An Introduction to Ziranmen Ziranmen
Written by Grandmaster Lu Yaoqin In recent martial arts history, among all the dazzling martial arts styles, there is one style of martial arts that because of its unique movements and profound philosophy, stands out from all other styles and shines. For over one hundred years, this this style has enjoyed a high reputation reputation and is widely practiced in the mainland and overseas. It is the Natural Style of gongfu (Ziranmen). Ziranmen has similarities to both Shaolin and Wudang. It integrates the strengths strengths of both the internal and external styles, but is a unique style of its own, consisting of both hardness and softness. Within the practice of Ziranmen: Movement and stillness have no beginning or end; changes have no beginning or end. Real attacks and fake attacks are not fixed; they are natural and spontaneous to the circumstances. Something can be generated even from nothing, such as generating force from an empty position. The mind is used to guide the body’s “qi” (vital energy). When the intention arrives the hands arrive,
when the intention stops the hands hands stop. Qi is the foundation; it must be cultivated and returned to its source (Dantian). Once one is skilled in Ziranmen, supernatural bravery will follow of its own course. Within Ziranmen practice there is long range and short range fighting, dodging and jabbing. Qi does not float up, it always stays rooted. There is swiftness and slowness, and there is hardness and softness. There are no fixed movements; by reacting naturally, any movement can be applied to dissolve even the gravest threat from the opponent. In cultivating qi, one must not be compulsive. In applying force, one must not use hard force (the force should be natural and internal). One is like a spirit, indistinct and elusive, without form or sound. The more one practices the stronger one becomes; the older one gets the healthier one becomes. Although from the outside one may look weak and emaciated, the internal strength is replete and full. (Ziranmen utilizes all the muscles in an integrated way, therefore, one does not build up large muscles but in fact the muscles are stronger and more substantial than the muscles of, say, a body builder.) Ziranmen gongfu and Daoism come from the same source. In other words, Ziranmen is also a type of Daoist practice. It is just that in practicing Ziranmen one seeks stillness within movement, whereas in practicing the internal style one seeks stillness within stillness. In fact, Ziranmen’s qi cultivation
method is in accordance with the Dao! When used to combat, Ziranmen is a natural fighting technique; when used to practice qi, it is the foundation to the cultivation of qi. Therefore, Ziranmen is a fighting technique that follows the Dao! Laozhi said, “Man follows the order of the earth. Earth follows the order of the heaven. Heaven
follows the order of Dao. Dao follows the order of nature.” In other words, naturalness (Nature) is Dao. Ziranmen qi-gong uses the Dao as its hinge, and the philosophy of “One and Zero” (i.e. positive/negative, being/non-being, yin/yang) as its principle. The central principle of Ziranmen is naturalness. Its qi practicing and qi cultivating techniques follow the order of nature, which are very natural. Ziranmen qigong is the foundation of the Dao practice. The central principle of Daoism is
essentially Laozhi’s philosophy of “wuwei”, that the ultimate way to achieving the Dao is non -action,
non-deliberation and unobtrusiveness, accomplished by naturalness and spontaneity.
“Dao is fundamentally wuwei (non -action) which follows the order of nature (naturalness)!” The practice of Ziranmen qigong is to eventually “cultivate qi and channel it to its source – the dantian.”
This intention is spontaneous, not deliberating to forget it or to remember it. It seems to be there, and it seems not to be there. Ziranmen emphasizes on three styles of gongfu – soft, hard and light. It teaches three character traits – wisdom, benevolence and courage, and four virtues – trustworthiness, righteousness, chivalry and bravery. Essentially, it consists of hand-eye-body-foot work and shoulder-elbow-wristhip-knee work and the practice of their inter- coordination. It uses “jing-qi-shen” (essence-energyspirit) as its foundation, and hands, eyes and body as its root to nourish a fearless moral spirit, so that one will not be easily stirred by ex ternal influences and be able to use one’s gongfu to combat and win over his opponent. Ziranmen (Natural Style), as indicated by its name, calls for the attention of naturalness during practice. One should know that in learning any skills, unnaturalness is normal in the beginning of the learning process before one attains naturalness. But if one does not observe the rules for basic training in the beginning and does not work hard, how is it possible to achieve the joy of naturalness? Hence, Ziranmen still has fixed forms of fists to follow during practice. With persistent efforts, naturalness will be achieved over t ime. The preliminary training takes “Nei Quan Shou” as its fundamental practice, whereby one practices
with his hands circling in an inward motio n and meanwhile walking in circles with “aidang steps” (walking with the hip lowered). Afterwards, there is “Tui shou” (push hands), and then leg kicks that
start with drilling practice and then kicking practice in clockwise and anticlockwise circular motions. With long practice of these techniques, the practitioner’s qi will gradually sink and become steady,
and eyes will gradually become bright and clear. After this, one can start to learn the applications of tun-tu-fu-chen (contracting-extending-floating-sinking) and the different types of hand skills and leg skills. After this, basic training is nearly complete and one can start cultivating qi. Other basic training of Ziranmen includes: shang zhuang (body stump), zou bo luo (walking around the basket rim), zi mu qiu (son and mother ball), yuan yang huan (paired rings), hu kou bang (tiger mouth cudgel), tie sha bao (iron sand bag), pian ban (kick board), dian zhu (toe kicking bamboo stems), san jiao zhuang (triangular tree stumps), dao zhuang (tree stumps of Dao), cha sha (driving hands into the sand), dang ban (blocking board), di ben zi (scurrying quickly along the ground), etc. Every skill needs to be well trained in order to be successful. That means the palms will be able to break rocks, the kicks will be able to break planks, the leg will be able to break bamboo stems; the hands will be like metal hooks, the body like an iron rock. When hard, one is like steel, when soft like glue, when heavy like rooted in the ground, when light like skimming on ice. Hand strikes are straight and invisibly fast. When it is still, Ziranmen takes the form of “ling pai shi” (command tablet style); when it is moving, “ba fa dang” (eight strategies of hip work); when it is changing, “lang bu” (wave
steps). When the hands ar e still, they take the form of “bao bei shou” (like embracing one’s back),
when changing, “Gui Tou Shou” (ghost head hands). There are no fixed forms; forms are applied
naturally. The hands are as soft as cotton when they are punched out, but as hard as iron when they land on the opponent. The force can be conspicuous or hidden, the tactics can be sticky or evading. This basically explains what Ziranmen is like. It consists of all the essence of both the internal and external styles of our country’s martial arts. Moreover, there is the Zhang Sanfeng Taijiquan in
Ziranmen, which is directly descended from the genuine original style of Taijiquan.
