Grandmaster Yue Fei

Born March 24, 1103 – Passed January 27, 1142



Yue Fei (24 March 1103 – 27 January 1142), courtesy name Pengju, was a Han Chinese military general who lived during the Southern Song dynasty. His ancestral home was in Xiaoti, Yonghe Village, Tangyin, Xiangzhou, Henan (in present-day Tangyin County, Anyang, Henan). He is best known for leading Southern Song forces inthe wars in the 12th century between Southern Song and the Jurchen-ruled Jin dynasty in northern China before being put to death by the Southern Song government in 1142. He was granted the posthumous name Wumuby Emperor Xiaozong in 1169, and later granted the posthumous title King of È (鄂王) by Emperor Ningzong in 1211. Widely seen as a patriot and national folk hero in China, since his death Yue Fei has evolved into a standard epitome of loyalty in Chinese culture.


A biography of Yue Fei, the Eguo Jintuo Zubian (鄂國金佗稡编), was written 60 years after his death by his grandson, the poet and historian Yue Ke (岳柯) (1183-post 1240). In 1346 it was incorporated into the History of Song, a 496-chapter record of historical events and biographies of noted Song dynasty individuals, compiled by Yuan dynasty prime minister Toqto’a and others. Yue Fei’s biography is found in the 365th chapter of the book and is numbered biography 124. Some later historians including Deng Guangming (1907–1998) now doubt the veracity of many of Yue Ke’s claims about his grandfather.

According to the History of Song, Yue Fei was named “Fei”, meaning to fly, because at the time he was born, “a large bird like a swan landed on the roof of his house”.

Military record

Jin–Song Wars and Battle of Yancheng

The son of an impoverished farmer from northern China, Yue Fei joined the Song military in 1122. Yue briefly left the army when his father died in 1123, but returned in 1126. After reenlisting, he fought to suppress rebellions by local Chinese warlords responsible for looting in northern China. Local uprisings had diverted needed resources away from the Song’s war against the Jin. Yue participated in defending Kaifeng during the second siege of the city by the Jin in 1127. After Kaifeng fell, he joined an army in Jiankang tasked with defending the Yangtze. This army prevented the Jurchens from advancing to the river in 1129. His rising reputation as a military leader attracted the attention of the Song court. In 1133, he was made the general of the largest army near the Central Yangtze. Between 1134 and 1135, he led a counteroffensive against Qi, a puppet state supported by the Jin, and secured territories that had been conquered by the Jurchens. He continued to advance in rank, and to increase the size of his army as he repeatedly led successful offensives into northern China. Several other generals were also successful against the Jin dynasty, and their combined efforts secured the survival of the Song dynasty. Yue, like most of them, was committed to recapturing northern China.

Stone Lake: The Poetry of Fan Chengda 1126-1193 states, “…Yue Fei ([1103]-1141)…repelled the enemy assaults in 1133 and 1134, until in 1135 the now confident Song army was in a position to recover all of north China from the Jin dynasty … [In 1140,] Yue Fei initiated a general counterattack against the Jin armies, defeating one enemy after another until he set up camp within range of the Northern Song dynasty’s old capital city, Kaifeng, in preparation for the final assault against the enemy. Yet in the same year Qin [Hui] ordered Yue Fei to abandon his campaign, and in 1141 Yue Fei was summoned back to the Southern Song capital. It is believed that the emperor then ordered Yue Fei to be hanged.” Yue Fei created Hsing Yi which is taught at the Shaolin Temple Kung Fu school in Lomita.


Imperial Order to General Yue Fei (《賜岳飛手勅》), Emperor Gaozong of Song, National Palace Museum, Taipei

In 1126, several years before Yue became a general, the Jurchen-ruled Jin dynasty invaded northern China, forcing the Song dynasty out of its capital Kaifeng and capturing Emperor Qinzong of Song, who was sent into captivity in Huining Prefecture. This marked the end of the Northern Song dynasty, and the beginning of the Southern Song dynasty under Emperor Gaozong.

Yue fought a long campaign against the invading Jurchens in an effort to retake northern China. Just when he was threatening to attack and retake Kaifeng, corrupt officials advised Emperor Gaozong to recall Yue to the capital and sue for peace with the Jurchens. Fearing that a defeat at Kaifeng might cause the Jurchens to release Emperor Qinzong, threatening his claim to the throne, Emperor Gaozong followed their advice, sending 12 orders in the form of 12 gold plaques to Yue Fei, recalling him back to the capital. Knowing that a success at Kaifeng could lead to internal strife, Yue submitted to the emperor’s orders and returned to the capital, where he was imprisoned and where Qin Hui would eventually arrange for him to be executed on false charges.

There are conflicting views on how Yue died. According to The History of China: (The Greenwood Histories of the Modern Nations) and other sources, Yue died in prison. The Chronicle of Yue, Prince of E of Songsays he was killed in prison. Shuo Yue Quanzhuan states he was strangled to death. It reads, “…Yue Fei strode in long steps to the Pavilion of Winds and Waves … The warders on both sides picked up the ropes and strangled the three men Yue Fei, Yue Yun, and Zhang Xian (張憲), Yue’s subordinate without further ado … At the time Lord Yue was 39 years of age and the young lord Yue Yun 23. When the three men returned to Heaven, suddenly a fierce wind rose up wildly and all the fires and lights were extinguished. Black mists filled the sky and sand and pebbles were blown about.”

