EAGLE CLAW FIFTY-LINE CONTINUOUS BOXING [Lines 1–5]
instructions by Chen Zizheng
recorded by Huang Weiqing
製圖考證 李明德 李佩弦
proofread by Li Mingde & Li Peixian
[published in Malaysia within 雪蘭莪精武特刊 Selangor Jingwu Magazine, issue #1, Dec 1, 1928]
[translation by Paul Brennan, Oct, 2020]
Fifty-Line Continuous Boxing is a fundamental training in the Eagle Claw art. Although the techniques are simple, the concepts within are profound. Its uses are so broad that it cannot be summed up in just a few words. A boxing art is a kind of scientific system, minutely detailed [“thin needles sewing fine threads”], and thus careless people will not be able to learn it, and in particular people who only sporadically play with it will have no hope of peering into its subtleties. The purpose of this book is for students to have reference material in order to verify that one is practicing correctly, and also to keep one from forgetting what has been learned. However, it is up to the student to actually make use of the material and to delve deeply into it, as it is said [in the commentary section to the Book of Changes]: “Understanding depends on oneself.”
– The orientations are divided simply into forward and back, left and right, in order for the reader to more easily understand.
– Each movement name is a command, regardless of the numbering, or of the complexity or simplicity of a specific movement, and therefore no additional commands have been listed beyond the names of the movements.
– Each line is divided into three sections. The movements are identical in the first and third section, but performed on the other side in the second section. Therefore only the first section for each line is described, for the rest can easily be intuited with only the slightest additional explanation needed.
– All of the terminology within the text is practical rather than poetic, causing practitioners to grasp the idea as soon they see the words and thus more readily understand the instructions.
The opening sequence is the beginning of the performance, regardless of solo practice or group practice, and can be used at the beginning of any line. It is divided into five movements:
1. STANDING AT ATTENTION
The position of the upper body is the same as when standing at attention in ordinary calisthenics, but the feet have to be together. See photo 1:
Your palms rise up beside your thighs until at your waist, becoming upward-facing fists, your elbows pointing behind, the rest of your body not moving. See photo 2:
3. STRAIGHT STANCE, COVERING THRUST PUNCH
Your left foot steps out sideways, first making a horse-riding stance, then your left fist thrusts forward as your right leg straightens, your torso slightly turning to the right, your right fist not moving. Your gaze is forward. See photo 3:
4. CROSSED STANCE, COVERING THRUST PUNCH
With your stance not changing, your left fist withdraws to your waist, the center of the fist facing upward, as your right fist thrusts out, your torso turning slightly to the left. Your gaze is forward. See photo 4:
5. FIGHTING STANCE
With your left foot staying where it is, your right foot comes forward to stand next to it, your body squatting down, as your right fist slightly pulls back, the forearm twisting so that the center of the fist is facing upward, the elbow pointing downward, your left fist going upward along your belly until placed under your right elbow, the center of the left fist facing outward. Then your left fist goes along your right arm, reaching out to its final position with the elbow bent and the fist vertical, your right fist pulling back to your left ribs, the back of the fist facing upward, as your left foot reaches out forward, the knee slightly bent, the toes pointing diagonally to the right, your right leg bent and supporting the weight of your whole body. Your torso should be upright, your chest facing to the right, and your gaze is forward. See photo 5:
第一路 壓打 圖六至十一左右共六動作
Line 1: PRESS DOWN & HIT (six movements: 6–11)
6. STRAIGHT STANCE, PRESSING DOWN
From the fighting stance, your left fist sinks down, the elbow staying forward, the fist turning over so that the center of the fist is facing upward, pressing down with the back of the fist, the path of its motion drawing an arc, your right fist pulling back to your right ribs, the back of the fist facing upward, as your left leg goes forward, the knee bending, and your right leg presses straight, making a left bow stance. See photo 6:
7. CROSSED STANCE, COVERING THRUST PUNCH
With your stance not changing, your right fist thrusts out from your ribs, the back of the fist facing upward, finishing at shoulder height, as your left fist withdraws to be placed diagonally at your diaphragm. (There are three kinds of thrust punch: the back of the fist facing upward makes it a “covering thrust punch”; the center of the fist facing upward makes it an “upward-facing thrust punch”; the back of the fist facing outward makes it an “upright thrust punch”.) See photo 7:
8. STRAIGHT STANCE, UPWARD-FACING THRUST PUNCH
Your left fist goes along the underside of your right arm and thrusts out with the center of the fist facing upward, finishing at shoulder height, as your right fist pulls back to your ribs with the back of the fist still facing upward. See photo 8:
9. STRAIGHT STANCE, PRESSING DOWN
10. CROSSED STANCE, COVERING THRUST PUNCH
11. STRAIGHT STANCE, UPWARD-FACING THRUST PUNCH
After finishing this series of three movements on the left side, your right foot steps forward and you perform the same movements on the right side. See photos 9–11:
After finishing the movements on the right side, your left foot steps forward and you again perform the movements on the left side. You can continue in this way, left side, right side, and so on, as many times as you please. If you want to return to your starting place, it does not matter if your left foot or right foot is forward, you can turn around wherever you are and turn your rear hand into your front hand, going right into performing STRAIGHT STANCE, PRESS DOWN instead of turning around to then advance into that posture.
