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Cai Longyun: Wushu Masters You Should Know

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CAI LONGYUN: WUSHU MASTERS YOU SHOULD KNOW

By: Matthew Lee

Written December 20th, 2015

“‘Some people know taolu (form chinese).  Some people only know sanda (fighting).  Surely, if you know both, it is ideal, but from the competition point of view, you only choose one…If you really want to be an expert at martial arts, you must learn taolu and sanda.  If you only want to train for health or only for fighting, then you only need to concentrate in one area.’” —The Late Grandmaster Cai Longyun, Kung Fu Magazine “The Big Dragon with the Magic Fists”

Abstract: This is the first edition of a segment of write-ups entitled “Wushu Masters You Should Know.”  This series is dedicated to the recognition of great Wushu masters who have made great contributions to Chinese Wushu.  Sections of each edition will be divided into the individual’s background history, perspectives on Wushu, and why they are worthy of recognition.  These Wushu masters are not to be confused with modern Wushu coaches, athletes and champions.  This specific edition will recognize Cai Longyun.

On December 19th, 2015, Wushu Grandmaster Cai Longyun passed away.  On November 13th, he underwent heart surgery, and needed to have another one.  Cai Longyun was one of the few real Wushu masters in the world, truly deserving of the title “Wushu Grandmaster.”  This is what makes his passing that much sadder.  If you don’t know who this man is, you should.  And this is why I have decided to write about him right now, to help spread recognition of this great master in the wake of his passing.

In an effort to recognize such Wushu masters, I have decided to start a segment I’d like to call, “Wushu Masters You Should Know.”  In this context, the use of the term “Wushu master” does not refer simply to coaches, athletes and champions of modern Wushu, who have only represented Wushu in the sport, performance and competitive sense, and will instead only be reserved for those who have actually earned the title in a complete traditional martial arts sense, as I have found in my personal research of Wushu.  Initially, I was planning on starting this segment with a write-up on another particular Wushu Grandmaster, who I definitely plan on including in this segment, but considering the time and opportunity of this specific instance, I decided it would be appropriate to start with this particular Wushu Grandmaster.  This is the first edition of “Wushu Masters You Should Know.”  This is Cai Longyun.

Background History

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Cai Longyun was born in 1928 in Shanghai province, China, and was a Grandmaster of the traditional Wushu style of Huaquan (華拳; huáquán).  His family, a long line of martial artists who passed down the Huaquan style, was from Jining city, Shandong province, China.  He endured very strict, and from a typical American and Western cultural perspective, some would say “abusive” training, under his father, Cai Guiqin.  He is quoted as saying in the Kung Fu Magazine article “The Big Dragon with the Magic Fists” by Gigi Oh and Gene Ching, “‘I even doubted if he was my real father and thought about running away from home many times.  I was only stopped by my mother’s love.’”  To this day, Cai Longyun was one of the few holders of 9th duan (段; duàn, formal rank or level), the highest rank in the duan ranking system for Wushu in China, which is similar to the formal dan ranking systems of Japanese and Korean martial arts system, and was one of the first awarded the rank when the duan ranking system was first established in 1998.

Additionally, Cai Longyun was famous for fighting, and winning public matches against Western fighters in his adolescence.  That’s right.  This was a real Wushu master who actually fought, and won, public matches against Western fighters.  Sound familiar?  To fans of kung fu movies, this sounds uncannily similar to the fictional stories of Huo Yuanjia, or the trope of the heroic Chinese fighter beating the bully Westerners in many typical kung fu films.  The only difference is, this was actually real.  There is photographic proof of such matches happening, and I’m pretty sure Photoshop didn’t exist back then to fabricate such stories.  What’s more, he did it with boxing gloves on.  This is a clear example that contradicts the common criticism that the environment of combat sports and competitive fighting, such as rules and gloves, take away the fighting and combat application of Chinese martial arts.  This combination of traditional Wushu mastery, knowledge and fighting experience, is what makes Cai Longyun great as an exceptional master of Wushu.  In the Wushu community, Cai Longyun has been dubbed 神拳大龙 (shénquándàlóng, literally “spirit/god fist, big/large dragon”), which has been translated as “The Big Dragon with the Magic Fists”, as seen in the eponymous Kung Fu Magazine article of the same name.

