Monday, January 2, 2012

Tang Sho Tao and Xu Hong Ji Remembered

Gan Hsin - My Teacher, My Mentor, My Friend - By: Shr Fu Mike Patterson

I am frequently asked, by a variety of individuals, to share tales and stories of my teacher, Hsu Hong Chi, and my days on Taiwan.

The difficulty lies not in the telling of such tales, for there are so many accumulated over those fifteen years of knowing and learning from the man, but in which excerpts to pick. What snapshots to show someone in an attempt to illustrate such a multifaceted and, to me, larger than life human being. It seems so futile a method of communication, when attempting to describe such a beautiful spirit. Like showing someone a slide of the Grand Canyon. The picture cannot begin to compare to the experience of being there, involved with and awed by the moment(s) of direct interaction.

When I first met Master Hsu, he was standing outside of a movie theatre in Shi Men Ting, the shopping district of Downtown Taipei city. It just so happened that I had arrived on an afternoon where there had been arranged a screening of his first Kung Fu movie titled "Major Brother." It was a private screening, arranged solely for his students and close friends.
I remember thinking to myself, "This is a Kung Fu Master"? Where are the Dragon and Tiger brands on the forearms, the bald head, the bulging muscles? My Kung fu experience to date having been only with David Carradines original series, I was expecting these things. I was disappointed to say the least.

Seeing the movie, however, went along way toward restoring my dwindled faith in my future teacher. It was good. And he was great. My thirteen year old awareness had been vindicated, temporarily. However, I was still skeptical. After all, I had studied Karate, and Judo. I knew about the Martial Arts. (not)

The next day in the School, off of Chung Shan North Road in downtown Taipei, not far from the famous Grand Hotel, I had my formal introduction to the Master. He knew about my limited experience in Martial Arts by way of my father. He walked directly up to me and said in his broken English, "So, you before study Karate, Judo, eh?" I nodded, and he continued. "So, you understanda power, eh?" This he said while executing a couple of Karate-like reverse punches, exaggerating the rotation of the hips and the extension of the rear leg for mechanical force. "Yes, yes!" I said excitedly. "That is what I learned before!" I had a warm feeling that the master had acknowledged that what I did was correct. That feeling lasted about five seconds. "This nota true power." he said, bursting by bubble of euphoria. "Come here. I show you true power."

He led me to the middle of the floor and turned me so that my back was oriented toward the far wall where there were rows of tatami (woven straw mats about two inches thick) mounted to the wall. I had silently wondered what purpose these pads on the wall would have when I had seen them earlier that night. I was about to find out. The master told me to prepare myself so that I would not be harmed, by closing my teeth tightly and bracing my neck and spine muscularly. "Watch," he said. And I watched as he lightly placed both his hands on my chest. Then, it seemed to me, that he sort of effortlessly flicked his wrists and I was suddenly airborne. I was literally hurled completely across the room and slammed into the tatami, their purpose now registering vaguely on my rattled awareness. I was unable to understand how a human being could generate so much power with so small a movement. It seemed to defy all logic and normal mechanics. It truly seemed like magic. And I resolved then and there that I had to stay with the man until I learned how he did that to me. Thus began a relationship that spanned nearly fifteen years.

It was not always easy in the beginning. The training consisted of Tien Kan (Heavenly Stem Linear Pa Kua) in sufficient repetition to drive the point home, 25 each side of each of the 24 exercises to warm up, interspersed with 200-300 pushups of various types, crane dips (a one-legged knee bend), and standing meditation. This was followed by tumbling and floor-work exercises, kicking drills, push hands, and sometimes sparring. Very little technique was ever taught in the classes, which lasted from 8-10 p.m. nightly. If you wished to learn techniques, you had to be inner door.

By the time I arrived on Taiwan, my father and Hsu Hong Chi had become very close, and my father was his top American Student at that time. Therefore, I was allowed in on his good graces. (Besides, he was my ride, I couldn't get home without him.) To say that I was extremely lucky, in this regard, would be a gross understatement. I have often counted my blessings.

If allowed, you stayed until sometimes as late as 2 a.m. in the morning and this is when Master Hsu taught other things. Amazing things sometimes. He told many stories in the wee hours about a vast panorama of subject matter and he would punctuate lessons with physical and martial narrative and this is when the best techniques would come out.

