The Shaolin Hand Salute or the “Ming character” Hand Salute is one of the most famous postures/gestures seen in the Asian Martial Arts. Even though the hand salute originated in the Shaolin Monastery, variations of this salute, or bow, can be seen in many martial arts styles.
The salute has its basis in the Liarng Yi (yin/yang) Concept and was originally used as a hand position during seated meditation. The Liarng Yi represents the duality of nature. This duality is represented by the yin/yang symbol. Some examples of this concept are: hard/soft, man/woman, warrior/scholar, up/down, on/off, right/left, day/night, and so on. In Chinese, the character “Ming” (character here) is a combination of the characters for the sun (character here) and the moon (character here). Ming means ‘illuminated’ or ‘very bright’. It is also the surname taken by the dynasty of the same name (the Ming Dynasty was the ruling dynasty of China from 1368 to 1644) .
The Ming dynasty was overthrown by the Ching dynasty in 1644 AD. Unlike the Ming dynasty, which was Chinese ethnicity, the Ching dynasty was of Manchurian origin and under its rule the Chinese were greatly oppressed. As a result, there were many rebellions fueled by secret societies loyal to the deposed Ming rulers. These secret societies, such as the Hung Muen, used many covert methods of identifying themselves to each other. One such method was the Shaolin fist salute which showed its support of the Ming dynasty by its representation of the Chinese character Ming and was interpreted as “Fan Ching Fook Ming!” or “overthrow the Ching and restore the Ming!”.
The secret salute was originally performed at chest level until a traitor named Bak Mei (meaning ‘white eyebrow’) revealed its meaning to Ching officials. Bak Mei was later tracked down and killed for his treason, but the damage had already been done. However, rather than abandoning it all together, it was decided to execute the salute from above eyebrow level as an insult to Bak Mei. This signified that the Chinese Ming Loyalists and the Shaolin martial arts would always prevail over and be above Bak Mei.