Chen Tuan, a native of Po-chou in Anhui, is a famous Taoist who lived on Mount Hua, one of the five sacred mountains of China in Shensi, during the Later Choi and Sung Dynasty (960-1280) A.D. He is credited with the creation of the kung fu system - Liu Ho Pa Fa - six harmonies and eight methods. Along with this internal art, is a method of chi (energy) cultivation known today as Tai Chi ruler, a 24 section method (erh shigh ssu shih tao yin fa) seated and standing exercises designed to prevent diseases that occur during seasonal change.
Chen Tuan at a very early age demonstrated a great ability at mathematics and interpretation of the Book of Changes and poetry, so much that at age of 15 years, scholars would pay their respect to this young prodigy. His destiny as a high official of the Imperial court however, was cut short upon his failure at the state examination. This event turned the young scholar to forsake the lofty ambition of mankind and decided to retire his life as a hermit upon the scenic mountains of China.
After several years, he was advised by another Taoist master to go to the Rock of Nine rooms on Wu Tang mountain, to cultivate his skills. There he perfected his skills in Chi Kung and the art of hibernation. Although Chen remained a hermit, his reputation as an able scholar made him sought after by the royal court. Because of this reputation, the emperor Shh Tsung of the Chou Dynasty suspected that Chen had his eyes on the kingdom and had him incarcerated for one hundred days. After several months the emperor inquired on the condition of the Taoist master, only to have the guard report that he was fast asleep. Only then did the king realize that Chen had no desire for power or fame and released the sage.
It was during one of his visits with the second emperor of the Sung Dynasty, Sung Tai Tzuu (960-975), that Chen Tuan was given the title (Chen Hsi I), meaning "rare among men" also seasoned boxer, stating his skill in kung fu. Although the Taoist master was concerned with the welfare of the people, his desire was to live peacefully at his mountain retreat. Oddly enough, it was a a game of chess (wei chi) with the emperor that would decide if he would stay to advise him or return to being a recluse on Mount Hua. After winning the game, he returned to the mount where he taught Taoist yoga and exercises.
Chen Hsi I is also in Taoist succession in the (Yin Hsien Pai) (sec; of the hidden immortals) who passed Lao Tzu Taoism down through time and also taught on Mount Wu Tang. He is said to have been the teacher of Huo Lung, who was the teacher of the Chang San Feng, legendary founder of Tai Chi. This is why some scholars have placed him in the Sung Yuan Ming Dynasty. Recently a statue of Chen could be seen at the Jade Source Monastery (Yu Chang Yuian) located at the foot of Mount Hua. Chen Hsi I continued passing on his teaching and elucidation of the I Ching (Book of Changes). The modern interpretations are based on his art passed on to (Lee Tung Fung), who passed his skills on to the masters below.
Wu Yik Fan - Wu I-Hui (1887-1961)
Wu Yik Fan was originally from Tieling in Northeast China, but later lived in Beijing. He was from a scholar and official family and a man of good nature who had strong martial art talents. he was also well versed in calligraphy and painting, enjoying social life and travel.
In 1896, his father took a government position in Pienliiang and his family moved there as a result, where he studied all styles of martial arts and weaponry, such as Liu Ho Ba Fa, Three Positions Twelve Stances, and the earliest Taoist Sleeping Chi Kung of Chen Tuan. Two years later, he studied under Master Chen Kuang Ti and his skills were greatly improved.
In 1905, Master Wu was admitted to the Military Academy of Baoding. On weekends, he went to the Temple of the Goddess of Mercy in the suburbs where Grand Master Chen Huolu taught him the secrets of martial arts.
In 1928, Master Wu started to teach martial arts at the South Senior High School in Shanghai. The following year he was transferred to Shuwei Public School. The YMCA in the Eight Immortal Bridge District in Shanghai in 1932 hired him as their martial arts director.
In 1936, (at the request of general Chang Chi Kung) took the provost position at the National Martial Arts Association, Nanking. When Japan invaded China, he left first to Kunming and then Guiling, from where he was invited by the Vietnamese government to demonstrate Chinese martial arts in Hanoi.
