This article was first published in the Pa Kua Chang Newsletter 1993.
The information in this article was obtained during interviews conducted with Luo Dexiu (羅德修) in Taipei, Taiwan, in September 1992 and March 1993. Thanks to Luo Dexiu’s students Tim Cartmell and Bill Tucker for translating the lengthy interviews.
In September of 1992 I was in Taipei, Taiwan, interviewing Huang Bonian’s (黃柏年) son, Huang Guochen （黃國楨）, and Huang Guo Chen’s son was listening attentively to what his father was saying about his grandfather. I made a comment to Huang Guochen’s son about how interested he seemed to be in what his father was saying. He replied, „I love to hear stories about my grandfather.“ I asked, „Do you practice martial arts.“ His response, „No, I don’t like martial arts. I like baseball.“
Even though his grandfather was one of the most famous Bagua and Xingyi masters of this century, the response did not surprise me because I had come to realize that the majority of young Chinese living in Taiwan today feel the same way. They are too busy studying in school, finding good paying jobs, and filling their free time with Western sports, or other leisure activities, to be interested in practicing the martial arts.
Today the „Northerners“ who brought the „internal“ styles of martial arts to Taiwan in the late 40’s and early 50’s have either passed away or are too old to teach. Even the first group of Taiwanese who where taught by the mainlanders are now old and retiring. For the most part, the students of these students who studied during the 60’s and 70’s are now busy rainsing children and supporting their families and don’t haven much time for martial arts. It is very difficult to find individuals teaching Bagua Zhang or Xingyi Quan today in Taiwan who have over 20 years in the art, still practice hard everyday, and teach their art openly and with enthusiasm. They have not disappeared completely however, because Luo Dexiu is one such individual.
Luo Dexiu started his martial arts training in 1968 studying Shaolin from a few of his relatives. When he was in the eighth grade a classmate named Su was studying at Hong Yixiang’s school and showed Luo what he had been learning. Luo was interested in what he saw and so he and a few other classmates went with Su to Hong’s school to check it out. After his initial introduction to Hong’s school, Luo studied there for three or four months but then dropped out because he didn’t like the basic Tang Shou Dao training that Hong taught to the beginners. For the next 9 or 10 months Luo practiced martial arts on his own and would sometimes practice with his friend Su. When Luo realized that the basic Tang Shou Dao training eventually led to the study of Xingyi Quan, he went back to study at Hong’s school. Luo started studying at Hong’s for the second time in 1971.
Hong Yixiang had started his Tang Shou Dao school in the mid-60’s. By the early 70’s martial arts were at the height of their popularity in Taiwan and Hong’s school had about 200 students. It was during this „heyday“ that Luo eventually became one of Hong’s top students and one of the best fighters of his generation. When I visited Hong Yixiang at his school and asked about Luo, Hong said that Luo was a good fighter and pointed to a trophy he still has in the school’s trophy case which Luo had won for the school in a national tournament nearly 20 years ago.
Luo’s Martial Arts Training
Luo started his tournament fighting career in 1972. Between 1972 and 1974, studying the martial arts in order to learn how to win fights became his main priority. Whenever he was taught something new he immediately wanted to learn how it was applied in fighting. When Hong taught Xingyi it was always in a fighting context, however Luo wanted to try and really understand what techniques worked and why and so he would ask Hong many questions about everything that he was taught. Luo states that he and about 5 other students at Hong’s school spent most of their time investigating and practicing Xingyi with fighting as the focus.
Hong recognized Luo’s love for fighting. When visitors from outside came to check out Hong’s school and wanted to test his students‘ skill, Hong usually sent Luo out to fight with them. Luo states that he did well against many of these visitors, however, there were some that he had some problems with and so he knew he would have to practice harder and continue to investigate the depth of the martial arts. Around 1974, in order to broaden his horizons, Luo began talking with other martial arts teachers around Taiwan. One of the first teachers he visited was Hong Yixiang’s brother Hong Yimian. While at Hong Yixiang’s school, Luo had mostly studied Xingyi. When he met with Hong Yimian he began to learn more about the other parts of Zhang Junfeng’s system, especially the Bagua Zhang.
