[Whispers of Life ] The Legend of Kung Fu Master Li Youfu (part 1)
Dear viewers, the Chinese martial arts go back to ancient times, such as the renowned southern fists and northern legs martial arts division, which are martial arts schools that originated in the Shaolin Monastery and Wudang Mountain, and belong to the Kung Fu martial arts.
The essence and conception of Chinese Kung Fu can’t be easily understood by martial arts non-practitioners. “Behind one minute on stage is ten years of practice” clearly delineates the hardship endured by the practitioners.
Today, we have with us a Kung Fu master, a celebrity in martial arts and qigong circles. He not only has remarkable martial arts skills, but has also made great effort with theoretical studies into the subject matter. He also is a well-known expert in the fields of Chinese medicine. He is Mr. Li Youfu.
Mr. Li started to practice martial arts at an early age. During the Cultural Revolution, while still in secondary school, Li secretly looked for a master to learn martial arts. During this rarely experienced cultural catastrophe, Li studied and practiced diligently, and laid a solid foundation in the area of his interests. Under the guidance of great teachers, Li learned about different types of Chinese boxing and about martial arts weapons. He had won first prize in many national martial arts competitions. In 1984, as a martial arts graduate student from the Shanxi University, Li was among the first in China to obtain a Masters Degree in martial arts.
Yu Xin: Hello Mr. Li Youfu. You are well known in martial arts circles. How does it make you feel being the chair of the panel of judges, selected for the International Chinese Traditional Martial Arts Competition organized by the New Tang Dynasty Television (NTDTV)?
Li Youfu: Please, do not call me Master. I think I merely have some experience in this discipline. I think that traditional Chinese martial art is very profound and is highly significant. I lived in Mainland China for many years and I was involved in several martial arts tournaments. In my believe, a completely new global Chinese traditional martial arts competition is not something an ordinary person can organize, as it is based on the true tradition. The competition aims to promote Chinese culture and display true martial art values to the world. It clearly understood that moral is at the fundament of martial arts. It is without doubt true that without martial arts morals, ones skills will not improve. Today, as the competition is over, I feel it is a great success, and everyone is very excited.
Yu: Yes, I saw that it was a truly grand occasion. It is out pleasure to have you here with us and have you share your personal experience with martial arts.
Li: Thank you!
Yu: I heard that you have practiced in many schools of martial arts, such as knife, spear, and swords, Eight Trigrams Palm, and Tai Chi Chuan. Could you tell us about it?
Li: Sure. Martial Arts is composed of two major forms, the internal and external martial art. Then there are a variety of martial arts weapons, actually eighteen kinds of weapons. I first practiced external martial art, such as Cha Chuan and Shaolin Chuan..
Yu: I read reports that you are an expert in whip rod martial art. In the 1982 National Sports Competition, you amazed the audience with your whip rod skills, and won the championship. What kind of martial art is the whip rod?
Li: Whip rod is a piece of rod about a thumb thick. The thinner end is as thick as a thumb, and the thicker end is a bit thicker than the root of a small tree. It is about 1.3 meter long, which is about as tall as the elbow height of a standing person. Whip rod actions are similar to knife, spear, stick and sword actions.
It is said to have originated in the late Ming Dynasty. A general fought against the Qing soldiers. After the demise of Ming, he lived in seclusion in a temple on Wutai Mountain, probably called Longquan Temple at the time and became a monk. At the time, monks were not allowed to carry a knife, sword or spear. But he wanted to pass down his martial art skills, so he used a stick.
Yu: No killing.
Li: He stopped violence. It is not used to kill people, he used the stick to stop you, knock your weapon down or force you to put down your weapon.
Yu: it is a weapon for self-defense.
Li: Yes, this is the martial arts moral behavior. He first taught some people and then young monks. Young monks practiced diligently and recorded all the teachings. A monk called Jiaolun practiced very well and taught two more people. One was Ren Ji and the other Li Chunfang. They both became famous. Then, Ren Ji taught Zhang Hanzhi.
Yu: There is a story behind every weapon used in martial arts. You know many weapons, but cannot talk about them all here. The whip rod also has such a story behind it, who was your teacher?
Li: Mr. Chen Shengfu, the Martial Arts Professor and the head of the sports department at Shanxi University,. He went to Shanxi to be the chairman of the Martial Arts Association. He came originally from Shandong Province. When doing research in martial arts, he found the whip rod to be very unique. Alas, the whip rod master Zhang Hanzhi did not teach in the public or choose student casually. Therefore, Mr. Chen contacted him. Mr. Zhang found Chen to be a good person and can be taught, so he taught Chen all his whip rod methods.
