1929 Hangzhou Leitai Tournament

One the best posts I’ve read (and re-read), especially this gold:

“Zhang Hongjun said “What does it mean to have gongfu? The 1929 Leitai tournament in Hangzhou is a classic example of how we should understand the term ‘gongfu’.”

In the tournament, Cao Yanhai (a student of the Central Guoshu Institute who eventually placed fourth) met the iron palm master Liu Gaosheng. Liu Gaosheng was famous in Shanghai for his mastery of iron palm and Ziranmen (Natural Gate); he was the head trainer of security guards for Shanghai’s 4 largest department stores and had close to 3,000 students, and was one of the favourites to win the tournament. Liu was not only a master of iron palm, he was also adept at hard qigong. Meeting such a tough opponent in the first round put Cao under pressure. At the beginning of the bout, Liu immediately launched a palm strike at Cao. Cao took the strike, thinking to gauge Liu’s power, only to find that half his body went numb – he could barely withstand it! Fortunately,Cao was calm under pressure and didn’t crumble. He took a deep breath, shook himself and hurriedly changed his tactics. Instead of taking Liu on head-on, Cao evaded as much as possible, trying to use sweeps and low kicks to attack Liu’s legs. This tactic helped Cao to go on the offensive. In the second round, Cao saw his opportunity and laid Liu out with a punch, winning the match. The next day, Zhao asked Liu how he could have lost: Liu was so vexed he punched the ground, breaking a brick in half, saying “Dammit, dammit”.

Purely from looking at the results, Liu Gaosheng’s gongfu was no match for Cao Yanhai; but Cao Yanhai could not split a brick – how can we explain this result? The reason is, Cao Yanhai often sparred, so he was good at adapting his tactics. Liu, on the other hand, rarely fought: day-to-day practice only involved testing his palm strikes, which of course most normal people could not withstand. In the bout, even though Liu’s palm strikes were devastatingly powerful, he could not hit Cao, instead being knocked down. Thus, one should not mistake hard qigong for combat skill. In a real encounter, the winner will be he who reacts faster, hits harder. Li Jinglin, the Wudang sword master, head of the Central Guoshu Institute and organiser of the 2 Leitai tournaments, once said “If I were to be knocked down, I should respect my opponent’s gongfu: we should recognise that ‘he who can knock me down has gongfu’”.”

Masters of the IMA

My recent translation of an article on Pei Xirong sparked my interest  in the 1929 Leitai tournament in Hangzhou, which seems to have been the largest bare-hand Leitai competition in recent history. The following translation draws on several sources, mainly here and here .

“In early 1929, the vice-dean of the Central Martial Arts Academy, Li Jinglin, wrote to the heads and gatekeepers of various martial arts from around the country, intimating that he wished to organise an ‘All-China Martial Arts Gala’, in order to inspire more Chinese people to learn martial arts. His proposal was eagerly received. On 3 May 1929, the Zhejiang provincial government decided that in November of that same year, they would hold a ‘Zhejiang Guoshu  & Entertainment Gala’ (popularly dubbed the ‘National Leitai Tournament’) in Hangzhou. In August of that year, the Zhejiang Guoshuguan was established and took on the responsibility of organising the tournament…

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