Fu Zhen Song’s Direct Disciple, Lin Chao Zhen, Teaching in San Francisco
by Robert Chen, January 1995
(Note: Master Lin Chao Zhen passed away in 1998.)
Lin Chao Zhen is one of the last surviving Ba Gua instructors of his generation and lineage. Lin was born in 1912 in Hong Kong. At the age of 14, he returned with his family to Canton, China. Their family lived in downtown Canton. As fate would have it, a short distance from where they lived Ba Gua Zhang instructor Fu Zhen Song taught Ba Gua and the internal arts of Northern China.
Fu Zhen Song was one of the most well-known gongfu instructors in Chinese history. Fu Zhen Song was thirty years senior to Lin Chao Zhen. Fu, who was from Northern China, was known to the Southern Chinese as one of the “Five Tigers From The North*.” In 1928, Fu, along with four other northern gongfu instructors, was sent to Southern China by the Central Martial Arts Academy in Nanjing. They were invited to Southern China to develop martial arts and share their knowledge of northern martial arts with the provinces in the south. There were many established martial arts schools in Southern China already and legitimacy in those days had to be established with a fist. Many encounters and introductions turned immediately into contests of skill. In these contests, Fu Zhen Song and his fellow instructors from the North often inflicted enough injury to send the appropriate message. For example, when a rival Tai Ji instructor asked to push hands with Fu Zhen Song, Fu opened up the instructor’s defenses and gave him a shove in the chest with sufficient strength to cause internal injury. Fortunately for the other instructor, he was also skilled in Chinese medicine, so he was able to treat himself after the encounter. After sharing their knowledge for several years, some of Fu’s fellow instructors eventually returned to Northern China. Fu, however, chose to remain as an instructor in the South.
When Fu first arrived in Southern China, he was in great demand as an instructor. Fu Zhen Song received invitations from over twenty different sites to teach Ba Gua. One of the sites where Fu taught was the athletic club in downtown Canton near Lin Chao Zhen’s home. One day, Lin’s brother brought a pamplet to him describing the Ba Gua classes at the club. Lin recalls that the price of the lessons was very low at that time in and that the classes were very popular. Lin Chao Zhen began studying at this club when he was seventeen years old. In Lin’s first few years of study, he learned the Fu style linear Ba Gua forms, called Pao Quan, the four-direction combat spear, and the whirlwind broadsword. Pao Quan is an elegant northern form used for developing solid basic techniques and stancework. The spear was one of Fu Zhen Song’s favorite weapons and Fu was famous for his spear technique. The whirlwind broadsword contains the smooth body spins that are the trademark of Fu style Ba Gua. Lin also trained in some of the fundamental techniques of circle walking. In Fu style Ba Gua, the practitioners train with the traditional “mud-stepping walk” (tang mi bu) where the entire foot travels parallel to the ground and lands flat with each step. To develop the placement of the stepping foot, Lin was required to execute each step as a front kick, with the toes pointed forward. After the kicking foot was extended, it would be placed flat on he ground, with the toe and heel landing simultaneously. Each successive step would be executed in the same manner as the practitioner walked in a circle. This exercise developed fa jing (explosive force) in each step. The mud walking step also developed a moving “root,” so that the practitioner would be “rooted,” or stable, even when he was in motion.
At the athletic club, a martial arts curriculum was offered that enabled students to study from a number of different instructors. During his early years of training at the club, Lin took advantage of the other courses offered there- from Fu’s fellow instnictor, Wang Shao Zhou, Lin learned Cha Quan, another famous long-fist style from the north. Wang Shao Zhou was one of the youngest members of the Five Tigers. Lin also learned a Shaolin form from Fu Zhen Song’s nephew, Ren Sheng Kui. After the first year at the club, Lin gravitated towards Fu Zhen Song and was invited by Fu to study with his private group of students. They practiced at a location in central Canton, which when literally translated, would be called “Children’s Park.” Children’s Park was also close to Lin’s home and the athletic club. The group practiced in the early morning hours at the park when admission to the park was free. They called their school Wu Dang Jing Yu Club.
During the years when Lin Chao Zhcn trained with Fu Zhen Song at the park, he learned the Sun Style Tai Ji Quan form, which Fu learned from his friend Sun Lu Tang; Yang Ba Gua; the flying dragon straight sword; the first half of the Dragon Ba Gua form; Ba Gua push hands; and Liang Yi. He also learned four sets of Tou Tang Quan, which resembles the Liang Yi form. Yang Ba Gua was usually the first circular Ba Gua form that Fu Zhen Song taught. It is more expressive and athletic than the Yin Ba Gua form, which is usually taught later. The Dragon Ba Gua form contains the most advanced Ba Gua movements of Fu style Ba Gua, requiring the practitioner not only to walk the circle, but to move in all directions in a constant flow of coiling, twisting, revolving, and exploding techniques. Liang Yi is a synthesis of the techniques of Tai Ji and Ba Gua. Lin said that it was not uncommon for Fu Zhen Song to simply teach one-half of a form initially, and then wait for a year or even several years to teach the second half of the form. By teaching this way, Fu could test the character and perseverance of his disciples.
