WAN LAI SHENG
Born in 1902 in Wuchang, Hubei, China, Grandmaster Wan started practicing
martial arts at a very young age. He graduated from the National
Beijing Agricultural University and had successively studied under
various famous martial artists like Zhao Xinzhou, Du Xinwu and Liu
Baichuan. Devoted to the study of martial arts, Taoism, Qigong and
Chinese medicine, Grandmaster Wan integrated the ideology of Zhuangzi
into martial arts and founded the philosophy and principles for Ziranmen.
Leveraging on the strengths of the different styles he had studied,
Grandmaster Wan developed and enhanced the skills and techniques
of Ziranmen, greatly promoting the art and bringing it to an unprecedented
new level. His paramount contribution had made him the most influential
master in the history of Ziranmen.
In 1928, at the
age of 26, Grandmaster Wan participated in the National Martial
Arts Competition in Nanjing organized by the National Martial Arts
Academy. Even before the competition started, he was recognized
by the participants as the preeminent martial artist in attendance.
Grandmaster Wan was a prominent figure in the martial arts world
and had an eminent and respectable reputation being a martial arts
elite and a sophisticated scholar. He was the first martial artist
in both the martial arts and the military history to be accorded
the military rank of General. Throughout his marital arts career,
he had served many influential positions, including: Chief of Guangdong
Martial Arts Academy, Chief of Guangxi Martial Arts Academy, Chief
of Hunan Martial Arts Institute, Faculty Chief of Sports at Guangxi
University, Head of Martial Arts Trainers for the National Training
Team of Guomintang. In 1952, Grandmaster Wan was invited by the
Chairman of the Fujian Provincial Government to found the Fujian
Sports Teachers University in Yongan County and became the university’s
principal and professor for the sports faculty. This marked the
beginning of his teaching career in the Fujian province. Unfortunately,
he was later on dismissed because his high moral integrity and
unadulating character offended the Head of the Education Department.
He then moved on to become the sports professor at the Fujian Agricultural
University and settled down in Fuzhou until the liberation of China.
was more than a great scholar and an expert in martial arts, Taoism,
and Chinese medicine; he was committed to promoting the idea of “saving the country through martial arts education”.
He continued to concentrate on studying the principles and foundations
of martial arts after China’s liberation. Despite the ups and
downs of life, he had never stopped writing and propounding his ideas
about martial arts. Since the publication of his first book “Wu
Shu Hui Zong” (The Convergence of Martial Arts) in 1928, he
had subsequently published over twenty books and articles about martial
arts. He also served as a Member of the Fujian Provincial Administration
Council, Honorary President of the Fujian Provincial Institute of
Martial Arts, and Team Leader of the Fuzhou City Martial Arts Consultants
Team. Being a scholar and a martial artist, he was a rare talent
in the martial arts world. It’s been said that both Bruce Lee,
the world famous martial artist, and Sodousin, Chairman of the League
of Chinese Fists in Japan, declared that they had benefited from
Following the liberation and reform in China, Chinese martial arts
started to blossom. In 1986, the Fuzhou Ziranmen Martial Arts Academy
was established under the direction of Grandmaster Wan. Ziranmen
was finally able to have a professional organization dedicated to
teaching the style. Grandmaster Wan was the Director of the Academy
while Master Lu Yaoqin, his major disciple, was the Manager and Operations-in-charge.
For the past two decades, the Ziranmen Martial Arts Academy has trained
thousands of outstanding Ziranmen students in the mainland and overseas.
The Academy has played a pivotal role in the succession and promotion
On August 8,
1992, Grandmaster Wan passed away in Fuzhou at the age of 91. Despite
his departure, his high ethics of martial arts, his chivalrous
spirit, his unyielding character and his great achievements and
contributions will forever live. Under Grandmaster Wan’s
integration and development, Ziranmen had been presented to the world
with a new face. Today, Ziranmen pupils are all over the world. Ziranmen
will continue to proliferate, and its succeeding generations will
continue to promote the art to new levels.
ZHAO XIN ZHOU
Master Zhao was born as Zhao Quan but later assumed the name, Xinzhou, he came from Shunyi. Martial arts had been a family tradition for many generations; the art was particularly refined by the time it was passed on to him. However, Master Zhao also studied the fighting techniques and especially the spear of the Six Harmony Style (Liuhe Men) for more than 10 years with Cangzhou’s “The Sharpshooter,? Grandmaster Liu Dekuan. Later he studied fencing for about nine years with Master Kong Jitai.
