Master MENG ZHAO-XUN
Meng Zhao-Xun was born in February 1916 in Dashin county, Hebei Province, China. His family were wealthy land owners, possessing thousands of acres near Beijing. Meng's first contact with the martial arts came at the age of five when he was beaten up by a gang of boys. He therefore asked his father if he could learn kung-fu. His father invited a man named Deng De-Jing to come to their house twice a week to teach Meng and three of his neighbour's kids. Deng, although a farm worker, was a highly respected master of the Black Tiger style (hei-hu chuan) and had learned from a Master Li Shi-Ji.
Deng worked on the land during the summer but in the winter when the earth was frozen he usually found himself out of work. So he went to the mountains looking for branches to sell for fire-wood. He always sent some of the proceeds to his teacher, Master Li who, in his old age, lived alone. Sometimes Deng had to pawn his wife's jewellery but he still sent part of the money to Li. In appreciation, Li taught Deng as much as possible. Shortly before his death Li, lying ill in bed, asked Deng to bring some chopsticks. With these he taught Deng a spear form called 'Suo-men Duan-gu' (lock door-split bone). Deng, during the following month, continued to practice by Li's bed until Master Li died still trying to teach. He died in a manner feared by most Chinese people, i.e. without family or relatives to arrange a proper funeral or perform the necessary religious rites. But Deng showed himself more than just a student. Nearly starving as a result of the expense, Deng saw that Li received a funeral, and was the only mourner at his master's grave.
In 1921, Deng came to the Meng estate to teach every week. According to the Chinese tradition, a teacher had to be treated with great courtesy and so Mrs Meng, before each class, gave Deng a selection of fruits, tobacco, the best tea, and various expensive foods. Then he taught the basics of North Shaolin Black Tiger style beginning with important stances such as the front stance known as gong-bu or 'bow stance' and the ma-bu or 'horse stance'. He taught seriously but extremely slowly, sometimes teaching only half a technique.
Once, Meng dared to ask him to teach a little more. Deng agreed but none of the young students could do it. As a result, Deng told them to be quiet in future and not to be impatient. After two years of practice, the seven year old Meng again met up with the boys that had attacked him and this time he beat them. Meng studied with Deng for about six years and completed the first four forms of Black Tiger.
The first form begins with a very graceful opening of the arms while raising the left foot in preparation for a kick. Following the kick, a low front-stance is assumed for a series of punches and blocks. From a low horse-stance a 'tornado kick' is performed, requiring a high double spinning-kick while rotating the body 180° in the air. Landing, one is required to perform two low circular foot-sweeps immediately followed by a two-handed finger poke to the eyes. The main characteristics of the form are low strong front stances, some horse stances and back-stances, and very fast and powerful focused strikes. The form is supposed to look as elegant as possible without sacrificing the necessary speed and power. It teaches all the traditional northern style stances, several kinds of punches, blocks, kicks, jumping techniques, foot-sweeps, and some Chin-Na. Since so much is in the form, it is necessary to spend several months practicing it and nothing else. The next 3 forms introduce more complicated movements often highlighting particular skills such as falling techniques, fighting from the ground and throws. Additionally, there are several spear, sword, and stick forms.
Meng was subsequently introduced to Deng's kung-fu brother Zhao, who had specialized in another four forms. Having presented Master Zhao with suitable gifts, it was suggested by Deng that Zhao should teach Meng the four forms. Zhao refused to accept Meng but in a way that would not cause Meng or Deng to lose face, saying, "My brother Deng has taught you well and you have acquired good kung-fu. So it is not really necessary for you to learn the other forms." Though Meng departed politely, he still hoped one day to complete his knowledge of Black Tiger by learning the final forms.
After studying Black Tiger for over ten years Meng had come to the premature conclusion that there probably was not a lot more he could learn about kung-fu. He was, then, somewhat incredulous when one of his high-school friends told him about a teacher, Master Zhang Jian-Tang, who was far above Meng's level. Meng was very keen to visit this teacher to discover the truth.