第二路 挑打 圖十二至二三左右共十二動作
Line 2: CARRY & HIT (twelve movements: 12–23)
12. CROSSED STANCE, CARRYING CLAW
From the fighting stance, your right fist becomes a claw and threads out upward from under your left arm, turning over and carrying across until beside the right side of your head, the tiger’s mouth facing forward, as your left fist withdraws to your waist, becoming an upward-facing fist, your left leg going forward, the knee bending, your right leg straightening, making a bow stance. See photo 12:
13. STRAIGHT STANCE, COVERING THRUST PUNCH
Your left fist thrusts out from your waist, finishing at shoulder height, and has to finish at the same time that the carrying hand reaches its final position. See photo 13:
14. STRAIGHT STANCE, CARRYING CLAW
Your left fist becomes a claw and carries across until beside the left side of your head, the tiger’s mouth facing forward, as your right claw lowers to your waist, becoming an upward-facing fist. See photo 14:
15. CROSSED STANCE, COVERING THRUST PUNCH
Your right fist thrusts out from your waist, finishing at shoulder height, and has to finish at the same time that the carrying hand reaches its final position. See photo 15:
16. CROSSED STANCE, CARRYING CLAW
Your right fist becomes a claw and carries across until beside the right side of your head, the tiger’s mouth facing forward, as your left claw lowers to your waist, becoming an upward-facing fist. The final position is the same as in photo 12:
17. STRAIGHT STANCE, COVERING THRUST PUNCH
Your left fists thrusts out from your waist, finishing at shoulder height, and has to finish at the same time that the carrying hand reaches its final position. It is the same posture as in photo 13:
18. CROSSED STANCE, CARRYING CLAW
19. STRAIGHT STANCE, COVERING THRUST PUNCH
20. STRAIGHT STANCE, CARRYING CLAW
21. CROSSED STANCE, COVERING THRUST PUNCH
22. CROSSED STANCE, CARRYING CLAW
23. STRAIGHT STANCE, COVERING THRUST PUNCH
After finishing the movements on the left side, your right foot steps forward for you to perform the same movements on the right side, your left fist becoming a claw and carrying upward as your right claw lowers to your waist, becoming an upward-facing fist. See photo 18:
Movements 19–23 are then the same as movements 13–17, except with left and right reversed. See photos 19–21, followed by repeats of photos 18 & 19:
第三路 弸拳 圖二四至二九左右共六動作
Line 3: SNAPPING FISTS (six movements: 24–29)
24. STRAIGHT STANCE, SNAPPING PUNCH
From the fighting stance, your left forearm retracts, bringing the fist in front of the left side of your chest, then strikes across using the line of the knuckles, the tiger’s mouth facing upward, the back of the fist facing to the left, finishing at shoulder height, as your right fist pulls back to your right ribs, the tiger’s mouth facing upward, your left leg going forward, the knee bending, your right leg pressing straight, making a bow stance. See photo 24:
25. CROSSED STANCE, SNAPPING PUNCH
With your stance not changing, your right fist shifts under your left armpit, slides along the outside of your left arm, and strikes across using the line of the knuckles, your left fist shifting below your right armpit, the tiger’s mouth facing upward. See photo 25:
26. SIDEWAYS BODY, SNAPPING PUNCH
Your left fist slides along the outside of your right arm and strikes across using the line of the knuckles as your right fist withdraws to your ribs, the tiger’s mouth facing upward, your torso turning to the right, your feet staying where they are, your bow stance switching to a horse-riding stance. See photo 26:
27. STRAIGHT STANCE, SNAPPING PUNCH
Your right foot advances to make a bow stance as your right fist shifts under your left armpit, slides along the outside of your left arm, and strikes across using the line of the knuckles, your left fist shifting below your right armpit, the tiger’s mouth facing upward. See photo 27:
28. CROSSED STANCE, SNAPPING PUNCH
29. SIDEWAYS BODY, SNAPPING PUNCH
These two movements are the same as in movements 25 & 26, except with left and right reversed. See photos 28 & 29:
第四路 攉挑 圖三十至三七左右共八動作
Line 4: SCOOP & CARRY (eight movements: 30–37)
30. STRAIGHT STANCE, CARRYING PALM
From the fighting stance, your left fist becomes a covering palm, the fingertips pointing to the right, and carries upward until above your forehead, the palm turning over to be facing forward, as your right fist becomes an upward-facing palm at your belly, your legs switching to a bow stance. See photo 30:
