Ku Yu Cheung - Bak Siu Lum - Northern Shaolin Kung Fu Master

Northern Shaolin Kung Fu – One Martial Art, Many Names

Ku Yu Cheong - Bak Siu Lum - Northern Shaolin Kung Fu Master

Northern Shaolin comes from the Northern part of China, right… So then, what’s with all the Cantonese terminology?

  • 北少林
  • běishàolín
  • Northern Shaolin
  • NSL
  • Bei Shaolin
  • Bei Shao Lin
  • Bei Shao Lim
  • Bak Siu Lam
  • Bak Sil Lum
  • BSL
  • Pek Siu Lum
  • Pek Siu Lam
  • Pek Sil Lum
  • Bok Siu Lam
  • Bok Sil Lam
  • Sil Lum Bak Pai
  • Bak Pai Sil Lum
  • Bak Pai Sil Lum Pai
  • Bak Pai Sil Lum Men Pai
  • And others…

Northern Shaolin Kung Fu, like many Chinese Martial Art styles, has a history "clouded in mystery", or so we like to say. In fact, much of our history can be traced up to a certain point, and then the rest gets a little bit funky. But we’ll save that for a later date.

In order to get a handle on the name of our system, we need to first understand that we are Romanizing a non-Latin-based language, Chinese. And then to complicate matters even further, just what is Chinese? Is it Mandarin, Cantonese, Shanghai-nese, Hakka, Hokkien?

To further illustrate, let’s say we want to Romanize the name of the capital of China. Is it "Northern Capital City", "北京", "Běijīng", "Peking", "Peiching", "Bak Ging", "Baat Kien", etc.?

Just as all those Beijing names are correct, as well as a great many others, so is the wide variety of descriptors for our style of Chinese martial art.

There are two main different pronunciations of Northern Shaolin, Mandarin and Cantonese, you will find it written (especially online) in many different ways. Not to mention that aside from these, there are many other names for our art. Luckily, the most common acronym, BSL, usually covers most Mandarin and Cantonese spellings.

That being said, you will still find most documentation on Northern Shaolin, romanized with a Cantonese pronunciation. Why so? The answer is simpler than you may think.

Ku Yu Chang (yes, there are a gazillion spellings of his name too) did many great things during his life, including putting our system to order & beginning the dissemination that eventually lead to the style getting to you.

Although born in Jiangsu – a fairly Northern province, Ku Yu Chang travelled southward, and took his Northern Shaolin art with him. As one of the Five Tigers of the North who went South, he and the others began to teach to the masses. As with many things Chinese, Northern Shaolin spread across the world from China via the southernmost points of Canton, Hong Kong, etc.

Most of these people in the exodus from China were southerners and spoke in a southern tongue; thus, you have a lot of southern terms for much of our system.

Unfortunately some will call it just "shaolin" or "longfist" or some other such inaccurate term, however if it’s Northern Shaolin, it’s Northern Shaolin.

What do I call it? Usually in writing, just BSL.

Any questions? 😛

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5 replies
  1. Craig
    Craig says:

    Great question, Dave!

    Think Adjective or Descriptive Noun vs. Proper Noun.

    This happens with the labels “Chang Quan”, “Shaolin” and “Northern Shaolin”, as well as others.

    長拳 Chang Quan
    As an Adjective or Descriptive Noun, some say any external art out of Shaolin is considered Longfist. Others will say all Northern styles are Longfist. And still others would classify dozens of styles as Chang Quan, like: Cha Quan, Hua Quan, Pao Quan, Hong Quan, which are, interestingly enough, some of the Grandfathers of northern systems in general. Some folks call some Taijiquan as Longfist.

    The best use of the term in this way would be in describing the “TYPE” of movements; long-range generally and flowing.

    As a Proper Noun, Chang Quan, can refer to a variety of things. First you have it as an actual STYLE name.

    Beginning with, Taizu Chang Quan, from Emperor Zhao Kuangyin, who kicked it back in the Song Dynasty. There is now a Taizu Quan, Shaolin Taizu Chang Quan, Shaolin Chang Quan, Jiao Men Chang Quan, a popular style in Taiwan “Northern Shaolin Longfist”, and others, not to mention a tie to old Chen style Taijiquan. And of course you have a popular Chang Quan style that has similar form names & movements to the old systems, but like all styles, this one to has changed a bit over time.

    Another Proper Noun usage of Chang Quan is as a FORM name. This is mainly used by contemporary wushu artists as compulsory forms to compete with.

    With this, you can see that BSL is Chang Quan and it’s also not.

    少林 – Shaolin
    What is Shao Lin? Shaolin is the name of a Buddhist temple in Henan Province, China, just above the “north” mark, if you will. Henan Province houses three of the seven ancient capitals of China. Henan houses a major part of the country’s history & thus historical relics, not to mention the oldest astronomical observatory, and a minority of the Hui muslim peoples. Why? Think Yellow River and cradle of Chinese civilization.

    Shaolin Quan has been many different things throughout history. Consider the man who is born in Gansu Province, to the west. He learns some martial techniques, drills, etc. from his father. He later joins the military in Sichuan province and learns more there from his senior officers, and takes up study under a more quiet teacher. After the military, he travels to Fujian province and opens a school, where he makes pals with another teacher in the village. They share knowledge and students. Then later he pops into a temple to get religion. He shares his knowledge there and gets some as well. He decides to go home to be with family before he passes.

    Now…What is the name of the style that he teaches his children? Many, will say “Shaolin”. Take that same man, throw him back in time 200 years, but lives the exact same life. What he teaches his children will be different movements, and yet perhaps…It will still be called “Shaolin”.

    So then, Shaolin is also used as an adjective or descriptive noun and also as a proper noun.

    北少林 – Northern Shaolin
    A style from the North. A style that passed through the halls of Shaolin temple. A style that draws upon other “Shaolin” styles, etc.

    As a Proper Noun, it is what it is. The KYC/GRZ passing of 10 core sets, plus some auxillaries of sets, training, qigong, etc. Even today however, you will find differences of names & moves between strains of family’s practicing BSL, but the BSL is still “there”.

    So a BSL practitioner will most likely be referring to BSL as a Proper Noun, whereas a non-practitioner of the style may be using the terminology in a more general way.

    I hope this answers your question.

  2. Craig
    Craig says:

    Not dumb at all. KYC/GRZ are the Mandarin/Cantonese Romanized acronyms for the fellow mentioned earlier in the post. KYC = Ku Yu Chang and GRZ = Gu Ru Zhang. Same man & same name, just different dialects romanized and acronym-ized 😛


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