Bak Mei (also known as Bai Mei, ‘White Brows’) is generally regarded as one of the five survivors of the destruction of Southern Shaolin Monastery. Various sources agree that he was disloyal to the rebellion against the Qing. It is not clear whether this was done for base motives or realism. Bak Mei is mentioned as the founder of the Kung Fu style of the same name.
Historical person or novel character?
Finding out about Bak Mei is not difficult – but verifying the sources is. The story about the destruction of the southern Shaolin monastery is the subject of countless stories, especially in Wuxia novels. According to a source that I can’t verify any further, the first mention of Bak Mei was allegedly in such a novel. On the other hand, there are the traditions of the practitioners of Bak Mei, who refer to the figure as the founder of their style.
The story, on which the reports agree, is quickly told. Bak Mei was one of the five survivors and fled with them from the Manchu. Afterwards he defected to the attackers and betrayed the rebels against their rule. Why this should have happened, however, is disputed. Some reports say that the Qing had blackmailed him and that his work for them saved people from torture and death. There is even a version according to which he was smuggled into the Qing by the rebels. There he realized that the resistance could not lead to success and left the rebellion. This was chided as treason, and from that point on he was on the run from his former comrades.
Whatever the version, the important thing is that he fled to Mount Imei and settled there. From there the style Bak Mei spread – and since there are people today who practice it, it is much easier to catch him than its founder.
Bak Mei – A Kung Fu style
My Sifu told me that Bak Mei is a very aggressive style. But when I asked him where he got it from, he didn’t tell me anything else about why I got into research in the first place. Since I am anything but an experienced Kung Fu practitioner myself, the results are not easy for me to understand. Neither do I draw a comparison to Hung Gar, because I am not able to do so. My insight into this art is far too superficial to do so. Nevertheless, I am reproducing here what I have read in various sources.
Bak Mei is a deadly style that has not been modified for sporting purposes. According to practitioners, this style combines Taoist arts with those of Shaolin. Admittedly, I can’t imagine what this means, but since it is often mentioned, it is important enough for me to list it here anyway. Chi has a special significance and is part of every technique.
Central concepts of Bak Mei are flowing, spitting, swallowing and sinking (or perhaps sinking, the sources are exclusively English). Bak Mei works at close and medium distances. In Bak Mei you can quickly switch between soft and hard, using Ging (=sacred Power).
No easy sources
My research leaves me somewhat dissatisfied, because there is not much to read. Also the descriptions about the style are often so similar that it seems to me as if one had copied from the other… However, this is a problem which I already had often with the Hung Gar – but with the wonderful advantage to be able to ask my Sifu directly.