31. CROSSED STANCE, CARRYING PALM
With your stance not changing, your left hand wipes away to the left and arcs downward to your belly, the palm facing upward, as your right hand goes up from your waist, passing the left side of your chest, and carries upward until above your forehead, the palm turning over to be facing forward. (This movement should follow from the previous one as a continuous flow.) See photo 31:
32. STRAIGHT STANCE, CARRYING PALM
Continuing from the previous movement without pausing, your right hand wipes away to the right and arcs downward to your waist, becoming an upward-facing fist, as your left hand goes up from your waist, passing the right side of your chest, and carries upward until above your forehead, the palm turning over to be facing forward. See photo 32:
33. CROSSED STANCE, COVERING THRUST PUNCH
Your right fist thrusts out from your waist, the back of the fist facing upward, the tiger’s mouth facing to the left, and has to finish at the same time that the carrying hand reaches its final position. See photo 33:
34. STRAIGHT STANCE, CARRYING PALM
35. CROSSED STANCE, CARRYING PALM
36. STRAIGHT STANCE, CARRYING PALM
37. CROSSED STANCE, COVERING THRUST PUNCH
These four movements are the same as in movements 30–31, except with left and right reversed. See photos 34–37:
第五路 蓋馬三拳 圖三八至五七左右共二十動作
Line 5: COVERING THE HORSE, TRIPLE CHOPPING FISTS (twenty movements: 38–57)
38. CROSSED STANCE, CARRYING CLAW
Repeat of movement 1 in Line 2 – photo 12:
39. STRAIGHT STANCE, COVERING THRUST PUNCH
Repeat of movement 2 in Line 2 – photo 13:
40. HIDING THE BODY, GUARDING THE CROTCH
Your right claw lowers to the right side of your waist, becoming an upward-facing fist, as your feet stay where they are and pivot from a forward bow stance to a backward bow stance, your left fist going along with the turning of your torso by blocking downward, hanging in front of your crotch. See photo 40:
41. STRAIGHT STANCE, CHOPPING FIST
Your left fist passes your crotch, continuing to the right and raising until the arm is near your left ear, then chops down as your torso turns, the arm straight, the tiger’s mouth facing upward, your legs switching back to a forward bow stance. See photo 41:
42. CROSSED STANCE, CHOPPING FIST
Your left fist sinks down, the tiger’s mouth facing to the left, and raises behind you at shoulder level with the arm straight, the tiger’s mouth facing upward, as your right fist pulls back from your waist, rises up, and chops down, your torso rotating to the left. See photo 42:
43. SIDEWAYS BODY, CHOPPING FIST
Your right fist withdraws to your waist, the center of the fist facing upward, as your left fist rises up from behind and chops down forward, your stance switching to a horse-riding stance. (The action of movements 40–43 should be like a rotating wheel.) See photo 43:
44. STRAIGHT STANCE, CARRYING CLAW
Repeat of movement 3 in Line 2 – photo 14 (except in that case your stance does not change, whereas in this case you are switching from a horse-riding stance to a bow stance):
45. CROSSED STANCE, COVERING THRUST PUNCH
Repeat of movement 4 in Line 2 – photo 15:
46. CROSSED STANCE, CARRYING CLAW
Repeat of movement 5 in Line 2 – photo 12:
47. STRAIGHT STANCE, COVERING THRUST PUNCH
Repeat of movement 6 in Line 2 – photo 13 (after which you will perform this series of three movements on the right side):
48. CROSSED STANCE, CARRYING CLAW
Repeat of movement 7 in Line 2 – photo 18:
49. STRAIGHT STANCE, COVERING THRUST PUNCH
Repeat of movement 8 in Line 2 – photo 19:
50. HIDING THE BODY, GUARDING THE CROTCH
51. STRAIGHT STANCE, CHOPPING FIST
52. CROSSED STANCE, CHOPPING FIST
53. SIDEWAYS BODY, CHOPPING FIST
These four movements are the same as in movements 40–43, except with left and right reversed. See photos 50–53:
54. STRAIGHT STANCE, CARRYING CLAW
Repeat of movement 9 in Line 2 – photo 20 (except in that case your stance does not change, whereas in this case you are switching from a horse-riding stance to a bow stance):
55. CROSSED STANCE, COVERING THRUST PUNCH
Repeat of movement 10 in Line 2 – photo 21:
56. CROSSED STANCE, CARRYING CLAW
Repeat of movement 11 in Line 2 – photo 12:
57. STRAIGHT STANCE, COVERING THRUST PUNCH
Repeat of movement 13 in Line 2 – photo 13:
– – –
[To provide further information about this set, included below is a chapter from 薛鞏初 Xue Gongchu’s 技擊準繩 Martial Arts Standards (1930).]
