For years I taught class of gongfu in a private and public capacity. The ‘private’ aspect involved my family’s Ch’an Dao School which involved a rented hall and two-hours of gongfu training on a Sunday morning. Initially, this only involved members of the British Born Chinese community in Sutton who were related to us (the Sai Kung Chan Clan), or who were associated through business, warfare or any other historical means. Just being ethnically ‘Chinese’ was not enough to train in our gongfu hall as we are of ‘Hakka’ Chinese ethnicity. This is the old way and very different to how many Westerners mistakenly view traditional Chinese culture. In this context, Chinese people of clans considered ‘enemies’ were termed ‘foreigners’ and excluded from consideration. However, although this was the reality, Master Chan Tin Sang (1924-1993) was of the opinion that we had to find a way of ‘evolving’ beyond this feudalistic attitude.
As more and more Westerners started enquiring about training, when I was promoted to the Head of the Ch’an Dao School, I decided to open our doors to a class of people we did not know and were not related to. This also included other Chinese people we did not know regardless of their surnames. Around this time (the late 1990s), I also started being approached by Mainland Chinese people living in the UK, who explained to me about how ‘New’ China was thoroughly ‘modern’ and how this attitude of openness and inclusiveness was being used in China to teach all foreign visitors about the beauty of Chinese culture and what it has to offer to the contemporary world! As this change in attitude dove-tailed with what Master Chan Tin Sang had in mind, I decided to transform our family style of Hakka gongfu and ‘revolutionise’ the way in which we managed our martial arts lineage!
Although I was brought-up in the old way, I never felt comfortable with its exclusiveness and ethnic clannishness. Although I was accepted as someone of mixed ethnicity – this acceptance only extended to my immediate Hakka clan and Chinese people who knew me. When outside of this group, I was subject to this ‘exclusive’ attitude and marked as a ‘foreigner’ who was not welcome within the inner workings of the Chinese community. When this happened – I would scurry back into my cultural safety zone knowing I had just experienced something very unsavoury! After 1949, Mainland China thoroughly rejected this feudal attitude and embraced ‘Internationalism’ which is designed to open-up the beauty of Chinese culture for anyone who would like to benefit from it! Since the early 2000s, I have defriended many Mainland Chinese people (living and working in the UK and in China via the internet), and have even started various academic projects and translation initiatives. Indeed, our family gongfu has evolved because of these experiences from an insular, feudal entity to a local practice premised upon universal principles!
(Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD)
Persisting in three-hours of Hard Qigong (硬氣功 - Ying Qi Gong) exercise every day, 95-year-old Tang Lixian is still very healthy. On the morning of the 11th, when a thief attempted to rob what he thought was a defenceless old man on the 115 Bus – the thief was beaten off his feet by this 95-year-old man! Yesterday, when reporters from the Chongqing Morning News met the old man - Tang Lixian - the kind-hearted man was a little worried that he might have really hurt the thief!
Yesterday afternoon, Mr. Tang, who lives in Yubei, was watching TV at home. If he hadn't mentioned it himself, it would be hard to imagine that he was 95-years old just by his appearance. He has a childlike face, which is full of energy, he sits with his chest straight, and when he stands up he is like a mighty green pine. Facing the reporter, Mr. Tang was a little worried. He was concerned about whether he had injured the thief. "You were punishing evil - promoting good - and not purposely fighting." Said his smiling 71-year-old disciple - Tang Yongxian (唐永先).
When Tang Yongxian was 63 years old, he began to practice martial arts with Mr. Tang Lixian. Master Tang explained at the time that true Chinese martial arts are designed for health development and self-defence and that offensive action is strictly forbidden! This is the high moral standard that the Tang Clan has always uphold over hundreds of years of martial self-cultivation. All disciples of Tang-family martial arts ‘swear’ to uphold this moral precept! Once we explained that the young man he tackled is fit, strong and unhurt by the action he took to ‘limit’ the criminal’s violent outburst – Master Tang then agreed to grant us an interview.
This is what Master Tang experienced on the day in question. After 10 am on the 11th, Master Tang took the 115 Bus from Xiangshui Road Station to Caiyuanba. After getting on the Bus, there were a lot of people and the seats were already full of old people. So, Master Tang stood near the front of the Bus holding the rail. On the right side of Master Tang there is a young man standing with his back to him. He stood very close to Master Tang and he would not break the inappropriate bodily contact. "About a minute later, I felt that someone was pulling my wallet." Suddenly, as the Bus bumped along the road, the young man placed his hand in Master Tang’s pocket and attempted to extract his wallet. Although these movements were well practiced and very carefully carried-out – Master Tang’s years of sensitivity-training in the martial arts enabled him to understand exactly what was happening as events unfolded!
At the exact moment the young man ‘lifted’ Master Tang’s wallet from his trouser-pocket – Master Tang landed a punch enthused with immense internal energy that took the strength out of the young man’s legs – causing him to crumple to the floor with a look of surprise on his face! In the right-hand of the young man was Master Tang’s wallet clear for all to see! The punch had landed on the young man’s right shoulder-blade as he was trying to run away. This is why Master Tang decided to take the energy out of the young thief's legs! Afterwards, there was a sense of high-energy and profound shock throughout the interior of the Bus!
