Thursday, March 09, 2006

Taoist Master Chang San-Feng

Circa 1300 C.E.

History, Folklore, and Legend
Taoist Master Chang San-Feng

One tradition claims that Master Chang San-Feng was born at midnight on April 9, 1247 AD,near Dragon-Tiger Mountain in Kiang-Hsi Province in the southeast of China. He is said to have been a government official in his youth, learned Shaolin martial arts whileliving in the Pao-Gi Mountains near Three Peaks (San Feng), and then living for scoresof years as a Taoist hermit and sage in the Wu-Tang (Wudang) Mountains. He is reported tohave lived to be 200 years old (1247-1447AD), but his death date is uncertain. He would have lived in the Sung, Yuan, and Ming Dynasties if these dates were accurate. (Jou, 1980)

Another tradition claims that there were two Master Chang San-Feng Taoist priests.
One was born in the Sung dynasty (960-1279), lived on Wutang Mountain, and combined
the thirteen postures with other Taoist practices and arts to create a style of internal martial arts. The second Master Chang San-Feng (1279-1368), was a native of I-Chou in Liao Tung Province. His scholarly name was Chuan Yee and Chun Shee. He lived on Wutang Mountain, was a highly regarded Taoist adept with many amazing magical powers, and was very popular with the local people.

Master Chang is known by a variety of names: Chang San-Feng, Cheng San Feng,
Chang Chun Pao, Chang Sam Bong, Zhang Sanfeng, Chang Tung, Chang Chun-pao,
Grandmaster Chang, Chang the Immortal, Immortal Chang, Zhangsanfeng, Zhan Sa-Feng,
Zhan Jun-Bao, Yu-Xu Zi, Chuan Yee and Chun Shee. There may have been a number
of male Taoists who chose to use the name Chang San-Feng.

The early legends about Chang San-Feng are linked with activities of Emperor Chengzu
(1403-1424) who searched for Chang and other political refugees. By 1459, Chang
had been declared an Immortal and, as with most saints, stories of his miraculous
powers became part of the folklore in the Wudang Mountain area. There is a fairly
long tradition amongst Wundang Mountain martial artists and Taoists that attributes
the development of soft style martial arts to Chang San-Feng and his disciples
(Yeo, 2001; Wong Kiew Kit, 1996). In 1670, Huang Zongxi wrote a book called Epitaph
for Wang Zhengnan in which Chang San-Feng was called the founder of internal martial
arts practiced near Mount Wudang. By the 1870's, Yang family Tai Chi Chuan teachers
were claiming that Chang San-Feng was the originator of Tai Chi Chuan.
(Wong, 1997; Wile, 1996)

More recently, some scholars and tai-chi historians have argued that Chang San-Feng had little or nothing to do with the founding of Tai Chi Chuan or internal martial arts. They contend that this aspect of the Master Chang legend was invented in the late 19th century by Yang family stylists to give their art form deeper historical roots. (Wile, 1996; Tang Hao, History of Chinese Wushu, 1935; Henning, 1981; and Siaw-Voon Sim, 2002.) These authors contend that the Tai Chi Chuan systems (i.e., forms, push hands, sword/staff, chi kung exercises, and Taijiquan principles) as we know them today (e.g., Chen, Yang, Wu, Hao, Sun), were all created as successive variants to the system developed by the military leader and martial artist Chen Wangting (1600-1680) of Chenjiagou Village in Henan Province.

People in China, Tibet, and India have for millennia used exercises to improve health, cure disease, restore vitality, and increase lifespan. Gentle stretching, breathing methods, herbal remedies, and use of postures for exercise can be traced back over 4,000 years. Martial arts training methods, of course, are of similar antiquity. Good old Master Chang, like the Bodhidharma of Shaolin fame, are just reference points for the imagination steeped in these many centuries of martial arts, health exercises, and the history of Taoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

At another level, Master Chang, Han Shan, and the Bodhidharma are also examples,
archetypes if you will, of the crazy saint, wise fool, and wandering hermit that
contrasts so markedly with the ordinary family-society lifestyles of the vast
majority in any culture or civilization. The Buddha himself, after military training
in his youth, left family life to wander and live the life of a solitary ascetic and
mystic for a decade.

So, we sometimes look to these fellows, real and imaginary, and ask them
"So, old man, what have you learned that can help us?" We listen to their advice,
and sometimes follow their recommendations. Sometimes we laugh at them and
bang their copper hat. In moments of whimsy, religious fervor or desperation,
we give some of them, like Chang San-Feng or Chang Po-Tuan, magical and marvelous
powers - to disappear and reappear at will, powers to cause rain to fall, powers to
prevent disaster, powers to chase away malevolent spirits, shamanistic skills, techniques for defeating our enemies, methods for calming our troubled souls, and amazing skills at divination. Most important, and what intrigues most folks, is that these hermit seers might hold the secrets for living over 150 years in good health, or rising from the dead, or pointing to the Way for us to attain eternal life as an
Immortal - a Chen Jen: Realized Being.

"Breathing Out -
Touching the Root of Heaven,
One's heart opens;
The Dragon slips by like water..
Breathing In -
Standing on the Root of Earth,
One's heart is still and deep;
The Tiger's claw cannot be moved.

As you go on breathing in this frame of mind, with these associations, alternating
between movement and stillness, it is important that the focus of your mind does
not shift. Let the true breath come and go, a subtle continuum on the brink
of existence. Tune the breathing until you get breath without breathing; become
one with it, and then the spirit can be solidified and the elixir can be made."
- Chang San-Feng, Commentary on Ancestor Lu's Hundred-Character Tablet
Translated by Thomas Cleary, Vitality, Energy, Spirit: A Taoist Sourcebook, 1991, p. 187.
Poetic interpretation by Mike Garofalo of expository text of Chang San-Feng.


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