ABOUT THE EAGLE CLAW FIFTY-LINE CONTINUOUS BOXING SET
Eagle Claw Continuous Boxing is a profound boxing set. Throughout his life, Chen Zizheng did not teach it to people casually, and even his best students only received one or two lines of it. After he came to teach at the Jingwu Association, he realized he was getting older and worried that this set would be lost if he did not share it, so he then began teaching it publicly. However, many years later there are still very few who have been able to achieve more than a peek into its workings, for it is easy to learn but difficult to thoroughly understand, and even more difficult to master.
Each line has its own energy. Each line has its own ingenuities. Each line has its own unique techniques. Other qualities are precision of speed, skillful transformations, and keen sensitivity. In terms of energetics, the “five centers” [palms of the hands, soles of the feet, top of the head] should direct energy to the elixir field, whether passive or active energy, coursing through all of the energetic pathways. This is corroborated both by scientific studies and spiritual studies.
Such skills are only available to people who strive to the best of their ability, in the spirit of Boxing Methods of the Internal School, which lists five kinds of people never to be taught [those who are devious, those who love to fight, those who are addicted to booze, those who gossip, and those who are klutzy]. I am not entirely sure that this attitude applies to the seizing skills of the “Eagle Claw King” [i.e. Chen Zizheng], and I honestly have no wish to make the same kind of false claims that itinerant performers do, who falsely boast that what they are demonstrating is “Shaolin” or “Wudang”. However, throughout the techniques of the fifty lines, these principles are indeed to be applied:
Use stillness to overcome movement. Use softness to overcome hardness.
When hardness is called for, use hardness. When softness is called for, use softness.
There is softness within hardness. There is hardness within softness.
There is a smooth energy of sticking and yielding, as well as actions of tearing sinews and breaking bones.
When fighting, there are astonishing subtleties that dwell in the moment between the old force that has just been issued and the new force that has not yet been issued. But when practicing, each line must be done without any interruption, fresh force immediately replacing stale force, a single flow from beginning to end, in order for it to be considered correct.
Master Chen once told me: “Since people find this set to be easy to practice but difficult to understand, it sure is a shame if someone who does understand it doesn’t practice it.” I still have not given this set my fullest effort, but I know the basic outline and am presenting it below in hopes that my colleagues will study it and pass it on:
Line 1: PRESS DOWN & HIT
Line 2: CARRY & HIT
Line 3: SNAPPING FISTS
Line 4: SCOOP & CARRY
Line 5: COVERING THE HORSE, TRIPLE CHOPPING FISTS
Line 6: OVERTURNING FISTS
Line 7: WAIST-SMASHING PALM
Line 8: SWINGING-STEP WALKING
Line 9: CONTINUOUS PALM STRIKES
Line 10: COILING ELBOW, KNOCK & HIT
Line 11: CARRY UP HIGH, PRESS DOWN LOW
Line 12: STRAIGHT-STANCE PUNCH
Line 13: RETREAT, KNOCK & HIT
Line 14: CROWDING ELBOW
Line 15: SHAKING THE SLEEVES
Line 16: THROWING FIST
Line 17: WIND SWEEPS AWAY THE LEAVES
Line 18: GRAB, RAISING STRIKE TO THE GROIN
Line 19: KNOCK & HIT
Line 20: CROWD & HIT
Line 21: GRAB, DODGING-STEP PALM STRIKE
Line 22: CAPTURING THE WRIST
Line 23: HURLING FIST
Line 24: CATCHING INCOMING PUNCHES
Line 25: GRAB, OVERTURNING FIST
Line 26: GUARDING ELBOW, INSERTING PALM
Line 27: WIPING THE EYEBROW
Line 28: EMBRACING THE MOON
Line 29: DEFLECTING ELBOWS OUTWARD
Line 30: DRILLING FIST
Line 31: UPWARD COILING ELBOW
Line 32: DOWNWARD COILING ELBOW
Line 33: UPPER TYING HAND
Line 34: LOWER TYING HAND
Line 35: GRAB & HIT
Line 36: EMBRACE & HIT
Line 37: EIGHT OVERTURNINGS
Line 38: HOIST & HIT
Line 39: CAPTURE & HIT
Line 40: EAGLE’S CLAWS FORCEFULLY SEIZING
Line 41: WALKING STEPS, GRAB & HIT
Line 42: DODGE & SPREAD
Line 43: CRAMMING THE BODY, CROWD & HIT
Line 44: THROWING TECHNIQUES
Line 45: IMMORTAL SWITCHES PLACES WITH HIS SHADOW
Line 46: HIDING THE FLOWER UNDER A LEAF
Line 47: INVADE WITH STUBBORN STEPS
Line 48: INVADE WITH BACKWARD STEPS
Line 49: STEP FORWARD WITH URGENT STEPS
Line 50: FORWARD & BACK STAMPING KICKS
– – –
[To provide further information about Chen Zizheng, included below is a lengthy bio of him published in 體育月刊 Physical Education Monthly, volume 5, issue #7 (July 1, 1938).]