This became clear to Meng as he found himself standing with his head bent back, neck stretched, and a hard fist pushing into his throat. The fist belonged to Grandmaster Zhang Jian-Tang, head of the White Monkey Tong-Bi (long arm) style, into whose school Meng had come asking to spar with the teacher. The Master had agreed, knowing he had nothing to fear from such a young man and had allowed Meng to attack him with what Meng thought was a fast and powerful right punch. Avoiding the punch, Master Zhang stepped forward wrapping his left arm around Meng's waist, while at the same time pushing his right fist up under Meng's chin forcing his head back and simultaneously applying pressure with his lower knuckles into Meng's adam's apple. He could have held Meng like that for as long as he pleased. Having been released, Meng found himself incapable of speaking as a result of the recent pressure on his throat. When he got his voice back, Meng asked if he could try again. He feinted with a high punch and, at the same time, shot out a low-level side kick. This time he found himself lying on the ground; Master Zhang had caught the kick and was proceeding to twist Meng's foot in a very uncomfortable manner. Admitting defeat, Meng asked Zhang if he could become his student.
Meng went to Zhang's house every day to study Tong-Bi style, practicing in Zhang's enclosed yard. For the first three months only one technique was taught until it was done properly. Meng was also taught how to use the spear although he had already practiced it before with Master Deng. He still continued to practice with Deng when he had time and, on one occasion, was practicing spear techniques with him when he unthinkingly used one of Master Zhang's methods. Master Deng was very displeased and terminated the practice. Meng has always regretted this as it showed that he had been learning somewhere else. "I felt bad about showing off like that with my first teacher, using techniques another teacher had taught me. I never did anything like that again", Meng recalls, "but," he added, "Master Zhang's spear techniques were much better than Deng's".
Master Zhang, a very serious and careful teacher, had a comprehensive knowledge of the human body and the effects on it of the various kung-fu strikes. In fact, Zhang had graduated from medical school in Japan and had qualified as a surgeon but preferred the practice ol kung-fu to the practice of medicine.
One of Zhang's rules was that his students should not teach Tong-Bi techniques to other people. A student of Zhang's ignored this rule and taught one of his relatives named Wu. One day, as Wu was walking by the Bridge of Heaven in Peking he came across an itinerant medicine-seller laying his wares out on the ground. At that time there was a custom that newcomers to the area should first contribute something to the local gangs. Wu informed the man of the custom but the medicine seller claimed that the area belonged to everyone and that he had the right to sell things there if he wanted to. They argued and then agreed to settle the matter by fighting: if Wu won the man should pay and if he lost the man could stay as long as he liked. Using Tong-Bi techniques, Wu knocked the man to the ground. He was carried to hospital where, a week later, he died. When Master Zhang found out he was furious. Meng, however, devoted himself to the study of Tong-Bi and, as a result of his determination and already high level of kung-fu, was admitted to Master Zhang's special private class - an honour that has only been granted to four people.
Meng found Tong-Bi to be very different from the more spectacular and external Black Tiger style. Tong-Bi is not an 'external style', nor is it an 'internal' one but shares some of the characteristics of both. The stances are high and more relaxed in appearance, the open palm or one-knuckle strike is used in preference to the usual fist. Simultaneous retaliations, as opposed to the more basic block and punch methods of Black Tiger, are favoured necessitating a greater degree of lightness and subtlety of technique. Emphasis is placed on the ability of the Tong-Bi expert to seemingly lengthen his arms, reaching out to his opponent to grab and execute extremely powerful pulling techniques. Tong-Bi also includes the Chin-Na joint locking methods, qigong, and weapon forms.
Meng finished high school in Peking during the war with Japan and, like many young men, wished to join the army. He obtained a place at the officers' school but, as it was located in Nanking, his mother refused to allow him to leave home. His father, however, advised him to wait for one year and then, if he still wanted to take up a military career, to apply to the prestigious air force academy. This he did and entered the air force college to be trained as a fighter pilot.
During his years in the air force Meng met many kung-fu experts from all over China and was able to expand his knowledge by learning several other styles including the very demanding and rarely seen 'Eight Drunken Immortals' sword form as taught by a Master Jing; this form involves falling and rolling on the ground in an apparently drunken manner and requires considerable agility and gymnastic ability. Jing also taught Meng a very practical sword method that he devised himself by combining elements of both Chinese and Japanese sword-fighting.
While in Chengdu, Meng had an opportunity to try out his sword skills when he met a sword expert named Dzen who was looking for challengers. Although Meng had just completed a year's stay in hospital after a plane crash, he still felt inclined to take on Dzen. Using wooden swords they fought three rounds. In the first round, Meng caught Dzen on the head: in the second round he hit him in the stomach and in the last round Dzen was hit on the leg. Meng was declared the winner. In later years, Meng further advanced his skills with the sword finally developing his own sword-form called 'Shu-Yun' sword, a form which represents a distillation of his knowledge of the sword, comprising over fifty movements.
