Training the Mind as Well as the Body
A Rare Treasure
Life History: 1905-1986 Hua Hu Feh (The Fancy Butterfly)
Training: Ch'ang Fen Yen; Discipline, Patience, and Perseverance
Art Forms: Not Only Shuai-Chiao
Shuai-Chiao: Styles, Techniques, and Principles
The Real Ch'ang Tung Shen
Ch'ang Shih Tai Chi Ch'uan: The Book
had a long established tradition of martial arts training. At the age of
12 he began his own training with the highly respected shuai-chiao
instructor, Ch'ang Fen Yen, who was the leading disciple of Pin Jin Yi.
Ch'ang became the number-one disciple of his teacher, eventually
marrying Ch'ang Fen Yen's daughter.
Ch'ang Fen Yen's teaching was
traditional and demanding. With him his young student practiced
diligently and seriously every day, beginning early a lifelong devotion
to shuai-chiao. Some of Ch'ang Fen Yen's teaching methods were unusual,
investing the tasks of everyday life with applications for shuai-chiao.
For example Ch'ang Fen Yen would often ask his young disciple to bring
water from the well near his home. This task involved turning a crank to
bring up the rope that held a bucket filled with water, then pouring the
water into a large container.
The instructor saw his pupil turning the
crank with both arms and then lifting the bucket with his arms to pour
the water. He told him that this ordinary way of drawing water was
inefficient and proceeded to demonstrate the proper method. He turned
the crank with one arm only. When the heavy bucket filled with water
reached beyond the edge of the well, he used his free arm to hold the
rope and his leg to maneuver the bucket so that the water flowed evenly
into the container.
Ch'ang practiced to duplicate his teacher's feat,
realizing the purpose was to improve his shuai-chiao technique. By
teaching his upper body and leg to move in a particular way in opposite
directions, he learned a move which was part of many shuai-chiao
techniques to destroy an opponent's balance.
In another instance Ch'ang
was able to develop extremely fast hands and arms and agile leg
technique through another menial task. Ch'ang Fen Yen liked to take long
walks in the countryside, bringing his favorite birds along in their
cages. The younger Ch'ang would sometimes accompany his teacher on these
walks and was not surprised when one day Ch'ang Fen Yen asked him to
catch some grasshoppers to feed his birds.
He complied and busily went
about chasing and capturing insects. His teacher promptly showed him
another way. He used his leg to sweep the grass which caused the
grasshoppers to jump suddenly in every direction and then moved his
whole body and used his quick hands to grab a fine meal for his birds.
Ch'ang Fen Yen had in fact used his favorite shuai-chiao techniques to
perform this task: tuei (scissoring leg), fan ti chien tuei
(overturning scissoring leg), and kao shen ti (hitting with the body).
Ch'ang Tung Sheng immediately understood the value of this task and was
determined to master those techniques.
To practice tsan (wrapping), a
technique in which the leg is used to control the opponent's leg, Ch'ang
would wrap his lower leg, ankle, and foot around a wooden pole with a
heavy stone attached (like a barbell with the weight on one end) and
drag the apparatus for some distance. Periodically he would lift the
whole apparatus in the air forward and backward with his leg. Ch'ang's
opponents could attest to the effectiveness of this training; when
Ch'ang applied his tsan technique, most opponents wanted only to sit
down and give up. That technique earned him one of his nicknames, Tsan
Fan Ch'ang ("Wrapping and Throwing" Ch'ang) at the time he paid his
first triumphant visit to Peking and defeated all his opponents.
Leg techniques in shuai-chiao often use the shin which is normally a
sensitive area of exposed bone. Conditioning the shin is a painful,
lengthy process, but Ch'ang persisted in his effort. Even as he rested,
Ch'ang found ways to improve his shuai-chiao. After a long day of
practice, he would sit down, and while resting, slap or move a
rolling-pin across his shins to condition the bone and tissues.
After a long day of
practice, Ch'ang would sit down and slap a
rolling-pin across his shins to condition the bone and tissues.
Tuai is a fundamental over-the-shoulder throwing technique in shuai-chiao.
Most practitioners do not realize that the head and neck are important
factors in the correct execution of this technique.
To help train these
parts of the body to control the movements, Ch'ang would tie around his
head a rope that had a heavy broom attached at the end. If he were
practicing the movement correctly, the broom would hit the ground loudly
as his upper torso arched downward, just as if he were throwing an
opponent over his shoulder - an opponent such as Bi Feng Ting, chief
instructor at the Central Government Martial Art Institute, whom Ch'ang
defeated with this technique when he began teaching there.
Free-sparring is another essential part of shuai-chiao training. Each time Ch'ang
was matched with an opponent under the guidance of his teacher, he would be
asked to explain what techniques he used and why, forcing him to analyze
his own movements and define the best strategy. Ch'ang Fen Yen's
teaching method in this respect was amazingly modern. It is no wonder he
produced such an eminent successor in Ch'ang Tung Sheng.
The mind as well as the body was trained so that shuai-chiao became not only a way
of moving but also a way of thought.
Ch'ang also searched everywhere to
find other shuai-chiao teachers. If he met or heard of a shuai-chiao
expert who was famous for a particular technique, he would try to find
him and study his technique.
For example, Ch'ang spent more than a year
working the bellows in a blacksmith shop assisting the proprietor, who
was well known for his special pulling and kicking technique chao wo
(penetrating the nest). Ch'ang never asked the blacksmith questions
about shuai-chiao and worked tirelessly. Finally his patience paid
off: The blacksmith decided to teach him his specialty.
These facts about Ch'ang's extensive training serve to illustrate his total dedication to
kung fu. Every aspect of his life reflects his compete immersion in
shuai-chiao and his deep respect for the art and his teacher.
In China an expression says that learning is a lifelong process; Ch'ang
exemplified this precept. The training he went through developed not
only his physical abilities but also his spirit, teaching him the
virtues of discipline, patience, and perseverance.
The traditional way
may be more difficult than most, but the results are more substantial
and long lasting.