Here are parts of an article I read in “Kung Fu Qiong” magazine a while back. This provides a little history behind Pak Mei and the style. I’ve also included some information on Pak Mei Kung Fu and my thoughts on how it relates to Kill Bill. Enjoy!
The most notorious villain of Kung Fu is Pak Mei (Cantonese) or Bai Mai (Mandarin). Blamed for the greatest tragedy of kung fu history, legend tells us that Bak Mei was a Wu Dang Priest who betrayed the southern Shaolin Temple to Manchu tyrants during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911.) The temple was destroyed, the library burned and the monks killed. Actually, Bak Mei is a nickname that means “White Eyebrow.” Due to the legendary Bak Mei’s nefarious legacy, white eyebrows are now the hallmark of evildoers in countless kungfu movies.
Despite this stigma, Bak Mei kung fu master Zhong Luo remains passionate about his family’s art. The son of Bak Mei Grandmaster Mai Yu Qiang, Luo comments on Bak Mei’s infamy. “During the Qing, before the war started, all the Shaolin temples collected people from all the different kung fu circles, and created their own little world. So the government got intimidated by all these different martial artists who stuck together - getting bigger and bigger - hundreds of thousands - getting too big. The truth is that during the Qing Dynasty, 90% of the army, the bodyguards and those who worked for the government and the emperor, were all Bak Mei style. They don’t realize that the reason those guys got hired was because they could really fight.”
“Unfortunately, a lot of people think Bak Mei is a traitor because they killed all the monks and burned all the temples - thousands dead. After that, the Bak Mei style disappeared for almost a whole century. The people were saying ‘Anybody who does Bak Mei, deserves to die.’ Their houses got burned down, their wives got killed, their children disappeared. People got revenge almost the whole century.” Bak Mei practitioners who fought to preserve their kung fu faced bitter hardships until very recently.
There is more to the Bak Mei legend than the popular Shaolin versus Wudang story. Shaolin and Wu Dang Temple descend from the venerated Mount Song and Mount Wu Dang respectively. But there is a third mountain famous for kung fu, Mount E Mei. Beyond the defeat of Shaolin, it was at E Mei Mountain where Bak Mei kung fu demonstrated it’s formidable power. There, early Bak Mei stylists studied kung fu from a Tibetan Lama when formalizing this style. Master Luo retells the tale. “Every year, they (Bak Mei masters) beat everybody up in the E Mei Mountain tournaments. The Lama Temple in E Mei is huge. It’s the biggest temple on that mountain. Inside there were 4 or 5 different masters and they all have different loyal students. Everyone wanted to run the temple. The temple had money and reputation. Every year people go there, throw some money at the temple, burn incense, buy this, buy that. The temple made a lot of money and they never paid rent. So they created a tournament. Whoever wins got the most power, more land, whatever. So for almost 20 years, the Bak Mei guys go in and kick people’s asses. They fought so many years and never lost. Soft styles, other styles, big circle styles, they all lose.”
“Most styles focus on defense. In Bak Mei the defense is to attack. The block is the punch. The defense is to go off and attack, way different from most other styles. It’s aggressive - a lot of striking and killing moves. After they won so many years, the Qing Dynasty government wanted to kill all these martial artists, so they paid whoever they could. They hired a lot of Bak Mei style people to start a war with the kung fu circle. When the big war was going on, 90% got killed by the Bak Mei people, so the Bak Mei style got a huge reputation as a traitor style because they killed their own kung fu people. After that revolution died down, the Bak Mei style almost disappeared. That doesn’t mean nobody was studying and training - only that the people cannot tell others. If people knew you were training in this style, you would get killed. If someone’s grandmaster got killed by your style, and you’re Bak Mei, they come after you. So after 100 years, it comes back out.”