ZiRan Men (Tzu Ran Men)

Tzu Ran (more commonly spelled Zi Ran) Men (Fighting style) was first mentioned in the English language by Robert Smith. He tells of the style being invented by a dwarf known as Xu Xia Ke who taught his top student Du Xin Wu (also known as “Magic Legs” Du). Du rose to prominence as the body guard of Dr. Sun Yet Sen. (the Chinese Republic’s first president). The Natural Boxing demonstrated in these VCDs are shown by Du Xin Wu’s grandson who studied under Du Xin Wu’s eldest son, Du Xiu Si and Wan Lai Sheng.

ZiRan Men is said to start with very structured movements such as Tan Tui type actions and then develop into instinctive, natural and spontaneous motion as soon as possible. Though ZiRan is a traditional martial art it take a more method-and-practice oriented stance and uses forms only for their content.

ZiRan is a “new look” at ancient Kung Fu. Taoist principles of great subtlety are mixed with solid explanations and strong ethical considerations of Chinese Culture. For instance, ZiRan esteems for virtues: trustworthiness, righteousness, bravery and chivalry. It also bases much on the Three Classic Treasures: Jing, Qi and Shen or Essence/Energy and Spirit.

duxinwu1DU XIN WU was born in Cili County, Hunan. Starting with Yang Ke he next studied from a Taoist of the GaiZi Mountains. At 13 Du met the Dwarf Xu, the “Strange Hero of South Yang Tze”. Xu picked Du as an inheritor and taught him his own style ZiRan Men. When he was 16 in 1885 Du accompanied his teacher to Xu’s homeland of Guizhou and also to SiChuan. In this arena Du met and learned from many masters and, seeing that he had caught the essence of his art, was graduated by Xu and left on his own. Du attempted to join a bodyguard service and, when challenged by the owner, downed the man to show his skills. But after two years of this service Du wanted other challenges.

First he went home, then decided to travel to Japan where he entered the Imperial University under the discipline of agriculture. Taunted as a Chinese, Du quickly put the teasing to rest with his martial skills.

His real fame came when, in 1905 on the formation of the China Revolutionary League, Du Xin Wu became the founder, Sun Yet Sun’s, bodyguard. He continued until the 1911 revolution. After this he became a counselor at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry headed by his friend, Song JiaoRen. During this era he took on his top two students, Wan Lai Sheng and Guo Qi Feng. Guo was actually able to witness Du’s “light foot” skill, still practiced in the art by walking around the rim of an iron pot over and over with perfect balance.

When the Central Government moved to Nanjing, 1927, Du became the deputy director of a Henan experimental farm for the Ministry of Agriculture and Mining. Five years later he was invited to sit on the Chang Sha Second National Wushu Congress in Hunan. He retired in 1949 and died at the age of 84.

wanlaisheng1Du’s Student, WAN LAI SHENG, became very famous himself. Born in 1902 in Hubei’s Wuchang, he started practice early. Also an agriculturist, he had time to study from such masters as Zhao Xin Wu and Liu Bai Chuan. He was instrumental in adapting the Taoist principles of the great Chuang Tzu into the art of ZiRan Men. At the age of 26 (1928) Wan entered the National Martial Arts Competition in NanJing, a huge and famous event. Young as he was he was considered a major figure not only as a boxer but as a scholar too. Having been the first martial artist to be made a general, his was a special place in history. He took many positions after that: Chief of the Guangdong Martial Arts Academy, Chief of the Hunan Martial Arts Institute, Faculty Chief of Sport at Guangxi University and others. In 1952 he became the principle of the Fujian Sports Teachers University, Yongnan County,. Though dismissed after an ethical clash with the Head of the Department of Education, he continued teaching and became sports professor on the staff of the FuJian Agricultural University, Fuzhou.

wanlaisheng1Wan Lai Sheng was not only an expert martial artist but had delved into Taoism and Chinese medicine. Like certain concerned people he saw martial arts as a way of strengthening China’s people through their traditional skills and arts. An important martial writer of his time, Wan wrote “Wu Shu Hui Zong” a major book on the common principles of martial practice. He continued with twenty more books and articles. He was invited to serve as a member major committees. His progressive and modernizing thought influenced such diverse practitioners as Bruce Lee and others. In 1986 a Fuzhou ZiRan Men Academy was opened under Wan’s direction. Lu Yao Qin , his top disciple, acted as Manager. Thousands of people have attended and learned in this center.

Wan Lai Sheng died on August 8, 1992. He had created and left behind a legacy that will have lasting effect on the art. Friend of noted boxers such as Gu Ru Zhang and Li Jing Lin, he was the double inheritor of Six Harmony Boxing and ZiRan Boxing.

dvd29955mThese VCDs show the more “instinctive” actions mixed in and sometimes used in fighting applications or in very loose formal sets. It’s important to remember that while a perfectly good style the phrase ZiRan translated to “spontaneity” is a Taoist concept similar to “sprezzatura” connoting effortless mastery and common to such things as painting and other Taoist studies. While this is the first showing of this style at any length available the utilization of this name or that doesn’t actually connote any more “spontaneity” than any form of good martial training. A style’s goals and its manifestation always depend on the practitioner’s jiao or “ingenuity” and not on categorical designations.

ZiRan resources:

DVDs from the Du Family on ZiRan
Wan Lai Sheng VCDs/DVDs #1
Wan Lai Sheng VCDs/DVDs #2

Big Book on ZiRan
Du Fei Hu’s VCDs
VCDs on Wan Lai Sheng’s teachings
Wu Sun Xiong’s special order VCD
Wan Lai Sheng’s writings in simplified Chinese
More background on Wan Lai Sheng

One Response to “ZiRan Men (Tzu Ran Men)”

  1. Young as he was he was considered a major figure not only as a boxer but as a scholar too.

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