Wudang San Feng Pai History
If you come to Wudangshan today the majority of the traditional martial arts masters belong either San Feng sect 三丰派 or Xuan Wu sect 玄武派, though there are innumerable other sects with their own martial arts traditions also represented on the mountain (like Longmenpai 龙门派 and Chunyangpai 纯阳派). In March of 2011 I became an official disciple of the San Feng Pai 三丰派, the only sect of which I can really speak with any semblance of authority.
Our current grandmaster Zhong Yun Long 钟云龙 has defined San Feng Pai as a system of martial arts 武术, health-cultivation practices 养生功, and inner alchemy 内丹. These form the three vehicles 三乘, from lowest (martial arts) to highest (inner alchemy). This sect was transmitted to our grandmaster through the 13th generation leader, Wang Guang De 王光德 (1947-2001), who became the head of Wudang mountain after religious practice was legalized in 1979. Master Wang was a local from the nearby town of Danjiangkou 丹江口 who had been studying under various Daoist masters since childhood – having taken Dragon Gate master Li Cheng Yu 李诚玉 (1885-2003) as a master from a very young age. Later he studied Gongfu under Xiao Yao Wan 萧耀宛 (1911-1997), the 12th generation head of Wudang San Feng sect, from whom master Wang received our lineage.
The lineage as it exists today is not what it once was, however, as it has expanded greatly in scope since the cultural revolution. During the 1960’s and 70’s Daoist activity at Wudangshan was almost completely halted. By the end of the 1970's there were no more than 20 monastics living on the mountain. Most of the Daoists experienced relocation into labor camps. Of those who were allowed to stay in the temples (only the oldest Daoists - Li Cheng Yu, almost 100 years old at the time, among them), many were beaten by the red guard, and none were allowed to take on disciples.
In 1979 chairman Deng Xiaoping 邓小平 initiated a program of opening up and reform 改革开放, which included a slackening of the lockdown on religious freedom brought on by the cultural revolution. Following this there was a slow trickle of Daoists returning to Wudang. Most importantly for our sect, Guogaoyi 郭高一 (1921-1996) and Zhuchengde 朱诚德 (1898-1990), both dragon gate masters, returned in 1980-81.
In 1981 the 19-year-old Zhong Yun Long came to Wudang to study internal martial arts. He became a disciple of masters Wang, Guo, and Zhu, studying San Feng sect and Dragon Gate sect practices under them. In 1985 master Wang, then the head of the Wudang Daoist Association put out a call for Daoists scattered by the cultural revolution to return to Wudangshan. Simultaneously he sent master Zhong all around China with letters of introduction with the goal of getting various masters to come back with master Zhong – and failing that, to at least get them to pass on their teachings to him. The first task was a failure. The second task, however, was quite successful. Through his travels and training, master Zhong amassed a huge body of knowledge ranging from Daoist martial arts to inner alchemy and healing practices. After four years of travelling he came back to Wudang in 1989 and together with master Wang, founded the Daoist Association Martial Arts Academy at Purple Cloud Palace, with master Guo serving as head martial arts instructor and master Zhu as head qigong instructor.
It is worth mentioning that two famous masters did return to Wudang in 1986. These were the Bagua master Lu Zi Jian 吕紫剑 and the Daoist nun and master of eight immortals sword Zhao Jian Ying 赵剑英. Masters Zhu, Guo, Lu, and Zhao were at the core of a renaissance of martial arts activity on the mountain the likes of which had not been seen since the fall of the Qing dynasty, when famed martial arts master Xu Ben Shan 徐本善 was the abbot of Purple Cloud Palace. Alongside them master Wang worked assiduously to restore other aspects of Wudang's cultural heritage, publishing two monographs - one on the history of Wudang Daoism, one on the musical heritage of Wudang mountain, while simultaneously teaching Daoist music and chanting at purple cloud palace. To this day the Wudang press edition of Daoist morning and evening prayers, collated by master Wang, is standard throughout China, and his book on Wudang history (武当道教史略, 华文出版社 1993) is the principal academic text on the subject.
The body of martial arts, traditional Daoist health-cultivation techniques, and alchemical knowledge amassed by master Zhong was organized under the umbrella of Wudang San Feng Pai, which emerged from the 1980's with a curriculum much more expansive and structured than what was manifest before the cultural revolution. In fact the entire atmosphere of Wudang Daoism shifted in a much more stratified and structured direction. Where a vast array of informal lineages abided in a relatively undifferentiated millieu in the Wudangshan of the late Qing, today there are a handful of lineages possessing huge curricula and dispensing licenses via official disciple ceremonies 拜师. This, master Zhong nostalgically related to us once, is not how things were in the old days.