As the young man began to struggle on the ground, Master Tang dropped into Horse Stance and ‘pinned’ the thief to the floor whilst everyone in the Bus became aware of what was going on! Master Tang had single-handled protected the public good by tackling a notorious thief who had caused untold suffering to the masses! Master Tang held the thief in a painful submission hold until the Bus reached Nanping Station – when both alighted – with Master Tang retaining control. The people gathered around and saw that the thief was in tears and obviously ‘sorry’ for what he had done. Many begged Master Tang not to take him to the Police Station – but to tell him off and give him a chance to ‘reform’. Although Master Tang was robbed in a similar manner twenty-years previously – he decided to give the young man a severe warning and talking to before letting him go.
Although some people thought the young man might have suffered broken bones – Master Tang explained that he emitted just enough strength in his punch to inhibit the young man’s internal energy flow in a temporary manner – and never had a thought of doing any permanent damage. Master Tang stated that everyone can make a mistake and equally everyone can reform if they are helped by others! Obviously, if this young man does not reform after being granting a reprieve, then we shall take him to the Police Station and then he will suffer the consequences of his selfish actions – explained Master Tang – who has tackled a number of thieves in the past. When he was eighty-years old, he came to the aid of a woman who was being attacked by a robber – again knocking the thief to the ground with a single punch! He explained that robbing is wrong and that the general public must defend themselves whilst retaining their virtue and dignity in the process. Do not lower yourself to the status of the thief but remain aloof, kind and considerate.
Master Tang started practicing ‘Hard Qigong’ when aged 71-years-old. As early as 2007, the Chongqing Morning News reported on Tang Lixian’s street exercises. At that time, he would forcibly strike his head with an iron rod. "I decided to practice ‘Hard Qigong’ qi to strengthen my body." In 1978, Master Tang retired from working at the Chongqing Bus Plant. At that time, he suffered from rheumatism. Over the next ten years, his emphysema also became more and more serious, and he had to cough and spit up many times a day. In 1991, the 71-year-old Master decided to change. He visited a local park and participated in a ‘Hard Qigong’ training class. As he was very talented in this style, he was promoted to a more ‘enhanced’ training at a different training hall. Despite many difficulties and set-backs – Master Tang did not give-up and his determination eventually won-through. After ten-years of training and testing – Old Man Tang was eventually recognised as a ‘Master’ in his own right! Just prior to this time, all of Master Tang’s ailments and injuries eventually cleared-up and all disease left his body!
Due to his success the 71-year-old Tang Yongxian has followed Tang Lixian to learn martial arts for eight-years. During these eight-years, his emphysema and bone hyperplasia have been miraculously healed. Interestingly, ‘71’ is also the age Tang Lixian also started to learn ‘Hard Qigong.’ Master Tang can stand for long periods of time in a low Horse Stance and his body can withstand forceful (and repeated) blows to any area. Although 95-years-old, Master Tang can also produce tremendous internal power! Sometimes, his neighbours look on amazed when Master Tang is training outside – but everyone is impressed with his martial arts mastery! In over twenty-years of training – no one has been able to ‘hurt’ or ‘knock-down’ Master Tang who has become something of a cultural treasure! Indeed, when much younger martial artists attempt to strike Master Tang in the abdomen or chest, etc, they invariably damage their own hand or foot! In the meantime, on the odd occasion Master Tang is still able to attract a large crowd when he decides to practice in a public space! (Reporter Wang Zihan [王梓涵], intern Zhang Jia [張嘉])
Chinese Source Article:
Combative interaction can occur in a myriad of ways. It can be psychological, emotional and/or physical. Intense combat can involve all three realms of existence. This is a serious situation where the ‘immediacy’ of the threat generates the inherent danger! Relaxation, awareness and superior positioning is the way to meet these challenges in the physical world. How this unfolds is dependent entirely upon an individual’s experience and the style they have been practicing for decades. Spiritual maturity is defined as the ease with which a person occupies their mind and body, and their ability to predict aggression and quickly counter ‘shock’. This is how the Master makes what is hard for most people appear to be ‘easy’. In other words, this is unhindered ability of an individual to come to terms with ‘change’ (易 - Yi4). In other words, a traditional Chinese martial artist, regardless of style or lineage, should make a point of studying the ‘Classic of Change’ (易經 - Yi Jing). This study should be ongoing, deep and profound. Furthermore, it should be free of all profit-seeking and worldly limitations. No one can ‘tell’ you how to understand this text and you must take responsibility for your own understanding of it.
What does ‘易’ (yi4) mean? The upper particle is ‘日‘ (ri4) is the Moon that lights up the Earth through its reflection of the Sun! This probably refers to a light in the darkness or a cultivated light which dispels darkness (the exact definition of the Sanskrit term ‘Guru’). The bottom particle is ‘勿’ (wu4) which composed of the left sub-particle of ‘刀’ (dao1) or ‘blade’ and the right sub-particle of ‘𠚣’ (dao1) or ‘dripping blood’. When placed together, these two sub-particles generate ‘勿’ (wu4) which literally depicts ‘blood dripping from a blade’. As a distinct character, this ideogram appears on the Shang Oracle Bones (c. 1766 to 1122 BCE) and was used as a ‘warning’ ‘not to do something’, ‘not to carry-out a specific action’, or to ‘stop doing what has already been done’. The emphasis is from ‘movement’ to ‘stillness’. Within modern (everyday) Chinese language use, ‘勿’ (wu4) is used to refer to the word and concept that denotes ‘no’ as opposed to ‘yes’.
