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Tao Guang Wen – Master of Islamic Kung Fu

Xinyi Liuhe Quan Master Tao Guang WenI 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.

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Train Kung Fu in China? Where to Start?

 I’m often contacted by people wanting to train Kung Fu in China, but having no idea where to start, and so I thought I would write a short article with some suggestions based on my own experience. The amount of schools and masters and styles, it can be somewhat overwhelming, and not everyone of them is suited to everybody. To get a feel for training in China, one of the most enjoyable books I have read is American Shaolin: Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks, and the Legend of Iron Crotch: An Odyssey in the New China.

The first thing if you want to train Kung Fu in China is you should consider is what are your own goals or expectations. Are you an experienced martial artist looking to improve a certain skills or aspect of your own training? Are you looking to continue training in your own style, and experience how it is trained in its hometown by its top masters? Are you a total beginner looking for a broad overview of what Kung Fu is all about? Do you want to just get away from the hustle and bustle of city life and focus on training yourself physically and mentally for a period of time? Do you want an all inclusive package where you train full time, or do you want to live in a place and just train a few times a week?

A good second question would be how do you want to train? If you want some hard, physical training that really pushes your limits, then something like Shaolin Kung Fu, or some other northern hard styles, such as Praying Mantis, Tongbei Quan or Baji Quan may suit you. At the same time, if you want practical styles that are more combat focused, the latter three are also very fight oriented. If you prefer something more gentle, holitistic and meditative, then consider the “three big internal styles”, Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua, although the latter two, depending on the teacher, may also be fairly physical. If you want no-nonsense combat based styles, without much in the way of forms training, consider Shuai Jiao (Chinese wrestling) or Sanda (Chinese kickboxing) if up north, and something like Wing Chun if down south.

OK, so now you have an idea of some different styles, and what they entail, you want to consider if you want a full-time kung fu school, or you want to find a teacher “among the people”. The advantage of going to full time Kung Fu schools have is that they offer an all inclusive package: food, accomodation, lots of new people to make friends with and train with, facilities and sometimes visas and transport. The training is fairly regimented, and lasts all day, five days a week, and covers most aspects of Kung Fu, meaning you can learn a lot in a relatively short time. The disadvantage is that some of the schools are fairly commercial, and hire young and inexperienced coaches, rather than high level masters. For this, its worth checking out their bios on the website of the school in question, and reading reviews online. Some famous and experienced masters, such as Wu Lian Zhi of Baji Quan and various members of the Chen family of Taiji Quan, also run full time schools where you can get a balance of intense training, and high level instruction. However, with people like this, its also worth enquiring whether the master directly teaches the classes, and try to find out from ex-students if they are secretive with material etc.

The other option, which requires more effort on your own part, is to find a teacher “among the people” as the Chinese say. This will mean a famous master of a particular style, who perhaps only teaches part time, or even just a regular guy who teaches in his free time as a hobby. The easiest way to go about this, is to start to read up on different styles you may be interested in, and try to get talking to people on various forums, such asRum Soaked Fist or Kung Fu Magazine for recommendations. An introduction by a current or ex-student is the best way. Alternatively, if you are already here, and wish to train Kung Fu in China and speak some amount of the language, you can just get up early in the morning and explore the parks in your city, looking for people training and start to talk to them. Usually the better ones will be more conservative in my experience, so you may have to be persistent, visiting several times and proving you are serious about learning. Obviously if you choose this route, you need to have your own accomodation, and way to get a visa, so you may want to consider teaching English. It’s also worth noting that these kind of teachers generally want somebody to commit to a decent period of time, so if you are just traveling and want a taste of Kung Fu, this route is not for you.

I hope this article has answered some questions for those considering going to train Kung Fu in China, I have tried to answer what is most commonly asked in your emails, but if you have any queries, I can be reached at or search Monkey Steals Peach on facebook.