After completing his training, Mr. Chen demonstrated his whip rod skills during a sports conference in Northern China. He won praise from the audience but did not win the national championship until older. During the Cultural Revolution, I met him by chance. I looked up to him as my teacher and learned my whip rod skills from him.
Yu: I heard you had two renowned teachers teaching you Kung Fu. Master Chen is one of them. Can you briefly talk about how you decided to go into martial arts?
Li: I chose to learn martial arts because at the time I was in the countryside in Hebei Province, East of Beijing. As a teenager I lived during the Great Famine. Many people starved to death. We had only one bowl of Chinese rice gruel a day to keep us alive.
Yu: When was that?
Li: From 1959 to 1960, after 1958. 1958 was the Great Leap Forward, people had to eat in the “big pot system”. By 1959, we were only given Chinese rice gruel. People were arranged in production teams and each person received this bowl of food.
Yu: What is the “big pot system”?
Li: They smashed the pots in every household and took them to make iron and steel. They even took the kitchen knives away. Without the kitchen knife and pots, we could no longer cook.
Yu: So no pots or pans were left at home? So everybody had to eat in the “big pot system”?
Li: It was said to be communism, people all came together to eat as a group. But when we got there, each person could only get one bowl food. The gruel congee was so thin that we should just call it water!
Yu Xin: Everyone had three meals a day with everyone else.
Youfu Li: Exactly. No one could eat it. It’s hard to say what the “food” was made of. I was starving, so I read martial arts novels and hoped I could become one of the heroes in the stories. This way, I forgot about hunger and wanted to practice martial arts and be good at playing knives or swords.
If I made it, I would be able to punish those communist leaders who oppressed the general public. They could make anyone starve to death by not giving you watery rice.
I knew a communist, nicknamed “Spot Chopstick,” from a rural production team. He was very short, with many spots all over his face. He was very evil. He didn’t give you food by crossing out your name with a chopstick, as if you had already taken food. He could do this to anyone.
Yu Xin: Not even watery rice.
Youfu Li: I witnessed many people dying from malnutrition. It was so real. Many died on the sidewalk, so I wanted to practice martial arts to punish him.
Yu Xin: You had a wish. How did you find the first teacher?
Youfu Li: My first teacher, Chen, was the father of my secondary school classmate. My classmate practiced martial arts and told me his dad was very good at it, able to fly above houses and walk on walls. Then, we became brothers and his dad treated us the same way and taught both of us.
At that time, he taught us leg crossing of Cha Fist Fight and Chinese wrestling. This is how I began to practice martial arts. After that, I went to Shanxi to learn from another Mr. Chen.
Yu Xin: Was the “Spot Chopstick” beaten up?
Youfu Li: My teachers told me to have high moral standards, not to be involved in fights, so I didn’t beat him. But still, he was severely punished and died young while digging air-raid shelters. The shelter collapsed and he died inside.
No one tried to rescue him, as he was evil, although he was screaming and crying for help. He received a harsh punishment, so martial arts practitioners did not need to hit him.
Yu Xin: One of your stories was about rescuing a classmate, like a hero, when you were a fledgling in martial arts.
Youfu Li: I had no choice. When the Cultural Revolution just started, some of my classmates went to play at another school and were surrounded and beaten by some bullies. I still don’t know why. A classmate looked for me and asked me to save their lives.
I thought I must help rescuing them though they all had guns and I was alone. Dozens of them surrounded my classmates, hitting their heads and faces like crazy.
I said, “You should not knock them down,” so they walked towards me, and were about to fight with me. At that time, I was only 20 and not afraid of anything. I used my martial arts skills and kicked them. Some of them tried to use their guns and I knocked them down. Then, all of them came to fight with me and I ran away.
My teacher educated me well, asking me not to hurt others. One guy came up to punch me; I pushed his fist away and put my fist in his face, but did not hit him. Then, he let me off. They all had guns and fired at me, but did not hit me. I ran over a wall and left.
Yu Xin: Finally, martial arts came in handy. We mentioned earlier that two of your teachers were both martial arts experts.
Youfu Li: The first was Shengfu Chen.
Yu Xin: The one that taught you whipping stick. The second was…?
Youfu Li: Master Jisheng Chen
Yu Xin: When did you start learning from them?
Youfu Li: I met the first during the Cultural Revolution. At that time, I practiced martial arts with classmates. I learned from them. The son of a Communist Party secretary at Shanxi University also practiced.
I didn’t know who he was. During the Cultural Revolution, some leaders, principals, secretaries, and deans suffered. And, his father lost his freedom and was imprisoned.
I asked for the name of his teacher. He said he was with the Kung Fu Professor, Shengfu Chen, at Shanxi University. I responded that this was awesome and asked if I could learn from him and if he could introduce me to him. He agreed.
