Tong Zhongyi (1879 – 1963), styled Tong Liangchen, was a famous wushu master of Manchu extraction.
His ancestors were bannermen in the Qing army who followed the Manchu royal family from Liaoning into ‘Han’ China and eventually settled in Cangzhou. Tong’s grandfather Tong Mingkui was garrisoned on China’s frontiers and gave his life defending them. Tong’s father, Tong Enrui，was a skilled martial artist as well as an accomplished bone-setter. At the age of 6, Tong Zhongyi began to learn both the martial and medical arts which had been passed down within the Tong family, which included shuai jiao and liu he quan. By the time he was an adult, he was a master in his own right and was particularly adept at shuai jiao and flicking shot-pellets (tan wan).
In the dying days of the Qing dynasty (in 1902), Tong followed his elder brother (Tong Zhongcheng) to work as a caravan guard in the De Sheng guarding agency in Fengtian (modern-day Shenyang). His work as a guard took him all over China, and in his travels he met many great masters of the time. It was during this period that Tong and Wang Ziping won the accolade of ‘the 2 heroes of Cangzhou’. After the fall of the Qing and the Xin Hai revolution, Tong spent most of the early Republican period working as a martial arts instructor in various local militias in Fengtian, Baoding, Anhui, etc.
In 1922, Tong arrived in Shanghai at the invitation of the Guo Yu Wushu Research Society and soon afterwards set up the ‘Zhongyi Guoshu Academy’, which taught 5 subjects, namely shuai jiao, quanshu, weightlifting, archery and weapons. In the 1928 ‘Guo Kao’ inNanjing, Tong placed in the ‘Excellent’ category.
Upon opening the ‘Zhongyi Boxing Academy’, Tong set 3 rules:
- he would not compete with swords or spears;
- he would not compete with sticks and staffs;
- he would not compete at kicking and punching.
He made clear that challengers could only challenge him at 4 contests:
1) Pole-shaking: whoever shook the pole the most times was considered the winner;
2) Drawing a bow: whoever could fully draw a 100-pound bow the most times was considered the winner;
3) Flicking pellets: whoever could hit bronze cymbals suspended from a tree at a distance of 30m the most times with 30 pellets won; and
4) Shuai Jiao: whoever could beat him 2 times out of 3 bouts would be considered the winner.
No challenger ever managed to beat him at these 4 contests.
Tong’s methods of teaching shuai jiao were very special. He would first teach willpower and endurance, along with leg and arm strength drills. For example, he would have his students practice the shuai jiao techniques ’single hook and comb’ (dan gou gua) and ‘double hook and comb’ (shuang gou gua) in a horse-riding stance in order to train leg and arm strength at the same time. Each session of horse-riding stance training would last about half an hour.
Tong Zhongyi in traditional shuai jiao uniform, the 'dalian'
He would also have his students train in common shuai jiao methods such as low-stepping whilst doing left and right kicks, shaking leather strips, ‘wringing’ small and big sticks (bangzi – much like the ‘rolling pin’ type stick used in taiji ruler), and ‘jumping and exploding’ (tiao bengzi – see link here: http://www.ycgf.org/ShuaiJiao/Training/BanZiGongTraining.html) . There were also characteristic training methods of his like carrying wicker baskets, moving vats of water, etc. Although these methods may seem a bit unsophisticated, they were extremely effective.
Tong Zhongyi practicing thows with his disciple Liu Fei
(Note that both photos above were taken in 1948, when Tong was 69 years old!)
Tong taught the 24 traditional shuai jiao techniques (banzi) in a sequential progression from easy to hard, simple to complex. He also allowed his students to learn techniques by applying them on him (i.e. allowing his students to throw him out).
One story will suffice to show the level of his shuai jiao skill:
Not long after Tong had established the ‘Zhongyi Boxing Academy’, one day a dozen young men walked in to the academy, saying that they wanted to become Tong’s students. However, it was clear from their tone and demeanour that they had actually come to challenge Tong. At their head was a famous strongman called Zha Ruilong, who was not only good at martial arts but could also lift a 100+ pound stone barbell over his head as if it were a toy. Tong, discerning the visitors’ real intentions, agreed to a wrestling match. Zha’s friends took on Tong one by one, losing each time. Finally, it came to Zha’s turn to wrestle Tong. Before the match, Tong asked Zha if he had a handkerchief. Zha, puzzled by this request, pulled one out and gave it to Tong.
Tong then took the handkerchief and blindfolded himself, saying “Before becoming a student of a shifu, of course students want to see the teacher’s skills – this is normal. I’m going to wrestle this young man blindfolded – if I say that I’m going to throw him to the front door but he actually lands somewhere else, that will count as losing the match.” So saying, the two of them started to wrestle. Suddenly, Tong employed the move ‘gai ba wo’ (盖把握) and said “Zha Ruilong, to the front door with you!”. And sure enough, Zha had been thrown so that he landed next to the front door.
In the second bout, Tong said “This time, I’m going to throw you to the back door.” A few moments later, Tong surprised Zha with a leg hook throw (tiao gouzi) – all onlookers saw was Zha flying behind Tong to land in front of the back door. Tong made to help Zha up and begin the 3rd bout, but by this point Zha was convinced of Tong’s skill, and asked to become Tong’s student there and then.
Tong passed away in Shanghai in 1963 at the age of 84, having trained dozens of champion wrestlers and published several books on Wushu, Qin Na, Shuai Jiao, and other subjects.