Friday, October 16, 2020

Yu Fractures a Rib: Yu Suzuki's 1994 China Research Trip, Part 7 | Translation


A continuation of our series on Yu Suzuki's 1994 Research Trip to China. This topic was selected by the Phantom River Stone blog patrons via our monthly poll on Patreon and was available for early access.


In the early 1990s, Yu Suzuki made a seminal trip to China. His objective was to research and gather material for his upcoming Virtua Fighter 2, and this research also influenced his concept for a "Virtua Fighter RPG" which eventually came to be known as Shenmue.

Previous posts in this series of blog posts:

  • In Part One, we translated blog entries about the trip by Kazunari Uchida, the person who accompanied Yu Suzuki.
  • Part Two is a magazine article in which Yu Suzuki gives own comments about his trip, and how his findings would be useful for the development of the Virtua Fighter series.
  • In Part Three, Yu's traveling companion, Kazunari Uchida, talks about how he first met Yu Suzuki and his curiosity to learn about the genius behind the man during the upcoming trip.
  • Part Four is Kazunari Uchida's journal entry for the start of the trip itself: Day One - Beijing.
  • Part Five is Days Two and Three of the trip in which Yu travels to Luoyang, Xi'an and Dengfeng, and arrives at Shaolin Temple.
  • In Part Six (Days Four through Six) Yu observes fighting demonstrations at Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng county.
Now we continue from last time, when Master De Li at Shaolin temple has just offered to teach Yu Suzuki the "essence of Shaolin Kung Fu" if he stayed for two months at the temple...

The route Yu follows this time, from Luoyang to Cangzhou.

Yu, who was deeply impressed at his martial arts demonstration, took his words seriously and even muttered "After I'm back home I'll adjust my schedule right away...". After the ever-busy Master De Li left, his students demonstrated variants of Shaolin Kung Fu styles, one after the other: Xing Yi Quan, Piguazhang, Seven Star Fist, Bodhidharma Style and Eagle Style Boxing. Every one of them was a style Yu was contemplating implementing in new characters.

Yu was particularly taken with the Eagle and Seven Star styles and, asking the student that had demonstrated these to teach him how to counter-attack, he once again launched a strike.

With the Eagle style, in the same way an eagle pounces on prey with its sharp claws, one raises one nails and one uses moves such as grasping the opponent's throat or scratching at the opponent's eyes. Yu threw a straight punch at his opponent's face, which his opponent evaded... and then, before Yu had time to even utter a sound, a counter-attack came flying in at Yu's eye!

Eagle Style. Yu's opponent's nails narrowly miss his eye. It was a moment that made our blood ran cold.

Yu crouched down, holding a hand to his face.

His opponent, looking aghast, immediately started to inspect Yu with an anxious expression.

Fortunately, the strike hadn't gone into Yu's eye so it wasn't serious, but a clear scratch was left at the outer corner of his eye.

Yu's punches were at full force, so his opponent reacted reflexively. Unlike Master De Li, who was able to make subtle adjustments with ease, the student appeared to be somewhat unused to the situation. 

With the Seven Stars style also, the student's attempts to land his counter attacks short were not effective, and his elbow struck Yu's chest. There was a dull thump and Yu crouched down, clutching his chest.

"I think I may have fractured a rib," Yu said with an expression of agony, and a cold sweat on his forehead.
During the Seven Stars Style, a rib fracture. This pain will no doubt be put to use for [Virtua Fighter] II.

Even after we had finished the observation and gone back to our hotel, Yu continued to hold his chest. A large bruise had formed from internal bleeding. He had bruises not only on his chest, but all over. They were probably from knocks taken when he was thrown.

However, having received instruction from Master De Li over the span of 3 hours, Yu was lost in thought as to how to make use of this in his game, and it was if his pain had been forgotten. Yu stayed up until late at night, watching video footage of the Crane Style over and over... interspersed with the occasional cough as he held his chest.

To Cangzhou, the Home of Bajiquan


The next day we had the day off.

In the morning, I visited a museum in Luoyang, and bought a jade sculpture of the god Budai. Just looking it puts you in a happy mood, as if he has swallowed the whole world down into his rotund belly, while chuckling "It's all small stuff!".

Yu, on the other hand, went for a walk along a side street lined with food stalls, sampling all sorts of foods such as steamed meat buns, rice crackers and strange-looking noodle dishes. He is in fact a wine connoisseur as well as a gourmand who never misses checking out well-rated restaurants, and that side of him appears to have been triggered. Although when our guide Mr Zhang later heard about this, he was aghast saying, "You'll get hepatitis if you eat at food stalls!"