During the Cultural Revolution, many people such as deans, professors, and academic experts, including his dad, were nicknamed “Ghosts of Cattle and Gods of Snake”. And, all of them were locked in a room called “Shelter for Cattle”.
Yu Xin: To live with cattle?
Youfu Li: There were no cattle.
Yu Xin: No “Shelter for Cattle”?
Youfu Li: The Cultural Revolution wanted to torture people with “problems” and called them “Ghosts of Cattle and Gods of Snake”. Actually, all of them were good people.
Yu Xin: The good people were nicknamed.
Li Fu: They lost their freedom. That’s why the room was called “Shelter for Cattle”. The son of a Communist Party secretary brought me there. And, the guard let me in because I was a kid of only 18 at that time.
Yu Xin: Master Chen was kept there.
Youfu Li: He was writing a confession letter. At that time, he was almost 70 and his hair turned white. After being introduced, I said I hoped to learn martial arts from him.
Yu Xin: At that time, the teacher was locked up in the “Shelter for Cattle”, was he allowed to teach his disciples?
Youfu Li: He usually taught in the morning, and his jailers had not gotten up yet.
Yu Xin: Those would scold and beat him had not come yet.
Youfu Li: Exactly. He said he must keep practicing martial arts. Then, he told me something that had nothing to do with martial arts, words of Mencius, “God will ask this man to do something significant and challenging. Before that, God would make him suffer mentally and physically……" and so on.
Yu Xin: These are some principles that one should follow in life.
Youfu Li: Yes. He let me practice things that I used to do. He said my approach was wrong, and I should be relaxed when practicing martial arts, not using my energy. What he taught me was totally different. At the same time, he started teaching me Long Fist Fight and Little-flower Fist Fight. Also, I saw someone doing this. This is a good sign; someone learned it after I had practiced it. After that, I practiced the arts of knives and swords, Bagua Palm Fight, and whipping stick.
Yu Xin: I read your story that says you only learned one type of fist fight during a period of ten years. What did he teach you?
Youfu Li: First, I learned one set of Little-flower Fist Fight for ten years.
Yu Xin: Why so long?
Youfu Li: At that time, some disciples were practicing for a few days, and he praised all of them for their quick improvement.
I practice very hard for many years, and yet he did not praise me. I asked him if I was on the right track. He responded that I had a lot to improve and must work very hard. He taught with all his heart.
Yu Xin: He probably wanted you to be very good.
Youfu Li: Maybe.
Yu Xin: Like many self-cultivation stories in the past, the master would be stricter with the disciple whom he had picked.
Youfu Li: Perhaps. He then trained me for a decade and I improved a lot in this set of fist fight.
Yu Xin: Practicing one set for a decade. When did you learn other martial arts then?
Youfu Li: Because I learned quickly and worked very hard for a decade almost without any breaks, he then taught me lots of things. He asked what I wanted to learn and taught me everything. I was surprised that he taught me all the fist-fights.
Yu Xin: He taught you so much every day. How many hours did you practice every day? Did you have to work extremely hard?
Youfu Li: After his two-hour training in the morning, I came back to repeat his teaching for one or two hours!
Yu Xin: To perform on stage for one minute, one has to practice for one decade, as the old saying goes.
Youfu Li: Absolutely.
Yu Xin: Working very, very hard. You learned so much under the first teacher’s guidance.
Youfu Li: Most of what I learned from him was a few sets of Long Fist Fight, Little-flower Fist Fight, Digong Fist Fight, knives, lances, swords, and sticks. He focused on teaching me whipping stick, which later became popular among the general public. Most people considered using a weapon as important.
Yu Xin: The more you can bear, the more you will get. Your first teacher is Shengfu Chen. When did you start with the second teacher?
Youfu Li: That was after the Cultural Revolution. In 1980, there was a National Conference of Traditional Martial Arts in Taiyuan of Shanxi province. I worked in the jury department, and my teacher was the President of the jury. At that time, Jisheng Chen also regained freedom after the Cultural Revolution, so he went to the Conference. The two elderly men were brothers.
Yu Xin: Martial arts experts.
Youfu Li: In the past, if two martial arts practitioners had a lot in common, both felt the other was excellent in martial arts and was a nice person, they would become brothers for ever. Five of them became brothers for ever, my teacher, Shengfu Chen, was his second elder brother, Jisheng Chen was No. 3. All the rest had been champions years ago, such as champion in Shandong province, national champion, and runner-up.
Yuxin: I think you are also very lucky.
Li Youpu: These people could not even touch Master Chen Jishen during a Wushu contest , nor were they able to hit his body. They were all aware that he had real martial arts skills. Those people all had their good martial arts movements, and they could win the championship if they participated in martial contests. They had good martial arts skills but they could not touch him. They all knew this Master Chen Jisheng was great.
Yuxin: That is very great.
