BIOGRAPHY OF WANG ZHENGNAN
[also known in abridged form as 內家拳法 Boxing Methods of the Internal School]
by Huang Baijia
[translation by Paul Brennan, Aug, 2014]
Wang Zhengnan mastered two arts: boxing and archery. But although there have been many extraordinary archers throughout history, Wang was the best boxer.
Shaolin is the peak of refinement for the external arts. Zhang Sanfeng was a Shaolin expert, but he turned the art on its head and thereby created the internal school. Obtaining just a little bit of it is enough to defeat Shaolin. Wang Zhengnan learned it from Shan Sinan and was the only one of his students to obtain the entire curriculum.
When I was young, I did not train at all for the civil service exams, for I preferred doing things that were a little more extreme. Once I had heard about Wang’s fame, I bundled up some provisions and went to the village of Baozhuang to learn from him. Wang was extremely proprietorial toward his art and very picky about accepting students, but he was happy to take me in and teach me. (There were five kinds of people who he would never teach: those who are devious, those who love to fight, those who are addicted to booze, those who gossip, and those who are klutzy.) There was not enough space in his house, so he trained me instead at the neighboring Iron Buddha Temple.
His art has many colorfully named combat techniques, such as: Reaching Punch and Rolling Chop, Punch Across the Center to Each Side, Swinging an Elbow to Force the Door, Waving an Iron Fan Against the Wind, Letting Go of One Object to Fling Another Forward, Pushing an Elbow into the Crotch, Caving in with Your Chest to Pound His Ribs, Emperor Shun is Thrown into the Well, Cutting with Your Wrist to Attack His Joints, Sun Breaking Through Dawn Clouds, Dark Clouds Hiding the Moon, Ape Offers Fruit, Coil an Elbow in to Curl Up and Bump, Immortal Shows a Palm, Drawing a Bow in a Long Stance, Share an Embrace with the Moon, Left & Right Lifting a Rod, Sealing the Door With an Iron Bar, Hanging a Fish on a Branch, Filling the Stomach with Agony, Successive Arrows, Lifting Up a Gold Piece, Holding up a Writing Brush with Both Hands, Arhat Tumbles on the Ground, Pushing Open a Window with Both Hands, Leading a Sheep, Untangling a Rope, Swallow Tilts Up a Cheeks, Tiger Hides its Head, Wrapping All the Way Around the Waist, and so on.
There are many acupoint targets, such as: points which cause death, muteness, fainting, coughing, as well as the bladder, the “croaking toad”, the “jumping ape”, or Qu Chi [outer part of the bend at the elbow], Suo Hou [spot on the throat between the collar bones], Jie Yi [side of the jaw], He Gu [pit between thumb and forefinger], Nei Guan [inside of forearm near wrist], San Li [outside of forearm near elbow], among others.
There are many prohibitions against bad habits: do not be lazy, sluggish, or slouching, do not raise your shoulders, step like an old man, stick out your chest, stand too upright, pamper your legs, lift your elbows, sprain your fists, stick your butt out, bend at the waist, engage randomly, or put out both hands with the same reach.
The key principle is practice. Skill will only be achieved through practice. It is not necessary to seek for someone to copy, only to respond to opponents with whatever works, up or down, left or right, forward or back, and to notice the correct moment to engage.
There are thirty-five hand techniques to practice: chop, erase, shake, knock, bump, wrap, urge, wipe, hack, beat, wave, swing, deflect, slash, clap, cover, meet, cut, spread, carry, entwine, thrust, hook, pull, dazzle, replace, switch, contract, lift, overturn, crush, shoot, insert, peel, and dangle.
There are eighteen stepping techniques to practice: cushion step, rear cushion step, grinding step, racing step, scattering stance, crouching stance, stomping step, withdrawing step, horse-riding stance, high horse-riding stance, alignment stance, immortal’s stance, sideways-body step, turning-body step, chasing step, urgent step, diagonal step, and twisting-vine step.
