It was in June, 1968. By virtue of what I did working with Special Forces in Vietnam, Studies Observation Group, I was able to go to Taiwan with the Chinese Blackbirds. These were classified missions. On that particular occasion, we had just executed an NVA prisoner snatch behind enemy lines, a successful one I might add, and we flew down and dropped off the POW in Saigon. Then we stayed on the plane and flew to the base in Taiwan.
The hotel/safe house, that we were staying at was right down the road from Xu Hong Ji's home. I was checking out the area and seeing what kind of martial arts were around and the Chinese crew chief told me about this guy he knew who was a kung fu master. We went over and he introduced me to him. He told him that I was one of these CIA guys, which was not true, I was Special Forces and didn't work for the CIA. But as far as he knew, the Blackbirds flying out of Taiwan with the Chinese crew were working for us as our allies and it was a SOG operation. If that is what he understood, I wasn't going to tell him different, it was sensitive material and he didn't have the need to know. They automatically knew that they had a guy who was working covert operations and needed to get some special training. So that is how I met him. He was impressed with what I was doing, and I was there because anything I could learn to keep me alive when I went back to Vietnam was my number one priority. He knew that I was not there for bullshit and that I was going to use whatever I got in order to enhance my combat survivability.
First thing that happened is that he showed me what he could do - I got my ass whipped. Then he asked me what I thought of the war, martial arts, and the Communists and I said, "Hey, I get paid to kill
Commies, that is what I do for a living. I like martial arts because it helps me stay alive." Then we spent a few days talking, practicing techniques which were useful in my line of work and he also taught me Xing Yi's standing practice. Then I had to get back to Vietnam.
We reunited again in 1969. I was out of Okinawa, and I continued the standing and the breathing and the stretching and several moves that he had shown me to use for when I went in for a prisoner snatch. These techniques proved to be very effective. When you go in for a prisoner snatch, as soon as you get your hands on the enemy you got to take him down fast. That is what he showed me, and the moves worked. Up to that point in time in the Special Forces we had studied Okinawan Karate and the hand-to-hand combat that came out of World War II and Korea. It wasn't bad, but this was a lot better. So I knew that
this was the guy I wanted to train with and when I could get to Taiwan and live there full time, I was going to study with him. And that happened at the end of 1969. I got assigned to the resident team. We were the advisors to the Chinese Special Forces. So at that point in time I moved to Taiwan and studied with Xu Hong Ji full time until the later part of 1972.
So when you first met him, you had not only had a background in martial arts, but you had just come out of the war zone, were getting ready to go back, and, as you said earlier, literally "still had blood on your hands." I would imagine that you were looking for someone who could really show you how to use martial arts to save your life.
Oh, yea. I was very impressed with what he showed me. Everything was very practical and also there was another added dimension to his martial arts that I had heard people talk of, but I had never seen. Everyone talked about it, but no one was doing it. I wanted to find someone who was doing it and, more importantly, would teach it.
My background had been studying martial arts from Americans who had been in Japan and Korea in the 40's and 50's and studying over there. It was good stuff, part of my training, but I kept hearing about this "mind" or "meditation" ability. Basically, your attitude has to be that when you walk through the valley of death, you fear no evil because you know you are the baddest son of a bitch in the valley. For that to be the case, you have to have a different kind of brain. Where does the mind come from? I could find a little bit of it in the "rha-rha" airborne military. But when you are out in the bush and you are the only American with an indigenous team and there are hundreds of bad guys all around the ant hill, that "rha-rha" shit don't cut it. So, what is it that you learn in the spiritual and mental context that gives you this strength and this tranquility and this peace and this ability? It wasn't coming from Karate, I'm here to tell you. That is only punch, block, kick, bang-bang, and pain, as we know. So this mental aspect is what I was looking for. By virtue of my work in Vietnam, I needed to find a martial arts teacher who had that. And that is what Xu Hong Ji had to offer.
Besides the mental aspect, he also had another thing I was looking for, which was subtle power. It is one thing to cock back and travel for thirty-eight inches and put your weight behind it and hit hard. That is great. But when a guy puts his finger on you and all of the sudden, Pow!, your ass is on the ground, that is something different. Not having any knowledge of that, when he showed it to me, I said, hey, this is good. This is what the man had to offer and he was willing to teach it.
He knew that I was not there for bullshit and that I was going to use whatever I got in order to enhance my combat survivability.
Were you the only foreigner at the school?
No. One thing you have to understand, Xu Hong Ji's attitude at that time, starting in 1967-68, was that he felt if a person, no matter what race, wanted to study, then he would be the guy that would teach him, even though he was falling out of grace with the other Chinese. This is one of the reasons he fell out of grace with Hong Yi Xiang. He took that path and said, "This is what I'm going to do." When he did that, we had a large military Signal contingent in Taiwan from the Army and a big contingent from the Air Force which had been around there for quite some time, along with the Navy guys who ran the island. So there was a lot of Americans stationed right there in Taipei. Xu Hong Ji, because he liked Americans and was working on his English, made contacts and eventually got invited to teach on the various bases. That is where guys like John Price and Dale Shiganaga linked up with him. So around 67-68, he began teaching Americans.
When you moved to Taiwan and started studying full time with him, what was the progression in how he taught you?
The basic program of instruction at the school consisted of the Shaolin Quan the Shuai Jiao
) moves, the Qin Na (ik^), the basic "eight step" forms, and these kind of basic drills. Then, depending upon the individual, he would then integrate the progression in Xing Yi starting with the Wu Xing (A ft -five elements) and progress through the animals. Everyone, for the most part, was on the same program, but because I was taught on a special basis, because of the job I had, I was given special instruction. All my Chinese classmates over there knew that, "All the Americans get this training, but Bingo got that training." So I'm not reflective of what he taught everybody. Therefore, I'm very fortunate.
For the most part, I went through the Shaolin Quan, I didn't get all of it because I already had a background. I could fight without any problem. The reason why we have the Shaolin, Shuai Jiao, and the Qin Na in Tang Shou Tao, for the most part, is to take the "rabbits" of the world and teach them how to get hurt, how to stand up, how to hit somebody and develop fighting spirit.
Once a person understands that it is not so bad to hit someone, or break their face, or to get knocked out, or whatever happens after that, you can begin to clear your mind and relax your heart so that you can then begin to study the internal arts. Up until that time you can't do it because you are scared all the time and you cannot fight. So, we had to go through that. It was good for individuals based on their nature, disposition, personality, and their background, and he would modify the training for everybody. As you moved up through the ranks, and he had a belt system -white, green, brown, and black - there were certain programs you would have had to have learned and become proficient at.
Could you talk a little bit about why you think the step-by-step progression in training is necessary and what kind of teacher Xu Hong Ji was?
Xu Hong Ji was a traditional Chinese teacher. People have to realize that even though he was more liberal in his expression and in giving out the information than most, his methodology of teaching was the same as most of the Chinese instructors. That is that basically, "you will crawl before you learn to walk." The closed fist forms were practiced first before the Wu Xing because there is something to be gleaned from hardening the it m # Ji si** a *
Xu Hong Ji's first school in Taipei. The Chinese on the sign reads: "Chinese Spirit Dragon Tang Shou Tao School," circa 1969
Was this article helpful?