Master Kong Jitai was a bodyguard to the emperor and a fourth ranking government official in his own right, he was exceptionally well trained in fighting and swordplay. Although Master Kong had a son of his own, his son was not willing to follow in his father’s footsteps and study martial arts. Upon discovering how earnestly Zhao Xinzhou practiced, Master Kong prepared to pass the entire lineage onto him. Later when Kong Jitai passed away, Zhao Xinzhou also took over his master’s role in the royal guard. Not long before the abdication of the Emperor of the Qing Dynasty Zhao Xinzhou was dismissed from office. Zhao Xinzhou was Master Kong Jitai’s only disciple, he saw him as his own son. The fact that Zhao Xinzhou was such an accomplished and skilled a martial artist speaks to the years of effort Master Kong spent training him.
It was in the 25th year of Emperor Guangxun (1899) that Zhao Xinzhou was made the trainer for the imperial guard. Three years later he established the Ever Victorious Protection Service. I (Wan Laisheng) trained with him for 10 years. His reputation followed him everywhere he went, spanning China from North to South. Zhao Xinzhou could freely travel across half the continent and was without exception met with sincerity and welcome. Later, in his free time he would often relate to me anecdotes and stories of his travels, he was a wise man.
Since the Republic of China (1912-1949) Master Zhao slipped into obscurity in his home town; however his friends urged him to not let his kung fu fall into oblivion. Heeding the advice of his friends, Zhao Xinzhou accepted an invitation to professorship at Beijing Agricultural University. In order to insure that his lifetime of arduousness would not be in vain, Master Zhao attached himself to Beijing Agricultural University for ten years. It was there that he hoped to select one or two capable disciples to which he could teach everything. In that time I spent everyday with him, from morning till night. Master Zhao saw me not as just a student but his disciple and looked after me like his own son. Not only did Master Zhao introduce me to martial arts, and foster my foundation to a point of maturity, he passed on his Shaolin Kung fu legacy to me.
As a person, Master Zhao was upright and not given to flattery; he was a man of great stature. In his later years Zhao Xinzhou, pleased at the notion of leaving the martial world and having a particular liking for curio and deep understanding of art, he opened a store called Deji Guwan (Virtuous Classics Antiques), where he spent his remaining years in happiness. He is now 52 and has three sons and one daughter.
Translated by Joshua Shain from Grandmaster Wan Laisheng's Wushu Huizhong , 1928.
Du Xinwu, a well-known
master of the Natural School, was born in Cili, County, Hunan Province.
He began to learn Wushu at the age of 6 when he was studying at a
private school. Three years later, he was fortunate enough to be
apprenticed to Yang Ke, a scholar of literature and martial arts.
The clever boy made rapid progress and found no peer in his native
town at the age of 10. Then his master was confined to bed and Du
Xinwu went into the hills of Gaizi Mountains, where he met an old
Daoist, one of Yang Ke’s friends. The Daoist
was said to have the habit of jumping over a gateless high fence
when he went into and came out of his homestead. He passed on his
Wushu skills to Du.
At the age of
13, Du was introduced to an eccentric person named Dwarf Xu, also
known as “Strange Hero South of the Yang Tze,” who
held from Guizhou Province and was wandering from one place to another.
Thinking Du to be a prodigy, Dwarf Xu taught him everything about
the Natural School he had founded, including the feet of “light
footwork,” which enabled him to jump over three tables placed
atop one another.
In 1885, when
he was 16 years of age, Du Xinwu accompanied his master to Guizhou
and Sichuan and broadened his vision through contacts with famous
wushu maestros of different schools. Seeing that he had reached
maturity, Dwarf Xu left him all on his own. Two years later, Du
tried to find a job in an escort bureau in Sichuan. At the sight
of his small size, the hefty director made little of him and challenged
him to a bout. Du gave him three “sweeping kicks” and
threw him to the ground, unable to get up for a counter attack. Du
was accepted as an escort. He carried out all his missions successfully
and struck terror into the highway men’s hearts. But he grew
tired of the job and returned to his hometown two years later.