Training in Ziranmen an interview with Rudy Ibarra Alex Kozma’s latest book, Warrior Guards the Mountain, 375 pag es fully illustrated, is now available
from his site as a downloadable ebook and limited edition paperback from CPI Publishing. It includes information from the out of print book Ziranmen (which will not be reprinted) - namely the Wan Lai Sheng translations from his famous 1929 book on martial arts, and interviews with Serge Augier and Rudy Ibarra - but adds much new material and then relates the author's experiences, training and conversations with many other masters from across Asia giving rare and in depth access into the development and practices of these remarkable individuals. Contents of Warrior Guards the Mountain and a sample chapter can be seen at www.bagua-retreats.com/baguaretreats/Books.html Ebook £12, Paperback £20 (plus postage) UK post first class £3-50, Europe Airmail £5-00, rest of the world outside Europe airmail £8-00. To order Warrior Guards the Mountain in paperback or PDF format contact Arjuna Das at [email protected]
Below is an excerpt from Rudy Ibarra's interview: 4. Can you describe Ziran Men training methods you have undergone, and the challenges of these? With Master Lu Yaoqin, we worked three things everyday, Nei Gong, Taolu (Form) and Jiji Fa (Combat). Never before had I seen these three elements complement and supplement each other so harmoniously. There is a direct relationship between the healthful, artistic and combative aspect that I had never felt before. Not only do the theories, principles and the way in which we train them link the three, but as mentioned they even physically appear similar! There are three “outer” requirements in Ziran Men training. The first is, Ruan Gong, Soft and Flexible
skill. To be very flexible with your entire body, particularly your legs, basically to be able to go into and out of whatever position is required at that time such as being able to put your legs anywhere on the opponent. Master Lu Yaoqin demonstrated this by executing a “heart center” kick to a student standing less than an arm’s distance away, his knee came up and the foot pop ped upwards
an inch from the side of his jaw and then snapped it back down as if nothing happened. Stretching everyday and relaxation techniques works this aspect.
The second is Ying Gong, Hard Skill. This is the necessary ability to strike the opponent so he really feels it while having the ability of being able to take his strikes. This is slowly developed through two man contact drills and Pai Da Gong which are conditioning practices where one develops external force and special skills through the use of unique equipment such as sandbags, bamboo, iron balls, iron arm rings, and wooden post. These practices are designed to strengthen the ligaments and bones for striking and are done very softly and repetitively without the use of hard force. About Ruan and Ying Gong, Master Lu Yaoqin says in the old days everyone had a special skill that would take hours of everyday and years to develop. In these modern times, only a basic level is required so half an hour everyday on each is enough. He also commented on how certain schools mistakenly take one or the other to extremes. For example a certain teacher that refrains from exertion or teachers of styles that over condition parts of the body to the point of deformity. The third outer requirement is Qing Gong. Light and Agile skill. It consists of practices to work lightness, agility, coordination, and smoothness, which includes Ziran Men’s very important body
method and stepping method exercises. Qing Gong is also developed with the use of forms, fighting drills and sparring. Qing Gong is so when an opponent strikes not only are you not there but you have already naturally counter attacked. As martial artist, this of the three outer skills we want an advanced level of. If half an hour a day of Ruan Gong and Ying Gong is sufficient, Qing Gong one should work everyday for the longest time of at least two hours. As for the challenges, I think the first of the training method challenges would be physical Pain. Pain one will get from initial Ziran Men training until whatever weakness is strengthened and developed, whether its arms, upper body, waist or leg work. For example, after more than a decade studying martial arts I had my leg basics down from the deep stance work training most Chinese styles have, but I had never felt the soreness in the lats, the upper back and the shoulders that lasted for a few months. There were days when I couldn’t pick up my chopsticks. For another student who hadn’t
done as much stance work, his primary issue was stance work and it was killing him. Sometimes the pain involved endurance, for example doing whatever form three or four times in a row with no break on Master Lu Yaoqin’s count was a daily r outine.
Another challenge would be Patience. Patience to do the same form, weapon, two-man set, fighting drill or Pai Da Gong (Conditioning) until you derived what you were supposed to derive from it. Master Lu Yaoqin always set a goal for you and was looking for specific results or an acquired level of understanding and naturalness when he taught and corrected. When it comes to correcting and taking one to the next level he is relentless and never gets tired of telling and showing you the same thing. And you do the same thing until your almost sick of it. There were many times when I thought I would never move on from a form or drill and just when I was sick of doing it and even dreaming about it in my sleep, Master Lu Yaoqin would say, “At a basic level y ou have it, but you must continue training it.” Then he would start teaching me the next thing. Unlike the compliments I
received in Beijing, Master Lu Yaoqin rarely gives them. Next on the list would be correcting previously trained bad habits and being receptive to them. Entire sets, fighting techniques and even certain basics like Pu Bu, had to be forgotten and relearned. Many a night Master Lu would ask me to demonstrate something previously learned and afterwards tell me to forget it and we would start new. This happened in combat, forms and Nei Gong. For example, in Shen Fa, discovering, studying and instilling natural instinctive motion as part
of my body method, getting rid of tension and self resistance, and allowing it to become totally natural. Another challenge would be our very important Nei Gong work. Our basic and most important is Nei Quan Shou, Inner Circling Hand. First was the initial pain of the low posture with the relaxation of the upper body. Next came the repetition of the same step and circling hand motion. And last the complete focus of intention and mind that starts off with a couple minutes and by adding another minute every few days ends up at the eventual goal of at least one hour. The amazing thing was Master Lu Yaoqin would al ways know when I hadn’t practice Nei Quan Shou. He usually would start off, “your body seems extra tight…”, or “you look very heavy today…did you practice Nei Quan Shou this morning?” Every time he was right that I hadn’t.
From Alex Kozma's "Warrior Guards the Mountain ," 2010
Translation by Joshua Shain and Wei Li of Wan Laisheng speaking to Xiamen students in video Practice the fundamentals, from light to heavy, from slow to fast. When you first learn to punch, dont just start punching for several hundred repititions, making your hand like a cocoon; your strength must delivered outwardly. Southern Fist exhales Qi to urge Li (power), the result of success is just Qi. Northern Fist is particular to use the Qi to sink downward, it is more vital than Southern Fist, they (Northern Fist) create Li (power) from Qi, the result of success is Qili (Qi and Power)! And then there is our Natural Style Kungfu, which uses intention to manipulate Qi, because Qi follows intention, the successful result is overbearing. When you look at me not moving, I seem to have absolutely no strength. In three years I will be 90 years old, at 60 or 70 most martial artists can barely move but the hard kungfu persists. Qi goes down, but how does it come up (he pats his abdomen). You see my eyes wide open, eyes pierce like golden rays, just a turn of a hand and I can attack. Your kungfu, (he takes a students arm) come here (he says to a student). Watch, try and pull me, see what happens. As soon as you use strength I can disarm you. Look at the kungfu in my hands. My arms are just like lead pipes, I can break your arm with just a strike. If I want to hit you, you can't get away. This is what is called kungfu. The word 'kungfu' means time put in. Ac tions must be natural, from light to heavy, from slow to fast, the punches need to reach, the kicks need to extend. The punches must reach, the elbow (he pats his elbow); the kicks must extend, the knee is like an axis when kicking. It is like there is a person in front of you, one person or 10,000 people it's the same, look between their brow, I want to come in I just come in, I want to go I just go, there is no one there, but it seems like there is someone in front, your fist comes toward (me) and then I strike, dodge smooth and sly evasion. You guys want to exercise, your just playing.
