Adam Hsu Kung Fu

Traditional Chinese Martial Arts  

 

IN MEMORY OF SIFU LIU YUN-CHIAO

(雲樵先師與我入門受教的回憶)

How I Became Accepted as His Student

By Adam Hsu

(Translated by Joan-Huey Dow)

The author (left) receives corrections from Sifu Liu (right)

I started my wushu practice with chang quan (long fist).
Later, I learned several styles of praying mantis.
Additionally, I learned some Hebei xing-i quan.

I am grateful to all my teachers for their guidance. I'm also thankful for the rigorous training I encountered in various wushu styles. These experiences increased my interest in traditional wushu and gave me more confidence. They continually motivated me to advance myself to a higher level in wushu.

Finally, I had the great opportunity to learn from Sifu Liu Yun-Chiao who was described as "Master baji quan and pigua zhang, scare away devils and ghosts." Sifu Liu led me into another long journey in my wushu practice.

The first challenge from Sifu Liu was not his refusal to teach me. Instead, he told me: "Your techniques are not bad and your skills are good. You can learn some baji quan forms and some pigua zhang forms and finish both quickly. Then you can practice for fun."

I firmly and thankfully turned down his "kindness."

Then, Sifu Liu issued a series of demands to test my sincerity:

He said: "If you really want to learn well, there is no short cut. You must be very patient and willing to practice for a long period of time."

I answered: "Yes, sir."

He said: "You will come to learn with me every afternoon for four hours each time."

I answered: "Yes, sir."

He said: "You must practice diligently by yourself twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening, a total of 4 hours a day."

I answered: "Yes, sir."

He said: "You learned too many styles in the past. You must let go those styles and stop practicing them for now."

I answered: "Yes, sir."

He said: "You should practice this way persistently without any interruption for four months. After that I may consider accepting you as my student. (也許,可以入門)

I answered: "Yes, sir."

He said: "You shouldn’t tell anybody that you are learning wushu with me and you shouldn't bring anyone here."

I answered: "Yes, sir."

He said: "Aside from your graduate-school studies and work, you need to get enough rest. You should take good care of yourself, eat well with sufficient nutrition, and not have any bad habits."

I answered: "Yes, sir."

He said: "I know you want to learn baji quan, but it is not suitable for you to start learning baji quan right now. You have many old movements, old habits, that you need to shed completely. I’ve decided that you should learn pigua zhang first. Do you agree?"

I was very disappointed and hesitated to accept. I did not know what to do!? But I had no other choice and answered: "Yes, sir."

 
       
 

The real challenge started in the extremely hot and humid summer in Taiwan!

Under Sifu Liu's one-on-one training, I felt tremendous pain and developed self-doubt both physically and mentally. I did learn many basic movements of pigua zhang. However the corrections I received from Sifu Liu during my practice seemed to be always like:

"Relax, relax more, relax even more... "

Relax more? I would no longer be able to practice if I relaxed more! I could only scream silently in my heart and feel like I was being treated unfairly.

Would I stop practicing? Giving up was never an option for me. Sifu Liu was very critical in correcting my unacceptable movements - too loose, too soft, or incorrect. Sifu Liu never let any of my mistakes slip by unnoticed.

Quite often I repeated the same movements ten times, twenty times, even thirty times... Sifu Liu still shook his head and said:

"No. It's wrong. Do it again!"

Furthermore, what made me most unhappy were the comments like: "Too loose!" "Too tight!" "This is too loose again!" "That is too tight again!" "Why is it so loose here?" "Why is it so tight there?"

It seemed I never did it right!

That was a hot summer in Taipei. Just standing still, I was soaking wet with my own sweat.

I sweated excessively while practicing under the scorching sun; my heart shed tears uncontrollably.

In the small courtyard of Sifu Liu's house, it took only half an hour to sprinkle the cement ground with my sweat like after a light rain.

Sometimes, Sifu Liu would bring out a bucket of water and pour it onto the ground while I took a break or drank water. The water would evaporate immediately with a sizzling sound.

When I finished up my practice, my shirt, pants, socks and shoes were all thoroughly wet. I felt I would collapse at any moment and was too exhausted to talk.

I walked to and stood by the bus stop after saying good-bye to Sifu Liu. When the bus came, I could not even raise my hand to wave to the bus driver. More than once the bus steward stared at me in contempt: Look at your embarrassing appearance!

At mealtimes, I followed Sifu Liu's advice to get enough nutrition. It was no problem for me to hold the bowl and get rice to my mouth. I was able to use the chopsticks to pick up pork chops without problem either. But my hand was too weak to use the chopsticks to hold the hard-boiled egg stewed in soy sauce. My only way to secure the egg was to poke it with the chopsticks like a fork. My weak hand could not handle the slippery and soft shrimps without the help of a tablespoon.

Don't forget that I was supposed to practice once more before going to bed.

I practiced with my own shadow under the moonlight in an open court.

It was hard to handle not only physically but mentally as well. I had to control myself not to apply any force unconsciously.

