Huo Yuanjia

Huo Yuanjia

The Hero of the Martial Arts - Huo Yuanjia

Huo Yuanjia, a name not familiar to many people, suddenly became known to every household after a Hong Kong television series about his life and martial arts was shown a few years ago.

Huo Yuanjia was born into a wushu master's family in Dongguang County, south of Tianjin. His father made a living by working as a bodyguard for wealthy people. As little Huo Yuanjia was very weak and often ill, his father decided not to teach him martial arts. Huo, however, was not discouraged. He was determined to make martial arts his career. Every day he watched his father and brothers practice wushu and imitated them secretly in the depths of the forest of date trees. Moved by his determination and hard-working spirit, his father started to teach him. In ten years, Huo learned the family's exclusive boxing techniques and the essentials of other schools of boxing as well.

One day in 1890, a wushu master by the name of Du came from Henan Province to visit Huo's father. Du's manner provoked a trial of strength with the boxers of the family. Huo's brothers competed with Du but were defeated. Then Huo fought with him. With one swift kick, Huo knocked his opponent to the ground. Thus, Huo Yuanjia became famous in his village and the neighbouring areas.

During a performance in 1901, a Russian boxer said something which insulted the Chinese people. When Huo heard this, he mounted the platform and reprimanded the Russian boxer severely. Scared by Huo's bravery, the Russian boxer admitted his mistake and apologized. In the spring of 1909, an arrogant British boxer named O'Brien came to Shanghai and announced that he was willing to have a match with any Chinese. On learning this, Huo and his disciple Liu Zhensheng went to Shanghai to accept the challenge. He also advertised that he was ready to fight any foreign boxers. Startled by Huo's fearlessness, O'Brien left Shanghai quietly before the date of the match. This greatly enhanced the self-confidence and self-esteem of the Chinese people. Subsequently, Huo thought that if the Chinese people wanted to make their nation strong, they had to build up their bodies. For this purpose, he set up a martial arts school where he served as the main coach. In 1910, with the school as the basis, the Chin Woo Athletic Association was established.

Many Japanese judo wrestlers in Shanghai grudged Huo Yuanjia his fame and success. They arranged competitions between Huo and some of the best judo athletes from Japan. However, all of them were defeated by this Chinese wushu master. After attending a peace-making dinner given by the Japanese judo wrestlers, Huo Yuanjia died on September 14, 1910. He is believed to have been poisoned at the banquet.

Today, in his hometown, Huo's tomb has been rebuilt. A museum and an arena for martial arts contests memorialize Huo's legacy.

Revised June 2, 2011