Master Chen notes: This article was published in the Chang Hong Wushu 2011 annual book. It details the core principles of our system of Wushu. It gives vital information on the broader perspective that ones’ Wushu study can attain, gives learners direction, and can help to demystify the path of learning. There are many historical references and quotations in the text which we have tried to translate more directly, hence giving an insight into the style and flavour of Chinese literature. Many of these phrases require some background knowledge of Chinese literature or history to interpret their meaning, so additional explanations have been added in parentheses. The original phrases have also been included as Chinese characters and followed by the corresponding phonetics using the Hanyu Pinyin system.
Basic Origins and Concepts
Chang Hong Wushu is a school of “Zhong Dao” 中道, or “Middle way” Wushu study. It is also a school of lifestyle Wushu study (making Wushu part of everyday life), and holds this as its’ central concept. It is a branch of Wushu established on traditional Southern, Northern, Internal and External styles. We strive to break the shackles of external form routines (using purely physical muscle strength only) by turning inward and using inner space and breathing vitality as the central focus of learning and practice. This allows the practice to freely interchange between dynamic and static, fast and slow, light and heavy use of power and “Jing” 勁 (a dynamic form of power steered by intention and sensation rather than brute muscle force). In traditional Wushu terminology it is required that ones use of power must span: Hard, soft, skillful and lively 剛, 柔, 巧, 活 (gang, rou, qiao, huo). These four co-exist and can be used interchangeably so that Chang Hong Wushu practice is not constrained to only a few methods of exerting power and a narrow range of techniques.
Of course without doubt, our foundation is built from Northern Shaolin Long Fist 少林長拳 (shao lin chang quan), Southern Shaolin Hong Quan 南少林洪拳 (nan shao lin hong quan) and that which in ancient time was also called “Long Fist” 長拳 (chang quan) now known as Taiji Quan 太極拳 (tai ji quan), as a basic foundation and origin. This however is only our original starting pool of knowledge and is not something that should remain unchanged over thousands of years without any means to progress because of a conservative out-look that clings to what is familiar. As per the phrase: To value one’s old broom as a precious item, 敝帚自珍 (bi zhu zi zhen). Some would mistakenly cherish the external forms and empty shells as the so called proof of assumed lineages like the alms bowl and mantle of former Buddhist masters, instead of recognizing the truly important central concepts. To further explain the essential concepts contained in our system of martial arts, we quote and modifying a section of a poem by Li Bai 李白 (a 7th century poet) called “Ballade of Lu Shan” 盧山謠 (lu shan yao) : Colourful clouds swept along ten thousand miles by the wind, A flood wave nine fathom high rises towering out of the ancient river. 「長雲萬里動風色，洪濤九仞騰古江」(chang yun wan li dong feng se, hong tao jiu ren teng gu jiang). The first phrase referring to Chang Quang’s continuity, speedy advances and endless extension. The second phrase refers to Hong Quan’s unpredictable manifestation of power that is overwhelmingly forceful yet utterly shapeless out of a deep flowing base, the ancient river.
Our goal is to pass on wisdom through Wushu practice 「以拳來傳道」(yi quan lai chuan dao). To perpetuate ideas through the tapestry of history. We aim not to simply practice form movements to appreciate their postures and mythology, but rather to explore more deeply the vitality of the martial arts, which is the true essence of Chang Hong Wushu. So with Chang Quan 長拳 and Taiji Quan’s 太極拳 pursuit of continuity, opening 開 (kai) and closing 闔 (he) on the one hand, and Hong Quan’s 洪拳 multi layered variations and fine details manifested by its’ many diverse animal styles on the other. Then the integration of both clearly inspiring the use of Li Bai’s lines of poetry. This establishes Chang Hong’s requirement to achieve the proverbial : ” To ride upon the rightfulness of Heaven and Earth, and drive the changes of the six elements” one must walk the road of “permanence” and “change”「乘天地之正而馭六氣之變」(cheng tian di zhi zheng er yu liu qi zhi bian). This is from a quote by an early Daoist philosopher called Lie Zi 列子 (lie zi). He discusses the six elements or poles of change as: Yin, Yang, Cold, Hot, Dark, Light 「陰,陽寒暑晦明」(yin, yang, han, shou, hui, ming). The theory is that one has to know and maintain that which is constant 「常」(chang), and also know and shape that which can change 「變」(bian). In addition using an approach of logical examination, analysing counter arguments and unifying the results with new findings and deeper research, which gives more room for progress and a goal to head towards. Chang Hong’s training guides one to change one’s bodies habitual method of using power step by step from its fundamental basis.