ANECDOTES ABOUT MARTIAL ARTS MASTER CHEN ZIZHENG by Guo Chengyao, also called Shutang
Chen Jiping, called Zizheng, was from Xincheng County [now known as Gaobeidian], Hebei. He was born with extraordinary talent and a unique energy. His physique was robust and powerful, and he had an especially vigorous courage. Whenever he wrestled with the other boys in the village, they all got swept aside and he was the winner again and again. His uncle Liu Chengyou noticed his talent and said: “This is the kid I will pass on my art to.”
Liu Chengyou had been a disciple of the famous Hebei martial arts master Liu Shijun. Having first learned from Yin Baiquan, he was entering adulthood just as martial arts masters started teaching in Beijing, so he went there and learned the Shaolin boxing art from Yang Jingshan and Liu Daquan, and also learned Fanzimen Boxing from Liu Dequan. Having learned from such skilled teachers, Liu Chengyou became known as a boxing master himself. Having obtained the knack and achieved mastery, his fame caused a stir everywhere. Other experts and masters, as well as outlaws and bandits, came from afar to pay him a visit, all coming away from the experience with injuries, and this made him rather conceited about his abilities. When he returned home, he was already in his thirties. His skill and experience were both at a high level, but he was arrogant. He asked his master about his progress after his decades of training, so Liu Shijun told him to demonstrate what he was best at, then told him after observing him:
“You have mastered the external school of boxing arts, but are lacking in the internal school. The best of the internal arts is Yue Fei’s Eagle Claw, the rest being lesser examples. Although your skills are already beyond what ordinary people can hope for, what you have trained too many lively techniques and have no leisurely ones. You have plenty of ways to attack, but have not given enough attention to defense. You can injure an opponent, but you cannot control him. Sunzi said [Art of War, chapter 3]: ‘To take the enemy’s whole country intact is superior. To destroy his country is inferior.’ Think upon this point.”
Liu Chengyou’s energy was unstable and thus his master could read his intentions. Liu Shijun asked him to perform some techniques. Chengyou’s body was slight and agile, his upper body and lower body were perfectly unified, his fists and feet were incredibly fast, producing sounds of wind with every action. He whirled around for a while and then suddenly his master shot out an Eagle Claw grab and stopped him in his tracks. Chengyou thereupon realized that everything he had learned had been a waste of time and immediately devoted himself to learning the Eagle Claw skills. After several years, he had attained such a profound mastery that he had surpassed his master, who then told him:
“Of all those who I’ve taught my art to, you’re the only one who’s been able to obtain the essence of it. My complete teaching has at last been passed down without any mistakes. When I taught students in Beijing, although some achieved a certain level of mastery in what they learned, not one of them learned even one tenth of the entire art. They all become stultifyingly obsessive over merely imitating the teacher rather than being transformed by the art, and so their skills never reached a spiritual level. During my time there, I also taught Yue Fei’s Sanshou, being a hundred and eight essential techniques for sparring, but it was Eagle Claw especially that I was not able to pass down to people. Because you have the knack of practicing on your own, you may select your own students and teach them, and then my art will be able to live forever.”
Liu Chengyou’s soft skill and hard skill were both at the highest level. As for his hard skill, a three-thousand pound iron wheel could be rolled over his arm and not even produce a bruise, a sharp blade could be slashed at his skin without cutting it open, he could dislocate the joints of his arms to stretch them longer by several inches, and a strike from his fist or feet could reverberate through metal or stone. He also possessed astonishing “light skill”, able to leap over a ten-foot wall.
However, his teaching method was brutal. Every lesson Liu gave Chen Zizheng involved making Chen fight against him as hard as he could. In the midst of Liu’s onslaught, he would calmly recommend techniques for Chen to use to deal with what he was doing to him, pointing out that no matter how the opponent adapts or attacks, it will never be beyond the scope of these teachings. Liu had him intensively study the subtleties, fully explaining to him the essence of every part of the art, until he was able to apply it all. Chen’s skill approached perfection, because his ambition was to attain the highest level. It was then the same process all over again with weapons.
After Chen had been learning from Liu for six or seven years, whenever Liu attacked him in the middle of the night, whether in a dark room or outside in the open wilderness, Chen was easily able to anticipate if his arm was about to be cut by a sword or his leg was about to receive a kick. Liu by then had passed ninety years old and was slipping into mental decline, but the movements of his hands were still as tireless and bold as those of a vigorous young man, his hands and feet acting in perfect coordination. If there was no contact, nothing happened, but once there was the slightest touch upon his body, he covered three quarters of his opponent’s body in bruises. Whenever he was asked about techniques, he would explain them with boundless elaboration.
Chen accumulated great achievements in Liu’s art, becoming more than capable of carrying on the tradition, and was able to spread it north of the Great Wall, throughout the southern coastal provinces, and all the down to the South Seas archipelago. Challengers both Chinese and foreign provided no match for his superb skill.
