Many biographies on Master
Chang already exist and a number of episodes of his life, handed down
by his scholars, have become either mythic or legendary.
The following biography is a
"Personal" one, based on what Master Bestetti had listened
directly from Master Chang in the fourteen years he remained faithfully
close to him.
Master Chang Dsu Yao (second name Chang Ch'eng Hsun) was born the 15th of June 1918, in China at P'ei, in the Kiang Su Province; one of his ancestors had been a monk of the Shaolin Temple.
He came from a region rich in
traditions regarding this mythic Temple. Handed down from generation to
generation, those stories were often reminded by the same Master Chang.
His grandfather used to tell him these
stories. "Once, a monk was living in the Shaolin Monastery. He had been
able to make his head so strong that other four monks could use him as
a ram to break doors".
"A noviciate was assigned to the
kitchen with the job both to keep fires alive to cook and never to make
lacking firewood that he used to break with his own hands. When, after
years, the monk went back home, his relatives persistently asked him
what he had learned at the Shaolin Temple. The monk, becoming
impatient, stood up, beating the hands on the table and finally went
away. How astonished his relatives were when they saw the monk's
fingerprints left on the table!"
And moreover "Once, a monk with a very
powerful body, tired of living at the Temple, decided to leave it. He
dived in the small river, flowing close to the Temple, and arrived as
far as the iron bars were forbidding him to go out. The monk could
break the iron bars and run away. But soon two monks recaptured him and
drove him back to the Temple."
Master Chang used to talk about his grandmother, a very wise woman with extraordinary dowries, who lived until 120 years old.
Some months before dying, feeling that
her death was near, she called around her all the relatives and divided
her belongings among all equally.
|At the age of three years old the
little Chang was taken by his parents to see some exercises of Kung Fu
in a gymnasium. Even if he was very young, he was so caught by that
visit that, on the way back, he immediately tried to practice what he
had seen (about that Master Chang reminded his fighting with his elder
brother before going to sleep).
At the age of six, he was presented by
his parents to Liù Pao Ch'uin (1877-1973), a grandee Master of
Shaolin Mei Hua Ch'uan (literally of "Flower Apricot tree") (In the picture the Master Chang in Bologna in 1976.)
Master Chang reminded that:
"Liù Pao Ch'uin, in front of me, asked to my parents if I was a
good son and if I was respectful to them. My parents answered yes and
so he accepted me as a scholar".
Since then his parents, coming from a
rich and noble family, started to pay Master Liù Pao Ch'uin to
teach the young Chang at home.
The young Chang loved so much Kung Fu
that he started to practice it hardly. He used to say that he didn't
agree the methods his Master's used to train his scholars: he was too
hard, inflexible and very ugly!!
Liu Pao Ch'uin, for example, obliged
the young Chang to remain immovable in Kung Fu positions for long,
beating him and making him falling down when the position wasn't
The training with Master Liù Pao Ch'iu lasted for 22 years, until 1946.
During the summer season, Master
Liù Pao Ch'uin used to take his scholars to the close monastery
to practice all together Kung Fu for one month. Master Chang reminded
that, among the elder teachers, Yan Su Wen was able to fling up and
fall down both on the chest and on the back without using his hands.
Even during the spare time the young Chang considered only Kung Fu and
used to train himself in the green field close to his house.
He used to tell that, once, his
grandfather was watching him, sitting in the veranda and smoking his
pipe. He was so caught by the braveness of his nephew that he came back
to his senses only when the pipe, fallen down, started to burn his
Even at school, during the break, instead of playing with his fellows, the young Chang used to practice Kung Fu in the corridor.
When Master Chang saw some of his
scholars biking to the the lesson, he reminded, laughing, that he
himself used to bike to school,but his bike was full of the arms he
used to practice Kung Fu.
One day he stole the gun of his father
and didn't go to school to shoot to the birds nests. Discovered by his
parents he was kept without eating and going out for three days. Back
to school, he was violently beat on the hands by his teacher in front
of all the classmates.
At the age of six the little Chang saw
Master Yang Chen Fu, already Master of Liù Pao Ch'uin, teaching
Tai Chi Chuan. At the age of 12, Chang started to learn Tai Chi always
under the guide of Liù Pao Ch'uin.
of the most famous Masters in Shanghais in 1929. From left to
right: Yang Chen Fu (Tai Chi Ch'uan) , Sun Lu T'ang (Pa
Qua, HsingI), Liu Pao Ch'uan (Lohan Shaolin), Li Ching Lin (Wu Tang
Chieh), Tu Hsin Wu. (Scuola naturale
At that time Master Chang was asked by
his Master to fight against the Neo- Kung Fu Champion, himself scholar
of Liù Pao Ch'uin and elder fellow of Chang. In the empty tent
where the Kung Fu Championship had just taken place, Liù Pao
Ch'uin placed the two guys one in front of the other in order to make
them fight. The young Chang started with the seventh kick (the sweep)
but, in the impetus, he broke the leg to the antagonist!
One day, the young Chang was
practicing the sabre in the gymnasium. He was turning it around so fast
that the sabre slipped out of his hand and hurt the shoulder of a
fellow (luckily without any serious consequence). His parents were
obliged to pay all the costs for curing the injured guy.
The years passed and the young Chang
joined the Military academy. This was the Master Chang's golden period.
