MOH PAI And PAI HU SHIH – Understanding Our Style Of Kung Fu

MOH PAI AND PAI HU SHIH Kung Fu – What’s in a name? – Understanding Our Style Of Kung Fu

“What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Juliet (Romeo & Juliet {II, ii, v.1-2})

A moment of caution to the reader;

Please understand I write this from a perspective that is ever evolving.  What I mean by that is that this portion of the blog is personal perspectives and will always be open for discussion, interpretation, alteration (as time influences), and reproduction (should I come across new epiphany's of the kung fu we train).  If you find it offensive please take time to ask yourself why you feel that way.  Nothing here is meant to anger anyone and I would enjoy speaking to anyone who has experiences that differ from mine just as I would those who feel the same.  Discovery is a path that many can and should walk together.  So as many have said before "Empty your cup!" and attempt to take what is provided as a means of communicating what I have learned for those that may have the same questions I did as a student...  

As a student of Moh Pai (Moh Kempo Kung Fu) and Pai Hu Shih Kung Fu many times I come to a place in which I question.  It is only natural to inquire and wonder about what we are told.  In fact, I believe it is a fundamental need as a martial artist to constantly test, seek out the truth, and eventually evolve in our training.  To not test the art and it’s knowledge is like not using a limb.  Without practice/use that limb withers – as would art if we stayed stagnant and never tested its practices.

When I first became a student of the style of martial arts I currently teach.  I went through many different phases;

First was my Romantic Phase in which all things were wondrous and awe inspiring.  This is the usual euphoric aspect of all students when they first train something new.  They see the physical potential of their training and its embodiment in their instructor.  I remember the burning desire to train to be better than those in my class.  How it drove me to push harder and harder each day.  Many times I have wished to have that same drive forever push me but find a way to temper it with current wisdom.  (as life almost always makes us feel when hindsight is involved)

Like many things perception may leave us confused

Like many things perception may leave us confused

Then came my path of Self Doubt where everything I look at made me question what I was doing.  This is what this post will mostly address as I took a lot of time searching and the outcome my studies is what this (and subsequent posts  on the martial arts we train) will be about.  Doubt in your training is normal.  I have spoken to practitioners of many other styles and they all wonder about their training at some point.  The important thing is to begin your own search and find what you can commit to and what works for you.  I was fortunate to find truth in my search behind my style (I cannot say the same for others I spoke to about their style).  Much of it has to do with your teacher.  Were/are they open to discussion?  Do they hide things?  Are their statements inconsistent?  These are what you should focus on as you train.  If you have questions please contact through this post as I enjoy positive discussion(s) greatly.  I hope to make many more posts regarding our style and my findings.

Finally I came upon Understanding and Acceptance about the art I train, it’s origin (or my perception of it in my studies), as well as it’s legitimacy.  I am not a blind follower/practitioner of my style.  Nor am I a teacher who says all things aside from mine are worthless (sign of a bad teacher).  All come under scrutiny and one’s self should be at the top of that list.  What I have found is far too much of our art in far too many other arts for it to be false or incorrect.  I hope that those who train with us continue the path long enough to see that we are not similar to one style.  We are found in many.  We have no single concept, we have many.    The rules of our style follow philosophical perspectives on fighting not specific tactics (for example: center line theory, long arm vs short arm, hard vs. soft, etc.).  We operate within specific rules of combat leaving a freedom of action within our techniques to perform any and or all of the concepts seen in many different styles as the situation needs.  If you are a student of our style reading this – our lineage is all around you.  Don’t search to replace the art you train – rather find your art in other styles and learn from them like you would from your own family.  For that is what other styles are.  Cousins or brothers in our art as we all come from the same melting pot of martial arts evolution.

My First Problem: Understanding the Name MOH PAI Kung Fu and It’s Claimed Meaning.