When he left the air force and returned to his home town, Meng immediately went to see his old teacher, Master Deng. They again visited Master Zhao who had, years before, refused to teach Meng. But this time Zhao agreed to teach Meng the final four Black Tiger forms. Studying every day, Meng completed them to become one of the few people ever to learn all the Black Tiger forms. Continuing to live in Peking, Meng spent most of his time practicing martial arts, trying to enlarge his knowledge and skills by studying as many aspects of kung-fu that he could.
He began to take an interest in Tai Chi Chuan. At that time, in Beijing, there were at least seven or eight different styles being practiced: Chen style, Yang, Wu Yu-Hsiang's style, Wu Jian-Shan's Pa-Kua Tai Chi, Hao style, Wu Jian-Chuan's style, and Ma's Shaolin Tai Chi. Meng was interested in a form of Yang style as taught by a Master Sung, but Sung was not inclined to accept Meng. So Meng and his friend started to go to Sung's place and, hiding behind the fence, attempted to copy two or three movements on each occasion. After a considerable period of time they confronted Sung and told him that they had learned his form. Sung was surprised but impressed enough to accept them as students. Sung had a reputation in Beijing for his skill in 'pushing hands' (Tui-Shou) and had defeated numerous challengers. It was Sung's 'pushing hands' and combat skills that particularly attracted Meng to this form of Tai Chi.
Another martial art that Meng took up was Shuai-Jiao the ancient Chinese art of throwing and wrestling from which, some writers say, Judo was developed. Meng entered a match with a Shuai-Jiao wrestler in which he had fared quite well until the wrestler threw him three times in succession. So Meng went to his uncle, Sun Zhao-Dun, a Shuai-Jiau expert, and asked to be taught more of the grappling art. He also practiced with two well known Beijing wrestlers, Shan-San and Bao-San. Many years later in Taiwan he also trained with the famous Shuai-Jiao champion, Chang Tung-Sheng, the 'Iron Butterfly', who, at a weight of only 78.8 kg, had won the heavyweight championship of China in 1935. Since Shuai-Jiao has no joint-locking techniques, Meng also paid special attention to the seizing and joint-locking art of Chin-Na which he studied with Master Zhang Jian-Tang. The type of Chin-Na Meng practiced avoids the use of strength and sheer force relying more on very subtle manipulations of the opponents' joints, a form that was taught only to advanced kung-fu students. Another advanced skill which Meng acquired was Dian-Xue - the art of attacking points on the body. There are many kinds of Dian-Xue in the various martial arts. The type practiced by Meng was to cause the maximum amount of pain to the opponent with the minimum of physical effort. Meng also mastered a method of qigong 'Lien Jin Hua' Qigong taught to him by a Master Hua which allowed him, without preparation, to withstand any kind of strike to his body.
Meng, while travelling to various parts of China, considered it important to increase his knowledge by visiting other masters. He even went to the Shaolin Temple, but was not greatly impressed. As he said, "It's true that many kung-fu masters used to live at the Shaolin Temple. But most of them were not real monks. Many were killers who entered the temple to avoid punishment. When I went to the Shaolin Temple, the kung-fu I saw was no better than I could have seen anywhere else."
When the Communists took over in China in 1949, Mr. Meng went with the Nationalist government to Taiwan. With his wife and a few possessions, Meng flew a plane from the Chinese mainland to South Taiwan where he was to remain for the rest of his life. He was acknowledged by the people of Taiwan as a first generation kung-fu master, a form of respect given only to accomplished masters coming from the Chinese mainland, According to the Taiwanese custom, he was referred to as a 'Tang Shan Xiansheng'; xiansheng means 'teacher' and 'Tang Shan' refers to the 'Tang (i.e. Tang Dynasty) Mountain' or, in other words, 'Mainland China'. In great demand as a teacher, Mr. Meng started to teach the Black Tiger style at several schools, universities, and military establishments, but didn't teach Tong-Bi style.
Considered to be an authority on Northern kung-fu styles, Mr. Meng acted as kung-fu director for most of the Chinese film companies and starred in four martial arts films. While working as a technical advisor in Hong Kong he got to know Bruce Lee. During his years in Taiwan, Mr. Meng did not stop trying to learn more. He turned his attention to the study of Taoist alchemical methods, a subject which he studied with several Taoist monks. And, in his late sixties he even took up, what was for him, a new martial art: the Taiwanese style of Xu-Xi Dao White Crane.
Although Meng became well known as a master of Northern Black Tiger and Tong-Bi, he did not have a lot of students, no extensive organisation, no permanent school, and made very little money from teaching.
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