Mentioning Chinese martial arts, or Kungfu, the first thing that comes to mind is power, fighting and health, along with images of Bruce Lee, Jacky Chan. We also discover another kung fu master, Zhang Shengli, who is one of the top practitioners of Taichi, or shadow box, in China. He Fei met him in his kung fu school in downtown Beijing.
Zhang Shengli standing in front of the White House in the U.S. [photo: hxzg.net]
In a quadrangle Courtyard near Wangfujing Street, a group of enthusiasts of Chinese martial arts are performing Taichi. Different from traditional Taichi, which is gentle and slow, they perform with power and force. Among them is a middle aged man, who directs their actions with simple English, sometimes even Japanese and Korean. He is Zhang Shengli.
"My students come from all over the world, including ambassadors from the Philippines, Greece and foreign students studying in China."
Born near Shaolin Temple in Henan Province, central China, Zhang started doing martial arts at the age of six. At 16, he entered Chengdu Sports University and has diligently studied, practiced and researched the arts ever since.
Zhang has won two national Sanda, or free fight, championships and has taught in Beijing Sport University and Chinese People's Public Security University for years. He has been to the United Nations twice to perform Chinese martial arts.
In 2002, Zhang founded Beijing Milun School of Traditional Kung Fu with one of his foreign students.
"In order to have enough time to research martial arts and teach in my own style, I set up a school of my own with the support of my student from the British embassy."
Many foreign kung fu fans go to his school. To better communicate with them, Zhang began to study English, and even Japanese and Korean.
Having students from all over the world, he has his own understanding of Martial arts.
"Chinese martial arts is a series of harmonious movements pursuing development in contradiction. Sense of human living is the internal reason of the existence of Chinese martial arts and its fundamental purpose is to perfect human nature. "
Zhang Shengli practices many kinds of Chinese martial arts, like free boxing and shaolin boxing, but he prefers Taichi. He doesn't want to be a rigid follower of the traditional practices of Taichi; rather he tries to be a creator. He has even developed his own style of Taichi-Zhang Style.
He thinks that a major shortcoming of modern Taichi practice is the stubborn adherence to specific forms and techniques. He emphasizes 'flexible change' and all training is designed to be adaptable to any situation. All movements are practiced smoothly and naturally. The movements are then combined with lightning speed.
"Traditional Taichi is practiced at almost the same speed. I think it prevents the development of human nature. You can jump and your speed can be quicker when necessary."
Zhang Shengli says that Chinese martial arts is not just a way to defend yourself and keep healthy, but also an art form, a part of traditional Chinese culture. You can learn more about Chinese culture, especially Chinese philosophy, through martial arts.
"Martial arts is a carrier of Chinese culture. For example, 'tian ren he yi', the harmony of man with nature, you may not know it deeply without experiencing the movement. Standing with your feet on the ground, your head keeping up towards the sky, thinking that you are part of the nature, then you can experience the connotation of 'tian ren he yi'."
Therefore, when teaching his students kung fu, he also teaches them Chinese. Although some of his students can't understand the Chinese idioms completely at first, they just recite it. Under the influence of Chinese culture, their performance is becoming better and better. American student Andrew is one of them.
"I want to have an authentic teacher, a true martial arts experience. I didn't know any Chinese. So Zhang shifu taught me martial arts while teaching me Chinese. It's really a true program. I think it's great. It's really interesting. They also teach you the philosophies behind martial arts, which I really need."
As well as Zhang Shengli, three of his Chinese students also teach in his school. At the same time, Zhang Shenglihe sends them regularly to teach Kung fu abroad.
In addition to practicing martial arts, Zhang also tries to incorporate martial arts with calligraphy. He uses his martial arts skills in brush pen calligraphy, and expresses martial arts through it.
"Martial arts is a kind of arts, so is handwriting. There is no gap between arts. If a kung fu master has no sense of arts, then he doesn't deserve the honor. I can express my kung fu in handwriting and improve my handwriting through kung fu."
There is no boundary for arts. Being a martial artist, philosophy teacher and calligrapher, Zhang Shengli hopes he will do his bit to let people all over the world know of the art of Kung fu.
For Beyond Beijing, I'm He Fei.