Master Hsu could be a harsh man at times, in those days. When I first "pushed hands" with my teacher, I had little or no skill and as such suffered all of the problems that a new student faces in trying to perform the exercise properly. I was too stiff and I continuously floated my elbows too high. My teacher pointed this out right away, "No lift elbow up, riba open, understan?" He said. I did not understand until a few moments later when WHAM! Down came his right fingertips across my left ribs. I felt like I had been whipped with four steel rods. "I told you, no lift elbow, understan?" Being thus stimulated, I thought I really had the idea now. But, WHAM! Again the steel rods came snaking down through my left ribs. And again, the soft voice, "Elbow must no up, understanduh?" I never lifted my elbows again during push hands, EVER. "Pain good teacher." Master Hsu would always say. "You have pain, you learn to MOVE, quick!"

Another time, when I was a Green Belt, a student questioned Master Hsu about the power of Pi Chuan (Splitting). It seemed that he could not derive any power from the movement so he felt it invalid. I must confess, I was having difficulty myself, but by this time I had acquired a healthy respect (and fear) for my teacher's hand. Hence, I did not ask too many questions that I felt might result in a direct demonstration. Preferring, rather to observe the effects of his power clinically.. from a distance.., on another pupil. I swear that sometimes my teacher was psychic. "Syau Mike!" "Lai, Lai!" (which means come here, but to me it meant oh no) I walked dutifully over to him. "Punch!" he commanded... I knew my teacher well enough by now to know that when given such an order, he meant it. And he meant it in the most sincere way. So I launched a well rooted Peng Chuan (Crushing fist) at his heart.

In a surrealistic fashion I watched as my teachers hands descended in a blur toward my right arm. He lightly hooked only his pinkies on my arm, one at the inner wrist, and the other at the outer elbow, and with a 'loud CRACK, promptly dislocated my shoulder. This happened with less than six inches of movement on his part. I immediately hit the floor. Both from the force of the blow and the pain it caused.

Without even a moment's hesitation, Master Hsu jumped down next to me, sat me up, and promptly realigned the same dislocated shoulder with another, less painful crack. Then, after seeing that I was fine, he turned to the other pupil who had asked the question in the first place, and asked, "Understand?"

I learned both how to dislocate and relocate a shoulder on the same day. What about the other pupil, you might ask? Well, he learned his own lessons. My teacher always taught on several levels at once. Everyone involved with the lesson learned something, each according to his/her own level. And he had this frightening (sometimes) ability to look into your innermost hidden thoughts and expose you to yourself, saying Look! This is what you are! I remember once, at a seminar at my house in Lakeside, California, one of the second generation pupils was asked a direct question to test his heart concerning how much money he had left in his wallet. The man began fanning the apparently pitiful amount of money he had in his wallet and attempting to count it. Suddenly, Master Hsu snatched the wallet out of his hand and started thumbing out a bunch of big bills from deeper in the wallet, opened secret panels in the wallet to reveal other big bills all the while saying "Oh. not too much money eh? Oh, Oh!" all the while laughing and giggling. Sometimes people left as a result of his penetrating insight, but if they listened to what he was trying to tell them, they generally profited from his attempt to guide them.

Master Hsu had a tremendous dedication to his pupils. He sincerely believed in trying to teach something to everyone, no matter how minimal his interaction with them. I remember a time when upon leaving a demonstration at a Chinese Military base, a belligerent M.P. questioned validity of what we had demonstrated. He specifically taunted Master Hsu about the "Iron Body" demonstrations, saying that he did not believe that it was possible and casting aspersions or Chinese Kung Fu in general. Master Hsu dearly loved his Art and he could see the bully mentality in the M.P., so he casually invited the M.P. to strike the Black Belt of his choice as many times as he desired to quell his doubts. The M.P. chose Ah Huan, the smallest of us all (105 lbs.) My teacher, always the showman, did his best to egg the bully on, saying things like "Come on my grandma can hit harder than that." When the bully was sufficiently aroused and literally pounding on Ah Huan's body, Master Hsu gave Ah Huan the "High Sign" meaning to give the man "a lesson." On the next blow, the belligerent M.P. broke his wrist while punching Ah Huan in the stomach. As the M.P. knelt there on the road howling in despair, my teacher sidled up to him and said in a low, calm voice; "Now you believe, eh." Then he turned, as did we, and walked away.

I wish to emphasize at this point that my teacher was not as harsh as he was fair. It took awhile to see that. But the longer you were around the man, the more apparent this fact became. He just had very strongly etched way of looking at things. He used to say that he hated deceit. He would say, "I like everything cut and dried! I no like back door style!"

