History as the cure for Ideology

Everyone has a personal mental image of the Chinese martial arts.  The detail may vary, but there are some undeniably common elements.  Grainy photos, complex postures, exotic weapons, strangely vigorous old men. The few remaining images of Fu Zhen Song, especially those in which he is holding his signature Bagua Dao, a gift from the general and warlord Zhang Zoulin, check all of the boxes. I suspect that a non-trivial number of practitioners actually imagine one or more of these photographs when they hear the words “traditional Chinese martial arts.”

In discussions of martial arts history my friend TJ Hinrichs is fond of saying that history, despite its challenges, is the cure for ideology. When we really understand the past we also realize where our images of it come from, how they have been shaped, and what work they have done in shaping our current society.  The present and the past never exist as two entirely separate entities. Nowhere is their mutual dance more apparent than in our imaginations of these traditional fighting systems.

This is not to say that a close examination of history always tames our vision of the past. It may remain as confusing or bewildering as ever. Seeing the past and really understanding it on a personal level are two different things. As we have been warned, it is a foreign country. Sometimes our examinations of it only serve to bring those paradoxes into sharper relief.

Still, in a time and a place where everyone is sure that they know exactly what the traditional Chinese martial arts really are, that they have studied their boundaries and can comment on their weaknesses, a little disorientation might be a good thing.  Becoming uncomfortable with our past is often the first step in wondering how many other things the present might be.  What latent potentials have we not exhausted in our parade of viral YouTube videos?

Few martial artists are more interesting than Fu Zhen Song (1872-1953) in this respect. Students of Baguazhang, his primary art and the area in which he achieved the greatest fame, may already be familiar with his legacy.  Fu style Bagua remains popular in Guangdong, Hong Kong and in some diaspora communities. History aficionados might recognize him as one of the famed “South Bound Tigers” who in 1928-1929 brought the new Guoshu program, and a variety of Northern styles, to Southern China. I have already discussed those events in some detail in my book on the social history of the southern Chinese martial arts, but Fu was only mentioned in passing in that work as he didn’t engage in the sort of systematic institution building which was the focus of that project.

This is a shame as few of the Republic’s masters had a more varied or fascinating career.  Fu’s peripatetic life contains many twists and suggests lingering, unanswered, question. Yet it also exemplifies the ability of the Chinese martial arts to function as a pathway for social mobility for poor youth from the countryside during times of almost unimaginable political and social upheaval. Fu’s life was shaped by the banditry and militarization that defined the end of the Qing dynasty, and the early years of the Republic. The social networks shared by martial artists, soldiers, armed escort companies and bandit chieftains proved to be essential in not just surviving, but thriving, in the volatile world of the 1920s and 1930s.

Through of his expertise in the martial arts, Fu received the support and sponsorship of some of the most powerful men in China. In exchange he would support their mission of building a strong and unified state through martial practice. The entrance of the northern fighting systems into the south was not a matter of happenstance.  Both his contributions to that event, and life in general, can only be understood when we place them in the proper social/political context.

As with other entries in this series, I should begin with the disclaimer that I am not a Baguazhang student and my own practice of the southern arts falls far outside Fu’s sphere of influence. This biographical sketch does not claim to use any secret or closely held information. I have relied on a handful of published sources that have discussed Fu Zhensong’s contributions to the internal arts as well as my own understanding of political and social worlds that he attempted to navigate.

By far the most helpful of the existing sources is Lin Chao Zhen’s (edited by Wei Ran Lin and Rick L. Wing) Fu Zhen Song’s Dragon Bagua Zhang (Blue Snake Books 1997, 2010). While not attempting to be a scholarly book, the historical discussions in the first two chapters of this work are truly important.  At one point in time, prior to the current explosion of publications on the topic, this would have been one of the best sources on modern Chinese martial arts history that readers could hope to encounter. The editors of this work did an excellent job parsing conflicting accounts and reconstructing the most likely course of events. Yet as a popular work they did not list the specific sources they were dealing with, and there appear to be a few minor mix-ups as they move into discussion of the politically chaotic environment within the KMT during the 1920s. Still, their book is clearly where anyone interested in reading more about Fu’s life should begin.




Bandits and Boxers

Fu Qian Kun was born to a farming family in Mape Village in Henan province sometime around 1872. The exact date, like many other details of Fu’s early life, remains a matter of dispute.

