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Growing Up Wudang, part 2

by Zhou, Xuan-Yun, December 17, 2008
Xuan Yun

Xuan Yun

It wasn’t until my third year at Wudang that I started to find the training interesting, and started to train harder because I was genuinely interested in it. I liked the changes that were happening to me, not just physically, but mentally as well. I started to help teach the younger students. With a handful of advanced students, I trained in all of the traditional Wudang marital forms: first Xuan Gong Quan, Xuan Wu Quan, Xuan Zhen Quan, Taiji, Xingyi and You Long Bagua.

The Wudang styles are ‘internal’ martial arts, meaning that they focus on flexibility, whole body movement, and increased Qi flow in the body.  In the internal arts, the practitioner does not rely on the use of brute strength to defeat the opponent, but instead uses muscular strength supported by Qi. The Wudang martial arts practice exerting force only when already in contact with the opponent, by transforming and redirecting the attack. You can see this philosophy in what Lao Zi wrote in the Dao De Jing saying, "The soft and the pliable will defeat the hard and strong." By learning exactly when to apply force, and in which direction, we learn to redirect an opponent’s own weight and momentum, using it against them, attacking when the opponent is off balance. For example, when I am fighting someone stronger than I am, if I push them, my pressure may not knock them over. However, were I to pull the person forward slightly, they then would naturally react by throwing their weight backwards, at which time we stick, follow, and attack. You may also just wait until the other person is moving backwards. Were I then to apply the same pressure, with the two forces combined, it is more likely that the person will fall over. With the Wudang arts, you can most effectively use the physical strength you have, while developing these subtle skills of listening and following jing, and defeat an opponent without having to overpower them.

The movements of the internal arts are often compared to clouds and water. Clouds move seamlessly. Water absorbs any force that comes at it, and flows around obstacles. Water is one of the most common metaphors in Daoist literature. Observing nature and learning from it is common ground for Daoism and the Martial Arts. Because every aspect of life is a manifestation of the Dao, even a cloud or the movements of an animal can teach us something.

During my years of training, my interest in Daoism was also growing.  My teachers at the martial arts school never talked about Daoism. However, we would often come into contact with the monks who shared the mountain with us. For me, Daoism is a way of living in harmony with nature. It is a way of putting each of my actions into perspective and seeing which of my actions run contrary to nature and are thus unhealthy. As the martial arts helped me attain physical health, learning about Daoism brought about mental and spiritual well-being.  In 1997, I decided to become a Daoist monk.  In all my years at the martial arts school, I was the only student who chose the Daoist path.  Even then, Daoist monks were few and far between.  When I took my ordination as a monk, I moved to Jin Ding temple, which is at the very top of Wudang Mountain. I learned how to recite scripture, learned various practices, and studied the I Ching. At night after the tour groups left, I practiced my martial arts.

It is an ancient Daoist tradition to travel from temple to temple in order to learn new things.  So, in late 1999, I left Wudang Mountain.  Because Daoism teaches that spiritual health is linked to physical health, many martial artists can be found in Daoist temples.  Whenever I came across a fellow martial artist in my travels, I would take the time to learn what I could from them before moving on. I traveled through Henan Province to Tanghe where I worked teaching at a martial arts academy that one of my fellow students had started. I spent some time at Hua Shan, a famous Daoist mountain outside Xi’an. I also spent some time in the temples of Shandong Province, at Tai Shan and Lao Shan. While at Lao Shan I met and two Daoists who had also studied Bagua and Xingyi. The three of us became good friends, practicing and exchanging ideas together. I was excited to meet and dialogue with other serious martial artists. I hope that more people will be willing to learn from each other, and from other schools, as the Chinese arts gain popularity.

It is only among retired people that the martial arts are flourishing in China. Every morning the parks are filled with older people practicing taiji and qigong. Perhaps it is due to this imbalance in the age of practitioners that the taiji being taught in the west looks less martial and more like the health-preserving art practiced by our older generation. Being an internal art, taiji is a great health practice. But, I am afraid that taiji is losing touch with its roots as a fighting art. Even for people not interested in learning how to fight, learning the martial applications for every move would help them remember the form, and to practice each move correctly. I think that for many people in America, broadening their taiji practice to include more of the martial side would make their practice more rewarding. I intend to preserve and promote the martial aspects of the Wudang arts.

For centuries, the secrets of Wudang Mountain were available only to very few people. But what was started at Wudang is now spreading all over the world. I am fortunate to be a part of this process. I’d love the opportunity to teach more in the West, or bring groups of people to visit China to study. We have a famous phrase in China saying that "You only realize how valuable your treasure is when you see someone else holding it". Hopefully this saying will prove true, and America’s enthusiasm for the martial arts can lead to a rejuvenation of the traditional arts in China, and across the world.

Read Part 1.

Zhou, Xuan-Yun is the author of the Wudang Taijiquan DVD.

Daoist monk Zhou, Xuan-Yun (Mysterious Cloud), grew up in a temple on Wudang Mountain, China where he was a student and later an instructor of Taiji and Kung Fu. He belongs to the Orthodox Unity sect of Daoism, and is trained in ritual arts, chanting, divination, and internal alchemy. He is formally recognized as a disciple of Li Guang Fu 李光富 Head Daoist monk on Wudang Mountain (武当山道教协会会长), and he is dedicated to teaching the traditional arts in classes around the world.


