Questions About CMA(1)

By Hai Yang


            In the course of teaching Chinese martial arts in Canada I have had the opportunity to respond to many questions regarding Chinese martial arts and culture. I would like to share some of the more frequently asked questions and my answers:


             Question1: In China, do people have to be very good in order to teach?

            Answer: Yes, they do. In China you have to be very good in order to teach Chinese martial arts. Unfortunately, like anywhere else, some people teach even though their skills are not up to par. The world is changing, and China is changing with it. I have seen people teaching in China who are not really qualified to be teaching martial arts. They may be able to get students, but they will never be accepted within the martial arts community. They are only accepted by their own students, "kings" within their own little kingdoms.

            In traditional China if you taught martial arts you were prone to being challenged. In those days the losers of such challenges would not bother going to the authorities if they lost a challenge match - usually both parties signed a waiver of liability for injury or death, and the winner and loser were clear for all to see. In addition, losing was a loss of face, and the loser would generally leave the area.

            In today's China, such challenge matches are not allowed. Still, people are generally careful about to assume the role of teacher, since there are still cultural traditions that act as unwritten rules - you have to be qualified to teach, and you need to be able to demonstrate that you can use your martial art.


             Question 2: In China, can someone teach without permission of his master or teacher?

            Answer: Generally speaking, no. In China it is the general rule that a disciple must request permission before teaching. This is a way of insuring the quality of instruction, and also a matter of fact for the teacher, people will know if a student is skilled or not when he teaches publicly, and his skills reflect on his teacher as well.


            In the West, it is difficult for most beginners judge the quality of instruction they are receiving. In addition, much of what is available is for public consumption, and heavily dependent on marketing flashy uniforms or costume and dramatic posturing takes the place of demonstrations of real skill. The general public does not know the difference, and may be impressed by showmanship.


            The situation is more difficult in the case of Qigong instruction. While there are visible clues to martial arts skills, Qigong gives no outside clues to the general observer. This is a problem, as Qigong taught or trained incorrectly can have disastrous health effects. In China the reputation of a Qigong teacher may rest on his ability to treat diseases and the health and longevity of his students. In the West, there are no real standards to go by.


             Question 3: What does disciple mean in the Chinese martial art community?

            Answer: Discipleship is very a serious topic in China. Only the student gets accepted by the master will become a disciple. So there are two kinds of relations: student and disciple. Student means that someone is learning from the master and the master teach the student the regular materials. The disciple will be totally different: they will learn the special materials, which are considered as the important practice of each school.


            Most of time, the master will teach the students the popular materials, or the materials which students would like to learn. But to disciple, the master will design for them specifically.


            People may say it is unfair because everyone should be treated equally. Yes, it is true, but only in theory. Since disciple will not put the same effort compare to normal student, they will be treated differently too. In China, people earn the way how to get treated, not ask to be treated as the way they expected. I think it is the same in other countries.


            The disciple comes with time too. No matter how good the person's practice is, before following the master for years, that person cannot be a disciple. In the west, people use the word disciple very easily in the martial art community. Some people just went to China in a trip and when they come back, they become a disciple of some famous masters. Actually, these people are playing the game between the two cultures: to Chinese, they will give them a piece paper since Chinese masters are asked to offer a certain proof of showing that some people learned from them. But when they come back to the west, people here will think that these people get the certificate of teaching or discipleship. It is totally wrong. That piece of paper does not mean anything beyond a record of learning. In China. That is not a proof of discipleship at all. Because the timeline is too short, please do not get confused between a certificate of learning and proof of discipleship.


            Discipleship needs certain ceremony in China. That is the traditional way, and people still follow it now. People can buy certificate but they cannot buy discipleship, because the price is different: certificate can be bought by paying money; discipleship only can be bought by paying effort.


            Question 4: What people dress in the martial art community in China?

