Student of Liu De Kuan

Liu De Kuan owned a business in Beijing. He hired out guards to protect the houses and possessions of well-to-do citizens. His guards also accompanied transports of merchandise, since the countryside was infested with bandits and rebels. Liu De Kuan was responsible for the security of one of Beijing’s renowned Chinese families and often visited their mansion to check up on his men. Liu Cai Chen, knowing of De Kuan’s frequent visits to the mansion, tried to get himself employed as a servant of the family of the house. Despite his frequent attempts his plan didn’t work out. Fortunately Liu Cai Chen met Liu De Kuan by accident some months later. De Kuan was impressed by the boy’s fighting skills and his eagerness to learn, so he assented to take Cai Chen on as his student.

Under Liu De Kuan’s guidance Liu Cai Chen became proficient in the martial arts. De Kuan taught him liu he men, pa kua and xing yi. It is very difficult to get any idea of the character of Liu Cai Chen with the sparse information we have. It is said that he possessed a sharp, keen intellect and a strict discipline. All his time and energy were focused on developing his fighting skills. He analysed all the techniques and trained vigorously and concentrated. He also tried to attend as many fighting competitions as possible, but not because he was eager to show off his strength and skills. His only purpose was to observe and analyse the techniques of the fighters. Apparently Liu was a very modest man who disapproved strongly of show off and the misuse of fighting skills. According to him, a good martial artist should not only be skilled in attacking and defending, but also be integer and morally upright.

Wealthy and famous

After several years the both men left Beijing, hiring themselves out as guards. They came in Xaanxi and Henan, probably guarding transports of merchandise. It is said, that people everywhere were impressed by their fighting skills and knowledge. At the age of 30 Liu was already a renowned martial artist. He was nicknamed “Liu the Big Spear” because of his proficiency in the liu he men spear. Later the master and his student moved back to Hebei province where they set up another business providing guards. Even if Liu Cai Chen had arrived in Beijing without a penny, by now he had become a wealthy man and a renowned fighter on top of that. When De Kuan passed away (at the end of 1911 or early in 1912), Liu Cai Chen returned to Beijing.

Beijing again

With the beginning of the 20th century China found itself the scene of social turmoil and political chaos. The century started with the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. The “Society of Harmonious Fists” or Boxers wanted to get rid of all foreign elements in China and attacked Christian mission posts and international trade posts. The conservative and scheming empress-dowager Ci Xi wanted to use the Boxers for her own purposes. Ci Xi also did not like the western influence and hoped to chase the foreign legacies out of the country with the help of the Boxers. She sended them the imperial militia to assist with the attack on the foreign legacies in Beijing. Her actions caused an enormous international scandal with military repercussions as a consequence. China was forced to approve of further economical and military concessions to appease the international community.

We are not sure if Liu had already returned to Beijing in 1900 and if so, what his sentiments were on the subject. His task had always been to defend the properties of the rich Chinese against the rebels. Could he suddenly have switched sides? We know that the Boxers had gained a lot of support from the Chinese population, even from the lower nobility. Maybe Liu agreed that foreign influence in China was harmful and thought the cause of these rebels a righteous one. We can only conjecture on this point.

A fact is that in Beijing Liu continued the development of his martial arts skills. He studied tai chi with Wu Chuan You. He became very close with the Wu family, especially with Wu’s son, Jian Quan, who was like a brother to him. Liu Cai Chen also studied xing yi with Keng Chi San.