Shaolin Kungfu, which was characterized by kicking and jumping, as expressed in a common saying, "Southern Fists, Northern Kicks".

Although the concept of 36 Shaolin Leg Techniques is relatively new, its history is actually not short, about a few hundred years. Hence, there are different versions of the 36 leg techniques at different periods, but the great majority of the leg techniques are the same.

When I categorized the 36 leg techniques to be taught in a special course in November 2015, I gathered more than 36 techniques. So I had to leave out some leg techniques to comply with the traditional term 36 Leg Techniques. I left out, for example, "Khun Luei Theoi" (Cantonese), or "Inside-Skirt Leg Technique", the famous kicks of Yim Yim Choon, and "Pek Theoi", or "Chopping Leg Technique", called "Axe Kick" in Taekwondo.

Nevertheless, I believe that "Inside-Skirt Leg Technique" is a collection of leg techniques, and include "Step Kick" and "Clutch Kick" which are found in our version of 36 Leg Techniques. "Chopping Leg Technique" is part of "Hanging Kick" when the kicking leg comes straight down with the heel acting like an axe. The "Chopping Leg Technique", of course, can be used as a technique by itself, and not as part of another technique. One must remember that kungfu terms are used for convenience; they are not like definitive scientific terms.

I remember that when I first read in the 1980s a modern classic, "Twenty Four Leg Techniques" by a famous master, Sifu Li Ying Erng, I was surprised that he described the "Double Flying Kick" with a pattern using a double flying sideways thrust-kick, which is jumping up in the air, slanting the body sideways and ramming out the soles of both feet, with the momentum of the jump. The master explained that this leg technique was useful for breaking down a strong gate of a fort, or felling a strong big-sized opponent. I thought, but without confirmation, he could be influenced by Bruce Lee's famous flying kick. I also thought that the "Double Flying Kick", which is found in our version of Shaolin 36 Leg Techniques, uses the double organ-seeking kick.

I am glad that I conducted a special course on the Shaolin 36 Leg Techniques in November 2015 in Penang. All the course participants, including relative beginners, performed very well. Many close secrets were revealed at the course, like "Hook-Spring Leg", "Squat Step" and "Nail Kick". Understandably, these close secrets are taken out from public videos.

It would be fitting to conclude this article with a "close secret", which can be deciphered by the initiated. A few times during demonstrations at intensive kungfu courses, I was pin-downed and escape seemed impossible. But I could escape, "hurting" the opponent. If you examine the videos of the 36 Leg Techniques course, you can find out which technique or techniques I used.

Wong Kiew Kit
23rd December 2015


SShaolin 36 Leg Techniques in Video
SShaolin 36 Leg Techniques in Pictures
36 Leg Technique Course in Penang 2015


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