4/21/2010 9:49am, #1
Disputing Zhang San Feng, and other Myths of "Internal Martial Arts"
Part 1: Tang Hao, The Original Skeptic
China’s early Republican Era (1911-1916) saw a sharp increase in interest in martial arts due in large part to the increasing mentality of “improving health, strengthening the nation.” In light of this booming interest, one Guo Xifen published a book titled History of Chinese Physical Culture. Unfortunately, the content of the book was riddled with folk tales, myths presented as fact, and gross misinformation. Guo uncritically repeated spurious material from an earlier book titled Secrets of Shaolin Boxing. (Smith, 24)
One of the most serious pieces of misinformation presented in Guo’s writing, was the notion that Chinese “boxing” originated from the exercises introduced in the Shaolin monastery by Bodhidarma, an Indian patriarch of Buddhism in China. This presented an exaggeration of the role that the Shaolin monastery played in the forming of Chinese martial arts history that persists to this day. (Smith, 24)
Tang Hao was a pioneer of his time, (quite possibly a candidate for badass of the month,) who decided to dig deeper into the histories and backgrounds of the various claims made by the martial arts instructors of the time. Tang held the position of supervisor at the Central Martial Arts institute’s public section during it’s early years, and in the 1930’s, the Institute published his book entitled Shaolin-Wudang Research.
The book exposed a great deal of myths regarding the origins of both Shaolin (in terms of Bodhidarma,) and Taijiquan (in terms of the Zhang San Feng myths.) This did not sit over well with the lineage holders of the time, and earned him quite a bit of enmity from the martial arts community (especially from those who were pushing the myths as solid fact.) The animosity was so intense, that Zhu Guofu and Wang Ziping, both highly respected teachers, had to stop some of the offended from plotting against Tang’s life. (Smith, 25)
Sometime around 1928, the Central Martial Arts Institute (CMAI) attempted to form an examination system for the multitude of martial arts which existed throughout the country in an attempt to form a cadre of martial arts education. It was not particularly successful due in part to the freestyle sparring events which were difficult to manage, had inadequate rules and safety regulations, and due to ongoing feuds between different schools. The CMAI founders made matters worse by organizing the Institute into Wudang and Shaolin branches (the first official instance of this happeninig.) (Smith, 27)
The “Wudang branch” included Hsing-I, Baguazhang, and Taijiquan, while the “Shaolin branch” included all other styles of “boxing.” This was yet another contribution to the modern myth of “internal” (Wudang) and “external” (Shaolin,) which persists to this day. (This arrangement may have in part been set up in response to the Epitaph of Wang Cheng Nan, which will be discussed later.)
While facing wrath from the martial arts community, Tang was also under scrutiny of the ruling government. While the Nationalists accused him of being a Communist, the Japanese who later came to power accused him of being “politically dangerous.” He faced several arrests, wrote one of his books “Critique of Secrets of Shaolin Boxing” while hiding in a friend’s rice store, his son died homeless of starvation, and his wife ended up hanging herself after mice ravaged Tang’s research materials. (Smith, 26)
Tang died alone, unnoticed, and for the most part unmissed. He spoke out against embellishment and obscurity in the martial arts at a time when teachers were not interested in history or authenticity, but only cared about making a living. However, Tang’s efforts were not in vain, and the research he left behind helped others see the discrepancies and improbability in the various lineage histories that we are still presented with today. It is thanks in large part to Tang Hao’s efforts that we have great authors and translators the likes of Douglas Wile, Wong Shiu Hon, and many more, who are eagerly translating previously unexplored sources, and bringing to light new information that helps us establish a more realistic background for the various Chinese martial arts, and unobscured Chinese history.
Martial Arts in the Modern World, Thomas A. Green, Joseph R. Svinth
Also take a look at:
The Sword Polisher's Record, Adam Hsu
Black Belt Mag., Nov. 1983 (shares the same author as the book above), p.94- 95
Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals: A Historical Survey, Brian Kennedy, Elizabeth Guo
The Yongle Emperor (1360-1424), his influence on the cult of Zhang San Feng, and the court records from the Ming Dynasty.
4/21/2010 10:55am, #2
That's interesting but are there any specifics? Desputed liniages and incorrect histories, is anything specific being disputed or is this just to say that the histories are incorrect or imbelished?