I personally became a disciple of master Yuang Xiu Gang 袁修刚, a native of Hubei province who came to Wudang in 1991 to learn internal martial arts from master Zhong. Shortly after master Yuan arrived, masters Zhong and Wang initiated a daoist studies program at Purple Cloud Palace wherein eight of master Zhong's students performed the duties of full-time priests at the temple while simultaneously training intensively in the physical cultivation practices of the San Feng sect. The idea was to transmit to these 8 students the full body of Daoist knowledge amassed by Zhong and Wang through their efforts in the 1980's - music, knowledge of scripture, health cultivation techniques, martial arts, inner alchemy, etc. The group was nicknamed the Eight Great Vajrasattvas 八大金刚. The eldest of them was my teacher, master Yuan, who went on to become the head chanting priest 高功 at purple cloud palace.
In 2006 master Yuan moved to the base of Wudang mountain to open a daoist martial arts academy within the Jeweled Void Palace 玉虚宫. This is the temple where master Li Cheng Yu lived until 2003, when she passed away at the age of 118. Two of her female disciples still live in a small cottage on the temple grounds where they continue the upkeep of the shrines and gardens as well as the traditions of dragon gate Daoism.
I moved to Wudang in 2008 to learn martial arts and inner alchemy from master Yuan. In 2009 he initiated a 5-year program of his own, something resembling the training program he went through under masters Zhong and Wang at purple cloud palace. Our program, however, was specifically geared toward foreigners and the global proliferation of these teachings.
San Feng Wushu 三丰武术
As it is presently structured, the martial arts of the San Feng sect are divided into eight sections known as the “Eight gates of San Feng 三丰八门.” These are:
1. Taiji Gate 太极门
2. Xingyi Gate 形意门
3. Bagua Gate 八卦门
4. Baji Gate 八极门
5. Xuan Zhen Gate 玄真门
6. Eight Immortals Gate 八仙门
7. Six Harmonies Gate 六合门
8. Nine Palaces Gate 九宫门
If you trace these 8 categories, you begin to see the disparate strands that contribute to present-day San Feng sect. Our Taijiquan comes principally through two dragon gate masters (Guo Gaoyi and Zhu Chengde), while our Xingyi comes from both northern (Shang Ji 尚济) and southern lineages (Huang Wan Yang 黄万祥). Our Bagua comes from another dragon gate master (Liu Cheng Xi 刘诚喜), while our Bajiquan is simply comprised of the standard Jing Wu Academy set. Our Xuan Zhen style, also known as Wudang Northern style, forms the foundation from which everything else stems (this style master Zhong learned in Laoshan 崂山 from Golden Mountain sect master Kuang Chang Xiu 匡常修). The eight immortals style he learned from a wandering Daoist 甘肃陈爷 during his travels in Hunan province. And the last two gates are elaborations of Xingyi and Bagua respectively.
San Feng Health Cultivation 三丰养生功
The middle section of the San Feng sect curriculum is not organized like the first or last sections. There is a proliferation of health cultivation techniques, from the five elements qigong 五行气功 to standing and seated eight pieces of brocade 八段锦. There are also classical medical qigong sets like the five animal frolics 五禽戏 and “expelling the old and taking in the new” 吐故纳新. Aside from this there is martial qigong, like iron body 筒子功, iron arm 铁臂功, iron palm 铁砂掌, iron throat 铁脖功, mystical two-finger skill 二指玄功, and Taiyi Qigong 太乙气功. Later there are forms of health cultivation which border on inner alchemical practice like the Three Heaven Gate Enlightenment Training 三天门悟性气功 (also known as Tongzigong 童子功). These techniques were transmitted primarily through Guo Gaoyi and Zhu Chengde.
San Feng Elixir Path 三丰丹道
The highest level of San Feng sect is concerned with the practice of inner alchemy. Most of these teachings are closely-guarded secrets. The first step is known as "establishing the foundation," 筑基 and it is divided into the following parts: regulate the body 身體要正常,engender sufficient energy 能量（陽氣）要充足, purify the heart and lessen desires 清心寡欲.
After this, one begins the practice of refining the heart 練心, which has two parts. This is followed by regulating the breath 調息, which has three methods, the last of which is turtle breathing 龜息. At this point one is ready to begin training in cosmic circulation method 周天運行法.
In training the cosmic circulation method one begins with small cosmic circulation 小周天, which has two sections – collecting the medicine and leading it to the stove 采藥入爐 and regulating the fire timing 調理火候. After the creation of the small medicine 小药, the fruit of the above practices, one proceeds to large cosmic circulation 大周天, which has several parts. Through this practice one moves on to embryonic breathing 胎息, after which he or she can begin on the second phase of the inner-alchemical enterprise.