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Huo Yuanjia ( ) [Cantonese: Fok Yuen Gap] (c.1868-1910) was a Chinese martial artist and co-founder of the Chin Woo Athletic Association, a martial arts school in Shanghai. A practitioner of the martial art Mízōngyì, he is considered a hero in Chinamarker for defeating foreign fighters in highly publicized matches at a time when Chinese sovereignty was being eroded by colonization, foreign concessions, and spheres of influence. Due to his heroic status, legends and myths about events in his life are difficult to discern from the facts.


Early life

Huo Yuanjia was born in 1868 in Xiaonanhe Village in Jinghai County in Tianjinmarker as the fourth child of Huo Endi's ten children. The family's main source of income was from agriculture, but Huo Endi also made a living by escorting merchant caravans to Manchuria and back. Although born to a family of traditional Wushu practitioners, Huo Yuanjia was born weak and susceptible to illness (he had asthma and at an early age he contracted jaundice that would recur periodically for the rest of his life) so his father discouraged him from learning traditional Wushu.

Huo Endi hired a tutor named Chen Seng Ho (Chiang Ho) from Japanmarker to teach Huo Yuanjia academics and the values of humility and perseverance. In return, Chen was taught the Huo family's style of martial arts, Mízōngyì. Against his father's wishes, Huo Yuanjia still wanted to learn Wushu. He secretly observed his father teaching students martial arts during the day and practiced them at night with his tutor.

In 1890, a martial artist from Henan Provincemarker visited the Huo family and had a fight with Huo Yuanjia's older brother. Huo's elder brother was defeated and to the surprise of the family, Huo Yuanjia fought against his brother's opponent and defeated him. Because Huo Yuanjia proved that he was physically able to practice Wushu, his father accepted him as a disciple. In later years, Huo Yuanjia went on to challenge martial artists from neighboring lands and his fame grew as he defeated more and more opponents in bouts.

Huo Yuanjia joined his father at work as a caravan guard. One day, while escorting a group of monks, Huo Yuanjia was confronted by an aggressive bandit leader who threatened to attack the monks with his bandit followers. Huo Yuanjia fought against the bandit leader and defeated him. News of his feat spread and added on to his growing fame. In 1896, Huo Yuanjia went to Tianjinmarker and made a living there by working as a porter in the Huaiqing pharmacy there and by selling firewood.

Rise to fame

In 1901, Huo Yuanjia responded to a challenge advertised by a wrestler from Russiamarker in Xiyuan Park, Tianjinmarker. The wrestler openly called the Chinese "weak men of the East" as no one accepted his challenge to a fight. The Russian forfeit when Huo Yuanjia accepted his challenge. The Russian told Huo that he was merely putting on a performance in order to make a living and made an apology for his earlier remark in the newspaper.

Between 1909 and 1910, Huo Yuanjia traveled to Shanghai twice to accept an open challenge posed by a Britishmarker boxer Hercules O'Brien. The two of them had arguments over the rules governing such boxing matches and eventually agreed that whoever knocked down his opponent would be the victor. However, O'Brien never fought Huo, opting to leave town instead.

Chin Woo Athletic Association

Between 1909 and 1910, Huo Yuanjia founded the Chin Woo Physical Training Center (later known as Chin Woo Athletic Association) with his close friend Nong Jinsun as president of the association.Historic involvement of the Tongmenghui as helping start the first Chin Woo center. Huo Yuanjia was encouraged by close friends and sponsored by Sun Yat-sen and Song Jiaoren who were living in Tokyomarker, Japanmarker. The center was meant to be a school for learning the art of self-defense, improvement of health and mind. Wushu gradually grew to become a sport as it is today.

Huo Yuanjia suffered from jaundice and now tuberculosis and started seeing a Japanese doctor for medication and treatment. The doctor, a member of the Japanese Judo Association based in Shanghai invited him to a competition upon hearing of his fame. Huo Yuanjia's top student Liu Zhensheng competed with a Judo practitioner. Although there were disputes over who won the match, both sides generally agreed that the disagreement culminated in a brawl and members of the Judo team were injured, some with broken fingers and hands, including the head instructor.


Huo Yuanjia died on August 9, 1910 at 42 years of age. In 1989, the tomb of Huo Yuanjia and his wife was relocated. Black spots were discovered in the pelvic bones, in which Tianjin Municipality Police Laboratory confirmed that they contained arsenic. Consequently, it is difficult to ascertain whether his death was caused by malicious poisoning or the prescription of medicine. This was because arsenic trioxide has been used therapeutically for approximately 2,400 years as a part of traditional Chinese medicine.