            Answer: they dress very casually. They only dress special uniform for taking pictures or for participating public event. They will not wear silky clothing every day. When people practice, they will sweat a lot, that kind of silky uniform are not strong enough for daily washing. In movies, people always dress beautiful uniform when they practice martial art. But in the real life, it is not the same. Most of time, masters just dress as same as other students when they teach, even not as well as their students since they will sweat more.


            Furthermore, wearing a beautiful uniform will not make their practice better.
In the west, image is so important that people would like to dress special when they practice martial art. Or some people need to set up a kind of mindset before they do physical practice. That is the personal choice. But in my opinion, people should dress casual and comfortable in order to practice well.


              Question 5: Do people salute to each other before they practice?

            Answer: I do not think so. People need to respect each other from their heart, not from a certain kind of movement or action. For sure it is good to show some respect with manner. But in China, people will not do anything in the martial art community beyond normal behavior. 


            In the west, some school makes salute very complicated, it seems almost a small form or routine. When I saw it here in the first time, i was confused between their demonstration and salute. I thought they were doing a kind of routine before talking to each other.


            I believe that the human being is the same that people know what the real respect is and what is not.


             Question 6: In China, people will modify form easily?

            Answer: No. In China, any traditional forms cannot be modified by anyone easily. Forms and routines are from years of development by many masters in many generations, each single movement in the routines has a specific reason. It is not something about lacking of creativity. Only some people in very high level can modify certain routine and form with the approval of others.


            In the west, some practitioners often change the forms according to their personal favorite. Their excuse always is: "well, I feel it is better for me to practice like this." This type of mentality is just wrong. I am a Chinese, even though I do not speak good English. But I cannot say "well, I feel it is better for me to speak English like this." It will be the same mistake if I say like that.


            Please forget your personal preference, and please keep the way how your master teaches you.


            Question 7: In China, can people make new styles easily?

          Answer: No, it can be very hard to make new styles. Since any style is not only some movements, but also other important aspects too, such as theory, applications, weapon forms. Any style in China is about certain system. Only making one or two new routines or new forms can not make up a whole package of a system. More important, they have to pass many different levels of challenges to be accepted by the martial art community.


            Let's look back to last century, there is only one new style of martial art has come out, it is Yi Quan, the style  created by Wang Xiangzhai based on Xing Yi. Besides that, there have been no other styles can be considered as a new system.  This is why there are not so many new "do" in the Chinese system like in the west.

            Questions 8: Some people said that in mainland of China, traditional martial art has disappeared after the Culture Revolution since all of the traditional masters had been killed. Is it true?

          Answer: It is not true. There is one of the biggest martial art lie some people made in this century, it has been just like that people believed that martial art masters can fly after they watched Kung Fu movies. The history is: before 1949, there were years of brutal civil war. There were two parties competed with each other, one is Kuomintang, or the Chinese Nationalist Party; the other one is Gongchandang, or the Chinese Communist party. After years' battle, the Communist Party won the war and the lost one, which is the Chinese Nationalist Party, fled to Taiwan. A few masters who either worked for Kuomintang or got involved in some illegal cult (like Yiguandao) moved to Taiwan, such as Zhang Junfeng, Zheng Manqing, Sun Xikun, Wang Shujin. But most of martial art masters still remained in mainland of China. Since most of martial art masters did not get involved politics at all. During the 10 years' Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), some famous masters got killed by Red Guard. But most of the masters did not get killed at all. They still could teach martial art with small groups of students.


            From 1949 to 1966, the Chinese Communist government even tried to make martial art as one of the national sport, which encouraged more people to practice. In some way, from 1949 to 1966, it was another blossom time to traditional martial arts. The only bad part of that period of time was the government trying to make the standardized form for each style in order to promote it more. So the traditional practice and the standardized practice were developed in parallel at the time.


