Wan Lai Sheng is one of the legendary figures of Chinese wushu (also known as Kung Fu). Born in 1903 in Wuchang city, Hubei, Wan began his study of the martial arts at the age of seventeen learning Shaolin Liu He Men Boxing from Master Zhou Xin Zou. Looking to increase his skill and knowledge, Wan studied with just about every master he could find in the Bejing area. After graduating from Beijing Agricultural University he tracked down Du Xin Wu, holder of the Zi Ran Men lineage, and was accepted as his disciple.
Wan finally mastered the theories and practice of the Zi Ran Men school after seven years of concentrated study. Still hungry for knowledge, Wan absorbed the teachings of Xing Yi Quan, Ba Gua Zhang, Shaolin Luo Han Boxing, Wudang Tai Ji, and Monkey style from Liu Ba Chuan, Wang Xian Zhi, Wang Rong Biao, Liu Sheng Xian and many others.
At this time, Wan was asked to write a series of articles for the Beijing Morning News. Eventually the series was published as a book titled 'A Collection Of Reviews on Wushu'. It was the first book of its kind - drawing together and explaining all the different styles of wushu.
In the same year (1928), the First National Wushu Contest was held in Nanjing. Although the tournament was eventually halted due to the excessive injuries suffered by the fighters, Wan Lai Shen was recognized as the pre-eminent martial artist in attendance.
Grandmaster Wan Lai Sheng
Previously, Zi Ran Men had only been passed down to one disciple per generation. Under Du Xin Wu's instructions,however, Wan began to openly teach this style of boxing. Due to his skill and commitment, Zi Ran Men became famous with schools rapidly developing nationwide.
Together with his cousin Wan Lai Ping and friends Gu Ru Zhang, Li Xian Wu and Fu Zhen Song, Wan traveled to Guangzhou, where he became director of the Guangzhou-Guangxi Wushu Academy. This has become a legendary event in the history of Chinese wushu, known as 'Five Tigers Going South'.
Wan Lai Sheng came to earn the title of 'Big Dipper' - meaning that his skill level had reached all the way up to the heavens. This is a very special accolade, as there can be only one 'Big Dipper'. This title wasn't earned just for his fighting skill, it also recognized Wan's study and understanding of literature, Daoist philosophy, Chinese medicine and martial forms.
By 1931, Wan was the director of Hunan Wushu Institute. He had moved on to teach at Guangxi University by 1934 and founded the Yong'an Teachers School of Physical Education in 1939.Wan went on to become a Professor Of Sport at Fujian Agricultural college and remained there until his retirement in 1951.
In his lifetime, Wan authored sixteen books, including 'One Zero Philosophy', 'Traditional Chinese Orthopedics', 'Zi Ran Men', 'International Fighting Teaching System', 'Illustrated Shaolin Lou Han Boxing', 'Zhang Sun Fen', 'Essence Of Wushu', 'Discussion of Wushu' and '24 Form Spearplay'.
Before his death, Wan passed the Liu He Zi Ran Men lineage to his friend and disciple Master Hong Zheng Fu.
Master Hong training with Grandmaster Wan Lai Sheng