By Marian K. Castinado
Peter Chema on the Combat Style's Dynamic Energy
Ever since the Chinese invented fireworks, they've known how to light a fuse to something small and make a big bang. Their martial arts are no exception. Movements that seem compact and contained react like dynamite when the art's intense energy is released.
Case in point: Hsing-Jing, known as the essence of Hsing-I. Made to turn the older art's already powerful techniques into street-savvy moves with massacre power, Hsing-Jing could be China's most combat-oriented traditional system.
Just ask Peter Chema. An expert in no fewer than five systems of kungfu, Chema respects the power of Chinese martial arts. You wouldn't toss packages of nitroglycerin around, and you don't want to teach potentially dangerous techniques to neophytes. Chema, therefore, is choosy about the heirs to this information, but wants to share Hsing-Jing with future generations: a promise he made to his mentor, Grandmaster Chang Dung Sheng. Now a part-time teacher, Chema has nearly one hundred students in two schools in Yonkers, New York, also the site of his upcoming mayoral race.
"Hsing-Jing is the essence of Hsing-I. Hsing-I is based on the wu-hsing, the five elements," explains Chema. "Hsing-Jing is just the grandmaster's method of doing Hsing-I. It has certain combative changes which the grandmaster thought were appropriate for combat." Hsing-Jing's origins go back to the Central Kuo Shu Academy, which was founded in 1928 at Nanking when the Chinese government decided to centralize and categorize China's martial arts. Grandmaster Chang was invited to attend the academy as a Shuai Chiao (Chinese wrestling) instructor, and also to study other Chinese martial arts styles. Still a young man, he trained with all the masters, and developed his Chang style tai chi, as well as the Hsing-Jing. In 1933, the academy sponsored a national tournament in which Grandmaster Chang emerged the undefeated heavyweight champion.
Chema is proud of his teacher's lineage, noting, "You must remember that Grandmaster Chang was undefeated in his lifetime as recorded in the annals of China's combat records. He recognized all the potential weaknesses of any fighting style. In Hsing-Jing, he took the style of Hsing-I and modified it. The changes are slight in some cases, but major in terms of orientation."
Taking the Bows
Explaining that presently only direct descendents of Grandmaster Chang can teach Hsing-Jing, Chema notes that there are probably fewer than a hundred teachers of the art in the world. Chema is not only the first generation from the grandmaster, but his adopted son, meaning that he "took the bows" in a special ceremony designating Chema as a special student and follower.
"In the late 1979s, one couldn't easily get into mainland China, so I had gone on several trips to surrounding Asian countries. I met Grandmaster Chang through an associate, and he liked the styles that I did," says Chema. "I had been a teacher of Shaolin kungfu, Bagua, Taiji and Hsing-I, but I had never heard of Shuai Chiao. Upon seeing Shuai Chiao, I couldn't believe that there was a style of Chinese throwing. I was speechless. Most people have heard of the Japanese throwing arts, but few had heard of the oldest style in history.
"I saw the potential immediately. I'd started my own martial arts career with wrestling at nine years old, so I appreciated the Chinese wrestling technique. What's more, I was impressed by Grandmaster Chang's presence. Words can't describe how effective every movement that he made was. I was introduced to Hsing-Jing two or three years later; I'd heard about it, but at this time was busy learning Shuai Chiao."
Impressed by the fact that anyone - let alone an American - knew four styles of kungfu, the grandmaster honored Chema in 1979 with the adopted son status. "I saw what he had, and I knew it was the real thing," Chema recalls. "And he saw, I suppose, my sincerity and ability. But Chang also realized that I had a big gap in my knowledge, because I didn't have the Shuai Chiao. He saw a perfect relationship. He knew that I needed him, and he also saw that in some small way I could help him in passing on this Shuai Chiao. Over the years, I've taken the course that the grandmaster would want me to, and I've handed on the Hsing-Jing, the Shuai Chiao and the Chang style taiji. When I took my bows to the grandmaster, I knew my search had ended. That would be the man I would call my master for the rest of my life. You might think of a stereotypical 'old master' as being frail, or having to rely on his quickness or adroitness to win in a real fight, but Grandmaster Chang was barrel-chested, robust, and with one shot he could kill. No one would get in front of him, even in his old age. One shot and it was death, and everyone knew that," recalls Chema, who brought Grandmaster Chang to America four or five times to spread his art, and returned to Taiwan twice before Chang passed away in 1985.
