Zhang Yi Zhong's Background
Zhang Yi Zhong was born just West of Shanghai, China, in 1921. His martial arts career started with the study of Shaolin while he was still in elementary school. Zhang attended middle school and high school in Shanghai and during that time also started studying Wu style Tai Ji Quan. Zhang says that when he was in high school he had heard about the arts of Ba Gua Zhang and Xing Yi Quan through the reputation of Sun Lu Tang, but he did not study those arts. Another subject that Zhang studied while he was in Shanghai, which would prove valuable later in his life, was the Japanese language.
When Zhang was in his early twenties he got a job working for the Nationalist Government in Shanghai. World War II had just ended and with the Japanese withdrawal from Taiwan, the Chinese government needed to go to Taiwan and take things over from the Japanese. Zhang Yi Zhong was part of the contingent that went to Taiwan from mainland China in 1946 to help establish the Chinese government there. Zhang says that he was literally on the third ship to leave Shanghai after the end of WWII.
Historically, the internal styles of Chinese martial arts did not really begin appearing in Taiwan until 1948-1949 when the Northerners began fleeing the Communists in mainland China. Therefore, when Zhang arrived in Taiwan in 1946, the martial arts which were primarily being taught there where the Shaolin arts that had come over to Taiwan from Fu Jian Province. Zhang said that when he arrived in Taiwan, he continued practicing his Wu Style Tai Ji on his own, however, he was still very interested in continuing his study of martial arts in Taiwan. Since there was no Tai Ji, he went around to various instructors and learned whatever arts they were teaching. He says, with a slightly embarrassed expression, that as a young man he had a dream of being a martial arts movie choreographer, so he thought it would be good to study many different styles of martial arts.
Zhang's first exposure to the internal martial arts in Taiwan came from Wang Shu din's teaching of Chen Pan Ling's integrated Tai Ji system. At the time, Zhang was working for the treasury department. Next door to his office was the tax department. Zhang said that many of the individuals working in the tax department were interested in learning Tai Ji for health and so they contacted the local Martial Arts Association to see if they could get an instructor to come to the office and teach. Chen Pan Ling, who was the head of the Martial Arts Association, sent Wang Shu Jin.
When Wang showed up to teach at the government offices there were about 100 people interested in studying Tai Ji from him. Zhang said that he watched what Wang was teaching, and although he had never seen the particular form that was being taught. He thought it looked good, so he began taking the class while continuing to practice his Wu style Tai Ji on his own.
After Zhang began studying with Wang at work, he found out that the Martial Arts Association also had a weekend gathering. Zhang began attending these gatherings to further his study with Wang Shu Jin. At one of the practice sessions, Chen Pan Ling picked Zhang out of the crowd and began showing him some corrections and teaching him some new things. Zhang said that although Wang Shu Jin was the functional teacher at these classes, Chen Pan Ling and some of the other elders would occasionally give advise and suggestions. It was at these weekend gatherings that Zhang also studied Xing Yi Quan and Ba Gua Zhang with Wang Shu Jin.
When asked about the teaching styles of Chen Pan Ling and Wang Shu din, Zhang said that neither of these gentleman provided a great deal of detail in their teaching. He said that both teachers were highly skilled and very strong, however, they did not analyze and provide details about what they were doing, they just did it. Asking questions of the teacher was discouraged. Zhang said that if you asked a question, the teacher would become angry, so you really had to be clever to figure things out. Zhang said that these teachers would show the movements of the forms and give a small bit of explanation, but it was up to the student to practice hard and explore his or her own realizations about the movements and techniques.
In addition to Wang Shu Jin's Ba Gua, Zhang also studied another system of Ba Gua which was taught by a man named Wang Jia Rui in Jia Yi. Jia Yi is a town in Taiwan which lies between Tai Chung and Tai Nan. Zhang said that when he met Wang Jia Rui, he was already teaching himself, however, when he saw Wang perform at a martial arts demonstration he really liked what he saw and asked Wang if he could study from him. When Zhang met Wang Jia Rui, Wang was already in his seventies. Zhang said that Wang was skilled at both Ba Gua and Tong Bei and that Wang Jia Rei's Ba Gua was more complicated than the Ba Gua he learned from Wang Shu Jin. He also said that Wang Jia Rei's teaching was more application oriented.
In 1964, Zhang Yi Zhong and Wang Shu Jin were both invited to attend a martial arts event in Japan (Wang had been traveling to Japan to teach since 1960). During the event, those Japanese who were interested in learning the Chinese styles of martial arts were pleasantly surprised to find out that Zhang could speak their language. Eager to learn more than they could absorb during a short visit, a group of Japanese martial artists asked Zhang if he would stay in Japan and open up a Chinese martial arts school. Zhang agreed to do so and spent the next eight years living and teaching in Japan. Understanding why Zhang decided to stay and teach Chinese martial arts in Japan is to understand Zhang Yi Zhong, his teaching, and his philosophy.