China has experienced an unbelievable amount of change in the last 50 years. During that time, the Wudang marital arts have faced persecution, experienced a renaissance, and begun to spread internationally. Understanding these changes, is an important part of understanding the Wudang martial arts.
Cultural Revolution 1966-1976
From 1966 to 1976, China’s underwent a time of political and social chaos called the Cultural Revolution. Chairman Mao called upon young people to purge the nation of the “Four Olds” meaning old customs, old culture, old habits and old ideas. Temples were among the first places targeted. Temples were smashed and Daoists were forced to leave their mountains and forbidden to accept disciples or share their knowledge. Wudang survived the Cultural Revolution with less damage than other sacred sites for several reasons:
1) Earlier, during China’s Civil War, a Communist leader named He Long (贺龙) suffered a great defeat and fled to Wudang Mountain. A Daoist named Xu Ben Shan (徐本善) saw that the wounded were cared for. Xu Ben Shan and He Long were both martial artists and shared their skills with each other. Because of its connection to a Communist leader Wudang Mountain was targeted less than other religious sites.
2) When ordered to leave the temple the lived in, a Wudang Daoist nun named Li Cheng Yu (李诚玉) did a very brave thing. Refusing to leave, she sealed her mouth with glue and sat in meditation on the front steps of the temple. Without food or water, she sat in meditation for several days. Amazed by her skill, the Red Guards left her alone and a handful of high-ranking Daoists were allowed to stay in the temple.
3) When the Red Guards came to Wudang to destroy the temples, the Daoists had a clever idea. They wrote “Long-Live Chairman Mao” on the walls of the temple and pasted large posters of Chairman Mao over the statues and frescoes. In those days, defacing anything related to Chairman Mao was considered a counter-revolutionary act and would be severely punished. The Red Guards could not risk defacing anything with Mao’s name or likeness, and the temples survived. After the political climate shifted, the painstaking work to remove the posters began. You can still see the remnants of “Long-Live Chairman Mao” on the temple walls today.
Reform and Opening
In 1978 Deng Xiaoping became the leader of China and a period of social-economic liberalization called the Reform and Opening began. Religious practice was legalized in 1979. In 1986, Wang the abbot of Wudang Mountain, Wang Guangde (王光德) put out a call, welcoming all of the Daoists who had left to return home. Those answering the call included:
Zhu Chengde (朱成德) 1898 -1990
Master Zhu was born into poverty and spent his early years begging on the streets. When was a boy, he met a wandering Daoist and was accepted as his disciple. In 1932, when he was 16 years old, he was forcibly conscripted into the Nationalist army. In 1939 he was discharged for heath reasons and became a Daoist priest. He came to Wudang Mountain looking for his master, who had already passed away. During the Culture Revolution he was assigned to a hard-labor brigade where he chopped wood and carried fertilizer. After returning to Wudang Mountain, he continued his practice and received national attention for his qigong skills.
Guo Gaoyi (郭高一) 1921-1996
Master Guo was born in Henan Province and had trained martial arts as a child. As a teenager, he fought in the Sino-Japanese war, where he met many high-level martial artists. After the war he took vows as a temple in Liaoning Province where he learned taiji quan from a Wudang Daoist named Yang Mingzhen (杨明真). During the Cultural Revolution he was forced out of the temple and returned to his hometown. In 1981 he entered a temple on White Cloud Mountain (Henan Province). After the death of his teacher, he moved to Wudang Mountain in 1983 and began teaching.
Lu Zijian (吕紫剑) 1893 – 2012
Known as the “Knight of the Yangtze”, Master Lu was born into a martial arts family in Hubei Province. He began training with his mother at age 7. At age 18, he moved to Beijing to further his martial arts training. In the 1920 he served as a member of the Nationalist Party military committee. When the Nationalist leaders fled to Taiwan, Master Lu stayed in mainland China and served in a labor camp. In the 1980 he won a number of martial arts competitions, receiving national attention. In 2000, he was named “Leading authority of Chinese Martial Arts”. Some claim he was 118 years old when he died.
Zhao Jianying (赵剑英) 1926 – 2011
Master Zhao was born in Hubei Province. She was a very sickly child, and began studying martial arts to improve her health when she was six years old. She became active in war efforts during the Sino-Japanese War when she was 15. She nursed injured soldiers and taught hand-to-hand combat. In the early years of the Communist Party she lived with her husband in Guangxi Province where she taught martial arts. In 1980, after two decades of silence, she came to Wudang Mountain. She is credited with preserving Wudang’s Taiyi 5 Element form
The Tradition Continues
This martial arts dream team was given the mission of recovering the martial tradition that existed pre-Cultural Revolution and passing it on to a new generation. Enough damage had been done that teaching openly was considered necessary to preserve the arts. The four martial artists worked together, and began teaching martial arts to the Daoists in the temples.
The mountain’s first official martial arts school, the Daoist Association Martial Arts Academy, was founded around 1989. Zhong Yun Long (钟云龙) a very skilled student of the four teachers, was named as the head teacher and charged with teaching a newly recruited group of young people. I was one of them I have written about my training here. In 1994, the second martial arts school on the mountain, the San Feng Academy, was opened by a highly skilled practice brother of Zhong Yun Long named You Xuan De (游玄德). The two martial arts academies passed on what they had been taught. From those two schools the arts slowly spread. The two lineages that came out of those two schools are now known as the Wudang San Feng Lineage, and the Wudang Xuan Wu Lineage.
Wudang Goes International
Starting in the late 1990s, many of the third generation (post-Cultural Revolution) students that I trained with began opening schools on the mountain. Most of the schools on the mountain today are still run by my practice brothers. Several other schools have appeared, including a few schools opened by teachers from other mountains, and a government run academy that has an active performance group that performs for visiting tourists. The film Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and other media attention has helped put Wudang in the spotlight, drawing a larger numbers of international students to Wudang. Many of these students have opened schools in their home countries, spreading Wudang style martial arts around the world.
The past fifty years has been a time of significant change that has brought suffering, rebirth, and renewal to the Wudang community. As we move forward it is important to remember those who struggled to keep the Wudang arts alive.