Thursday, April 29, 2021

Yu Meets (and is Knocked Down by) Master Wu: Yu Suzuki's 1994 China Research Trip, Part 8 | 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 the Phantom River Stone 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.
  • In Part Seven (Day Seven), nursing a fractured rib, Yu spends some time sight-seeing in Luoyang then travels on to Cangzhou.
Now we continue from last time...

About the Diary Author

Born on January 15, 1961 (age 33), Kazunari Uchida is a writer and photographer who writes about a wide range of topics including outdoor activities, motor sports, and travelogues. He is currently active in such publications as Monthly Motorcycle (Motor Magazine), Yu-Ben (Kodansha), and Outdoor Guide (JTB). He accompanied Yu Suzuki, the developer of "Virtua Fighter," on a research trip to China.

The Story So Far

Five days after leaving Japan, Yu Suzuki and his group were finally able to meet a real Shaolin Kung Fu master. Suzuki witnessed powerful demonstrations of Crane Fist, Hawk Fist, and Seven Star Fist, which were dramatically different from the tourism demonstrations of the previous day. Despite suffering a serious injury, Suzuki was able to acquire something deep from this practical instruction. And now, as the end of the trip grows near, he has been given the opportunity to meet the authentic practitioner of the art through an unexpected connection.

The photo of Yu Suzuki in the article (left) was used directly as the backdrop for the Akira CG image in the Virtua Fighter CG Portrait Series (right), a connection realized by James Brown! Read more about the Virtua Fighter CG Portrait Series here in his previous guest post for the blog.

Bajiquan Master Wu Lianzhi

Yu stayed up until midnight writing a speech manuscript ahead of his meeting with the Master of the Eight Extremities to be held the following morning. Up to this point, we had been traveling together like casual friends, but seeing him like this made me aware of the fact that he was in a position of great responsibility within SEGA. To think that he, a department head at a leading company, would go to the Chinese countryside like this by himself to collect research material seemed quite remarkable.

Mr. Wu lives in Mengcun County, 70 kilometers south of Cangzhou City (a county is an administrative division that equates to a town in Japan). The town is a Muslim Hui town, and Mr. Wu is also a descendant of the Hui people.

We arrived in Mengcun County about an hour after leaving the lodge. We went straight to the Mengcun People's Government Building, where we were greeted by Mr. Liu, the chief of the People's Government, who is the mayor of the town in Japan, and Mr. Wu Lianzhi, an authentic practitioner of the art of Bajiquan.

"Oh no, I've drunk too much. I'll just watch until I sober up a little more and let my son do the honors for me. Ha ha ha ha ha..."
Master Wu sat alongside Yu and lectured his eighth-generation son, Wu Dawei, and his Number One disciple. "The most important feature of Bajiquan is that it is practical, close combat, just like Japanese judo. But what makes it different from judo is that, even though you are at close quarters, you can still effectively use one-hit finishing moves such as thrusts and kicks. While blocking your opponent's moves, you use fists, hand strikes, elbows, knees, heels, and toes. You use every part of your body as a weapon to defeat your opponent. Therefore, all the moves are lean, precise, and logical. As in any martial art, forming an image is very important. In the case of Bajiquan, you should imagine that the opponent in front of you is about 100 meters away. Then direct the strength and spirit to defeat the opponent 100 meters away, towards the opponent before you. While the movement of the body when striking may look compact, in fact the force is enormous. That's why a single strike is a finishing move. In Shaolin Kung Fu, where the movements are round and natural, as if one has become the wind, and look more like a graceful dance than a fighting style; by contrast, in Bajiquan, the movements are smooth when the opponent's power is being channeled, but when it comes to striking or kicking, they are direct and powerful enough to break a rock. While Shaolin Kung Fu is performed on a mat, this is done on a bare stone floor, and you attack your opponent relentlessly. I could not help but be impressed by the sound of shoes scraping on the stone floor, the fierce breathing, and the dull echo of defensive moves.
Bajiquan is written in Chinese as 八極拳 with the characters "Eight", "Extremity" and "Fist". Here "Eight" is not a number, but represents infinity. The first two characters together mean that the further you go, the deeper you have to go, and it goes on infinitely.

Even just in a stance, the power of an authentic master is palpable. Energy runs throughout his body, in stark contrast to Shaolin Kung Fu.

I had imagined that he would be an intimidating man, being a master of the so-called deadly style of Bajiquan, but he turned out to be a kind-looking ordinary man with a smile peeking out from beneath his hunting-style cap. We were somewhat disappointed, but he shook hands with Yu and said in clear Japanese, "Hello, welcome to Cangzhou," and then in Chinese, "I have prepared a small banquet for you two for coming all the way. You must be hungry. Let's have a leisurely lunch, and then you can watch us perform Bajiquan." He welcomed us in a friendly tone as if we were old friends. The banquet, however, turned out to be a tricky affair.

Master Wu Lianzhi, the seventh generation from Wu Zhong, the founder of the Eight Fist. The hunting-style cap is associated with the Hui religion.