I have books now that say that the Bodhidarma link is simply incorrect because Martial Arts existed in China before he ever visited. But that he did introduce changes.
Maybe this is going to be covered in Part 2? Just wondering.
4/21/2010 11:07am, #3
If you mean specific lineages for Taijiquan, they yep, that will be covered quite in depth, I promise. As for info related to Shaolin, that is out of my reading range for now.
The lineages related to Taijiquan will most likely be covered in part 3, 4, or 5. There's a lot of relevant background info that I would prefer to put out first.
That is not to say that Bodhidarma did not change the way MA was practiced, merely that Chinese MA did not originate from Shaolin temple, as some apparently claimed (at least that's the way I understand it.)
4/21/2010 11:24am, #4
Ok, cool. Yeah, I could care less about the Shaolin side personally. But I am very interested in the Tai Chi liniages. I've read so much BS, and it seems to conflict with each other depending on which site or book you are reading. Looking forward to this, thanks!!
4/21/2010 11:26am, #5
Shaolin is the root for most myths so, you should care.
As to BH, as you stated many scholars are saying he brought in the Yoga a stronger meditation aspect which improved Martial Arts as a whole not fighting techniques.
Calm mind relaxation all the stuff that is good for enhancement but, not solely about techniques.
4/21/2010 11:36am, #6
A somewhat interesting, if a bit off topic note, the Shaolin only became popular during the Qing dynasty when the Jurcheng "barbarians," a.k.a. Manchu, conquered the Ming dynasty. Until then, the Shaolin were relatively low profile, unlike what we see in movies today. (The popularity was in large part due to fictional stories being written, and various rebel organizations training in martial arts, and associating with Shaolin.)
Hsu's Black Belt Magazine article or book would be an interesting read on this topic.
4/21/2010 11:43am, #7
Well, I mean, I am interested in lots of martial arts and histories. But as far as this article is concerned, I am more interested in the Tai Chi stuff. Yeah, I have read some stuff that said that BH brought in all martial arts from India and that basically there was nothing before that, that was any good. A book I was reading last night said that he came in and taugh a lot of yoga routines but the martial arts were well established before he ever got there. Obviously the yoga played a big part because it is used in pretty much everything now.
But did all of Shaolin come from India? This book says no. But I can understand where politics will play a roll in the myths as well. So it just seems like a question that won't get answered. However, if the Tai Chi liniages can be better defined and where it came from would be interesting. You know not just that some guy wondered off into the wilderness and watched a bunch of animals fighting.
Also the Ba Gua source. I would also like more information on that. I haven't done any, but will in the future. But the information I was reading on it was that the first guy who demonstrated it in public gave credit to a Master that was never heard of, and none of his students ever emerged. But apparently it was appropriate in China to give credit to someone else, rather than saying you created it your self. And more reasoning stuff about that.
4/21/2010 11:55am, #8
As for Baguazhang and Hsing-I, they all seem to have originated in the same place as Taijiquan, but the reason for that has nothing to do with some mystical theories related to magical immortals. Simply put, the Hubei province was a war zone for several centuries, and many different martial and religious sects (both Buddhist and Taoist,) have used Hubei as their bases of operations for rebellions and uprisings, including the White Lotus Sect, it's off shoot Eight Trigram Sect, The Taiping, and the Boxer Rebellions.
4/22/2010 7:01am, #9
I've got Dan Docherty's book as well and his is a refreshing, and questioning approach. And why not? There's also a published photo of him with a group (Chinese & European) and he's the only one looking at the ground rather than the camera. It might be just the shutter speed but I prefer it to suggest his scepticism of Shaolin (at least in its more commercial guise). OTOH, I could be wrong but even so, the commercialisation of the area should be borne in mind. By the way, Dan Docherty once wrote an article on "Empty Force" - he is a non-believer - and poured water over a proclaimed expert (chinese) and poured water over his Head. Mr Docherty concluded that he himself is a "pagan". In other words, "show me"...or its rubbish.
Turning to the point above about yoga/Tai Chi: is this not a reference to the practice of "Mindfulness"? Certainly I'm inclined to view in this context - and my Tai Chi Teacher, Keith Alker, is an adherent of this practice.
4/22/2010 7:09am, #10
Very intresting article.