My Chinese wushu studies began when I was a freshman in high school. I learned long fist and liked it very much. My practice was very diligent and serious. Following long fist, praying mantis became the focus of my efforts and hard practice. Therefore, I was not a wushu greenhorn when I had the opportunity to meet the master of baji quan and pigua zhang, Sifu Liu Yun-Chiao. My wushu classmates and practitioners in other wushu styles considered me a skillful wushu practitioner of high standard. I even believed myself to be fairly knowledgeable about Chinese wushu.
I was in such muddle-headed state when I tried to learn baji quan and pigua zhang with Sifu Liu. At the time, I just wanted to learn more, become more capable, expand my interest and improve my skill. But to be honest, I did not really know who I was! When I asked Sifu Liu about learning wushu from him, he did not accept me as his student right away.
Therefore, he tried to talk me into "You can learn some forms of baji and pigua for fun." I declined immediately and firmly. I came to Sifu Liu to learn the real wushu skills. I wanted to learn the real baji quan and pigua zhang. Instead, he tested me by setting an agreement with me to only learn the basics in the first 3 months. I immediately accepted whatever he was willing to give me and was quite happy with it. After he watched me practice for a while, he thought I was not strong enough but had high motivation and a broad foundation.
Sifu Liu thought that the three-month agreement might not be long enough. He said it would possibly need to be four months instead. It was fine with me because extending one month was not a big deal. However, Sifu Liu required me to stop practicing whatever I had learned before. He asked me, “Will you forget all the forms, weapons, and sparring techniques you learned before if you stop practicing them for three or four months?” I replied confidently that I would not forget. I was young and had a good memory. There should be no problem if I just stopped practicing for three to four months. Then the question was could I learn baji quan and pigua zhang in three to four months?
The result? Nothing. Sifu Liu only taught me the basics. The content and requirements were as boring, difficult and as frustrating as punishment for prisoners. Don’t forget that I had learned wushu before and had done quite well! I painfully kept on practicing for three months. At the end, Sifu Liu told me that my skill was not bad and I had practiced quite diligently. Therefore, he would accept me as his student. By Buddhist philosophy, I entered “The one and only door!” (不二法門) I certainly was very happy when I heard this. But I was dazed and possibly due to my exhaustion did not fully understand what he said. Anyway, I felt content to hear Sifu Liu say that I was good enough and he was willing to continue teaching me. For all my effort spent and pain endured, I was well rewarded. However I did not realize what really happened during those three months. This is my very honest self-examination.
I continued my practice with Sifu Liu because his baji quan and pigua zhang were wonderful and I wanted to promote them for him. I introduced my peers and other friends of wushu fans to study with Sifu Liu. I even expanded this promotion to the younger generation, including those who had never learned wushu before. Although I participated in teaching, I still took learning as my primary task and teaching as my secondary function. I felt my most important mission was to promote baji and pigua for Sifu Liu. Regarding teaching, I thought Sifu Liu himself should conduct the training, like the way he taught me. He should demonstrate his skills and pass on his expertise to all his students directly.
Later, I was able to observe more and more private and public wushu schools in Taiwan and abroad. Some were good but many were substandard. What I saw, coupled with my own personal teaching experiences, revealed a central difficulty: Students who claimed they wanted to learn baji and pigua were unwilling to practice or listen no matter how much I taught them. After accumulating so much experience as a teacher, though I don’t remember exactly when, I came to a realization. I finally comprehended what Sifu Liu required of me in the first three to four months, in the first “one-hundred-day practice.” What he required me to do was: Make a fresh start in wushu just like a new person (重新做人).
We usually say someone “makes a fresh start in life as a new person” when he corrects his mistakes, mends his ways and starts to behave appropriately. It is purely based on my own experience since Sifu Liu did not explain it explicitly. I have gone through the process of both studying and teaching and then witnessed examples of failure to really understand the importance of enduring severe hardship in order to achieve the best result. It is like the Chinese plum blossom: the one that strives to endure through the winter chill sends out the most fascinating fragrance.
During those one hundred days, it was like I was reborn to be a new person with a new life. Of course, I was not physically born again to my mother. Nor was it like the ritual of baptism wherein you become a Christian to follow God’s rules and obey Christian belief. It was like I was baptized during the one hundred days to learn the Chinese way of kicking and punching. In other words, the first one hundred day training formed the DNA of traditional Chinese wushu within me.
My “born again” training did not involve very many movements. Now I realize that it really does not require too many movements. Of course, we need the basics, i.e., the ABCs. But where does the DNA come from? It is certainly expressed by each movement of the basics. In other words, the relationship between ABC and DNA is as follows: Each DNA has its own personality and characteristics and so different DNA show different characteristics. Based on its own characteristics, what is expressed outwardly demonstrates its own ABCs, i.e., the basics.
For example, the alphabet – ABCDEFG - is used by many western languages. But the pronunciation is totally different in English, French, German or Spanish. The same punching or kicking can be done very differently even if the movements are done by the same technique from the same wushu style and by the same type of human body. Therefore, we need to learn the basics, i.e. the ABCs, before learning the movements, techniques and forms. From the individual point of view, the ABCs should be the characteristics of each individual wushu school. Looking at a bigger picture, Chinese wushu should have its own characteristic DNA. It is not the same as other styles of martial arts in the world or any other western sports, especially floor gymnastics
Please don’t be scared by the thought of starting a new life as a new person. What? Be reborn!? It sounds like an unreasonable requirement or a mission impossible. How about shedding the skin and changing the bone to become a new person? What kind of “surgery” is this? It will seem even more difficult than a heart or liver transplant! But indeed, it‘s not.
First, we should be aware of the need to change and have a fresh start. Second, we need to find a way for the student to be able to change. It is not really that difficult and we can use dancing as an example. If you’ve studied ballet since childhood, you would start with the ballet’s ABCs. Even if you become a good ballet dancer but want to learn China opera, you will need to learn Chinese opera’s basic ABCs and build Chinese opera’s DNA.
Chinese opera has its own basic practice that is its ABCs. Then where does it build its own ABCs? It is based on Chinese opera and not ballet. In other words, the Chinese Opera’s ABCs should be built on the foundation of Chinese opera’s DNA. Is this so difficult? Certainly, it would be hard for a student to switch from ballet to Chinese opera. In contrast, it would be more straightforward for a child who has not studied ballet to learn Chinese opera because the child does not need to make the change. But what I want to emphasize is that this would not be a formidable barrier as long as you recognize the need to change, receive the right guidance, and put in your best effort to practice.
Based on my own experience, what Sifu Liu required was just the one-hundred-day practice. Wushu practice is a long-term commitment. You often hear people saying, “I have been learning wushu for more than ten years!” The effort for several decades of practice is huge and so it should be done correctly. If it is not done right or done without the Chinese DNA or Chinese ABCs, the loss is significant. On the other hand, it only takes one hundred days, provided you have correct awareness, direction and guidance. It won’t take more than ten years or even decades. For your practice over ten years or several decades, couldn’t you spare one hundred days to correct your movements in pursuit of your beloved wushu?
Therefore, you will have the opportunity to restart into a new life if you are determined and willing to practice hard for one hundred days. It is the one hundred days that guide you to the right track and allow entrance into the right door. After you enter “the one and the only one door” you will build the traditional Chinese wushu DNA. Therefore, the most urgent task in Chinese wushu community is building such awareness and putting in the effort immediately. When this is done, it will not be too late.