At the top of his physical form, he was able to counter-attack the push
of ten persons and to raise one up using only one hand.
He used to remind how he was able to
make himself respected. Once, in front of the insolent behaviour of a
soldier, he reacted and gave him such a strong slap that the poor guy
fell down five metres further and with the five fingers printed on his
During this period Master Chang had
also a motorbike accident. He had such a violent bump that he fell down
further away. But he could fall down doing the ninth fall of Shaolin
and to stand up again without any serious consequence. So far Chang
approached the car driver, who convinced he had killed him, was scared
thinking to be in front of a ghost.
He continued to study Kung Fu under
the coaching of Chang Ching Po and Sun Lu Tang. He learned the Hsing I
from the first and both the Pa Qua and the Liang I from the second.
From Master Fu, instead, he learned the Szu Hsiang Ch'uan.
On this life period, Master Chang
liked to tell the following story: "One day he went to the market to
buy some meat. When he realized that the butcher was cheating on the
weight, he reacted.
The butcher, threatening him,
violently threw the knife in the counter. Then, helped by other twenty
market's sellers, he jumped onto the Officer Chang. Master Chang
succeeded in defending himself. In telling the story he used to imitate
the faces his enemies had while suffering for his levers. At the police
arrival, the aggressors were made harmless. Even his Superior arrived:
in front of all he didn't want to take his defence but in private he
From time to time, even during the
period of the Military Academy, Master Chang went to his old Master to
learn new Kung Fu techniques. After joining the army, he quickly did
career. He got married and had four children, two males and two
females. After becoming Colonel of the Army of the General Chang Kai
Shek, he went to the war to face the Japanese Invasion. The Japans
fired his house and killed his parents.
Master Chang reminded the hard and
cruel experience of the war. During the fighting he had also to beware
of some of his own soldiers; he was always the first to start the
battle. One day a bomb hurt his leg. He didn't wait to be completely
healed to be back to fight. He reminded that his Army used to scare the
Enemy in this way: they surrounded the Enemy, hidden behind a hill,
shouting loudly all day and night long.
Then, in any momentum of his life, the
terrible memories of the war (during which he was always between life
and dead) came back to his mind. Once in Milan, passing by the gate of
the gymnasium, he reminded when, to escape from Japans, thanks to the
Kung Fu training, he could jump a three metres high wall, levering on
Another time, Master Chang was going
by train with some scholars to a Kung Fu demonstration. He brought with
him some sandwiches for his "Small Army". To be respectful, all of his
scholars were waiting for him to start eating. The Master remained
immobile in front of his sandwich. When he realized that his scholars
were looking at him, he explained that during the war he found himself
in a similar situation. While eating a sandwich on a train, he happened
to be in the middle of a violent shooting.
When talking about I King, Master
Chang reminded that during the war, when every day might have been the
last one, every morning he questioned I King to know if he would have
survived. He told that once he was the only one of his battalion to
survive. Finished his munitions, he had to defend himself against the
Japans only with his bayonet. After shirking the attacks from the first
two, he turned quickly to face a third one but he couldn't avoid to be
hurt by another one with the bayonet. Even with a 30 cm deep wound, he
went on fighting and desperately succeeded in winning his six
antagonists. Master Chang showed to some of his scholars his deep
cicatrices on the flank.
During the war, Master Chang, hidden in
a ruined bell tower, fell down for the explosion of a bomb. He was
ridden down by the detritus and remained buried for hours without being
able to move. Falling down, he cracked some vertebras and remained
paralysed. The Master reminded that he couldn't shout to ask for help
and he was found only by chance. Afterwards, he had to cure himself for
long with a rudimental X-rays machine that caused to him an intestine's
cancer. He started other cures that helped him to heal but deeply
marked his morale
At the end of the war, he felt to be
finished and he hadn't any interest left. He had lost any hope when a
friend invited him to a Kung Fu demonstration. At the end, he was
prayed to execute any Kung Fu form. After a first refusal, Master Chang
was convinced to execute the third form of sabre. He was surprised to
see himself still able in practicing Kung Fu. He re-gained
self-confidence and went back to both practice and teach Kung Fu. The
Chinese Revolution finished him: ex-Officer of Chang Kai Shek Army he
was obliged to refugee at Taiwan. There he remained for many years as
teacher of the Army and retired in 1973. (In the shot, Master Chang in Taiwan in the April of 1956). But
he didn't feel to be safe even there and in 1975 he accepted a job a
friend offered to him in Italy. He immediately left with her wife.
Luckily some Western Masters of Martial Arts recognized immediately his
talent. The same year he started teaching in Bologna, then in Milan
(from 1977). During the many years he remained in Milan, he tried to
organize a proper school of Kung Fu, with an organic and complete
The Master Chang's teaching activity
was very intensive both in Italy and abroad: courses, stages,
instructors' courses, conferences, demonstrations. His ambition was to
hand on the whole programme of Kung fu. But in the last two years, due
to his poor physical conditions, he felt that teaching was very tiring.
He revealed, to the scholars closer to him, to feel like a "Flame in
the wind". It was in this period that, lost a certain lucidity in the
techniques, he showed himself as whom he had been: a warrior, a
combatant. In the month of December 1991, he left for Taiwan to spend
there his Christmas Holidays. But he never came back. The news of his
dead arrived to his scholars in February 1992.