Students of Chinese martial history will no doubt be familiar with the many surveys of this region that have been completed by scholars such as Esherick, Perry and Cohen as they attempted to deal with the region’s long history of social unrest and the eventual outbreak of the Boxer Rebellion in 1899-1900. While most details of Fu’s childhood and early life are missing, we actually know quite a bit about the world that he grew up in. Shaped as it was by successive waves of famine and banditry, it is unsurprising that the martial arts would be a critical force during his formative years.

Tradition within the Fu family lineage note that Mape followed the common regional pattern of setting aside a plot of land as a communal boxing ground. The village would hire outside instructors who taught skills that could be used for community defense, or simply for entertainment during the agricultural slack season. Such village boxing grounds would become central locations in the rise of Plum Blossom Boxing, the Big Sword Society and later the Yihi Spirit Boxing movement. They would survive as a social institution well into the twentieth century when they were repurposed as the training ground from the Red Spears that resisted local warlords, KMT tax collectors, and Japanese invaders with equal ferocity. Given the weak position of the gentry and landlords in these more marginal areas, boxing grounds became an important mean of social organization in a crisis and a means of asserting local autonomy.

Lin notes that in 1888, when Fu Qian Kun was about 16, the village decided that it was expedient to hire a communal martial arts instructor. Chen Yanxi (father of Chen Fake) received a contract and traveled from Chen Village to begin teaching at the Mape boxing ground. It is believed that his curriculum would have included “Old Frame” Chen-style Taiji (larger circles, with a pronounced emphasis on striking), a push-hands method and probably spear work (a Chen family specialty and practical skill for a community worried about bandit incursions).

Lineage tradition states that Fu’s family was poor and, not being able to afford the tuition, he stood outside the boxing ground copying the movements from afar until Chen Yanxi took notice of him and, realizing his dedication, accepted him as a student. Lin and Wing note this reading of events sounds suspiciously like a number of other stories. Such stereotyped tales are probably retold as a way to emphasize the dedication of the student and the virtue of the teacher. A more likely scenario is that, given the lack of security in the region, all available young men would have been encouraged to study with the boxing master as this functioned as a type of militia training that the community as a whole benefitted from. Indeed, Fu’s martial practice would remain intertwined with military for most of his life.

It is unclear exactly how long Chen Yanxi remained in Mape. We know that after he left the village hired Jia Qi Shan, a Bagua master and student of Dong Hai Chuan, as their next instructor.  Sources say that Fu studied with Jia for 8-9 years and may have become his formal disciple. Lin and Wing caution that those numbers don’t actually fit well with Fu’s life. This may be the amount of time he worked with both Chen and Jia, or he perhaps he continued his association with Jia after they both left the village.  The existing accounts are not clear on this point.

What we do know is that Fu began to go by the name Fu Zhen Song (“to overcome the mountains”) around this time. With a background in both Chen Taijiquan and Baguazhang, Jia encouraged his student to travel to Beijing in order to gain connections and experience the larger world of martial arts mastery for himself.  It seems likely that Fu was in his mid 20s when he took this step. There are also accounts that suggest that Fu himself may have served as the village boxing instructor at some points during this period.

If so, his tenure was likely to have been an eventful one. 1900 saw widespread violence as the Yihi Boxer movement swept the countryside of Northern China before centering its fury on the foreign presence in Beijing.  The immediate aftermath of this was more bloodshed and foreign military raids into the countryside around Beijing as the seven powers attempted to hunt down any remaining Boxers. Nor can we forget the lingering effects of the famine that motivated so many young men to join the ranks of the Yihi Boxers in the first place.

Social violence echoed throughout the countryside and Mape village was not spared. There are accounts of Fu personally facing down a small gang of local bandits while armed with a pole (possibly made of iron) in 1900.  In another account, which Lin and Wing deem to be credible, Fu was forced to interrupt his time in Beijing (where he was studying Bagua with Ma Gui, a senior disciple of Yin Fu) to return to his village in 1908 where there were rumors of trouble.

In the most spectacular versions of the story Fu, discovering the villagers massively outnumbered by a force of 300 bandits, Fu offered to fight a duel with their top 20 men.  The bandit leader was so impressed with his subsequent victory that he broke off the assault.  However, Lin and Wing note that Fu’s own account of the events (while cryptic) is far more realistic.  When directly questioned later in life he told his student Lin Chao Zhen “They told me there was trouble, so I grabbed a spear and went out to face them.  There were about 30 of them. I fought them, they left.”