I once saw a man crippled with a spinal problem. The man had been to all the specialists according to his own words. But, alas! He had had no results. A pupil brought the man to Master Hsu. He had only heard of my teacher (nicknamed Magic Hands) by his pupils and hoped that he might find help. He had very little money. My teacher asked him some cursory questions about his injury and then said, "Okay. You give me two dollah, give Temple, I fix you." "Hou bu Hou?" (okay not okay) The man complied willingly. My teacher gently worked on this man's back. Ten minutes later he was pain free.

Another time, a man came to my teacher because of a chronic jaw dislocation. The man was very rich, liked everyone to know it, and had a $100.00 bill sticking out of his shirt pocket. My teacher asked him, "How much you pay?" The man said, "I have a $100.00." My teacher, knowing the man was trying to buy him, and resenting the man's perspective, gave him a swift slap on the right side of his jaw, and took the money from his pocket in one smooth movement, saying "Okay, fix now." as he did it. The jaw was indeed fixed, and so had been the man.

I saw my teacher give of himself and his medicinal skills on countless occasions on Taiwan. I never saw him turn anyone away, nor did I ever see him fail to help someone.

He used to say that to learn to fight, to hurt people was easy. Anyone could learn this in two to three years. But, to learn such skills is to become obligated to learn to help also. He used to say "If know enough to take life, must know enough to save life." "That is true mastery." "Any less you only practice Kung Fu, no master yet."

I was one of the few "round eyes" fortunate enough to learn Master Hsu's Tui-Na Bone Setting Skills. He used to teach by direct experience. A student would be injured, and barring any emergency, he would call me over. "Syau Mike, Lai." Then he would demonstrate what he wanted me to do on me, so that I could feel the technique. "Lai, Lai, okay now you fix." he would say... Yeah, right I would think. "No worry." he would say. "You mistake, I fix" he would wink. "Try, Try." He would urge. And so I would.

His fighting philosophy was direct, like the man. "Danger? Go!" he used to say while we were engaged in sparring practice. His great tactical knowledge was impressive to say the least. One time, a student was called up so that Shr Fu would be able to demonstrate the pyan (changing angles) attack of Pa Kua. The student described later how he was very excited at one point because he thought he was actually going to strike Shr Fu, and suddenly Master Hsu was behind him tapping him on the shoulder.

He was also very big on proper etiquette. My teacher's desk had a number of chairs around it arranged from nearer him to further away. I had many times as a young student in the school witnessed the game of musical chairs that the elder students played every time one of them walked in. You see, it was the tradition that the eldest present sit next to the Master. And then the next eldest, and so forth. Much like you see in traditional kung fu family photos, with the eldest next to the master, on the near right, and the next on the nearest left, and then alternate back and forth until all are seated, with the youngest students sitting the furthest away.

And so one day, Mr. Heh did not get up and move when Mr. Lai, his senior, came in to the room. This caused Mr. Lai (known for his Iron Palm) to anger and strike Mr. Heh most strongly. Mr. Heh went down gasping for air. This caused Master Hsu's son, Hong Yi, to run upstairs to get his father. Moments later, we heard Master Hsu's flip flops coming quickly down the stairs. He ran right over to Mr. Heh and began to resuscitate him. After the crises, was abated, and Mr. Heh was alright with breathing normal, he rebuked Mr. Lai lightly for losing his temper to such a degree. But then he really got angry at Mr. Heh for not paying proper respect to an elder brother under his tutelage. This was very important.

Master Hsu's perspective of the Student/Teacher relationship can best be summed up in his own words: "You like study, I like teach. As long as you like study, I like teach. You no like study? Who lose? I lose? I no think so. I already know." I firmly believe that. And I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity and good fortune to have studied with such an extraordinary man for nearly 15 years of my life. I will carry him with me for the rest of my days.

Re-Blogged from Hsingi.Com


  1. What a beautiful story, I've had heard many aspects of the Master Hsu Hung Chi because I've been in Tao Ga Lessons with Sifu Efrén Álvarez who was student of Todd Takeuchi and also channeled Master Hsu in many occasions.

    I really enjoyed this, laughed, feel the fear of that "Oh no" when the sifu asks you to punch him to demonstrate something.
    I'm so proud to be part of a lineage from this man.
    Hope more people are just like you and my Sifu described him.
    Thanks for share all of this information and experiences.

    Be well.

    1. Amm, by the way I'm Rafael Karosuo, I published the comment with a google account, so thats why it shows Unknown as my name hehe.