When combined, and taking all this data into consideration, ‘易’ (yi4) seems to imply a situation where once there was difficulty (勿 - Wu) - but this difficult situation is transformed into its opposite by the presence of ‘日‘ (ri4) - which is the Moon that lights-up the entire landscape through its glow! What was previously ‘hard’ is now made ‘easy’ by a ‘change’ of circumstance. When beneficial ‘change’ is experienced, it is generally the case that actions that were once ‘blocked’ or ‘hindered’ now become ‘open’ and ‘free-flowing’. This explanation demonstrates how the ideogram ‘易’ (yi4) can simultaneously mean both ‘easy’ and ‘change’. However, another version of this ideogram is ‘蜴’ (yi4). It is related and exists within the same series as ‘易 (yi4)’. The difference is that this version - ‘蜴’ (yi4) - has the extra left-hand particle of ‘虫’ (chong2) which refers to a dangerous, venomous snake, or a similar type of animal or insect.
When expressed as ‘蜴’ (yi4) - this ideogram takes on the meaning of a ‘lizard’ which can adapt its outer skin to ‘blend-in’ with the ever-changing environment (I.e., a ‘chameleon’). This type of lizard knows how to ‘not stand out’ and how to ‘achieve things’ in an ‘effortless’ and ‘unassuming’ manner. As the external temperature changes – so does the pigmentation arrangement of the Lizard’s skin. As a means of temperature control – the lizard also manages to remain ‘unseen’ as an evolutionary by-product. An advanced practitioner of martial arts can adapt to the physical environment in a manner that preserves his or her life, and which removes greed, hatred and delusion from the mind (and body) of the opponent. When this type of change is mastered in every position, a practitioner literally seems to perceptually ‘disappear’ as they no longer react in a dualistic manner. There is no one to chase and no one to hit...
This ability is the product of a lifetime of a) suffering, and b) the transcendence of suffering. In other words, it is a product of experiencing ordinary life on the one-hand – and practicing (in my case) the Ch’an method of ‘stilling’ the inner mind. Stilling the inner mind is not the same as ‘stilling’ the outer environment. Stilling the outer environment is nothing less than wilfully ‘stilling’ the perception of the outer environment. Stilling the outer environment is a manifestation of the Dharmakaya (which is already there) but which is usually obscured by the ordinary mind and its habit of turning everything into a ‘subject-object’ dichotomy (duality). Within martial arts practice, this sudden manifestation of wisdom, compassion and loving kindness immediately takes away any option an opponent might have who insists upon using greed, hatred and delusion as the prime motivators of martial movement. Just as time appears to ‘stand still’ – the concept of ‘space’ seems to contract and becomes restrictive in the mind of the opponent. Within ordinary life outside of martial practice – the manifestation of this being reduces and disarms potentially o actively violent situations so the peace permeates the minute fabric of time and space. Those who are caught in this manifestation (which is very similar to ‘darshan’ found within Indian spirituality), lifts ordinary beings to new levels of inspire being, and quite often changes personalities and situations for the better! Advanced meditators within Buddhism are capable of manifesting this spiritual reality that has inherent within it the ability to alter the base frequency through which matter is resonating. This is an extension of the physical body (and brain) of the advanced practitioner whose mind is filtering (and protecting) this ability out into the environment through correct position and exact timing. The onus is on healing through wholeness, completeness and objectiveless love and profound understanding. As a function of the highest human spirituality, as an experience the recipient experiences a dissolving of greed, hatred and delusion – and all the conditioning premised upon the personal history experienced through this process. As ‘time’ is altered (slowed for the Master – speeded-up for the opponent) – the martial artist can move wherever is safest – whilst the opponent remains bewildered and unable to think clearly. This state of being can be manifest into any situation within life, as there is no preference or limit on human learning and human healing.
Teaching ‘at a distance’ is different to teaching ‘face-to-face'. For over thirty years of ‘face-to-face' teaching I have conveyed the physical forms, body-conditioning and body-building techniques to hundreds of different students. The ‘face-to-face' aspect is primary as we directly communicate through verbal instruction and physical demonstration. The emphasis is on generating a useful level of physical and psychological fitness that will be useful for any theoretical self-defence situation. This is the foundational first three-months of training – which once consolidated – leads into ‘specialisations’ of various kinds – depending upon the natural ability of the student and what motivates them as a person to train, etc. Every person who has walked into our Training Hall possesses some type of ‘above average’ technique – be it a side-kick, right-jab, groin-kick or under-cut, so on and so forth. Occasionally, the lead-attribute might a natural level of fitness, strength, endurance, or the maintaining of a happy disposition when training is severe!