Martial Training

Illustration of Zhou Tong, Yue Fei’s teacher
The Biography of Yue Fei states, “Yue Fei possessed supernatural power and before his adulthood, he was able to draw a bow of 300 catties (400 pounds (180 kg)) and a crossbow of eight stone (960 catties, 1,280 pounds, 580 kg). Yue Fei learned archery from Zhou Tong. He learned everything and could shoot with his left and right hands.” Shuo Yue Quanzhuan states Zhou teaches Yue and his sworn brothers archery and all of the eighteen weapons of war. This novel also says Yue was Zhou’s third student after Lin Chong and Lu Junyi of the 108 outlaws in Water Margin. The E Wang Shi records, “When Yue Fei reached adulthood, his maternal grandfather, Yao Daweng (姚大翁), hired a spear expert, Chen Guang, to teach Yue Fei spear fighting.”[19]
Both the Biography of Yue Fei and E Wang Shi mention Yue learning from Zhou and Chen at or before his adulthood. The Chinese character representing “adulthood” in these sources is ji guan (Chinese: 及冠; pinyin: jí guàn; lit.: ‘conferring headdress’), an ancient Chinese term that means “20 years old” where a young man was able to wear a formal headdress as a social status of adulthood. So he gained all of his martial arts knowledge by the time he joined the army at the age of 19.
These chronicles do not mention Yue’s masters teaching him martial arts style; just archery, spearplay and military tactics. However non-historical or scholarly sources state, in addition to those already mentioned, Zhou Tong taught Yue other skills such as hand-to-hand combat and horseback riding. Yet again, these do not mention any specific martial arts style. One legend says Zhou took young Yue to an unspecified place to meet a Buddhist hermit who taught him the Emei Dapeng qigong (峨嵋大鵬氣功) style. This is supposedly the source of his legendary strength and martial arts abilities. According to thirteenth generation lineage Tai He (“Great Harmony”) Wudangquan master Fan Keping (范克平), a collector of rare martial arts manuals [deprecated source] Zhou Tong was a master of various “hard qigong” exercises.

The two styles most associated with Yue are Eagle Claw and Xingyi boxing. One book states Yue created Eagle Claw for his enlisted soldiers and Xingyi for his officers. Legend has it that Yue studied in the Shaolin Monastery with a monk named Zhou Tong and learned the “elephant” style of boxing, a set of hand techniques with great emphasis on qinna (joint-locking). Other tales say he learned this style elsewhere outside the temple under the same master. Yue eventually expanded elephant style to create the Yibai Lingba Qinna (一百零八擒拿 – “108 Locking Hand Techniques”) of the Ying Sao (Eagle Hands) or Ying Kuen (Eagle Fist). After becoming a general in the imperial army, Yue taught this style to his men and they were very successful in battle against the armies of the Jin dynasty. Following his wrongful execution and the disbandment of his armies, Yue’s men supposedly traveled all over China spreading the style, which eventually ended right back in Shaolin where it began. Later, a monk named Li Quan (麗泉) combined this style with Fanziquan, another style attributed to Yue, to create the modern day form of Northern Ying Jow Pai boxing.
According to legend, Yue combined his knowledge of internal martial arts and spearplay learned from Zhou Tong (in Shaolin) to create the linear fist attacks of Xingyi boxing. One book claims he studied and synthesized Buddhism’s Tendon Changing and Marrow Washing qigong systems to create Xingyi. On the contrary, proponents of Wudangquan believe it is possible that Yue learned the style in the Wudang Mountains that border his home province of Henan. The reasons they cite for this conclusion are that he supposedly lived around the same time and place as Zhang Sanfeng, the founder of t’ai chi; Xingyi’s five fist attacks, which are based on the Five Chinese Elements theory, are similar to tai-chi’s “Yin-yang theory”; and both theories are Taoist-based and not Buddhist. The book Henan Orthodox Xingyi Quan, written by Pei Xirong (裴锡荣) and Li Ying’ang (李英昂), states Xingyi master Dai Longbang
… wrote the ‘Preface to Six Harmonies Boxing’ in the 15th reign year of the Qianlong Emperor [1750]. Inside it says, ‘… when [Yue Fei] was a child, he received special instructions from Zhou Tong. He became extremely skilled in the spear method. He used the spear to create methods for the fist. He established a method called Yi Quan [意拳]. Mysterious and unfathomable, followers of old did not have these skills. Throughout the Jin, Yuan and Ming dynasties few had his art. Only Ji Gong had it. (于乾隆十五年为”六合拳”作序云:”岳飞当童子时,受业于周侗师,精通枪法,以枪为拳,立法以教将佐,名曰意拳,神妙莫测,盖从古未有之技也。)