The Quest for the Vitality of Wushu Learning
Over the years, I have constantly investigated the path of Wushu learning’s intention and true meaning, hoping to sufficiently grasp the dynamics of its depth and life. Hence, I strive to continuously carry on learning and exploring unabated, hoping to fully grasp its’ vitality. Fortunately I have had the opportunity follow Wushu teaching as a career. It has allowed me to move beyond deceptive narrow minded thinking about martial arts and the so called “Discussing the battle on paper” 「紙上談兵 」(zhi shang tan bing).[This refers to the Battle of Changping 長平之戰 (chang ping zhi zhan) in 260BC, in which the King Xiaocheng of Zhao 趙孝成王 (zhao xiao cheng wang) appointed Zhao Kuo 趙括 (zhao gua) the son of a famous General Zhao She 趙奢 (zhao she). It seemed to the King that the son’s ideas were sound, so the King took the sons advice. The battle was a momentous failure resulting in the slaughter of the Kings’ army. It refers to the difference between bold but empty speech and actual knowledge and experience.]
I have had the chance to face learners from different cultures, learners with different requirements, and of a wide variety of ages, from advanced learners to part-time enthusiasts.
Thus gradually the complete spectrum of Wushu learning has become increasingly clear.
I feel that now more than ever Wushu training must still contain the four traditionally required aspects : Martial Philosophy 拳道 (quan dao), Martial Concepts 拳理(quan li), Form routines 拳架(quan jia) and actual application or usage training 拳功(quan gong). Then it can truly be a complete system of Traditional Wushu study.
Unfortunately most pursuers of Wushu study, will only execute movements and achieve the form routines outer physical manifestation. They may add to this a few theoretical frameworks and then feel that this constitutes a complete syllabus of Wushu study.
However, such practitioners might find themselves unable to explore and integrate inspirations from experiences in life’s other realms. These may include so called spiritual experiences concerning the bounds between man and heaven, or connecting with nature and gleaning analogies from its direct experience, or even regarding interpersonal dynamics calling on moral restraint and courageous action. [The term used here is the Confusion phrase : 有守、有為 (you shou, you wei), which refers being clear about and maintaining ones moral principles]. This above mentioned deficient system of Wushu cannot be used as the yardstick of one’s seeking and a guideline to live by. Hence, most systems cannot become a Wushu practice that plumbs the depths of the vitality of human life experience, having only mechanical movements and gymnastics. We strive however, to establish a Wushu practice with Wushu Vitality, i.e. that has the capacity to draw from all of life’s experiences for its growth and then internally boost ones’ ability to manifest in life’s other arenas by using the abilities and insights gained during practice. To have this functional connection to every aspect of our life the Wushu practice must encompass the physical body, the breathing and mental intention, using the integration of all three domains inner and outer space transformation as the main focus. This is Chang Hong’s deeper goal and direction for Wushu training.
