Gu Ruzhang was from Funing village in Jiangsu. He was born in 1894 of a poor family. At that time, his country was in turmoil. When he was 8 years old he studied with Yan Yunqi , a teacher from Shandong. Yan lived at the end of the Qing dynasty and at the beginning of the Republic. He was a master of the Shaolin martial arts. He was also proficient in the spear arts. The martial community called him “Big Spear” Yan. Mr. Gu studied arduously with him for 10 years. He mastered all of Yan’s true teachings. In his early years he became famous in Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Hunan, and Hubei provinces for his Shaolin martial arts.
Mr. Gu was 20 years old at the time. He was quite willing to work hard. He had been traveling repeatedly north and south of the great river spreading the Shaolin martial arts. When he was 20, he went south with the famous northern martial arts masters, Wan Laisheng, Wan Laiwu, Li Xianwu, and Fu Zhensong, to Guangdong. This is why they were called “The Five Tigers who went south of the river.” In 1928, Mr. Gu was engaged to teach at the Two Guangs Guoshu Institute. In 1929, Mr Gu founded the Guang Zhou Guoshu Association and assumed the post as director of the association.
Mr. Gu’s Shaolin kungfu attainments were very deep. When he would demonstrate his martial skills to people, there was no one who wasn’t amazed. His Shaolin martial arts are not only suitable for demonstration, but the martial bearing achieved through the postures will enhance a person’s morals. And it also places a special stress on solid fighting skills. His skills were so profound that he was often able to be victorious with just one stroke. His Shaolin Iron Palm skills were so good that people called him “Iron Palm Gu Ruzhang”. In ordinary times his palms were as soft as cotton. But he was not a common man. But when it came time to use it, the issuing palm was so persuasive as to make the stones nod in agreement. He would manifest skill that could split like iron. His palm strength and degree of control were so profound and awesome that modern men can not conceive of it. Many people in Guangzhou witnessed him demonstrate with a stack of 10 bricks. After his palm came down they could see that only the bottom two bricks were intact and unbroken. All the other bricks were shattered. In 1931, a Russian “strong man” came to Guangzhou and was promoting a “Strong Man Show”. Mr. Gu and his friends went to see it. The “strong man” lead a peerlessly strong horse onto the stage and claimed that no one could get near the horse. He announced that if any Chinese man was bold enough to come up on the stage to challenge the horse and not be killed by it, he would win 200 pieces of silver. In the crowd there is a man who recognized Mr. Gu. He shouted out loudly, “Hey Russian! You should not boast because ‘Iron Palm’ Gu Ruzhang is here!” In order to curtail the foreigner’s power and prestige, and boost his countrymen’s spirits, Mr. Gu jumped up onto the stage with pleasure. The “Strong man” saw that his demeanor was imposing and he knew that this was not a normal person. He insisted that Mr. Gu must first be examined by doctor to demonstrate that he was sound of body. While this exam was occurring, the strong horse started to act wildly. Mr. Gu then quickly stepped up to horse. His palm went out and he lightly slapped the horse’s back. The horse was immediately paralyzed. The next day it wouldn’t eat and died. A doctor autopsied the horse and discovered that the internal organs had suffered serious injuries. The “Strong man”, seeing his brag exposed, and feeling gloomy, packed his things and left. While this happened many years ago, the martial community in Guangzhou still talk about it today.
Mr. Gu’s was very skillful in the martial arts. The Shaolin martial arts that he taught in Guangzhou included: 10 Ways of Shaolin Fist, 10 Ways of Tan Tui, Plum Flower Double Sabers, Rising Block Spear, 24 Spear, Dragon Form Sword, Tamo’s Sword, Five Tigers Catch the Sheep Staff, 16 parts of Neigong Small Golden Bell and other routines. There were several routines for paired training as well. The 10 Ways of Shaolin Quan have a very good reputation. They embody the very best qualities of the Shaolin Martial Arts.
The 10 Ways Fists are arranged as follows:
1. Kai Men [Open the Door]
2. Lie Lu [Lead the Way]
3. Zuo Ma [Sit on the Horse]
4. Chuan Xin [Penetrate the Heart]
5. Wu Yi [Martial Skill]
6. Duan Da [Short Strike]
7. Mei Hua [Plum Flower]
8. Ba Bu San Quan [8 Steps, 3 Fists]
9. Lianhuan Tui [Continuous Legs]
10. Quan Zhong Shi Fa [Fist Middle Form Method].
These 10 Fists preserve the Shaolin martial arts in a simple and unadorned fashion. They emphasize fighting, not just flowery movements. Each technique and form is designed with the idea of attack and defense for practical fighting. When training, the fists and feet have hard energy and the attacking energy is swift and fierce. The Shaolin martial arts also manifest the typical characteristics of “straight like a needle, curved like a bow, turns like a wheel, quick like the wind, light as a leaf, heavy as iron, moving like waves, still like Mt Yue.” The composition and arrangement of the 10 Ways Fists is quite deep. The emphasis of each is mainly laid on the striking method. These make up the fundamental practice of the Shaolin martial routines. They also can develop a particular type of body quality and raise the level of competition fighting to a high degree. The martial artists of Guangzhou enthusiastically welcomed it.. At the present time, the northern style of the 10 Ways Fists is practiced by many people in Guangzhou. Mr. Gu was tireless in his teaching. He was earnest and conscientious. He taught his art not for monetary gain but to gain purity. Ultimately its regards the training of the fundamentals as the most important part of the Shaolin marital arts. He put in a lot of time and hard work propagating Shaolin martial arts and he established a reasonable program for training the basic skills.
Mr. Gu had a high reputation among the martial community, but he did not think highly of himself. He used every opportunity to demonstrate or show his students how to make progress. He was always delighted to see a youngster who was capable of catching up and exceeding him. When Chen Xianmin was 16, Mr Gu undertook to encourage him to start teaching the Shaolin martial arts. He would point things out from the side causing Chen to gain the teaching experience very quickly.
While Mr. Gu had consummate skill, he did not use his martial arts to take advantage of others. He treated everyone with modest and courteous manners. He was completely without bias. He lived in Guangzhou for 6 or 7 years and at the same time he always got along with the southern style martial arts teachers that lived there. On the one hand he taught the Northern style martial arts. On the other hand he also researched Southern style martial arts. He assimilated their strong qualities. At that time in Guangzhou there was a famous Choy Li Fut teacher named Tam San. Mr Gu had his students go study that style. Mr Tam San had his students go study the Shaolin martial art. He made the southern students firmly master the Shaolin martial arts. He quite open and forthcoming in his teaching and writings. This was most unheard of among the old martial arts families. He was honest kind and frank. He was often eager to help those in need. He was not motivated by self-interest. It did not matter if the person was a friend or maybe a new follower. If they had difficulties, he always helped them generously with money. Quite a few in Guangzhou’s martial community were helped this way. When Guangzhou’s older martial artists speak of Mr. Gu, there is no one who isn’t filled with admiration.
Unfortunately Mr. Gu died of an illness in 1952.