Considering past, present and future

Many of the stories about Chinese martial arts masters of the past – in other words, what many would consider the ‘golden age’ of kung fu – describe the way the master in question defended his home village against overwhelming number of bandits… In fact, the general lawlessness of imperial China was the whole reason behind the development of whole schools of martial styles, each one optimised for its physical environment, and the anticipated skills of opponents.

That’s the past. In more contemporary times, I’ve been fascinated by a couple of news reports in the last week. The first is an NPR report about a university undergraduate student who has become the mayor of her village in Shaanxi province. Using her family’s money, she built a road that helped the villagers in their farming. Alas, it didn’t go smoothly:

Bai says one of her most frustrating moments was when residents from a neighboring village built a house, blocking the road she was building. She tried to negotiate, but her fellow villagers lashed out in anger.

“By the time I got there, they had destroyed about half of the building,” she recalls. “I tried, but couldn’t stop them. The crowd was enraged and had lost all reason. The situation was out of control.”

The residents from the neighboring village later tried to beat her up, she says, at the instigation of the local township party secretary. Her villagers protected her.

Meanwhile, on the southern island/province of Hainan,

One person died and nine others were injured in clashes between Gancheng and Baoshang villages which started Monday in Dongfang City. […]

The two villages, each with a population of over 10,000, have been feuding for more than eighty years over land and because of gambling houses.

The recent trouble started Monday night, when angry villagers gathered at the township government building to protest the government’s response to a fight between a student from Gancheng village and another from Baoshang.

The protest became violent when their demands were not met. The office buildings of the township government, the police station and a local inn were smashed and burnt. Damages were put at more than one million yuan.

Spontaneous clashes between the villages since then had resulted in one death and nine injuries, according to the information office of the Dongfang City government.

More than 1,000 policemen are now in the villages to maintain order. The bridge connecting the two is now under the control of the police to prevent further clashes.

Even so, people remain scared. Fruit and vegetable dealers are not coming to Gancheng.

Baoshang resident Zhang Mingyong said he had not gone to his farm since Monday in fear of a revenge attack by Gancheng villagers. As a result, he had no choice but to let his mature capsicum rot in the land.

On Thursday night, more than 100 residents holding knives from each village conducted their own patrols to prevent attacks.

Even now… it’s medieval out there!

Finally, looking forwards, with police in the UK predicting a “summer of rage“, and the global recession seemingly deepening into depression… there will be a lot of hungry and angry people out there. Learning to fight suddenly looks much more useful….. I grant you, I really study martial arts as a tool for insight and a meditative path. However, to quote a contemporary yiquan master, Cui Rubin, “Although Master Wang Xiangzhai said that ‘combat is the lowest skill’ (jiji nai moji), […] in order to become a great master you must at the very least possess this ability”. That’s taken from an excellent, and very long, interview with Master Cui that I found recently. I highly recommend reading the whole thing!


  1. Really interesting post and news stories, Emlyn. For me, they raise a question about what constitutes a “complete” martial art. We tend to focus on the basic training, neigong (if that is part of the system), usage, light sparring, maybe some weaponry. But is your art training you to handle the adrenalin surge of rage/fear when attacked on the street? Does it provide a framework and regular training opportunities to cultivate awareness? What about taking falls and recovering to your feet? Questions of survival, in other words. Systema trains certain survival attributes (think of their breathing practice) that yiquan and its sister CIMAs like taijiquan, xingyiquan and baguazhang typically do not.

    Rarely will you find all you need in one art, I think.


  2. Wow – China always had a might-riot-at-any-time nuance to it! Glad that the young mayor girl was not beat up by the neighboring villagers at least…


  3. Hi, like to share this youtube video of Bruce Frantzis demonstrating how to use Ba Gua for self defense….I went wow when I saw it. Here is the link:


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