Regardless of gender, age or ability, everyone who enters our Training Hall is given an ‘equal’ chance to prove themselves in the tough atmosphere of a military-style discipline which is common within proper Training Halls in China today. This is the traditional approach of ‘testing’ a student’s resolves to ascertain whether it is worth the bother of the instructor to invest time in a student’s psychological and physical development. The onus is to allow the student ‘quit’ in the quickest and easiest manner possible and go elsewhere for training. This removes them as a problem from our Training Hall – and confirms that they are noy suitable. This is the process of what I call ‘self-selection’. A student can continue to stay and train or remove themselves in defeat – the choice is only ever theirs. If a student survives the furnace of the initial ‘firing’ process, then they fall into line (literally) and become part of the school. This is where the training of the ‘mind’ begins – a process which continues as an under-current of continuous influences even outside of the Training Hall – and when the teacher and the student are no longer physically in close proximity.
This means that a ‘Disciple’ within the Ch’an Dao School is someone who has trained for years and passed many and varied tests – some obvious – others not so obvious. Yes – this approach does stem from a Confucian attitude of ‘respect’ and ‘social order’ premised upon the use of ‘wisdom’ and ‘compassion’ - and that is exactly the ideology within which ALL Chinese martial arts styles have developed. As a consequence, as we spar with no padding, and given that under the Law of China – if someone ‘dies’ in a sparring match they have consented to – then it is their own fault and no crime has been committed. When we are visiting China – this is the type of fighting we always participate in – and prevail through. We have never lost a bout yet. In the West, we make our sparring and training as authentic as possible whilst keeping within the boundaries of UK. The Law exists to protect us all and the Law must be respected for it to be effective. As a consequence, we do not participate in ‘sport’ or ‘pretend’ fighting of any kind. Neither do we participate in the boosting of the ego through pointless verbal abuse and physical violence. We remain quiet, peaceful and disciplined until it is time to move – then we move with the speed of lightning and the weight of a mountain!
Teaching at a distance, for me at least, evolves from teaching ‘face-to-face'. One facet of interaction supports the other facet and all is well. I have never participated in teaching only ‘at a distance’ (through video-link) as it seems to me to be a product egoism and superficiality. Of course, I might be wrong, but I think that I am correct within the context of our Hakka Chinese martial arts style. How are we to assess the quality of the character of each student? How do we know if the student in question possesses the integrity to benefit from the teaching and to benefit the style? As I do not teach for monetary profit, ‘gain’ is no motivator for me. A student can say anything ‘at a distance’ just to access the style whilst making no effort or sacrifice on their part. For this type of student – this entire process is an out-dated game which they play to pass the time. And yet this type of ‘untested’ person does not even know what a ‘squat-kick’ is, and probably could not do ‘ten’ let alone the ‘fifty’ required by every beginner! If you want to learn superficial movement without making any sacrifices – then pick-up a book and copy the pictures. This is all that is happening with martial arts conveyed via the internet as a means to generate an income – if there is no meaningful face-to-face' contact.
Years of training in ideal circumstances - should prepare a practitioner to defend themselves in the most uncomfortable of circumstances! Real combat is certainly nothing like the Movies - where the lead-actors move with perfectly time 'Form' movemets that strike-home with bewildering precision and devstating effectiveness! After-all, the perpetuation of this mythology is exactly WHY we spend our hard-earned money to go to the cinema in the first-place! Here, a Chinese man in his fifties is attacked in his property by a much younger and masked man using a club or stick. The criminal himself seems trained in martial arts - but his criminality is not the subject of this post. No. I would like you to understand and appreciate how the victim of the attack managed to psychologically and physically come to terms with the intrusion, threat and attck and 'equal' the attacker who definitely possessed the advantage at the beginning - but gradually lost the element of suprise as the resistance continued and and generated the moral 'rightness' that over-turned the entire surprise of the situation! The older man is said to be a Master of Northern Praying Mantis. Today, his gongfu style saved his life!
Every genuine martial arts style from North China is quite often linked to the Shaolin Temple of Henan – or contains techniques that are associated with temple’s gongfu training. The Chinese term ‘罗汉’ (Luo Han) refers to the Indian Pali term ‘Arahant’ - and in this instance includes the so-called ‘Arahant Fist’ (罗汉拳 - Luo Han Quan) - an ‘enlightened’ martial art which Bodhidharma brought from South India to China around 520 CE. An ‘Arahant’ is a man or woman who has achieved enlightened within the Early School of Buddhism – represented by the Theravada School today (and its Pali Cannon). This article presents exercises that are often linked to ‘squat-kicking’ in various styles – or exercises used to a) build the external (physical) structures and strength of the entire leg area, and b) develop the ‘internal’ awareness of how energy and bodyweight manoeuvre through the centre of the bone marrow. Quite often the exercises remain the same or are only slightly altered to build the foundation for the next stage of training. Below is the ‘Arahant’ exercises for building ‘internal’ strength, power and endurance through the entire bone-structure of each leg. As the ‘circular’ structure of the joints and bones are incorporated – the ‘iron vest’ armouring of the legs is also developed. This develops the advanced internal ability to harmlessly absorb, reject or deflect any incoming power from a hostile blow.
