Liu Shi Jun
刘仕俊 (19th century)
Liu Shi Jun was born in the village of Guzhuang, which is located in the area of Xiongxian in the province of Zhili (present day Hebei). His family was very poor and so Liu Shi Jun was forced to work from a young age. He also began training in wushu when he was a small boy with the teacher Yi Wan Quan and thus had acquired a great amount of skill in martial arts by the age of twenty, although it is unknown exactly what style of wushu he was training in up till then. Most probably, it was either Fan Zi or one of the North Shaolin styles, which were quite popular in the area at the time.
At the age of about twenty, he met the monk Dao Ji. This meeting proved to be very important and was the starting point of Liu Shu Jun’s involvement in the eagle style system. The story of their meeting, as it has been passed down mainly through spoken word, is as follows: One day in a temple near the village of Guzhuang, where Liu was training, Dao Ji just happened to be passing by. Shi Jun tried to impress teacher Dao Ji with his technique, and when he had finished his training, Dao Ji made a derogatory remark: “Your technique is good, but probably useless in real combat”. The young man became furious, having been insulted this way by Dao Ji and attempted to attack him. Despite Shi Jun’s efforts, the monk fended off all the young man’s attacks without any effort and quickly put an end to the scuffle. Shi Jun was so impressed by the monk’s exceptional skills and technique that he kneeled in front of him and requested that he become his student.
Dao Ji instructed Liu Shu Jun in the basic principles of Yue Shi San Shou (the combat techniques of General Yue Fei), a style which up until then had not been taught in public and emphasized the elements of zhua da, qin na (grab and strike, hold and lock, respectively). It is said that he was taught only nine hands (techniques) by Dao Ji and then they went their separate ways, but it seems that teacher Liu had already set off on the path of his destiny.
Several years later, in a temple in the area of Xincheng in the province of Hebei, he met the monk Fa Cheng (classmate of Dao Ji in the eagle style). The monk accepted him as a student and he remained at the temple for many years, learning Yue Shi San Shou, as well as weapons’ techniques, particularly the spear.
Around 1870, during the rule of Emperor Tong Zhi (1861 – 1875) and after years of strenuous training, teacher Jun travelled to Beijing, the capital of China to teach his art. He taught Yue Shi San Shou and proved not only his skill, but also the value of the eagle style by defeting many warriors of the era. Also, due to his exceptional skill in using the spear and its long pole, he became known as “Liu, the long pole”. His victories made his famous throughout northern China and placed him among the four greatest warriors of the time in the capital, in Yang Lu Chan (in Tai Ji), Dong Hai Quan (in Ba Gua) and Guo Yun Shen (in Xing Yi).
Later, he was asked to teach in the eastern wing of the royal palace’s fortress, where he started to apply extremely harsh teaching methods. He would request that his students attack him or defend themselves, while he actually struck them in order to demonstrate how to use the technique in real combat. After several attempts, his students realized the usefulness of the new technique. It was pointless for those who were afraid of injury and rough body contact to be taught by Liu Shi Jun. Many excellent fighters trained in this method, such as Ji De, Ji Xu, Xu Liu, Liu Xue Zheng, Li Zheng Sheng and Ge Bing. Liu De Kuan, a great wushu teacher, also trained with him. After staying several years in Beijing and about two years in the province of Guangdong, Jun returned to his village, where he continued to teach until he was an old man.
He taught the eagle system publicly, promoting the system and helping in the enrichment and development of Yue Shi San Shou. He died at the age of eighty, having left his grandson Liu Cheng You an important inheritance: his years of work and knowledge.
There are numerous stories about teacher Jun. Two of these are noteworthy and provide us with an understanding of the era in which the eagle technique was shaped.
The first story tells us about one of the duels that Jun fought while he was in Beijing. A man from the province of Shandong had just arrived in the capital and he was trying to gain the reputation as a great fighter. He first passed by the schools of Yang Bang Hou and Dong Lao Gong and challenged them to a duel. The teachers refused to fight him, since according to the proverb “defeating a stranger in a fight does not add anything to our reputation, but being defeated is disgraceful” and thus decided that it was not worth getting involved in such a situation. Then, the fighter from Shangdong went to Liu Shi Jun’s school and challenged him, addressing him with offensive words. Jun surprised his students with his calm and composure –some assumed he was scared– but he thought it appropriate to act the way the teachers Yang and Dong had acted. The ambitious fighter continued to challenge him, addressing him with even more offensive words, until Jun approached him under the pretense of observing his foot techniques. While Jun was observing the fighter’s fast kicks, he suddenly spat on his feet! Stunned, the fighter looked at him, but Jun, undeterred said that he did not spit on him. On the contrary, it was the fighter’s fault for running into Jun’s spittle! Enraged, the man tried to kick Jun in the head, who grabbed his leg and threw him far away. He then approached the confused, wounded fighter and said: “I am Liu Shi Jun. How dare you challenge me with such poor gong fu? Get up and fight, if you dare.” Humiliated, the man quickly disappeared, stating that he would return to fight again.
The students understood then that apart from his unrivalled technique, Jun also had knowledge in using an opponent’s psychology to his advantage.
The story continues about fifteen years later, when a fighter that Jun seems not to recognize, arrives at his house and challenges him to a fight. Without hesitation and with no second thought to his advanced age (it is said he was over seventy years old), Jun took his place opposite the fighter. The fight lasted almost an hour without a clear winner, as the stranger’s tactic was to keep Liu Shi Jun at a distance, probably because he knew about the teacher’s great skill in grabbing. At some point, exhaustion seemed to be getting the better of Jun, so he pulled back, as if to support himself on a wall. To his opponent, this looked like the golden opportunity and he moved in to deal the final blow. Unexpectedly, the teacher broke the fighter’s elbow with a quick lock.
Collecting himself and holding his broken arm, the fighter got up to leave and said to Jun: “Do your remember me? I am the man you fought in the capital fifteen years ago”. Only then did the teacher realize who his opponent was, as well as how much danger he had put himself in.
In the second story, the opponent becomes a friend and associate. The story takes place during the last years of Jun’s stay in Beijing. Cao Guang Jian, otherwise known as “one-eyed Cao”, who was a very experience teacher and had been a business travel companion-guard (biao ke) for many years, came to question Jun’s abilities. The two teachers soon met to test each other’s skill. The fight quickly finished, with Jun grabbing Cao’s leg and throwing him down. Cao not only recognized Jun’s superiority, but also became his student and assistant, and later followed him back to his village. There he took up the role of trainer, assisting Liu Shi Jun and teaching forms such as “Wu Hu Quan” (five tigers) of the Mi Zhong Quan style.