With the feast laid out before of us, a glass of sherry was placed in front of each of us. After the glasses were filled with a generous amount of white wine. "Let's welcome our distant guests - ganbei!"
Chef Liu initiated the "ganbei", or toast. With Chinese toasting, you have to drink down the strong drink in one go and turn the glass upside down to show the others that it is empty. The hot liquid burns your throat, drops into your stomach, and sets you on fire. Even though it was broad daylight, the continuous ganbei barrage was making me groggy.

The Essence of Bajiquan

In other words, it is a martial art that is so profound that its essence can never be mastered. It's no longer a martial art, it's a philosophy, a religion. Mr. Wu has been practicing for 40 years, from the age of 7 to 47, but he says he is still far from the stage of mastery.
"That's what I like about it," Yu murmured. "That's why I want to have Virtua Fighter's protagonist Akira study Bajiquan in the second game. It's a simple martial art that pursues strength to the limit. There is no pretense at all, and the number of techniques is extremely small compared to other martial art styles. It's thoroughly rational. However, as the useless parts have been trimmed away and knowledge deepened, it has achieved a quite mysterious strength. It may look rugged on the surface, but I think its inner beauty and inner radiance is the most amazing thing about it.

"In terms of cars, it's like a Ferrari. Ferrari is a car that pursued only speed, so any part of the car that is useless has been completely eliminated. Take the F40, where the door handles are just cables, and the windows only open a little. There's no choice but to open the door by hand. Not only that, but the second gear cannot be used until the oil warms up, and if you treat it roughly like a normal car, it will break down in no time. But it is the fastest car in the world. That's what makes it so beautiful.

The master answers Yu's questions seriously. Yu is unable hide his excitement at being before a genuine master.
"I think it's the same with Bajiquan. I think it is the strongest martial art in the world. No matter who your opponent is, when you fight, you go all out. For example, Li Shouwen is said to have killed many people in his lifetime, but that was because he went all out, even against weaker opponents. To go easy on someone is an insult to the opponent, and more importantly, it is an insult to Bajiquan. I guess that kind of strictness fits my own lifestyle.

"I think that's why I became so interested in Bajiquan, and why I wanted Akira, one of my alter egos, to follow the unadorned and strict way of Bajiquan as he grew up. "Also, through Akira and Virtua Fighter 2, I wanted to show young people that such a wonderful martial art exists. Today's culture is all about looking good, but there's nothing in it. I think it's important to be hardcore". Looking back on the games that Yu has created, I feel that "hardcore" is one of the key words that comes to mind. His method of creating games, thoroughly simulating the real thing and then narrowing it down to the parts that are necessary; the idea of having professionals in the industry work on the game to make it the most fun possible; the way he immerses himself in his projects (he even makes time to come all the way to rural China). In every way, he is a hardcore artist. In the course of our conversation, Yu asked Mr. Wu to teach him some Bajiquan moves. As with the Shaolin Kung Fu demonstration, Yu would kick and strike with his fists, and wanted Mr. Wu to demonstrate moves to avoid them.

Yu about to challenge Master Wu to a fight. One wrong move and he could be seriously injured.
(Photo from Yu Suzuki's GDC 2014 presentation)

Master Wu quickly dodged Yu's initial straight punch and knocked him to the cold floor. There was a dull thud, followed by our translator Ms. Zhang's shriek.
"Sorry, sorry! I'm still a little drunk and couldn't control my hands". "Are you okay, Mr. Suzuki?" asked Mr. Ken with a chuckle as he helped Yu up.
In the blink of an eye, Yu is slammed into the cold floor, unable to even groan. The speed was astonishing.

The faces of everyone watching, including Ms. Zhang, had turned pale at the severity of the sound. I also thought that two or three of his bones might have been broken.
Yu, however, stood up, holding his lower back, but smiling. "Wow, that's indeed the real thing. My body felt it!" Both punches and kicks had flown with such speed that even those of us standing by had been unable to understand what happened, and the next thing we knew Yu had been sprawled out on the floor. The cracked bones from the first Shaolin class and the bruises on his lower back and face from Bajiquan became his badges of honor. It would now be up to Yu to show how this experience would be woven into Akira's story.
(Photo from Yu Suzuki's GDC 2014 presentation)
Lastly, we visited the Wu family tomb. Standing on yellow earth with a view of the horizon was a stately stone monument, behind which was a row of clay eel heads where the sixth generation and their families were buried. "You are my good friends. Please come to Cangzhou whenever you like. You are always very welcome". Yu took a photo in front of the stone monument with Wu Lianzhi, their arms around each other's shoulders.

Even though they had only met for a short time, their hearts and minds were connected, and their relationship was deepening. There is no doubt that this was a precious bond for Yu. Perhaps it is because he puts so much of his heart in this way into the games he makes that they are accepted by so many people. For Yu, games are not just entertainment, but a pure means of expression to convey his thoughts and soul. That's the feeling I suddenly had.

After finishing a big project, Yu always used to take his accumulated vacation days and go on holiday. He enjoyed traveling at will. On a previous trip to the islands of the South Pacific, he was so favored by the local chief that he was pressured to stay on the island so that he could marry his daughter. I feel that the power of Yu Suzuki lies in the fact that he is capable of drawing people into his world without them even knowing it. When I think about it, I am one of those people who has been drawn in.

Visiting the graves of the Wu family at the end of the trip. Various emotions run through Yu's mind.
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