Hsing-Jing and Hsing-I
"Anyone who knows Hsing-I as a system can modify and learn the Hsing-Jing form," says Chema, and while knowing Hsing-I is a valuable background for understanding Hsing-Jing, Chema notes that, "people can just learn the Hsing-Jing, because it contains the five elements: metal, fire, water, wood and earth. Traditionally in Hsing-I, you learn each five element form; then a student of Hsing-I goes on to learn the element linking form, which links the five elements. However, the linking of the elements in Hsing-Jing is Hsing-Jing. It's more combative, and has some differences in diagonal stepping, and in how the elements are executed. It's really the essence of Hsing-I - the combat essence," he explains.
"Hsing-I is an internal style; it's also known as 'mind boxing.' There's a lot of qigong development associated with the initial posture of Hsing-I such as the opening posture or san ti stance, and the three essentials," says Chema. "One must empty himself in the Hsing-I and be totally relaxed to facilitate the chi flow. And the body must be properly aligned. Hsing-Jing is, of course, a combat style of internal kungfu; however the Hsing-Jing makes it even more potent. It raises the level of intensity. It makes stronger the original system combatively.
"A common characteristic of both Hsing-I and Hsing-Jing," says Chema, "is that on the motion of the san ti stance, when you step forward, the back leg moves forward a little bit. It's called a three-legged step. The momentum of the body moves forward, strikes, and then most of the movement is transferred to the back leg. When the back leg is moved forward, it locks you into place. This way you can use that explosive strength, coupled with closing the distance.
In the bamboo step, the back foot steps in behind your other foot. If your left foot was forward and your right foot was back, your back foot would move behind the left foot, which is either stationary or has just moved a step forward. You're in a position where your right foot is at a slight diagonal behind the left foot. This generates a lot of in-close power. It's usually associated with the wood element, peng chuan. This separates Hsing-I and Hsing-Jing from most other styles of combat, he says.
"Bruce Lee said that 'Straight hitting is based on an understanding of body structure, and the value of leverage,' and 'Straight hitting is the foundation of scientific fighting skill,'" Chema comments. "Hsing-Jing is based on the straight line. It is a fact that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and that is why Hsing-Jing is so explosively fast and direct."
Finding the Weakness
Like a stick of dynamite, the changes that take place in Hsing-Jing seem small and innocuous, but light the fuse and you'll feel the effect immediately. Chema describes, for example, a small twist of the wrist that makes all the difference in a punch's power:
"In the element of the heng chuan - which is the mother element, the earth - the way you strike with it normally in Hsing-I, the arm comes across the body, and then the strike is delivered with the fist closed and the back of the hand down," Chema says, explaining the traditional method. "The striking part of the hand is your thumb and first finger, which are known as the tiger's mouth.
"However, if you make your fist with your right hand, and then turn your fingers up, the elbow drops in. You're hitting with that circular part of the hand, with the thumb and the first finger - that would be facing right. Your fingers are up, and the back of your hand is down. The arm would be parallel to the ground. Traditionally the strike would be to the middle part of the body, the ribs. As you deliver that and turn your hand so that the back of your fist is down, you can feel a little bit of pull in your elbow; if I twist your fist a little bit clockwise, you will feel your whole body pulling. I could throw you down like that. When you perform heng chuan that way, which is the traditional way, the combat weakness is there. A quick practitioner could grab the hand when it is in that position. Your arm and hand positions are ripe for either Shuai Chiao or chin-na techniques," Chema explains.
"In Hsing-Jing, however, you would rotate your fist a quarter counterclockwise, so that the tiger's mouth is up. The heng chuan is thrown the same way, but the grandmaster preferred to use it striking with the back of the fist, rather than with the tiger's mouth. Then it becomes a stronger method of striking. Plus, it doesn't make you as susceptible to the chin-na or the Shuai Chiao attack. It becomes a far more combat-oriented and less vulnerable move."
