The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Monday, May 14, 2018

The South Bound Tiger

Over at Kung Fu Tea, there was a very nice overview of the life of Gu Ruzhang (Ku Yi Kheung), a famous Northern Shaolin Master who went to southern China and achieved great fame there.

Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.


Gu Ruzhang is one of the best known martial artists of the Republic of China era.  He is remembered today as a pioneer who helped to bring Northern Shaolin to Southern China.  Most accounts of his illustrious career start with his appearance at the first National Guoshu Exam held in 1928. At the conclusion of this tournament he was awarded the title of “guoshi” (national warrior) and came to the attention of important military leaders in the Nationalist Party (GMD).  They would subsequently sponsor his teaching mission to the South.

Unfortunately these accounts omit some of the most interesting aspects of Gu Ruzhang’s life and career.  Perhaps the real question that we should be asking is what unique set of circumstances led him to Nanjing in the fall of 1928 in the first place?   We have already seen that a close examination of the careers of other martial artists can expand our understanding of both civil society and martial culture.  My own personal background is not in Northern Shaolin, nor am I really qualified to speak to the specific substance of Gu Ruzhang’s martial method or training system.  However, a brief outline of his career does open a valuable window onto the rapidly evolving realm of the civilian fighting systems in the Republic of China period.

Much of my own research focuses on the evolution and development of Southern China’s martial culture in the 19th and 20th century.  Gu Ruzhang is a central figure in many of these discussions precisely because he crossed cultural boundaries and helped to promote and popularize different approaches to the Chinese martial arts.  For those reasons alone his career might make an interesting case study.

Still, none of us are free to make our lives exactly as we wish.  Gu Ruzhang’s career was both constrained and enabled by powerful forces within Chinese society.  Some of these were the direct result of the political turmoil that China experienced in the first half of the 20th century.  Others were a side-effect of the rapid modernization and urbanization of the state’s traditional economy.

Gu Ruzhang’s story is as much about political history as it is anything else.  By exploring these sometimes neglected aspects of his life and career I hope to shed a light on the basic forces that were shaping the development of the traditional Chinese martial arts more generally.  His career coincided with a period of immense change in the way the traditional fighting styles were imagined and taught. 

I hope that a brief discussion may help to clarify why these changes began to emerge when they did.



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