In 1900, Du Xinwu
went to study in Japan. While aboard a ship just leaving the dock
in Shanghai, he saw a boat catching up in the wake, calling the
ship to stop to pick up a Chinese merchant’s trunk
which had been left behind. But the haughty captain paid no heave
to it. In great indignation, Du jumped into the boat and back onboard
ship with the trunk, which he handed to its owner as many passengers
looked at him in no small wonder.
Du Xinwu entered the Imperial University, majoring in agriculture.
Relying on his unusual fighting skills, he revenged some insults
done to his fellow countrymen and no one dared to ride roughshod
over them again when he was nearby.
In 1905, when
the China Revolutionary League was founded under the leadership
of Sun Yatsen, Du Xinwu joined it at the recommendation of his
schoolmate Song Jiaoren and took charge of the founder’s
safety. After the revolution of 1911 put an end to the Qing Dynasty,
Du was appointed counselor of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry
headed by Song Jiaren and engaged as a professor of an agriculture
institute. During his stay in Beijing he accepted Wan Laisheng and
Guo Qifeng as his disciples of wushu. When receiving his second disciple,
he gave a demonstration of his “light footwork” by performing
a dazzling Natural School routine as he walked a dozen rounds or
so on the edge of a big iron cauldron. His pupil kowtowed to him
again and again after he landed gently on the ground, without panting
or showing the slightest sign of fatigue.
After the then
central government removed to Nanjing in 1927, Du Xinwu worked
in the Ministry of Agriculture and Mining and then as deputy director
of an experimental farm of Henan Province. In 1932, he was invited
to sit on a panel of jury for the Second National Wushu Contest
held in Chang Sha, capital of Hunan Province. He retired in 1949
to a peaceful life in his birthplace, living together with his
daughter’s family. Still he kept the honorable post of
advisor to the provincial people’s government until his death
From “Martial Arts of China presents Grandmasters,” Pg
Liu Bai Chuan, born in Anhui Province’s Liuan County in 1870, began martial arts during childhood. Yang Cheng Yun, a senior Shaolin monk took the then strong and confident young Liu Bai Chuan and taught him secret skills that allowed him to attain a higher level of martial art greatness thus allowing him to pass the imperial military examination. Later as a professional security guard escorting shipments of goods, he passed through Hong Kong. There, Liu Bai Chuan used his Luohan skills of "Zimu Yuanyang Lianhuan Tui" to defeat a known English fighter. The honorable Sun Yat Sen who had been present, personally wrote a banner with the characters "Shangwu Jingshen" which means "Uphold Martial Spirit" in commemoration and appreciation of Liu's effort to protect Chinese pride and recognize his magnificent feat.
His martial arts style originated from northern Shaolin Luohan and that combined with his height and strength made him a fearless and noble warrior. Yang Cheng Yun taught “Xiao Luohan” and “Luohan Shenda” to Liu Bai Chuan. “Luohan Shenda” includes the Internal Eight Legs, External Eight Legs, Internal Eight Hammers, External Eight Hammers, Obvious Eight Strikes, and the Hidden Eight Strikes. Liu Bai Chuan learned and then mastered the essence of Luohan Kungfu and Luohan Shenda. He was extraordinarily skillful at them but excelled exceptionally at Luohan Leg Skill. His speed was said to be “fast like a typhoon and fierce like lightening” and was known to be able to easily snap a tree branch as thick as an arm in half with his bare hands. When fighting, he could easily kick others down quickly; thus garnering the name "Number One Leg South of Yangzi”.
Liu Bai Chuan becoming Wan Laisheng’s teacher was a meeting of opportunity with fate. In 1928, Wan Laisheng led a Hebei martial arts team to Nanjing to participate in the First National Examination, where he received an outstanding score. At that time, Liu Bai Chuan was in Shanghai, but when he heard about Wan Laisheng’s score, he quickly left for Nanjing, where he met up with Chu Min Yi, Zheng Zhuo Ping and others. They decided to go to the Gu Lou Hotel where Wan Laisheng was staying to challenge him to a martial arts match to determine how their skills compared. Wan Laisheng’s Master, Du Xinwu was also there and afraid that Wan Laisheng could possibly lose, he personally took up the challenge and fought Liu Bai Chuan. After the challenge, a deep friendship between them was created. Under these amicable circumstances, Wan Laisheng respectfully obeyed Du Xinwu’s directive to also become the student of Liu Bai Chuan.
