Interview with a Tiger Master
by Chen PengCheng
Master Lin Zhangying is the prominent Tiger master in Yongtai County, the birthplace of Chinese southern Tiger Boxing. His fame began to spread ten years ago, and he is now a professional kung fu coach at Yongtai Teenage Sports School and Yongtai Zhangcheng Kungfu Research Institute. Master Lin Zhangying is also active in tournaments and has won a great number of competitions.
In the summer of 2005, the author traveled to Yongtai County and interviewed Master Lin Zhangying, who was happy to reveal some of his experiences and to share with us his understanding of Tiger Boxing.
PC: How did you begin your journey in Tiger Boxing?
LZ: In my childhood, I was a very active boy. I was fond of various sports. I have got a cousin who was a kung fu enthusiastic. We used to live in the same block of house. Every time he practiced, I began to mimic his movements. It was great fun. So, my cousin is my first Sifu who gave me the elementary knowledge of Tiger Boxing. Back then, kung fu was a secret in the eyes of the local people and the masters were reluctant to teach all their knowledge to the students. My cousin learnt from different masters. At this stage, our knowledge of Tiger Boxing was incomplete. I trained with my cousin for several years until I met Zheng Huiqi. Zheng Huiqi was a police working for the local forest authorities and he worked in the same department with my uncle. It was my uncle who introduced me to Zheng Huiqi, and later an admission ceremony was held for me, and Zheng Huiqi became my second Sifu. I continued my journey with Sifu Zheng Huiqi and trained under him for another several years until 1996 when I met my third Sifu Ye Zhiyu, a well-known master in Yongtai County. In 1998, I took the exams for my higher education. As I intended to enter the physical education college, I had to go through a special test in which the candidates needed to prove that they were good at a particular sporting game. I chose Tiger Boxing as my favorite. I was lucky enough to pass the exam and further my education in Fuqing Normal College of Fujian Normal University. My major was physics education, and kung fu remained an integral part of my life like before. From the very moment I enter my college, my career in kung fu started. After I left the college, I became a coach at Yongtai Youth Sports School.
PC: What are the most impressive words from your Sifu?
LZ: I remember quite clearly what my second Sifu, Master Zheng Huiqi, told me on the admission ceremony. He said, "Kung fu means hard work. You will expect a great deal of hardship ahead. What you need to do is to be patient, to be indomitable." He also said that kung fu was mainly used for bodybuilding instead of fighting and it should not be used to bully the weak and the old, and the women. As you know, for a kung fu man, the morality is much more important than the skills. Being an upright man is crucial in a kung fu man's life, and the lofty personality will later steer one's life in the right direction.
PC: As you know, kung fu is closely linked with Chinese traditional medicine. How is Chinese traditional medicine used in your style?
LZ: Actually, the influence of Chinese traditional medicine on kung fu is obvious in every aspect of the training. Take the herbal medicine for example. We make the liquid herbal wash to help with our daily training. This kind of liquid herbal wash can promote the blood circulation and remove the blood stasis. As you may know, getting hurt in training is something inevitable. Actually, we experience bruises from time to time. By using the herbal wash, we can effectively prevent the joints from being deformed, and make a quick recovery to the tense tissue and the joints before next round of training. To focus on certain technique, one may train certain parts of the body over and over again. This may put certain tissue or joint under great stress and impair its normal development. As a result, if not given a proper attention, the bruise may occur or the joint may deform. Chinese herbal wash is very helpful. It can reduce the damage to the minimum level.
PC: What do you think are the most important factors leading to your success?
LZ: In China, we can hear such a saying from time to time: "Boxing cannot dispense the hand; nor song the mouth." This is very true. As you know, many stylists may experience stiff movements after several days of idling away from training. The feeling may be worse if they keep off the training even longer. So that is why Chinese masters ask their students to train every day ? and we, as students, strictly follow their advice.
PC: In Fuzhou City, we can hear such a saying from time to time: "One's wife can never to the first and one's kung fu can never be the second." Do you think that kung fu can sometimes bring a superficially nice feeling?
