By Tianyu Zhao, VI Form
My Quest: Uphold the Values of Martial Arts and Xing Yi
My grandfather’s bungalow in my hometown hides many secrets, including a sword behind a towering closet in the storeroom. When I was only seven, I felt its weight when my grandfather first placed it in my small hands. It had belonged to Liu Qilan, my ancestor from the Qing Dynasty, a martial arts master who later became of great importance to me.
And yet, my interest in martial arts didn’t come from him. Like many of my peers, I was sent to a kungfu studio by my mom at an early age. Years later, I began to watch Bruce Lee’s films and gradually grew obsessed, spending hours every night exercising my strength and flexibility. I looked for more professional and systematic training in kickboxing classes and made my neighbors suffer the noise of my punches after my uncle fixed a huge standing sandbag for me outside the door.
My passion for kickboxing followed me to America where I’ve kept practicing individually, but my passion for martial arts hasn’t ended with kickboxing. Last summer marked a new beginning on my path of martial arts when the name Liu Qilan returned to me. I knew he was a famous master of Xing Yi Quan, which originated in my hometown and is one of the three major traditional martial arts in China. I watched the movie The Grandmaster repeatedly, partly because the renowned master in it, Li Cunyi, was Liu’s student. I felt extremely proud to have such an honor in my family, so I decided to practice this style under the guidance of my uncle, an experienced practitioner. He introduced me to a real master, a relative (I also called him grandpa) living in a shabby bungalow in a remote village. He was old, short, and slim, but I could feel the vigor and wisdom in his eyes. Leading his life mainly as a farmer, he never boasted about his skills or tried to profit from them like numerous fake “kungfu masters.”
My admiration and fascination with Xing Yi has never ceased increasing as I deepen my understanding of its power and philosophies. Evolving from the life-or-death combat in ancient battles, Xing Yi embodies the wisdom and experience of generations. However, like most traditional martial arts, it requires a lot: natural talent, dedicated effort, and a great teacher.
Recently, in a famous match in China where an MMA fighter beat a Taichi (similar to Xing Yi) practitioner, people questioned and even belittled traditional martial arts as useless gymnastics. I tried to explain to people the esoteric nature of traditional martial arts; however, at the end of the day, I still felt an inner pain over the undeniable loss of the priceless heritage left by my ancestors. Nowadays, too caught up in the fast pace of the outside world, or tempted by immediate fame and money, lots of people easily claim themselves to be masters. While the public no longer trusts these frauds, people tend to misunderstand and blame traditional martial arts as they have never seen a real master alive. This discouraging atmosphere results in fewer and fewer devoted practitioners; therefore, both the techniques and the cultural philosophies behind traditional martial arts are fading. Often my uncle pessimistically comments: “After my teacher and your grandpa pass away, nobody will know what Xing Yi really is.”
Martial arts, especially Xing Yi, has taught me strength, discipline, and self-reflection. I might never become the great martial artist I aspire to be, but, regardless, I always try to promote the values and principles of martial arts that are ingrained in me. No matter where I am, whether in America or at home, it is my responsibility to save the cultural heritage for my family, my country, and the world. Whenever I worry about how daunting this task is, I feel the weight of the sword, the symbol of my inheritance that drives me forward on this path.
Tianyu Zhao is a VI Form boarding student from Shijiazhuang, China. He wants to become a mathematician and a martial artist representing his cultural heritage.