The Sino-Japanese war ended in 1945, Master Wu returned to Shanghai and taught martial arts again. He had students from various provinces in China as well as from Hong Kong, Singapore, South East Asia, Brazil, England and the United States. Meanwhile, the City of Shanghai made him a member (director) of the Department of Literature and History.
Master Wu dedicated his life to martial arts and educated students in the thousands. Other people might not know of his talents, and equally so, he never intended to show his talents to them either.
He died on March 29, 1961 in Shanghai at the age of 73.
The creator of I Chuan,Wong Heng Chai (Wang Xiang-zhai), (1927) once referred to Master Wu by saying " I have traveled throughout the country, competing with nearly a thousand people, there is but two and half people who possess true martial skills, Hunan's Dai Tit Fu, Shanghai's Wu Yik Fan and (the half being) an White Crane exponent from Fukien (who engaged with him evenly)."
(biographical excerpts taken from " History of Chinese Martial Arts" published 1996, Yellow Mountain Press, People's Republic of China)
Nanking, China, circa 1950
Front row (L-R): Chiang Jung-Ch'aio (Pa Kua, Hsing-I, Tai Chi), Wu Yik Fan (Liu Ho Ba Fa), Chang Chih-Chiang (Liu Ho Pa Fa), and Ch'u Kuei-Ting (Hsing-I, Pa Kua) Back row (L-R): Chan Yik-Yan (Wu Yik Fan's Liu Ho Pa Fa successor and Wai Lun Choi's teacher), Han Hsing-Ch'iao (Hsing-I), and Yin T'ien-Hsiung (Liu Ho Pa Fa). At the National College of Martial Arts in Nanking (Nanking Central Kuo Shu Kuan), Chang Chih-Chiang was Chancellor, Wu Yik Fan was Dean of Studies, and Chiang Jung-Ch'iao was Director of Programs. Chang Chih-Chiang, Chiang Jung-Ch'iao, Chen Yik Yan and Yin T'ien-Hsiung were all Liu Ho Pa Fa students of Wu Yik Fan. Before studying with Wu Yik Fan, Chen Yik Yan had studied Tai Chi, Hsing-I and Pa Kua with Chiang Jung-Ch'iao, Ch'u Kuei-Ting and Han Hsing-Ch'iao.
Chen Yik Yan - Chan Cho-Fan (1909 -1982)
A Shanghai industrialist, Chen Yik Yan became successor to Wu Yik Fan. Chen's social standing in cosmopolitan Shanghai exposed him to a number of the politically and military elite of China. It would be through his friendship with General Chang Chih-Chiang that granted him an introduction to Master Wu. At first his impression of the system was that of Tai chi, which is so widely practiced throughout the city, but only after close examination did he realize the complexity of the art. Chan's social status could easily afford him to travel with Master Wu throughout the country, he accompanied him to Nanking during his tenure at the Ching Wu Institute in Nanking, (see picture above). It was during these years in Shanghai and Nanking that gave him access to other leading exponents of the internal art world. He learned Pa Kua and Hsing I from Chiang Jung-Ch'iao, I Chuan from Han Hsing-Ch'iao and Hsing-I Chuan from Chu Kuei Ting. After the communist takeover of mainland China, Chen relocated to Hong Kong. There he briefly taught until he decided to move his practice to Singapore. Eventually though, Chen decided to return to Hong Kong in the late fifties and retire. Master Chen decided to come out of retirement after the perseverance of some young martial artists, one of which was Wai Lan Choi.
In May of 1980, Chen return to mainland China, for the first time since his departure in 1950, in the hopes of being reunited with his former colleague. The devastating aftermath of the Cultural Revolution took it toll on China's martial artists, leaving only a handful of former friends. While in Beijing, Master Chen visited with one of his fellow classmate Cheng Chang Man and with some of Hsing-I remaining leading exponents.
Beijing China 1980