I spent a few months at Yu Jiang’s school, with the hope that there would be a lot of sparring, but it just never came around. We did a lot of padwork, basic reaction drills, some good strength training and some good drills for simple fighting concepts. However, after a period of time, I felt like this was all I was going to get, nothing really progressed beyond this, and looking at the senior students, none of them really had a very high level. So I had a talk with my friend Jarek Szymanski and he agreed to introduce me to a man named Tao Guang Wen. Tao is a Hui, a Chinese Muslim, and began his training from a very young age under his father in Cha Quan, and once he became an adult began to learn Xinyi Liuhe Quan and Qi Shi Quan. The idea being that these styles are not suitable for children as they are too violent. As Tao’s skills increased, his father urged him to study with other masters, and he would often spend time at the Peach Orchard Mosque studying with many of the legends of martial arts in Shanghai. Master Tao is a very conservative man, he is mostly known for his feats of strength, such as handling heavy weapons and lifting huge weights, however his real Gongfu is his Xinyi Liuhe Quan, which he rarely teaches, and almost never shows in public. It was only through Jarek’s introduction that he agreed to teach me at all.
After a brief meeting and a chat, Master Tao invited me to his home to have my first lesson. I got off the subway at Laoximen (old west gate) and it was my first time to this area of Shanghai. I passed the Peach Orchard Mosque, before entering an area of old dilapidated houses, with fruit and veg stalls in the streets and as I got closer to the large Confucian temple a lot of book shops and calligraphy supplies. Master Tao didn’t live in one of these old houses though, he had a modern apartment, which I found by seeing the Arabic writing hung over his door.
We sat in his kitchen and had some tea while he told me about his teachers, and about Xinyi Liuhe Quan. He said he didn’t need to look at any of my forms or anything, he only wanted to see me hold some basic stances to gauge my level. I did a Mabu, Gongbu and Xubu, and he seemed satisfied. The lesson began with Yao Shuan Ba, which I had learnt already under Yu Jiang, but this was quite a lot different. Different in that Yu Jiang had broken it down into high and low blocks, but Tao taught it as a whole body movement with explosive shock power. We began by just doing the hand movements sitting down, as he explained key points, before then doing it standing, and finally doing it moving. His way of teaching is very old fashioned, just like how I trained Mantis in Yantai, no formal class, but you get one or two movements and you go away and train alone. Real Gongfu isn’t done in a school or in the park, Tao told me, it is done behind closed doors where nobody can see. People should never seen how you train, only see you beat your opponent.
Sometimes something just feel intuitively right, and after training under several Xinyi Liuhe Quan teachers, Master Tao feels like the teacher for me. My first goal is to go away and master this one movement, build up my foundations and power, and then slowly learn the system, and spar as much as I can to practice and see what works and what doesn’t.