These elements are all used within the Six Lines and the Ten Sections of Brocade, each recorded in verse. [The name “ten sections” is obviously not the same kind of thing as the “six lines” seeing it has twelve lines of verse. What exactly the “sections” are is a mystery.]
The Six Lines:
DIPPER POSTURE reaches out and locks up, turning you into a hero.
The THROUGH-THE-ARM punching posture of guardian gods is the highest skill.
IMMORTAL STANDS POINTING TO THE SKY.
Deflect aside and EMBRACE THE MOON, leaving none of it for others.
LIFTING A ROD makes it difficult for surrounding opponents to reach you.
CRUEL HAMMERING, THRUST & WRAP, then SWING BOTH WINGS.
The Ten Sections of Brocade:
BEGINNING POSTURE, TIGER SITS ON ITS MOUNTAIN.
TURN AROUND, THREE QUICK CHASING STEPS.
PROP UP TWO SABERS, WITHDRAWING STEPS.
ROLLING CHOPS WITH THREE ADVANCES AND RETREATS.
PUNCH ACROSS THE BODY TO EACH SIDE, TRIPLE PUNCHES.
PROP UP A SABER AND CHOP, RETURN TO BARRACKS.
TWISTED PUNCHES, GRINDING STEP, RESUME ORIGINAL POSTURE.
ROLLING CHOP, RETREAT TO FACE ORIGINAL DIRECTION.
ENTERING STEP, ADVANCING LIKE SLIPPING INTO A SHEATH.
ROLLING CHOP, JUMP BACK TO STARTING POINT.
GOLDEN ROOSTER STANDS ON ONE LEG, PULL THE BOWSTRING TAUT.
LEVEL HORSE-RIDING STANCE, LOOK TO BOTH SIDES.
Considering that these poems are obscure and brief, and therefore hard to hold in the mind, I have added detailed explanations for each of them so as to preserve the material for posterity:
The Six Lines in detail:
Your left arm hangs down, then thrusts upward in front of you with a fist, while your right arm, level and bent, goes outward. Both fists then point to each other to make the Dipper posture. The front of your right ankle is diagonally facing the back of your left ankle, making an alignment stance. Then your right hand, pointing with two fingers, goes forward from your left fist, which is now a hook hand, and then the hook goes out. This is the way to perform the technique of Untangling a Rope. Your right foot goes along with the movement of your right hand by hooking around in front of your left foot, then as the hook hand goes out, it makes a small stomp and you perform another alignment stance.
THROUGH-THE-ARM (another name for reaching punch):
Your right hand, starting out with its palm facing downward, sends out a reaching punch, your left hand bending in toward your chest. Then your left hand goes from below your right fist, also coming out as a reaching punch, your right hand bending in to your chest. Repeat this for a total of four punches. Your feet are in an alignment stance and go along with your reaching punches by pivoting side to side. Reaching punches should always be pointing as a vertical fist with the back of the hand slightly visible to you, for punching with the back of the hand facing outward [i.e. bending the wrist inward] is a bad habit that will lead to sprains.
IMMORTAL POINTS TO THE SKY:
Send your left reaching punch behind your right ear, then do a chop downward to the forward left and bring it back to your chest. Your left foot pivoting to the left, your right hand goes behind your right ear, then does a chop downward to the forward right and hooks upward, bracing the back of your left fist. Your right fist then turns inward in front of your nose as though pointing to the sky, your right heel scraping forward to be in front of you and turned outward, touching your left toes to make a T shape, or an “immortal’s stance”. Every stance should be squatted down. Standing straight up is a bad habit to be avoided. [i.e. Although this is a kind of feet-together position, your knees are still to be bent.]