Just as with Chang Hong’s “No-stepping” 定步 (ding bu) Wushu training, which is an advanced type of inner and outer space training. We have taken the traditional saying of “A form routine fitting inside the area of an ox lying down” 「拳打臥牛之地」(quan da wo niu zhi di), which implies that practice can still take place in a limited space, and constrained it even further to become: “The fists move right where one stands” 「拳動立足之所」(quan dong li zu zhi suo). In normal Wushu practice there is the outer body methods and stepping to facilitate advance, retreat, turning and redirection. However in “No-stepping” practice this all becomes the transformation and flow of inner space, which allows the whole form routine, whether open hand or with weapons, to be used in an even smaller area but with even more freedom. This is by no means merely the typical use of fixed stance training to simplify forms by taking out the stepping component and restricting movements into a smaller space. What we require is an even more detailed, faster and more fluid expression than the normal version of the form routine with stepping allowed. The “No-stepping” form makes even greater use of inner breathing transformations that lead the body techniques and stance transformations while still obeying the criteria of the feet not moving from their initial position on the ground. This is because we want our Wushu training, if confined in an even smaller environment, to still be able to manifest unhindered. No matter if walking, sitting, lying down or located on a mountain peak, waters edge, the work place or a small room. Chang Hong holds “The Dao follows Nature”「道法自然」(dao fa zi ran) as a core concept. [This is a quote from Lao Zi’s 老子 work the Dao De Jing 道德經. It states that: “Man follows Earth, Earth follows Heaven, Heaven follows the Dao, the Dao follows Nature.” 「人法地，地法天，天法道，道法自然。」(dao fa di, di fa tian, tian fa dao, dao fa zi ran). This means Nature is the ultimate guiding principle. In “No-stepping” practice the more constrained the situation, the more one needs to rely on the bodies internal space and adhere only to the core principle and abandon all inefficient and obstructive habits. Just as in the Daoist principle that is striving to strip away all that is superfluous and delve to the core. What remains is Nature.]
Chang Hong studies lifestyle Wushu
Obviously because methods of refining power usage are a driving force in the vitality of any Wushu practice, it is fundamental in the direction of Chang Hong’s basic training. In order to let our learners advance their ability and gain knowledge in this regard, Chang Hong takes the traditional idea of a martial arts syllabus needing to include ” Cavity pressing, striking, throwing and seizing” even further. Firstly one learns the skill and cunning of the technique. Then refining and progressing to an elegance in simplicity which allows a degree of freedom from the laws and stipulations of the technique. Then ultimately to move to a level of mastery that is completely instinctive, natural and beyond the constraints of a step by step methodology. These three levels of depth allow one to achieve the goal of Wushu’s fine detail and artistry in application and practice.
First of all one must be meticulous and learn the basic theories. If these fundamentals are glossed over too quickly they will forever be flaws preventing deeper progress. Chang Hong’s syllabus takes into account the perspective of beginners all the way up to that of the most advanced learners, guiding them by a consistent theory and philosophy. Hence learners won’t encounter inconsistency and conflict of the essential concepts as they progress. Only with this competence and coherence can learners truly be able to step by step advance into the deeper aspects of study. Otherwise students’ progress will be mere memorizing of additional moves and routines. Both basic and advanced forms learned in this manner will still be done simplistically. Hence they cannot discover the vitality of entry level forms, and the advanced transformation of our styles’ forms that achieve great depth and intricate details of power usage. Hence even with the most basic form Lian Bu Quan 連步拳, after 20 years of dedicated study one can still find even finer intricacies, new ways of achieving the core underlying principles, find even more space, and deeper levels of power manifestation. This truly is the kind of depth and detail in Wushu study that Chang Hong specialises in.
Additionally, dependence on life experiences and life application is Chang Hong’s key principle. To strive to in ones’ everyday life environment, easily adapt and attain some level of perfection. This is really Wushu studies greater purpose. This is the main difference between us and other traditional wushu practices that only have mechanical power training methods. I grew up in a poor rural environment, and initially my goal of learning Wushu was only to adapt to make everyday tasks easier. After that I progressed ever deeper into the application of Wushu vitality in everyday life, making it the focus of my studies and a way of learning from life’s events. Hence I can provide useful guidance and direction to learners in many different aspects based on personal experience. Rather than only reciting empty theories when teaching, with no way to actually practice what one preaches, or only impart superficial knowledge.
