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.
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.’