Perspectives on Wushu

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With such a strong traditional Wushu background, you would think that such a person would intuitively be against modern Wushu.  However, nothing could be further from the truth.  Those people who have done their research would know that Cai Longyun was in fact one of the many contributors behind the standardization of modern Wushu.  This should also be clear in Huaquan’s influence as one of the base styles of modern Wushu Changquan (长拳; chángquán, Long Fist), the most representative style of modern Wushu.  As both a traditional Wushu master and architect of modern Wushu, Cai Longyun defends the existence of modern Wushu against its illogical criticisms, as he understands what modern Wushu is, and more importantly, what it is not.  Modern Wushu has been criticized by traditional martial artists, including traditional Wushu practitioners, dubbed “traditionalists”, for simplifying and watering down traditional Chinese martial arts for standardization in competition, being too commercialized for sport purposes, and for separating the skill sets of forms work and sparring into separate specializations for athletes.  But Cai Longyun easily explains the justified reasoning for this.  “‘If we don’t promote competition wushu, then that would be bad…Without a competition wushu, and a recognized standard taiji, you would be giving out too many awards…Part of what makes traditional martial arts so special is that there are so many variations and styles.  But this can hurt competition wushu and the chance for wushu to become a world sport.’”

Cai Longyun’s knowledge and understanding of Wushu also provides insight into Wushu’s direct application in fighting.  His fighting experience attests to that.  Firstly, he explains that forms and fighting are two different skill sets.  “‘…when you execute a straight punch in taolu [forms], you must also have a good bow stance.  But in combat, you cannot wait to get into a good bow stance and then punch.  You must just punch.  You have no time to set up perfect footwork.’”  In another Kung Fu Magazine article, “Huaquan” by Emilio Alpanseque, he also says, “Even in my early days of training, when we spoke about routine practice and fighting training, both were clearly defined as separate entities.”  However, he, as with other Wushu masters, also suggests how to make modern Wushu a legitimate modern martial arts system, not just a simple sport.  “‘Some people know taolu (form chinese).  Some people only know sanda (fighting).  Surely, if you know both, it is ideal, but from the competition point of view, you only choose one…If you really want to be an expert at martial arts, you must learn taolu and sanda.  If you only want to train for health or only for fighting, then you only need to concentrate in one area.’”

Why This Person Matters

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So why does this person matter?  Well, first of all, his role as one of the various Wushu masters behind the creation and standardization of modern Wushu should be most apparent to modern Wushu athletes.  Therefore, his significance as a forefather of modern Wushu is something all modern Wushu practitioners should acknowledge and recognize.  Also, as previously established, he is famous for winning public matches against Western fighters.  Thus, he has legitimately proven himself outside of his Wushu system, something that is rare in the martial arts world, especially in the Wushu community.  Finally, he has published various books on Wushu that have been shared to Westerners, which should explain both his ability to contribute to modern Wushu and his fighting experience.  And it is his understanding of Wushu in every aspect that should contribute to our own.  He is one of the various Wushu masters whom I have quoted multiple times in my write-ups about Wushu, which should attest to his expertise and knowledge.

Even Bruce Lee himself has clearly been influenced by Cai Longyun.  Bruce’s first book has virtually copied all the leg training methods from Cai Longyun’s Wushu books, with a whole chapter of stretching and kicks, including illustrations, taken from Cai Longyun’s own material.  As shown Bruce Lee’s other scholarly materials, which were published posthumously, Bruce even directly mentions Huaquan, and included pictures of Cai Longyun in his scrapbook.  This goes to show that Cai Longyun’s knowledge, and by extension Wushu’s foundation has far-reaching influences, and has validity in popular martial arts.  Wushu can, and has, stood as a legitimate part of the martial arts world, and this is due in no small part to Cai Longyun.

As such, Cai Longyun is someone who is worthy of representing Wushu in a complete sense physically, martially and intellectually, not just in the sport and competition sense.  Again, this goes back to the misuse of the word “master” to refer to coaches, athletes and champions of modern Wushu.  However, most of these so-called Wushu “masters” are more often than not modern Wushu athletes, who could only represent Wushu in the sport and competition sense; while this is not to put down the ability, skill and experience of modern Wushu athletes, their expertise is more often than not only restricted to this one aspect of Wushu, and not complete in terms of actual martial arts foundation, fighting ability, and intellectual understanding.  There are very few modern Wushu athletes that I believe could adequately represent Wushu in a complete sense, and they are not the Wushu champions and athletes that people normally would think of today.  However, there are plenty of Wushu masters that could more than represent Wushu in all of these aspects, and Cai Longyun is definitely on that list.