            The Cultural Revolution was a national disaster, many elite Chinese who had different political or other opinion to government got treated badly and unfairly. But most martial art masters were not in that scope which government would focus on. So many masters still managed to keep their teaching. I have experienced it in person.


            After 1976, Chinese martial art got another spring time. Many endangered styles got to survive since people began to realize that the traditional practice was important. It is the real history.


            However, in the west, since there is an ideological conflict between the capitalist and communist, people eventually put ideological ideas into martial art practice. The rumor from Taiwan and other places outside of China said that the Communist Party killed all of the traditional masters and traditional practice in mainland of China disappeared. So that they can say that the traditional practice existed in Taiwan or somewhere else instead of the mainland of China.


            Please think of this: if the Communist government killed all of the masters, they would be too busy to do that. And it was not their main interest to kill martial art people since martial art masters did not have the political influence at that time. It was no use to kill them.


            But why did they make this rumor? In martial art community, there has been thousands of years that people want to get the title of being authentic or authoritative. If all of the mainland Chinese martial art masters got killed, it means that the real martial art practice will be remained in Taiwan or some other places. It is just for their own commercial purpose.


            At the same time, many westerns studied martial art from people from Taiwan or Hong Kong when mainland of China stops communicating with the west. It was good that some Chinese practice still kept going on in the western countries between 1949 to 1980s. But it is not necessary to make the political and ideological rumors for their own personal interests.


            In my opinion, martial art practitioners should focus on practice instead of focusing on making rumor, twisting the truth or changing the history.

Lineage, the Martial Artist's C.V.

By Sean M. Laflamme Ac.


            The importance of lineage is a subject that is often up for debate in the martial arts community. It is clear that in a country such as China, great importance is placed on a master's heritage, for it is often a key element to his reputation. It is even common in Chinese custom to hear: "To know the teacher is to know the student". Here in the West, it is a different story altogether.


            The lineage of martial-arts teachers is usually overlooked in Canada. Our accepting natures often allow us to be misled in this seemingly mystic world of Buddhist and Taoist arts. We tend to take for granted that a thriving school must be the true thing. We say to ourselves: "He's been around for so long, he must be the real deal" or "He's Chinese, therefore he must know what he's doing, right?" - Wrong. There is no legislative control for martial-arts schools in Canada. Just about anyone can open a school claiming to master a particular style. In places like China, fraudulent schools are easily exposed, but we are far from China - in more ways than one.


            Lineage in the martial-arts community is comparable to a C.V. (Curriculum Vitae) in North America. To know a person's lineage is to know what they have been exposed to, and what was available to them from which to gain experience. For the Chinese, it is common to inquire about a martial artist's background, just as here we often ask: "So which university did you attend?" or "What was your major".

            Don't get me wrong, it isn't because someone has studied with a great Master that he or she is necessarily very good. To make a comparison, not all Harvard students are the best at what they do. On the other hand, martial-artists with a not so great Lineage have excelled and raised their art to higher levels. It is important to understand that above all, serious study, dedication and mindful practice are key to any art form.


            A teacher's Lineage, no matter the purity, tells us whether the proper instruction and guidance were made available to them.


            I myself began studying martial arts in 1994, and like most people, I blindly chose my first teacher. The more I got involved in the study, the more I began researching anything and everything about the art and the particular style. To my surprise and dismay, I began to discover that what I had been studying was not quite the real thing. The experience was quite an eye-opener and motivated me to deepen my research on both the external and the internal styles. Fortunately, in the past few years, the internet has greatly helped in closing the gap between China and the West. It is now much easier for surfers to inquire about styles, schools and lineage. Another discovery that pleases me greatly is that many recognized schools in China are willing to publish or send records pertaining to their family tree (present and past recognized students and teachers). Understandably, they do not want people falsely pretending to be their students.


            I've now become quite comfortable in asking: "With whom did you study and for how long?". I believe that questions such as these must become commonplace in the West.