In other examples of Hsing-Jing differences, Chema notes that the "crushing move" is opened up a bit more in Hsing-Jing, and that the hands are not always held in the traditional Hsing-I pocket, which is at the sides of the waist, but are in a more combat defensive position to the front of the body.
"The traditional form of Hsing-I contains a kick to the waist combined with an opposite side punch - a move known in traditional Hsing-I as dragon and tiger intercept. But in the Hsing-Jing, that hand motion becomes a block which is very similar to a boxer's block where the arm bends and the hand comes up to the head to absorb the head blows," Chema explains. Hsing-Jing also keeps the kicks very low as does traditional Hsing-I. "Higher kicks are very easy for a man to catch and throw the practitioner off balance," says Chema. "There's not a whole lot of kicking; it primarily uses hand techniques. It's similar in Hsing-Jing, but in Hsing-Jing, the grandmaster taught how to turn some of the kicks into Shuai Chiao iron broom leg sweeps.
"What's becoming more apparent these days is that many of the Chinese practitioners long ago in grandmaster's time, cross-trained. They didn't just study one style, and many of them had Shuai Chiao grappling experience. Lower kicks, coupled with the hands, are just more combat oriented," says Chema.
Another "new" development present in Hsing-Jing is a rapid, pivoting jump from the horse stance, turning the body 180 degrees. The movement is executed simultaneously with a strike. "This isn't emphasized in the regular Hsing-I. It adds explosive dynamics to the move that you're delivering. One of the main characteristics of the Hsing-Jing, and also of the Hsing-I, is that many times, we block and strike simultaneously. It's explosive. You meet and in many cases redirect the opponent's energy to enhance your strike.
"The stepping is very direct in regular Hsing-I, but in Hsing-Jing, the way the moves come together actually adds to the speed. Hsing-I already takes place very quickly, as opposed to other internal styles such as taiji. Movements are always executed at full combat speed. There are also explosive breaks of locks and holds, where if an opponent grabs you, you escape and break his hold while striking in a burst of power," says Chema.
"Grandmaster Chang stressed the five elements - combat elements that Hsing-I is based on - and all of those can be modified for combat purposes. The first element, for example, pi chuan, is generally shown as a downward strike with the higher hand using falling chi; the lower hand is blocking at the dantien. But when you start to change the angle, instead of coming down straight, you strike at various angles with the side of the open hand. This gives us combat variety for striking various parts of the opponent's body. Another Hsing-Jing variation using pi chuan is to move in closer to the opponent and strike with the entire forearm. It's almost like using a baseball bat," remarks Chema.
"When Grandmaster would sit in a chair for more than a few minutes, he would begin to move his hands in a Shuai Chiao circle, tracing the patterns of combat techniques," Chema recalls. "He ate and slept kungfu. If he saw a fighting movement that had a potential combat weakness, he made no bones about it. And he made no bones about the flaws he saw in Hsing-I. And don't forget his main system of Shuai Chiao, which is thousands of years old. Grandmaster Chang could look at any style and see its weaknesses and strengths. He has such a plethora of combat knowledge, and this should be embraced by the practitioners of internal styles. Grandmaster has the history, knowledge and tradition to actually make changes."
Like father, like son, as Chema has decided to make some changes of his own. In addition to being a kungfu teacher, Chema has been a councilman in the city of Yonkers, New York, and will run for mayor this fall. "I've been involved in politics since 1979, and I find it very exciting," he says. "Many of the same strategies that are used in martial arts can be used in politics. I draw heavily from Sun Tzu's Art of War in my political strategies, in much the same way that many martial artists study the classics. I find being in government to be very rewarding; done properly, you can help a lot of people - people who are not happy with what they see, and are looking for positive change. Just as I throw myself completely into my martial arts, I also throw myself completely into my government dealings. The government of Yonkers has been very aloof and removed from the people, and just as I bring martial arts to my students, I feel that the city government should be more accessible to the people.
"Both martial arts and government are part of my life. Many years ago, the Chinese scholar was also a poet, musician, a politician; there were other aspects of his life that gave him balance. I believe that man is a total being.
Click here for Feature Articles from this issue and others published in 1996 .
Written by Marian K. Castinado for KUNGFUMAGAZINE.COM