EMBRACE THE MOON:
Your right foot takes a large scattering step to the right rear, your left foot goes along with the movement by pivoting to the right to make a horse-riding stance, and your fists point to each other, the fist centers facing downward, to make the posture of “embracing the moon”. Then twist forward, your hands returning to the Dipper posture, your feet returning to an alignment stance. Then do another four reaching punches and withdraw both fists to be crossed close in front of your chest, the backs of the fists facing outward, right arm outside, left arm inside, arms pressed to your ribs.
LIFTING A ROD:
Your feet twist you around to the rear, right foot in front, left foot behind. Then your right foot advances with a chasing step as your right hand goes from facing outward with the back of the hand to shooting out with the palm facing downward, the forearm straight across in front of you, the elbow level and bending the arm into a right angle. Your left hand is pulled back, withdrawn to your ribs. Then turn and do the same shooting action with your left hand as your left foot advances, the technique the same as on the right.
With your left arm bent in horizontally, palm facing downward, your right hand goes to the rear and comes inward to cover over your left palm [as it turns to be palm upward], your right foot going along with the movement of your right hand by advancing until behind your left foot.
THRUST & WRAP:
Your right hand does a vertical chop to the rear, your body turning around, your right foot going along with the movement by pivoting to the rear, your left foot lifted, and your left fist thrusts downward until touching the top of your left knee. You are in a high horse-riding stance. This is designed for defeating opponents who use Shaolin techniques such as DIGGING BURIED GOLD BRICKS OUT OF THE GROUND, etc. Your right hand wraps over your left elbow, then your left hand goes straight up from inside your right arm, your left foot taking an urgent step forward and your right foot following the advance to again make an alignment stance, your hands having returned to the Dipper posture.
SWING BOTH WINGS:
Your feet pivot to the right and make a horse-riding stance, both fists coming in level to touch your chest, the fist centers facing downward. Your right hand sweeps aside like a wing and returns to your chest, then your left hand does likewise. [Then return to Dipper posture.]
The Ten Sections of Brocade in Detail:
TIGER SITS ON ITS MOUNTAIN:
Beginning with the Dipper posture, pivot your alignment stance to the right and make a horse-riding stance, both fists coming in level to touch your chest, the fist centers facing downward.
THREE QUICK CHASING STEPS:
Your right hand deflects away to the side as your body turns and then your left hand does a reaching punch. The is similar to the [THROUGH-THE-ARM technique in the] Six Lines set, but in that case it is done with an alignment stance pivoting with your right foot in front, then around to again make an alignment stance, while the footwork in this case is instead the actions of advance > retreat > withdraw, advancing three times [right, left, right].
TWO SABERS, WITHDRAWING STEPS:
Your left arm hangs down and then punches upward in front of you as your right arm, level and bent, goes outward and then inward to cross to the inside of your left arm, your feet urgently withdrawing.
ROLLING CHOPS WITH THREE ADVANCES AND RETREATS:
Your front hand wipes downward as your rear hand chops forward. Repeat this action three times advancing [right hand chopping with right foot forward, left chop with left foot, right chop with right foot] and three times retreating [left hand chopping with left foot forward, right chop with right foot, left chop with left foot]. Each chop begins above with an arc [away from you], becomes more vertical on its way down, and is arcing again [back toward you] at the bottom, in the manner of a hatchet cleaving through.
PUNCH ACROSS THE BODY TO EACH SIDE:
Both hands come back to your chest, then your left hand deflects away to the side, your left foot stepping out along with the movement of your left hand, and your right hand does a reaching punch, then continue for a total of three successive punches. Your right hand comes back to your chest, then deflects away to the side, your left foot pivoting in as you turn around, and your left hand does a reaching punch, then continue for a total of three successive punches.
PROP UP A SABER AND CHOP, RETURN TO BARRACKS:
Your right hand crosses to the inside of your left arm and chops as before, a rolling chop, but turned to a different direction. Do a total of three chops, your right hand chopping the third time as your body turns around.