Groundwork of Chinese Martial Arts and Wan Laisheng
Written by Bill Chen, http://www.nardis.com In the process of learning effectively, it is often necessary to know the contents of the subject and the steps involved. The lack of standards in Chinese martial arts complicates the learning process and often leads to ineffective learning. I write this article with the hope that it can serve martial arts enthusiasts as a generic road map to Chinese martial arts. Although my personal experience in Chinese martial arts is not enough to qualify me for such an undertaking, I have drawn on the benefits of my personal acquaintance with qualified masters and my collection of classical Chinese martial arts manuals to assist in providing this information. One of the earlier books in my collection that I often revisit is the late master Wan Laishen's Wushu Hui Zun (or The Root of Martial Arts). The focus of this revisit is based on the book's first point in section two, chapter one entitled "The Real Meaning of Chinese Martial Arts." In this section he brings convergence in various styles of Chinese martial arts by cutting through superficialities. He discusses concisely the essence in attitude, mental and physical training of Chinese martial arts. I believe the road map he drew can lead to effective learning. About Master Wan Laishen Wan Laishen, born in 1903, already was a well-known fighter in the 1920's. He was appointed to lead the government-sponsored martial arts centers in Guangdong and Guangxi provinces after outstanding achievement in the first national martial arts contest in 1928. He also served as martial arts head officer in Henan province's Chinese military establishment in the 1930's and 40's. One of the more famous disciples of the great masters Du Xinwu and Liu Ginren, he was well-known for lightning speed and powerful fingers in the Chinese martial arts arena some sixty years ago. Later in life, he practiced Chinese medicine. Having graduated from and lectured in the College of Agriculture of Beijing University (the Chinese equivalent of Harvard), Wan possessed the ideal Chinese martial virtues of civility, intelligence and discipline. Wushu Hui Zun, originally published in 1927, covers different facets of Chinese martial arts. In addition to basics, it also covers horse riding and caring in military environment; swimming and rescuing, martial arts education, medicine, meditation and chanting. Although his core training was Shaolin Wai-Twal's [I don't know the proper romanization for this term though Wan was probably best known as an inheritor of Du Xinwu's "Natural" school of boxing. TWC] Liu-He style, he later learned other styles during his travels across the country and gave credit to over ten masters as being his teachers. He approaches martial arts at the root and from a practical perspective. He promoted the techniques of individual styles without engaging in separatist rhetoric. He passed away several years ago in China. On the Purpose of Martial Arts Wan Laishen believed martial arts is primarily for improving health and prolonging life. He said, "...no matter how good one's skill is, one should not compete to satisfy ego." He also emphasized that an essential part of attaining advanced skills is to objectively try one's skills with fellow practitioners possessing advanced skills and good v irtues.
Wan said there are ten fundamental physical skills. They are: hands, eyes, body, methods, stepping, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips and knees. Since hands, shoulders, elbows, eyes, hips, wrists and knees are self-explanatory, I will concentrate o n body, methods and stepping. Body (forms) training develop one's spontaneous flows in body movements. Different styles tend to design different movement flows as a way to program certain desired habitual body movements into practitioners. To achieve this spontaneous body movement, Wan states one needs to practice each form at least one thousand times to receive any benefits. The frequency of practice necessary in working the designed flows into one's spontaneous flows suggests that foundation practice should be limited to a few forms that are designed to focus on certain movement traits. As we observe Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua, Shaolin, Long Fist, Praying Mantis, etc. we can see their distinct approaches to developing body habits. The success of this training only means the practitioner is programmed to move with certain habitual movement flows. It is not singularly representative of martial arts as it is a subset of total martial arts training. Methods (Techniques) Methods always involve leverage. Real Chinese martial arts methods involve using the minimum amount of force to achieve maximum results, regardless of whether the method is qinna, striking vital points, suai jiao, etc. This is one area where many disciplines and styles converge. To successfully use methods, one needs to know the inner workings of special techniques within each system which usually involve raw techniques combined with psychology, timing, trained strength and specific knowledge of physiology. Frequently methods are taught no differently than forms (i.e. the next secret form is...), yet, we all know without the training of certain "jings", Taiji's eight core techniques, Xingyi's five core techniques, Bagua's eight palms, etc. cannot work. Even with the support of "jings", without special basic training prescribed in individual systems, practitioners may only be able to demonstrate a technique but will not able to utilize them in real situations. Methods cannot be learned without frequent physical engagements. Higher levels of martial arts accomplishment can only be attained through perpetual engagement with higher level martial artists. As Wan wrote in his book, "True knowledge of methods rests on real experience." This is one of the points that separate martial arts theorists from true martial artists. Failure to understand the core methods of any single style often lead practitioners wander about, mimicking numerous forms and styles without in-depth understanding of basics. Stepping Stepping has its root in stance training. One who has weak stances cannot move with stability and maneuverability. Although I have seen many quality martial arts organizations teaching actual stepping techniques, most schools I have seen either treat this as non-essential basic training or do not know the existence of stepping techniques. Seven years ago, knowing the existence of stepping training but ignorant of its effectiveness, I had the fortunate opportunity to experience the effectiveness of stepping techniques demonstrated by Liang Shouyu in combat applications. He asserts that stepping techniques are essential in developing traditional martial arts fighting skills. He
also points out that different forms of stepping can be observed in other competitive arts such as fencing and boxing. The Chinese did not develop these stepping techniques to satisfy certain curriculum. Stepping was developed through necessity. These techniques used to be guarded with secrecy but even though they may be more commonly taught these days, it seems that modern students no longer have the time and patience to learn them. On Practicing Mental Skills The three things are "Jing", "Qi", "Shen". The key is to nurture the mental stability to anchor oneself to make good judgments. Fear, anxiety, egotism and other unstable emotions can undermine all physical training. Although Wan did not explain the meanings of "Jing", "Qi" and "Shen" in Wushu Hui Zun, in the book Shaolin Liu-He Style, published in 1984, a group of his students explain that "Jing" refers to the bodily fluids that nurture one's body, "Qi" is the energy that powers one's body and "Shen" is the mental capacity that directs one's actions. The book asserts that the development of the three interlocking elements strengthens the life force. Conclusion Probably like most enthusiasts, I spent the most part of my once youthful life searching aimlessly for the key to Chinese martial arts. I believe that students of martial arts can effectively find qualified instructors and learn effectively by knowing the common groundwork of Chinese martial arts. Often martial arts fads and separatist bickering detract beginner enthusiasts from the potential long term reward of having a broad world view and a focused training. Teachers should retain students not on the grounds of superiority of the styles but on the grounds of well-thought-out training programs that meet the criteria of logical martial arts development. Wan Laishen asserts that there is no such thing as one superior style, but there are countless superior practitioners from almost any styles throughout history. I think it is fair and proper to say styles do not guarantee to make a master out of a person, rather it is usually masters who make styles famous. Three key elements pre-determine the success of a martial arts student. The first is the intelligence and persistence of the student. Second, an environment that promotes exchange of quality knowledge and quality physical interactions. Third, a skilled martial arts teacher who can teach. Much admirable effort have been made to standardize Chinese martial arts by various instructors and organizations in the U.S. My personal belief is that until quality and purposeful training programs in Chinese martial arts are instituted and made abundant in the U.S. market, standardization will be meaningless and the current market will continue to nudge instructors to teach "Ninja Turtle" or "make-believe" styles of Chinese martial arts.
