Guo Shilei is a young martial arts teacher in the city of Dongguan, in Guangdong (Canton) province. He teaches the 3 big CIMA: taiji, bagua and xingyi, but I decided to include him in this blog because his bagua comes from one of Dong Haichuan’s favourite students, Ma Weiqi (nicknamed ‘coal Ma’). His lineage comes down to him through: Ma Weiqi – Yang Rulin – Hu Laiyi – Wang Jiaofu – Shi Chongying – Guo Shilei. The following extract was translated from an article in the Guangzhou Ribao (Guangzhou Daily).
AN INTERVIEW WITH GUO SHILEI
For many people, the kind of gongfu that can throw people 3 or 4 metres away sounds like the stuff of wuxia novels. But our reporter witnessed such gongfu with his own eyes yesterday in People’s Park in Dongguan, in Guangdong province, in the form of Guo Shilei, a young master of Yang style taiji and Ma style bagua.
An Unassuming Exterior Hides Extraordinary Skills
Yesterday at around 9am our reporter managed to find Mr Guo in People’s Park. On first impressions, one would never guess that Guo is in fact an accomplished martial arts adept: apart from his short beard and keen gaze, there is nothing to distinguish him from any other thin, short young man.
In order to get a glimpse of Guo’s skills, our reporter asked his disciples to attack him, only to see them repelled backwards more than 3 meters by a simple twist and shove from a motionless Guo Shilei.
Seeing that our reporter was astonished by this display, Guo had our reporter experience his nei li (internal power) for himself. He told our reporter that he would only use a tenth of his full strength, and that this could not do any lasting damage. Even though our reporter took up a ready stance, a light pat on the shoulder from Guo was enough to shake his entire body, it took him several mintutes to recover.
In order to test Guo’s gongfu, our reporter asked a well-built onlooker to punch Guo in the stomach. The onlooker rushed up to Guo from a distance of 3 metres and punched Guo in the belly, only to be knocked down to the floor, complaining that his fist hurt; only after 10 more tries (with exactly the same results) did the onlooker give up.
Shaolin Iron Arm to Neijiaquan
“My family is from Pingding Shan in Henan province, but later moved to Zhengzhou (the provincial capital). I was really weak when I was little, so I started to learn external martial arts like Shaolin boxing. When I was around 10 or so, I used to love practicing iron arm, I would knock my arms against trees whenever I could. ” Upon inspection by our reporter, Guo’s forearm was indeed extremely hard.
” When I was 15 I met my teacher Shi Chongying and, thinking that my iron arm was already pretty awesome, I asked him to hit my arm. To my surprise, a light touch from him was enough to numb my arm for an entire afternoon. After that experience, I was determined to study neijiaquan (meaning xingyi, bagua and taiji) with Shi.
Guo Shilei’s idol, his teacher Shi Chongying
Guo Shilei idol is his teacher, Shi Chongying, a 66-year old retired martial arts professor from Zhengzhou University.
“I can’t mention my teacher without talking about my shiye (grand-teacher) Wang Jiaofu. Wang was from Shandong and had originally studied praying mantis before he met Hu Laiyi. He studied from Hu for 34 years, right up until his passing. Wang was a strict, strange man, who in teaching his students would never say something more than 3 times. Even so, he produced a fair number of excellent martial artists.”
“My teacher took his training really seriously, a lot of other people thought he was a weirdo. For example, one time he was taking the train with his colleagues, instead of playing cards with the others he locked himself in the toilet to practice his gongfu! Also, my teacher is a bit of a hermit, he very rarely makes public appearances or enters martial arts tournaments, so the only people who know about him are other martial arts masters.”
The Search for High-Level Masters
After he graduated from college, Guo worked as a biology teacher at a middle school. Almost no-one knew that he was a martial arts expert, nor did he mention it to anyone. It was in this period of his life that he used his holidays to look for other high-level martial artists all over China. In his search, he visited Sichuan, Yunnan, Hebei, Shenzhen amongst others.
The real masters are not the ones producing the DVDs, they’re hidden amongst ordinary people. In a farming village, that old man using a walking stick to walk could very well be a martial arts master who could kill a man with one blow.In my search, I met 5 or 6 real high-level masters, but the problem is they were all getting on in years by the time I met them. On one occasion when I was in Shenzhen’s Lychee Park (Lizhi Gongyuan) I met a 76-year old gentleman surnamed Fei who had practiced taiji for over 50 years. That day, he was pushing hands with some other people in the park, when someone urged me to have a push with him. The moment he made contact with me, he said “You’ve been practicing for at least 20 years”. This kind of ability (to discern how long someone has been practicing) is something that only comes with mastery.”
“That said, however, I still think that the highest-level master I’ve ever met is my own teacher. Fighting him is like fighting a shadow, I can never land a blow on him, yet his every move is targeting a vital point.”
Coming to Dongguan for his Girlfriend
“So why did you come to Dongguan then?” said our reporter, curiously. “I came to be with my girlfried, who works in the import/export trade, at a company at Hongmei [a district of Dongguan]. When I first got here, I worked in a factory, but I discovered that I had no time to practice my martial arts that way. So instead, I opened a Tae Kwon Do studio in Hongmei, I already have 30 students.”
“Why don’t you teach taiji?” “At the very beginning I performed a bajiquan routine, only to have a lot of the audience say, “Oh, so this is what Tae Kwon Do looks like!”, which both annoyed and saddened me. In order to make ends meet, I had no choice but to choose this fashionable name. But as long as the students are willing to study taiji, I’m willing to teach.”
Accepting 3 Disciples in People’s Park
“I’ve been practicing in People’s Park for about a month now, I’ve already accepted 3 disciples.” Guo told our reporter frustratedly: “A lot of the onlookers in the park think that what I do with my students is faked. Actually, the taiji that you see in most DVDs, parks, etc is, at most, just ‘taiji cao’ (calisthenics), not real kungfu.” Guo is extremely worried about the future of traditional kungfu: “Nowadays, flashy routines are easy to teach and marketable, whereas real kungfu is difficult to teach and no-one wants to learn it. Martial arts in this country have become mere performance, there are fewer and fewer teachers with real skill.
A lot of people who see me push my students 3 or 4 metres away can’t believe it. In reality, it’s not that mysterious, it’s just the borrowing skill (jie li) of internal martial arts. For example, a Spanish bullfighter would never try and go head-to-head with the bull, but rather evades the bull’s charge and then delivers the crucial blow. When I patted your shoulder just now, the fajin had started in my legs much earlier, by the time it got to my hands it had become spiral power. The penetrative nature of the fajin is what caused you to feel pain. Actually, real kungfu is about body mechanics, it has a scientific basis in biology, physics and mechanics. As long as your method is right and you practice hard enough, you will succeed. The problem is a lot of people nowadays don’t check whether their method is correct, they think that they can ‘get it’ just by watching DVDs. In actuality, there’s no substitute for real hands-on teaching from a master.”
The ‘Art’ in Martial Arts
“Aren’t you afraid that hoodlums will use the skills they learn here to hurt people?” asked one of the onlookers. Guo smiled and said “Martial artists must also learn martial ethics (wude). Fortunately, real kungfu is not something you can learn in a couple of months, so I can normally get a handle on someone’s character during that time. If I sense that they’re bad people, I stop teaching them. My greatest wish is to spread and promote real Chinese kungfu.
Actually, martial arts are deep, profound arts, they have a lot in common with painting, calligraphy and chinese medicine. I hope I can follow in my teacher’s footsteps, pass on real kungfu down to the next generation and make people pay more attention to martial arts.”