When I first began my training (green and grateful) I accepted what my instructor said blindly.  That Moh Kempo meant Temple Style Kempo.  It was not until I tried to find the word MOH in Chinese that my rose colored glasses had their first crack.  A time that no doubt each and every student who received false information has had.  The problem is that when someone speaks with definitive authority they should have supporting evidence.  Often in martial arts this is not the case and rather than state that we hide behind mystery and swift negative action against those who question!! (at least my experience with some martial arts practitioners do).  In fact, I hate being definitive…it’s far too confining – I like to have a “good idea” rather than concrete fact.  Call it the scientific approach of having a theory supported by evidence.  Firm enough to trust but always up for debate.

I first turned to other practitioners who could not quite answer my same questions themselves.  Then I turned to the internet and the history of kung fu (which I find too convenient but I will try to discuss that later as tangents abound in any thought process such as this) to find out if we followed a “direct lineage” as claimed.  All of which were fruitless endeavors because like any lineage path the one to our art has hurdles, obstacles, and a lack of documentation.  The truth is that no style can trace their full lineage (not even the temples themselves who lost documentation during their destruction around 534 A.D.) so I found that in search of real truth you must look to your art and see how it functions compared to others.  I had to look where our style began.

Finding “The Law Of The Fist” – O.E. Simon; Starting to Understand His Kung Fu

This has been by far the best choice in my search as our Grand Master’s book was originally published in 1969.  For those who read it or have read it please understand it’s origin.  The document was produced and published by Grand Master.  I would never say he was a great author as writing may not be one of his best talents and learning to process the information as he provides it was difficult at first.  However, he did provide and show a wealth of knowledge on the subject of kung fu and martial arts in general.  Not just in the techniques he provided (which can be seen in many styles of martial arts) but also in the sections discussing the expansion and background in martial arts systems over time.  This was written in a time before the internet and before many in the western hemisphere knew much about martial arts.  I have seen so much information that was accurate in his book as to other styles (Jou-Fu, Bak Hok Pai, Pangai Noon karate, etc.) that I find it hard to believe those who called him false.  Even the best con artist in the world would not have been able to put together that much information and then produce the quality of martial artists who came from his school (Margie Hilbig, Emil Repack, Wally Carlson, and Dwight Scheer being examples).

Checking Out The Last Page

Back page of Grand Master Simon's book "The Law Of The Fist"

Back page of Grand Master Simon’s book “The Law Of The Fist”

This one is for those current students who may be interested in looking online for themselves.  At the back of Grand Masters book The Law Of The Fist there is a page that lists many kung fu systems.  As you train and move through the art (especially Pai Hu Shih) look for your motions in these styles of kung fu.  You will be amazed at what shows up through your searches.  If you want some help finding styles with similarities.  Let us know and we may be able to help you on your search and discovery.  Notice that MOH (temple) System is listed as a separate fighting system by our teacher.

Actually Reading From The History Discussion On Page 15 (aka the boring stuff)

After some time studying, scouring through the internet, training with other styles, and confirming our art through the physical interpretations seen in many many other styles of kung fu.  I finally went about deciphering the link between MOH PAI (aka Moh Kempo) and this claim of its alternative meaning as Temple Style Kempo/Kung Fu.  It was when reading what I assume many pass over regarding Grand Masters telling of the history of martial arts and Kung Fu that I found the connection.  MOH was not a literal translation for the work temple rather it was a way of paying respect to our foundation by referring to Dá Mó 達磨 (also known Bodhidharma) who many Chinese give credit to regarding the development of Kung Fu as a martial art as well as it’s ties to Buddhist practices.

Photo from Grand Masters book "Law of the Fist"

Photo from Grand Masters book “Law of the Fist”

Delving Deeper Into The Names Of MOH PAI and PAI HU SHIH

So upon the epiphany of MOH I toiled over the confusion that exists for anyone who doesn’t have a deep understanding of tonal languages.  I personally learned Spanish in school because my Puerto Rican mother would have throttled me if I took Chinese.  In my study I found that Pai as it was written by Grand Master in English would have many meanings if pronounced (or written – but let’s not go down that rabbit hole) in a different manner.  I have come to the following conclusions.  When we speak of MOH PAI we refer to two things;

MOH 磨 – A reference to Dá Mó 達磨 who’s original name was Bodhidharma.  The Chinese named him Dá Mó meaning Attain through hardship.  (a fact that I appreciate considering the activity of performing Wu Shu (martial art) is often referred to as Kung Fu which means hard work.  The way the Chinese tie together the background story and the name of the activity with such style and finesse is always impressive if not amusing.  This portion of our martial art’s name pays homage to the style’s foundation rooted in the stances and techniques that are given to us from the origin of Dá Mó and his temple arts that came from Shaolin-Ssu Temple in China.