Lifting pose: Standing up naturally, with feet shoulder-width apart, arms relaxed and hanging, all ten fingers slightly bent, eyes level, and the whole body relaxed. Get rid of distracting thoughts, concentrate on the pubic area. Breathing should be natural, slow, deep, and even, with 7 breaths as appropriate, with blood flowing through the whole body. (figure 1)
1) Stand upright: hold both hands on the top of the head from the side of the body, cross your fingers with the back of your palms facing up, and inhale at the same time, then turn your palms toward the sky, do not touch the top of your head, slowly bend your knees and squat, and exhale at the same time; When squatting, the head and body are upright, do not lean forward, bend the knees as far as possible not to exceed the toes, intend to guard the Yongquan (涌泉) point, then slowly stand up, and inhale at the same time, squat 7 times, so the blood flows through the whole body. (Picture 2～3)
2) Sunrise Over Eastern Mountain: Make a fist with both hands, flexing the elbows and raising them on both sides of your shoulders. Still in the squat rises slowly, with breathing, 7 times is appropriate, the rest of the requirements are the same as above. (Picture 4～5)
3) Worshipping Buddha in Ten Directions: Put your hands together in front of your chest, palms together, and do the same squat slowly and rise 7 times. Breathing is the same as other requirements. (Picture 6～7)
4. Embrace the moon with your arms: hold your arms in a round shape, with your fingers facing each other, palms facing inward, and do squatting and rising slowly for 7 times. (Picture 8-9)
5) Two Dragons 'Spit-Out' Pearls: Make a fist with both hands, elbows with both arms flat in front of the chest, in balance, with fists facing down, still slowly squatting and raising 7 times, and the rest are the same as above. (Picture 10-11)
6) Swallow Yin - Build Yang: Fold your hands behind your waist with your palms facing outwards. Do the same slow squat and rise 7 times. The rest of the requirements are the same as above. (Picture 12～13)
7) Ten Thousand Dharmas Return to a Single Source: Fold your palms on top of each other, palms facing inward, place your the hands on the lower abdomen and down into the expand the attention into the pubic area. Squat up 7 times with slow breathing to keep your pubic field. It also requires that the head be straight and the knees bend but toes. (Pictures 14-15)
Closing style: The method and essentials are the same as the starting style. Key points of Arahant Seven-Postures: When squatting up, do not bend your knees forward over your toes, let alone bend your head down, keep your eyes straight, keep your body centered, and keep your spine as straight as possible.
Chinese Language Article:
Translator’s Note: I knew of Master Hai Deng before he became famous for his martial arts skills. Indeed, he was considered a very devout Ch’an Buddhist Master whose understanding had been tested and confirmed by Master Xu Yun (1840-1959). He happened to come from the Sichuan area which has a number of Ch’an Temples renowned for their martial arts practice. The combining of martial arts and spirituality is very common in China and does not only happen at the Shaolin Temple in Henan. However, Master Hai Deng once tested his martial arts skills against another disciple of Master Xu Yun – namely ‘Master Ti Guang’ [体光] (1924-2005) - and lost the bout. There was no ego or anger involved and both monastics behaved with humility and respect toward one another. Master Hai Deng was very grateful that weaknesses in his physical technique had been exposed so that he could work at strengthening these areas and enhance his understanding in this art. More to the point, Master Xu Yun fully trusted Master Hai Deng to run monasteries as the Head Monk and teach the Buddhist Sutras to the monastics and visiting laity! Of course, with his visit to the West, and his involvement with the modern media, rumours and misunderstandings developed that were not the fault of a simple Buddhist monk. It is the world of dust that is to blame – and the Dharma that Master Hai Deng effectively upheld all his life! ACW (6.7.2021)
Master Hai Deng was originally just an unknown poor monk. Because of a coincidence, it seems that he became famous overnight and a household name. He became a heroic figure that people talked about. This all started with a news documentary called "Sichuan Unusual Events Record" (四川奇趣录 - Si Chuan Qi Qu Lu). It reported that in 1979, the Great Wall Film Company of Hong Kong and Emei Film Studio were preparing to jointly shoot a large-scale news documentary about unusual people from Sichuan. When the film crew was shooting at Baoguang (宝光 ) Ch’an Temple, a famous temple in western Sichuan, they heard that a martial arts-practicing monk - named ‘Hai Deng’ - lived in seclusion in the mountains of Jiangyou, spending his days and nights deep within seated meditation. After searching the remote areas, they eventually found Master Hai Deng on the mountainside near Chonghua Town, Jiangyou County.
Master Hai Deng lived in a simple hut built on the mountainside. Although the thatched hermitage is simple - it has a very Ch’an-like name -"Benyuan Jingshe" (本愿精舍) - or ‘Source of the Will Abode’. This name was devised by Master Hai Deng himself. The interior space of the hut is very low, narrow and small. The only items inside are a meditation stool with a mosquito net, a small stove for cooking, a dining table, and a few bowls and chopsticks. Why is there no bed? It turned out that in order to pursue the true meaning of Buddhism and martial arts, Master Hai Deng did not sleep in a bed for decades, and sat upright in meditation at night. From this point of view, Master Hai Deng can be regarded as a generation of Buddhist monastics truly living outside the world.