KNOTTED FISTS, GRINDING STEP:
Your hands hang down as fists, then your left fist slightly comes out and your right fist comes out under it to go forward and upward, the fist centers facing downward. Your left foot goes along with the movement of your left fist and your right foot shifts along with the movement of your right fist, but you do not change direction while performing this technique.
ROLLING CHOP, RETREAT TO FACE ORIGINAL DIRECTION:
Your left hand chops three times as your body turns around and your step retreats.
ADVANCING LIKE SLIPPING INTO A SHEATH:
Your left hand comes in level to touch your chest, then slightly deflects away to the side until level and straightened. Your right hand returns to being a fist and covers over your left wrist. Your left foot does an entering step, then withdraws as your body turns. Your right hand then comes in level to touch your chest and the movement repeats on the other side.
ROLLING CHOP, JUMP BACK TO STARTING POINT:
Your right hand chops to the rear, as your right foot shifts.
GOLDEN ROOSTER STANDS ON ONE LEG, PULL THE BOWSTRING TAUT:
Your right hand again chops, your right foot pivoting to turn you around, and your left fist inserts downward from above as your left foot goes into high horse-riding stance then advances a half step, your right foot then returning to an alignment stance. This is the same as the Six Line’s thrust punch in high horse-riding stance [THRUST & WRAP].
LEVEL HORSE-RIDING STANCE, LOOK TO BOTH SIDES (same as the Six Line’s SWING BOTH WINGS and return to Dipper posture.):
Turn around, horse-riding stance, swing. [Then return to Dipper posture.]
Although the Six Lines set and the Ten Sections set are for the most part the same kind of material, the Six Lines emphasizes toughening the bones while the Ten Sections emphasizes loosening the joints.
Wang looked at what I had so far recorded, then smiled and told me: “I’ve practiced this stuff my whole life, but I often still seem to have trouble remembering it all. How’ve you made it is as clear as this? I don’t think your skill in the art will ever be able to live up to this record you’ve made of it.”
Although I trained in his boxing art, my experience of his archery did not involve any actual bow and arrow, for I had only been taught the principles. His archery art runs thus:
1. The proper equipment:
Examine both the bow and the arrows. The bow must suit your body’s strength. The arrow must suit the bow’s draw weight. Better for the hand to be stronger than the bow rather than the bow stronger than the hand.
If your hand can handle up to four or five “efforts”, it is best to be drawing a three to four effort bow. In ancient times, “stones” were used to determine draw weight. Nowadays, we use efforts: one “effort” is the equivalent of about ten pounds. For a three or four effort bow, the arrow should be ten grips in length and weigh eight ounces. For a five or six effort bow, the arrow should be nine and a half grips in length and weigh nine ounces.
Generally speaking, in sport archery, the bow should be thin and the arrow should be light, while in battlefield archery, it is better for the bow to be thick and for the arrow to be heavy.
2. Addressing the target:
To be certain your arrow tip will go the full distance and reach the target, the height of your front hand must be accurate. If you do not know where your arrow is going to land, this is called a “wild arrow”. If you wish to know where it will land, the height of your front hand will determine the distance. If the target is eighty paces away, place your front hand at shoulder level. A hundred paces away – eye level. A hundred and thirty to a hundred and forty paces away – brow level. A hundred and seventy to a hundred and eighty paces away, the limit of range – headtop level.
3. The proper posture:
The body has its body principles, the hand has its hand principles, the foot has its foot principles, and the eye has its eye principles:
Despite taking place in your hands, archery is actually based in your body. Never stick out your chest and lean back. It has to be just like in the boxing art. Lower yourself in an alignment stance [i.e. “front of your right ankle diagonally facing the back of your left ankle”] to keep your body from swaying and your butt from sticking out. The power of your shoulders, elbows, waist, and legs gathers upon a single target.
