Wang Shu Chin and Chen Pan Ling

The Steel Colossus and the Rebellious Serpent

Two Masters of great Importance in the contemporary history of Chinese Boxing

By Stefano Pernatsch

When in Chinese Martial Arts tales are told of great masters with mysterious and superhuman skills, these refer to personages such as Wang Shu Chin.
The main difference is that he did not appear on some misty peak in ancestral China, but really lived in our times. A substantial difference, simply because what might have otherwise been relegated to the list of innumerable legends, was actually witnessed by a multitude of people. Among these were a number of experts in combat, such as the great pugilist Jack Dempsey; and then above all, there was the absolute impartiality of evidence, - high ranking karate masters who had tried to strike Wang on the abdominal area with all their strength but without obtaining the slightest effect.
The same thing happened to the scholar Robert W. Smith who frequented the Grand Master during his fruitful stay in Taiwan; well, after he too had struck Wang in vain on the abdomen, he asked if he could try on his solar plexus, and again the master took the blow as if it were nothing at all. The westerner ended his experience by kicking Shih fu Wang on his legs, from the groin down, knees, calves and ankles, "until my own foot was aching". There was not a single blow that Wang could not take with impunity! And this is not the whole story! it was enough for him to contract his vast abdomen against the adversary’s fist, anticipating the blow, to easily injure the latter’s wrist.
When the westerner asked him: "how do you manage to do it?" His answer was lapidary: "Ki"
I have had the same experiences with a few masters of the internal styles, because I too like to ask them how they manage to take certain blows, if they are not trained in the iron shirt (tieh pu shan), and the answers I have had are always the same. In ancient China there was a time when adepts of Shaolin styles established the custom of dedicating themselves assiduously to practices of conditioning the body which are called tieh pu shan and which would allow them to receive the adversaries’ blows without negative consequences. The story confirms that through the practice of tieh puy shan it is possible to obtain results that come very close to those of Wang Shu Chin.
But then Wang, as other masters of the internal styles, did not like such practices, maintaining that the work on internal energy was far more useful. In one of his famous sayings he affirmed that smashing bricks and pulverising tiles was meaningless until bricks and tiles started to move and think like human beings. Even though by studying certain types of tieh pu shan in depth, one can come to understand that it is, in any case a method of cultivating Ki, one still cannot say that this great master was mistaken, since it appears that no one ever managed to injure him during his countless engagements in combat. Because the shi fu was above all a great fighter.
Even in old age, when in his seventies, he taught Tai Chi chuan in Japan as well as in South East Asia, he was challenged by many important karate masters and even by the bodyguard of the imperial family: well for him to defeat these was just child’s play. This led him and other masters who were his contemporaries, to despise the Japanese art, considering it to be nothing but a distortion of the Chinese traditional line.
Wang Shu Chin therefore, was a tremendously real personage, if we put ourselves in the position of whoever wanted to challenge him; yet, as in every legend worthy of respect, even his life is full of obscure circumstances, in which the lack of information is often compensated for with tales of greater or lesser credibility. It is rumoured for example that he ran a chain store for rice, and even that he was the charismatic leader of a religious sect. One thing we know for certain is that shih fu Wang was of decisively ponderous build (certainly of no disadvantage in a fight): weighing over one hundred kilograms, even though he was a convinced vegetarian. And in spite of his bulk and massive bone structure, his speed was equal only to his physical strength. His huge hands were particularly famous, with his fingers steeped in ki through the practice of hsing-i and his palms, iron-like through training in pa-kua. Palms whose energy, it is said, could in the cold of winter, warm up whoever touched them and even cure various ills. Not that his fists were lesser in merit: in one of his performances, Wang touched the next unfortunate victim with his fingers, then closed his fist and applied a spiral screwing movement which had an extremely potent effect.
As far as his formation is concerned, from 1929 to 1938 Wang Shu Chin was a pupil at Tientsin of the celebrated master Chang Chao Tung, also called Ku Kuei, whom he learned to esteem more than any other. In fact, according to his admirable pupil, Chang was the greatest combatant of his time in northern China. Shih fu Chao Tung, seemingly calm, was accustomed to sitting aside and observing the practice of his students, but when one of them persisted in making a mistake, he was capable of getting up and striking him.
Certainly, Wang and Chang established a bond of great affection for one another, thanks too to the noble and sincere character of young Hai Po (whom Chan Chao Tung had already pointed out to him), and then with Wang Hsiang Chai, the celebrated inventor of I Chuan at Tientsin. In this important centre and port, perhaps Shu Chin also had the occasion to meet the grand master Kuo Yun Shen and his peerless Hsing-i.
Finally, following the political turmoil after the seizing of power by Mao Tse Tung, even our hero like many other teachers, fled in 1948 to Taiwan, where he resided first at Taipei, then at Taichung until his death.
Now the schools which refer to Wang Shu Chin are present on every continent, with one of the most active headquarters in Taichung itself (address: Chinese Martial Arts Cheng Ming association, International Headquarters; 19 Wu Shun Street, Taichung, Taiwan. Tel: +886-9351981). Finally, for whoever is interested in the subjects here described, there is the very thorough information that has been collected by the Wang Shu Chin Memorial Hall, presided by Master Wang Fu Lai at Tsaotung.