According to Lin and Wing, it seems likely that Fu killed two of the raiders in a clash between roughly equal numbers of villagers and bandits. The legal repercussions for killing someone in Imperial China were serious, and on the dusty northern plains the line between one village’s militia and the next’s bandit gang was paper thin.  It was not uncommon for villages militias to turn bandit and raid neighboring settlements in times of famine, or for them to be used to settle disputes.  We don’t really know what sparked this particular clash, but its implications were serious enough that Fu left home and he doesn’t seem to have really returned. Instead this clash seems to mark the beginning of a long period of martial pilgrimage that would only end with his settlement in Guangzhou in 1928.

Banditry was a major problem in the final years of the Qing dynasty.  Successful groups could assemble forces numbering in the thousands and occasionally tens of thousands. These bandit armies would lay siege to small cities and challenge the authority of civil and military authorities. Lacking other options, the state sometimes dealt with particularly successful bandits by offering them commissions as military officers in exchange for their services hunting down other bandit groups or suppressing insurrection in the countryside. Like the martial arts, banditry proved to be a pathway for social advancement for some of China’s landless youth during volatile times.

Nor should we underestimate just how high one’s fortunes could rise.  Republic era generals Zhang Zuolin and Li Zongren were important figures in the political history of the 1920s and 1930s. Both men also crossed paths with Fu at various points.

Zhang and Li each began their rise to power as bandit chieftains in some of the same areas of Northern China that Fu would explore as a member of an armed escort company.  Both men would successfully parlay their original commissions by the Imperial military into positions of influence, and immense personal enrichment, in the armies of the 1920s and 1930s.  During the early 20th century they would also use their followers as “armed escort companies” when periods of relatively peace allowed regional trade in Henan and Shandong.  Fu’s formative years occurred in decades when the line between martial artists, bandit, soldier and armed escort/security guard were thin and ever shifting.  Indeed, these social networks would have an important shaping impact on Fu’s own rise to prominence.

Between the years 1910 and 1913 Fu Zhen Song traveled widely, exploring northern China.  In 1910 he was hired by one of Henan’s many armed escort companies, the Heng Xin Bio Ju. While working with them he traveled the dangerous routes between Henan and Shandong until the firm was ultimately forced to close by the conclusion of the revolution in 1912.

Fu continued to travel for another year, apparently seeking out martial arts instruction.  During late 1912 or 1913 he encountered noted Daoist and swordsman Song Wei Yi (1855-1925). While he may have studied some sword material with him, Lin and Wing report that his main aim was to learn Taiji Lightening Palm and Rocket Fist.

During this time Fu somehow found the opportunity to marry Han Kunru, the daughter of another martial arts teacher from Northern China. They would eventually have four children in total, two sons and two daughters. The elder son would go on to inherit his father’s martial lineage, and later taught Mark Bow Sim, the mother of film star Donnie Yen. While the younger son was not interested in martial arts, there are accounts of both daughters assisting their father in Taijiquan demonstrations.




Soldiers and Warlords

Fu’s life began to head in a different later in 1913.  At the age of 41 he formally enlisted in the military after receiving an invitation to act as a drill and martial arts instructor for General Liu Zhenhua.  At the time Liu was a prominent figure in the Beiyang army. That institution would fragment following Yuan Shikan’s attempts to declare himself emperor (and his subsequent death) in 1915. Its disintegration would put China firmly on the path to warlordism in the early years of the Republic.

The upheavals of 1915 saw Fu resign from the military and leave his post training a dadao unit. Still, he would not stay away from the military for long.  After a few more years of travel and work as an independent martial artist, Fu would re-enlist in the military in 1920 (now age 46) with the combined Heibei-Shandong United Army under the command of renown General Li Jinglin. Known as the “Sword Saint,” Li is best remembered for his support of the Chinese martial arts (especially Song Wei Yi’s Wudang sword method) later in life. Yet in the early 1920s his troops saw frequent action, often in alliance with the military faction led by General Zhang Zuo Lin.

The sources that I have seen are silent as to why, and under what capacity, Fu decided to reenlist. Perhaps he was working as a trainer, but it seems that it took some effort to attract Li’s attention and to achieve a command of his own. This occurred only after Fu managed to distinguish himself in a martial arts exhibition with a display of his external styles that the General (always a boxing enthusiast) was attending. Fu was given command of a 100-man martial arts company that was drilled in a variety of more combative techniques.

