I am proud to put up this great article written by one of my students Eric Benns, about General Yue Fei – the creator of Yi Quan Kung Fu.
We hear many myths about amazing martial artists and feats completed by them, but not a lot about real life heroes, role models… conquerors. Human beings just like ourselves that went above and beyond. Achieved goals and feats seemingly unattainable, and now are idolized in history, movies… and the world of martial arts. One such legend was General Yue Fei, a Chinese Nationalist Military Leader with an epic legacy and skills to match.
During his 20-year career destroying anyone and everything that challenged central China, uber-soldier and 12th-century mechano-warrior Yue Fei personally fought in 126 battles, never lost a single engagement, rose through the ranks from Private to Overall Commander of Imperial Forces, invented a half-dozen styles of martial arts, and wrote a bunch of flamingly-epic poetry about how he was going to drink the blood of his slain enemies. Nowadays he is revered as a national hero of China, a paragon of patriotic loyalty, and the ultimate symbol of honor, duty, and face-obliterating medieval barbarian-quelling vengeance.
Naturally, as you might expect from any man famous throughout for his unswerving loyalty, rigid obedience, and unquestioning patriotism, he was betrayed by his own government, imprisoned as a traitor, and executed for treason.
However, every hero begins with humble beginnings.
Born in 1103 to a poor farming family in the Henan province of central China, an infant Yue Fei survived a massive flood that nearly ruined his entire village. His lucky survival was due to his father, who put his son in a clay pot and allowed him to float above the raging water. The waters of the Yellow River destroyed the farmland and most of the countryside, relentlessly laying waste to all in its path. As Yue Fei grew older, his strength increased from working all day on the farm. If he wasn’t working, he was studying and training under a well-known village elder, a master in archery and the martial arts. Yue Fei also devoured books, in the form of Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’, ‘Three Kingdoms’ and other war related stories. He also mastered the Eighteen Weapons of War – weapons of Wushu descent that included swords, axes, halberds, tridents, chains and many more. Yue Fei also mastered the art of archery, and legend has it that he could shoot 9 out of 10 arrows into a bullseye at 240 yards.
Yue Fei’s devotion to his homeland and its mission was unparalleled. He was so extremely dedicated to the Emperor and serving him that he had his mother tattoo the words “baoguo zhong cheng” which means “serve the country loyally” on his back in massive Chinese characters. (On a humorous side note, if anyone dared question Yue Fei or his patriotism to China he would rip off his shirt and show them his back.)
Yue Fei grew up in China at a time where it was divided into three regions. This period of history is known as the Song Dynasty. The central part of China was the Song territory, which at the time was fast falling apart due to insubordination within the government. To the north of the Song, resided the Jin – a group of barbaric Manchurian warriors that ruled their own empire. To the west, was the Liao Empire, another barbarian group intent on shaking the foundation of China. In1122, the Song Dynasty and the Jin Empire decided they would form an alliance and battle the Liao. At this time our hero Yue Fei is already enlisting in the Song Imperial Army and has already been stationed at the front lines, ready for war. In this battle, the Jin did most of the work due to their bigger army. They ransacked the Liao, took prisoners of war to fight with them, killed off everyone else and stole everything they could manage – including their land. In 1125, a power hungry Jin Empire decided to cut off the alliance with the Song Dynasty and attacked them. They double crossed the Emperor and invaded the Song lands, conquering all 16 provinces of China, killing anyone in the way, executing all the Emperor’s advisors & enslaving anyone they didn’t kill – all in the capital of Kaifeng. If that wasn’t enough, the Jin spent most of 1137 plundering, looting and burning the Song Empire to the ground. However the Jin made a grave mistake. They forgot about Yue Fei – who was stationed in the south of the Empire with his men. When he heard the news of his homeland being attacked, he rushed into Kaifeng and launched a full scale attack on his own city in an attempt to save those still alive in the Capital. Combining the full scale attack with small guerilla assaults, Yue Fei managed to retake part of Kaifeng, with 800 men doing battle against 50,000 Jin warriors. This desperate attack bought time for some citizens to flee, however Yue Fei’s army was forced to retreat as his men were overrun. This was the turning point in Yue Fei’s life where he 100% devoted himself to military supremacy. As the Song recovered from the war, Yue Fei returned home and trained harder, increasing his skills. He swore to emulate old war heroes in battle, created Eagle Claw style martial arts, developed Xingyi Boxing (also known as the basis of our martial arts system – Xing (Yi Quan), ‘Feet Poke Boxing’ and mastered 108 joint locks. Many of these joint locks were implemented into the Yi Quan system by Yue Fei and are known as Qinna (Chin Na).
