• What is Wu Mei Pai?
• Health & Longevity
• Self Defense
• Self Realization
• A Note About Spelling
Wu Mei Gongfu [Kung Fu], or Wu Mei Pai, as it is formally known, is the Chinese martial art founded in the mid-seventeenth century by the legendary Buddhist nun Wu Mei. (The name is “Ng Mui” in Cantonese and means “five plum”, a poetic reference to the five-petalled plum blossom that is a central archetype of the Wu Mei system; the “pai” means “school” as in “school of thought”.) Wu Mei herself became quite famous in the history of Chinese martial art, as one of the five great masters who survived the destruction of the Shaolin Temple by the Qing, as a martial hero of the struggle against the Qing invaders, and in some stories as the teacher of Yim Wing Cheun [Wing Chun], the other famous female martial artist of Chinese history. But nothing was ever known of Wu Mei’s art: it was either presumed lost, or presumed to have been much like the Wing Cheun style founded by her student. (There are places in southern China today where a version of Wing Cheun Gungfu is popularly known as Ng Mui.)
In fact Wu Mei’s gongfu had gone into hiding. She evidently took refuge at the White Crane Temple in Hunan, for it was there and there alone that her unique style of martial art was preserved, surviving over three centuries of Qing oppression, Western imperialism, civil war, Japanese invasion and revolution, until its fate rested in the hands of one great practitioner.
We classify martial arts as long or short, hard or soft, internal or external; Wu Mei Pai is a martial art that defies classification. It is related to the “southern short-hand” methods—the family that includes Southern Praying Mantis, Southern White Crane, Southern Dragon, and Baak Mei, the White Eyebrow school—and it does exhibit many of the characteristics of those systems: we tend to face our opponents directly in a natural stance; we do not leap in the air nor roll around on the ground; we kick sparingly, and never above the throat; we like to be close to our opponents, where we can use our “short power”, (explosive force released by a very small movement.) At the same time, Wu Mei features a range and mobility generally associated with northern styles, continuous circular movements like those seen in Yang Taijiquan, and complex spirals reminiscent of Chen Taiji and Bagua. The arsenal of Wu Mei Pai contains tremendous variety, making the system difficult to classify and difficult to master, but even more difficult to contend with.
This kind of complexity was once characteristic of Chinese martial arts; unfortunately, over time, much has been lost. But Wu Mei Pai was cloistered in a single monastery for most of its history—it was never simplified to make it easier to learn, never standardized to make it easier to judge, never sanitized to make it easier to sell—and it left China before the revolution, so it was never subjected to the purges and rehabilitations that have turned modern Chinese martial arts into a form of athletic theatre. Wu Mei is therefore unusually comprehensive: it is at once a powerful system of self-defense, a complete health and longevity practice, and a profound spiritual discipline.