At this point Fu’s fortunes began to rapidly accelerate. In 1921 (or possibly 1922) Fu took part in a martial arts exhibition in Tianjin. General Zhang Zoulin (the “Old Marshall”) was so taken with this performance that he awarded Fu the not insubstantial prize of $1,000 and a huge dadao or baguadao, that would go on to become Fu’s signature weapon, seen in so many of his existing photos and used in countless public demonstrations.  Later General Zhang appointed Fu as a coach at the Northern Martial Arts Institute where he would have the privilege of training two of the General’s sons.

Still, I don’t think that this should not be understood as a fundamental shift in patronage. I suspect that General Li Jinglin remained Fu’s main benefactor throughout this period. After being routed by Wu Peifu in 1922, Li sought refuge with Zhang brining his still intact forces with him. One suspect that Fu’s various appointments happened at Li’s suggestions or instigation. Nor would this be the last time that Li recommend Fu for a high-profile teaching assignments.

Li and Fu also engaged in a productive exchange of skills.  Both had a prior relationship with Song Wei Yi, though it seems that they studied different subjects.  Fu learned Song’s sword system from Li, who was a major promoter of Wudang sword.  In exchange Fu taught him Bagua.

Zhang’s somewhat tumultuous career would shape the lives of both Fu and Li for the next five years. The civil regime that Zhang established in Manchuria proved to be one of the most effective local government in all of China for a time, encourage economic growth and trade. Still, Zhang’s military ambitions would ultimately undermine this, leading to his own murder at the hands of his supposed Japanese allies.

After the tumult of the second Zhili-Fengtain War in 1924, Zhang’s military forces underwent a fundamental reorganization. As a result of this, General Li Jinglin’s portfolio was expanded and he was named the Commander-in-Chief of the Three Eastern Provinces. Fu received a promotion of his own, now being tasked with a battalion of 500 soldiers.

Again, the situation proved to be short-lived. Zhang’s military and economic position were ultimately unstainable. After a final falling out with Zhang, Li resigned and retired in 1927. Fu also retired from the military at roughly the same. While he would not return to active service, his contacts with various officers and warlords would continue to shape his career in the coming decades.

The timing of Li and Fu’s retirement left them well position to find a place within the newly unified government that Chiang Kai-shek built in the wake of the Northern Expedition. For martial artists the most important institutional innovation of this period was the creation of the Guoshu movement, which received strong backing from some elements of the KMT. Indeed, the new institute in Nanjing proved to be the perfect job for General Zhang Zhi Jiang (director), and the newly retired Li Jinglin (vice chairman) who remained a major force promoting the martial arts as a unifying and strengthening force for the new China.  Zhang Zhi Jiang appointed Fu as a chief instructor in the Wudang section of the organization, likely at Lin’s instigation.

This was an important time for Fu. His training of military personal tended to focus on practical skills and the use of the dadao rather than the intricacies of Baguazhang or Taijiquan performance. His association with the Central Guoshu Institute allowed him to return his focus to the more civil aspects of his training, all of which would become critical as he later turned his attention to the formulation of a unique “Fu-style” of both arts. While in Nanjing he was also able to renew his contacts with other luminaries within the Chinese martial arts community.

Among the most important of these were Sun Lu Tang (1862-1933) and Yang Cheng Fu (1883-1936). Fu studied with both men, and exchanged his newly acquired knowledge of Wudang sword for Sun’s own style of Taiji and Xingyiquan. Lin and Wing conclude that Fu was influenced by Sun’s more philosophical theories of the martial arts and that they became a major motivating force in his own creation of the Fu style Baguazhang and Taiji.




The Southbound Tiger

Still, Nanjing was not to be Fu’s long-term home. He acquitted himself well in the Central Guoshu Institute.  Lin and Wing note that in April of 1928, at the age of 54, he fought and defeated a challenger in a tournament in Beijing who had already defeated multiple younger martial artists aligned with the Guoshu program. Later that year he gave a public Bagua demonstration at the first national martial arts examination in Nanjing.

This proved to be a fateful event. One of the many spectators at the proceedings was General Li Jishen, commander of the Eight Route Army and the Governor of Guangdong. He was impressed with the new Guoshu program and resolved to fully back the movement in Southern China. I have discussed the details of this episode in my book on the history of the Southern Chinese martial arts. Briefly, Li saw the martial arts as a tool that could strengthen the people while promoting a greater sense of national, rather than regional, identity. The new Guoshu program, which was strongly oriented towards the northern arts, provided him the perfect instrument for accomplishing this goal.