Historian Chen Gongzhe, who was also one of Huo's students, believed that the cause of his teacher's death was hemoptysis disease. Chen wrote that Huo Yuanjia was introduced to a Japanese doctor by the Judo instructor as his health declined. The doctor prescribed some medicine for his condition, but Huo Yuanjia's health continued to deteriorate. Huo was admitted to Shanghai Red Cross Hospital where he died two weeks later. Although Chen Gongzhe did not mention that the medicine prescribed by the Japanese doctor contained arsenic or any other poison, some leaders of the Chin Woo Athletic Association speculate that Huo was poisoned around the time of his death.

Legacy and expansion of Chin Woo

Huo Yuanjia died only months after helping to fund the Chin Woo Athletic Association. Before his death, he invited Zhao Lianhe of Shaolin Mizong Style to teach in Chin Woo and Zhao agreed. Subsequently, a number of other martial arts masters agreed to teach at the school. They included Eagle Claw master Chen Zizheng, Seven Star Praying Mantis master Luo Guangyu, Xingyi master Geng Xiaguang, and Wu Chien Chuan, the founder of Wu style Taijiquan. In June 1910, the Eastern Times announced the establishment of this association in the name of Huo Yuanjia. It was the first civil Kung Fu organization in Chinamarker that was not associated with a particular school or style.

During the Japanesemarker sphere of influence, the Twenty-One Demands sent to the Chinese government resulted in two treaties with Japan on May 25, 1915. This separated the Manchurian ruling class from exercising control over the Han Chinese. With their freedom, Huo Yuanjia's students purchased a new building as headquarters for the organisation and renamed it Chin Woo Athletic Association. Re-organization, publications of books and magazines, and new styles of martial arts other than what Huo taught, were accepted under the mantle of the new association. In 1918, Chin Woo opened a branch at Nathan Roadmarker in Hong Kongmarker.

In July 1919, the Chin Woo Association sent five representatives to Southeast Asia to perform a missionary program to expand activities overseas. They were Chen Gongzhe, Li Huisheng, Luo Xiaoao, Chen Shizhao and Ye Shutian. They made their first stop in Saigonmarker, Vietnammarker where they opened the first Chin Woo school outside of China. Later, they opened schools in Malaysiamarker and Singaporemarker as well. By 1923, these five masters had opened schools all over Southeast Asia and visited nine different countries.

In 1966, Shanghai's Chin Woo school was forced to discontinue its activities by the Communists due to the Cultural Revolution plan, whose goal was to destroy old ideas, culture, customs in order to modernize China. Those restrictions were later lifted in 1976 and activities were continued in Shanghai Chin Woo.

Currently, Chin Woo is one of the largest Wushu organizations in the world with branches in Japanmarker, Hong Kongmarker, Macaumarker, Vietnammarker, Malaysiamarker, Singaporemarker, Polandmarker, Canadamarker, UKmarker, U.S.marker, Australia, and Switzerlandmarker.

Huo Yuanjia was survived by three sons and two daughters, and now has seven grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren.

Huo Yuanjia in popular culture

TV series adaptations

Year Production Title More information
1981 ATV (Hong Kongmarker) The Legendary Fok (大俠霍元甲)
1995 ATV (Hong Kong) Fist of Fury (精武門)
2001 Mainland China Huo Yuan Jia (霍元甲)
2007 Hong Kong The Legendary Fok 2008 (霍元甲)

Film adaptations

Year Production Title More information
1972 Hong Kongmarker Legend of a Fighter (霍元甲)
2006 Mainland China/Hong Kongmarker Fearless (霍元甲)

See also


  1. states that the wu shu association was founded on July 7, 1910. An interview with Huo Yuanjia's great-grandson states that he died about 70 days after the Jingwu school was founded. states August 1909 as the date of death.
  2. Moore, Roger. (September 22, 2006) Orlando Sentinel Li jets out of action genre by playing a generic hero. Section: Calendar; Page 14. (Quote: Aussie strongman Nathan Jones "plays Euro-strongman Hercules O'Brien here, a real-life fighter who was supposed to fight Huo but never did.")
  3. Chester, Rodney. (August 26, 2006) The Courier-Mail Tweaking the artistic truth. Section: etc1 - First with the news; M04. (Quote, "In reality, big bad O'Brien left town when Huo challenged him to a fight. Likewise, a Russian fighter had a change of heart when Huo challenged him for calling Asian men weak. The Russian opted for a public apology instead of a public brawl.")

Further reading

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