五台雨雪恨难消 – Part II

April 8, 2009
 The final part of this chapter of ‘Departed Warriors’:
“Fu Changrong would have had to accept such a public challenge, otherwise it would have ruined his reputation. However, Fu Changrong’s friends realised that Xue wanted a fight to the death and so they stopped Fu Changrong from leaving the room and then went to Beijing to get Shang Yunxiang to intervene.
Fu Changrongs tiger form

Fu Changrong, aka Fu Jianqiu, a top student of Li Cunyi and Liu Fengchun


Shang Yunxiang, as both Xue and Fu’s elder kungfu brother (shixiong), said to the two of them: “Both of you are men of rare talent, don’t quarrel with one another.”Afterwards, through negotiations with various parties, Shang arranged for Xue Dian to become head of the Guo Shu Guan. 

 After I’d gotten back, I told this rumour to M Tang, who said that Xue Dian and Fu Changrong had originally been friends. The two of them were in Yingkou in Northeast China and had taken shelter at a grain shop for the night. Before going to sleep, the two of them sparred. Fu Changrong suddenly issued force [fa li], throwing Xue Dian out of the room and breaking the window frame. Xue Dian felt humiliated and left. 

In the years that followed, Xue practiced on Mt Wutai in seclusion, coming to a special understanding of xingyi. After he challenged Fu Changrong, it was not Fu’s friends who went to look for Shang Yunxiang, but rather Fu himself. Xue Dian’s skill had reached the level of ‘spiritual change’ [shen bian], whilst Fu Changrong had also been improving all along. Fu could walk around a basin and cause the water in the basin to start rippling, it was absolutely incredible. What was happening was that Fu’s steps, although looking light, were actually extremely heavy; his feet touching the ground were shaking the water in the basin.** Fu’s footwork had reached the stage of ‘lift the heavy as if it were light’ [ju zhong ruo qing] – one step and he could hurt someone. If Xue and Fu had fought for real, one would have definitely been injured. 

Wutai Shan in Shanxi, one of the 4 Sacred Mountains in Chinese Buddhism

My youth coincided with the peak of Xue Dian’s fame, he was a colossus of the xingyi scene. After studying with M Shang, I felt that my gongfu had moved up a level; at that point I had the idea of going to Tianjin to challenge Xue. When I told M Shang this idea of mine, he didn’t express any opinion one way or another, but a few days later, M Tang came to Beijing from Ninghe to give me a good scolding. He said that normally Xue Dian looked bookish, but in a fight he was like a devil – he was a martial arts prodigy, one of the ‘pillars’ of xingyi.


M Shang had ducked into another room while M Tang was scolding me. In the middle of the yard lay a pumpkin. M Tang hooked the pumpkin with his foot, saying “A pumpkin is not alive, but a human is. No matter how powerful you are, you’ll never land a blow on Xue.”   

Later, through M Tang’s introduction, M Xue accepted me as his disciple. He had noble features and was a giant of the martial arts world. I was shocked when I heard news of his passing: his days should not have ended that way.   

**Xu Haofeng’s footnote: While I was editing this book, I received correspondence from an inheritor of Tang’s xingyi, saying the following:   

‘Xue Dian initially studied xingyi with a disciple of Li Cunyi surnamed Zhou. It was only later that he began to be taught by Li in person, thus ‘moving up’ one generation. Tang Weilu had known Xue a long time and the two were good friends. When Xue first met Tang he was still low-ranked within xingyi and so brought a gift befitting Tang’s kungfu ‘nephew’. After Xue had publically challenged Fu Changrong, both of them consulted with Tang Weilu separately (Fu Changrong lived in a neighbouring county and was a frequent visitor to M Tang’s house). Xue Dian came to M Tang’s house and performed a xingyi routine for M Tang as a kind of ‘report’ of what he had achieved in his 10 years of hard training. Tang Weilu could see that Xue Dian was out for Fu’s blood, and said “If the two of you cross hands it won’t just be friendly sparring, I can see that: why don’t I accept the challenge on Fu’s behalf, if you beat me you’ll be considered to have beaten Fu too.” The chinese concept of ‘face’ was very important to Xue, and so after what M Tang had said he couldn’t go through with the challenge. Actually, M Tang had already dissipated the dispute between Fu and Xue. The invitation to Shang Yunxiang was just a way of giving the two of them a ‘way out’, because this issue was making waves throughout the whole martial arts community.   

