PART 1 - PART 2 - PART 3

 

 

Wu Yi Hui 吳翼翬, also known as Wu Yi Fei 吳一非, and who came to be called Yi Sou 逸叟 in his later years, was born on November 30, 1887. His ancestral home was northeast Tieling City 鐵岭市, in Liaoning Province 遼寧省. Liaoning is located north of Beijing 北京, bordering between Inner Mongolia and Korea. He came from a scholarly family of government officials. During his childhood in 1896, he moved with his father on a government transfer to Kaifeng 開封 (which was called Bianliang 汴梁 in those days), one of the seven ancient capitals of China in Henan Province 河南, and there he began study in a private school. During that era Kaifeng was a place that was abundant in the martial arts, which always caught Wu's attention and piqued his curiosity. At the time however, aristocratic families stressed the civil arts over the military arts, and so he was dissuaded from pursuing his interest and instead encouraged to dedicate himself to his education and follow the family's tradition. Within his home it was strictly prohibited to study martial arts, but young Wu Yi Hui had a schoolmate who shared his interest and would take him to the nearby Iron Buddha Temple (Tiefo Ji 鐵佛寺) to watch the monks train martial arts. He would remember what he observed and then practice in secret, trying to mimic the movements he remembered. A year later in 1897 at the age of 10, Wu moved to Beijing along with his family, living on Old Official Street (Laoguan Jie 老官街). Wu's grandfather, who was aware of the boy's interest in the martial arts, constantly discouraged him from the pursuit, emphasizing that there was nothing to benefit from such study. The rather harsh complaints were overheard by his grandfather's friend Fan Gu Guo 范固國, who perhaps unknown at the time was a master of Liuhebafa Chuan. Fan, who was the same generation as Wu's grandfather, could relate to his traditional ways so started to talk about how martial arts contain the rich culture and history of the Chinese people, and this slowly had an impact. Eventually, through Fan's persuasion, his grandfather came to realize that Chinese martial arts are not superficial at all, but rather contain deep skills and cultural tradition.

Wu's grandfather had a change of heart and regretted his earlier opinion, thus taking it upon himself to look for a proper boxing instructor for his grandson. With the help of his friend Fan Gu Guo he found a person who was said to be a competent martial arts expert and who also lived close by on Old Official Street. The master's name was Yan Guo Xing 閻國興. Wu's grandfather took young Wu to meet him, and selected a day to take Wu for apprenticeship. It was in 1900 that Wu Yi Hui became the disciple of Yan Guo Xing, who trained him in various aspects of the internal arts, which as he said were all products of Chen Xi Yi's "Liuhebafa Chuan". After two years when Wu had improved, Fan Gu Guo introduced yet another expert, his own classmate named Chen Guang Di 陳光第 to young Wu. Chen Guang Di was from the same martial clan as Yan Guo Xing, called Hua Yue Xi Yi Men 華嶽希夷門, and Wu became formally initiated under both masters. It was Wu's great fortune to receive training and guidance from these two masters daily from morning until evening, and gradually he came to handle himself comfortably and skillfully for an actual situation.

A few years later in 1901, Wu left the capital (Beijing) back to Kaifeng, and so with a heavy heart parted from his two teachers. The teachings of Yan and Chen however were not taken lightly by Wu as he had been greatly inspired and worked hard, appreciating the details of what he had received and persisting to understand the depth of his lessons. In Kaifeng by way of introduction he met a man called Song Qing Wen 宋清文, a friend of Yan Guo Xing and a master of an unknown style of kung fu called Lu Hong Ba Shi 呂紅八勢拳 (8 Essences of Lu Hong's Fist). The style, though appearing simple on the surface, actually had great depth and was highly combat-oriented. It contained many unique elements not found in other martial arts and attracted Wu. Song Qing Wen succeeded his father in the style, but had no children of his own to pass the tradition on to. As Song and Yan were close friends, and because he saw Wu's developing skill, Song was glad to share his style with young Wu. Wu trained hard to understand and absorb the principles of Luhong Bashi and succeeded Song in the style. Wu put all his time into training both Liuhebafa and Luhongbashi, and the intensity of the few years he spent learning gave him a powerful foundation for what was to come.

