Chang Tung Sheng

Chang Tung Sheng was born in 1908, the Chinese lunar year of the monkey, in Hebei province of Mainland China. From the time he was quite young he was already well known for his shuai chiao skills. In Bao-Ding County of Hebei province, he was the undefeated shuai chiao champion. He went on to compete in 2 all-China national tournaments and won both. The first tournament was the 5th National Kuo Shu Tournament in 1933 before he joined the army. There were over 300 participants of all martial arts styles from all over China and he won the heavyweight division - earning the nickname “Flying Butterfly”. The second was in 1948 when he entered the 7th National Athletic Meet representing the army. At 40 years of age, he again won first place in the heavyweight division.

When the government of the Republic of China established the Central Martial Arts Academy of the National Institute in Nanking, China he was appointed as one of the first officials there. After a career with the army, he moved to Taiwan in 1948 where he taught at the Central Police University for over 30 years. He was the chief official for the national shuai chiao tournaments in Taiwan, and also traveled to the United States to preside over several national-level shuai chiao tournaments.

Chang Tung Sheng was born in Bao Ding – a city in Hebei province of Mainland China where the Chang family had a business selling roast chicken. The Chang’s used vegetables and sauces produced by a neighbor, Zhang Feng Yan (left) – who lived just a few streets away, for their roast chicken business. Zhang Feng Yan was a very successful businessman, who also happened to be a shuai chiao champion. Zhang Feng Yan and his teacher, Ping Jing Yi were both famous in northern China for their shuai chiao.

Zhang Feng Yan's business produced special foods such as bean paste, soy sauce, chili sauce, and various kinds of pickled vegetables. He lived only a few streets away from the Chang family - just a short walk. Zhang Feng Yan had a big yard with a large garden in which he grew the beans and vegetables for the business. In the yard there were many large clay pots used to make his products. Kids from the neighborhood loved to go there to get something to eat and play hide and seek amongst the clay pots. Because the business was quite large Zhang Feng Yan needed help with the chores. He would get the kids from the neighborhood to help him out and at the same time teach them shuai chiao. That was the way Chang Tung Sheng started to learn shuai chiao when he was 7 years old.

Although Zhang Feng Yan had regular workers at his business, he had Chang Tung Sheng and the kids who were studying shuai chiao do special chores that would help to train their strength and durability. Zhang Feng Yan’s training methods were rather ingenious in that not only did they serve a specific purpose in shuai chiao training, but they also accomplished necessary tasks to ensure the success of his business. One of the chores the kids had to do was to work the bellows. When making sauces, beans must first be cooked before letting them ferment. Zhang Feng Yan’s business was quite large and that meant boiling huge pots of beans, which required a very hot fire. In order to make the fire hot enough they would use huge bellows to blow on the fire. Chang Tung Sheng would take turns with the other kids operating the bellows. Squeezing the handles of the bellows together repeatedly, in addition to fanning the fire, built upper body and arm strength.

            Another example of Zhang Feng Yan’s method of training through work was lifting heavy crocks. For his business, Zhang Feng Yan had to use huge crocks to ferment vegetables. These crocks full of vegetables had to be stirred or mixed from time to time in order for the vegetables to ferment uniformly. Zhang Feng Yan required Chang Tung Sheng to use a special movement to mix the contents. He would grasp the crock at the mouth with his thumbs on the inside, lift it off the ground, and use a sharp lifting and twisting motion to jostle the contents while visualizing using the same movement to grasp an opponent’s waist and offset his balance prior to a throw.

Also, when making certain thick sauces such as bean paste, cooked beans had to be strained through a cloth. One method commonly used to do this is to put the beans in a cloth and put a large rock or weight on the top to slowly squeeze the water out. However, Zhang Feng Yan had Chang Tung Sheng accomplish the same thing more quickly by putting the beans into a long, narrow cloth bag and having him repeatedly swing the bag through the air using a powerful twisting movement of the waist. At the end of its trajectory he would snap it to an abrupt stop causing the water to be squeezed out. There were several different movements used to do this corresponding to different shuai chiao techniques.

            Chang Tung Sheng went on to join the army. While in the army, he served as a special agent in a group of elite paratroopers called “Hong Chiang”, which means “The Red Wall”. Originally an ordinary member of the group, he went on to become the commander of the unit. During his travels with the army he came into contact with many top martial artists from around China and learned kung fu from many of them. Chang himself estimates that he learned from over 50 different kung fu masters. He did not learn from them as a student, but rather on equal terms. In those days, if a person was a friend it was common to “test” each others skill rather fight a challenge match to determine who was better. If each person felt that the other’s skill was of a high enough level, they might decide to exchange knowledge. This is referred to as “jau huan”, which literally means “teaching exchange”. When other martial arts masters felt the speed and power of Chang’s shuai chiao they were eager to learn from him in exchange for their own special skills. Due to Chang’s level of skill and the vastness of shuai chiao itself, he was able to gain the essence of many other systems while giving away only a portion of his own.

