In 2008 I was doing research for my own book on Chen Taijiquan. So I contacted some other researchers in this field - one of whom was Marnix Wells. Fortunately we could meet up in Beijing shortly after writing emails to and fro. When we met we immediately formed something like a friendship. Marnix is a gentleman, very knowledgeable and with ample experience in the martial arts. He might not look like it but he is a generation older than me so his stories also enabled me to "look back in time", getting a feel for Hongkong in the 1960's, South-East Asia in the 70's and so on. He shared many stories how he met and trained with some of the great names of old who shaped the early experiences the West had with the Chinese Martial Arts.
Chang Naizhou (1724-1783) - the Scholar Boxer
Marnix published his book Scholar Boxer: Chang Naizhou's Theory of Internal Martial Arts and the Evolution of Taijiquan Boxer in 2005. It is translation of Chang Naizhous work plus a well-informed commentary and a great introduction to the topic, which is highly condensed. Some people did not like how Marnix renders some words. For example, he translates yin as shady and yang as sunny. I personally think had he translated everything just like everybody else his work wouldn't yield much additional information. But the way he translates the work and comments on it, he really stimulates the reader's own thinking and reflection. Chang Naizhou's theory in itself is of course also very interesting to read.
Marnix writes that neither the Daoist temple of the god of war on Mount Wudang in Hubei, which was built by the Ming emperor Yongle in 1418, nor the Buddhist Shaolin monastery, which was deliberately set on fire by the warlord Shi Yousan in 1928, preserved an extensive combative philosophy. For this, he says, we would have to turn to the few cryptic passages of the "Taijiquan Classic", which was edited in 1881 by Li Yiyu (Yishe). But with Chang Naizhou's writings there is a more complete source from the previous century which discusses many similar ideas.
Chang came from the village of Sishui in Henan, from the South of the Yellow River. Less than 50 miles to the south you will find the Tiger Cage Pass and the slopes of Mount Song, on which the Shaolin Monastery is located. To the North, basically just across the Yellow River, is Chenjiagou, which is today considered to be the home of Taijiquan. To the West we find Luoyang and to the East Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province. Further along the Southern bank of the Yellow River is Kaifeng, the capital of the Northern Song.
Marnix states that Chang Naizhou's resources were the Book of Changes and the Four Books: The Analects, Meng Zi, Great Learning and the Measure of Middle, because Neo-Confucianism was the foundation of the educational system at that time. The "Taijiquan Classics" as they have been called, thus rely on many of the same ideas. One of the many quotations or ideas shared by Chang and Taijiquan reads:
"Inwardly a firm spirit,
outwardly show peaceful ease."
Chang Naizhou mentions the six connections which are widely practiced over many Chinese Martial Arts, also Xingyiquan for example. He also shows similarities to Chen Xin's publication (1919). They both share the theory of central energy (zhongqi), which we still use in our training system today, just like the six connections and many other aspects. Marnix writes that it is practically inconceivable that Chen had no idea that his famous predecessor was working on the same subject in the neighboring village. Chen Xin even mentions a story how one of his ancestors (Chen Jixia) supposedly met Chang Naizhou - of course we don't know how true this story really is. But Chang's and Chen's theories will always remain important testimonials of past gongfu practice. Thanks, Marnix, for sharing your knowledge with your readers and providing so many new translations and ideas in your work - highly recommended :)!