To Fight and To Dance
Written by: Wang Laisheng
One of the most respected Chinese fighters, the late Wan Laisheng, writes about the essence of Wushu. Wan Laisheng (1902-1992) was born in Hubei province. Graduated from Beijing National Agricultural University (Forestry department) and worked as an assistant professor at the same institution. Wan Laisheng was well know for his ability as a fighter, although he also had vast knowledge in medicine and literature. Wan Laisheng was a third generation Ziranmen disciple of the famous Du Xinwu. In 1946 he moved to Fujian province where he lived until he died, at the age of 91. This article was written by Wan Laisheng, translated from the book "Military teaching of Wushu" (Wushu Jiaofan), and published in 2003 by the Shanxi Scientific Publishing House. To Hit and to Dance (1) Nowadays the martial arts community is discussing about the origins of Wushu, if in its early beginning it stressed "fighting" or "dancing". I believe that our ancestors were concerned about selfdefense and self-preservation (resisting invaders) and that was the reason why they have developed empty-handed or armed (with stones, bones or weapons) fighting methods. In those ancient times Wushu wasn't invented as a method of exercise, wasn't invented as a way to keep people healthy, but rather as a way to provide people with a self-defense system so that they could survive; its main objective was "to fight". The so called "dancing" is just what I talked about in the last article: at times when a person is practicing this technique (Wushu) he/she could easily be impressed by its beautiful movements, thus paying more attention to them then he was really supposed to. If "fighting" is not among the elements that form Wushu, than what is being practiced is not martial anymore, is not Wushu. If a practitioner doesn’t know and understand the nature and the applications of every
movement he's executing, then even if he practices very hard for a long period of time (many years), he still won't be able to express the art of Wushu in it's purest form, "ingeniously using circular techniques" and "raising like a rabbit and descending like a Gu". (2) When Wushu is used to make a performance it isn't based on the regular dance standards that say that a movement needs to be beautiful. I am not saying that there is no Gongfu (3) in dancing, but rather that the difference between "Wushu" and "dancing" has to be very clear. The real Wushu is natural, "precisely penetrating and pure like the blue fire from a furnace", it shouldn't be something performed in an unnatural manner. Dancing has its value, it's own characteristics and people enjoy watching it, but Gongfu will always be Gongfu and (after all) dancing will always be dancing. "Fighting" is the essence of Wushu and "performing" is (just) one of its aspects. Fighting can't be separated of performing (4) but it is a kind of performance formed by fighting movements (and not by empty movements). All movements of Wushu are executed having in mind attacking or defending and even the acrobatic actions are executed in order to attack the opponent or to avoid his attack, they have a meaning and an objective. Continuous Wushu practice brings several benefits to a person, such as promoting and maintaining good health or increasing a person's enthusiasm for sports, but these benefits have to be acquired through practice that emphasizes martial eff iciency.
Notes: 1. In here the verbs "to hit" and "to dance" are expressing "To train for martial efficiency" or "to train only the movements without having any martial intention" 2. When writing, Chinese use a great number of "fixed" sentences that have one or more meanings. Sometimes these "structures" are composed of characters that express an idea rather than a fixed meaning and this is the case with the 2 structures above. "Ingeniously using circular techniques" means being able to use the fighting methods of a certain style in a very skilled way and "raising like a rabbit and descending like a Gu" means being able to move your body according to the "Shenfa" (body-methods, bio-mechanics) of a certain style. 3. "Gongfu" here means "virtue" and "achievement." 4. That is because there is a kind of beauty when Wushu is skillfully performed, a beauty that resembles dancing, but is different than dancing because Wushu has a martial essence.
Written by: Wang Laisheng Translated by: Tadzio G. Copyright © by Song Shi Xingyiquan All Right Reserved.
Wan Laisheng: China's Living Martial Arts Legend
The year was 1930, China was in a period of transition. With the founding of the Republic, China, formerly dominated by foreign rule, was abruptly thrown into the 20th century. Amid this backdrop of a society with 5,000 years of cultural traditions, the influences of the modern world gradually became apparent. The influences of the old and the new were everywhere, often merging, often contradictory. In Hebei province, a young master named Wan Laisheng had been invited to teach at the Hebei Province school of wushu. His young age and allegedly high level of skill made him very controversial and many opponents came to challenge him. One day in the main practice hall several students were training as a solitary figure dre ssed in monk’s garb appeared. “I am looking for Wan Laisheng,” said the monk, “the young master who wrote this book of wushu.” The monk was impressive. He stood well over six feet, taller than most Chinese, and he carried traditional chanzhang or “monk’s spade.”
Even at this time there were few such remaining individuals, anachronisms from a past in a quickly changing world. “Tell him I have traveled a long way from Hunan to meet him. I have read his book
and I am interested in discussing martial arts with him.”
As he spoke he cast his changzhang, which weighed well over 100 pounds, into the floor of the practice hall. The blade easily penetrated and the changzhang stood upright. The students became uneasy, knowing that the monk, despite his polite language, was dead serious to fight. Master Wan Laisheng appeared. He was tall, thin, and rather young in appearance. He looked more like a student than a master. The monk smiled and said, “Brother Wan, you appear even younger
than I thought. I have come all the way from Henan after reading your book. It is hard for me to believe that one so young as yourself possesses so great a reputation. I would like to taste your socalled ‘natural style.” Master Wan recognized the challenge. “What would you care to use, empty hands or weapons?” The monk answered, “I have my weapon as you can see,” as he pointed to his changzhang. “And what weapon will you use, brother Wan?” “I won’t use a weapon as I think you can get more of a taste of my natural style without it.” “Very well,” said the monk as he smiled and pulled his changzhang from the floor of the practice hall.
Master Wan stood about nine feet away and the monk thought he would use one of his favorite techniques, “steel ox plowing the earth.” In this technique the flat b lade of the changzhang is
scooped from the ground with the intent of striking the legs of the opponent. If the opponent jumps he is struck in the air as the weapon is raised higher. Before the monk could get off his attack, master Wan had already jumped into the air and kicked him in the acupoint between the eyes. The monk lost consciousness and fell to the ground. Several moments later he awoke somewhat dazed and saw master Wan standing over him. “Are you alright?” asked master Wan as he helped him to his feet. “I think so, Master Wan, thank you for
showing me your skill. I recognize you could have easily killed me and you did not even use all of your power. I have fought many individuals and have never lost. You are indeed a formidable boxer.”
This is one famous story about my first teacher, master Wan Laisheng. Master Wan Laisheng has become a legend in his own name. Alive today at 88 years, he remains an impressive example of the Daoist martial arts tradition. Master Wan was born in Hebei province and presently resides in Fuzhou City, Fujien Province, South China, where he has lived for over 50 years. He is the thirdgeneration master of “ziranmen” or Daoist “natural style.”
From its inception there have been only four generations. Until master Wan the system was passed from one master to a single student. All of the fourth-generation practitioners are students of master Wan. Because of its singular lineage, few people know much about his system, but if you mention my master’s name in China he is well -known to many martial arts teachers and st udents.
The First Master The first master of ziranmen system was master Xu. Because he was very short he was called “Xu Ai Zhai” or “short person” Xu. Little is known of him other than he came from the Daoist martial a rts
tradition. The second-generation master was Du Xing Wu. He, on the contrary, is well-known in China as he was a bodyguard of Sun Yatsen, the first president of the Chinese Republic. In China he was often called “Nan Bei Da Xia,” which may be translated as “Great Hero of the North and South.”