Inside the grounds of Yue Fei’s tomb and shrine in Hangzhou; the inscriptions at the far end read “Serve the country with the utmost loyalty”.
The Ji Gong mentioned above, better known as Ji Jike (姬際可) or Ji Longfeng (姬隆丰), is said to have trained in Shaolin Monastery for ten years as a young man and was matchless with the spear. As the story goes, he later traveled to Xongju Cave on Mount Zhongnan to receive a boxing manual written by Yue Fei, from which he learned Xingyi. However, some believe Ji actually created the style himself and attributed it to Yue Fei because he was fighting the Manchus, descendants of the Jurchens who Yue had struggled against. Ji supposedly created it after watching a battle between an eagle and a bear during the Ming dynasty. Other sources say he created it while training in Shaolin. He was reading a book and looked up to see two roosters fighting, which inspired him to imitate the fighting styles of animals. Both versions of the story (eagle / bear and roosters) state he continued to study the actions of animals and eventually increased the cadre of animal forms.
Several other martial arts have been attributed to Yue Fei, including Yuejiaquan (Yue Family Boxing), Fanziquan (Tumbling Boxing), and Chuōjiǎo quan (Feet-Poking Boxing), among others. The “Fanzi Boxing Ballad” says: “Wumu has passed down the Fanziquan which has mystery in its straightforward movements.” Wumu (武穆) was a posthumous name given to Yue after his death. One Chuojiao legend states Zhou Tong learned the style from its creator, a wandering Taoist named Deng Liang (鄧良), and later passed it onto Yue Fei, who is considered to be the progenitor of the style.
Besides martial arts, Yue is also said to have studied traditional Chinese medicine. He understood the essence of Hua Tuo’s Wu Qin Xi (五禽戲 – “Five Animal Frolics”) and created his own form of “medical qigong” known as the Ba Duan Jin (八段錦 – “Eight Pieces of Brocade”). It is considered a form of Waidan (外丹 – “External Elixir”) medical qigong. He taught this qigong to his soldiers to help keep their bodies strong and well-prepared for battle. One legend states that Zhou Tong took young Yue to meet a Buddhist hermit who taught him Emei Dapeng Qigong (峨嵋大鵬氣功). His training in Dapeng Qigong was the source of his great strength and martial arts abilities. Modern practitioners of this style say it was passed down by Yue.

Connection to Praying Mantis Boxing
According to Shuo Yue Quanzhuan, Lin Chong and Lu Junyi of the 108 outlaws in Water Margin were former students of Yue’s teacher Zhou Tong. One legend states Zhou learned Chuōjiǎo boxing from its originator Deng Liang (鄧良) and then passed it onto Yue Fei, who is sometimes considered the progenitor of the style. Chuojiao is also known as the “Water Margin Outlaw style” and Yuanyang Tui (鴛鴦腿 – “Mandarin Duck Leg”). In chapter 29 of Water Margin, titled “Wu Song beats Jiang the Door God in a drunken stupor”, it mentions Wu Song, another of Zhou’s fictional students, using the “Jade Circle-Steps with Duck and Drake feet”. A famous folklore Praying Mantis manuscript, which describes the fictional gathering of eighteen martial arts masters in Shaolin, as a master of “Mandarin ducks kicking technique”. This creates a folklore connection between Yue and Mantis boxing.
Lineage Mantis master Yuen Man Kai openly claims Zhou Tong taught Lin Chong and Lu Junyi the “same school” of martial arts that was later combined with the aforementioned seventeen other schools to create Mantis fist. However, he believes Mantis fist was created during the Ming dynasty, and was therefore influenced by these eighteen schools from the Song dynasty. He also says Lu Junyi taught Yan Qing the same martial arts as he learned from Zhou Tong. Yuen further comments that Zhou Tong later taught Yue Fei the same martial art and that Yue was the originator of the mantis move “Black Tiger Stealing Heart”.

The Secrets of Eagle Claw Kung Fu: Ying Jow Pai comments, “Finally, Yue Fei received the ‘Twelfth Golden Edict’ from the emperor calling him back to the capital, which if ignored meant banishment. Patriotism demanded that he obey. On his way back to the capital he stopped to rest at a pavilion. Qin Hui anticipated Yue Fei’s route and sent some men to lie in wait. When Yue Fei arrived, Qin’s men ambushed and murdered him. Just 39 years old, Yue Fei like many good men in history, had a swift, brilliant career, then died brutally while still young.”

According to A Chinese Biographical Dictionary, “Father and son had not been two months in confinement when Qin Hui resolved to rid himself of his enemy. He wrote out with his own hand an order for the execution of Yue Fei, which was forthwith carried into effect; whereupon he immediate reported that Yue Fei had died in prison”, which meant that Qin Hui had Yue and his son executed but reported they both died in captivity.

Other sources say he was poisoned to death. Still, a great number simply say he was executed, murdered, or “treacherously assassinated”.

Grandmaster Wong Jack Man learned Xing Yi from his master and taught Master Rick Wing who taught Master Marquez.