At General Li Jinglin’s recommendation, Li Jishen invited five master to come to Guangzhou and, with a generous budget, establish a branch of the new national program there.  Once again, Li recommended his protégé Fu for the prestigious teaching position.

Upon arriving in Guangdong, the ambitious scale of what Li Jishen intended became clear.  Legislation was drawn up requiring the registration of all independent martial arts schools in the region.  Second, local martial arts associations and instructors were prohibited from opening any new schools. All new schools in the region would have to adhere to the official Guoshu curriculum and philosophy. If any of these policies had actually been enforced with the full weight of the local government and military, the results would have been catastrophic for the development of the Southern Chinese martial arts.

Yet, as so often happened, infighting and rivalry within the KMT undercut policy implementation. Within a few months of establishing his new Guoshu program, General Li Jishen found himself intervening in a leadership crisis that would see him marginalized within the Nationalist Party and ultimately turning to the Communists. His replacement, General Chen Ji Tang, immediately went about dismantling his predecessor’s expensive, and socially intrusive, Guoshu program.

This was not end of Gusoho in Guangzhou. Gu Ruzhang, another of the Li’s South Bound Tigers, created a second, much more modest, Gusohu organization which absorbed many of the government civil servant who had dominated the student body of the first school. However, without the lavish levels of government budgetary support (as well as legislation suppressing the other southern styles), Guoshu was now forced to compete on a more or less equal footing in what was already a very vibrant marketplace.

In the long run this seeming setback probably helped to spread and popularize the Northern arts in southern China. Li’s “South Bound Tiger” were forced to open their own classes throughout the region which would only succeed to the extent that they actually served the needs of the local population, as opposed to wished of the provincial governor and the military. Fu even found himself cooperating with the erstwhile competition. In addition to teaching both his own private classes, and those in the new Guoshu academy, he also became a fixture in Guangzhou’s Jingwu branch.

Originally Guoshu had been imagined as a replacement, not a compliment, for the waning Jingwu program. Where as Jingwu had promoted a vision of Chinese strength and nationalism that was mostly apolitical, Guoshu was aggressively statist in its orientation and took as its central goal increasing the loyalty of the people to the KMT and Chaing Kai-shek. These avowedly political values were the reason why Guoshu tended to position itself as a replacement, rather than a compliment, to other martial movements. It was also the reason why the leaders of areas of China that were not strongly in Chiang Kai-shek’s camp tended to avoid the program all together. It is thus politically and socially important to note that while Fu and his fellow Tigers eventually enjoyed success in the spreading of Northern styles throughout Southern China, this success came through marketplace competition and even cooperation with the Jingwu Association.

Sadly, there is less reliable information about this period than one might like.  Lin and Wing rightly note that there are many stories of brutal challenge fights between Northern and Southern masters but its hard to know what to do with these. It is interesting to note that in the folklore of the Northern systems, it is inevitable that the Northern master wins.  Yet somehow when Southern lineages tell these stories the victors are always the resilient local masters.  In any case, so many of these stories contain clearly borrowed or stereotyped elements that it seems unlikely that we can use them as a historical guide.  For instance, the authors one instance in which Fu supposedly injured a rival Taijiquan instructor in a bout of push-hands, and was then forced to rely on his knowledge of internal medicine and energy flows to heal his erstwhile rival. This same feat has also been attributed to countless other masters.

What does seem to be clear is that Fu continued to draw on his contacts with various high-ranking military officers as he built his organization and gained students.  General Li Jinglin moved to Guangzhou for a time during this period. While I have seen no indication that Fu taught at the Whampoa military academy or its successor, it is clear that he continued to train a number of soldiers during the 1930s.  Lin and Wing indicate that these students generally received practical combative drills, while most of his civilian students were interested in Taijiquan. Up until 1935 Fu taught Sun Lu Tang’s approach to the art, before moving to his own synthesis.  While Fu was best known for his contributions to Baguazhang, that system tended not to be as popular with average students.  Finally, he taught his now completed Fu style to a handful (6-7) of personal disciples as well as his son. Perhaps his most important private student during this period was the young General Sun Baogang.

Fu seems to have become unexpectedly wealthy for a martial arts instructor during the 1930s.  In a period when few individuals in China could even aspire to own a car, he had two, including an imported British Austin. Lin Chao Zhen discussed his Master’s popularity during this period and his frequent public appearances. Still, there are some suggestions in these accounts that Fu might have been a difficult collaborator. Lin Chao Zhen notes that Fu would refuse to attend any festival or demonstration where he did not receive top billing. If he discovered that he was not the highlight of the program after arriving, Lin notes that his teacher would simply walk out without a word of warning to the organizers.