Master Hai Deng was invited to the Baoguang Temple to take part in the filming of the TV show. When he finished performing martial arts, this esteemed, elderly monk granted interviews with the monks and the local martial arts-loving young people associated with Baoguang Temple – who asked his advice about meditation and self-defence practice. He was devoted to teaching, and he was not fatigued in anyway despite his age - and was able to write poems on the spot. If Master Hai Deng's posthumous work "Shaolin Cloud Water Poem Collection" (少林云水诗集 - Shao Lin Yun Shui Shi Ji) is examined, his improvised "Ten Poems of Baoguang Temple" are included, the construction style of which is considered quite high. The term ‘云水’ (Yun Shui) or ‘Coud Water’) is a term used to refer to a Buddhist monastic who wanders from place to place – like a leaf blowing in the wind – or a drop of water falling like rain. (Translator: See Hexagram 56 ‘旅’ (Lu) of the ‘Classic of Change’ (Yijing) - the ‘Wanderer’ to explain this situation).
After the release of “Sichuan Unusual Events Record", Master Hai Deng's reputation gradually became apparent. In 1982, the head monk of Shaolin Temple - Shi Xingzheng (释行正) - sent a monk to Sichuan to study at the Buddhist Academy. Since Master Hai Deng had visited the Shaolin Temple several times before, Shi Xingzheng decided to personally visit the ‘Source of the Will Abode’ to pay a return visit to Master Hai Deng. Whilst discussing Ch’an, Master Hai Deng expressed the intention of going to Shaolin and formally becoming a humble ‘Disciple’ of the famous temple. What can Shi Xingzheng say? He could only welcome such a visit. Master Hai Deng took six disciples and went to Shaolin to live and study with them for a time. Many of the Shaolin monks thought it a happy occasion to meet with Master Hai Deng – a Ch’an monk who seemed to have come from another (earlier) time! In 1983, the movie "Shaolin Temple" starring Jet Li was very popular. "Shaolin martial arts" immediately became a cultural heritage sought after and admired by the people.
In November 1982, Xiao Dingpei (肖定沛) - a disciple of Master Hai Deng - wrote an article about Master Hai Deng practicing Ch’an in the Shaolin Temple, and had it published. Outsiders did not know that Master Hai Deng was only a visiting ‘Disciple’ of the Shaolin Temple. This misunderstanding was compounded by the fact that many had seen Master Hai Deng perform three extraordinary qigong exercised in the “Sichuan Unusual Events Record" documentary – and mistakenly believed he had learned these abilities at the Shaolin Temple! This led to the further confusion that Master Hai Deng was a Ch’an monk ordained at the Shaolin Temple (he was not) and that his martial arts skills were learned at the Shaolin (they were not). It has to be made clear that Master Hai Deng never personally claimed any of this and was usually the last to hear about each rumour!
Furthermore, a well-known author concocted a biography of Master Hai Deng – which described him as a Shaolin monk – and even that he was the ‘Head Monk’ (Abbot) of the Shaolin Temple! Then, in 1983, the Beijing Evening News added to the flames, serializing this so-called ‘biography’ of Master Hai Deng Master! Master Hai Deng was said to have only ‘reluctantly’ taken the post of Shaolin Abbot whilst he became the focus of media attention. Master Hai Deng was also invited to attend the 2nd Spring Festival Gala held by CCTV in 1984, where he performed qigong stunts. In 1984, the Central News Film Studio found Master Hai Deng and produced the documentary "Dharma Master Hai Deng of Shaolin" (少林海灯法师 - Shao Lin Hai Deng Fa Shi). .
Needless to say, this film was a big success. The photography team was very excited and decided to continue to encourage others to organize the staff to write a script about the legendary life of Master Hai Deng! Unwilling to be left behind, CCTV quickly joined forces with the Chengdu Foreign Affairs Office and invited Master Hai Deng and his disciples - Fan Yinglian (范应莲), Li Xingyou (李兴友) and others to shoot the TV series "Buddhist Careers" (佛门生涯 - Fo Men Sheng Ya). With all this publicity, Master Hai Deng became a defacto Shalin monk, Shaolin Dharma-Master and Shaolin martial arts expert! As he was quiet and humble, he did not take any notice of what was happening in the outside world – but merely ‘responded’ to circumstances as matters arose, He neither confirmed nor denied all the rumours but remain detached from it all. Although sometimes criticised for this ‘silence’ in the face of this disinformation, Master Hai Deng’s behaviour was ‘correct’ from a monastic point of view, as he remained ‘non-attached’ from the ignorance of others and never made any false claims about his own history or abilities.
In 1985, he accompanied a Chinese film delegation when visiting the United States, setting off a wave of "Shaolin martial arts euphoria" in throughout America; he was also invited to teach the Dharma in the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in the USA... In the meantime, the Shaolin Temple monk - Shi Xingzheng - expressed his dissatisfaction at these developments. This view was supported in many areas around Dengfeng County, where the Shaolin Temple is located in Henan. The Shaolin Temple emphasises the Cao Dong lineage and is very strict. Only a few hundred men are chosen as fully ordained Shaolin monks at any one time, and they must go through a vigorous selection process far more difficult than anything hinted at in the movies! The Shaolin colleges surrounding the Shaolin Temple are places for sharing a certain strata of Shaolin Ch’an and martial arts knowledge – and are not considered the Shaolin Temple proper. There is a clear distinction. Master Hai Deng was not an ordained Shaolin monk of the Shaolin Temple – although he had been allowed to worship in the temple grounds – and he had not learned the ‘inner’ martial arts of the Shaolin Temple. The rumours suggested that he had – and herein lies all the subsequent trouble!