As for the hand principles, your left arm should be straight and level, the fist in a line with your left elbow, left shoulder, right shoulder, right elbow, each part linking together. When drawing back the string and loosing the arrow, your left hand should not try to be clever, only your right hand should be making any action.
There should be coordinating above and below involving your left toes and right heel with your shoulders and hands. Once you are standing before the target, point your left toes to the center of it. When you have the proper posture, your hands and feet will be naturally aligning with each other.
Your eyes must not fixate on the target. If you stare at the target, your hand will come out of alignment with it. Once the bow is drawn fully, look with your right eye at your left hand, then you will always hit the target.
(Although this is exquisitely detailed, there may still be more secrets for us to learn from other experts.)
The thing Wang gave special attention to, was most triumphant about, and what puts his art above the rest, is his twisting chop. (Boxing experts all agree the technique of chopping is extremely important. There are four kinds of chop: rolling chop, willow leaf chop, crossed-body chop, and Lei Gong [the Chinese god of thunder] chop, to which Wang has added the twisting chop as a way to use a chop to defeat a chop.)
The special feature within his archery was his method of small room practice, in which he drew back the string and shot out a white arrow so the tip went all the way through – a training for never missing.
Roll up a bamboo mat, place the roll on a stool on top of a table, and position it as straight as possible. Aim the arrow tip at the center of the roll from only a foot away. Fully draw the bow, stand properly, and shoot. Once the arrow has hit the roll, look at which direction the arrowhead is inclining, whether to the left or right, upward or downward, and seek to correct it. You must get the arrow to pass silently through the gaps in the roll so the tip comes out the other side. As long as your left toes are pointing at the target and your hands are confident when they shoot, it will be natural to not miss.
These ideas came from Wang’s many years of experience. With much thought came realizations and then original creations.
My training at the temple was as precise as making glass and as demanding as constructing a building. After a practice, Wang and I would share some cups of wine, then walk in the moonlight once it had risen over the hills on the horizon, and I heard the brook gently babbling while he talked of old ways and new.
Because he was so generous with me, he trained me at the same time in the methods of spear, saber, sword, and axe. “Once you have learned the boxing sets, the rest of this curriculum is no trouble. Some of the boxing techniques will be just like techniques for the spear, others like techniques for the sword or the axe.” Teaching me even about how to march squads of soldiers or plan for the encampment of an army, he poured out everything he knew to the last drop. “I have no disciples, so I will do my utmost to teach the art to you.”
I was in those days breathing fire out of my nose and jumping all over the place. I admired men like Bo Ji of Suiyang, who thought that the world must not be run by narrow-minded pedants, but instead by those who are able to mount a horse and go kill the enemy and then dismount to seize their king. Only then could one stand tall in the world.
(Although I had received his archery art, I had not yet trained in his bow drawing posture. Because of his restrictiveness, he had scheduled me to start it in the beginning of next year, a special course of study for after I had completed the rest of the boxing curriculum.)
In those days, peace had been brought to the southwest. Peace had been brought to the southeast. Peace had been brought to the whole nation. It was indeed a time when dragging two stones into place [i.e. building a fortress] was seen as inferior to hammering in a single nail [i.e. building a house].
My parents considered me to be rebellious and out of control, worried that I would turn into a young libertine, so they decided to send me away to study for the civil service examinations. I had myself already become aware that the household was in financial trouble. Under these circumstances, what use would there be in completing my training? I found myself regretting that I had spent my time on it, so I suppressed my feelings and quelled those ambitions, putting my mind instead to the task of mastering the classics. With my bamboo hat and case of books, I set out on the road accompanying Chen Kuixian, Chen Jiemei, Fan Guowen, Wan Jiye, and Zhang Xinyou. All the young gentlemen were then congregated in Ningbo’s eastern quarter.