General Sun was accepted as Fu’s personal disciple in 1937 or 1938. One suspects that this marked the highpoint of his influence within the Southern Chinese martial arts community. In October of 1937 the Japanese invasion forced the closure of most of the martial arts schools in the region. Fu, like others, began to offer instruction to various patriotic groups and hastily arranged Big Sword chapters. More specifically, he took up a position at the People’s Anti-Japanese Athletic Association in Guangzhou. He was 66 years old at the start of the war.

Like so many other martial artists, Fu retreated before the Japanese advance. Before leaving the Pearl River Delta he buried his prized Baguadao, awarded to him by General Zhang Zoulin in 1921. Sadly, he would be unable to retrieve the sword after the war either because it was looted (a fate shared by many buried treasures) or its actual location was forgotten.

Taking his family, Fu moved to the small village of Qujiang, near Shaoguan (then called Kukong), in the far northern reaches of Guangdong.  It was in Shaoguan that the provincial government established its temporary headquarters.  Fu does not appear to have been inactive during this time. Lin and Wing note that in 1938 he started his own Taijiquan journal titled the Taiji Special. This publication ran for about a decade (though I am uncertain as to how wide its circulation was). The editorial statement, which they were kind enough to partially translate, suggests a fairly mainline Guoshu orientation.

The years following the end of the war in 1945 were difficult ones for Fu, now 73. He returned to Guangzhou and lived in a house owned by General Sun, along with the General’s sister and her son. Fu provided private lessons for the General’s nephew. He was less successful in reestablishing his network of personal students and classes. Given the general hostility toward the martial arts in the immediate aftermath of WWII, this is not really a surprise. Still, his situation improved when his family returned to the area and his son could help with the teaching load. Fu continued to do larger public demonstrations. He also enjoyed leading a rotating two month Taijiquan class at the local YMCA.

The KMT finally collapsed in 1949 as the Communists seized control of the rump national government in Guangzhou.  General Sun Baogang fled to Hong Kong.  Following a well-established pattern he turned to martial arts instruction as a retirement job and spread his teacher’s Fu style of Baguazhang and Taijiquan throughout the colony. Indeed, Hong Kong proved to be an excellent platform for launching a number of Chinese martial arts, including Fu’s synthesis, into the global marketplace.  But that story will have to wait for another day.

Fu Zhensong and his family remained in Gungzhou as the city transitioned to the new order. Fu would even live to see the reemergence of interest in Wushu (as the term Guoshu was now distinctly out of favor) in the early 1950s.  He gave his final public performance of his beloved Dragon Baguazhang to thunderous applause at a public demonstration in 1953. He would die later that same evening at the age of 81.





While not a Bagua student, I find it hard not to be fascinated with Fu’s life and contributions. Clearly his role in the promotion of the Northern arts in southern China was critical. He also seems to have been the only one of the South Bound Tigers to really make Guangzhou his home.  One can only imagine what he would have thought of the near tropical south after half a lifetime spent on Northern China’s cold and dusty plains.

Yet as a student of Chinese martial studies, I believe that the value of Fu’s life transcends his contributions to Baguazhang or Taijiquan. His career bears vivid testimony to the ways in which the martial arts could open possibilities for travel and social advancement that would be otherwise unthinkable for so many young men from modest backgrounds. None of the biographies I reviewed mentioned any period of prolonged formal education in Fu’s background.  One rather suspects that he would agree with General Li Zongren (another northern bandit chief turned warlord and acquaintance) that the education he received came directly from the “university of the Greenwood Forest.”  Still, in the tumultuous years of the 1920s and 1930s, that was enough to rise to surprising heights.  Further, Fu’s career is important in that it illustrates the continued importance of military associations and sponsorships to so many of China’s professional martial arts instructors during the Republic period.

This does not mean that Fu was teaching complex Buagua routines to General Li Jinglin’s dadao troops.  Indeed, he was quite explicit in noting that what he taught to his military and civilian students was actually very different.  Still, Fu’s career stands as an important reminder of a time when martial arts training allowed one to travel not just the countryside, but to cross the boundaries between farmer, bandit, soldier and respected teacher.



If you enjoyed this post you might also want to read: Lives of Chinese Martial Artists (21): Zhang Zhijiang, Father of the Guoshu Movement