In 1903, Wu Yi Hui took a military examination in Beijing and was admitted to Baoding Military Academy 保定武備學堂 in Zhili 直隸 (currently Hebei 河北) to learn military arts. There he studied under the school's principal, Duan Qi Rui 段祺瑞, a famous personage in China's history who was a commander in the Beiyang Army 北洋軍 and Premier of the Republic of China. Wu was still quite persistent with his practice and during his free time and after class would take walks and look for quite places where he could train alone. One place he went to was the Guanyin (goddess of mercy) Convent 觀音庵, where it was quiet and he could practice undisturbed. One day when Wu went there, he saw two old men with silver hair and long beards playing chess. Wu began practicing trying not to disturb them, but his training immediately caught their attention. Upon seeing Wu move, recognizing what he saw, one man commented, "This young man practices martial arts with true devotion and sincerity, very hard to come by!" The man then got up and began to perform something himself. Wu watched with awe the old man's flow and precise execution of what to his shock was his own Liuhebafa! Wu was overwhelmed by the display of skill and knelt down, asking to be accepted. The old man introduced himself as Chen He Lu 陳鶴侶, a disciple of Hua Yue Xi Yi Men. He recognized what Wu had learned and that Wu had acquired skill, and he accepted Wu for further study. Chen He Lu became Wu Yi Hui's third teacher of Liuhebafa Chuan.

During the next several years, while attending military school, Wu secretly devoted himself completely to Chen He Lu's instruction of Liuhebafa Chuan. He eventually came to understand that beyond a combative style Liuhebafa is also about regenerating the physical and cultivating the spiritual, and he found it to be an all-encompassing system.


Beiyang Army during China's "warlord era"

Commander Duan Qi Rui

When Wu graduated from the Baoding Military Academy in 1907, he was dispatched to the Beiyang Army 北洋陸軍 where he was appointed staff officer of the first division. Later he went to Beijing where he started work in the division of inventory of government industry in 1915. In 1921 he became a director of administration and also taught literature in a middle school in Kaifeng. His career and experience were developing well, but fate would not allow his skill and talent in Liuhebafa to go undiscovered.


Central Guoshu Institute - Nanjing 1928

In 1924, Wu took a position at the South Senior High School in Shanghai 上海南方高中, and soon thereafter took another position concurrently at the Xuhui Public School 徐匯公學. At both schools, due to his proper education and military training he became the Chinese language and athletics instructor. Four years later, one of the school's principals learned that Wu knew martial arts. At the principal's request, Wu started to teach martial arts, perhaps for the first time. That year, Wu attended the 3rd All-China Wushu Game 全國運動會武術比賽 in Hangzhou City 杭州市, and met Wang Xiang Zhai 王薌齋, developer of Yi Chuan 意拳. Wang was attending as a referee with two of his students, Zhang Chang Xin 張長信 and Zhao Dao Xin 趙道新 competing. Zhang and Zhao met Wu and saw Wang's display of respect towards him, learning of the strong friendship between the two masters. Perhaps to his students' knowledge this was the first time the two masters had met, however their relationship actually went back much further, and some say that the two were classmates in school. During that same year (1928) Wang made a public statement that caused a big echo in the martial arts world:

"I have traveled across the country in research, engaging over a thousand people in martial combat, there have been only 2.5 people I could not defeat, namely Hunan's Xie Tie Fu 湖南解鐵夫, Fujian's Fang Yi Zhuang 福建方恰庄 and Shanghai's Wu Yi Hui 上海吳翼翬."

王薌齋 Wang Xiang Zhai - 1928

 

 


Zhao Dao Xin 趙道新

 

Wang's student Zhao Dao Xin was a young but seasoned and uncontested fighter who was always ready to prove his skills. He founded the Shanghai Youth Association 上海青年會 in Shanghai's Eight Immortal Bridge District 八仙橋 where he taught kung fu. In 1932, he had to leave for his home town of Tianjin 天津 for his father's funeral, and called upon Wu Yi Hui to take over the school. When Wang Xiang Zhai heard that Wu was teaching, he sent many of his top students to Wu for deeper training, among whom were Han Xing Qiao 韓星橋, Han Xing Yuan 韓星樵, and Zhang Chang Xin. When Zhao returned, he joined his colleagues in training Liuhebafa under Wu. Later on in life, Zhao founded his own style called Xin Hui Zhang 心會掌.

Zhao who greatly admired Wu's character presented him with an engraving that read:

  " Master Wu is exceptionally talented, but without need to show off or perform his skills, not needing the approval or praise of others. "

Wu Yi Hui teaching Liuhebafa at the Shanghai Youth Center: 1932 - 1935

 



趙道新
Zhao Dao Xin
 


張長信
Zhang Chang Xin

 

 


韓星橋
Han Xing Qiao

高振東
Gao Zhen Dong

四大金鋼 Four Diamond Warriors

These four elite fighters, who combated with the best of their generation, were students of Yi Chuan under the styles founder Wang Xiang Zhai. When Wu Yi Hui opened his doors and began teaching, they were among those who Wang sent to him for deeper training.