Master Du was known to be a formidable fighter and practitioner of qi gong, capable of almost miraculous feats. Although he was famous, his only student was master Wan Laisheng. Master Wan began his martial arts career at the age of 17 while a student at the Beijing Agricultural University. As this was the “New China,” master Wan’s family wanted him to pursue a more modern
education and he was sent to Beijing to the university. Master Wan was an intelligent boy and a good student but he was also exceedingly strong. He had become interested in martial arts at a young age but his academic pursuits prevented him from devoting any time to study. With the founding of the Chinese Republic, many Western concepts were applied to education and a department of physical education had been established at the university where martial arts training was offered. Master Wan began training under master Zhao, a practitioner of the liuhumen or “six harmonies gait style” of the Shaolin system. Master Zhao was also the director of “Qien Ei Wei,” the
National Security Police in Beijing. Master Zhao was impressed with the boy, who was intelligent and learned quickly. Meeting Master Du As master Wan was both flexible and strong, he rapidly progressed in his training. Master Zhao took a liking to master Wan and often discussed Chinese martial arts with him. Although master Du did not take students, master Zhao felt that it would be in the boy’s interest to meet him. Master Wan was subsequently instructed to go to master Du’s home and introduce himself as a student of master Zhao. By this time master Wan knew of master Du’s fame and upon meeting him begged him
to teach him. Master Du smiled and replied that he must be mistaken. He did not know anything about martial arts and master Wan must find someone else. Master Wan was perplexed. He returned to master Zhao and explained to him what had happened. Master Zhao smiled, “He is a great master but he was just testing you. A superior master often
professes to knowing nothing. It is a sign of his humility. Until now I know he has never had a student, but if you can study with him you will be very lucky. Try to meet him again.”
Master Wan was persistent and returned to visit master Du many times. Perhaps because master Du recognized master Wan’s potential and his sincerity, he agreed to accept him as a student. As he put it, “I was my master’s only student and you will be the first and last of my students.” Master Wan
studied with master Du for seven years. After completing his training master Wan won the first AllChina full-contact tournament in Nanjing. Not o nly was he the first winner but he remains one of the few living participants. The tournament was discontinued in the mid-1930s since there were many deaths. No equipment was worn and the rules were very loose. The Natural Style What master Wan learned from master Du is called the ziranmen or natural style. The ziranmen is a complete internal system in the Daoist tradition with both open hand and weapons training. The key is training internal power.
By training internal power, external power will become strong. The legs are trained by walking the circle using lower and lower stances. The walki ng is similar to bagua (paqua) zhang training, however the stepping and weighting is different. This type of leg training gives the student a stronger rooting. Master Wan could do many of his forms below the height of a table top as his legs were strong and his stance low. The arm and hands are trained by wearing heavy metal rings on each arm while performing a series of hand technique drills. There are no forms in the ziranmen system but there are many techniques, as well as a comprehensive system of qi gong. The emphasis in the system is on softness and speed. A one’s root becomes lower, one’s strength and qi become greater. The
impact of a blow to an opponent is somewhat like a steel rid or spring. Many physical changes also begin to occur with several years of practice. The skin becomes smoother and the muscles softer. The joints become more flexible and the eyes appear peaceful except during a fight when they become fierce and penetrating. In 1928 master Wan wrote the book, Wushu Hue Zung, which may be translated as, The Essential Focus of Chinese Martial Arts. This book is regarded as one of the most important modern texts devoted to Chinese martial arts, and remains in print today. In this book he wrote about the difference between internal and external systems, the training techniques of ziranmen and its relationship to Daoism. He also explained how various systems of wushu developed different kinds of energy and strategies in combat. He often quoted master Du. “The natural style is always moving
and never stops. You cannot find a beginning or an end. There are an infinite number of changes a negative and positive causing the boxer to become at one with the Dao.”
The Five Tigers Although Master Wan’s most famous teacher was master Du Xing Wu, master Wan studied wushu,
qi gong and traditional Chinese medicine with more than ten other Daoist masters. Thanks to his championship, his book and subsequent triumphs over many challengers, master Wan became wellknown in martial arts circles throughout China. He was invited to head a new academy of wushu in Guanzhou province. Since Guanzhou has a long tradition of martial arts, this was considered an affront by many of the local masters; master Wan was an outsider from the north. With master Wan’s arrival in Guanzhou the construction of the school had halted because of many threats by
martial arts practitioners. Master Wan issued an open challenge to any and all who cared to dispute whether the school should open. For two months challengers came on almost a daily basis. All were defeated and when no one else stepped forward, the construction of the school was completed. Master Wan later became known as one of the “Five Tigers,” a name given to five northern masters
who came to teach in the south in the 1930s. During World War II master Wan trained soldiers in hand-to-hand combat, and was accorded the rank of general. He also was the bodyguard of Fujien’s governor. And as one trained in Chinese
medicine, he helped many regain their health. Although he took money from those who could afford it, he always gave it away to those who needed it. For this reason he was greatly loved by the common people. Because of his fame and good reputation among the people, master Wan weathered the Communist Revolution and became the chief judge of the first All-China Wushu Competition on 1952. He remained a professor of wushu at Fujien Agricultural University until his retirement before the Cultural Revolution. Like many other traditionally trained masters, he was imprisoned during the
Cultural Revolution. Although he was already in his mid-60s, his strength and vitality helped him survive imprisonment and torture. After his release he returned to Fuzhou City where I became an indoor student. Recently master Wan was the subject of the cover article in Wushu Jianshen magazine, the most well-known martial arts magazine in China. Even at 88, he continues to be regarded as one of China’s most important
national treasures. About the authors: Nan Lu began his study of martial arts at the age of seven. His first master was Wan Laisheng. He lives in New York and teaches Daoist qi gong and internal martial arts. Bob Feldman is an orthopedic surgeon who has been involved in the study of Chinese martial arts for the past 20 years. Featured in Inside Kung-Fu, Page 67, July 1991.