Due to all the confusion and trouble caused by these misunderstandings, the Education Department of the Dengfeng County Party Committee issued a statement that according to their records - Master Hai Deng is not the ‘Head Monk’ (Abbot) of Shaolin Temple. This was handed to the Head of the Chinese Buddhist Association - Zhao Puchu (赵朴初) – for clarification (just in case the government records were out of date or otherwise incorrect). Chairman Zhao Puchu wrote a reply on December 16th, 1985. His evaluation of Master Hai Deng in the letter is very objective. There are three main points: first, Master Hai Deng is a highly respected and fully ordained Ch’an Buddhist monk from Sichuan and is the Director of the Chinese Buddhist Association; second, Master Hai Deng is a genuine Master of martial arts; third, the news media's publicity is disrespectful and misleading. The solution proposed by Zhao Puchu is to understand the misleading propaganda, and correct it over-time through education. In this way the mistaken views will come to an end.
Although a statement was issued stating that Master Hai Deng was not the ‘Head Monk’ (Abbot) of the of Shaolin Temple – this fact did not affect his continued “popularity”. In 1986, he was invited to the Shanghai Armed Police Command School to instruct students in the practice of martial arts; He was hired as the general instructor of the PLA Scouts martial arts training team; in 1987, he participated in 20 episodes of the TV series "Dharma Master Hai Deng" filmed by Sichuan TV; In 1988 he settled in the ‘Martial Arts Dharma-Hall Dedicated to Master Hai Deng’ built for him in Jiangyou... But in January 1989, he fell ill and passed away. The ashes of Master Hai Deng were not yet cold when a reporter from Sichuan Daily – named ‘Jing Mou’ (敬某) , published a long report in Beijing’s "Reportage" magazine and Hainan’s "Gold Island" magazine. This article was highly disrespectful and wrongly claimed that Master Hai Deng was a ‘Liar’ and a ‘trickster’ who lived a life of only ‘making money’ out of those he fooled!
Fan Yinglian - a disciple of Master Hai Deng- took Jing Mou to Court in August 1989 for “infringement of reputation”. After investigation, it was found that Master Hai Deng followed the Vinaya Discipline carefully lived a very hard life – this pure and virtuous lifestyle was fully maintained even after he became famous throughout the country. All the offerings sent to him by sincere believers were immediately donated to the local temples and hospitals, and there was nothing left for him personally. However, one of the filmmakers of the "Sichuan Unusual Events Record" documentary came forward and revealed that Master Hai Deng was suspected of cheating when performing the one-finger Ch’an hand-stand where is legs were suspended from the rafters by cloth straps. As a result, the people were in an uproar, and Master Hai Deng’s personal reputation collapsed and he became the object of criticism. Master Hai Deng became both a comedy and a tragedy.
He was originally a poor monk who had left the world of dust, and was without power and money. The reason why he became a "god" was because of the wishful thinking superstitious attitudes of the people who held him up as something he was not; the reason why he was made a "demon" was also because of the same people who had become angry when they discovered their own stupidity in this matter. However, in all fairness, abandoning the dramatic changes in the last ten years of Master Hai Deng’s life, let’s just look at the majority of his life previous to his fame. He did indeed live a legendary life. He was an eminent monk who integrated Buddhism, martial arts, medicine, and literature. All these great achievements are ‘true’ and represent far more than most people achieve in a single life-time. The most commendable thing is that in the last ten years of his life, although he was praised as a god by the people, he could still maintain a hard life of pure and virtuous self-cultivation. He never once broke the monastic rules or abandoned the Vinaya Discipline.
These observations alone deserve the respect of future generations. Of course, the most controversial aspects of Master Hai Deng are of two aspects: 1. Is his Dharma Correct? 2. Is his martial arts authentic? First, is the Dharma of Master Hai Deng correct? Old Tan (老覃 - Lao Tan) thinks it was very high. Furthermore, Master Hai Deng was a disciple of Great Master Master Xu Yun (虚云大师 - Xu Yun Da Shi) [1840-1959] - the ‘True Dharma-Eye of this Generation’! Old Tan added here, that Master Xu Yun was one of the first people who advocated the establishment of the Chinese Buddhist Association. He later became the first honorary president. Master Hai Deng visited Master Xuyun at Zhenru Temple in Yunju Mountain, Jiangxi, and was appreciated by Master Xu Yun. He soon became the ‘Head Monk’ (Abbot) of the Zhenru Temple, with Master Hai Deng being considered an expert lecturer on the the Shurangama Sutra, the Lotus Sutra and so on, by Master Xu Yun. Master Hai Deng was certainly of a generation of very highly accomplished and virtuous Buddhist monks!