Li Youpu: His Taiji was very high level.
Yuxin: What kind of Gongfu did Master Chen Jisheng teach you?
Li Youpu: He did not teach me yet. It is Master Chen Shengpu talked to him for two hours. He did not teach students. Ever since the Cultural Revolution, he did not casually teach students. He said he was afraid that nowadays they might use it to assault people. You see he paid close attention to the virtues of martial arts.
Yuxin: It is the Master who looks for his students.
Li Youpu: Master Chen Shengpu talked to him about me for two hours and how over the dozen of years I learned from him. What he meant was that I had passed the test. That is to say after so many years observation, he thought that I was not bad.
Yuxin: Didn’t he think that he parted reluctantly with what he treasured and introduced his best student to him.
Li Youpu: They did not have that notion. I was curious for the other masters would feel that their student would later on would become someone else’s student after they had trained them for quite a while, but later on he became famous when he became someone else’ student. He did not have that notion.
He felt that you could improve. My two masters treated students the same way. In treating the students, they believed that it was my purpose to train you and improve you. So, for the genuine teacher and master, they are like this. I feel this way more and more often.
So later on Master Chen Jisheng told me, “Your teacher told me all about your marital arts training in detail. Then I decided to teach you. It is not that I accept a student casually."
He taught me Taiji. I learned his Taiji, I learned several different types of Taiji from Masters Chen Shengpu and others for over a dozen years. I practiced and looked not bad, and compared to them, I was not a bad one. But?
Yuxin: So his is even higher level.
Li Youpu: He is very high level. After practicing his Taiji, I felt as if I had not even learned the rudiments of Taiji.
Yuxin: What made him so different?
Li Youpu: After practicing it, physically I had a very strong feeling. After good practice, I felt strong energy. I felt very comfortable physically after practicing it. I said the martial arts could also give this. At the same time, I started to learn from him Taiji, the 108 forms of Taiji.
Yuxin: Was this also handed down as a closely guarded secret?
Li Youpu: He handed it down in a proper way. He would choose students. He paid more attention to virtues in teaching students. Also there was the Eight Trigrams Palm. Later on I also learned from him Yousheng Eight Trigrams, and his maze palm. He was getting more and more open with me. He felt that he could still teach me. So I was also very lucky. These two masters taught me without reservation. I feel very grateful. Later on he trained me more and more, and I paid more attention. He taught me Yousheng Eight Trigrams, Maze Palm, he taught me how to touch the vital points. I replied that the touching of the vital points might hurt people, and I did not want to learn. He said that it was weird that how come you did not want to learn this? For the other students they wanted to learn this all their lives. I said I wanted to help people instead of hurting people.
Yuxin: Instead of hurting people.
Li Youpu: He was even more willing to teach me. He said you were right. He taught me how to touch the vital points and also how to undo the touching as well. I used the method of undoing the touching taught to me by the master to see if someone was injured and could not move, I would apply the method of undoing the touching to save them.
Yuxin: So it can save people.
Li Youpu: I also had learned some ways of touching and undo the touching before he taught me. But his method was even high level.
Yuxin: It regret to not see your performance at the Martial Arts Competition. Also when you were practicing the martial arts, there was one thing very regretful. That is one of your masters wanted to pass down something very secret to you before he died.
Li Youpu: There was in deed such a thing. That is before Master Chen Jisheng died, he wanted to pass on some secrets. He asked people to call me. But, I could not go because of my job at Shanxi University. As a result, when he passed away, he told his youngest son, that if I couldn’t come, all these things would become lost. Later on when I heard about it, I was very sad.
Yuxin: For someone to be your Master for one day, he would be the same as good as your father all your life. It is really a regretful thing. That is to say that he did not pass the secret to his son but instead he wanted to pass it to you.
Li Youpu: When I heard about this situation, I was not very clear about other things, I was very touched, and I felt sad for quite some time. Later, I improved. Then, I also pursued cultivation. After some time, I thought that some people would use force in doing martial arts. They wanted to control people. They felt that martial arts were just like that. Later on I discovered that it was not like this. Human beings need to cultivate. I have been thinking of this question.
Yuxin: When the Master looks for his students, he also pays close attention to your moral behaviors and virtues before he teaches you anything. What we talked about, Mr. Li Youpu experienced on his way to become a martial arts master.
I believe time is up for our program today. In the future we will talk about how Master Li Youpu became the Master of Martial Arts.
Mr. Li also have a title that is associate researcher of China Human Body Science Research Center. We will talk about how Mr. Li Youpu became a well-known person in the Chinese medicine field and also a very famous Chinese medicine practitioner and Chinese medicine Ph.D? We will have Mr. Li Youpu tell us his experience in our next program. Thank you very much audience for watching our program and we will see you next time.