Sun, Feb 17, 2002 - Page 9 News List

Martial arts fight for survival

Thanks largely to the efforts of Wang Shu-chin, the martial art of forms of 'pa kua' and 'hsing yi' are still alive today


The master and his student sat privately in the master's study. The master spoke, saying, "my student, you must flee to the outlying island. The new regime is certain of victory and with their victory will come a time where our religion and our martial art will be suppressed. To ensure the survival of the martial arts I have passed on to you, I want you to leave this land and journey to the island. There, hopefully, the art I have transmitted to you will be preserved from the coming darkness."

Sounds like a kung fu novel or maybe a plot to a Star Wars movie? It was an actual event. The martial arts master was Zhang Zhao-dong (張兆東). His student was Wang Shu-chin (王樹金) and the island he referred to was Taiwan. It was 1949.

At the end of the Chinese Civil War, Taiwan became an important repository and conservatory of many aspects of Chinese culture such as painting, calligraphy, opera and traditional martial arts. In particular, Taiwan provided a refuge for practitioners of the three internal martial arts of tai chi chuan (太極拳), hsing yi chuan (形意拳) and pa kua chang (八卦掌).

Wang Shu-chin (1905-1981) was one of many martial arts masters who sought refuge in Taiwan following the Chinese Civil War. Over the years, the three internal martial arts that he brought with him have taken firm root in Taiwan and even expanded further to the US, Australia and beyond.

The internal martial arts that Wang Shu-chin practiced, tai chi, hsing yi and pa kua have a number of characteristics that link them together. They are each based in Taoist philosophy and emphasize the development and use of chi (氣), which is the term used in traditional Chinese medicine for the life force. The three internal martial arts seek to enhance the practitioner's overall mental, physical and spiritual state. These three martial arts can perhaps best be described as forms of moving meditation that, by their practice, give rise to martial ability.

Chi is central to the internal martial arts. It has been defined many ways and is an important part of many traditional Chinese arts. It is also an intrinsic part of traditional Chinese medicine. Scholars generally define it as the force or energy that animates all living things -- a kind of "elan vital." Chi has been likened to a flow of fluid or of electricity through the practitioner's body. Control and use of this energy is the goal of each of the three arts Wang brought to Taiwan.

These arts are referred to as "internal" because their training methods place an emphasis on the practitioner "looking inside" themselves and studying how their mind interacts with physical movements through breath and chi. Along with this is an emphasis on how their mind, breath and chi work together to create a very healthy, integrated individual.

But the arts are also extremely effective in combat, as revealed in many stories involving Wang Shu-chin. The source for most of the historical information about Wang is his student, Wang Fu-lai (王福來) who heads the Cheng Ming Chinese Martial Arts Association (中華武術誠明會) in Taichung.

According to him, Wang Shu-chin was born in 1904 as the sixth son in a family of farmers living in a village about 32km from Tianjin City in northern China. His older brothers were content to farm, but Wang wanted to be part of a bigger world. So, with his parent's permission, he left home when he was 14 years old and traveled to Tianjin seeking fame and fortune. There he found work as an apprentice in an international trading company.

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