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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Anecdotes of Wang XiangZhai

by Wang Xuanjie (Translated by Chen Shengtao) 
This article first appear in China Sports magazine

When Wang Xiangzhai created Dachengquan half a century ago, wushu which was popular among the folk was not close to the original and had become a show piece rather than a fitness exercise and combat skill. To preserve the quintessence of traditional Chinese wushu, there was every need for all martial artists to pay attention to the prevailing deviation and make concerted efforts for a renewal. His determined resolution strengthened as he saw the Japanese invaders beating their victim of occupation for fun in Beijing. “We are a great nation”, he said indignantly. “How can we put up with such insults?” Then, while absorbing strong points of various schools of wushu, he created a style of barehanded exercises – Dachengquan. To spread the newly-emerging routine far and wide, Wang recruited a large number of youngsters and gave them lessons personally. His aim was very clear and that was to help boost the morale of the Chinese people and counter foreign pugilism. He issued a statement in a local newspaper and declared that he was ready to take on any rivals including those coming form foreign countries. Wang’s remark angered Kenichi Sawai, a Japanese martial artist then living in Beijing. Sawai was good at karate, swordplay and judo. In his eyes, Chinese wushu was only something like gymnastics, having little value in actual fights. So, one day he went to call at Wang’s in the hope of showing off his prowess, when he saw Wang Xingzhai, he found that the Chinese shadow boxer, a man of middle stature clad in a long gown, looked very gentle and suave. He was very happy to meet with such a weakling, thinking that he would win without fail. After introducing himself and explaining why he had come, he produced a newspaper which carried Wang’s statement and tossed it on the table.

“You are ready to have a duel, aren’t you?” asked the Japanese karate practitioner, his face wreathed in contemptuous smiles. “Yes, I am”, retorted sneeringly my instructor. “I always mean what I have said. I would never refuse anyone who wants to compete with me. Foreign martial artists are especially welcome”. Hearing that, Sawai went out of the drawing room and stood in the courtyard waiting for a duel. Without any hesitation, Wang came out with his hands placed behind his back. Directing his strength to both hands through concentration, Sawai assumed a horse-riding stance and launched a sudden attack on Wang’s face with hands. Seeing this, my instructor, his left hand remaining still, extended his right forearm to parry Sawai’s hands. Then with a slight exertion of strength, Wang threw the Japanese muscleman 10 feet away. Before realizing what had happened, Sawai was already lying on the ground on his back. Not admitting defeat, Sawai wanted to have a swordplay contest with Wang because he was so skilled at it that he could cut an apple on the head of a man into two without hurting the head. Considering that Sawai should get an idea of what Chinese swordplay was, Wang agreed to have another contest. With a sword held overhead in his hands, Sawai delivered a hard blow at Wang’s head. Wang stepped a bit to the right and wielded his sword to block the opposing sword. As the two swords clanked, Sawai was also thrown several feet away and flattened with his palms benumbed.

Irreconciled, Sawai rose to his feet and pounced upon Wang with his sword towards the throat. This skill is very famous in Japanese swordplay, with which one can catch his rival off guard. However, Wang was so good at Chinese swordplay that it seemed as if he did not make use of eyes but sense only in a fight. Wang turned his body to the right slightly, leaving Sawai’s attack wide of the mark. In another instant, Wang pressed his sword against his opponent’s. Sawai tried hard to draw his sword back, only to no avail, since it was “pasted” to Wang’s at the guard of the hilt. When Wang mustered up his strength, Sawai was flung out and slammed against a nearby door, which caved in as a result. Later on, Sawai engaged Wang in a qinna contest. By then, he was already a 5th dan judoka in Japan. However, he could never get hold of Wang by the sleeve or the front in competition, no matter how hard he tried. Instead, he was grasped by Wang as soon as they came to grips. Then came an Italian boxer who had made a name for himself in West Europe. His surname was James. When he was on a tour in Beijing, he learned that Wang Xiangzhai, founder of dachengquan, was looking for a rival, so he was also eager to have a try, believing that it was a good chance for him to earn fame in China.

James was an experienced boxer endowed with long a powerful arms and highly proficient in the art. With his right hand in front and left hand at his lower jaw, he suddenly delivered a straight left to Wang’s face. As James raised his right forearm for a parry, Wang in quick succession made a powerful push that shot James up and grounded him six feet off. Without knowing what it was all about, James rose to his feet and composed himself for another bout. This time, he changed tactics. He first made an arm feint and then gave his chest a right uppercut. Turning slightly to the left, Wang put his right wrist gently on the left elbow of James, who felt benumbed all over at once, and collapsed on the ground after tottering for a moment. Now, he realised that he was not as good at fighting skills as Wang, which should account for his previous defeats. However he thought he could outplay his rival in the third bout; he believed that he was much more powerful than Wang. To show this Italian boxer what Chinese boxing was really like, Wang asked James to punch his chest and ribs. A hail of hard blows followed and Wang was as firm as a rock. Getting desperate, James gathered all his strength and landed a heavy punch on Wang’s abdomen with his right hand. Wang’s abdomen heaved a bit and James fell down onto the ground with his right wrist sprained. Later, a Mongolian wrestler, who had been living in the suburbs of Beijing, came to compete with Wang Xiangzhai.

This story sounds quite incredible, but it has been on the lips of martial artists to date, named Bator, this lad was a son of a former official in charge of military affairs in the Qing Dynasty (1644- 1911). Bator began to learn Xingyiquan (form-and will shadow boxing) from his father at the age of 14 and took a fancy to archery and horsemanship four years later. When he was 20 years old, he started to practise wrestling under the guidance of a former imperial court trainer. After five or six years of training, he made rapid progress and became quite versed in wrestling. He was strong enough that he could subdue a galloping horse. One day on his way home, a shying horse ran up to him, pursued by a yelling crowd. When the horse arrived in front of him, this Mongolian wrestler first moved aside, then to the great surprise of the pursuers, jumped forth to catch the horse by the neck and upset it.

When he heard that Wang Xiangzhai was willing to have contest with other wushu devotees, Bator went into the city to rise to the challenge. At the start of the contest in Wang’s courtyard, the two stood a few metres apart, face to face. Bator moved forward, trying to throw Wang down with a unique skill he had mastered in wrestling training. As they were about to come into contact, a small insect buzzed into Wang’s left ear. Disturbed as he was, Wang continued with his form steps forward while picking his ear with his left little finger. At the sight of this, Bator jumped out of the way and, bowing to Wang with his hands folded in front, said, “You are so good at martial arts. I am no match for you”. The two exchanged a smile out of their tacit understanding for each other and the contest thus ended. The onlookers were all in amazed. One of them asked Bator, “How come you acknowledged defeat? You should have a try for it”. “As an old saying goes, a master knows what a man is fighting against the moment he takes the opponent on. He was so sedate and self-assured at this juncture that he could afford to pick his ear. If he was not an adept in the art, how could he have so much confidence in winning the contest?” In the year he developed Dachengquan, Wang Xiangzhai kept having contests with dozens of martial artists, Chinese and foreign. They all came in confidence, but went in failure. Since then, the name of Wang Xiangzhai has spread far and wide and Dachengquan become a beautiful blossom in the flower garden of Chinese wushu.