Wang came to town and went to my dorm. He talked to me about martial arts with still the same tireless sincerity: “Boxing arts a matter of quality, not quantity. Once practiced to the point of skill, there will be no limit to the applicability of the Six Lines set. The techniques within it divide into passive ones and active ones, and altogether make a mere eighteen, the variations of each bring them up to forty-nine…”
He continued: “A technique such as Punch in Twisting-Vine Step can be performed in any direction – left, right, center, forward, back – and so you must not think of it as being done in only one way…”
He further continued: “Also, boxing arts go from complexity to simplicity. From the seventy-two throwing techniques (such as Reaching Punch and Rolling Chop, Punch Across the Center to Each Side, and other colorfully named combat techniques), there are then the thirty-five hand techniques (chop, erase, shake, knock, bump, and so on), and then the eighteen techniques [testing, sending, aiding, seizing, pulling, pushing, crowding, absorbing, sticking, hoisting, curving, inserting, throwing, propping, rubbing, scattering, vanishing, ejecting] (contained in the Six Lines set). This reduces from eighteen to twelve (overturn, switch, twist, shift, roll, shed, lead, entwine, kneel, sit, drum, grab), and then reducing from twelve, always remember the five words (focused, sticky, expedient, potent, precise). Observe boxing experts, the way they really only think about a few terms…”
I was at the time focused on preparing for the civil service exams, and despite making myself listen, I could not feel as inspired as I used to. Wang himself was destitute, ill, under stress, weary is his heart, sallow in his complexion, worn out…
It is a mere seven years since Wang died, and now weapons are clashing everywhere, arrows shooting in all directions. Our area of the countryside has become infested with criminals. They wander the roads and litter the fields with the bones of those they prey upon. We now need a hero like Sang Yi who can get rid of them all, but all we have are some candidates for the civil service exams who spend their days snug behind city walls reciting prose and verse. The authorities have made a few proclamations of protection and aid, naively thinking this will somehow administer a pacification of such evil men. The exam candidates for their part have come up with a few slogans about soldiers and farmers joining forces, naively thinking this would somehow have the capacity to manage the situation.
It says in the “Record of the Warrior of Shaanxi” in Great Philosophical Discourses [by Song Lian]: “If Deng Bi was still here, things would surely look different.” [Not many years after the mighty Deng had died, the realm was in chaos.] When I read these words, I cannot help but think about how much we are to miss you, Wang, buried there three feet under the artemisia. Unfortunately he cannot help us now.
I think so fondly about those days of learning from him, but I would not presume to proclaim that such training represents a meaningful scheme for assisting the ruler in pacifying warlords. However, for safeguarding the walls of a single city, like men such as Fan Changsheng or Fan Ya did in protecting their own communities, it seems to me to be a reasonable course of action. And while it seems impossible that so much trouble has spread throughout the nation, and under our straws hats we gaze all around watching the dust rise and having nowhere to flee to, such is the present reality facing us! There was a time when I regretted that I was learning from Wang, but now I deeply regret that I ever regretted it.
(As for Wang’s family background and fuller life story, this has already been written of by my father and so I will not presume to repeat it here.) [This statement indicates that for Huang Baijia’s “biography” of Wang to more properly be a biography, Huang Zongxi’s text must be studied alongside it, and is thus included below.]
I alone was taught his art, but I abandoned his learning. As a result, this art has since become like the Guangling Melody [a notoriously difficult zither tune from the end of the Eastern Han era that apparently no one has been able to do proper justice to ever since]. This is unbearable to me, and so I have devoted myself to writing down as much of these details as I can in order that future generations of enthusiasts can obtain something of the art. But then again, Zhuge Liang wrote in detail the dimensions for his trojan-horse ox over a thousand years ago, but who makes use of them anymore?
MEMORIAL INSCRIPTION FOR WANG ZHENGNAN (1669)
[by 黃宗羲 Huang Zongxi, Baijia’s father]
Although Shaolin boxing prowess is known everywhere, it emphasizes attack, giving opponents something to take advantage of. Hence there is what is known as the internal school, which defeats movement with stillness [i.e. defeats obviousness by way of subtlety]. A mere gesture of the hand sends assailants sprawling. Therefore Shaolin is classified as being of the external school.