Du Xinwu: A Legendary Wushu Hero
Du Xinwu (1869-1955), a wushu master of nationwide renown, is said to have once served as a bodyguard to Dr. Sun Yat-sen, leader of the Chinese Revolution of 1911. Many stories, either true or fictitious, have been told about his superhuman abilities and chivalrous exploits. Here is one narrated by Wan Tianshi, a close friend of Du's. Although here and there tinged with exaggeration and mysticism, as is characteristic of all legends about popular historical figures, it brings out the image of a noble-minded wushu maestro in old China. To the northwest of Cili County in the northwestern corner of Human Province, the high mountains rise one above another, with sheer cliffs and deep ravines here, there and everywhere. In one of the ravines lies Yanbantian Village. It was here that the renowned wushu master Du Xinwu was born in 1869, the eighth year of the reign of Emperor Tong Zhi in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Close to Guizhou and Sichuan provinces to its west, Cili County was where several minority nationalities lived. What with the corrupt and incompetent rule of the Qing government and the exploitation of the landlords, the people there could barely eke out a living. What was worse was that the place and its surrounding areas were infested with brigands. To protect themselves, the villagers took up wushu, which became so popular that both the old, and the young could wield the sword, spear or other weapons with great skill and dexterity. It was in these circumstances that Du Xinwu grew up. His father died soon after his birth, and so his mother had to shoulder all the household burdens. His bitter experience in life during his early years made him a precocious boy with a strong personality. Teachers of Supernatural Skills Du Xinwu started learning wushu after school at the age of six and had picked up some of the fundamentals by nine. One day when he was walking hurriedly to school along a narrow ridge in the paddy fields, he saw an old man in front of him. Since only one man could pass at a time, he called out: "Grand Uncle, can't you walk faster? I'm in a hurry." "If you want to get ahead, hold my braid tight. And remember, don't relax your grip." The old man said this without even turning his head. No
sooner said than done, the old man lifted Du Xinwu with his braid and, with a slight jerk of his head, landed the boy on the ridge in front of himself. Impressed by the old man's feat, Du stood there transfixed with amazement. "Why don't you move on" the old man asked, "You were in such a hurry just a minute ago." "I want to learn wushu from you," the boy pleaded. "Please take me on as your pupil." With that he knelt down before the old man, but because the ridge was too narrow, he fell into the paddy field instead. Moved by the boy's sincerity, the old man quickly helped him up and consented to teach him. The old man was called Yan Ke. He was well versed in the Chinese classics as well as in wushu, and his braid served him as a weapon with the force of a bludgeon. For all his learning and abilities, he chose to live in obscurity rather than seek a high official post in the corrupt government. As he lived not too far away, Du Xinwu went every day to the old master's house to learn the classics and wushu from him. Within a year Du had made remarkable progress, and no one of his age in the vi llage could match his prowess physically or intellectually. As Yan Ke was advanced in years, his health gradually failed. So on the occasion of the Double Ninth Festival (9th day of the 9th month by the lunar calendar) that year, the traditional day on which young people in China go climbing mountains, he told Du to follow the other kids to the nearby Mt. Gaizi which, he said, was an "interesting and mysterious place." The mountain was not famous, but its scenery was quite beautiful, with tall and straight pines and cypresses growing among boulders of different shapes and camphor trees and red maples lining the winding paths and on the fringes of the cascades. The kids were romping on the mountainside when they came in sight of a building surrounded by a high wall covered with moss. Filled with curiosity, they walked around it but could not find a gate. They were greatly puzzled, but few cared to fathom the reason fo5r it. Soon they dispersed in different directions in quest of new adventures. But Du remained behind, remembering his master's words about an "interesting and mysterious place." Then he saw a person jump out from the other side of the wall and land in front of him. The stranger was a Taoist priest in a long robe, with his hair coiled on the top of his head. Du walked up deferentially and tugged at his long sleeve. "Are you a celestial?" he asked. Startled at being so addressed, the priest answered haltingly, "I...I'm just a mortal, a vegetarian, if that means anything to you." But the little boy was not to be so easily dismissed. He pressed on. "If you are not an immortal, how could you leap over that high wall?" "Well kid, I've acquired the skill after long years of training," the priest replied with a smile. "It's not difficult if you keep practising. Practise makes perfect, you know." "Can I do it?" Sizing him up, the priest answered: "Where there is a will, there is a way." Beside himself with joy, Du went down on his knees and kowtowed, saying "Please accept me as your pupil." "You are Du Xinwu from Yanbantian Village, aren't you?" "Yes, but how do you know my name?" "Your teacher Yan Ke told me." Seeing that the boy was eager to learn, the priest willingly accepted him. Looking at the high wall, Du asked how he could get in. "It's easy," the priest said. "Just call me when you come, and I'll carry you in and out over the wall. You'll be able to jump over it yourself later on." "But my home is so far away," Du said, "can't I live here?"
Patting him on the shoulder, the priest pointed at the green mountains and said: "Do you know the proverb that a thousand-li journey starts with the first step? Get up early in the morning and trot all the way here every day. And, remember, don't eat anything. I have spring water and wild fruits here for you. Later you'll understand the importance of taking the first step." A Bloody Nose The old priest was an exceptionally skilled wushu master. Among other things, he could sail effortlessly over high obstacles as if his body were as light as a swallow. He had two spiral cones of iron, each weighing 20kg. Wherever he went, he would take them along, one in each hand, rubbing and pressing them with his fingers incessantly. As time went by, the shape of these objects changed beyond recognition and his hands and fingers were roughened into iron claws. One day, while Du was practising wushu behind the wall, a stranger, speaking in a northern dialect, suddenly jumped into the enclose and, speaking in a northern dialect, asked for the priest. Du went into the building to report the arrival of the guest. Annoyed by someone interrupting his period of meditation, the priest walked slowly to the courtyard and saw a tough fellow in his 40s. Judging by his attire and bellicose look, the host figured that he was most probably an outlaw who had come with malicious intent. He politely greeted the stranger but was peremptorily cut short. "Your castrated priest," the intruder said haughtily, "I've come to challenge you to a trial of strength." Unperturbed the priest said patiently: "I'm a monk and cherish benevolence. I'm sorry if I've in any way offended you." "Bullshit!" the man shouted. Without saying another word, he struck at the priest's head in the manner of a "tier washing its face." The priest dodged with a "sparrow hawk's sidespin." Discerning the ruffian's superb wushu techniques of the Shaolin school, he cautioned himself to be on the alert. "We bear no grudge against each other," the priest said in a controlled voice, "why should we fight?" "I hear you have supernatural skills," bellowed the stranger, "and no one can match you. Now I'd like to see what stuff you are really made of." With this he hit out another classic trick called "grabbing the sun with both fists." Enraged by his big talk and aggressiveness, the priest decided to teach the man a lesson. Dodging the unexpected onslaught, he feinted with the posture of "scooping up the moon from the bottom of the sea." Mistaking this to be an attack, the stranger immediately sprang up so as to "press down with the weight of Mt. Taishan." With lightning speed the priest turned round and reached out his right hand in a gesture of "dispelling the clouds to pluck the star." Instantaneously blood gushed out from the man's face. With a shrill cry, he fell over himself and rolled on the ground with pain as he covered his face with one hand. Then he sprang up and jumped over the wall as the old priest looked on nonchalantly, without even bothering to go after him. Then he threw something to the ground contemptuously. It was the stranger's bloody nose! All the while Du Xinwu had been watching with deep admiration at his master's valour. But the old priest felt sorry that he had been forced to inflict injury on someone. "I've broken my vow not to hurt others," he said to the boy. "It'd have been better just to help him realize his mistakes and mend his ways than to hurt him. He must be a brigand who wants to occupy this hill. I'm not afraid of him and his gang, but they might hurt you if I remain here. So I'll leave here tomorrow on a tour of the country. You must keep on practising every day. Please say goodbye for me to your teacher Yan Ke." The old master left the next day and was never seen again.