In 1928, the Central Guoshu Institute 南京中央國術館 was founded in Nanjing 南京 for the purpose of consolidating "Guoshu 國術" (a new term developed to mean "national functional martial arts") by bringing great masters together under one formal organization. They laid out rigorous brutal competitions, which they called "martial examinations", where fighters could prove their worth and represent their art. In October 1928, Wu attended the Institutes "1st Martial Examinations 一次全國國術考試", and later the 2nd Martial Examinations in October 1933, where he met General Zhang Zhi Jiang 張之江, the head of the Central Guoshu Institute and martial arts enthusiast. General Zhang brought in the best talents from around the nation and formed a team of experts in their respective styles, and in 1936 invited Wu to become the Dean of Studies of the Institute. Zhang who was a martial artist, recognized Wu's skill, himself becoming a student of Wu learning Liuhebafa Chuan. Also at this time, Wu also instructed Han Xing Qiao (founder of Han Family Yi Chuan 韓民意拳), and Jiang Rong Qiao 姜容樵 (founder of Jiang Shi Bagua Zhang 姜民八卦掌) who also worked at the institute as a researcher. It was during this time that Wu Yi Hui and Liuhebafa Chuan received great exposure, which prompted Wu to gather his information on the style. He further decided to memorialize Liuhebafa for future generations, and took photos of his performance of one of the style's forms called "Zhu Ji." The photos were published in the book entitled "Liuhebafa Chuan Illustrated 六合八法拳圖說" by his disciple Chen Yi Ren. Later, the same photos were published in "History of the Central Guoshu Institute 中央國術舘史 ".

 

When Japan invaded China on August 13th 1937, the Central Guoshu Institute was ordered to evacuate, and first moved to Yunnan Province's 雲南 Kunming 昆明 via Vietnam. It was during the pass through that Wu was invited by the Vietnamese government to demonstrate Chinese Martial Arts in Hanoi.

Later the institute again moved to Guangxi Province's 廣西 Guiling 桂林. During the several year stay in Guilin, he lived at 55 Shuidong Jie 水東街 and taught Liuhebafa once again. At this time Wu wrote about the origins of Liuhebafa's founder Chen Tuan and hired a group of stone masons to carve it into a tablet, which was erected at the Zhongling mountains 鍾靈山 (also called Guilin mountains 桂林山) in commemoration. Today, the local government attaches great importance to this tablet and protects it as a precious piece of heritage.

In 1944, Wu was appointed commissioner of the natural resources committee, as well as the chief of the factory's military security brigade. In 1945, when the Sino-Japanese war was finally over, Wu returned to Tianjin where he was welcomed by his friends and students, and again taught Liuhebafa. On February 14, 1947, he was appointed head of the natural resources committee of the Tianjin Iron and Steel Factory 天津鋼鐵廠, as well as the machine factory manager. Numerous students reportedly sought him out after hearing of his growing reputation.

 Rubbing of the History of Chen Tuan
- erected in Guilin 1945


Kunming 昆明 - 1939

After 20 years of existence, the Central Guoshu Institute closed in 1948, due to lack of funding. A year later, on May 27th 1949, the People's Liberation Army 中國人民解放軍 took control of and liberated Shanghai, and Wu could then finally return home. Upon arriving, his disciple Li Dao Li 李道立 introduced him to the Shanghai Electric Company Trade Union 上海電力公司工會 to teach Liuhebafa. Another student, Chen Wen Liang 陳文良, also introduced him to the Jiangning Regional Club 江寧俱樂部 to teach Chang Chuan (Long Fist), thereby allowing him to live in contentment in Shanghai. After the closing of the Central Guoshu Institute, Zhang Zhi Jiang went to follow another project already in process, and again invited Wu to come along and be an associate professor at the National Physical Education Teacher's Institute 國立國術體育師範專科學校 in Shanghai, which was also founded by Zhang in 1933. He invited Wu to be an associate professor and chairman of the martial arts assembly. Wu accepted and this time was accompanied by his 2 disciples, Chen Yi Ren 陳亦人 and Yin Tian Xiong 尹天雄. Chen, who remained with Wu the entire duration of the stay at the institute, became the only person known to have learned the full extent of Wu's Liuhebafa. And Yin, who was a feared fighter in the region, also learned Liuhebafa but specialized in Lu Hong Ba Shi under Wu's guidance and approval. In 1951, Wu taught Liuhebafa to the Workers Union Club 總工會工人俱樂部 of the Shanghai Electricity Company 上海電力公司. During these years, Wu was quite content and in high demand for his skills and for his knowledge of kung fu, but it was not to last.

