When I was young, my body was frail and I was often ill. By the time I had suffered the twentieth boil on my skin, I began to feel alarmed about the situation. I thereupon learned various martial arts from friends, which indeed had an effect on my health, but much more so when I learned Wang Family Boxing from the focused and dedicated Xu Yiqian.
Wang Family Boxing was created by Wang Yuequn, called Yanzhou, a native of Nantong. Practitioners of it are very rare and Xu’s father passed it down to him alone. I had visited Xu’s father, Xu Huaicheng, because of the achievements of their family. He was already an old man settled into his retirement, but he was happy to receive me and suddenly demonstrated a leap as impressive as that of a robust young man. His eldest son Jiliu, called Yiquan, had also learned many skills for his own enjoyment. My acquaintance with Xu Yiqian thus began because of this.
Xu is a somewhat reclusive man and does not stand out since he is not remarkably tall, though his eyes are very bright. He is skillful at calligraphy in the style of Yan Zhenqing and he writes compositions in language that is simple and deliberate. He has the unassuming look of a scholar, as though his clothes are about to overwhelm him, and so it is surprising and unexpected for such a man to also be skillful at martial arts.
I later traveled south of the Yangzte River and lost touch with him for more than ten years due to the distraction of various hardships, though I frequently thought about him and wondered if he had simply vanished into obscurity. In the autumn of 1935, I came to study at the Martial Arts Institute in Nanjing and was delighted to find that Xu Yiqian was there. He had come at the request of Zhang Zhijiang, who was unsatisfied with the Institute’s literary output. Xu has thus been producing boxing arts textbooks, several of which have since been published. In the summer of this year, he showed me his manuscript for the Sancai [“Three Realms”] Sword set, and he urged me to write a preface for it.
He both practices his skills and writes about them every day, and thus not only are his movements flawless in appearance, he is also able to transmit the deeper ideas of these arts. Instead of being satisfied at having obtained his own understanding, he goes further and shares this material with the world, which seems to me to be quite impeccable conduct.
I read in the “Bibliographical Records” in the Book of Han that there were a hundred ninety-nine chapters on military skills, among them “six chapters on bare-handed fighting” and “thirty-eight chapters on swordsmanship”, and so we can know that such things already had a strong presence in those early days. However, scholars in later generations became embarrassed to practice martial arts, and it was left to simpler men to pass it down in alleyways. These illiterate men were incapable of writing down the principles in order to further the spread of martial arts. The purpose of these arts was therefore limited to self-defense and bodyguard services, and their value as a means of strengthening the masses was not yet understood.
Schools have recently come to know the value of physical education, but have only been utilizing foreign forms of exercise, such as: long jump, high jump, running, swimming, soccer, discus throwing, and so on. To start a school without having these things in the curriculum would look downright amateurish. However, foreign exercises are too intense for weaker people, draining all of their energy until they look completely demoralized and then requiring they take a long time to recover. How can this be beneficial for the body?
The practicing of Chinese martial arts is very different. The more diligently you work at it, the more results you will see, and the more refined your skill becomes, the more the effects will show. It is a means of exercising the whole body rather than overemphasizing any particular part. It is a moderate form of exercise rather than being suitable only for the strong. There is no better method for invigorating the body. Those who do not understand this show a total lack of discernment, like someone who treasures stones from the Kingdom of Yan and discards jade from the Kingdom of Zhao.
It has now been a good many years since the Central Martial Arts Institute was established. Its director Zhang Zhijiang has been promoting it well and more martial arts masters are drawn to it each day, including Xu Yiqian with his literary skill which will help to wash away the uneducated past that is associated with practitioners. I am sure that a prosperous age for our martial arts is not far away, that they will spread throughout the nation and become so popular that they will live on forever. How marvelous it will be.
- written by Wang Huanbiao at Zhejiang University, Sep 4, 1936