The ethnic hero who founded the Chin Woo Athletic Association
One would least expect a highly skilled kung-fu master to have been born with a weak disposition. But such was the case with Huo Yuanjia, who frequently fell ill when he was a little boy.
Huo Yuanjia was born into a family of famed martial arts experts on 19 January 1868 in Xiao Nan He Village in Jinghai County, Tianjin, China. His father, Huo Endi decided not to let him learn kung-fu for fear that his weak disposition would prevent him from gaining excellence in the art and thus tarnishing the good name of his family who were renowned for their skills in Mizongquan (迷踪拳).
Instead, he was to study hard and excel academically. This greatly shattered his ego but he was not to be discouraged. Huo Yuanjia secretly watched as his father taught his brothers and other disciples.
He would then head to a nearby jujube forest in the evenings to practice his newly acquired skills. He practised twice as hard as anyone else and soon excelled in the art.
Like the Chinese saying goes, “Paper can never contain a fire.” And Huo Yuanjia’s father soon found out about his secret training at the Jujube forest. Seeing how furious his father was, Huo promised never to pit his skills against anyone. In this way, it would be impossible for him to lose to other martial artists and tarnishing his family’s good name.
At that time, there was a kung-fu expert from Henan, who went around challenging other kung-fu masters. He soon paid a visit to Huo Endi and challenged him. One of Huo Yuanjia’s brothers, who was among the most highly skilled of all his father’s students, volunteered to take up the challenge. Try as he might, he could not defeat the Henan expert and the competition resulted in a draw.
Seeing that, Huo Yuanjia sprung into action and attacked the expert before his father could stop him. With his solid stances and lightning fast moves, he soon had his opponent under control. With immense strength, he lifted the kung-fu expert up high and tossed him a few yards away in a grand finale. His father marvelled at how his son had just brought glory to the family name and accepted Huo Yuanjia as a disciple. He was later to become the 7th generation successor to the art of Mizongquan (迷踪拳).
In 1909, an English boxer named Hercules O’brien, who was in Shanghai, placed a sarcastically worded advertisement in the local newspaper for any Chinese person who would dare to challenge him. This offended the people in Shanghai but they were in a quandary as to what could be done. In spite of being a culturally rich metropolis even at that time, Shanghai did not have any martial arts experts.
Yuanjia’s great prowess and sent him an invitation to take up the challenge. Upon receiving the invitation, Huo Yuanjia was all fired up and immediately rushed to Shanghai with a few friends. O’brien demanded that the competition be akin to a wrestling match, and whoever managed to wrest his opponent to the ground would be the winner. Obviously, he had heard of Huo Yuanjia’s formidable kung-fu techniques and wanted to prevent him from using them during the match. When the day of the competition came, Hercules O’brien chickened out at the very last moment and failed to turn up. Huo Yuanjia was thus the winner by default and became famous in Shanghai.
Together with his close friend Nong Jinsun (农劲荪), Huo Yuan Jia founded the Chin Woo Physical Training Centre (精武体操会) in 1910. It is the forerunner of today’s Chin Woo Athletic Association (精武体育会). Unfortunately, Huo Yuanjia died a few months later. He was 42. But the legacy of a great man never dies and it lives on even today as we strive to cultivate mind, body and good moral principles in the spirit of Chin Woo, just as the founder had intended.