Bak Mei Kung Fu, or White Eyebrow Kung Fu, also spelled as Pak Mei, is a rare Kung Fu style which was created in southern China during the Qing dynasty around 300 years ago. It uses many of the same hand shapes as Wing Chun, and in fact some Kung Fu historians believe that it may be one of the martial arts styles that the founders of wing Chun used to create their style. Interestingly some schools use the wing Chun wooden dummy for freestyle practice of their own techniques.
The style is named after the legendary founder, who is said to have been a Taoist monk who was one of the “Five Elders”, 5 monks who escaped the destruction of the Shaolin temple. “Bak Mei”, or “white Eyebrow” was actually a nickname for the founder (he may have gotten that name because he had white eyebrows or because he wore a white headband), who is one of the most controversial figures in the history of Chinese martial arts, as, according to legend, he became a traitor and betrayed the other monks, who were revolutionaries against the Qing dynasty.
Bak Mei looks quite similar to Southern Praying Mantis and Dragon style Kung Fu. All three arts are called Hakka arts, which means that they were arts that were developed by travelers that lived in southern china at the time. Many of these are associated with Emei Mountain where there were b one or more temples where Kung Fu was trained and developed. It is believed that the founders of Bak Mei or their successors trained together with the founders of these other two arts and exchanged techniques.
Bak Mei uses several stances and in general the stances are somewhat lower than those used in Wing Chun, but higher than most of the stances used in other Southern styles. Many actually resemble the familiar Karate front stance, horse stance, and cat stance.
Bak Mei practitioners seldom use the regular fist, preferring to use the leopard fist or the phoenix- eye fist to concentrate power in a small area to the body’s most vulnerable points such as the throat, temple or eyes.
Bak Mei is classified as both an internal and an external system, and at advanced levels there is a great emphasis on the breath and on mental concentration to generate power. Pak Mei kung fu stylists learn their own special breathing techniques using the abdomen.
Bak Mei uses a chain punch which is quite similar to the Wing Chun chain punch, but it uses more waist rotation and the punch uses the bottom 3 knuckles like Wing Chun but also incorporates the phoenix eye punch. Sticking and chi sao are not trained or used.
Open hand whipping strikes similar to those used in White Crane Kung Fu are also used, as well as hammer fists, finger jabs, palm strikes and elbow strikes. Kicks are mostly to the waist or below, and often target the knees, groin or shin, though striking with the hands is preferred over kicking.
There are a number of empty hand forms. Most are intricate, and almost all are performed with full speed and power, and serve to develop footwork, speed, and agility. There are also numerous weapons sets using the pole, staff. sword, saber, butterfly knives and the wooden bench.
Bak Mei is known for being one of the most brutal of all styles, and has a reputation of being one of the best styles for real combat fighting. Instead of blocking, the Bak Mei stylist will intercept the opponent’s incoming strike with an immediate counter attacking move that will either break or damage the attacking limb or deflect it and power through. Much of the training involves practicing deadly combinations at explosive speed, as well as conditioning of the hands, forearms, shins and body.
The panther fist (also known as the leopard fist) and phoenix eye fist are used to concentrate power into small surfaces to strike the throat, temple, eyes, and other extremely vulnerable points in order to cause death or serious injury or at least stop the fight almost instantly. These weapons require a great deal of painful special conditioning in order to avoid breaking knuckles. I have seen a video of a Bak Mei expert break a concrete slab with the small knuckles of the leopard fist.
Although many other Kung Fu styles claim that their techniques are too dangerous to be used in the ring, this may very well be true in the case of Bak Mei.
Chin Na using the tiger claw and eagle claw grips is also trained extensively.
In Bak Mei speed, power, and accuracy are considered to be the most important aspects, and these attributes are trained extensively.
For various reasons, Bak Mei was little known until recently and tended to be kept in the family with the lineage being passed down from father to son. In recent years some schools have become very popular in France, and the French sifus started posting videos and otherwise actively promoting the art to the public.
Today, this style emphasizes tradition and respect. Masters are more likely to have disciples than students, and students are expected to be loyal and train very hard.
There are several lineages, which use somewhat different techniques and approaches. The schools in France come from the Fatsan branch. The Fatsan branch is thought to incorporate some techniques from Choy Li Fut, including the leopard fist and some hook punches, although the hand movements tend to be much tighter than those in Choy Li fut,
The Fatsan branch can therefore be considered to be a modified version of the mainstream lineage derived from grandmaster Cheung Lai Chuen. The other important difference between the lineages is that the Fatsan branch emphasizes the tiger and eagle claws much more.