When Lin Chao Zhen was 20 years old, he performed at different universities and sports centers with Fu Zhen Song. In 1937, when Lin was 26 years old, Fu accepted him as a formal disciple. Lin went through the traditional ceremony. On that day, Fu bestowed upon Lin the name, Xiang Long, or “Flying Dragon.” Becoming Fu’s disciple was significant because in China, prominent instructors who openly taught at martial arts institutes often had hundreds of students in their lifetime. The number of students, however, who they accepted as formal disciples were few. Those who were accepted as disciples almost invariably had to follow their instructors for years, having demonstrated not only their ability in martial arts, but their patience, character, perseverance and martial virtue. Those who were accepted as formal disciples were privileged to learn the complete system, being treated almost as a member of the instructor’s family. Many instructors stopped charging their students tuition at the point that they became disciples because of the closeness of the relationship. When Lin was accepted as a disciple, he had trained with Fu Zhen Song for 9 years.
One of Fu Zhen Song’s other disciples, General Sun Bao Gang authored a book in which he estimated that Fu Zhen Song taught ten thousand students. Fu, however, had only a handful of formal disciples. The Wu Dang Academy, after extensive research many years ago, published an article on Fu’s disciples. They listed Fu Yong Hui (Fu Zhen Song’s eldest son), Liang Ri Chu, Ma Ri Qing, Huang Hong, Chai Rong Ji, Sun Bao Gang, and Lin Chao Zhen. When Lin became a disciple, Fu Zhen Song was living on Tung Gob Boulevard, where there was a memorial park that sometimes served as a training area. Fu also had an apartment with a yard where a small group of Fu’s students practiced privately. During this time frame, he learned Yin Ba Gua and finished Dragon Ba Gua. He also continued in his study of Liang Yi and Fu Style Tai Ji. Fu Style Tai Ji has elements of Ba Gua within the Tai Ji. In 1938, at the Fifth Sun Yat Sen University Athletic Games, there was a day of special celebration. Fu Zhen Song performed at the event. One of the forms that was showcased was the Ba Gua push hands form that Fu had developed. He considered this form one of the treasures of Ba Gua and had developed this form after years of research. Lin Chao Zhen was selected to be Fu Zhen Song’s demonstration partner for this form. Although the push hands form appears quite simple on the surface, its techniques are actually quite deep. Its hand movements are prearranged, but the practitioners have tremendous flexibility in the direction, distance, and pace that they take in their footwork. The hand techniques include Ba Gua’s characteristic palm strikes and precision strikes to vital areas. Angles are also extremely important in performing and understanding Ba Gua push hands. Fu Zhen Song’s teaching was interrupted when the Japanese invaded Canton during the Second World War. The invasion caused the members of the group to disperse. Lin Chao Zhen left for another state. In fact, Lin, who by training was a civil engineer, often traveled on joint projects with the U.S. Armed Forces and assisted them in designing and building roads. Fu Zhen Song, on the other hand, took his family and went to northern Canton, to a place called Qu Jiang. Qu Jiang was near the countryside and the mountains. In this area, people could still live in relative peace despite the war.
In 1941, Lin Chao Zhen met up with Fu Zhen Song in Qu Jiang. The Japanese Army was nearby, but had not yet arrived. Fu had been traveling alone because of the war. His family was in the area, but a safer distance away. Lin was also traveling by himself. After they met, they stayed together in a hotel, where Lin was able to have extensive discussions with his teacher for four days on the finer points of Dragon Ba Gua. During these discussions, Lin used pencil and paper to write down the details of the form’s movements. Lin learned as much as he could from his instructor before they were both forced to go their separate ways again.
After World War II, when the Japanese Army left, people began to return to Canton. Fu Zhen Song also returned to Canton. He arrived before his son and family, who joined him later. Unfortunately, Fu’s life after World War II was much more difficult. With people struggling just to survive, studying martial arts was considered a luxury, which not many people could afford.
Lin Chao Zhen recalls that Fu Zhen Song lived on But Gung Lane when he first returned to Canton. His home had little furnishings, a hard bed, simple furniture. Things improved for Fu when his family moved back to Canton and his son, Fu Yong Hui, was able to assist the family.
*Although the names of the “five tigers” will sometimes vary depending on the source (many people like to claim that their teacher or teacher’s teacher was one of the famous “five tigers”), the five martial artists that the Central Academy sent South were probably Fu Zhen Song, Ku Ju Chang, Wang Shao Zhou, Wan Lai Sheng, and Li Xien Wu. Fu Zhen Song was the only one who stayed in Canton after the Central Martial Arts Academy and its provincial schools were closed.