Biography of Master Chen Shoufu
Master Shoufu Chen was born in Shanghai in the winter of 1953. He was constantly ill when he was little, having nightmares every night and often being sent to the hospital for emergency care. Shoufu’s father was a capitalist from old Shanghai and established a fairly prosperous family. Concerned about his son’s poor health, he decided to look for a martial arts master to teach his son. Master Guanchen Tie, the master of Xin Yi Liu He Quan, was invited to Shoufu’s family. At that time, Master Tie was already over 70 years old, but he still looked strong and energetic. He looked at nine-year-old Shoufu, touching his head and hands, and smiled at him, saying, “I will accept you as my disciple.”
Nine-year old Shoufu took lessons from Master Tie in Shanghai Jianan Park every day. At the beginning, Shoufu was just learning some basic moves such as San Pan Luo Di, which was officially called Si Ping Da Ma. Because Shoufu was very weak at the time, he couldn’t perform all the moves accurately. For example, he sometimes sneakily raised his bottom when he was asked to do Si Ping Da Ma, in which he was supposed to squat all the time. Master Tie would kick his bottom gently and teach him the right position. At the time, there were many people practicing martial arts in the park, and young Shoufu sometimes got distracted from others’ various moves. Even though Master Tie asked Shoufu not to pay attention to those moves, young Shoufu still couldn’t help but glance at others. In the end, Master Tie told Shoufu, “It is not bad to learn from others, but remember that those moves are not useful at all.”
Written by Dr. Able Yuanxia Zhang, Master Chen's Disciple
Master Tie ate a lot. He could eat one leg of lamb just for one meal. He also had a very strong alcohol tolerance. As long as he was positioned with a high “Ma Bu,” four or five young men could not move him. Master Tie was perceived as a god in young Shoufu’s eye. However, Master Tie was extremely conservative. He never passed on his complete martial arts to any of his students throughout his long teaching career. He also didn’t communicate with masters from different schools. He only had one friend in his life, Hucheng Li, the disciple of Master Xueli Shang. There are two versions of how Master Tie became the martial arts master. One version was that he was the disciple of Dianqing Yang, and the other was that he learned from his father, Master Tie Si, who was the direct disciple of the Master of Zhuangtu Mai. Shoufu was only 15 years old when Master Tie passed away in 1968, so Shoufu couldn’t judge which version was true. But Shoufu strongly believed that Master Tie was the supreme master of Xin Yi Quan, who knew the top secret of martial arts.
Probably because Master Tie realized that he didn’t have many days left, he specifically trained Shoufu privately, patiently passing on everything he learned in his life to Shoufu, which was traditionally called one-to-one esoteric passover. Master Tie preferred to talk about Quan repeatedly instead of simply practicing Quan. When Master Shoufu started to teach his disciple Da Xia Yi Quan, he also liked to talk about Quan instead of actually demonstrating it. At the time, Master Tie told young Shoufu that Xin Yi Quan was a type of unique martial arts only provided by his school, which would require Shoufu to experience the essence of it by heart. Master Tie hated to compare his Xin Yi Quan with the type of martial arts that were used to fight against others on the streets. He often talked about the story of the founder of Xin Yi Quan, Master Tong Zhou, saying that people have to learn how to practice Quan along with learning the Four Books and the Five Classics. Only people with good education would be able to truly master the inherited knowledge of Xin Yi Quan. After Master Shoufu acquired martial arts, he also liked to be friends with intellectuals. The fact that Shoufu was willing to pass on his secret martial arts to Da Xia when he met him in New York was very correlated to Da Xia’s Psychology PHD. Many people think practicing Quan was only martial artists’ business but not for intellectuals. But this theory was totally opposite in Master Shoufu’s eye, because Master Tie always taught him that superb martial arts were closely related to people’s education level.
Master Guanchen Tie
When Master Tie passed away in 1968, the young Shoufu was only 15 years old. No one would believe that the master of Xin Yi Quan passed on his lifetime knowledge to such a young boy. Back then the young Shoufu never realized how powerful and precious he had learned from Master Tie. He later followed Master Hucheng Li to continue practicing martial arts in Shanghai Zhongshan Park. As time went by, and the Cultural Revolution happened, Master Shoufu, who had grown to be an adult at the time, naturally started to present his martial arts. He surprisingly found out that his martial arts were far better than ordinary people through exchanges and discussions with other schools.
Chinese traditional martial arts were on the verge of vanishing. It was debatable that revitalizing martial arts was the business for martial artists or for intellectuals. In today’s legal society, people may not necessarily rely on martial arts to defend themselves, but they would have to learn knowledge. Therefore, Master Shoufu passed on his Xin Yi Martial Arts to Master Zhang with a psychology PHD. This indicated that Master Shoufu hoped to awaken thousands of intellectuals’ hearts, because only when all of the intellectuals were awake would Chinese martial arts be truly revitalized.
At the beginning of the Economic Revolution in 1980’s, a type of traditional business model—Pao Hui—was very popular in Shanghai. Pao Hui refers to that businessmen from Shanghai went to other cities to organize exhibition events and invite Shanghai merchants to set up market stalls there after renting exhibition halls. The businesses generated from Pao Hui were constantly disturbed by local crooks, and therefore, at the time, Master Shoufu was asked to demonstrate his martial arts to keep the situation under control. At the time, many places were the targets of Pao Hui, covering almost all of the major cities in the southern part of China. Every time Master Shoufu got to a place, he would like to ask for information about local famous martial artists and then visit them. He had met numerous famous martial artists from many places, but in most cases, once Master Shoufu showed his skills, many martial artists would admit that they were not as good as him, and some of them even asked him to stay and teach. Master Shoufu felt shame that he could not find any legendary martial artists during his stay in the South. He was very disappointed when he got back home and wondered if Chinese martial arts were actually lost to the world. Even when Master Shoufu realized the possibility of Chinese martial arts becoming a lost art, he was still very conservative in his teaching, and he didn’t make his esoteric study of martial arts public. Not until many years later after he went to the U.S. did he agree to make it public after he met Da Xia who strongly urged him to do so.
Master Hucheng Li
Shoufu Chen is also a flute performer. Because he has very deep internal force, his solo flute performance has been very famous in Shanghai. Sometimes he even plays the saxophone to kill time. He also once composed music and won a big award in Shanghai. He is a very easy-going person with a warm heart. Even though he is a bit beyond 50 years old, he still looks very young. When he doesn't use his fists, he is still like water; once he uses his fists, he is like a dragon. He is always smiling. He and his disciple Da Xia are still good friends. They fondly call each other big snake and small snake like brothers.