The explanation common in Tianjin for Fu and Xue’s enmity is that Xue had a kungfu school in the Northeast, which Fu effectively shut down by beating Xue in front of his students [called 'ti guan', lit. 'kick school' in chinese]. At the time, Xue was humiliated and left emptyhanded, after which he was not heard of for a decade.   

M Tang’s descendants respectfully call Li Zhongxuan as ‘shiye‘ ['grand-teacher']; prompted by Li’s articles, this unnamed inheritor talked a little about his experiences of zhan zhuang [stake standing].   

‘In stake standing, you should feel ‘bleeding’. I don’t mean you should try and imagine the blood flowing in your veins; what I mean is that after standing for a while, you should experience a feeling of liquid flowing, as if you were bleeding. Some parts of your body will feel at ease, while other parts will feel a bit odd. The practitioner should slowly turn or shake until the whole body feels unobstructed. This method can cure illness as well as building gongfu. This way of using external form to adjust internal processes can be thought of as one way of interpreting the ‘xing’ [form] and ‘yi’ [intention] of xingyiquan.’

‘Departed Warriors’ – the xingyiquan of Li Zhongxuan

March 29, 2009

I recently came across an excellent book on xingyiquan called “Departed Warriors” (called ‘Shiqu de Wulin’ in chinese). The book contains the recollections of one man, Li Zhongxuan (now deceased), who had the good fortune to study under three disciples of Li Cunyi: Shang Yunxiang, Xue Dian and Tang Weilu. The book, organised by Xu Haofeng, contains Li’s recollections of studying under his three masters as well as his thoughts on the practice of xingyiquan. I have translated below a part of one chapter from his book:

五台雨雪恨难消 (part 1)

‘Tang-chuan’ xingyiquan refers to the xingyi passed down by Tang Weilu. He was known as ‘Tang xiao hou’ (little monkey Tang) echoing the nickname of Sun Lutang, who was also nicknamed ‘Sun the monkey’ – in both cases, the nicknames refer to their ability to scale walls. Amongst xingyi boxers the two men were known as the ‘two lus’, derived from the ‘lu’ part of their names, but also homophonous with the chinese for ’2 deer’, referencing both men’s ability to walk three or four hundred li (1 li = 500m) in a night.

Whenever M Tang visited Beijing, so as to not attract unwanted attention, he did so at night. He would sleep in Ninghe (near Tianjin) during the day, set off at 7pm, and by daybreak the next day would have reached Beijing, having had to slip past several tax office checkpoints along the way. Li Cunyi gave Tang Weilu the ‘xingyi name’ of Tang Jianxun – the meaning of the name was to commemorate Tang’s exploits. Li Cunyi appreciated Tang’s fighting ability – it wasn’t just because of his speed that Tang was mentioned in the same breath as Sun Lutang. Everyone back then knew M Tang’s fighting skills were a cut above.

Famed xingyi master Li Cunyi
Famed xingyi master Li Cunyi

M Tang always gave the impression of being languid – he would always be carrying a teapot, if left to his own devices he could easily spend a whole day sauntering around town, his teapot in hand. But he was very resolute in that he would willingly accept any challenges that came his way. He once defeated a famed master who had founded his own style, yet would not allow us to tell anyone – this was M Tang’s Wu De (martial morality). It’s exactly because M Tang was satisfied with the quiet life that his xingyi preserves more of the ‘flavour’ of Li Cunyi. Readers interested in the xingyi taught by Li Cunyi at the Tianjin Guo Shu Guan can use M Tang’s xingyi as a reference point.

M Li Cunyi’s book on xingyi begins with the phrases “Only xingyi is most skilled at defeating the enemy and obtaining victory.” Later, in an interview with a journalist, he stated “A practitioner of wushu strengthens his body; a practitioner of guoshu defends his home and country; xingyiquan can be called guoshu”. These two statements led to a misunderstanding, as other martial artists thought that M Li was trying to position xingyiquan as the ‘national art’ (guoshu). And so many people came to challenge him, saying “M Li, is my art wushu or guoshu?” M Li knew that explanations were useless and simply accepted all the challenges. The wulin (martial arts community) in the old days was like that, the slightest slip of the tongue could land you in big trouble.

M Li Cunyi was a man of noble-character who became embroiled in senseless disputes in his old age. It was lucky that he maintained his reputation intact in that he was not defeated. But still, for a man of his years to have to meet challenges every day must have vexed him sorely.

So what exactly did M Li mean by “only xingyi is skilled”? The answer can be found in old xingyi manuals: “The martial artists of the world need to be able to see to accomplish anything; thus, by day they can just about attain victory. But how can they cope at night if they are confronted by the enemy? Only xingyiquan can deal with attacks at night, by relying on ‘feel’ and reacting to the slightest touch.”

The essence of xingyi is not practicing your vision or hearing, but rather this physical response.

My shixiong under Shang Yunxiang, Shan Guangqin, told me that you could talk or walk around M Shang while he was sleeping, no problem. But the moment you focused your attention on him, he would wake up. It sounds far-fetched, but this kind of awareness is a necessary product of extended training in xingyi.

The Iron-foot Buddha, Shang Yunxiang
The ‘Iron-foot Buddha’, Shang Yunxiang

The ‘xing’[form] in xingyi refers to everything external, whilst the ‘yi’ [intent] refers to everything internal, thus xingyiquan can be understood as ‘training everything’. The ‘Xingyi 5 Element Classic’ also echoes M Shang’s approach, it’s about sensitivity. In addition, xingyi’s ‘reacting to the slightest touch’ is unconscious, automatic.

One time, M Tang had gotten lost in thought whilst teaching his disciples. One of them, wanting to test out M Tang’s gongfu, suddenly launched a punch at him. M Tang managed to press the student to the ground, all the while still in a bit of a daze. This student was very happy when he pulled himself off the ground, for he thought that he had found out M Tang’s real gongfu.

M Tang, on the other hand, from then on stopped teaching that disciple, saying “So-and-so has already surpassed me.” Actually, this was his way of ‘disowning’ that disciple. There needs to be sincerity between teacher and student. The kind of person who still has an attitude of ‘stealing the art’ whilst studying under you is not to be taught. Even if such a person learns martial arts, they will only bring harm upon themselves and others.

Even after M Tang had passed away, this person still called themselves M Tang’s disciple. Times are different now, the younger generation cannot be held responsible for the actions of their elders. In order to avoid embarrassing this person’s students, I have deliberately omitted his name.

Xingyiquan (Form and intention boxing) is also known as Xingyiquan (moving intention boxing). The grandmaster of our branch was Liu Qilan, who was known for his shenfa (body method), was praised as ‘Long Xing Sou Gu’ (dragon shape searching for bones). The later generations from this branch, Li Cunyi, Shang Yunxiang and Tang Weilu were all known for their gongfu in the legs (tuigong) and shenfa. To retreat whilst fighting Li Cunyi was a big mistake; as soon as you tried to retreat he would be upon you and knock you down.

Gongfu in the legs comes from zhan zhuang and [xingyi] walking. Tang Weilu specially emphasised walking to his disciples. In the morning we would walk 5 km with our hands clasped behind our backs, either loosening up our backbones or with a bit of martial intent. Sometimes we would omit the ‘yi’ of xingyiquan and say that we were learning ‘xing quan’ [moving boxing] with M Tang.

M Tang’s trademark weapons were the judge’s pens (pan guan bi). In xingyi, judge’s pens are basically double spears, initially arms-length with rounded tips. After the practitioner has become familiar with their use, the pens used become shorter, about the length of a forearm. I had a pair of bronze pens specially made; at that kind of weight, there’s no need to hit vital points, wherever you hit the opponent he will go down.