When the war raged on, Yue Fei took control of the New Song Dynasty, and in three years of campaigns he ruthlessly fought any bandit or Jin he could find. Any survivors were immediately conscripted into Yue Fei’s army. The Jin were concerned of the rising power in central China, so they retaliated and made Emperor Gaozong flee, ruined a couple of cities, and then were crushed by Yue Fei. When the Jin attacked again in 1133, 1134 and 1135 they were decimated each time by Yue Fei and his army. Jin warriors that feared Yue Fei began swimming across the largest river in China – the Yangtze to join Imperial forces. After this, Yue Fei was appointed Marshall of the Song Forces and ran the Imperial Army. He ate meals with his men, slept in the same tent, communicated with his men and rushed into battle before they did. His leadership skills and his devotion to his men and the overall cause should be respected, valued and emulated in our lives today.
The only issue in Yue Fei’s quest was that he was blind to the fact that his advisors were creating evil and secret plans to overthrow him. The politics were that if Yue Fei successfully overtook the remaining Jin army, recovered the land and freed the advisors, Emperor Gaozong and his right hand men would be unemployed, their place taken by Yue Fei and his men. Qin Hui – the chief villain in Yue Fei’s downfall began scheming behind Yue Fei’s back with the Emperor. In 1137 Yue Fei devised a foolproof plan to rid the Jin once and for all. Upon presenting it to the Emperor, Qin convinced him to deny the request, and to transfer half of Yue Fei’s army to another Marshal, even signing a peace treaty with the Jin Empire. Yue Fei was confused and angry but his unshakable devotion to his Emperor blinded him yet again. In 1140 it came as no surprise when the Jin invaded the Song and tried to ruin any remnants of it still kicking. Yue Fei attacked the Jin and even though he was outnumbered and unarmed five to one by warriors on horseback, he managed to kill them all and survive unscathed. Fueled with anger and adrenaline, Yue Fei searched the hillside, beating any Jin member he could find. He then recaptured 10 out of 16 provinces and was headed to recapture Kaifeng…. When he received orders to call off his attack and return home.
Understandably, Yue Fei was seething with rage. Victory was incredibly close, and then snatched from his hands. Considering obeying a direct order from his Emperor, Yue Fei granted himself time to cool off before heading to speak with Emperor Gaozong. It was then that Qin Hui had Yue Fei branded a traitor, thrown into prison and later poisoned and killed in his cell. Yue Fei was only 38 years old when his life was taken, but his legacy doesn’t end with his death. After the public found out about this, they pressed the government hard to mend the situation. Emperor Gaozong had to retire due to the pressure and malice now pointed at him, and was replaced by his son. In 1163, Gaozong’s son granted Yue Fei innocent for his crimes, declared him a National War Hero, and built a massive shrine in honour of his memory and devotion to China. The shrine also serves as a tomb for Yue Fei and his family. Four other statues were also built symbolizing Qin Hui, his wife and his two assistants, who were depicted on their knees begging for forgiveness, facing Yue Fei’s monument. In present day, any tourists that may visit Yue Fei’s temple are allowed to curse or spit on Qin Hui and his other monuments, and in the 1930’s the police note many cases of tourists urinating on them.
Yue Fei continues to be a symbol of ultimate devotion and leadership in the present day. His acts of courage and heroism on the battlefield are only part of his legacy. Besides his skills in combat, he was an incredibly talented and pure human being. His life and choices were shaped around the five virtues of patience, perseverance, kindness, understanding and humility; virtues every human being should strive to develop and practice in their day to day life.
In Honour of Yue Fei
(1103 – 1147 AD)
Written by Eric Benns