Grandmaster Wu Kuo Chung, or Wu Guo Zhong (吳國忠), was born in Pingyang district, Wenzhou in Zhejiang province (浙江文洲平陽縣), China, in 1932. He became part of a family with three generations of martial artists in an area of China noted for martial arts and started to learn from his father at the age of nine. At the age of 16, Wu joined the army and, in 1949, followed the nationalist forces to Taiwan. There he became captain of a commando group, nicknamed Shen Long (神龍), and went on numerous missions to mainland China during which not one of his men was lost. He was decorated for courage by capturing three enemy frogmen and bringing them back to Taiwan alive.
Wu owes his survival during these times to his martial arts prowess, and he was never defeated when challenged by others either in the military or elsewhere. His ultimate goal was to develop the art of defeating an opponent with a single blow. After retiring from the army, he worked for the Transport Ministry but continued to practice his martial arts. It was during this time that he frequently met some of Professor Cheng Man Ching’s students, who were keen to try their skills against Wu. Needless to say, they were always defeated. From Wu’s point of view, Tai Chi was just “Tofu Boxing” (豆腐拳) and completely useless in application.
This view changed completely when he met Cheng Man Ching who flung him against the wall several times leaving him dazed and speechless no matter what techniques he used. From this point on, he followed Cheng for five years until Cheng’s death in 1975. During this time Cheng insisted he was not permitted to use any of his skills in combat and to absorb himself in reading the Tai Chi classics and several philosophical works. Wu mentions how Cheng used to lecture for hours if he was in a good mood but sometimes would be silent. He liked to use stories and jokes to impart ideas about Tai Chi. Both Wu and Cheng came from a similar region in China and shared the same dialect, which was an added advantage for Wu, as other students were apt to misinterpret what Cheng sometimes said.
Wu Kuo Chung devoted himself to his study of Tai Chi and one day after he had successfully managed to fajin one of the other students who was over 200lbs, Cheng admitted him as a closed door student of the Zuo style techniques. Unfortunately, this led to a long-term resentment among many of Cheng’s earlier students who never learnt these techniques. Cheng only taught this during the last three months of his life until his surprise death in 1975.
Wu Kuo Chung Takes Up the Baton
Following Cheng’s death, some people began to criticise Cheng’s Tai Chi abilities. This so incensed Wu that he decided to give up his job and devote himself fully to follow in Cheng’s footsteps to promote traditional Tai Chi. He fervently studied every word Professor Cheng had left him and, using his experience as a martial artist, further interpreted the secrets of Tai Chi.
In 1979, Frank DeMaria, New York State Police martial arts instructor, and two other colleagues, visited Taiwan and were sent flying into the air by Wu. Afterwards, DeMaria was unable to stand steadily with even with a stick. Consequently, all three became disciples of Wu in a ceremony at a local hotel (中原大飯店).
More spectacular was an event in Japan later that same year which soared his popularity in Taiwan. Wu was invited to Japan to demonstrate to more than one hundred martial arts experts at the Toyama Self Defence Forces base. He first performed a set of Cheng Man Ching’s Tai Chi Chuan which did not seem to impress the audience. Initially, a commander called Ogawa (小川, おがわ) who was third in the National Japanese martial arts championships, only 26 years old, challenged Wu. Wu then extended his arm and allowed Ogawa to use a karate chop three times which resulted in Ogawa’s hand throbbing with pain. They then began to fight, Ogawa attacking several times with beautiful techniques only to be sent flying by one palm strike from Wu leaving him unable to stand up again.
Most of the audience were unexpectedly impressed but an expert in Judo/Jiujitsu called Saitou (齊藤 さいとう) then challenged Wu and was promptly lifted off the ground and onto an armchair. Finally a top Kendo expert challenged Wu to a sword duel. Using only one hand and a flick of his sword, Wu disarmed his opponent. Dismayed by this the Kendo expert’s teacher then made a challenge only to have Wu’s sword stop inches from his throat. These events were later published in the local Taiwan newspapers and for a time Wu was swamped with people wanting to learn Tai Chi from him.
In the eighties Wu travelled to the USA and spent two years teaching Tai Chi in Chicago. He later went to Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Sarawak starting classes and Tai Chi centres. Wu later migrated to Australia but travelled frequently back to Taiwan and Malaysia. Since then the Shen Long Tai Chi Association has expanded into New Zealand, Canada, Brunei, China and of course the UK.
Grandmaster Wu passed away in Taiwan on 29th June 2016 at the age of 84 (85 in Chinese years).
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