Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The story of a street fighter

I find it amusing reading life stories of late martial art grandmasters, oftentimes written by their lineage students.  They were always praised as great street fighters (most recent stories including winning fights with Japanese martial artists or Russian "giants" who challenged the masters, sometimes "by surprise").  No wonder.  Like spiritual leaders seeking for an audience, such life stories are more polemic than historical.  Can't complain if one consider the masters' kind hearts in doing "whatever it takes" to spread their practice to fellow human beings.  I doubt how many of these grandmasters were truly good street fighters, because chances are that street fighters in the old days couldn't survive till old age, nor they would have patience to teach, nor rich students paying most would need to use the rough and tough (if not life-threatening, on both sides) techniques of street fighting.  I therefore suspect that more good street fighters ended up receiving the bullets in the Boxer Revolution than teaching students till old age in those days.

There was however at least one exception. I'm talking about the founding master of Ba Gua Zhang(八卦掌) Mr. Dong Hai Chuang (董海川)。 According to the writing of one lineage sifu (王振山), master Dong first learned street fighting from his beggar-gangster buddies.  Dong's brother's family was harassed and subsequently murdered by a rich and powerful local bully whose covetousness and lust being frustrated (which by the way was not uncommon in Dynasty China), in revenge Dong learned street fighting techniques and with the help of his buddies, killed the whole family of the bully.  Now a fugitive, Dong ran and hid for a better part of his youth, learning various martial arts in the process, including a period at a Taoist temple where he learned his stuff forming the core part of his practice, and (unavoidably) practicing his street fighting techniques to extricate himself from the chase, which by the way, can provide good materials for contemplation as to why a present day Ba Gua practitioner continues to move around in circles during practice!

Should master Dong continued with his fugitive life, he would probably die young and the world would have lost a great teacher.  Instead, Dong chose to settle down at age 30.  The only safe haven at that time was the Emperor's palace.  And in order to be able to work and live there as a male, there was only one option: to become a castrato.  Our master did his choice and he lived to an old age and taught many students.  So much so, Ba Gua Zhang has become one of three most important Chinese internal martial art forms. 

Ba Gua Zhang (八卦掌)

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