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Grandpa packs a punch as custodian of culture
2018-05-16

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Master Huang Zhenjiang at the entrance of his kung fu club, Hongsheng Hall, in Foshan, Guangdong province. CAI YANG/XINHUA

He shops in vegetable markets and takes care of his grandson in his spare time, but when Huang Zhenjiang puts on his kung fu attire, he is strictly a martial arts master.

Huang, 68, is officially recognized as an inheritor of Cai Li Fo boxing, a style of martial arts. He is also head of Hongsheng Hall, a kung fu club established in 1851 in Foshan, a city in Guangdong province known for its martial arts culture.

Cai Li Fo was created by Chen Xiang. Legend has it that Chen, a native of Guangdong, created the style by combining Cai and Li styles with a form of boxing named for the Buddha, or Fo in Chinese.

The kung fu system is being heavily promoted by the city government, with textbooks on the art distributed to 11 kindergartens in Foshan recently, according to the city's sports bureau.

Huang started learning Cai Li Fo when he was a teenager. "My grandpa used to tell me all about the heroic stories of the masters," he said. "I decided I wanted to be like them."

With the help of his grandfather, Huang managed to meet some Cai Li Fo masters. He would practice for three hours every night. In the 1970s, life was hard and Huang did not want to waste money on kung fu shoes. So he practiced barefoot.

Hongsheng Hall reopened in 1998 after being closed for decades, and Huang was asked to teach Cai Li Fo boxing. In 1999, he was elected head of the hall, and that's when he saw an opportunity to revive the glory of the traditional martial art.

He began to bring Cai Li Fo boxing to students in Foshan, to pass the style on to young locals.

"I teach boxing to them on Friday and Saturday nights," said Huang, whose sessions last two hours. "Sometimes we practice at schools, and sometimes they come to classes at the hall."

To make boxing more popular, he has even created an exercise routine featuring fans. The "fan dance" combines Cai Li Fo boxing and gymnastics, and makes the learning process "more interesting", he said, adding that "the exercise is good for their health".

Huang noted that his students sometimes perform their dance routines during the opening ceremonies of Asian kung fu competitions.

In addition to schools, Huang also goes to communities in Foshan to teach Cai Li Fo boxing, particularly in Chancheng district, where Hongsheng Hall is located.

The classes usually begin during the summer and winter holidays, when eager students from the community flood the hall to learn from "Master Huang", who teaches them free.

As the hall is too small to host hundreds of students, community authorities have turned a local field into a practice venue for the students.

Besides his Chinese students, Huang also has some foreign apprentices who have come to Foshan out of admiration for the kung fu master.

"I have taught students from Spain, the Czech Republic, Argentina and Chile," he said. "Many of them came to Foshan, rented houses and found jobs teaching English while taking time to learn boxing here."

Huang vividly remembers a Spaniard who came to him in 2008 after having practiced Cai Li Fo boxing in Spain for nine years. "He said he wanted to learn the original kung fu here, and I was happy to teach him," he said.

There may be many admirers of Cai Li Fo boxing, but Huang teaches only those who learn the art to strengthen their bodies, rather than those who want to fight.

"There has been a rule at Hongsheng Hall since the beginning: We never teach Cai Li Fo boxing to bad people," he said. "Morals are important."

When it comes to passing on the martial art, Huang said the government has taken a variety of measures in recent years to support its development.

"Cai Li Fo boxing is our traditional culture," he added. "We must try to pass on our culture."

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