Editor’s Note: This page’s text is adapted from an article about shuai chiao master David C.K. Lin by Dr. Mark Cheng, Senior RKC, printed in the February 2000 issue of Black Belt magazine. The photo shoot depicted in our exclusive behind-the-scenes video below was for a piece in the April/May 2013 issue of Black Belt magazine.
David Chee-Kai Lin is one of the most quiet personalities in the kung fu community, but he’s also one of the most accomplished. His early training reads like a chapter out of a martial arts novel, and his current teachings on the finer points of combat shuai chiao are just as amazing.
KUNG FU VIDEO
Combat Shuai Chiao Master David C.K. Lin and Dr. Mark Cheng Prepare Techniques for Black Belt Magazine Photo Shoot
Bullies Beware: David C.K. Lin’s First Exposure to Shuai Chiao
When David C.K. Lin was little, he often watched other kids get bullied — and it infuriated him. While frequently interceding on behalf of the underdog, David C.K. Lin gravitated toward throwing techniques and found himself yearning for shuai chiao training to bolster his fighting skill.
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His first exposure to the Chinese wrestling art of shuai chiao came in a junior-high-school club whose activities were overseen by the legendary Chang Dung-sheng.
A disciple of Chang Fong-yen, Chang Dung-sheng was called the “king of shuai chiao” throughout China and Taiwan. However, David C.K. Lin recalls that the grandmaster didn’t oversee the club’s class on a regular basis because of his busy teaching schedule. “Chang 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 says. “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 learn shuai chiao, David C.K. Lin diligently practiced the techniques he picked up from those club meetings.
Once, he went off to train at school and heard of an event he thought was a shuai chiao practice session. 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 doing but rather the judo club’s membership drive. Quite a few black belts were there with their coach, and they were demonstrating their throwing techniques for the crowd.
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The coach saw the roll under David C.K. Lin’s arm and asked him to join in the demonstration, thinking that he was holding a judo gi (uniform). When David C.K. 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 destroying every student on the mat.
To save face for the club, the coach challenged David C.K. Lin, only to meet the same fate. When David C.K. Lin bent over to lend a hand to the coach after throwing him to the mat, he kicked David C.K. Lin in the face, giving him a bloody nose. David C.K. Lin berated the coach for his unsportsmanlike conduct in front of the crowd, then stormed off the platform.
Impressed by the display of skill and character, one of the seniors from the shuai chiao club ran off to tell Chang Dung-sheng what had just happened. Chang Dung-sheng, who had never paid much attention to David C.K. Lin until then, sent a message back a few days later. It instructed David C.K. Lin to go to a local park at 6 a.m. if he wanted to improve his skill.
When David C.K. Lin showed up the next morning, he met the grandmaster — and he soon found himself holding stances for five minutes at a time. It seemed that Chang Dung-sheng would just practice his forms and leave the young man on the side, struggling to hold a stance as sweat dripped off his shaking legs. Those stances built up the raw strength that would give David C.K. Lin’s body the power to execute shuai chiao’s powerful, explosive throws.
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David C.K. Lin’s parents noticed their son’s passion for shuai chiao and wanted him to go through the discipleship ceremony with Chang Dung-sheng. Chang Dung-sheng, however, was a devout Hui Moslem, and he replied that men should not be the masters of other men because that was the role of God. (That attitude would later change as Chang Dung-sheng accepted several disciples and “adopted sons.”) But Chang Dung-sheng’s beliefs did not keep the senior students from serving him, and they placed themselves in the traditional role of household helpers to their shuai chiao teacher. David C.K. Lin was the last of this group.
Chang Dung-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 seniors in the Kuomintang, was also a practice partner during those early morning sessions. Those private workouts consisted of detailed explanations of the solo forms and stance work, followed by a few throws that the grandmaster would explain carefully and perform effortlessly. “Master Chang would use the same movement or throw and show me many different ways of approaching and entering into that throw,” David C.K. Lin recalls.
World of Competition
At age 15, David C.K. Lin attended his first real tournament: the Taiwan National Athletic Tournament, which included all sorts of grapplers. Even though his only exposure to shuai chiao was through his junior-high-school club and a few weeks of training with Chang Dung-sheng, David C.K. Lin tore through the competition and found that the explosiveness of his throwing techniques allowed him to dominate everyone as soon as he laid his hands on them.
Out of sheer nervousness, David C.K. 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,” shuai chiao expert David C.K. Lin says with a twinkle in his eye.