            If you are looking for a school for the first time, keep in mind that it is easy to be overwhelmed by the atmosphere. Many schools seem to be a direct portal into traditional China, with pictures of past masters, Chinese writings, and religious symbols on display. Do not mistake these decorations for diplomas or certificates. The credibility of a teacher is not necessarily on those walls. A school in Canada should have available, in English, the credibility of the master - don't be afraid to inquire.


            Beware of a place or a teacher that will not give his or her lineage in detail, for it could mean that that teacher has something to hide. Remember, before you begin learning any art or discipline, inquire about the background or the qualifications of the teacher, you have a right to know who is teaching you. Do not trust your health to a teacher who isn't qualified - too many students must give up their practice due to irreparable damage to their bodies.


            Slowly, but surely, associations are being formed in the West. Hopefully someday soon it won't be so complicated to find a credible teacher. In the meantime, be vigilant in your search.

Introducing Xue Dian and his Dragon style of Xingyi Quan

by James Coons (Please visit to know more)


            Among famous Xingyi masters, many western practitioners are familiar with the names Guo Yunshen, Liu Qilan, Li Cunyi,Zhang Zhaodong, and Sun Lutang. However, one of the greatest masters of Xingyi Quan has been mostly lost in the sands of time.


            Xue Dian was a Xingyi master who lived in Tianjin at the height of the popularity and achievement of martial arts in that city during the 1920's. He studied from Li Cunyi, Li Taihe (grandson of Li Luoneng, the founder of XingYi) and Xue Zhengang. When he was defeated in a challenge match against Fu Jianqiu (a student of Li Cunyi), he had to leave town due to cultural rules about martial arts competition.

             While he was away from home he learned from Monk Ling Kong, (probably an allonym of a hermit) and also developed his Xingyi by himself. Later, he moved back to Tianjin and became the director of Martial Art Academy of Tianjin.

            What he came up with is possibly the crowning achievement of the Hebei branch of Xingyi Quan. People called his creation Dragon style Xingyi Quan or Xue Dian style Xing Yi Quan.
As the name denotes, the style teaches its practitioner to move smoothly and powerfully like the mythical Chinese dragon. 

            The style has some important points of emphasis such as:

  • a unique alignment of the legs from feet, to knees, and hips, to spine that emphasizes pushing against the ground to generate force.
  • a radical turning of the hips in transitional postures to unwind at the moment of impact to make the power emitted much stronger than that of standard Xingyi.
  • a large forward lean in the back to emphasize clear power generation through the back and out the arms.
  • and a very extended posture with long stepping that promotes clean power generation through the body and out the limbs, as well as helps to develop speed in footwork.

            Xue is famous for beating many famous masters in Tianjin after he returned home. His Xingyi is a great vehicle for building power and obtaining self defense skills in a short period of time.

           However, for the most part Xue has been forgotten and his lineage is quite obscure. Many people in China know who he was, but almost no one teaches his style, since he only taught it in Tianjin. I was lucky enough to learn Dragon style Xingyi from my teacher, Yang Hai. Master Yang learned this style from some friends of his grandfather, including as Zhang Songlin, who had studied with Xue himself.

            Master Yang told me that in a talk with Mr.Zhang Songlin, this teacher cried when remembering the skill of Xue Dian, and how much he respected him as a person. 

            After I started learning Xue's style, I stopped practising the systems of Xingyi that I had learned earlier (Zhang Zhaodong and Li Cunyi's styles, with the exception of Li Cunyi's animal forms which are a helpful way to learn Xue's much more complex animal postures) because I believe that Xue's Xingyi is much more nuanced and effective than either of those styles.

            From this practice I have learned many valuable insights about the ideal posture of the body to use when generating force within the paradigm of Xingyi Quan training, as well as some more subtle mental and energetic aspects of the art.

            I hope that as I improve and grow, I can share this great style of martial art with people and with the help of my teacher, allow Xue's Xingyi to become known in the west.