Chen’s accomplishments were vast, having deeply studied Eagle Claw techniques and also Continuous Kicking methods. He used to tell people: “The opponent sees a flurry of hands and cannot get away from it, touched everywhere, and it seems as though all his veins have been torn open.” “In the moment when his old force has just finished and his new force has not yet begun, take advantage of that opportunity to attack and you will win.” These are statements he would often say.
When Chen was young, he was very bold. In the year after his wedding, he went to the home of his wife’s family for a New Year’s party, but his brothers-in-law played a sneaky prank to try to embarrass him, gathering together ten of the village’s chained-up dogs and placing them in the path that he was sure travel. Once Chen had walked to that spot, all the dogs rushed at him. He stoically faced up to the situation, using uprooting kicks and seizing methods to throw half of them up onto a rooftop, where they died from getting impaled on decorative spikes. The rest of them then kept away and barked at him, not daring to go forward. All the brothers then knew there was no trapping him and came out to console him, pretending that they had failed to meet him on the way. Chen knew they were up to some mischief and said: “Oh, it’s no problem, I was just killing some dogs.”
In 1912, Chen was at home unemployed. There was a famous practitioner of both the Shaolin and Wudang arts who was still only in his twenties but had traveled widely, challenging boxers all over the nation, and had never yet met a truly worthy opponent. Then he challenged Chen. Chen resolutely accepted and crossed hands with the man. The man was actually very strong, his body was agile, his footwork was surprising, his fists and body worked in complete unison, and he left no gaps to take advantage of. After fighting for almost half an hour, he was finally caught by Chen in a qinna technique and thrown more than ten feet away. When he got up, he was ashamed and left. He eventually came out of his room and discussed the experience with a family member:
“I traveled everywhere, meeting famous masters from many systems and styles, well over a hundred, and only about a third of them had skills that somewhat surpassed my own. But not one of them had skills that came close to Chen Zizheng. He comes in without showing any readable shape, then goes out without leaving a trace that he was even there, moving from place to place unpredictably. He looks solid, but feels empty. He appears to be in front, but then is suddenly behind. He defends on the left, but then his strike comes from the right. It was like I was fighting the imaginary image of an immortal, and so there was really nothing I could that would have any effect. And yet although I have suffered defeat, I feel fortunate. Now I can look more clearly upon my skills and know how wrong I was to have been so arrogant about them. Henceforth I will retire from such a life, for now I understand that the maxim ‘there’s always somebody better’ is truly no exaggeration.”
In 1913, all the local villages had stored away their valuables in preparation for the winter, but they were repeatedly getting robbed by brutal bandits who were slaughtering people to steal their goods. Chen deeply hated them and decided to drive them off by himself and stop them from getting away with this anymore. One day in the middle of winter, as the dead of night approached, five or six of these bandits emerged, carrying sabers, clubs, and guns, to spy out the village. When Chen realized they were there, he climbed over a wall barehanded and pursued them to the western part of the village.
The bandits in turn became aware of him and decided to not let him escape, forming a circle and lying in wait for him with their sabers and clubs raised in readiness to strike. Sensing his life was at risk, Chen calmly changed direction through an archway, then suddenly appeared and set upon them, attacking as though he was snatching locusts. The bandits all fell down, getting up only to fall again, and then sought to escape by crawling away on their knees. Chen now relented with a sense justice served and allowed them to scurry away like mice. It was learned afterward that two of the bandits had in fact died and three had survived but were permanently crippled.
In 1916, Liu Fengchi, at that time a teacher at 1st Secondary School in Heilongjiang, and a certain Mr. Wang [perhaps Wang Chengbin] invited Chen to teach his art in the province. Well-known local practitioners of boxing arts crowded forward to learn from him, all praising him for the depths of his skills and the heights of his teachings. Although they were convinced of his talent, they regretted that they had not yet gotten to actually see him use his unique abilities, so they secretly selected the best of their colleagues, gathering about a dozen men who were experts in Shuaijiao, and then arranged for them to wrestle with him. All of them were easily thrown and the two strongest of them, Wang Zhengang and Rong Wenqing, were seriously injured. Rong received a gash in his forehead that was streaming with blood. Wang tried to wrap Chen in a bear hug and lift him up, but with a shake from Chen he was hurled more than ten feet away.
While in Heilongjiang, Chen and I, together with You Shukong and Qu Yixin, produced and published the book Summary of Martial Arts. Chen lived in Heilongjiang for several years, but was not able to stay longer, and when he left, he put me in charge in his place. He had to go because some distinguished persons in Shanghai, namely Huang Renzhi, Shen Xinqing, Wang Zhuangfei, and Wu Zhiqing, were amazed by what they had heard about Chen and kept cabling him invitations to come demonstrate his art. Due to the sincerity of their communications, Chen could not reject their enthusiasm, and so he journeyed south.