 


 

國立國術體育師範專科學校

National Physical Education Teacher's Institute
Shanghai - 1950

top left to right
Chen Yi Ren 陳亦人, Han Xing Qiao 韓星橋, Yin Tian Xiong 尹天雄

bottom left to right
Jiang Rong Qiao 姜容樵, Wu Yi Hui 呉翼翬, Zhang Zhi Jiang 張之江, Chu Gui Ting 褚桂亭

Chen Yi Ren learned Yi Chuan from Han Xing Qiao, Bagua from Jiang Rong Qiao, Taiji from Chu Gui Ting, and Liuhebafa from Wu Yi Hui.

*All except Chu Gui Ting were students of Wu learning Liuhebafa Chuan.


During this time, there was great political change and many people fell victim to social and economic depression, which affected many great masters of that time, including Wu. It was in 1953 that Wu became sick. He sought out an acupuncturist for treatment however the doctor mistakenly punctured some of Wu's nerves, leaving him partially paralyzed. He became bedridden for nearly 5 years, which prevented him from teaching or working, and left him depressed.

When Wu finally regained his health and physical condition in 1957, he was contacted by Mayor Chen Yi 陳毅. Chen Yi was a Chinese military commander and politician who became the mayor of Shanghai after the founding of the People's Republic of China. Chen appointed him the first librarian of the Shanghai Literature and History Institute 上海文史館, especially studies the martial arts historical data. Going back to work lifted Wu's spirit and he slowly started feeling better. This was only temporary as his mood and condition had already quite deteriorated, he weakened once again.

Wu Yi Hui passed away in Shanghai at the age of 73 at his home on Chang Ning Road 長寧路 on March 29, 1958.

*Note: As a Chinese custom, some add 3 years onto the age of the departed to show longevity. It is for this reason that some records show that Wu passed away in 1961, even though his family confirmed that it was indeed 1958.


 

 

 

Wu Yi Hui dedicated his life to martial arts, teaching thousands of students and influencing some of the greatest internal artists of the era. It is not known if Wu studied any styles other than Liuhebafa. Some say he knew thoroughly Xingyi, Bagua, Taiji, and various Shaolin Fist techniques, but others suggest that he comprehended those styles through his knowledge and skill of Liuhebafa. When often asked if Liuhebafa had come from Taiji, Bagua, and Xingyi, he firmly responded "combining those arts simply could not produce Liuhebafa".

Of Wu Yi Hui it was said that he was very humble in character and content with his skill, not needing any outer praise or recognition. He was a well educated and well traveled scholar, with no desire to test nor show off his skill, and not easily provoked. However, the fact was that his skills gained fear, respect, and recognition from combat, of which was said "fighting Wu is like fighting a cloud, hes all over you everywhere but still you just can't get a hold of him".


 

The generations following Wu had varying comprehensions and interpretations of their teacher's art. In general, those who followed Wu had backgrounds in other styles, thus their ability to realize his depth. As can be seen from his biography Wu moved very often and was never in one place for very long, so had very few students who learned from him for more than a couple years, and often was the case they would fill in the blanks with their own styles, which has led to the great amount if deviation that exists today. Wu who had seen this disparage said "Those who possess skills and experience might understand my art, but are also likely to misunderstand it or change it. Those who do not possess prior experience are likely to keep my art pure as I teach it, but are also unlikely to comprehend what it truly is and how deep it can go." Facing this reality, Wu then wrote out what he called the "4 difficulties in studying boxing 學拳有四難":

1.   知拳難 It is difficult to comprehend boxing
2.   遇師難 It is difficult to find a skilled master
3.   有恆難 It is difficult to persevere in ones training
4.   守業難 It is difficult to protect and maintain the heritage

 

 


Wu Yi Hui
1st generation Grandmaster of Liuhebafa Chuan
六合八法拳的一代宗師 吳翼翬

 

Wu was very opened and offered Liuhebafa to all but at the same time was quite traditional, and adhered to the master/disciple tradition that he himself was initiated into. In the end, he choose a single individual to pass the extent of his knowledge of Hua Yue Xi Yi Men (the Liuhebafa System) on to, and that man was Chen Yi Ren 陳亦人...

 

 


ON TO HISTORY PART THREE (coming soon!)

 

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