White Birch Martial Arts
Larry Vincent's Classes Get You Lean, Strong, Fast, and Focused
with "Old School" Training Methods Straight Out of Kung Fu/Tai Chi History!
By Willy Lin
To tell what is true is always respectful. In this spirit, I would like to talk about what has remained a "gray area" with respect to the history of our system, for too many years. What I say is based on personal knowledge, documentation and recollection.
The Martial Art system, today known as "Tien Shan Pai," did not originate centuries ago. It was founded by my teacher, Wang, Jyue Jen, in the late 1940s. There are no sixty five or sixty six generations in our system. There are, presently, only three... possibly four generations in our lineage.
While it is correct that Master Wang often told students his curriculum originated with a Buddhist priest named Red Cloud, at a temple at “T’ien Shan” (Sky Mountain) in the Xinjiang Province of northwestern China, it is not true that there is now, or ever has been any historical connection between Master Wang’s curriculum, and the Sky Mountain Chinese countryside. There is no temple. There never has been.
By stating this, I do not intend to discredit or demean anyone…living or dead. I do this because, in this age of “transparency,” followers of Tien Shan Pai… both present and future… have the right to accurate information about our origins. I am speaking out now, because these same parties have the right to this, before those of us who lived through it have all passed on.
At the time my teacher came to Taiwan in the late 1940s, (as a member of Chiang Kai Shek’s armed forces,) there was no political relationship between Taiwan and mainland China. There was no expectation that any claim my teacher made, (as it related to what did or did not happen in mainland China,) would be checked, or scrutinized.
The truth is, back in the 1940s and 1950s, such claims didn’t matter. My teacher was a skilled Gwo-Shu (Chinese Martial Arts) Coach. We all believed this because we saw him demonstrate his high level of skill. We knew he had taught Martial Arts in Chiang Kai Shek’s army. This combination… of his demonstrated skill, as well as his military resume… was enough for us to take him at his word.
My teacher always said he was a Gwo-Shu Coach. Nothing more. He taught what he knew… what he had been trained in through the Central (Chinese) Government’s Nanjing Gwo-Shu Academy, and what he had learned from his various private teachers. This totality of his Martial Arts experience formed the basis for his “curriculum.”
By “curriculum” I mean those techniques and forms which any given Master teaches to his or her students for profit. If he or she intends for that curriculum to be preserved and passed on to a “next generation,” then he or she identifies certain senior students as “disciples.” Once disciples are initiated, it is clear that the Master’s intention is for his curriculum to have a “life going forward.” Once the Master’s curriculum has, in fact, been transferred to a “next generation” (through that Master’s disciples,) that curriculum can be considered a “system.” Once a system has been created, the disciples of that system can define and place themselves within its lineage.
From the time my teacher began to train his first students in Taichung, Taiwan, (and through the entire time I worked for him as his Assistant and Head Instructor,) he never suggested that he was in the “lineage” of any system. He only said he was teaching us “Gwo-Shu.” However, because he took on several disciples, it was clear he intended that his curriculum be preserved, and passed along.
Wang’s curriculum worked. We were able to win competitions, defend ourselves when necessary, and to earn the respect of our fellow Martial Artists, whatever their “school,” in Taiwan.
As a testament to how good of a coach our teacher was: In 1964, the Taiwan government assembled a “team” to demonstrate Gwo-Shu at the Tokyo Olympics. Master Wang was one of the Coaches for this team. Four of his students (myself included) were members of this team.
In the mid-1980s, (after political relationships had been established between the US and mainland China,) I (as an American citizen) went to Sky Mountain in Xinjiang Province. I did so, because I wanted to find Red Cloud’s Temple, and to pay respects to that place which, I had been told, was the of origin of our system. I was devastated when I found no evidence at Sky Mountain to corroborate any part of my teacher’s story.
Upon returning from this trip, I questioned my teacher. He suggested I had not looked on the “correct side of the lake”, that I had not found the “historical footprints left in the ground by Red Cloud”, etc. I made several trips back to Sky Mountain. I enlisted the aid of the Xinjiang Wu-Shu Association get to the bottom of my confusion.
Their conclusion, after doing research, was that there was no Temple on Sky Mountain... either in recorded papers, or in the lore of the local people. In support of this statement about the oral history of the area, they presented several very old local shepherds who testified they had been born in the area of Sky Mountain, and that their families had tended flocks on Sky Mountain, (as well as on neighboring mountains,) for generations. They had neither heard of any such Temple through family stories, nor had they seen any such Temple with their own eyes.
I, once again, spoke with my teacher. I told him what I had learned, and his response was that we would not speak about this again. I was left to conclude that my teacher had originated the story of Red Cloud for his own reasons and to suit his own purpose.
Not liking to think badly of someone I had so respected, I convinced myself that, if my teacher wanted to say that a legend (which he had used to teach us Martial Arts virtue) was suddenly “historical” and not “apocryphal,” I would let it pass. As his disciple, it would have been disrespectful for me to challenge him... so I kept quiet.
