Chen Zi Zheng
陈子正 The “King of the Eagle” (1878 – 1933)
Teacher Chen Zi Zheng, otherwise named Chen Ji Ping, was born in the village of Li Linzhuang, in Xiongxian in the province of Hebei. He was naturally blessed with a strong body and a bold character, and in him Liu Cheng You found a worthy continuer of the system. He began taking classes at the age of thirteen and after ten years of hard training with his teacher, Chen Zi Zheng was ready to set out on his own path.
In 1915, he was invited by high ranking officers of the Ministry of Education, Liu Feng Chi (his friend and student) and Wang Ming Qing, to move to the province of Hei Longjian in northeastern China to teach wushu for four years. This province was to become the first important point and threshold for the propagation of the art of Ying Shou Quan.
Some of his first students come from the Hei Longjian province, such as teachers You Shu Κong and Guo Cheng Υao, who later would promote the system in northern China. In 1919, Chen undertook the position of vice – principal at the famous athletic club Jing Wu Hui in Shanghai, in charge of the teaching of the “eagle”, and from then on, he played a major role in the development of the club.
In 1922, teacher Chen moved to Hong Kong, where he took the position of head trainer at the area’s branch of the “Jing Wu Athletic Club”. In 1924, he returned to Shanghai for several years, where he took up the position of head trainer at the central branch of the club, until he finally returned to his birthplace in the autumn of 1930.
He taught the eagle system in other areas, such as Guangdong and Hankou, and also taught some classes at the Military Academy of Beijing and in Singapore. Some of his most well-known students were: Guo Cheng Yao, You Xu Kong, Li Zong Wen, Li Ming De, Chen Zhan Pu, Liang Zi Peng, Zhang Jun Ting, Zhang Shu Qing, Li Pei Xian, Xue Gong Chu, Chen Cui Li, Li Yao Wen, Yang Bing Wen, Liu Feng Chi, Chen Guo Jun and Chen Guo Qin.
Teacher Chen had developed an extremely powerful grab and to strengthen his body, he would lie down between two chairs, his head on one and his feet on the other, and kept his body in a horizontal position while placing weights on himself. To increase the explosive power in his legs, he would jump on and off on a one-meter high pole. He methodically trained in Nei Gong exercises to build up his inner strength.
Once in Shanghai, an American boxer wished to test Chen’s abilities. In response, Chen requested that seven or eight of his students try to move him by pushing his belly with a thick bamboo pole. Chen could not be moved an inch from his spot, even when the bamboo pole bent from the pressure. In the end, with one sudden contraction of his body, he pushed his students backwards. After seeing this, the American decided not to test his luck.
Due to his relentless and systematic training and Liu Cheng You’s strict teaching methods and emphasis on combat technique (san shou), Chen Zi Zheng evolved into an exceptional fighter. His skill in combat was so great that it is said he never used more than three techniques in a fight.
In 1900, during the Boxers uprising, he led the youths of his village in combat against the soldiers of the foreign armed forces, while in 1913 he fought against a group of five bandits who attacked his village. With just a branch in his hand, he put three of them down and sent the other two running.
In 1919 in Shanghai, he fought an American prizefighter, who was aware of Chen’s reputation for powerful and skillful grabs, and asked him not to use them in the fight. Teacher Chen defeated the American, even on the terms that were set by his opponent.
In 1922, in Singapore, Chen defeated an English boxer in just half a round. His prize was a small Indonesian sword which was engraved “To the King of Chinese Wushu”.
Apart from a skillful fighter, Chen Zi Zheng was also a great teacher. With the help of his personal students, he taught hundreds of other students, particularly in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Many of his students taught the eagle system in other parts of China, from the northern border to Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. He contributed greatly to the moral courage of his countrymen and received many awards for his achievements, the most noteworthy being the crystal mirror from the University of Hong Kong, which had “To the one who taught cowards to stand on their two feet” written on it.
Due to his continuous involvement in the eagle style and his organizational skills, the system was restructured, taking on its final form. With the help of his teacher, he gathered all the Yue Shi San Shou techniques (which are over one hundred in number) and combined them with the method and principles of Fan Zi Quan, creating two new forms (tao lu): the “Ten Roads of Xing Quan” and the “Fifty Roads of Lian Quan”.
His work was so important that today, everyone belonging to the large Ying Shou Quan family knows that these two forms –particularly the “Fifty Roads of Lian Quan”– are the quintessence of the traditional eagle style.
In 1917, in collaboration with his students Liu Hui Bo, Guo Cheng Yao, You Shu Gong and Qu Ji Xing, he wrote the Quan Shu Cai Yao (synopsis of the martial arts), while several years later, a large part of the the “Fifty Roads of Lian Quan” and the “Ten Roads of Xing Quan” was published in the magazine of the “Jing Wu Athletic Club”.
Chen Zi Zheng believed that as an integral part of the Chinese culture, the propagation of wushu could strengthen the spirit of this countrymen, who were suffering under the boot of foreign oppressors and the corruption of those who governed the country. He would fall into deep depression when Japanese forces invaded and conquered part of China in 1931. He turned to alcohol due to the hardship of life and his feelings of hopelessness and inability to intervene to help free his country, which led to serious illness. He was diagnosed with cancer of the stomach and died on July 12, 1933 at the age of fifty-five. The sorrow of the entire community of Chinese martial arts was immense. Teacher Chen Zi Zheng left his mark not only on Ying Shou Quan, but also the entire modern history of Chinese martial arts, gaining the title “King of the Eagle”. Thousands of students were initiated into the beauty of the “eagle”, though only few were his personal students. One of those who managed to comprehend the essence of the art was teacher Guo Cheng Yao.