A few days later, the man who had lost his nose came at night with a number of bandits to take revenge. When they could not find the old priest, set fire to the building to give vent to their anger. In Search of a Tutor After his master Yan Ke died of illness, Du Xinwu kept on practising wushu by himself and when he was 13, he could not find his match for miles around. Eager to further improve his skills, he put up posters at market places with the following message: "Du Xinwu, 13, Yanbantian Village, will recognize anyone who can beat him in a bout of wushu as his master." The first one to come for a trial was a master of the low stance style of tuquan boxing. However, the boy told him bluntly that he had no chance whatsoever. "Don't brag, kid. Look at these," he said, brandishing his two fists the size of two big bowls. "Big enough to pommel you to smithereens, you see!" Taking a step forward, the tuquan master flung his fists at his young opponent. Diminutive as his build was, the boy held his ground, quickly bent his left leg a bit and swept his right leg sideways, sending the tuquan master sprawling on the ground. The boy helped him to his feet, gave him some traveling expenses and sent him away. After that, several others came to measure their strength with the boy, but all proved to be no match for him. Then one day a certain person named Wang came to the village. He had learnt wushu in the famous Shaolin Temple in Songshan, Henan Province, and had a good command of the art. When he was told about Du Xinwu's exploits, he decided to look the boy up, confident that he could by all means beat this "teeny brat." Seeing that the newcomer was no ordinary wushu master, the boy said politely: "I'm just learning wushu. I put up the posters because I'm anxious to find a teacher. Would you please show me some of your skills?" Wang agreed and performed a set of wuzhanquan (FiveBout Boxing). After giving the demonstration, he in turn asked Du Xinwu to give a performance of what he had learnt. The boy complied and executed some basic routines. Wang praised him but pointed out that some of his movements still needed to be improved. "He must be good. I should ask him to be my teacher," Du said to himself and knelt down before the newcomer. "Get up, kid," said Wang after a short pause. "I can't stay here, but I have a man in mind for you -- an eccentric short fellow but a suitable teacher for you. Be sure to treat him nicely when he comes." Half a year later, the said eccentric came with a letter from Wang. His surname was Xu. There was nothing particular about him except that he was rather short. "Can such a dwarf be my teacher?" Du wondered. Xu came from Guizhou Province. Since no one knew what his real name was, he was just called Shorty Xu by others. It was only out of respect for Wang that the boy invited Xu to stay in his house. Several days passed, but Xu didn't make any move. The boy couldn't help asking: "Won't you teach me something?" "I'm just an ordinary man, what can I teach?" Xu snapped back. Remembering Wang's instruction that he must not offend the newcomer, the boy dared not press further. Then another fortnight passed and still nothing happened. Getting impatient, the boy approached Xu again. "I'm not a street performer," Xu said angrily, "and I don't have anything to show you. If you won't let me stay here, I'll leave right away." Afraid that he really meant it, Du quickly offered his apologies. The boy practised every day by himself while Xu sat on the threshold, looking on absently without saying a word.
Half a year passed in this way and still nothing happened. His patience exhausted, the boy knelt down before Xu and pleaded: "Great master, forgive me if I have offended you. Please teach me wushu. I'll never forget you if I can make any improvement." This time Xu didn't get mad, but motioned the boy to get up. "All right," he said as he tapped his small-bowled long-stemmed tobacco pipe. "Let's start with the inner-circle walk of ziranmen. Du was first taught to walk in circles on level ground, with his pace increasing gradually. Then he was taught to walk on stakes fixed on the ground in the shape of a plum flower, with a 5kg sandbag tied to each leg. "Ziranmen calls for the exercise of qi (vital energy), Xu told him. "To practise it you must always remain relaxed as you walk on the stakes. While you breathe, let your qi sink into your abdomen." Three months later, the sandbags' weight was doubled, and Du made remarkable progress. He could now guide the circulation of qi with his mind and exert strength with its help. The training, however, was very tedious and he was fed up with the endless repetitions of circle-walking. So he asked Xu to teach him something new. His master reproved him for his impatience and said: "The exercise is very important. It coordinates the body movements and footwork with the mind and qi, thus laying a foundation for further training. You should master it first before proceeding to acquire greater skills." Du stared at his master, somewhat unconvinced. Reading his pupil's mind, Xu said: "If you don't believe me, you may tray a bout with me." "How?" Du asked, beaming with joy. He had long wished to see how good his master was. Now that Xu had suggested a bout, he was only too glad to do his bidding. "Try to hit me." Du cupped his hands and made a traditional courtesy before darting forward to strike Xu on the head as fiercely as a tiger rushing down a mountainside. For all his speed and force, Du's fists slipped off as soon as they touched Xu's body. Then using the inner-circle footwork, he dealt Xu more blows, only to find them going wide of the mark. Charging at Xu for all he was worth, Du still failed to hit his elusive master. Sweating all over, Du made a mess of his footwork and was at a loss for better methods of attack. "Your fists are too small," Xu teased the boy smilingly. "Go and get a weapon to hit me with." Wiping off the sweat on his face, the panting pupil took out two sharp swords and asked his master to choose one. "I don't need any," said Xu. "This pipe of mine is more than enough for me." Looking at Xu's pipe, which was less than a foot long, Du said apprehensively: "Master... what if anything happens?" "Don't worry. Neither swords nor spears can do me any harm. Just try your best to cut me," Xu said in an assuring tone. After taking a a steady stance, Du let out a cry and made straight for his master's head. The steel blade flashed in the sunlight and fell on the square table where Xu had been sitting, splitting it at the middle. When Du turned his head, he saw his master squatting on a stool nearby, puffing at his pipe as if nothing had happened. Xinwu swept his sword sideways several times, only to find his master still on the stool unmoved. Then he charged without ceremony, wielding his sword high and low, right and left. When he stopped to have a look, he was surprised to see Xu still perched on the stool, lighting a second bowl of his tobacco pipe. Throwing the sword on the ground, Du went down on his knees before his master, kowtowed three times and said, "Now I understand it is qinggong (lightbody technique) that has enabled you to dodge my sword." Xu nodded approvingly.
From that day on, Du paid more attention to the fundamentals of wushu and practised "inner-circles walking" with a single mind. Then he proceeded to practise qinggong. Xu first gave a demonstration. With sandbags heavier than his own weight tied to his four limbs, Xu leaped lightly on to the top of three tables piled one upon the other, walked along the edges of the top table and then jumped down to the ground without a sound. Under X u's watchful eye, Du trained all the y ear round without a letup. In this way his movements and skills improved remarkably with time. A Dangerous Mischief It was in the year 1885 when Du was already 16. Thinking that his pupil had grown relatively mature in the martial arts and needed to see more of the world, Master Xu decided to take him on a tour of the adjacent Guizhou and Sichuan provinces. At that time there were no highways leading to these parts of the country and one had to travel on foot over the rugged land. The master had no difficulty trekking on the tortuous trails and he always had to wait for the boy to catch up with him. One day they came to a deep ravine spanned by an iron-chain suspension bridge. The boy was picking his steps cautiously behind his master when an idea suddenly occurred to him. "Nobody can approach my master in the front," he thought in a playful mood. "Let me see how he'll react if I feint an attack from behind," So he stole up and made ready to give a kick on his master's buttocks. But so sooner had he raised his leg than Xu swung around and caught it. "You naughty boy!" the master shouted, letting go his grip. "This is no place for you to fool around. You'll dash to pieces if you fall down the ravine from the slippery planks!" When they reached the opposite bank and sat down for a rest, Du told his master what he had in mind. "Never do such a stupid thing again," Master Xu admonished him in a stern yet kindly voice. "A real wushu master never attacks others on the sly." The boy nodded in embarrassment, almost on the verge of tears. After a short silence, he waxed inquisitive and raised the question. "But how did you know when I gave the faint attack? You haven't got eyes on the back of your head!" "It's the combination of yi (mind_ and qi, obtained after long years of practice, that did it," said the master. "Among other things, it fosters a quick reflex, which makes you highly sensitive and enables you to react with speed to anything that happens around you. This is what you lack. You must train hard to acquire it." Powerful Legs Du Xinwu benefited greatly from his sightseeing trips in the company of Master Xu and from his visits to renowned wushu masters. His knowledge was enriched and his horizon broadened. Then one day his master decided to part with Du and leave for North China to visit his old friends. "You have made great progress in your wushu techniques and I think you can hold your own against adversaries," said Xu to his pupil. "But don't think what I have taught you is the acme of wushu skills. You still need to learn from the strong points of others. And always remain modest, for complacency will get you nowhere. Be honest and fair, and always think twice before you do anything." Du was left alone in a strange land, with no one to turn to for help or guidance. As he began to run short of money, he decided to find a job at one of the armed escort service centres. At that time, robbers were rampant, and the travellers and merchants' caravans needed armed escorts to protect them when they travelled across the mountainous regions. As Sichuan was an important commercial centre and a gateway to the vast southwestern parts of China, the escort service centres did brisk business in the area.
