Martial Paths


I return to the series about Tantui after a hiatus of publications about it. For some time now I have decided to dedicate myself to the careful study of Tantui. For that, I sought the professor Niltoamar Pereira Gomes, here in Uberlândia, one of the most respected references of Kung Fu in our region. I have been having classes with him for some months. First, I did with him a complete “recycling” of Shi Er Lu Tantui, of Zhong Wudao, of Master Lin Zhong Yuan, as he learned with Master Huang Yu Sheng.

Later, he taught me the Tantui Duilian form, which I had not yet studied. In both cases, he deepened his understanding of the applications of movements and oriented me on specific physical exercise routines, focused on relevant aspects of each line. Professor Niltoamar’s teaching methodology is very individual and direct. The focus is totally directed to the understanding of the principles and foundations that allow the living execution of the technique.

After finishing the “recycling” on the 12-line forms of Master Sheng’s Zhong Wudao, he started working with me on a “complete” Tantui system. I myself stated in the first text of this series that there is no longer a complete system of Tantui, but there is no contradiction here. In fact, the system he gives me is not the same art “mythically” originated in Linqing, Shandong Province during the Song Dynasty.

Not even that art supposedly created at the end of the Ming Dynasty in Xingjiang, according to another historical-mythological version of its origin. There is no plausible direct link between the system I am learning and “original” art, in the molds of traditional lineages and genealogies. Its conception is quite “modern” and even “sportive”, although traces of its stylistic ancestry and its ethnic origins in Jiaomen are still very evident.

Professor Niltoamar’s Tantui:

The system that Professor Niltoamar is presenting to me is one of creation attributed to a Hui ethnic master, active in the first half of the twentieth century, Ma Enchen (1895-1961), from Xi’an, in the Chinese province of Shaanxi.

The name of this master, associated with Tantui, became known internationally in the 80s and 90s, thanks to a publication of Master Ma Zhenbang (martial artist, Wushu team trainer, author of books, actor and famous film director in the 80s): Shi Lu Tantui, translated into English as Ten Routine Spring Leg, released in 1985. This book has also been translated into Spanish:

Diez ejercicios de proyección de piernas (Madrid: Miraguano Ediciones, 1989). The Spanish version was translated into Portuguese and edited in Brazil: 10 leg projection exercises (São Paulo: Sampa, 1995). It is a work that, despite being very simple, has become widespread worldwide. It was also released, for example, in France, with the title Jeu de la jambe elastique en dix enchainements, launched in 1991.

This book, as the title itself says, is about a series of Shi Lu Tantui (十路弹腿), that is, a routine, a taolu, not about a complete system. Ma Zhenbang, whose specialty was Xing Yi Quan, claims to have learned the routine from Master Ma Enchen around 1940. Ma Enchen was recognized as Master of Chaquan and Jiaomen Changquan.

Certainly, his understanding of Tantui comes from the historical relationship between these schools. In Ma Zhenbang’s manual, the version narrated about the origin of Shi Lu Tantui is that of Cha Shangyi’s systematization, the Chamir, to whom is attributed the dissemination of the Chaquan from Xingjiang to Shandong. In addition, both Ma Enchen and Wang Ziping, the third teacher of Tantui of Ma Zhenbang, would have been disciples of the lineage of the same master, Yang Hongxiu, founder of Yangshi Chaquan.

According to Professor Niltoamar, he learned the Tantui system of Mestre Ma Enchen in São Paulo in the 90’s, with a teacher called Ton Shan (I don’t know if that’s how the spelling is and it’s certainly not the famous Master Thomas Chan, from the Brazilian Confederation of Wushu, of whom Professor Niltoamar was also a student, but of Modern Wushu).

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that someone could have taught a system like this, in São Paulo, more or less at the same time as the release of 10 projection exercises. At that time, this type of publication was widely commercialized and generated interest both in the martial arts practicing community and in the curious and even in “self-taught” ones. This was a great opportunity to diversify the “products” offered in martial arts academies.

The very academy in which Professor Niltoamar told me to have learned this Tantui, according to him, was specialized in Hung Gar, not in Tantui or even Chaquan. This does not necessarily mean that these “new” products were false or of dubious quality. It just means that they were, at the time, novelties and that, whoever had knowledge about the subject (or at least was convincing in this sense), would find a market to teach.

Also according to Professor Niltoamar himself, when he started training Tantui in São Paulo, he was still connected to Master Huang Yu Sheng in Uberlândia, who did not approve the independent search of his students for learning in other schools.

This was a point of tension in his relationship with several students, among which the teacher Niltoamar, probably the most curious and avid in the sense of knowing several different arts and styles. At the time, Niltoamar worked as a banker and performed services in branches spread throughout Brazil.

He took advantage of his travels to establish contact with teachers and masters from various places, held courses and exchanges with several of them and thus, over many years, constituted a curriculum full of different backgrounds.

The motivation was, as he says, to better understand what he learned from Master Sheng, to broaden that understanding from the more specific consideration of the schools present in Zhong Wudao. It is not difficult to imagine how attractive was the opportunity to study a “complete” system of Tantui, whose characteristics seemed so strongly present in Master Sheng’s system.

Despite having studied various styles of Chinese martial arts, Professor Niltoamar does not mix them. He trains them and teaches them separately.

When we look for him to teach, he presents us with several possibilities. To organize them, he uses, as a resource, catalog folders, containing sheets/programs related to the schools he knows.

Tantui’s program is described in five sheets, containing tables referring to its eight stages. The sheets were provided by the academy where he learned and his writing shows a very precarious Portuguese, from someone who did not yet have much ease in our language. They compose a document, by itself, interesting of the time. In the header of the sheets, appears the name of the graduation program of Tantui: