A: We’ve long heard that Yiquan’s penetrating power (chuan tou li) is formidable. Did M Yao set you any ‘rules’ for responding to challenges?
C: At first, there were no rules. Later on, there was one incident that resulted in M Yao setting me some rules. It started like this: in the afternoon of 25th April 1982, there was a San Da competition at Shijingshan Sports Stadium. For that event, there was no-one else in my weight category, so I brought some kungfu brothers to demonstrate Yiquan’s combat ability. After the competition, when pretty much everyone had left, one of the coaches called Yang Yong-de came over and said, “M Cui, someone wants to cross hands with you. Could you accept the challenge?” At this point, a few of the umpires came over and said “M Cui, if you’re going to take him on, don’t go easy on him, this guy has been challenging people leftt right and centre. Even during the competition just now he kept on insisting that he wanted to challenge this master, that master…” As soon as I heard this, I accepted the challenge. When he [the challenger] heard that I had agreed, he requested that we wear gloves. I put on a pair of grapple gloves which were standard in San Da at that time. I said to him, “Hit me with whatever you’ve got, I’ll just use hands, not feet.” At first, the challenger threw lots of empty feints, to which I myself put out an upward feint. In response, he sank down and was about to come up when I hit him with a ‘scraping palm’ (xiao zhang) on his collarbone. He was knocked onto his ass and sat on the ground, ashen-faced and breathing heavily, whilst hurriedly trying to take off his gloves. Seeing this, I started scolding him, saying “Oh come on! If you can’t even take that, how come you’re continually wanting to challenge everyone?”, to which he had no reply. A friend of his helped him up. He hadn’t gotten out of the stadium before he collapsed to the ground and had to be carried to the janitor’s room. It took him 4 hours to recover. The next day, I mentioned this incident at Xian Nong Tan, and news of it reached M Yao. M Yao waved his finger at me and scolded: “Ruibin, from now on, you are not permitted to accept challenges without my agreement! What if you’d killed him? I wouldn’t swap 10 of that kind of man for 1 of you!” He was worried that if I kept on acting rashly, sooner or later I would get into trouble and all his years of hard work in training me would be for nothing.
A: People used to say that you were M Yao’s ‘heavy’, didn’t they?
C: Yeah, they did. Certainly I had more opportunities to accept challenges than my Yiquan brothers did. In 1981, Shanghai’s ‘Liberation Daily’ newspaper [Jiefang Ribao] printed an article by a martial arts master surnamed Wang who claimed he had defeated Wang Xiangzhai in 1937 in Yantai. M Yao asked me to take leave from my factory and go with him to Shanghai, which I did. We met with the editor responsible for printing this article, Cheng Kang-xuan. M Yao said, “As far as I know, Wang Xiangzhai never went to Yantai. Since this master Wang says that he beat Wang Xiangzhai, I need to check the details with him. Although I haven’t practiced much in the last decade in the countryside, I could still cross hands with him. If he’s got any students who’d be willing to cross hands, I’ve also brought a student of my own, they could compare skills.” Cheng Kang-xuan said that the original draft of the article had been even more exaggerated than the pne printed, that he had deleted a lot. As for crossing hands, Cheng said that that was fine, he turned round and started calling “Master Wang, Master Wang!” – but master Wang had disappeared. Puzzled, Cheng said “But master Wang was just here, he was certainly here when you came in….”. The chairman of the Shanghai Wushu Association, Gu Liuxin, and the head of the Wushu department of Shanghai Physical College, Cai Longyun, with M Yao’s approval, organised a banquet to which this master Wang was supposed to come and talk things over with M Yao, but he never turned up. We made some inquiries and found out which park this master Wang taught his students at, but on arriving at the park, we couldn’t find them either. Afterwards, in order to bring the incident to a close, the Liberation Daily published an article by Zhang Changxin (another of Wang Xiangzhai’s students) about the stir M Wang Xiangzhai had created when he first started teaching Yiquan in Shanghai. In 1985, after M Yao had passed away, I went to see my kungfu uncle Zhao Daoxin. As soon as I got in the door, M Zhao said “Young Cui, you’ve had a hard time of it.” On hearing this, I knew that M Yao had told M Zhao about our trip to Shanghai to find this master Wang. I said, “M Yao told you?” Zhao said “Yes, I heard the whole thing.” After I had sat down, M Zhao said, “Even before you went to Shanghai your teacher came to Tianjin to discuss this matter with me. At first, I didn’t think that M Yao should go to Shanghai. M Wang has already passed away, what’s the point of taking issue with these people [in Shanghai]?” With a sigh, he continued “But I guess M Yao didn’t have much choice, being standard-bearer and all.”
A: Even now there are people claiming online and in magazines how they beat Wang Xiangzhai.
C: I know. The people who made those claims have all passed away now. In this respect, I agree with M Zhao’s point of view, we should just let this kind of talk wash over us. Actually, I’m not saying that M Wang never lost. Every martial artist can have a bad day, no-one gets born a master. Wang Xiangzhai even recounted to his disciples the times in his youth when and how he lost. But people shouldn’t make stuff up for their own purposes, their stories don’t even stand up to scrutiny.
A: Objectively speaking, even those people who later went on to become great masters had days when they lost through being out of sorts or underestmating their opponent. This kind of thing happens a lot. Many people can’t or won’t accept the fact that their teacher or grand-teacher once lost because they are emotionally invested in an idea. They think that their shifu losing means that their style is no good. In actuality it’s not like that: just because someone loses occasionally, that doesn’t mean that that master has no gongfu or his style is no good.
C: Even Muhammad Ali didn’t win all of his fights, but he’s still acknowledged as one of the greatest boxers of all time. The way to assess the gongfu and achievement of a martial artist is to investigate the material he left behind. My view is, if you’re serious about martial arts, you should put your energy and effort into investigating the material passed down by previous generations as well as training up the next generation. You should help them become capable fighters who can stand the test of real combat, *that’s* the right path.
A: Gongfu isn’t in the mouth.
C: That’s right. Although M Wang Xiangzhai said that ‘combat is the lowest skill’ (jiji nai moji), but in order to become a great master you must at the very least possess this ability. People said that I was M Yao’s ‘heavy’, but later on M Wang Yuxiang (another of Wang Xiangzhai’s disciples) often said “Ruibin isn’t just a fighter, he’s also well versed in the principles of Yiquan”. When shishu (kungfu uncle) Dou (Dou Shiming, a senior disciple of Wang Xiangzhai) and I went to Shenzhen in 1994 to teach Yiquan, Tong Guozao from Argentina and Tang Rukun from Canada both brought groups over. The whole series of seminars was caught on video. This video was passed on to Ivan Fok, head of the Hong Kong Yiquan Association, who gave me a copy. Another copy made its way to me via (Yao Zongxun’s disciple) Bai Xuezheng, who had received it from Han Sihuang (another of Wang Xiangzhai’s disciples). My speeches and demonstrations were all captured on the tape. Later on, after he had watched the tape, M Han called me over to his house, saying “Ruibin, we didn’t really know you before, in the future we’d love you to come here and help train up [my students] in the combat side of things.”