Painting of the Tien Shan Mountains by 63rd-generation Tien Shan Pai Grandmaster Wang Chueh-Jen

Tien Shan Pai Kung Fu originated in Xinjiang Province (新疆省) in Northwestern China. Legend has it that it was practiced by monks who lived in a temple nestled among the snow-capped peaks of the Tien Shan (天山) mountains.

As the story goes, a young herdsman who was searching for lost animals wandered too far from home. The grasslands he knew so well suddenly looked unfamiliar and he realized he was lost. Noticing an old monk with long white beard approaching nearby, the boy stopped him and asked for directions. When he returned to his village, the boy told his mother about the old monk. She replied he had met “Tien Shan Lao Ren” (天山老人), a monk who was noted for his martial arts skills. The mother encouraged her son to find the monk and learn his Kung Fu secret.

The young boy set out to find the old monk. His quest carried him deep into the mountains. He searched for mile after mile, but could not find the old monk. At the point of physical exhaustion, the young boy stopped at nearby stream to quench his thirst. While kneeling by the stream, he saw the reflection of a beautiful temple nestled in a snow-capped mountain. Sensing he was close, the young boy hastened onwards.

After a long trek into the mountains, the boy finally arrived at the temple. However, his hopes were dashed when the monk refused to accept him as a disciple. They were not permitted to teach outsiders, the monk explained. But instead of going home as they suggested, the boy knelt in the snow outside the temple doors, refusing to leave until the old monk would agree to teach him. On the second morning, he was discovered lying unconscious from the cold and was taken into the temple.

Seeing his determination, the old monk reconsidered. Tien Shan Lao Ren decided to teach the boy, whom he nicknamed “Hong Yun” (紅雲), or “Red Cloud,” because of the mist that rose from his bleeding knees when he was discovered outside of the temple. He stayed in the temple until he grew to manhood, and when he left, he eagerly passed on his skill to other dedicated students. Hong Yun Zu Shi (紅雲祖師), as the first to teach the monks martial artistry to the outside world, is regarded as the founder of Tien Shan Pai (天山派).