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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

Ch'ang's family 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.

Leg 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.

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.
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.

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.

Complete Learning

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.

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