“Da Ying Shi Zhen De, Da Shu Shi Jia De!”
Rough translation: If you fight (hit) and win its real (true). If you fight and lose its fake.
– This is Zhang’s response to a question from a young Hong Yixiang about internal/external, fighting, the true meaning of internal skill, and what “winning” a fight means. – Zhang Zhunfeng
I still remember, long ago, the first time I asked my teacher about his thoughts on the meaning of internal martial arts. At the time (the mid to late ’90s) the Internet was just beginning to get started. There were chat rooms, bulletin boards, and eventually forums for martial arts that I was just beginning to discover as I got my first computer and good internet connection in Taiwan. But as I began to click away on all the sites I could find, one thing, in particular, began to stand out: everyone was arguing constantly on the internet! I guess that never stopped being a thing, unfortunately.
But one of those constant arguments began to occupy my head at the time. I had up until then trained in predominantly external systems. I worked out hard. I trained my strikes, my kicks, my techniques, and my forms. But I was slowly smitten with something I had been reading about at the time, the Internal Martial Arts – in particular Baguazhang. I had been reading the Pa Kua Chang Journal and eventually got a subscription to it. I had a well-worn copy of the book Masters and Methods by Robert Smith, a man who had the opportunity to spend time in Taiwan studying with the various Chinese masters in the late 1950s and early ’60s. One of those masters that he raved about was named Hong Yixiang, a student of Zhang Zhunfeng, and the man who would eventually become my grand-teacher. I was eventually able to get to Taiwan to study with a teacher that I had the good fortune to take a seminar with, Luo Dexiu.
All of my reading in these books, journals, magazines, and now online in these new corners of the Internet though had me taken in two different directions. I was focused on learning Baguazhang as a martial art – a form of combat that would help my fighting abilities – something not that dissimilar to the other martial arts I had been studying for the 11 years previous to my arrival on the island. On the other hand, all of these ideas over what is an “internal” martial art were increasing their real estate in my mind and thoughts. I had heard and seen about Luo Dexiu from very credible sources. He had impeccable credentials, one might say: he had studied with some of the most storied Internal martial arts teachers to live in Taiwan, he had won many challenge fights and tournaments, he had basically done the Internal Arts his entire life while using it very successfully as a combat art. And yet, all these other outside voices were there, with all these other opinions about what is an Internal Martial Art.
So again my mind was swimming with this conundrum. I was obsessed with martial arts and learning how to better fight with it. I was enamored over Baguazhang in particular, there was always something that just struck a chord about it within me. And then I had also bought into the idea that somehow “internal” was this magic ticket to a smarter way, a better way, to accomplish my goal of becoming a better fighter and better martial artist with Baguazhang. To hear sources online at the time belittling my teacher, my lineage, and my pursuits were troubling to me.
I chose to ask my teacher what he thought. I asked him about my concerns with becoming a better fighter and learning the Internal Arts and how compatible the goals were. And that is the first time I heard him quote back to me the quote above. The questions I had asked him, were at one time the same questions that he had asked his teacher. And those same questions were the same questions that a young Hong Yixiang had asked of Zhang Zhunfeng. And then the answer cycled down to me: to fight and win is real, to fight and lose is false ( 打贏是真的打輸是假的 ).
It’s so simple. It boils everything down. There was no wiggle room or long-winded monologues on niche topics. It covered fighting and the training thereof. The direct forebears in my lineage had learned this and put it into practice. They trained, they fought and they won. They did the work, they trusted the process, and they banged it out.
Now I had to get to training better. It’s a long road though for someone that had no natural talent like myself. And in retrospect, it was made harder for me by me and my doubts at times. And just hearing that quote and the history behind it didn’t make every worry go away for me. But it was a start. And I stayed on the path and pushed ahead even harder. And it’s been a great path for me.