DAVID LIN : A PAGE OUT OF TAIWAN’S MARTIAL HISTORY
Growing up with Ch’ang Tung-Sheng in the hard, fast world of Shuai-Chiao
by Mark Cheng
David Chee-Kai Lin is one of the most quiet personalities on the international Shuai-Chiao scene, but he’s definitely one of the most accomplished. His early training reads like a chapter out of a martial arts novel, having fought and beaten some of Asia’s finest champions, and his current teachings on the finer points of combat are just as amazing. Always one to turn away from controversy and find a nice, quiet place to train his own skills, Lin’s early years in Taiwan were the stuff that forges greatness and true martial arts skill.
When he was little, David Lin used to watch other kids get bullied and it would irritate him fiercely. Even at a young age, Lin had a strong sense of what was fair and what wasn’t. While interceding on behalf of the underdog, he gravitated towards throwing techniques and found himself yearning for Shuai-Chiao training to better his fighting skill. Lin got his first exposure to Chinese wrestling in junior high school at the age of 14 in a club that was overseen by the legendary Ch’ang Tung-Sheng.
Grandmaster Ch’ang Tung-Sheng was a disciple of Chang Fong-yen and the undisputed “King of Shuai-Chiao” throughout China and Taiwan. However, Lin recalls that the grandmaster didn’t oversee the class on a very regular basis due to his busy teaching schedule. “Ch’ang only appeared on the first day, and then walked out the door at the end of practice, leaving a couple of senior students to lead the club’s practices,” he remembers. “They’d practice techniques with the younger students and share their techniques with the other newcomers as they joined the club.”
Pleased with the opportunity to simply be learning Shuai-Chiao, Lin practiced the techniques he picked up from those club meetings diligently. Once, he went off to train at school and heard of an event, which he thought was going to be a Shuai-Chiao practice. With his uniform rolled up under his arm, he made his way through the crowd and found that the event was not the Shuai-Chiao club’s, but rather the Judo club’s membership drive. There were quite a few black belts there with the coach, and they were demonstrating their throwing techniques for the crowd.
The coach saw the roll under Lin’s arm and called him up to join in the demonstration, thinking that he was holding a Judo gi. When Lin put on his short sleeved uniform, the surprised coach had him go one-on-one with every member of the team, only to find that the lone Shuai-Chiao stylist had no problem with destroying his students on the mat. To save face for the club, the coach himself went up against him, only to meet the same fate.
When he bent over to lend a hand to pull the coach up after throwing him, the humiliated coach kicked him in the face, giving him a bloody nose. Lin berated the coach for his unsportsmanlike act in front of the entire crowd and stormed off the platform.
Impressed by this display of skill and strength of character, one of the seniors from the high school Shuai-Chiao club ran off to tell Grandmaster Ch’ang of what had happened and the notable young newcomer that had thrashed the Judo coach. Ch’ang, who had never paid much attention to Lin up to then, sent a message back a few days later. The message instructed Lin to go to a local park at 6 a.m. if he wanted to improve his skill. When Lin went the next morning, he found the grandmaster there, and then found himself holding stances for 5 minutes at a time. Ch’ang would just practice his forms and leave the young man on the side, struggling to hold a stance and sweat dripping off his shaking legs. These stances built up the raw strength that would give Lin’s body the power to execute Shuai-Chiao’s powerful, explosive throws.
David Lin’s parents saw their son’s passion for the art, and wanted him to go through the discipleship ceremony with Grandmaster Ch’ang. Ch’ang, however, was a devout Hui Muslim, and he replied that men should not be the masters of other men, as that was the role of God. (Later, this was to change, as Ch’ang eventually accepted disciples and adopted sons.) This did not keep the senior students from serving Ch’ang, and they placed themselves in the traditional roles of household helpers to their teacher. Lin was the last of this group.
Ch’ang Tung-Sheng was tied to many of Taiwan’s notables, some of whom sought him out for training. Chen Chih-Chen, a grandson of Chen Ying-Shih, one of Chiang Kai-Shek’s notable seniors in the Kuomintang, was also a practice partner during those early morning sessions. Those private training sessions consisted of detailed explanations of the solo forms and stancework, followed with a few throws that the Grandmaster would explain to him carefully and perform on him effortlessly. “Master Ch’ang would use the same movement or throw, and show me many different ways of approaching and entering into that throw,” recalls Lin.
By 15, Lin attended his first real tournament, and it turned out to be the Shuai-Chiao Division of the Taiwan National Athletic Tournament, which included all sorts of grapplers. Even though his only exposure to Shuai-Chiao was through his high school club and a few weeks of training with Ch’ang himself, Lin tore through the competition and found that the explosivity of his throwing technique allowed him to dominate the competition from the first touch. Out of sheer nervousness, Lin kept using only his “tearing” technique, but that kept the opposition from establishing a clear hold on him, thus giving him half the fight already. “When your opponent can’t hold you, he can’t throw you,” Lin says with a twinkle in his eye.
At the tender age of 16, David Lin earned the notable reputation of assistant instructor to Grandmaster Ch’ang at the Taiwan Central Police University when Ch’ang presented Lin with a contract to act as his second in command. As the young assistant to the grandmaster, he was constantly being heckled by the 200 some students that he taught on a daily basis. Because of this setup, Lin got the chance to practice his throws with over 200 fighters in rotation. Few fighters, if any, get to train this intensely or this realistically ever in their lives, and it forced David Lin to make his techniques work well.