LZ: I think that as Chinese, everyone is familiar with such a saying: "Shoot the bird which takes the lead." With the influence of Chinese philosophy, we have been taught to be humble. Being humble can keep us from many unnecessary troubles. As you know, even the wise can sometimes make a mistake, not to mention the very common people like us. So it is important for a stylist not to be too showy or arrogant. When one belittles or bullies the others, the hidden danger may make a casualty possible. So even the seemingly weak people, we have to show our great respect. What's more, the weak sometimes can turn up to be the strong, like women and children, who might have a good knowledge of kung fu. It is clear that one's weak points can be easily seen when one looks down upon the opponent. Imagine what will happen if the opponent takes the opportunity to launch an attack.
PC: I heard that in Tiger Boxing, you practice tie ban qiao (bridge of iron plate) kung fu. What is tie ban qiao?
LZ: Tie ban qiao is a training drill that teaches the practitioners how to make qi replete with the whole body. In training, the practitioner lies down and suspends in the midair with two support columns at two ends. Then the practitioner harnesses qi to make the whole body hard like a plate. Gradually, more weights are put on the practitioner to increase his skill. Those who are skilled in this technique can bear a man walking on him. Through the training in tie ban qiao technique, the practitioner can build up his resistance to the direct attacks.
PC: As you know, in Tiger Boxing, the claw technique is made prominent. I can imagine that you have got some special ways to train the claw. Can you tell me in what way the claw technique is used in a real fighting situation?
LZ: The use of claw technique can broadly fall into two parts. Firstly, it promises a firm grab. Such a grab can either hurt or lock the joints easily. Secondly, the claw can be used to make a direct attack ? as one can easily find that the five fingers keep apart in claw posture. Actually, the distances between every two fingers will fit into the distances between the ribs. So when claw is used to attack the ribs, it can bring a fatal injury to the opponent. Obviously, it can be devastating. Of course, first of all, you need to make your claws hard enough. Just imagine that the old Grandmaster Li Zhaobei left five clear marks on one of the supporting roofs of the hall after he launched a strike.
PC: In Tiger Boxing, we can often find such footwork as sanqi bu and siliu bu (Sangqi bu means the posture with 30% of the weight on the front foot while the rest on the back foot. Siliu bu means the posture with 40% of the weight on the front foot while the rest on the back foot). Why is it so?
LZ: As you know, we live in the mountainous areas and the paths in the mountains are narrow and rough. As no large spaces can be available to allow one to leap away or to run away to avoid the coming attack, one has to face up and take the challenge when confronting the opponent. Under this circumstance, one is required to have a good balance. The sanqi bu or the siliu bu are able to secure the stable footwork. That is why these two foot techniques are used so frequently in our Tiger Boxing. Actually, such footwork is quite common in other Fujian systems because, as a whole, Fujian is a region with the rolling mountains. It is also easy to understand why there are seldom high kicks in the Southern systems, which, on the other hand, are quite common in Chinese Northern Boxing.
PC: You have been devoting to Tiger Boxing for nearly three decades. What is the major change in your understanding of your kung fu?
LZ: As a young boy, I paid more attention to offense rather than defense. You can imagine the wonderful feelings that a young man has when he defeats the opponent. When I was young, I was such a boy. However, my Sifu soon found my weakness. One time, he educated me when he taught me such a technique as Toppling the Mountains and Overturning the Seas. This technique actually is Blocking and Stabbing the Rib. My Sifu said that many years ago a Tiger master was defeated when his opponent lifted up and broke his ribs. The reason the casualty happened was that the Tiger master belittled the opponent, and when he did so, he exposed his weak point by neglecting to establish up a strong defense against his opponent. The Tiger master was hurt badly and his precious reputation ruined. My Sifu stressed the importance of the defense system and my later experiences convinced me that my Sifu was right.
PC: In Tiger Boxing, one can find some interesting weapons, especially in the eyes of the Westerners, such as the wooden bench and the carrying pole. How can this stuff evolve into the weapons?
LZ: In Tiger Boxing, you can find such weapons as the wooden staff, wooden bench, carrying pole, cai and others. These [things] are both easy and cheap to get for those living in the mountainous area. Take the carrying pole for instance; for those farmers, they have to use it to carry their farming tools or the farming products when work on the farm. Just imagine such a circumstance that when a fight occurs to the farmer, the farmer will take everything nearest to him as a weapon. So it is reasonable for those farming tools or daily household appliance become weapons. In one of the local systems in Yongtai County, one can find an even more interesting weapon. It is a long bamboo staff with branches and leaves. This weapon evolved from a farming tool which was used to drive the chicken or ducks in the old days.
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Written by Chen PengCheng for KUNGFUMAGAZINE.COM