I should not kill the tiger with my punch. I should not kick the shark to death. I should not pretend that I fought away ten wushu masters by myself alone. I should not imagine that I sparred with Sifu Liu to display my very best ability to him.

No, No, No.

I could not understand--how could I learn good wushu skills by such a relaxed and weak method?

 
       
 

Wushu practice is the most import thing in my life. It is also wushu practice that makes me feel that I'm the most important person in the universe.

Look at the magnificent glow of the sun at dawn. It is I who guide the sun to rise in the east.

Watch the bright stars in the sky at night. It is I using my strikes and punches to convince the sun to go down in the west.

Even during the hottest period of the day, one to five o'clock in the afternoon, I felt great "pleasure" during my "painful" practice.

Chinese use the word "痛快" ("tong kuai," directly translated as "pain and pleasure") for the utmost happiness. I surely understand that we won't appreciate the real "pleasure" without taking the "pain" first.

Gradually, I realized: Relaxation is the beginning of wushu practice. If we don't relax completely, the practice will be all in vain. Relaxation enables flow while tension forms blockages. Incomplete relaxation will end up incomplete practice.

Gradually, I realized more: There is a balance between relaxation and tension: It is the ultimate goal pursued by all arts. In other words: Well circulated qi is obtained through a focused mind and relaxed body. (意緊形鬆氣乃周) It is not appropriate to over-relax, that is not the right way to practice.

Gradually, I realized even more: There is no fixed ratio between relaxation and tension that can be used anywhere and anytime. Relaxed but not completely relaxed; tense but not completely tense. The state of relaxation and tension depends on the situation and changes constantly. The quantity and quality are changing at all times.

I was very excited and satisfied: It's all up to your own judgment and decision to relax or tighten up. There is nothing any god or your ancestor can do for you. Even Sifu Liu can only stand by and observe...

It's art! The arts are not presented by any colorant, pen and paper; not musical instruments and musical notes; not makeup, costumes, stage setting or the limelight. It requires me alone, the courageous and confident me who stand upright in the universe.

 
       
 

Since the way Sifu Liu delivered my training was so great, guiding me patiently through the world of wushu, I enjoyed the training and could not stop at all. Also I'd already forgotten the initial purpose of the practice and our agreed timeline. I just immersed myself in the joy of practice, practice and practice...

Something happened one day after class.

Sifu Liu called me to stand in front of him. He extended his hand and said: "Come! Let me test your arm."

Then I stood firmly and bowed. I let both arms hang vertically from the shoulder down. I relaxed both arms like the pendulum of a clock swinging naturally. Sifu Liu occasionally inserted his hand and let my arms rest by his arm to test if they were light, heavy, sinking, floating.

Sifu Liu nodded and murmured: "Yes. Not bad." Then he turned his palm up and signaled me to drop my arms on his palm and forearm; I lifted my arm slightly and let it fall back naturally; I repeated the arm movements of lifting and falling. After the evaluation, Sifu Liu seemed satisfied but remained silent. He sat there, waited for a while, and then told me: "OK. You are good now. I accept you as my student."

I was dazed.

Perhaps because of my puzzled face, he went on to explain: "We initially agreed on a four-month trial. It is just three months as of today. But, you do well. It is good that you are very diligent. But the Chinese saying "one-hundred-day practice" (百日功) is just the beginning. You should work even harder from now on..."

I only vaguely remember these few words because I did not hear him very clearly...

Strange! I had no emotion at that moment, not happy and not sad. I remember vividly: I was very calm.

 
       
 

Time flies so fast and Sifu Liu has now been gone for ten years...

Society is degrading; the young generation becomes more and more superficial and unrealistic. I am stuck in the current situation and feel helpless.

I want to voice my worries and concern, but find it hard to write this article in memory of Sifu Liu on the 10th year anniversary of his passing!

I wrote a short biography of Sifu Liu in the year he passed away. I wrote another article at his three-year anniversary. At this ten-year anniversary, the remaining memory is sadness only...

"The past only gives sadness." Recollection naturally starts from the beginning...

So I write down what I can recall and here is this article.

It has been thirty years since Sifu Liu accepted me as his student. I have gone through life with many people, events, wushu, truth, lies, mystery, success, failure, losses, and so on. All these are to be included in my memoirs.

Is it true? It seems just like yesterday and I've already reached the age to write my own memoirs!

Can I believe it? Do I have a choice? But...

I completed this article to express my mission and my wish. The purpose of writing the story about how I started learning and practicing wushu with Sifu Liu goes beyond advising the younger generation: "Don't lose the competition at the starting point."

I humbly wish that I could find a few practitioners who have strong willpower and the passion to learn traditional wushu. I will give them the toughest training, just like what I endured in the old days.

It is not easy to learn Chinese wushu, but it is not so difficult either. The difficulty is: "Cannot cross the threshold set by the master. Although it only takes one hundred days to cross it!" (入不了門;而入門,一百天就夠了!)

No, the real difficulty is: It is hard to find a "person" who is willing to practice persistently and passionately for one hundred days!

Sifu Liu always said that. I didn't want to believe it.

Even today I still don't believe it because I have not given up the search.

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