Normal judges pens (pan guan bi)
Normal judge’s pens (pan guan bi)

The double spears require more finesse than the double broadsword; because of the vivid descriptions in pingshu [traditional chinese storytelling], I was very enthusiastic in training the double spear.

One time, when M Tang was visiting Beijing, he saw me practicing the judge’s pens and lost his temper, saying “You were supposed to learn sword from M Shang! If you learn boxing but not sword from M Shang, you will have come to Beijing for nothing!” M Tang also said, anyone can pick up a staff and fight people with it, but most people would be at a loss to know what to do with a straight sword.

My name in Shang Yunxiang’s school was Li Yixia, which was chosen according to the ‘codex of names’ left behind by Liu Qilan; the generation after me all had the character ‘zhi’ [志, ambition] in their xingyi names. In the Shang tradition, learning the jian was a ceremonious affair. Every morning we would have to kow tow to the sword, as the hilt of the sword represents one’s teacher, hence the saying “To have the sword there is like having one’s teacher there”.

In gripping the sword, the little finger must be slightly hooked, out of respect for one’s teacher. In actual fact there is a reason to this hooking of little finger, namely that [in TCM] the little finger is connected to the eyes, if the little finger is continually hooked it can damage your eyesight. Some people experience loss of acuity after practicing xingyi, this is caused by ‘hooking’ the little finger too tightly. This kind of thing is what led to the saying ‘practicing xingyi invites bad luck [zhao xie]“; this saying is actually nonsense, the problems experienced by people after practicing xingyi are because they have not been taught in detail, and go against their own physiology. 

The Tang school of xingyi traditionally had good relations with the Yanqing school [Yanqing quan being another name for Mizong, or 'lost-track' boxing], a relationship which had started with Li Cunyi. There was an old Yanqing master, a good friend of Li Cunyi, who was good at ‘tie dang gong’ [iron crotch skill] and liked to demonstrate this skill at the local public baths. Unfortunately, this master attracted the attention of a group of young men who started harassing him with slingshots. Having no disciples of his own to assist him, he passed a message onto M Tang asking for help.

In order to further my training, M Tang sent me to deal with it. Because I knew I was going up against slingshots, I packed a pair of judge’s pens into me knapsack. On the way to the bathhouse, I was waylaid by 3 muggers. I said “My bag is full of gold ingots, let’s go into this copse, and I’ll give you a share.”

They were shocked, but still followed me into the copse. The moment I took out the judge’s pens, they turned tail and fled. Maybe they thought I intended to kill them – all of this stuff was just youthful hijinks. In those days, M Tang’s reputation was a strong deterrent. I invited these guys to talk it out. At first, seeing that I was young, tried to browbeat me and just talked endlessly. Frustrated, I slapped the table (breaking a teapot in the process), at which they immediately promised that they wouldn’t harass Li cunyi’s friend any more. The truth is, they were afraid of M Tang.

Before I went out there, M Tang had said to me, “Don’t fight, try to reason with them.” I thought, if they were reasonable they wouldn’t have harassed an old man, that kind of person is not at home to reason.

That night, I stayed over at this Yanqing master’s house. He was very chatty, and we eventually got to talking about Xue Dian.

Xue Dian
Xue Dian’s 12 animals, taken from David Devere’s excellent website, http://www.emptyflower.com

He said that Xue Dian was one of Li Cunyi’s later disciples who Li was proud of, but who unexpectedly lost to his shixiong, Fu Changrong. The two of them suddenly crossed hands on the upper floor of a restaurant. With a ‘returning body palm’ [hui shen zhang], Xue Dian was knocked down the stairs. After he reached the bottom, Xue quickly stood up and, without a word, walked off.  No-one knew where he had gone.

When Li Cunyi passed away, his friends came to pay their respects. Those who had come from afar would stay for 3-5 days. At the request of the Guo Shu Guan students, they would often perform their gongfu after dinner. One of them in particular, an extremely tall man, stunned the audience with his phenomenal speed. He announced himself as one of M Li’s disciples, causing one of the Guo Shu Guan students to say “Our shifu never taught this”, to which he said: “I am Xue Dian.” Immediately subsequent to this, he issued a public challenge to Fu Changrong.    


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