Scene: US military advisor base, Linkou

A black American soldier who was over 190 centimeters tall and weighed over 100 kilograms, with a muscular neck bigger around than his head, entered the field carrying a long staff. He first clasped his fist to bow to the officers and distinguished guests at the table, then grabbed the long stick in his hand and swung it alternately, spinning it to the left and right. The blur of the stick was a shadow guarding his body, the sound a mighty wind. He immediately won thunderous applause from the audience.

“I heard that Chinese martial arts have a kind of clever skill, using ‘four ounces to parry a thousand pounds.’ This Mr. Kent who just performed is a combat skills instructor in our army. He has studied long staff and stick skills in Japan. Today he will ask the masters present for advice with his long stick. All masters are welcome to come up to the stage and give him some pointers.” The moment the translator said this, the black soldier used the technique One Staff to Control the Universe, dropped into a deep horse stance, his thighs paral- lel to the floor, his feet a little over shoulder width apart, his two hands holding the staff in a mixed grip and pressing down, the long staff with a diameter of more than six centimeters held tightly at thigh level, the tip quavering after being snapped down. To all appearances he was just like an ebony stupa.

Faced with the challenge of such a powerful opponent, all the invited martial arts masters on the scene immediately became restless and whispered to each other to exchange views. Some of the thinner, weaker martial arts masters introspected that they were not well-matched adversaries for this challenger, and each tactfully shuffled to less conspicuous corners. Several sturdy External School masters rubbed their palms and perked up, eager to discuss counter- measures to the challenge.

The Challengers

“Okay. Let me try first.” A master martial artist from the Southern Shaolin Golden Lion Martial Arts Hall, his build wider than he was tall, was sent out by the crowd to test the temperature of the water. Several other senior brothers nearby shouted out his praise.

“And you are...?” the host asked.

“The Golden Lion Martial Arts Hall Liao Shui-sheng. So tell me, after all what is this black temple guardian’s challenge?” Master Liao asked.

“It’s very simple. If you can use another wooden staff to lift up his stick from the bottom, that’s your win,” the host said.

“No matter what method is used?” Master Liao asked.

“Yes. If you can lift it up, or make him loose his foothold as you lift, you win,” the host said.

“Okay,” Master Liao said.

After listening to the host’s clear explanation of the rules of the test, everyone re-examined the test situation the black soldier had set. All they saw was this huge man with strong muscles, a broad, ripped body, at least two or three sizes bigger than the build of an average Asian man. Judging from the action of holding a stick and pressing down, he was obviously a martial arts master who combined God given talent and hard practice. Because he was so tall, it was not easy to notice that his horse stance was actually quite low. The shiny black hardwood staff in his hand seemed to be specially tailored to his height and build. In this wide horse stance pose he pressed the staff less than 2 feet above and parallel to the ground. In other words, the space he reserved for the challenger to exert force had been compressed to a limit. Anyone who has played with staffs knows that this is a well-designed and difficult challenge. In that limited space, power, and technique are both difficult to deploy.

Master Liao picked up an eyebrow height staff and twirled the stick to warm up. Because they were all coach-level teachers, his stick twirling was also a lively blur and rush of wind. When the martial artists on the sidelines saw this, they all cheered, rooting him on. Master Liao then performed several tries of snapping his staff up in the open air according to the test posed from the other party. Every time he snapped the staff upward, he issued a terrifying roar. Most traditional martial arts training in Taiwan was from the Southern Shaolin school. External School gongfu employs battle cries when exerting strength. From Master Liao’s imposing manner on those several tries, stern in voice and countenance, it could be seen he was taking this very seriously.

“Tell him to pay attention now, I’m going to start,” Master Liao said.

“Anytime,” the black temple guardian gestured with a confident smile to welcome him “to start the lesson” at any time. Master Liao then stepped forward and extended the front tip of his wooden staff directly under the opponent’s stave, and then after a few wriggles to relax his shoulders and neck, suddenly his back foot skipped forward a half step, and the front foot slid forward at the same time, the front heel dug in transmitting full strength into his waist twist, snapping up the tip of his stick forcefully releasing power. The expert’s shot was surely clean and on target, it was indeed an extremely powerful one. However, when his “give it all you got” upward snap came into contact with the upper stick, apart from the crisp sound of the two wooden staffs violent clash, the upper stick remained motionless as before. At this time, the martial artists in the audience awakened to the realization that hidden deep in this ebony stupa, was unfathomable strength. So, a few more masters came up to try to challenge in various ways, but choked to death by the limited space, no one could successfully lift the long staff in the hands of the black temple guardian.

Just as the hall was sopping with an atmosphere of failure, a huge figure stood up from the corner of the martial artists seats. He was Master Huang of the Xinzhuang Martial Arts Center. From the beginning of the challenge, he had hidden in the least noticeable spot, calmly observing the process and details of the challenge, trying hard to search for any weakness in the black soldier. Master Huang was a giant in the Taiwan martial arts world. He was close to 200 centimeters tall and weighed more than 130 kilograms. He was the champ of unlimited weight class competitions in Chinese martial arts, judo, wrestling, and mixed martial arts. At this stage of the challenge, he was probably the last hope to determine whether the Taiwan martial arts world could turn things around.

“I don’t want this toothpick. Give me a decent staff.”