When he arrived in Shanghai, he was welcomed to educational associations by gentlemen from all walks of life. He spent an entire month demonstrating at public sports grounds, bringing an enormous boost to Shanghai’s martial culture. He then left Liu Zhixiang and Liu Jin’ge behind to teach the art in Shanghai while he himself went back to Heilongjiang, hoping to move the more experienced students there onto more advanced studies.
The following year, the administrators of the Shanghai Jingwu Athletic Association – Lu Weichang, Chen Gongzhe, and Yao Chanbo – cabled him messages, inviting him to again come south in order to carry these arts forward even further. Chen had once again been staying in the northeast corner of the country for a long time and he now felt that he had been neglecting the mission to help popularize these teachings, so he journeyed south again.
The Shanghai Jingwu Athletic Association had been founded in 1910 and became the largest and most widespread organization for promoting our nation’s martial arts. The “Jingwu doctrine” treats the concept of strengthening the self to strengthen the masses as almost a religion, aiming at making physical education universal, and also giving equal emphasis to moral and intellectual development. It is run by people with lofty ideals, rushing around promoting a shift in the habits of society. Therefore they have established branches throughout the nation and as far away as the Malay archipelago. As the Jingwu Association became more popular, the members flourished, and by being able to select the best from the most, the instruction was of the highest quality.
When Chen came to the Jingwu Association, he focused on teaching the boxing methods of Yue Fei’s Sanshou, which he had analyzed in detail and broke it down into more readily learnable pieces, always relating the techniques to their applicability and constantly pointing out the marvels of their adaptability. In order for the students to be able to more effectively use what they were learning, his teaching method had to evolve, and with it the Jingwu Association was helped to flourish even more. At that time, he was also greatly admired by St. John’s University and the National School, both of which invited him to teach as well.
Chen also taught for a time at St. John’s. There was a teacher there named Liu Quzhang, who had been a literary celebrity in Hunan, an expert in art and literature, and was also especially skilled in boxing arts. He had long ago come to Shanghai in hopes of meeting a famous teacher, and got know about Chen through Yun Zuocheng. One day, Liu went to the Jingwu Association to pay Chen a visit. Liu pretended to be a beginner, modestly asking for instruction while he was actually stealthily preparing to pounce.
Once Liu launched forward with a skillful attack, Chen saw that he possessed a true nimbleness for advancing and retreating. Now knowing that Liu was an experienced practitioner, Chen therefore used uprooting kicks to defeat him. Liu attacked three times only to fall down three times. Association members crowded around them to watch, everyone amazed and gasping in awe at the fierceness of Liu’s attacks and the ingenuity of Chen’s counters. Liu finally saluted to Chen in acknowledgement of his failure and a little while later presented him a gift of a couplet in his own calligraphy to show his sincere admiration, which said: “Quick as a clap of thunder or a flash of lightning, his skill is magical. Able to bend iron bars and straighten iron hooks, his boldness will live on in fame.” Chen graciously accepted it and they became friends.
In 1921, the Hong Kong Jingwu Association sent a letter to the central headquarters in Shanghai inviting Chen to give instruction. The Shanghai headquarters initially expressed some reluctance. On one hand, because the Hong Kong school was in such an important location, so close to Yangcheng [alternate name for Guangzhou] and being a port to the South Seas archipelago, it was felt that it ought to be mindful of how much it promotes itself so as not to steal any thunder from the other Jingwu schools in the area. And on the other hand, there was no lack of famous teachers in Hong Kong already, and without such distinguished masters, the school would not be able to endure. But when Chen heard about it, he ignored these considerations, firmly accepted the invitation, and went.
At that time, there was an American strong man whose prowess had become well-known along the southern coast and who displayed contempt for Chinese people. When he heard of Chen’s fame, he challenged him to a match. Chen consented and a day was arranged for it. Chen started the bout by attacking him with uprooting kicks and the Westerner responded by falling down several feet away, almost tumbling off the stage, then complained that the use of kicking techniques was a violation of the rules. Recommencing the fight, there were just a few exchanges before Chen wrapped his arm around the man’s neck and threw him off the stage more than ten feet away. Because of this, he began a bitter feud against Chen, contrary to the etiquette of asking instruction from the victor, and was willing to resort to sneaky schemes to defeat him.
One day, while Chen was in the midst of teaching other students, the Westerner came up from behind him and made a powerful surprise attack. Chen sensed it and whirled around to respond to it, using a palm to chop at the incoming palm, which fractured the man’s forearm. But the man continued to advance anyway, so Chen then used the technique of “rhinoceros gazes at the moon” to control him, and as he already had his back turned to Chen, this resulted in him only injuring himself further. The Westerner then “folded up his flag and silenced his drum”, never daring to have another bout to prove who is better. As a result, Chen was made the head instructor at the Hong Kong Jingwu Association.