Was Master Hai Deng's martial arts of a high quality? Lao Tan again believes that Master Hai Deng was a very great martial arts master! This being the case, then how should we view his legs being suspended from the roof when performing his famous hand-stand? Well, it is to be expected as the Master was 80-years-old at the time! The fact that he could do any of these stunts is truly remarkable! How many 80-year-olds could be turned upside down and suspend their bodyweight on one or two-fingers? Hardly any! Furthermore, Master Hai Deng explained to the film crew that at his advanced age he could not perform the stunts of his youth – but that he had taught his disciples how to do these qigong movements. However, the film crew continued with their disrespectful attitudes and behaviour and literally ‘forced’ Master Hai Deng into performing the stunt himself – and as they wanted him to ‘hold’ the posture for far-longer than was normal – it was their idea that his legs be suspended to the rafters by strips of cloth! Ironically, the head of the film-crew who abused Master Hai Deng in this manner even came forward years later in an attempt to make money by falsely accusing Master Hai Deng of suspending his own legs! According to people who were there – Master Hai Deng was still able to assume the hand-stand on his own prior to his feet being secured to increase the length of time of the demonstration. This is despite the fact that as people naturally age their energy levels change and increase in their profundity and depth. Master ‘turn inward’ and abandon the world of dust!
Chinese Language Article:
In the West, Asian martial arts have been thoroughly commercialised and converted from a battlefield spiritual art – into a vehicle for making money. The instructors ‘sell’ their knowledge to classes of students – with an emphasis upon a very narrow definition of ‘self-defence’ (in the UK, many such teachers attempt to relate to their students by assuming they are in a pub on a Saturday night – and another drinker ‘starts looking at your bird’ and such other laughable narratives! In other words, the ancient martial arts of the East are taught to students in the contemporary West as a method to ‘defend’ themselves from attacks from other Westerners in a social (leisure) setting! Teachers of this type tend to cultivate a ‘cult of personality’ mentality throughout their school, which suggests that their art contains some sought of ‘mystical’ core that grants invincibility to each practitioner, and certain defeat to all those who are unlucky to confront it!
Ironically, I have been shown evidence of so-called ‘contracts’ signed by students when setting-up their monthly bank payments to the instructor. In the small print a disclaimer reads ‘The ‘student’ acknowledges that the movements taught are for guidance only, a may not be effective in any position of ‘self-defence’ - and that the instructor has no liability whatsoever for the well-being of the student.’ A lawyer-friend of mine advises that such contracts and ‘clauses’ are common-place nowadays in the martial arts scene which tends to target large classes of young children – where the training is sold to parents as ‘play’! The teachers do not care about the psychological, physical or spiritual well-being of their students, as the individuals concerned exist only to generate income and pay the bills.
In the expensive leisure centres, for example, the martial arts are sold as ego-trips for well-off and very rich! These people like to pretend that for the duration of the lessons they are legitimate martial arts fighters, when in reality the classes are designed around retaining their comfort levels in an air-conditioned room, with movements that do not go beyond a light cardiovascular workout. Each lesson is a self-contained episode as there is no guarantee that the ‘clients’ will be back next week! There is no continuation, but only the repeating of the myth of a deficient self-empowerment that occurs within one of the safest and crime-free environments on earth! The teacher must alter everything and change whatever the clients want changed to keep their attention levels up and to keep them coming back for more (whilst paying the ridiculous membership fees)!
Should a student progress in their martial arts practice and attend long enough for the teacher to take their presence seriously, he or she may well be considered suitable for participating in martial sports. This is a safe type of combat within which neither of the participants actually hit one another – but purposely throw-out their arms and legs to empty air in the direction of the opponent! He who throws enough such techniques is declared the ‘winner’ and the instructor’s school receives all the kudos for this success (hence the interest shown in the student by the teacher). Then there are the mixed martial artists who roll around on the floor in one-on-one bouts – each trying to ‘submit’ the other. In some versions, kicking and punching is also allowed during ‘stand-up’ periods to excite the fee-paying crowd! Although presented as the ‘best’ type of martial arts, modern militaries do not use this type of fighting simply because it does not work in reality (on the battlefield).
Legitimate Asian martial arts do exist. They exist in Asia and they exist in the West but they are well-hidden behind the thick blanket of highly commercialised martial arts. If a sincere student genuinely seeks-out a proper martial arts teacher, it is highly likely that they will be drawn into something very similar to what is described above. In fact, given the current conditions, such a scenario is virtually inevitable. In such a situation it is better to make the best of what is on offer in the outside whilst retaining you own inner freedom. It is a matter of bidding your time until you encounter what you are really looking for. Until that time, adaptability is the key to ongoing development. Understanding a situation does not mean that you have to be in conflict with it. It is better to remain quiet and meaning onto a situation and breathe new life into it. Traditional Chinese martial arts do exist, but they are difficult to find and even more difficult to enter!
The Master said: If a student is not suitably eager to receive genuine knowledge, then I will not eagerly expound genuine knowledge. If a student does not express suitable urgency to receive genuine knowledge, then I will not urgently explain genuine knowledge. If I hold-up one corner and the student does not respectfully bring me the other three corners, then all interaction with that student immediately comes to an end. — Confucius, Analects 7.8
My above translation is exactly how an ethnic Chinese person understands this saying of the Sage known in the West as ‘Confucius’. Indeed, all interaction – even within modern China – which involves a transference of knowledge from some ‘who Knows' to someone who ‘does not know’ is premised on this short paragraph. The agency of ‘silence’ is a time where a student can re-set their mind and body to begin the interaction yet again - until the circuit is complete and the knowledge flows efficiently from teacher to student. ACW (6.6.2021)
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.