— Article that was published in Deep Water Martial Arts Magazine —
When I met George Xu (Xu Guoming) I had travelled specifically to San Francisco to meet him at his home based only on my research and heresay about him. His reputation as a high level Master of Chinese Martial Arts is one of people in the know, know him. He is not a famous personality or a movie god or famous prize fighter of any sort. His is the type of fame that comes not from aspiring to famous status but instead is spoken about in hushed tones by people who have met, touched and trained under him. He is known as a “true” master or “high level” in these circles and these terms seem to imply a certain way of thinking about him to others but really give no indication of what his skills really are or who he is.
I decided that during my yearly vacation I would take time to fly from where I was visiting family in Portland to San Francisco for the day and spend hours meeting and training privately under him before heading back and continuing my holiday. My main reasons were this reputation I had come across and seeing footage of him and people he has taught perform their martial arts. Another of those main reasons was that he (I had heard) fought in the street battles during the cultural revolution both barehanded and with ancient weapons (knives, swords, axes) and had actually killed men with his martial arts. If this was true it could be my only opportunity to train with someone for whom techniques are not speculation, someone who knew what it was to use their martial arts in the most dire and extreme of circumstances, no ring, no referees. If this was true I had to feel it and see what that experience imparted to him since (hopefully) I will never have it myself.
After a taxi ride from the airport to his place, a two story rowhouse next to the ocean, I met him walking home with a couple bags of groceries. Of course my instinct was to help the small 70 plus year old man in to his place with his groceries to which he refused. We went up the steps and he quickly told me to change into my workout gear and warm up so we could train. A few moments later when he came back outside to the garage roof where we would practice he began by telling me that I was skilled and needed to train less forms and work more on principals and concepts. Next the first of his master tricks appeared.
You see elder Masters tend to test people as soon as you meet them so they can gauge your skill. Some of these tricky questions or tests have been passed down generation to generation so that as you age and become the elder you can judge peoples skills quickly, or pass the tests of your elders. Some of these include telling you your shoe is untied to see how you tie it back up (even if it is tied up you never stoop down on one knee to check. You always raise your foot and stand balanced while you do). Or perhaps a master will ask you what weapons you have learned, or double (paired) weapons as they tend to be something reserved only for high level students. There are multitudes of these some testing your connectivity and integration of your mind and body and some simply looking at your mind to see how smart you are.
He asked me if I wanted to learn a new form from him for our lesson. Of course not! Not only is that not what I travelled from Canada to Portland to San Francisco to do but he just told me I should not pursue forms any more. I responded to his question with the same thing I asked him when we spoke on the phone to arrange the lesson. I wanted to fight him.
Yes I wanted to fight the senior citizen. I wanted to cross hands with an elder Master world renowned as a cultural living treasure of China. A Martial Artist who had killed people with his hands and weapons. I wanted to feel the touch of that experience and see what ti really was. I wanted to see if the legend of the old master really was truth. I had been training almost 30 years and been feeling stagnant the past couple years, I needed to see what there still was to learn. I needed to see what high level meant and in the Chinese Martial Arts the only way to gain that experience is the traditional way. You challenge the Master to cross hands. That way you get touch their skills and see what the reality is.
Well, he said very calmly “Ok” and asked if I was ready, picking up his hands. I arrived there 38 years old, 225lbs and training Chinese Martial Arts for 28 years. That made me bigger, stronger, skilled and his junior by at least 30 years. I picked up my hands and so did he and for the first time in my life I was dropped in a single moment. My head hit the concrete and chips from my teeth flew from my mouth. In one instant he had completely taken me apart. You have no idea how happy I was. Finding a teacher who is orders of magnitude above you after so many years training is such a gift. That day we fought two more times as I asked him to let me feel different styles of his martial arts. We spent hours on the roof of his garage training, talking and laughing as he explained what problems he saw in my skills. He passed to me the knowledge he used to take me apart when we first touched and showed me all his training methods for reaching the skills. The levels of the predator, the different levels of Dantien and his Tsunami Power. He let me touch his body as he trained and demonstrated and shared everything openly with me. Things that are more than rare to find in an elder generation Master, openness instead of secrecy. Real skills instead of fantasy. The willingness to let the student touch in and feel the skills themselves instead of simply talking about them and leaving them in the realm of theory.
I thought about discussing the levels of the predator here and the things he taught me but knowing that other writers in this issue are most likely going to dive into his teachings I will restrain myself. I left San Francisco with enough knowledge to chew on for years. I also gained a new friend, teacher and mentor. His words for me were very complimentary and he seemed very sure I would reach high level with my efforts. He was even open enough by the end of that first session that I was able to ask him the uncomfortable question about the cultural revolution, yes, he has killed people and then proceeded to show me how. Knowledge like that is unheard of in today’s world of sport fighting and fantasy kung fu “masters”. It is a wholly different experience to have someone tell you how they used their art in that kind of situation and then feel the experience in their bones. It was the beginning of a great friendship and learning experience. It was an honor to have him come up to Creston BC to our Deep Water Martial Arts Convention and teach for a weekend. I am so happy I could convince him to come and share with my friends and students. He is a stellar example of what a Master should be: Honest, Straightforward, Trustworthy and Authentic. I look forward to travelling back to San Fran and seeing how our next crossing hands goes…..
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