Monday, October 17, 2011

Hsing I History - Hsing I Tales

Translated by Robert Brewer

Throughout the history of Hsing-I, Pa Kua and Tai Chi Chuan there have been many masters of legendary stature. The stories about them, while not always based in verifiable historical fact, are nonetheless important for what they tell us about the spirit of each master's art, as well as giving us a wonderful glimpse of times and traditions of a bygone age.

Through Hsing-I Tales, I hope to make available as many of these anecdotes as possible. Hope you enjoy them!

Shang Yun Hsiang

When Shang Yun Hsiang was ten years old, he went to the capitol with his father to study the art of lamp making. By nature he was interested in the martial arts, most especially in sparring both empty handed and with the staff. He became the student of Ma Ta I, and for ten years studied Kung Li Chuan.

He once had an occasion to meet with a high-level practitioner of Hsing I, a certain Li Chih He. They began to fight, and he was very easily beaten by Chih-he. It was then that he realized the superiority of Hsing I Chuan, and so became a disciple of Li Ts'un I.

Shang practiced night and day, and his martial ability improved daily. Because of this, he had no spare time to take care of his business, so he abandoned his lamp making. In Five Cities Camp he got work as a scout, searching for the whereabouts of ba ndits in the area. For a time he lived in the ruins of a temple, economizing in what he needed to live. Sometimes he had just barely enough for three meager meals a day.

Disregarding the fact that he was living in rags, shirtless and barefoot he would practice. The soles of his feet became hard as iron. The court yard of the temple originally consisted of small pebbles, yet after he had been practicing there for a whil e, the pebbles became sand. Everyone gave him the nickname The iron-footed Buddha.

Kuo Yun Shen heard that Shang Yun Hsiang's martial ability was very good. From far away, he traveled to Beijing to see him. He decided that if he were indeed worthy of the true knowledge, then he would accept him as a pupil and teach him himself. After the two of them had met, Kuo Yun Shen began to give Shang Yun Hsiang advice about Hsing I. Shang responded so well that he did indeed accept him as his own student.

In those days, there was a famous teacher of martial arts named Feng Lao Cheng, who excelled at wrestling, a style known as Fan Tzu. He had over 1000 disciples; in Hobei province there were none who had not heard of him. People called him the "marvelo us spirit hand," and he indeed lived up to his name.

One day, Feng and Shang were talking together when Feng boasted, "All the fighting styles in the world are low-class and unbearable, none can match my Fan Tzu style. There is no one who is worthy to be my opponent; would you believe it?"

Shang muttered, "I don't believe you," and then quickly changed the subject. Feng took this as a sign of fear, and decided that he must fight with Shang Yun Hsiang.

Initially, Shang would not agree, but because the challenge was thrown down a second --and then a third-- time, he had no choice but to give in. From several steps away, Feng began his attack with the ferocity of a whirlwind, attacking Shang's Pai Hui point with a stone-like fist. Not at all concerned, Shang defended himself using the Phoenix form from Hsing I, then pressed the attack, striking Feng in the groin. That was it: with a great cry, Feng fled the scene.

Another time, Shang went to visit a friend in another county. It just so happened, at the time that a high-level practitioner of Pa Chi Chuan and the staff, named Ma Hsiu, was in the same county. They found themselves seated together, and Ma kept casti ng aspersions upon Hsing I, saying that there was no way that Hsing I could compare with his art of the staff. He made clear his intent to fight with Shang using the staff. How was he to know that Hsing I Chuan had had its origins in the art of the staf f (the author of this story says that one of the founders of Hsing I Chuan was a master of the staff), and this was passed down through Hsing I staff.

The two of them faced off with staffs. Ma thought that even though Shang was famous for his bare-handed fighting ability, he wouldn't be able to win with a staff. He opened with a high-level move, striking at Shang's throat. But Shang didn't even fli nch. Moving from high to low, he struck down Ma's staff using Hsing I's Metal staff form. So powerful was this single blow that when Shang moved forward to present an attack, Ma was already saluting him, admitting defeat.

Chan Yun T'ing, Na Yue Chen, Hsu Hsiao Yu, Ch'en Tzu Ming, and Sun Meng Chih were all extremely skilled practitioners who all came from Shang Yun Hsiang's school. Of these, Chan Yun T'ing wrote the Book of Hsing I Five Elements, and A Collection of the Lore of Hsing I. From these books, it is not hard to divine the character of his master, Shang Yun Hsiang.

About the Author:
Robert Brewer is currently completing his masters degree in Asian Studies. He has studied in both Mainland China and Taiwan. He is an accomplished language teacher and does a lot of translating for us at the Journal. He is a long time practitioner of the internal arts, with an emphasis on Hsing I Chuan.


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