This art began with Zhang Sanfeng of the Song Dynasty, an elixirist of the Wudang mountains. Emperor Huizong summoned him, but his route was blocked and he could not get through. That night in a dream, the first Song Emperor gave him the boxing method, and the next day he killed more than a hundred bandits single-handed.
A hundred years on, Zhang’s art was transmitted to Shaanxi, where Wang Zong became the top practitioner of it. Chen Zhoutong of Wen county learned it from Wang Zong and then taught it to the men of his hometown, thereby spreading it in Wen county. During the reign of Emperor Jiajing [1521-1567], the best at the art was Zhang Songxi. He taught it to a mere three or four people, of whom Ye Jimei, called Jinquan, of Siming was the most talented. The transmission thereupon spread in Siming, where Ye Jinquan taught Wu Kunshan, Zhou Yunquan, Shan Sinan, Chen Zhenshi, Sun Jicha. Wu Kunshan taught Li Tianmu and Xu Daiyue. Li Tianmu taught Yu Bozhong, Wu Qilang, and Chen Maohong. Zhou Yunquan taught Lu Shaoqi. Chen Zhenshi taught Dong Fuyu and Xia Zhixi. Sun Jicha taught Chai Xuanming, Yao Shimen, the monk Er, and the monk Wei. Shan Sinan’s disciple was Wang Zhengnan.
After returning home from military service in Guanbai, Shan Sinan taught the art, but kept the deeper aspects of it to himself. He shut his door during his own practice so his students could not see him. But Wang watched him from the upper level through a hole in the floor and got the gist of it. Shan Sinan was despondent that his sons were worthless, leaving him with no heirs for his business [selling tea]. Wang overheard this and made a gift of many silver wine goblets to go toward the purchase of the best catalpa trees around [for growing tea leaves]. So touched was Shan Sinan by this, he then taught Wang all that he had not previously taught to anyone else.
Wang was a careful sort of man, very mindful of what he had learned, never showing it off, never even showing it at all unless a real emergency made him do so. Happening to be out one night during a search for a spy, he got arrested by some soldiers, and his hands were tied behind him around a pillar. While the dozens of men guarding him grew more boisterous in their drinking, Wang managed to get a hold of some broken porcelain and sawed through his ropes. He then took a silver coin out of his shirt, threw it up into the air, and fled while the soldiers fought over it. They tried to give chase, but being too drunk to stand firm, they all toppled over like dominoes. They followed him for a few miles and became lost in the fields. Stubbornly thinking Wang to be a traitor, they assembled to surround him, but every soldier that got in his way received an injury.
During the final year of his life, Wang was walking alone and chanced to meet a group of seven or eight soldiers who suddenly conscripted him to carry their heavy gear. Wang pleaded earnestly to be released from the task, but they would not listen. So Wang took the weight as far as a bridge and then chucked it over the side. The soldiers grabbed their sabers and moved to punish him, but he blocked with his bare hands and threw one of them to the ground, the man’s saber clanging down. He then did this to each of them, and after the last one, he took up their sabers and flung them down a well. The soldiers pulled up the rope to get their sabers back, but Wang was long gone.
Whenever he fought people, he always made use of acupoints, targeting points that would cause death, fainting, or muteness, as indicated on those bronze statues with the acupuncture maps. There was an insulting young ruffian who was struck by Wang and could pass no urine for a number of days. He had to go knock on Wang’s door and apologize in order to regain the ability. A shepherd boy had been secretly learning his techniques [just as Wang himself had done] and used them to hit one of his young friends, who suddenly died because of it. Wang investigated and said: “The spot you hit only causes fainting. He’ll wake up in a little while.” As indeed he did.