For 2 years, from age 14 to 16, he trained with Ch’ang every morning in the park. From the time he turned 16 up to age 18, David Lin trained his skills for up to 10 hours a day: training one-on-one with Ch’ang in the early morning, helping Ch’ang teach classes at the Taiwan police university, overseeing practices at his high school Shuai-Chiao club, and training with others privately. This bolstered his already considerable physical technique with a deeper mental understanding from teaching his art.
Challenges were a part of the norm at the Police University. So numerous were those that came to try him out that eventually Lin made it known that he would accept no challenges from anyone who wasn’t already a high ranking martial artist or champion. Among those who still qualified, he made a “three-strikes” rule. If Lin threw a challenger three times, the match was over. In one particularly rough match, a challenger was thrown so high that his feet took the lights out on the first throw and went out the window on the second throw. Lin relates a particular incident in which an opponent of his took on the nickname “1:30”. This came about because of a strong fighter who knew that Lin’s favorite move was grip tearing. In order to prevent the tear, he grabbed Lin’s belt, which gave him a much firmer hold.
“When someone grabs your belt with both hands, it’s not easy to tear their grip. I dropped into a horse stance, throwing my hips back, and pushed on his forehead with both hands. This cranked his neck backwards and pinched a nerve which caused one of his neck muscles to cramp, just like when you wake up with a crick in your neck. The pain broke his grip, and I threw him right away. When he got up, he couldn’t straighten his neck. The police who were there to witness the fight thought that was really something, and they called the guy ‘1:30’, since they said that the line from his head to his neck was bent the way the hands of a clock were at 1:30.”
In high school, Lin fought a Thai boxer who happened to be in Taiwan at the time. His face was on a few magazine covers, and he was known as one of the Thai champions. From the start, Lin knew his opponent’s kicks would be his main concern, so he stayed low and shot in fast, grabbing the offending leg and sweeping out the standing leg.
He recalls, “I heard that Thai boxing allows throws, so I was wary of that as well, but the kicks concerned me more. When I fought the Thai guy, I knew I couldn’t afford to let his kick make full contact with me, so kept my stance low and prepared to dart in as soon as he kicked. That gave me the chance to throw him hard, but he must have landed wrong. When he stood up, one of his little fingers was turning 360 degrees at the knuckle, so we stopped the fight.”
There’s also the story of him being tricked into fighting a challenge with 2 fighters at a time. By advertising a friendly match between Shuai-Chiao and their style, they meant to put up a demonstration of the superiority of their system. When Lin showed up to see the demonstration, it turned out that he himself was the only Shuai-Chiao stylist there and was tricked into fighting. He faced his first opponent and threw him easily, much to the dismay of the instigators. Two fighters from that school got up on the platform with Lin, intending to hurt the Shuai-Chiao stylist by fighting two-on-one and saving the honor of the school. Instead, Lin fought both at once and left them on the mat, walking away unscathed. “Some people like to talk about these things a lot, but challenges aren’t always pretty. That’s why it’s always better not to get into these kinds of situations. People get hurt,” cautions Lin.
After a few years of intermittent contact, a 29-year-old David Lin and his master traveled together to Singapore & Hong Kong at the invitation of the local governments in 1976. Ch’ang took that opportunity to demonstrate his art with Lin in the places they stopped, strongly reaffirming his already fearsome reputation as a fighter, and he introduced his pupil to the local kung-fu associations. The demonstrations they did left crowds awed and always left newspaper headlines in their wake.
The almost 20 years of such rigorous training and unique opportunities left and indelible mark, and even to this day, Lin’s teachings are embodied with the ferocity and power of Ch’ang Tung-Sheng. According to David C.K. Lin, the trait that made Grandmaster Ch’ang and his combat art so extremely effective was his ability to combine striking and grappling in a fluid, logical manner. That logic and experience served Lin so well that anti-terrorism schools and secret service agents from around the world have paid him well to elucidate these concepts for them.
“There are lots of people who learned Shuai-Chiao from Grandmaster Ch’ang and they can throw well, but that’s only half the picture. There are others who never learned Shuai-Chiao, and they’re excellent strikers. My teacher used to tell me to kick & punch from a distance, then lock & throw in close. The problem is that most people know this idea but aren’t always clear on how to actually make that happen,” explains Lin. “To fight the average person, anything will work. To fight someone with some skill, you have to develop a more well-rounded game. This is what Combat Shuai-Chiao is all about. I liked fighting even when I was a little kid, so early on I got an idea of what would be practical and what wouldn’t.” From defending other kids from bullies to throwing 200 policemen in rotation, David Lin’s rough and tumble days in Taiwan gave him a crystal clear understanding of the science of combat and the usefulness of Ch’ang Tung-Sheng’s rare art of Shuai-Chiao.
About the subject: Master David Lin now resides in the Atlanta, GA area and teaches on a restricted basis. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the author: Mark Cheng is a student of Master Lin’s who lives and trains with James Lin in Los Angeles, CA. He can be reached at MJCSifu@aol.com