When Luo first started at Hong Yixiang’s school he knew that Hong’s teacher’s name was Zhang, but he did not know exactly who Zhang was. He said that he remembers seeing Zhang Junfeng walking around with a scowl on his face at tournaments, but did not put two-and-two together until later. Once he learned exactly who Hong’s teacher had been he began to search for other students of Zhang’s. He discovered that among the group that had studied with Zhang the longest, the three Hong brothers were the ones who had studied the most and had continued to practice and teach. Although Luo was still studying at Hong Yixiang’s school, he would frequently go to where Hong Yimian and Hong Yiwen were teaching and ask questions. He was determined to piece together Zhang’s entire system.
Luo states that each of the Hong brothers got something a little bit different from Zhang and thus through investigating the methods of each brother, he was able to gain valuable insights. Luo feels that Hong Yixiang’s strength was his sticking and infighting ability while Hong Yimian was best at open sparring from a distance. When he visited with Hong Yiwen, he found his strong suit was in explaining the principles and theories of the art.
Between 1974 and 1975 Luo also spent time visiting with some of Zhang’s other senior students. Although many of Zhang’s early students did not practice much anymore, they could still answer questions about Zhang’s system and how it was taught. In talking with this early practitioners, Luo obtained information about the aspects of internal arts practice which Zhang emphasized in his teaching. After questioning numbers of Zhang’s students, Luo discovered that Zhang taught his earliest students much differently than the later students. For the first five to ten years Zhang was in Taiwan he always expected to return to the mainland. During this period of time Zhang developed short, intensive programs for the students so that they could learn as much as possible before he left. Later, when Zhang realized that he was not going back to the mainland, he taught more systematically.
Luo also discovered that each of Zhang’s students he talked with had developed what the had been taught differently. Even students of the same generation had interpreted what was taught to suit their body type and personal preferences. Just as the three Hong brothers had each got something a little different from Zhang, other students had also developed differents strengths. Luo states that these differences were easiest to see when each individual demonstrated their rendition of the Houtian Bagua. Through the process of visiting a wide variety of students who had studied with Zhang, Luo was able to get a better feeling for Zhang’s teaching method.
Luo’s thirst for Bagua knowledge did not stop with the Bagua of Zhang Junfeng. If he heard about anyone on the island of Taiwan teaching Bagua, he would go visit with them and ask questions. He also bought all of the books he could find on Bagua and devoured them. Looking at the condition of some of the books in Luo’s library it is evident that he must have read through them hundreds of times. Luo states that by the mid- 70s he had had experience fighting in tournaments and had practiced the rough outline of the art, however, after three or four years of this training he wanted to understand more about the finer details. Luo stated that it is fairly easy to learn and copy movements, however, if you do not understand how to look beyond the physical movements, it will be difficult to discover the finer points of the system. By studying books and asking questions of Bagua Zhang practitioners from various lineages and backgrounds, Luo was able to gain a better understanding of the art’s finer points and broaden his knowledge of the system as a whole.
In 1977 Luo went into the Navy. He said that while serving his tour of duty in the Navy his job allowed him plenty of free time and he filled that time with Bagua Zhang practice. It was also during his military stint that he met his second formal Bagua teacher Liu Qian (劉騫). Liu Qian had been an early student of Sun Xikun (孫錫堃) and was living in Gaoxiong when Luo met him. Liu and Sun Xikun were also together later in Sun’s life as Sun died in Gaoxiong. Luo studied with Liu every weekend for two years. Because Liu was 90 years old when Luo met him, he did not study the forms from Liu, but instead Liu watched the Bagua that Luo was already practicing and helped him fill in the details and understand the concepts and principles of the Bagua and see how everything fits together in forming the whole system. Liu filled in the missing pieces. Luo states that this knowledge has helped him tremendously in designing training programs for his students.
Luo returned to Taipei after leaving the Navy in 1980 and shared what he had learned from his teacher in Gaoxiong with some of his old classmates from Hong’s school. After his military tour of duty Luo did not continue to study on a regular basis at Hong’s school, however he did stay in contact with Hong. In 1983 when the BBC filmed a special documentary, „Way of the Warrior,“ on Hong Yixiang and his school, Luo Dexiu was the person Hong chose to demonstrate Bagua Zhang in the film.
To be continued…