Wang was chivalrous, roused to action against injustice rather than any cause of vengeance. A man who had known Wang for a long time nevertheless presented him with some money to avenge his younger brother. Wang cut him off sharply: “You’re confusing me with a beast.”
Named Laixian, his surname was Wang, and he was called Zhengnan. He moved from Fenghua county to the Yin district. His grandfather’s name was Zongzhou. His father’s name was Zaiyuan. His mother’s maiden name was Chen. The family had lived for generations by Wagon Bridge to the east of the city [Ningbo], but had moved to Tong’ao when Zhengnan was born.
When he was young, he was servant to Lu Haidao, called Ruoteng. Examining his aptitudes, Lu gave him a position, and Wang was then performing the duties of many people all at once, liaising between offices. Since Wang fulfilled all of his tasks with precision, he was put in charge of supplying the Linshan barracks. Qian Zhongjie, called Gongjian, then made him the main army barracks coordinator. He was repeatedly honored for meritorious service and finally promoted by the provincial officer to deputy barracks commander.
Then the defeat came [ousting of the Ming government by the Qing – 1644], and it was as though the Chinese military was trapped on an island. Solutions went back and forth, but the ministry of war sank under utter calamity. Until the enemy’s heads are put on display, Wang decided he would be a vegetarian, for the rest of his life if necessary, to show his patriotic devotion, which strongly impressed his colleagues. But he then gave up the military life and stayed at home. Many who admired his skills worried that he would surely become destitute. Many barracks commanders reached out with offers, but Wang did not care and paid them no attention. He plowed his land and applied manure, seeming to not know at all that he could get food so much more easily by making use of his special expertise.
Wang bumped into an old friend one day who had been housed with the barracks commander. The commander had just hired an instructor from Songjiang to train the troops in martial arts. The instructor arrogantly sat plucking at a lute and looked at Wang in his hemp hat and rough robe as though he was not even there. The friend said Wang was an expert at boxing arts. The instructor peeked at Wang out of the corner of his eye and said: “How could he be?” Wang politely denied that he was. The instructor straightened his top, raised his eyebrows, and said: “Can I test you a little?” Wang even more politely denied that he was an expert. The instructor accused him of being afraid and pushed him more and more aggressively, until Wang had no alternative but to act. After the instructor had been thrown, he asked for more. So he was thrown again and blood now flowed out from a cut on his face. He bowed to Wang and afterward made a gift to him of fine silks.
Wang never went to school, yet he could talk in an urbane and cordial manner with scholars, and they never looked upon him as a coarse peasant. He reminds me of when my younger brother, Huimu, and I discovered Qian Muweng, who is also an extraordinary man unresentful of his impoverished and arduous circumstances. When we get to see Qian, he gets to mix with us as a brother, and there is delight in this good deed.
I once went with Wang into the Tiantong Temple, where the monk Shanyan was a very brawny specimen. Four or five men at a time could not pull him by the arm, but then a slight pressure from Wang made him collapse in pain. Wang said: “People these days think the internal school is not dramatic enough, so they add in things from the external school, and if that goes on, this knowledge will fade away.” Therefore he allowed the history of the art to be written down.
Suddenly, nine years have gone by since then, and weeping for his son, Wang has died. Gao Chensi compiled these facts about his life and requested I make for Wang an epitaph. Once I had agreed to do so, I then felt compelled to preface it with these accounts of the man. He was born on the fifth day of the third month, 1617, and died on the ninth day of the second month, 1669, at the age of fifty-three. His wife’s maiden name is Sun. He had two sons, the first named Mengde, who died a month before him, and the second named Zude. Wang is now buried in the southern end of Tong’ao. These are the words engraved on his memorial tablet:
He had a great skill,
but did not flaunt it.
He never sought to profit by his art.
Such integrity is a grievous loss to us.
Among these shallow streams and ancient hills,
will someone tend to this solitary grave?
Whoever reads this inscription
examines a man who set a good example.