To transform our daily life style, we should have Wushu training principles and vitality as our central focus. Once applied in daily life then we can achieve the ability to do refined training even while at work. This could be focusing on continuously leading the breath to achieve the so called “Practicing Wushu as naturally as walking down the road” 「打拳如走路」(da quan ru zou lu). Or an even higher realm of practice: walking that is actually in-depth training. Our ideology encourages us to take inspiration from everywhere to feed the vitality of our Wushu practice. So even in a completely different environment we can still manifest Wushu lifestyle’s abilities and natural fluency.
Chang Hong is the middle way of Martial study
The “Middle Way” 「中道」(zhong dao) is Chinese philosophy’s core idea and leading direction, regardless whether from the ancient “Shang Shu” 「尚書」(A compendium of documents in various styles making the oldest collection of texts in Chinese history) , which has the phrase: “It is well to hold the centre”「允執厥中」(yuan zhi yue zhong), or the later amended by other scholars and hence know as the “fake” Shang Shu: “The human mind is unstable, The true way (Dao) is feint and subtle, only found if focused as one, it is well to hold the centre” 「人心危危，道心微微，唯精唯一，允執厥中」. [It describes one of the five legendary emperors, Tan Yao 堯(2500BC) sayings, who instead of passing his reign on to his son, broke tradition and rather chose a promising young leader called Shun 舜 (shun). These are the words of advice Yao gave to Shun when passing the reign on to him.] The above mentioned are all central to Chinese Philosophies core. Further on to Ru Jia 儒家, The Confusion school of thought around 500BC starting with Confucious 孔子 (Kong Zi) and later Mencius 孟子 (Meng Zi) around 300BC, whose “Doctrine of the Middle Way” 「中庸」(zhong yong) in which was written: “Don’t deviate, don’t lean, without excess, without deficiency” 「不偏不倚, 無太過與不及」 (Bu pian bu yi, wu tai guo yu bu ji), which was their core principle advising the benefits of the Middle Way. This concept is Chinese cultures philosophical lifeblood. It is also Chang Hong’s pursued culture and naturally our most fundamental element.
Chang Hong draws on the ” Middle Way” concept, letting it be our systems Martial Philosophy 拳道 (quan dao), our guiding nature and cultural spirit (consciousness). Thus allowing our Wushu practice at the deepest spiritual marrow to sufficiently attain the theory of the so called: “Oneness of man and heaven” 天人合一, or in contemporary terminology: Man’s integral part of Nature, as a philosophical state of awareness. Our quoting these old texts is not the so called “Clinging to a dragon and attaching the phoenix” 攀龍附鳳 (pan long fu feng), as a form of quoting famous phrases to inflate ones status. Nor is it merely a dry reciting of the old phrases. [Literally: 八股不通 (ba gu bu tong): a formal essay written in the classic eight part structure, but actually doesn’t make sense.] Rather it is Chang Hong’s Wushu training methods and ideology that actually mirror the existence of this fundamental ideal: The Middle Way.
Chang Hong’s theories are built on Vertical Centre Line and Centre of Gravity, combined with the opening and closing of the nine joints in the three sections of the body to attain balance, co-ordination and lively nimbleness in the basic body methods. Added to this the theory of continual circulation of force which always cycles back to ones centre rather than extending then falling back. This is absolutely not the normal action and reaction theory of using force used by most. Further advancing to include the principle of the bodies outer Yang 陽, inner Yin 陰 and central pathways of force to achieve Jing 勁(Power) and Qi 氣 that flow continuously rather than stop and fall back. Both need to be continuous over time and smooth in shape without bottle necks in their flow. Letting them circulate back to the inner core again building to extend even longer. These concepts all require locating and maintaing stability of the center. Just as in the “Don’t deviate, don’t lean” 不偏不倚 (bu pian bu yi) prerequisite stated earlier. Once having this focus of awareness of the bodies central rotation point, then when the centre of gravity is shifted. One should still be able to create upright circular rotation and not lean over or hold the breath and suffering distressing panic conditions where you resort to using brute force. This really is where the essence of the “Middle Way” of martial arts lies. If one can sufficiently grasp this point, then one can maintain a state of activity and jumping about and easily transform lightness and heaviness letting the Wushu trainings “Centre”「中」(zhong) still be lively and ever present. Otherwise it’s a empty theory that only applies superficially in a static posture, but one is actually still clumsy when in movement.
