Ever wonder where Wudang kung fu’s amazing kicks came from?
It’s time to meet Flying Legs Kuang.
There is a saying that all Daoist martial artists in China know. It is “Guo in the south, and Kuang in the North” (南郭北匡). This saying refers to two famous Daoist martial artist masters, Guo Gaoyi (郭高一) and Kuang Changxiu (匡常修).
Kuang Changxiu, also known as “Flying Legs Kuang” and “Amazing Kicks Kuang” was born in Shandong Province in 1904. His parents named him Kuang Guilin (匡桂林). Young Kuang Guilin started school when he was 8 years old. When Kuang Guilin was 14 he ended his formal schooling and married. He worked a number of odd jobs, until he became an apprentice shoemaker at age 17. A year later, Kuang opened his own shop. After Kuang’s business became a success, he handed it off to his youngest brother, and began to study medicine. Young Kuang Guilin also enjoyed music and opera very much. He played the two-string Chinese fiddle, and for a while, directed a local Beijing opera troupe.
At the age of 21, with his family’s blessing, he moved to a nearby temple called Woyun Temple (臥云庵) to learn more about the Dao. Later on, when the temple was burned by Japanese soldiers, he returned home to his wife and children. Kuang Guilin had practiced many martial arts styles from an early age, including Mantis, Shaolin, and local folk styles. When he was in his teens he won several competitions and was the highest ranked fighter in the county. After returning home, he opened a martial arts school and worked with local elementary and middle schools to teach martial arts to their students.
When Kuang Guilin was 26, his wife fell ill and died. He left secular life for good and entered the White Cloud Temple on Lao Mountain, taking vows as a Daoist priest in the Golden Mountain Lineage (金山派). He became a disciple of his uncle, Kuang Zhenjue (匡真觉) whose master, Li Shiqing (李是卿) had lived on Wudang Mountain. Kuang Guilin was given the Daoist name Kuang Changxiu (匡常修).
In the temple, Kuang Changxiu continued to study medicine, eventually opening three Chinese clinics. He also continued teaching martial arts. His martial curriculum included:
Eight Element Palm (八卦掌 Ba Gua Zhang)
Mystical Skill Fist (玄功拳 Xuan Gong Quan)
Mystical Skill Saber (玄功刀 Xuan Gong Dao)
Changing Dragon Form (龙化拳 Long Hua Quan)
Changing Dragon Sword Form (龙化剑 Long Hua Jian)
Mystical Truth Fist (玄真拳 Xuan Zhen Quan)
36 Kicking Methods (三十六腿法 36 Tui Fa）
The majority Kuang Changxiu’s students were Daoist priests, but some were not. Many of his students became very good at martial arts, and several became high-level bodyguards.
After the People’s Republic of China was founded by Communist Leadership in 1949, Kuang Changxiu worked as the leader of the Lao Mountain Daoist Production Brigade, overseeing the Daoists’s financial matters, food production, and other daily affairs. He continued to treat patients in the temple, and many of the local hospitals would refer their difficult patients to him.
During the Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976) Daoists were not allowed to stay in the temples. Kuang Changxiu returned to his home town and worked as a itinerant doctor, traveling from village to village carrying little more than his needles and a few bags of medicinal herbs.
In 1980, after the Cultural Revolution ended, he returned to Lao Mountain. During this time, Wudang Mountain undertook the task of recovering our martial tradition. Many Wudang Daoists traveled to Lao Mountain to train with Kuang Changxiu. Many of the forms Master Kuang taught are now part of the Wudang curriculum. Kuang Changxiu stayed on Lao Mountain for the remainder of his life. He left his mortal body in 1993, at the age of 85.
During my years as a wandering monk, I traveled to Lao Mountain in 1999 to meet Kuang Zhenjue’s students. Here are some of the stories they told me:
In the early 1980s, life in the temple was not easy. There were about 80 Daoists there at that time. The temple charged pilgrims an admission price of .2 Yuan (less than 3 U.S. cents) which was used to pay for the Daoists’ food. They slept side by side on a long platform made from wooden boards.
Affinity For Fellow Daoist Martial Artists
Master Kuang had a supervisory role in the temple, so wandering Daoists seeking shelter in the temple would need his approval. Kuang’s students told me that when wandering Daoists came to visit, Master Kuang would ask why they were there. If the Daoist told him they were there “in search of immortality” he point them towards the caves further up the mountain and encouraged them to live as a hermit. If they said they were there to “follow the Dao” he would tell them to go talk to someone else. If they said they were there to “train martial arts” he would welcome them enthusiastically.
Many people would come to the temple to challenge the martial artists there. The most memorable was a soldier who was stationed nearby. He heard that the Lao Mountain Daoists practiced martial arts and visited the mountain for a challenge match. He was a large man, and a skilled fighter. Master Kuang, who was over 70 years old at the time, insisted on fighting the soldier himself. With one side kick old Master Kuang sent the soldier flying! From that day on, the local soldiers held the Daoists in high regard. If they saw Daoists walking anywhere, they would stop their trucks, and give them a ride to where they were going. I experienced this myself during my time there. It was obvious that the respect that the soldiers felt for Kuang Changxiu continued to influence the soldier’s opinion for Daoists even after Master Kuang had passed away!
Dedication and Passion
Towards the end of Kuang Changxiu’s life he began to have mobility problems. When he wanted to stroll through the temple, two of his disciples would walk with him, supporting him on both sides. However, if they happened across a person practicing Bagua, Master Kuang would shake off his disciples, and walk the circle along side the person! His dedication and passion are an inspiration to all martial artists!
Here is a video of Master Kuang. You can click on CC for our English translation.