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Jing Wu Men - Saying Farewell !

We are almost at the hundred year point since the Shanghai Jing Wu Men (Chin Woo Men) school of martial arts was opened. It was born out of a China pushed violently into the modern era by imperial plunder, heading towards the republican revolution and hungry for nationalism and new fighting spirit. Now it is all but gone. What remains is confusion, a confusion that is gladly exploited and worsened with each year that passes. But if you look hard enough the art, the ‘kung fu’ still remains.

The now legendary Huo Yuanjia came to Shanghai from Tianjin and laid the foundations for Jingwu. It was first registered in 1910. The martial arts knowledge in China was vast and spread through all of China’s huge regions. The Jing Wu school was to be a national training centre capturing the famous styles. Master Huo passed away right at the start and it was his first students who kick started the school. They invited famous masters to teach and develop a unique syllabus which was to be the Jing Wu’s lasting innovation.

The four main styles, paired with their famous teachers, were Er Lang Men (Zhao Lianhe), Tang Lang Men (Luo Guangyu), Wu Shi Taiji Quan (Wu Jianquan) and Ying Zhao Fanzi Men (Chen Zizheng). It is important to recognize here, so we can understand the future, that these kungfu styles were from their own traditions. This is not Jing Wu Kungfu but, for example, Ying Zhao Fanzi Men being taught at the Jing Wu school. The masters' own innovation was to invent a syllabus of kung fu for general study. The most famous part being the “ten basic forms” taken from Er Lang Men and Ying Zhao Men. These “ten basic forms” are now the main point of identification for “Jing Wu schools”.

The next major development was the opening of regional schools and then the spread abroad. Jingwu had opened several branch schools early in its development. This was vital as the onset of war was to close the Shanghai school, as it was known, forever. Famous schools developed in Guang Zhou and Hong Kong and also farther afield in Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.  These first schools were developed by the Shanghai organization and visited regularly. This must be clearly understood as different to the next stage of development: students of the kung fu who opened their own schools and called them Jing Wu. This includes with or without ‘permission’ but more importantly – schools opened after that original Jing Wu organization had closed and no longer existed.

With the full onset of World War Two the Shanghai Jing Wu was closed. The original organization stopped. It was never to exist again in the same form. So what are schools that we see today calling themselves Jing Wu? After the war the original Jing Wu locations took very different directions. Schools like Hong Kong retained a lot of the teachers and knowledge. They were able to press on as before on their own focusing on teaching the next generation of private students. They became independent private kung fu schools. In the mainland, the Communist revolution was about to start the final phase of Jing Wu’s metamorphosis.

The new government decided to take kung fu and do something with it. By the end of the 1950’s they had made a system of national competition officially named “Zhonghua Wushu”. It was a performance art of gymnastic skill based on the movements of old kung fu training forms. A separate sport of ring fighting called Sanda was later introduced but this was not related to the movements of Modern Wushu at all. The Jing Wu in Shanghai started to teach again, but Modern Wushu was compulsory. The link was through their teachers, who had trained the old styles before and still taught some of the knowledge. This new incarnation was of no other relation to the original organization and would have no formal contact with the outside world until after the Cultural Revolution finished in 1976.

In the years after 1949 there was an increase in immigration to Europe and America through Hong Kong. Kung fu students trained in post-war independent Jing Wu schools were moving to Chinatowns around the world and opening schools with the name Jing Wu. By the end of the 1980’s their next generation of students had Jing Wu schools in other towns and cities. With no formal Jing Wu organization existing after 1945 these schools identified themselves mainly around three principles. The lineage: their great grand masters had come through the Jing Wu schools. The “Ten Basic Sets”: they knew and taught the Jing Wu basic forms in the same order. The “Jing Wu Spirit”: this can be thought of in two ways, the actual code of conduct written down and used in the first Jing Wu schools and the idea of continuing the mission of Jing Wu – to spread kung fu – in a spiritual sense.

Today the major players in the Jing Wu legacy are fading. After the cultural revolution, the Shanghai Jing Wu got its second re-opening as a tourist attraction. The management used the money to build an apartment block on the site and the school mainly teaches Modern Wushu. Not long after that they contacted other schools around the world and started to ask for yearly fees. This is strange enough, there is no global Jing Wu organisation and no legally defined name (most American schools romanise it as Chin Woo) or definition of what a Jing Wu school even is. But stranger still is that the schools, such as Singapore or Hong Kong, accepted this.  Away from the 1949 revolution and Modern Wushu, the outer schools retained much more knowledge than the new Shanghai school. This has led to the even stranger situation of the Shanghai school releasing a DVD of the ‘Ten Basic Sets’. The DVD is supposed to re-standardise the syllabus but is clearly filled with errors to the more experienced subordinate schools.  None of them dare to point this out for fear of embarrassment or ruining their new relationships.

What we have now is a world full of schools that use or refer in name to the Jing Wu of old. They are linked only by their own kung fu history and by nostalgic feeling. Between all these schools are a number of  new alliances each one as valid or as invalid as the next. Between the four styles and 100 years of change, any two modern Jing Wu schools could be completely different and unrecognizable as part of an organization. They do all have one thing in common: they are only a shadow of the past. None compare to the pre-war Jing Wu, with hundreds of students proudly training full-time for excellence and pride – gaining fame throughout the country and the world. The Jing Wu is long gone. All we have now is the kung fu and our integrity. We must keep teaching and not stay silent when shown low standards, to keep our face or money.

If we do, then the Jing Wu spirit is gone too.

Kai Uwe Pel

Shanghai - August 15, 2006


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