Huo Yuan Jia (Fok Yuen Jia)
Huo Yuan Jia (1869-1910) was not only a renowned martial artists, but is also one of China's national heroes. He was born during the last days of the Qing Dynasty (1616-1911) in Tianjin, a member of a martial arts family. The Huo family was most known for their Mi Zong Quan (Confusion Fist). This style of martial arts depends upon quick movements and complex footwork, frequently involves fast movements to get to the back side of the opponent, and was thus called Mi Zong Quan.
Huo Yuan Jia had many brothers. When he was young, he was the weakest of all of them, and thus was told to read books and study, not practice martial arts. He could only hide and try to learn kung fu by secretly observing his brothers. Once, during a competition, many of the Huo family combatants lost to a certain opponent. Huo Yuan Jia asked to join the match. With astounding skill, he won easily. Astonished, his father decided to teach him Mi Zong Quan, which was only taught to a select few. After much hardship, his martial arts improved greatly. He was also very altruistic, and gained great fame in Northern China.
At the start of the twentieth century, China was in a state of turmoil as a result of the end of the Qing Dynasty, the forced importation of opium by the British and invasions by the Japanese, English, and other Europeans. The Chinese were called the "Sick Men of Asia". Phrases such as "No Dogs and Chinese Allowed" were widely used by the foreigners forcibly occupying territories in China. As a result, the morale and physical health of the Chinese people was very low. The foreigners introduced Western technology such as guns, cannons, printing machines and steam engines. Wushu practitioners, once bodyguards for convoys of officials, were replaced by steam trains and unskilled persons trained to use guns. Western-trained instructors replaced famous wushu masters as the chief instructors for the country's army. Guns replaced traditional wushu weapons.
Numerous foreign martial arts schools that arrived in China, such as western boxing and Japanese martial arts, made the situation worse. They challenged certain wushu schools and beat them in fights. This was not helped by the tradition among wushu masters to teach their skills to a few students. These students may then pass their skills to one or two students. Wushu was therefore limited to a selected few. The skills would be lost if the selected ones did not pass their skills down to anyone.
Saddened by this situation, Huo went to Shanghai and challenged all the various foreign martial arts organizations. None were able to overcome his skills. Many of the fights, such as when Huo Yuan Jia scared away two strongmen from Russia and England and when his pupil Liu Zhen Sheng used Mi Zong Quan to defeat five Japanese Judo experts in a row, were told throughout the country. Huo Yuan Jia then felt that he must do more to restore the pride and morale of the nation. He believed that when the Chinese people are healthy, the whole nation will become strong again. He set up a school to teach wushu to the people of Shanghai. He named his school Jing Wu (Chin Wu). "Jing" meaning "essence", "excellent" and "of the best quality" and "Wu" meaning "martial art".
Sadly in August 1909, one of Huo's opponents poisoned him to death. After a certain competition, his opponent invited Huo Yuan Jia to a party in a sign of good will, and recommended a Western doctor to cure his haemoptysis. Huo died a month after taking the doctor's prescribed medication, at the age of 42. Later, his pupils took the medicine for further examination, and found it to be poison.
Undaunted by Huo Yuan Jia's death, all of his students kept up his spirit and continued to operate Jing Wu by inviting famous masters from Northern China to come and continue the Jing Wu spirit by becoming instructors. It was then that the Jing Wu Athletic Association was set up. Later, Sun Zhong Shan (Sun Yatsen), commending Huo's nationalistic pride, personally wrote a sign for the athletic association, with the words, "Martial Spirit".
Huo Yuan Jia, like many other martial artists, was also popularized in cinema. His death and the actions of his famous pupil Chen Zhen in seeking revenge were portrayed in Bruce Lee's movie Fist of Fury (also known as Chinese Connection), Li Lian Jie's (Jet Li's) movie Fist of Legend, and Zhen Zi Dan's (Donnie Yen's) TV series Fist of Fury. Huo's own feats were shown in the TV series Huo Yuan Jia, produced in the 1980s by Xu Xiao Ming (Tsui Siu-Ming).