The naming of our system as “Tien Shan Pai” in the US, was my doing. It happened in 1971…years before my teacher ever used “Tien Shan Pai” to refer to what he was teaching. I named it “Tien Shan Pai.”
When I opened my first Lin Kung Fu school in the US, (in 1971,) I told my instructors to refer to the curriculum we were teaching as “Tien Shan Pai.” I did so for several reasons: 1) We were constantly asked by our students what “system” we were teaching. 2) I knew we were only teaching Master Wang’s curriculum. I knew no other style to teach, (since Master Wang had been my only Martial Art teacher.) and 3) As one of Master Wang’s disciples, I understood that he intended for his curriculum to be passed on to future generations.
Therefore, I felt all right referring to my teacher’s curriculum as Tien Shan Pai. I had no problem with acknowledging Tien Shan Pai as our “system,” because it, in fact, had become one…complete with disciples, all trained by Wang, Jyue Jen!
Let me be clear: Although I was the one to introduce Master Wang’s curriculum to the US, to name it “Tien Shan Pai”, and to popularize “Tien Shan Pai” in the US as a system, I have never claimed either it, or the name “Tien Shan Pai” for myself. I have always credited it back to my teacher, Wang Jyue Jen.
In 1976, my publishers suggested that I title my first book TIEN SHAN PAI KUNG FU to distinguish it from other Kung Fu books on the market at that time. This was when the name “Tien Shan Pai” gained wide recognition. By the time my next book, (T’IEN SHAN P’AI CHIN-NA: THE GRAPPLING ART OF SELF DEFENSE VOLUME I) was published (in 1981,) Master Wang, himself, had chosen to use the name “Tien Shan Pai” when talking about what he was teaching.
By the late 1970’s, my non-American Lin Kung Fu instructors… Tony Lin (my brother), C.C. Liu, and Chien-Liang Huang… (all of whom I had sponsored to come to the US to help me in my school,) had moved on. They were operating their own individual and unaffiliated studios under the umbrella system name of “Tien Shan Pai.” I raised no objection. This was seen as good for us all, and good for our teacher, as well.
In 1981, while my teacher was visiting the US, Tony Lin sponsored an exhibition of “Tien Shan Pai Kung Fu” in Baltimore, MD. Participating in that exhibition were Tony Lin, C.C. Liu, and Chien-Liang Huang, along with their students, and Master Wang, himself. During this exhibition, carved commemorative swords were given to Tony, Liu, and Huang by Master Wang. I understand that each sword acknowledged, by name, its recipient as a student/disciple of Master Wang.
As I was out of the country on business at the time, I did not participate in the Baltimore exhibition. I did not receive a commemorative sword.
I understand, also, at this same time, commemorative swords were distributed to students of Chien-Liang Huang, (who had paid for these swords, themselves.) The carving on these swords identified the student-recipients as the sixty fifth generation of “Tien Shan Pai.”
In 1999, while in Taiwan, and visiting a senior classmate, (Wu Ming Jer,) I learned something I had never known before. (Wu Ming Jer is also a disciple of Wang Jyue Jen. He is older than I, and renowned for his fighting ability.)
Wu Ming Jer showed me his personal scrapbook, which included newspaper articles from 1957. When he showed me these articles, he told how, when he needed to fill out his application for the 1957 Taiwan-Hong Kong-Macau Tournament, there was a space that asked what “system” he was trained in. Wu Ming Jer did not have an answer. He asked our teacher what to fill in, and Master Wang told him to use the words “Tien Shan Pai.”
Wu Ming Jer went on to win this prestigious fighting competition, and the event was reported in the Taiwan newspapers. To anyone’s knowledge, this is the first time that “Tien Shan Pai” was publicly linked to that curriculum which our teacher taught.
Curiously, even after Wu’s stunning achievement… the result of which was that Master Wang’s own reputation as a Gwo-Shu coach was enhanced, and his Lei Sheng Wu Yuan school prospered even more… my teacher never mentioned the words “T’ien Shan P’ai” to his students. He didn’t use “T’ien Shan P’ai” in any publicity about, or in any programs printed by his school for school-sponsored exhibitions or demonstrations… at least through 1974. I have a Lei Sheng Wu Yuan exhibition program in my possession from that year, (written both in Chinese and in English,) which substantiates this.
Marketing and legend-building strategies to the contrary, I can clearly state that my teacher’s curriculum, (now known as the system of “Tien Shan Pai,”) originated with Master Wang himself. My teacher should be credited as the founder of this relatively “new” system. His disciples are the ones correctly identified as the first generation in the lineage of this system. The disciples of the First Generation Disciples are the ones to make up Tien Shan Pai’s subsequent generations.
In conclusion, I would like to say how I stand united in sentiment with my fellow classmates in Taiwan, (who are also disciples of Wang, Jyue Jen.) We recognize that any disciple of our teacher is a disciple in our system, (now known as “Tien Shan Pai.”.) We affirm that our teacher had many disciples, all of whom are equally vested in the lineage of our system, and that the future of “Tien Shan Pai,” is the responsibility of us all.
If anyone reading this has questions, please feel free to contact me through this website (www.linkunfu.com).