            A good example of how “jau huan” worked is illustrated in the way that Chang Tung Sheng learned Tai Chi Chuan. As previously mentioned, Chang was appointed as an official at the Central Martial Arts School of the National Institute in Nanking. While he was there he became a friend of General Li Chien Lin, who was famous for his Yang style tai chi and swordsmanship. General Li was 15 or 20 years older than Chang and became quite fond of him. Also, knowing some shuai chiao himself from when he was in Hebei, he respected Chang Tung Sheng’s shuai chiao prowess. General Li offered to teach Chang Tung Sheng tai chi but Chang politely refused – not wanting to accept the subordinate position of being General Li’s “student”. As the story goes, one day General Li was practicing pushing hands with some students while Chang Tung Sheng was observing. When General Li asked Chang’s opinion of his pushing hands technique, Chang replied that he thought the students were letting him win due to his high rank. Surprised at the audacity of Chang’s remark, he asked Chang if he would like to have a try himself. Chang accepted the offer. General Li astutely cleared the room of spectators and engaged Chang in pushing hands whereupon Chang promptly sent him to the ground using a shuai chiao technique. After this “test”, they agreed to exchange information. General Li taught Chang tai chi and sword, and Chang taught him shuai chiao.

            During the Japanese occupation of Mainland China the Communist and Nationalist armies had called a truce to their long-running civil war and combined forces to expel the Japanese invaders. After the defeat of Japan in 1945, however, they resumed their fight. Finally, in 1948, Mao Tse Tung’s communist army took control of Mainland China. Chiang Kai Shek and the Nationalist troops – including Chang Tung Sheng - transferred to Taiwan. Chang Tung Sheng’s younger brother, who was also a shuai chiao champion, was a member of the police force in Shanghai. He was unable to leave Shanghai with the Nationalist troops and was subsequently captured by the communists. Later, during the Cultural Revolution, he was persecuted along with intellectuals and landowners – forced to do hard labor in Yunnan for years in exchange for subsistence rations. Chang Tung Sheng’s youngest brother, who was a shuai chiao champion as well, was in an army unit that remained on the Mainland and refused to surrender to Mao's forces and continued to fight the communists after the Nationalist army troops departed for Taiwan. Living in the forests and mountains and fighting as guerillas they continued to assassinate and harass the Red Army. Chang Tung Sheng's brother was finally captured after a fierce battle and held in jail until the Cultural Revolution when he was executed.

In Taiwan, Chang Tung Sheng lived with the army in Chia-Yi in southern Taiwan for the first two years. Later, he moved to Taipei where the government provided him with a house. As his grandson David Chang relates, “Chang Tung Sheng had been operating as a paratrooper and special agent in the army, so one day I was surprised when I came across some family records that listed his job title in Taiwan as the vice president of a government army hospital. At first, I couldn’t figure it out, but later it dawned on me that this title was probably used to cover up his actual position in order to prevent being executed in the event that the communists invaded Taiwan”.

            In Taipei, Chang Tung Sheng had some influential friends. One was a teacher named Huang Jie, who was the former governor of Taiwan. The other was Bai Chung Xi, who was the Minister of Defense and also a Muslim (Chang Tung Sheng was a devout Muslim who never ate pork). They introduced Chang Tung Sheng to the Central Police University where he became an instructor for the next 30 years. During that time, he was also the head judge of the national shuai chiao tournaments in Taiwan. In addition to producing some top students at the Central Police University, he taught shuai chiao at the Army Internal Affairs School, the Chinese Culture University, the Military Police School, National Taiwan University, Shr Da University, Zheng Zhi University, and other schools. He taught some students at the Taipei Botanical Gardens and occasionally at his home. He also trained his grandson David privately from the time he was a young boy.

            Beginning in the early 1980’s, Chang Tung Sheng made a series of trips to the United States to promote shuai chiao. A number of his top students from the Central Police University had already emigrated abroad and introduced shuai chiao to the Western world. Chang visited various places for 2 to 3 months at a time teaching shuai chiao and presiding over tournaments. He was featured on the cover of the July 1983 issue of Black Belt magazine. It is said that he had hoped to actually emigrate to the States, although that dream never materialized. There was a rather spectacular event held in San Francisco called the 1983 Chinese Wrestling (Shuai Chiao) & Kung Fu Exhibition.  It drew several thousand spectators and featured demonstrations by the top martial artists from across the United States. Chang Tung Sheng was the main attraction and his demonstration was the climax of the event.

            In 1986, Chang’s health, which up to that point had been outstanding for a man his age, suddenly took a turn for the worse. He was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. Despite medical treatment his condition gradually worsened until he finally passed away. He is buried in a Muslim cemetery on a hillside in Taipei. It is a gross understatement to say that his passing was a tremendous loss, not only to shuai chiao, but also to the martial arts world in general.