Splashing hands remains one of the Shaolin Temple’s best-kept martial arts secrets. Around 1700, Shaolin monks charged with guarding the temple gates developed a close-in fighting system of kung-fu called splashing hands  (飛濺的手), because the movement of the hands mimic the way we shake off excess water.

The style was valued for its explosive, high-speed hand and footwork, as well as its simultaneous offensive and defensive techniques.  
This training system elicits optimum physical performance by conditioning the body and strengthening the connection between body and mind. The exercises and fighting applications in splashing hands are known for their explosive, high-speed movements. They enhance health and longevity by conditioning and toning the body’s major muscle groups; improve the cardiovascular system; and train both the right and left sides of the brain. The mental and physical conditioning is unique; it sharpens the skills of any athlete, yet is so simple to learn students of nearly any age  can immediately derive its benefits.


Secret Art?
The monks were so protective of their creation they kept it a secret until the late 1940s when the Communist takeover forced a former Nationalist Army general to Taiwan. He later taught it privately to a select few in the Taiwan military. Historically, only a small number of students learned this system. It never became widely practiced even after splashing hands was introduced to fighters not associated with the Shaolin Temple. Those who knew the system’s effectiveness were reluctant to share their knowledge.
Splashing hands has both fighting and health benefits. Combat benefits include:

Jab and Punch
1. Improves eye/hand coordination
2. Tones the waist, abdominals, obliques, deltoids, and serratus anterior (rib muscles)
3. Improves triceps definition and strength

Right and Left Shuffles
1. Increase cardiovascular conditioning
2. Tone the calves, legs and waist
3. Improve overall coordination
4. Synchronize both hemispheres of the brain, allowing clearer thought and decision making

Stiff Leg Kick
1. Improves balance and coordination
2. Strengthens and tones obliques, glutes, quads, calves, and lower abdominals

Right and Left Shuffle Jab and Punch
1. Improves overall conditioning and coordination
2. Improves cardiovascular conditioning, lateral motion, hand and leg speed
3. Tones and strengthens the legs, abdominals, gluteus, and triceps

Rolling Punch
1. Improves eye/hand coordination
2. Strengthens the middle region of torso, rotator cuff, forearms, wrists

Coming to America
In the late 1950s Tiny learned the system while being stationed in Taiwan with the United States Marines Corps. Upon his return to the U.S., Lefiti approached the late kung-fu grandmaster, Ark Yuey Wong, with a letter of introduction from his teacher in Taiwan. Tiny’s teacher knew that Wong was the only person in the United States skilled in this system.

Lefiti asked Wong if he could become a private student. Grandmaster Wong claimed he knew nothing of the style. However, Tiny was persistent and Wong finally agreed to teach him. A few years later, Tiny opened his own school in Huntington Park, Calif. Tiny and Tino Tuiolosega got together with a few of their close friends and relatives who also studied with Wong in the shaolin system he taught. They were Richard Nuñez, Sal Esquival, John Louise and Solomon Kaihewalu. They formed the Lima Lama Association. A few years later, Tiny realized that the original system he learned in Taiwan was going to be lost forever if he didn’t start teaching it soon.  So in 1968 Tiny changed his teachings.

The system is called splashing hands because my teacher, grandmaster Chiao Chang-Hung, said his best friend, a general in the Taiwan army,  taught a system similar to the one I showed him and it was called splashing hands. Today people say splashing hands is another name for mok gar kung-fu. This is not true. 

A good system for fighting and conditioning, it has never been altered or changed in any way. It remains the way Tiny taught it 40 years ago at his school. Those who call it mok gar have changed it; it is no longer a true system as Haumea Lefiti taught it.

Tiny’s Curriculum
Only eight black belt students trained every day at Tiny’s school. They were: David Wright, Fukie, L.T. Davis, Jeanie Willis, Ron Willis, Donald George, James Rodriguez and this author. Four opened a school under Tiny’s name after his death and were experts in Tiny’s system.

Tiny taught how to jab and punch; the 10 brown forms and 10 advance browns; and all the shuffles should be done on the right and left side. Tiny also taught other forms: small cross, combination, four corners, and five animal forms with shuffles—butterfly, dragon, snake, crane, and tiger. These forms are truly not mok ga forms. If you have any doubt, ask any master of mok ga and you will get the truth.

Splashing hands is a practical, no-nonsense art consisting of explosive, high-speed movements. It features quick shuffling footwork, similar to than that used by the great Muhammad Ali with low-focused, straight-leg kicks. These are combined with jabs, punches, elbows, hammerfists and throws with blinding, machine-gun-like rapidity. Opponents have a difficult time defending against the kind of attacks carried out by a fighter trained in splashing hands because of the speed with which the techniques are delivered, as well as the sheer number of strikes and kicks the opponent has to deal with in a short period of time.

Unlike other classical martial arts styles, which can be used for tournament fighting and other controlled sparring situations, splashing hands is geared strictly for the streets or for true mixed martial arts fighters. It is a pure streetfighting system that can be incorporated within any other system. Today, many martial arts emphasize kicking to the head, chest, or other high targets. There is no high kick in splashing hands. An important aspect of this system is learning how to control a fight from the outset. You make the first move and force the opponent to react to it.

When the Fight Starts
The average person often believes a fight begins only when the first punch is thrown. He ignores that in a combative situation an opponent has already begun the fight in his mind. His intentions are expressed in his eyes or face or in the placement of his body. In splashing hands training you learn that even though an opponent has not yet thrown a punch or kick, if his face twitches, if he shifts his stance, or even if the wind rustles his eyebrows, he has already made the first move and you must explode into his. In this context, students are taught the importance of engaging the exact distance between themselves and an opponent, to judge the proper angle for any given situation, and to develop precise timing.

Because splashing hands is an infighting system, it is paramount to work close and stick to the opponent. Double blocks, single blocks, and strikes along with the sophisticated rolling hands techniques draw the opponent into an attack and pull him dangerously off balance. When the opponent attempts to withdraw from the attack, the splashing hands fighter closes the gap and sticks to him, all the while striking him with jabs, punches, elbows and uppercuts. Once the opponent goes down, the fighter continues to stick to him, maintaining the attack until the opponent has been subdued.

Splashing hands training first emphasizes basic footwork or the shuffles—left and right, reverse shuffle, shuffles with kicks, 45-degree shuffles, close the gap, or close the gap and kick. The hand techniques are then learned and coordinated with the shuffles. The feet move rapidly as if they were on fire. The hands jab, punch, and uppercut while the feet are in motion. To develop the incredible speed for which this system is noted, one must be relaxed and apply power in the last instant at the point of contact. You are loose and flexible, like a bullwhip striking. The student is always reminded that relaxation yields speed and speed yields power.

Feeling of Power
Throughout each phase of training, whether in the foundation techniques, or the techniques called browns, advanced browns, the forms of the five animals, small cross and four corners, the student learns to develop the sensitivity of touch required to fight as close as possible to the opponent. Two-man drills are used regularly to refine the techniques and to sharpen the timing. More importantly, they are used to install the principles underlying the system. Splashing hands is a kung-fu system that has few equals in the annuals of Chinese martial arts.

James W. McNeil can be reached at www.littlenineheaven.com or