When he saw this opponent with a tonnage equal to his own, like two matched armies, this got the Black Temple Guardian’s adrenaline moving, but his disciplined face only displayed a confident smile. To meet the counterattack of this giant, he especially rose from his stance and did a few warm-up movements to relax his muscles and bones, and then resumed his deep stance to meet this round from a new challenger. Master Huang took up the long staff that the US military man handed him. While grabbing the stick to warm up, he strolled all around the Black Temple Guardian and sized him up, as if looking for a convenient place to make an incision. He first tried snapping up two or three times lightly in the same way that the previous masters had tried and decided to give up this method that had already been proven invalid. He switched to a pole-vaulter’s grip, with both hands tight on the rear third of the long staff, and then extending the front section of the long stick diagonally onto the ground under the Black Temple Guardian’s stick. The other tail end of the stick was put on Huang’s own shoulder for purchase, forming three supporting points in the front, middle, and back, so that the upper and lower staffs were closely intertwined, and ready to use the principle of leverage to crack this difficult challenge.

“Yeah. Finally, a guy who knows how to use his head has arrived,” Dolenz said.

After the two giants exchanged glances at each other, they mobilized the entire force of their bodies and started a wonderful duel. The Black Temple Guardian did not change the original defensive deep horse stance. Master Huang used the bow and arrow stance to push up. The two roared almost at the same time declaring their determination to win. The volume of the sound shocked the audience and was immediately followed by the sound of the wooden staves pressing, twisting, and grinding, as well as the sound of the two men straining for breath to generate each last ounce of power. The two giant stupas locked in a stalemate, one face puffed out and red, eyes ferocious, the other black as lacquer, it was more difficult to make out his expression. Entwined in this struggle for nearly three minutes, there was a sudden loud crack, and the long staff held by Master Huang shattered at the intersection of the two sticks into hundreds of wood fibers and dusty fragments.

All the guests breathlessly watching the battle let out a gasp at the same time. The upper stick had maintained its original position to maintain his victory, and after the match the two shook hands with each other in mutual respect. The scene burst into thunderous applause for this rare and wonderful fight.

Evenly Matched

“Wow! It’s really evenly matched.”

“If they switched positions, I’d be willing to bet Master Huang would definitely win.” While everyone was busy applauding the wonderful performance of the two giants, there was a faint sigh from the VIP seats: “Um. Just another bull that can only use brute force,” Jim Dolenz leaned back in his chair with his arms folded across his chest not sharing in everyone’s enthusiasm. It seemed that this kind of contest relying on raw force was not the real skill he hoped for. He wondered, could it be that after the spread of Chinese martial arts to Taiwan in the south, those astonishing realms were all lost and made extinct on the way to exile? Or were those things in the legends, from start to finish just the fanciful creations of literati’s romantic crazy talk, and never truly existed in the real world. If so, then he might as well bring today’s event, a preposterous plan to lure these skills into the open, to a quick close.

“Mr. Hong. Won’t you come up and give it a try?” asked the director general of the National Martial Arts Association. Witnessing the entire martial arts world in Taiwan being capsized, his face a bit losing control, he could not resist calling on Hong Yi-xiang in the hopes he would go up on the stage and give it a go.

“Okay. Let him relax and rest first,” the host said. On orders from the officer an army medic immediately gave the Black Temple Guardian a relieving massage to relax his muscles and bones. About ten or twenty minutes later, the Black Temple Guardian appeared again in the venue like a lively dragon and prepared to continue accepting challengers. Hong Yi-xiang had used the same idle interval to complete some simple warm-ups.

On the Black Temple Guardian’s entry, he again adopted the deep horse stance with the staff held parallel to the ground. As soon as Hong Yi-xiang came up, just like other challengers, he gave two tries using the long staff to snap upward from bottom to top according to the rules of the contest. At first, everyone expected that he would really hit hard on the third try, but suddenly he circled the stick in the opposite direction and whipped the stick straight down from above. This tactic was tantamount to pushing heavily in the same direction of the Black Temple Guardian’s original downward pressure, completely disrupting the Black Temple Guardian’s center of gravity and composure.

Hong’s powerful strike downward was directly followed by pressing into the body of the Guardian’s staff using the “sticking stick technique,” forcing the Black Temple Guardian to take a big step forward in an attempt to stabilize his balance. Unexpectedly, the instant his body pulled back to regain balance, Hong Yi-xiang’s long staff, like a giant python coiled and looped under the Guardian’s staff only this time Hong Yi-xiang snapped upward from below by complete surprise. The direction from bottom to top, added to the energy the Black Temple Guardian had put into pulling up, far exceeded the power he had calculated to need. By the time the Black Temple Guardian realized that this pushing force was way over the top, he knew it was too late to recover. It turned out that this returning rising staff was Hong Yi-xiang’s main attack. Even more deadly, this snap-up used spiraling energy, and the Guardian’s body could not avoid being controlled by his heavy staff as it was sucked into that huge whirl- pool. The Black Temple Guardian lost complete control of his body, so his only choice was to move along with that invisible force rising from the ground and roll forward on the ground before he could break away and regain control.

The only point of contact between the two men was the two staffs, yet the Black Temple Guardian took a mighty spill, in front of everyone. Only when the soldier got up from the ground and bowed to Hong Yi-xiang recognizing defeat, did all the spectators seem to awaken from a dream and burst into applause. No one had imagined that such an intractable problem could be cracked with such a simple method.

This was originally just a banquet jointly hosted by the American military advisers and the National Martial Arts Association. The post banquet entertainment program was lively with diverse discussion until the curtain came down.

The above is an excerpt from Blurred Boundaries: A Martial Arts Legacy and the Shaping of Taiwan by Hong Ze-Han and Translated by Christopher Bates, Publication Date November 2023, YMAA Publication Center, ISBN: 9781594399800.