Liu Bai Chuan not only taught Wan Laisheng Luohan Style Kung fu, he also taught him Shaolin Tongzi Gong (Young Boy Skills) and Chinese Orthopedics. Wan Laisheng said that when Liu Bai Chuan learned martial arts from the senior monk Yang Cheng Yun, he had to climb a mountain every day and go into the forest to practice “Tida, Gunfan” kicking, punching, tumbling and turning over; and “Tengshan, Diepu” jumping, evading, falling, and pouncing. He was also required to constantly practice fighting against the senior Monk, whose severity often left him covered with countless cuts and bruises. Yang Cheng Yun wanted to make sure that Liu Bai Chuan learned real Kung Fu skills as opposed to skills for show (“Hua Quan Xiu Tui” Flowery Fist and Brocade Leg), therefore he was very strict in his teachings.
Once, while they were practicing combat, Liu Bai Chuan used all his strength to attack Yang Cheng Yun so the monk retreated backwards toward a wall, then suddenly counter attacked with a double palm strike that caused Liu Bai Chuan to fly back several feet. He accidentally hit his head on a hoisting tackle, was knocked unconscious and his head would not stop bleeding. The senior monk searched all over and found a special herbal medicine called “Quan Guo”, Spring Fruit Herb, in order to cure Liu Bai Chuan’s injury. After this incident, Yang Cheng Yun decided to teach Liu Bai Chuan Chinese medicinal knowledge, which kept him healthy through his senior years.
Liu Bai Chuan was not only outstanding as a martial artist, but also was a man of integrity and loyalty who embodied the spirit of martial arts for which he was well respected by others. It had been these traits that originally led Yang Cheng Yun to teach Liu Bai Chuan. In addition, Yang Cheng Yun presented him a steel whip and a "Luohan Dan Jie Dao" (Single Hero Guarding Broad Sword), as a gift and exhorted him to continue to be a disciplined and honest person and to follow the rules and regulations of Shaolin. Liu Bai Chuan strictly followed this instruction all his life.
In 1929, Wan Laisheng participated in the Second National Martial Arts Challenge Match held in Shanghai. He ranked amongst the top finalist and was so intent on winning, fought very hard. Liu Bai Chuan who was very observant noticed this, so together with his primary master Du Xinwu, Li Jing Lin and other senior masters, advised him on the importance of harmony in martial arts rather than participating for mere ranking and fame. Because of Liu Bai Chuan’s intervention, overly fierce combat was avoided and a life long lesson was learned leaving a deep impression on Wan Laisheng.
In the 1930’s Wan Laisheng was appointed Director of the National Martial Art Training School of Hunan and Liu Bai Chuan was appointed as the Senior Advisor. While there he greatly contributed in disseminating Shaolin Luohan. In 1964 at the age of 94 years old Liu Bai Chuan passed away leaving Wan Laisheng to continue his legacy.
LIU SHENG XIAN
Grandmaster Liu, I don't know what kind of person he was as he kept to himself. With white hair and a ruddy complexion he was healthy even at an old age. He looked to be eighty or ninety years old but still hale and hearty. He was versatile in all forms of kungfu but not arrogant. He had not a single place of residence. How it was that he became so, I am not a leisure to say. He was renowned as a physician; his ability to provide miraculous relief gave him the reputation as an immortal. Though I, in the duration of study, shared a mutual respect with all of my teachers, Master Du, Master Yang and Master Deng, it was only Grandmaster Liu that was much more willing to travel with me. In my immaturity, he had not taught me much in the way of content but instead would only slightly correct my kungfu.
As a person, Grandmaster Liu was not one for formalities, he was indifferent and impersonal; upon asking his age he would respond, fifty. Grandmaster Liu posed the question, "What then, was I doing during the Taiping Rebellion?". "I was still practicing medicine," but he added that he was not at all unaware of the happenings of the time.
Three generations of the family Chen had each the occasion to meet Grandmaster Liu in their own times, and all of which thought him to be the same age. Grandmaster Liu was not one to dwell on moments past, nor was he willing to speak of his own life experiences. It is thus that I sincerely and with great circumspect draw this biographical sketch, and it is so that he is known as an immortal.
Translated by Joshua Shain from Grandmaster Wan Laisheng's Wushu Huizhong , 1928.