We're not going to try to convince you that Chinese is an easy language and five lessons will do you. It is an amazing, subtle, humorous, maddening and sophisticated form of communication and, in that, shares its bones and skin with Kung Fu. Many people have asked about our dictionaries and some translation material. What we've done here is to assemble some lessons, by no means comprehensive, that might be of special interest to martial enthusiasts. We try to show you some words, and we also try to tell some of the story. Hope you enjoy.

Chinese words love to morph from one to another. Don't expect this change to be predictable and it certainly won't be boring. We take a common word here and try to "ride its changes" for a minute...

MARTIAL CHINESE Lesson #3:    previous       next
"The Right Box".


A majority of Chinese characters are combinations of simpler characters. These simple characters joined together create a new word. There are about ten ways to join characters but by far the most common is either linking or standing. If we think of the main character (the radical) as the black half of the combination, the four common "boxes" look like these:


We are going to show you how this works by starting with the right hand box and the very useful Chinese character for hand: SHǑU. Shou normally looks like this written in four strokes. But when this word is stuffed into the box scheme the "abbreviated" form is only three strokes .

We take the "3 stroke" hand, shove it over to the left and get all sorts of characters such as:...


Lan simply means to block or obstruct. There is even a Kung Fu style known as 拦手 Lán Shǒu or (Obstructing Hand). (Note the use of "hand" in both characters.)
You can block a door 拦门 ([攔門) lánmén or a punch.


This is a nice, simple one. On the right we have a hand, on the left a foot. The combination means "capture" as in running after someone to catch them. Zhuō can also mean catch, grasp, seize but all the meanings have the same core idea, if you catch my drift.


Remember that figure on the right from an earlier lesson? Some say it's a carpenter's square or a beam. In this case the beam makes sense because this word means to carry on the shoulders. It is also the wooden shoulder spanning stocks used to punish criminals in China.

Finally the simplest of all of them and by far the most important. If the figure on the right looks like a nail, it is. The combination of a hand and and nail? To hit. There are many uses for the word hit. If, for instance, you add "hand" to this you get the unsavory: 打手 dǎshou which means goon or thug or hatchet man. Some are surprisingly like English such as 不打得儿 bùdǎder or literally "without missing a beat". But Da has a wider meaning of just plain doing something like 打电话 dǎdiànhuà to answer the phone (not strike it). In this manner da is an action verb with a less specific meaning, somewhat as we might say, "Hit the lights".

So that's how it works. Many, many Chinese words ( in the case of "hand" there are hundreds) are made up with this simple additive format. Next time you look at a Chinese character see if you can find the seam.
Note: If you really like this system, and it's a good one especially for beginners, check out our Fast Finder book in our relatively undiscovered language section.

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