Du now had a rustic and skinny look resulting from a rough outdoor life during his travels with his master. So when he applied for a post at one of the escort service centres, the boss there didn't take him seriously. "Excuse me, can't we have a trial of strength?" Du plucked up courage to make the suggestion. Piqued by the boy's challenge, the boss who was a tough guy led Du to a training ground and asked him to show what he had up his sleeves. After making a courteous gesture, Du bent downward and with a powerful sweep of his leg sent the boss reeling to the ground. Hardly had the boss struggled to his feet when Du brought him down again with another sweeping movement of his leg. Du's powerful and swift movements quite amazed the boss. Knowing that he would be relentlessly knocked down again if he tried to get up, the boss just sat on the ground and said: "Oh my, you have exceptionally powerful legs!" Du helped him up and apologized. "It's all right," the boss said. "As the saying goes, people get to know each other after a fight. I wouldn't know how good you are if you hadn't demonstrated your skills." "Can I get a job?" asked Du. "Of course." So Du Xinwu became the youngest yet strongest guard at that escort service centre. The First Mission Du's first assignment was to escort several merchants with ten pack mules carrying goods from Sichuan to Yunnan Province. That was in the year1887 when he was 18. All the way he was very cautious not only because this was his first mi ssion but also because his service centre would be held responsible if there were any mishaps. When they came to the mountainous area on the borders between Guizhou and Yunnan, he sometimes rode in the rear to protect the caravan and sometimes moved up to the front to open the way. One day they came to a cliff with pines overhanging the deep gully below. As the going was getting pretty tough, they stopped for a rest. But when Du leaned forward to look at the path down below, a robber jumped out from behind a rock and rushed towards him with a dagger in his hand. With his back to the sheer cliff, there was no retreat for him. Taking a deep breath, he quickly dodged the blow and ran his head into the robber's crotch. Then he straightened up and with a jerk of his shoulders hurled the robber headlong down the abyss. It all happened in the twinkling of an eye. The rumbling of the falling rocks along with the boy scared away the other robbers hiding behind the nearby rocks. The merchants reached their destination safe and sound. Du's successful fulfillment of his first assignment enhanced his prestige and the clients hired him again on their return trip. One evening, the caravan stopped at a village and the merchants put up in an inn near a hill facing a river. The innkeeper's wife, a gaudily dressed middle-aged woman, was rather coquettish and the attendants, too, were a bit sly and queer in their behaviour. This aroused Du's suspicion. As it was already dark, there was no choice but to stay for the night. When the others had gone to sleep, Du put out the light in his room and, instead of going to bed, sat on a chair, prepared for any contingency. He was dozing off in the small hours when he heard someone prying open the window and saw the flash of a sword in the dim moonlight. Then the housebreaker crossed the windowsill and tiptoed down into the room. Before he had collected himself, Du sprang forward and gave him a powerful kick. Pinning him down on the floor and grabbing the sword from his hand, Du kept a stranglehold on his throat and roared: "Who are you? Who sent you here?" His loud voice woke up the whole inn. When the innkeeper came he put on an innocent and angry look and slapped the
intruder on the face, cursing: "You rascal! How dare you do such a thing!" Then he apologized for the unpleasant incident. The inn was in fact a robbers' den and the boss was their ringleader. He had sent one of his thugs to kill the escort. If he should succeed, they would kill all the merchants and seize their money and goods. If he failed, the boss would intervene and stave off complete exposure with a few casual remarks. Now that the boss had apologized, Du didn't want to aggravate the situation and was content to drop the matter as long as they would not give further trouble. When Du released his grip, the thug had already fainted away. He dropped to the ground, with his face turned pale and saliva oozing out of his mouth. Outwitting the Bandits Du Xinwu's reputation as a super wushu master soon spread throughout southwest China. The robbers fought shy of the caravans when they knew he was escorting them. One day he was travelling alone on his way back to Sichuan after fulfilling an assignment, when he saw a small newlybuilt thatched house on a hillside. He walked up to have a closer look and found that it was a new inn run by a notorious robber by the name of Li Laoda. On learning that the guest was no other than Du Xinwu, Li rose to greet him and invite him to his own room. The bandit was aware that if he could overcome this peerless wushu master, no one could challenge his dominant position in that region. "Would you like to see something?" He asked Du suddenly. Wondering what the robber really meant, Du said casually: "I don't mind." Rising from his seat, Li seized one end of the bed with a single hand and moved it away effortlessly to reveal a wooden lid underneath. Struck by his unusual physical strength, Du judged that he must be a real master of qigong. When the bandit tilted over the lid with his foot, the stench of blood assailed Du's nostrils. Simulating indifference, Su asked what was inside. He was told that there was a dungeon below and that stupid swine who refused to comply were thrown in there to rot. Replacing the lid, Li clapped his hands and several young women filed into the room. Dressed differently, they all looked sad and depressed, telltale signs that they had been abducted by the bandits. Pointing at the girls, Li asked Du to choose anyone he liked. "If any of you should dare to disobey my orders," he said to the women, "I'll throw her into the dungeon to feed the poisonous snakes." Du could hardly restrain his anger, but when he saw that there were several big and strong guys in the inn, he decided to outwit them and wait for the opportune moment to act. So he pointed at one of the women at random. Li quickly pushed the woman into Du's arms, which drew a roar of laughter from the thugs standing in the doorway. Du led the woman to his room and, having made sure that there was no one eaves-dropping outside, he whispered to her to keep calm. Full of gratitude, the frightened woman fell to her knees, but he told her to go to sleep while he sat up all night, full ready for any eventuality. The next morning, Du thanked Li for his hospitality and expressed his wish to be Li's sworn brother. Li was only too happy to agree to this proposal. Du threw a party that evening to celebrate the occasion. During the feast, which was attended by all the bandits in the inn, Du toasted the health of his "sworn brother" again and again until he and his thugs became dead drunk. He then went back to his room to fetch an ancient sword and pretended to show it to Li Being in his cups, Li mistook it for something nice to eat. As he craned his neck to have a taste, Du lifted the sward and slit his throat. The notorious robber fell down dead on the floor without even uttering a cry. Then Du turned to give the other eight drunk bandits a knock on the head to made sure that they would not come to
for sometime He took a bunch of keys from Li's pocket, opened the room in which six women were locked, and told them to find some ropes to tie the bandits' hands. After locking up the bandits in a room, Du searched the inn, found all the money and jewelry which the bandits had plundered, and distributed them to the women to cover their travelling expenses back home. Having escorted the women to a town from where they would each go their own way, Du went to the county magistrate to report the death of Li Laoda and the capture of eight bandits. His story seemed to be too good to be true for the county officials had for years failed to capture Li's gang. The magistrate wanted to reward Du for ridding the area of a scandalous outlaw, but Du declined and set off for Sichuan Province. During the years when he served as an escort, Du Xinwu had encountered many distasteful phenomena, which changed his outlook: the corrupt officialdom, the deceit of the merchants, the illegal drug traffic, and the rivalry among the escorts themselves.... While his exploits overawed the robbers, his honesty and success alienated him from some of his colleagues. Embittered by all this, he gave up his post as an escort and returned to his home village in Hunan Province. From Martial Arts of China presents Grandmasters , Page 30