PAI 派 – In this usage the intention is to delineate a specific school, or type of martial art.  When used this form of the word Pai is pronounced differently and written with a different character than that of Pai Hu Shih (which will be discussed next).

So when we take MOH  磨 and PAI派  together they become the School of MOH Kung Fu.  The usage of Kempo vs. Kung Fu was one of simple marketing.  Grand Master was not one to shy away from the fact that he used the name of popular styles to promote and increase students – in fact he used Karate in the name of his first school because almost no one was aware of what Kung Fu was when he first started his business.  A good idea?  Perhaps not but realize that when he began his schools there were no internet trolls to pick apart these details.

Having come to this logical conclusion on MOH PAI I had to address the obvious confusion that existed.  If that is what PAI meant in Moh Pai then what does PAI mean in Pai Hu Shih????????  (As you can imagine….migraines are made of such things)  I then introduced my American Alphabet brain to the Chinese tonal concept.  This was the fruit of my labors;

PAI 白 – This variation of Pai was pronounced Bái with a soft “b” sound.  It means “white” but more specifically it has an added meaning of “purity” or “clarity”.  So it is intended to add that meaning it’s use.  In retrospect one could say that Grand Master could have changed it to Bai Hu Shih but without asking him directly we can never get an answer as to why he did things this way.  However if you listen to it’s pronunciation…well it sounds like Pai just like it’s alternative variation from Moh Pai with only slight differences in pronunciation.

HU 虎 – This is a universally recognized word for Tiger and rather self explanatory.  Luckily it was a symbol and word that is not able to be incorrectly interpreted in the style’s name.

SHIH (Shì) 式 – The form of this word means type/style.  It is meant to show that the previous characters are together to create a specific name.

Thus when we take Pai Hu Shih (白虎式) and put them together what we are truly saying is “Pure White Tiger Style”.  For those who are practitioners of this style then you are already aware that it is indeed predominately tiger in nature, concept, and foundation.  It does incorporate the other animals within it’s system.  Still it is undeniably a system whose house is built on the back of this mighty animal.

As I finish this post I want to say to both my current students and inquiring students.  Review what I have provided.  Follow links and learn – see what you find.  Look for what you can confirm rather than what others say.  Then please bring it back as I would be very happy to hear from those who may have additional information.  This is my conclusion based on my time spent researching.   (Of course dialect and region plays a large part in the Chinese language so please, if I have something inaccurate, please try not to be offended.)

As with any musing…my future thoughts and expansions on such subjects are “to be continued

Jacob Scott, Chief Instructor @ Seattle White Tiger Kung Fu

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3 Responses to MOH PAI And PAI HU SHIH – Understanding Our Style Of Kung Fu

  1. Sloan Younglove says:

    Thanks for taking the time to codify your struggle and findings. I know it was tough for you, but very rewarding as well. Sounds like a very healthy approach to take in analyzing and understanding our art and martial arts in general. Being confident, yet open minded sounds better than being totally dogmatic (much less stressful as well).

    Well, enjoy the journey, my friend, and thank you for sharing all of your hard work and passion!!!

  2. Ray Van Raamsdonk says:

    I knew Olaf Simon from the 1960’s when I trained under him. Indeed he was very good and produced some of Canada’s best martial artists.
    Ray Van Raamsdonk

    • Seattle White Tiger Kung Fu says:

      Always good to hear from those who remember the origins. I noticed the Wing Chun in your email address. It’s interesting to see where the students spread to. The more I train (corrected) PaiHuShih the closer it is to other things I have seen when working with other practitioners. Particularly Wing Chun, Xingyi, and Wudang (southern) styles. Thank you for the kind words from your experiences.

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