By three years later, almost everyone in Hong Kong had been affected by martial arts. The Confucian Society in both St. Stephen’s College and Queen’s College at the University of Hong Kong had one after the other organized martial arts classes, specially inviting Chen to give instruction. This had a remarkable influence on the students with ambition and gave benefit to young people that was by no means meager. After having spent a long time in the south, he became eager to return to his home in the north, so he left Liu Zhixiang and Liu Zhanwu in charge of instruction in Hong Kong, and he then passed through Shanghai and Tianjin on his way back to his hometown.
In the spring of 1924, the Shanghai Jingwu Association established a teacher-training program and put Chen in charge of it. He made many trips to Shanghai during those years. He patiently guided the teachers-to-be through a step-by-step process of going from softness to liveliness to quickness to hardness, and then to moving energy and acting from spirit, resulting in practical skills. The students felt blessed by such an education and all came away from it inspired, determined, and hardworking. Teachers such as Li Mingde, Chen Zhanpu, Liang Zipeng, Zhang Junting, Li Peixian, Xue Gongchu, Chen Guili, and Chen Guangzhao were all trained by Chen in the south and became the most experienced authorities in the Eagle Claw art.
In 1928, Nanjing hosted the first National Martial Arts Examinations. The purpose of it was to select the most talented martial artists in order to better promote these arts. Chen had no interest in participating, for he had a reserved disposition and no desire to show off, and yet since he possessed a unique level of skill, he did not dare to appear arrogant about it either. For this reason, whenever he sat and talked with someone for a long time, he remained cultured and urbane, never touching upon boxing arts, and elegantly analyzed things of substance as though they mere superficialities. However, old friends from all over the country sent him letters and telegrams urging him to attend, inviting him by way of saying how awful the event would be if he was not there. He did not have it in him to fight against these voices, so he forced himself to go to the tournament.
When he finally arrived, it had already started, so he hastily signed up to compete. He had many colleagues in Nanjing and they were all happy to see him, looking forward to a display of his skill, but unexpectedly there would be nothing to see, since his mighty reputation had preceded him. He mounted the platform several times to face an opponent, but they each kept away, not daring to engage with him, sure they would be defeated. Chen each time stood motionless, awaiting some attack, and finally got bored with the whole thing, so he left, saying to someone as he walked away: “Is this what the world’s heroes are like or have they not arrived yet? I regret that I came.” [Chen is listed among the competitors as getting no further than the elimination rounds. Leaving the stage in disgust, thereby making his opponent the winner of the round by default, would seem to explain this otherwise puzzling detail.]
After the tournament, Chen returned to Shanghai, where he set about making books about Ten-Line Walking Boxing and Fifty-Line Continuous Boxing in order to supply our countrymen with study material. His instructions on Walking Boxing had already been appearing in serialized form in Jingwu Illustrated [spread over the course of several years, starting in 1927].
In the winter of 1930, Chen returned north, and when he passed through Beijing, he stayed at my home. Zaixun, formerly Prince Rui of Manchu nobility, invited Chen to demonstrate martial arts, and so he humbly performed several Eagle Claw techniques for him. As his student, I also participated in demonstrating sparring techniques. After watching us, Zaixun commented: “Even though Guo is your student, his skills are just as beautiful, fierce, and subtle as yours, quite remarkable.”
One day, Chen and I were discussing the principle of “standing as stable as Mt. Tai”. Chen got into the position of standing at attention and had me push him in the manner of Yue Fei’s double-handed push. I pushed for all I was worth, but Chen stood stably and did not move an inch. Onlookers were struck speechless with amazement. I too was silently surprised, for I was sure I would be able to move him at least a little bit.
Chen died of stomach illness at Beijing German Hospital [10 am, July 12, 1933, at the age of 55]. Alas, the way of Nature and the foibles of human existence are difficult to understand. But at least due to Chen’s great physical strength and vibrant disposition, his illness did not linger miserably long and he was able to pass away with suddenness rather than suffering. I shrink my chest and weep in silence, for there is no way I can express even one ten-thousandth of my grief.
His illness probably had something to do with learning that his friend Liu Fengchi had met with a terrible accident. He simply could not endure the injustice of it and fell into a depression punctuated by bouts of anger. Unable to console himself, he turned to wine to drown his sorrows, then after getting drunk, he would get swept up into an episode of ranting cynicism in which vented freely about all of the problems of the world, which only ended up making him even more depressed. This process likely formed the basis of his illness.
Chen did a great service to society by promoting martial arts for more than twenty years, to the north beyond the Great Wall, to the south in Hong Kong and Guangdong, and to Jiangsu and Zhejiang, Hunan and Hubei, leaving his mark in every big city. Wherever he went, students amassed like clouds. Everyone he met admired him, most of all for his upright nature and for his sincere and courteous personality. His death is not just a misfortune for those of us who were his students, but indeed for the future of Chinese martial arts as a whole.