At the tender age of 16, David C.K. Lin became Chang Dung-sheng’s second in command at Taiwan Central Police University. As the young assistant to the grandmaster, David C.K. Lin was constantly heckled by the 200-plus students he taught daily. But David C.K. Lin got a chance to practice his throws on more than 200 opponents in rotation. Few fighters in the history of the martial arts ever got to train that intensely or realistically, and it forced David C.K. Lin to make sure his techniques worked well.
From age 14 to 16, David C.K. Lin trained with Chang Dung-sheng every morning in the park. For the following two years, he spent up to 10 hours a day perfecting his skills: training one-on-one with Chang Dung-sheng in the morning, helping the grandmaster teach at the police university, overseeing practice at the high-school shuai chiao club and training with others privately. That bolstered David C.K. Lin’s already considerable physical technique with a deeper mental understanding of shuai chiao that can be gained only through teaching.
Challenges were the norm at the police university. So numerous were the people that came to try him out that eventually David C.K. Lin made it known that he would accept no challenges from anyone who wasn’t already a high-ranked martial artist or champion. For those who still qualified, he made a “three-strikes” rule: If David C.K. Lin threw a challenger three times, the match was over.
In one particularly rough bout, a challenger was thrown so high his feet took out the lights on the first throw and went out the window on the second throw. David C.K. Lin relates a particular incident in which an opponent acquired the nickname “1:30.” That came about because of a strong fighter who knew that David C.K. Lin’s favorite move was “grip tearing.” To prevent the tear, the opponent grabbed David C.K. Lin’s belt, which gave him a much firmer hold.
“When someone grabs your belt with both hands, it’s not easy to tear his grip,” David C.K. Lin says. “I dropped into a horse stance, throwing my hips back, and pushed on his forehead with both hands. This cranked his neck backward 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 are at 1:30.”
In high school, David C.K. Lin fought a Thai boxer who happened to be in Taiwan. His face had appeared on a few magazine covers, and he was known as a Thai champion. From the start, David C.K. 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 the standing leg.
“I heard that Thai boxing allows throws, so I was wary of that, as well, but the kicks concerned me more,” David C.K. Lin says. “When I fought the Thai guy, I knew I couldn’t afford to let his kick make full contact with me, so I 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.”
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There’s also the story of David C.K. Lin being tricked into fighting a challenge match with two men at the same time. By advertising a friendly match between shuai chiao and their style, the men meant to demonstrate the superiority of their system. When David C.K. Lin showed up to watch the demonstration, it turned out that he 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 mounted the platform with David C.K. Lin, intending to hurt the shuai chiao stylist and save the honor of the school. Instead, David C.K. Lin fought both at once and left them in a heap on the mat. He walked away unscathed.
“Some people like to talk about these things a lot, but challenges aren’t always pretty,” the shuai chiao master says. “That’s why it’s always better not to get into these kinds of situations. People get hurt.”
After a few years of intermittent contact, the 29-year-old David C.K. Lin and his master traveled together to Singapore and Hong Kong in 1976 at the invitation of the local governments. Chang Dung-sheng took that opportunity to demonstrate shuai chiao with David C.K. Lin wherever they stopped, strongly reaffirming his already fearsome reputation as a fighter and introducing his pupil to local kung fu associations. The demonstrations left crowds awed and newspaper reporters composing stories about their power.
Fighting Secrets of Shuai Chiao
The almost 20 years of rigorous training and unique opportunities have left an indelible mark on David C.K. Lin’s teachings, and even today they are overflowing with the ferocity and power of Chang Dung-sheng.
According to David C.K. Lin, the trait that made Chang Dung-sheng and his combat art so effective was his ability to combine striking and grappling in a fluid, logical manner. That logic and experience has served David C.K. Lin so well that anti-terrorism schools and Secret Service agents from around the world have paid him to elucidate those concepts of shuai chiao for them.
“There are lots of people who learned shuai chiao from grandmaster Chang and they can throw well, but that’s only half the picture,” David C.K. Lin says. “There are others who never learned shuai chiao and they’re excellent strikers. My teacher used to tell me to kick and punch from a distance, then lock and throw in close. The problem is that most people know this idea but aren’t always clear on how to actually make that happen.
“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 C.K. Lin’s rough-and-tumble days in Taiwan gave him a crystal clear understanding of the science of combat and the usefulness of Chang Dung-sheng’s rare art of shuai chiao. Now, American martial artists are fortunate to be able to learn those very same shuai chiao skills, which have been preserved by the efforts of David C.K. Lin.
To learn more about shuai chiao, visit the American Combat Shuai-Chiao Association homepage!
About the Author:
Dr. Mark Cheng, Senior RKC, is a longtime contributing editor for Black Belt magazine. For more information, visit Dr. Mark Cheng’s official Facebook page.