In the afternoon we set out to the Yellow River.

The water volume was said to be low due to the dry season but the swiftly-flowing river, which reached a width of as much as 3km in places, had the grand magnificence of one that has raised numerous civilizations.

Yu enjoyed the atmosphere of this area of inland China to his heart's content, feeling the flow of the water with his hand and traveling along the bank of the river by horse.

That night we left Luoyang, where we had spent 4 days, behind us and once again became passengers on a night train.

After the sun had risen, we sat gazing at the scenery passing outside the train window, but there was no break in the endless rural landscape.

This Yellow River basin area is China's most fertile agricultural area, but to someone used to seeing Japan's tiny areas of farmland its vastness was almost uncanny. Henan Province and Hebei Province combined are equivalent to the area of Japan, and almost all of it is made up of fields. It is not clear where village boundaries lie. You start to feel as if you're traveling through a huge village the size of Japan. 

We arrived in Beijing at noon, changing trains to travel for another 5 hours, and at last arrived at the home of Bajiquan: Cangzhou.
We've at last made it as far as Cangzhou, the home of Bajiquan. Feelings of anticipation and nervousness flood through us.

With anticipation swelling within us, we exited the station to find ourselves in a town with a dusty, squalid atmosphere. It didn't have any particular tourist attractions, and in terms of touristy looking people that had alighted, we seemed to be the only ones. The townspeople seemed to somehow avoid eye contact. If our guide Mr Zhang hadn't been there, the two of us, fully-grown men, would have been at a complete loss. Although Mr Zhang was only around half my weight, of small stature and endearing, in our eyes he was like a brawny giant.

Not only that, but the person who had come to meet us, Mr Yang from the Foreign Affairs Office of Cangzhou Municipal People's Government, had a hard-boiled air about him, setting us even more on edge.

In any case, this was a place known for being a martial arts town. In the Qing era, caravans carrying goods between the north and south would hire martial arts experts as bodyguards in case of bandits. The bodyguards would take up the head, letting out dreadful screams to intimidate those around as they proceeded. But it is said that when traveling through Cangzhou only, they would stay silent. That's because, if it had become known they practiced martial arts, then they would be challenged to a fight by those in Cangzhou who took pride in their own skill, and would have no hope of winning. The people of Cangzhou were not only skilled at martial arts, but also had great enthusiasm.

At last we settled in to our accommodation at the Cangzhou Hotel, and were able to relax.

At dinnertime, we had a meeting with Mr Yang, who would be showing us around. He was slightly plump, and looked to be a very good-natured person. It turned out that he had graduated from Henan Foreign Language University ahead of Mr Zhang. Since they had learned from the same professors, the ice melted instantly between the two of them as if they were old acquaintances. We felt happy at this, as it seemed to promise that our upcoming research would go smoothly.

According to Mr Yang, the grave of the Bajiquan martial artist Li Shuwen that Yu had been most looking forward to unfortunately no longer existed. Being all alone in the world, Li Shuwen died early in the Sino-Japanese War, and his remains were passed to relatives in Tianjin, But those relatives moved to an unknown part of the countryside of Sichuan Province, after which all trace of them was lost. It was somewhat disappointing to hear this, but in its place he brought us an amazing present that made us want to jump for joy!

Mr Yang explained that Wu Lian Zhi, a seventh-generation descendant of Wu Zhong, the founder of Bajiquan, was a close friend, and on hearing about us he had invited us to his house the next day. As we had come all the way over from Japan, he wanted to help us in any way he could.

Right away we would be able to meet a Bajiquan master!! Yu and I stared at each other at such an unexpected turn of events.
Going back by train from Luoyang to Beijing. Despite staying up late re-watching video footage, at breakfast Yu was busily writing notes.

VF2 Development Update: Progress on Drunken Boxing & Akira

After making Virtua Fighter, we moved onto making [Virtua Fighter] II, and I was wondering how Bajiquan would defend against Sarah's knee kick, or how the schools of the other characters would handle Lau or Pai's roundhouse kick. The episode in the story above came about partly because I wanted to actually confirm those kinds of things for myself. Attacking a martial artist in an authentic setting and being thrown around [laughs]; experiencing that with my own body is a great result.

Now Akira has improved a great deal, and Drunken Boxing which has now been confirmed for II is also polishing up nicely. I'd love to show you all as soon as possible, but for now I'll just say it will be worth waiting for.

- Yu Suzuki

--- End of translation. To be continued in the next part. ---
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