Chang Hong is a style of Wushu vitality exploration
and philosophical inheritance through Wushu practice.
We have continuously emphasised Wushu life style vitality’s importance and value, so Chang Hong’s attitude to this aspect is to make it the central ideology and teaching requirement. The same as in traditional Chinese Culture, regardless of whether its Confucius’s great works: 「刪詩書, 定禮樂, 贊周易, 修春秋」[Shan Shi Shu, a consolidation of ancient poetry and historical records. Ding Li Le, a compilation of ancient rituals, ceremonial procedure and music. Zan Zhou Yi, a version of the original I-Ching or “Book of Changes” with added explanation, expanding on the very brief original work. Xiu Chun Qiu, “Spring and Autumn Annals, a record of the recent history of his times]. Or then later in the Song Dynasty 明理學 (Ming Li Xue or School of Principle which was later known as the Neo-Confucian Rationalist School, from the Song to Qing Dynasties 1000-1750AD. Then still later with 心學(Xin Xue), [Literally “School of Mind” a Ming Dynasty school of thought, who championed the works of Mencius in discussing Man’s role in nature and the link between knowledge and action], who’s teachings passed sequentially on to 陸久淵 Lu Jiu Yuan, to 王陽明 Wang Yang Ming, to 周敦頤 Zhou Dun Yi, and to its culmination in the teachings of 朱熹Zhou Xi etc. Even though all these era’s had the Confusion classics as their teaching framework, all had a new appearance which emerged as various types of Neo-Confucianism thought. The difference is only in the manifested life vitality of the inherited knowledge at each stage and the different ways each age chose to further research and experience it. This is analogous to how we have retained the traditional way of martial arts through life experience, awareness and the mental principles, the manner of which we’ve been exploring for many years.
Refining Chang Hong’s ideology required time and experience. Before starting the Chang Hong School I had endeavored as a student for fifteen years in the pursuit of traditional Wushu knowledge and practice. Then later in the first ten years of my teaching experience, I followed the traditions closely. So twenty-five years of observing the traditions and in-depth understanding were devoted to make the Wushu concepts that I have been seeking more realistic and mature. Unlike most others who teach Wushu, who speak of passing on traditions with shameless bravado after merely three years of shallow study. They may then need to exaggerate their speech when trying to teach the next generation. Or others may be unwilling and unable to deeply understand the fine distinctions between truly understanding the principles and blindly following mistaken ideas. They use superficial knowledge and the memorized form movements to teach in a secretive manner, in which they place themselves in a position of seniority in the lineage.
Of course, the value of Wushu learning lies in the vitality of the martial art, which encompasses both the refinement of one’s own body and manner of application of techniques, which is way more than simply a few empty movements and postures. This is similar to the importance of actually analyzing and understanding, gaining comprehensive knowledge, and then application of the classic works in ones life such as Lao Zi 老子, Zhuang Zi 莊子 and the I-Ching (Book of Changes) 易經. This is way more important than simply memorizing and reciting the old verses. Thus the fundamental concepts and direction that I offered learners were always explained step by step and demonstrated while teaching. Until after a great number of years I concretely proclaimed the crystalized systematic core concepts of Wushu as the specialty of the Chang Hong system.
The central concepts and focus of learning in Chang Hong Wushu can be stated as follows: The opening and closing and balance of the nine joints in the three sections of the body is the basis. Further with the Central Axis and Centre of Gravity concepts allowing circular rotation and continual recycling of force, which is then further enriched when including the concepts of the bodies Yin and Yang pathways. These all combined together to bring about the manipulation of Intention 意念, Space 空間 and Situation 形勢 both internally and externally. This is Chang Hong’s core principle and practice.[形勢 Xing Shi here translated as “Situation” needs further clarification as it is a concept that doesn’t exist in English and as used in Wushu differs from the dictionary definition anyway. Some have suggested a translation of “Gestalt” as it covers so many aspects. In a physical sense it is the comprehensive landscape of the distinct and cumulative momentums of all the parts of both oneself and the opponents bodies. Added to this is the strategy, goal, and the intended, perceived, or telegraphed paths of travel, which is also affected by the mental presence or spirit, and also the distribution of Qi 氣. So it is the entirety of the situation made up from all the contributing factors of both combatants.]