An official statement was recently released on chinesekungfu.com.cn, reads in Chinese:

“我们敬爱的蔡龙云大师, 于2015年12月19日晚11:40在上海驾鹤西去, 终年87岁。  他是我们武术界的楷模, 他将永远活在我们心中, 愿蔡老一路走好。  我们将继承蔡老未完的事业, 将优秀的中华武术文化发扬光大。

武术泰斗蔡龙云大师追悼会, 定于2015年12月24日下午2:00-3:00, 在上海龙华殡仪馆银河厅举行。”

(“Wǒmen jìng’ài de Cài Lóngyún dàshī, yú 2015nián 12yuè 19rì wǎn11:40 zài Shànghǎi jiàhèxīqù, zhōngnián 87suì.  Tā shì wǒmen wǔshù jiè de kǎimó, tā jiāng yǒngyuǎn huó zài wǒmen xīnzhōng, yuàn Cài lǎo yīlù zǒu hǎo.  Wǒmen jiāng jìchéng Cài lǎo wèiwán de shìyè, jiāng yōuxiù de zhōnghuá wǔshù wénhuà fāyángguāngdà.

Wǔshù tàidǒu Cài Lóngyún dàshī zhuīdào huì, dìng yú 2015nián 12yuè 24rì xiàwǔ2:00-3:00, zài Shànghǎi Lónghuá bìnyíguǎn yínhé tīng jǔxíng.”)

I have taken the time to translate this statement into English, which has been translated as:

“Our beloved Grandmaster Cai Longyun, on December 19th, 2015, at 11:40pm, has passed away in Shanghai, at the age of 87.  He is our Wushu society’s model, he will always live in our hearts, [we] wish [for] elder Cai’s journey [to be] well.  We will carry on elder Cai’s unfinished business, to develop Chinese Wushu culture.

Wushu magnate, Grandmaster Cai Longyun’s memorial service, is scheduled for December 24th, 2015, from 2:00-3:00pm, at Shanghai Longhua funeral parlor, Milky Way reception hall.”

As everyone should clearly see, Cai Longyun is a real Wushu master in every sense of the word.  His passing is truly a loss to the Wushu community, and his memory and influence will be treasured by us all.  In the spirit of sharing great knowledge and information, I have decided to include educational and relevant links at the end of this write-up, for those who are interested in learning more about this great master.

Kung Fu Magazine article “The Big Dragon with the Magic Fists”: http://www.kungfumagazine.com/magazine/article.php?article=625

Official Statement on chinesekungfu.com.cn (Chinese): http://www.chinesekungfu.com.cn/html/1512/1ad19882-8ba3-4aae-9c30-73da185d6eba.htm

Article on thepaper.cn (Chinese): http://www.thepaper.cn/newsDetail_forward_1411314

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Matt began practicing Wushu at the age of 7 under US Wushu Academy, and is a coach of the UMBC Wushu Club. He has held positions in national, international, and local modern Wushu competitions, and is currently training in Sanshou/Sanda and traditional Chen Style Taijiquan. He is a three-time consecutive US Wushu Team member and most recently Pan American Champion, and is continually trying to improve himself both as a competitive athlete and as a real martial artist. If you have any questions you would like to ask Matt, please email him at matthewlee@jiayoowushu.com.

  • Eliot Prisby

    Important correction: Cai Longyun practiced Huaquan, which translates to “China Fist” or “Essence Fist,” a northern long fist style originally from Hua Mountain in Shaanxi Province that originated in the Song Dynasty. The style that you reference is commonly referred to as Meihuaquan (“Plum Flower Fist,”) which was prevalent in the Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces during the Qing Dynasty, making it a much newer style than Huaquan.

    • Matthew Lee

      Hi! The English translation is in parenthesis has been taken out to avoid any confusion. Thanks!

      -Matt Lee