Your journeys sound fantastic and noble, and I hope also that Taiji recovers its martial roots. I wonder how much better health may be when one practices the many martial drills we have in these internal arts.

Please comment at I would very much appreciate your ideas.
Steven Smith – December 19, 2008, 11:03 pm
I have studied and practiced Chinese Martial Arts on my own for the better part of my life and am currently a dvd/video student of Dr. Yang's. I have purchased the video 'Wudang Taijiquan' and just know that it will improve my personal practice, especially after reading this article. I understand that the author has insight into gongfu that I could only dream of having until this production. Thanks so much for all you are doing and I hope your pursuits bear manifold fruit.
Yaphett Pruitt – December 24, 2008, 9:33 am
Thank you Steven! I believe that practicing Taiji Quan, and meditation can create significant changes in a person's health. My wife translated for me one of the articles you have at about martial arts improving vision. I agree with what you wrote. These arts are an ancient, time tested way to increase mental and spiritual well-being.
Xuan Yun – January 12, 2009, 2:36 pm
Thank you Yaphett! It is great that the Chinese martial arts have dedicated students, even on the other side of the world! Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about the material in the video.

-Xuan Yun
Xuan Yun – January 12, 2009, 2:39 pm
Thank you Master Zhou Xuan Yun for your history!
I wonder if you meet some Martial Art Grand Master in Hua Shan?
I just remember the Great Masters that lived there in the time of Master Kwan Sai Hung according to the book by Deng Ming-Dao: Chronicles of Tao: The Secret Life of a Taoist Master.

Regards from Sweden

Hugo Olivares Milá
Hugo Olivares Milá – January 16, 2009, 7:10 pm
Dear Xuan Yun,

Your story is very inspiring as I one day would like to be a Daoist. However, I am afraid that at 24 years, I am already too old, cannot endure the severe and harsh training, and will die without being a disciplined, strong, refined person. I would like to believe Daoist Masters have supernatural skills but I cannot be sure. In stories I read about masters who eat mercury to become immortal, die and come back to life, live to over 150 years of age, predict the future, fly, travel long distances quickly, eat very little, visit ghosts, light candles by directing qi energy, and perform exorcism rituals. Are these only fairy tales? Long ago I stopped believing in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. Maybe now I need to stop believing in Daoist mysticism.

Thank you for your story,

Frannie – February 15, 2009, 2:44 am
Sifu, thank you for your time on Saturday. I have no way to contact you and am curious how your English is comming?...It was a bit difficult for me, with the translator transmitting words for you. Thank you again and I look forward to sharing time together again soon. I am only about an hour and half away, you would love Maine, the mountains are wonderfull as is the ocean side. Yours in clouds and water_kelcey
Kelcey – May 27, 2009, 5:23 pm
Hi Kelcey,

My English is slowly getting better. I take classes 4 days a week. My wife still translates most of my written material (like this comment) but I teach all of my classes in English now.

I can be reached at
You are right, Maine is beautiful. I have a student who lives there and so I have been there a few times.

Best Wishes,

Xuan Yun
Zhou Xuan Yun – May 20, 2011, 5:51 am

Chinese legends all contain an element of legend. I am sure this is te case with some of the stories of Daoist mystics. However, I have personally met and trained with several old masters that have reached old age and retained the vitality and health they had when they were younger. The Daoist practices that have survived thousands of years (the alchemy you mention is no longer practiced) are time tested mentods for living a longer, healthier life, and becoming a more spiritual being. A life of refinement (meditation, careful diet, qigong, and spiritual cultivation) is a beautiful thing, and worth believing in.

Best Wishes,

Xuan Yun
Zhou Xuan Yun – May 20, 2011, 5:57 am
I purchased your wudang taji 108 dvd and been practising for awhile now, I also have been practising wudang 5 animal qigong by master Bing his include tortise, snake, tiger, crane, dragon (different from the 5 animal frolics qigong) I really enjoy it. Which wudang qigong do you practise now and in the temple when you were there.I have gotten a lot of people doing standing like a tree form you taiji dvd they love this they are sick some with diabetes and some with liver, spleen problems all of them "8 people" thinks it's fun and feel stronger they said after only 2 weeks. I wanted to know what is the highest qigong(the name) that wudang teaches. what is the best wudang qigong exercises for the spleen and liver. did you ever have to do the qigong sexual practise if so how is it done for qi I need more qi. what is wudang qigong that does what shaolin xi sui jing does, just wondering. I love knowledge of this wudang so feel free to enlighten me with wudang knowledge anytime Thank you so much.
Charles Evans – May 21, 2011, 10:57 am
I thought master Zhou said they did not teach five animal qigong at wudang, and master bing said it was reqired of all monks to pactice these five forms daily, why didn't master Zhou have to do it then, it sounds strange to me. if master Zhou was trained by the master Li head over wudang temple then he should know if 5 animal qigong was taught or not and he says no, he never studied it or knows of it. so the question is this - does wudang temple teach wudang 5 animal qigong or not... you may just have a dvd by someones own version, i have checked the internet and have found 3 different wudang 5 animal forms (same animals doing different things for the same organs) how does that work, sounds fake to me.
Anonymous – January 26, 2012, 10:31 am

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