Chang Hong regards form routines as merely a tool, or a ladder and a curriculum that learners advance through and not the main goal of Wushu practice. Hence Chang Hong regards a traditional forms’ origin and system with respect, but does not consider it something that should be followed blindly in a self-constricting way. As the saying goes: “The Yangtze river and the oceans are vast because they don’t turn away a single small flow” 「江海之所以成其大者，不擇細流」 (Jiang hai zhi suo yi cheng qi da zhe, bu ze xi liu) . The Yangtze rivers’s source is the Jin Sha river 金沙江, but the Yangtze’s greatness and beauty comes from its unique living value, as opposed to some inheritance from its predecessor. Otherwise it is only an extension of the Jin Sha river, and not worthy of an independent name. Chang Hong’s traditional Wushu system as passed on to the next generations, is not as un-selective as the great rivers and oceans that turn away no small flow of water, but rather there is a clear process of tempering and refining the integration of life vitality and honing the clarity of purpose and direction. We are in an unceasing process of evolution. Our relationship to our historical lineage is neither the stifling adherence to age-old rules, being bound by convention unaware and inflexible, nor the pursuit of fragments of history and obsessed with formalities. The example we follow, is the great ideal exhorted by Tai Shi Gong 太史公. Literally known as the “The Great Historian”, whose actual name was Si Ma Qian 司馬遷. In the Han dynasty he wrote the first officially sanctioned history of China. This was a life’s work which detailed nearly 3000 years of Chinese history. When writing The Record of the Grand Historian he continuously maintained a single aspiration: “Investigate all between Heaven and Man, Know all the changes from ancient times to the present, and form a school of teaching”. 「究天人之際，通古今之變，成一家之言」(jiu tian ren zhi ji, tong gu jin zhi bian, cheng yi jia zhi yan). This is how we approach the variations and flexibility of Wushu, which is actually where the life blood or spirit of its’ study lies. This is the dynamic life vitality that we embody and perpetuate.
A Confucian saying goes “Our ways are linked by the One ” ［吾道一以貫之］(Wu dao yi yi guan zhi), which originally referred to the one central morality of his teaching. It applies especially well to the path of Wushu study. It is a kind of endeavor that requires bodily practice and effort. A single over-arching concept is needed to harmonize its various layers, including body, breathing, and intent through their various stages of development. Throughout the years, I have endeavored to integrate these aspects, and worked to hone and direct the contents of this prestigious school with a unifying mental approach. This is in the hope that the concepts and practices can be further refined, just like the natural principles of the 8 trigrams in the Book of Changes. So that over time they may be polished by the grinding against each other and the collision and swaying between counterparts. Through all these iterations of refinement, they should still embody the fundamental principles, which will be elucidated in the process. For a long time now, Chang Hong has undertaken to establish this way of thinking, this mental approach is our lineage, which is showing signs of good initial achievements.
In the summer of 2011 we had the opportunity to travel to South Africa to teach classes and also present the school in Durban with a ten year celebratory carved wooden plaque. It carried the four characters 長洪武學 (Chang Hong Wu Xue), which is honored alongside the name of the school. Already with many Chang Hong Wushu schools open, we need to let everyone understand the required state of mind and core concepts. I hence specially wrote this article to further explain the core principle and application of the Chang Hong system, and illustrate its’ vitality. I hope that it will aid all learners to gain further understanding and knowledge about their own pursuit and direction.
Written by Chen Ching Ho
Translated by Si fu Paul Hanrahan and Hsu Sheng-Hsia