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The Immortal and the Black Whirlwind

To have immortality at your side,
You must eliminate wine, desire and the love of money,
Then you can compare to the great immortal Long Eyebrow Li.
If you can regulate your respiration and the turning of yin and yang,
Then, your heaven made body can compare with heaven itself
-Heaven-Ascended Taoist

From the teachings of Heaven-Ascended Taoist comes the secret of immortality. He tells us that you develop immortality through the practice of ‘regulating your respiration’ and ‘regulating’ your mind. Through the contemplation of yin and yang you can realize your undying spirit.


Heaven-Ascended Taoist writes about exercises of longevity, martial arts, medicine and weaponry. Based on the quality of his writings and breadth of his knowledge we can see that he was a well-educated man who lived the life of a Luohan, an ascetic devoted to enlightenment and the helping of others. Through the contemplation of his spiritual practice and living within the mundane world did Heaven-Ascended Taoist make martial arts his way of life.

 

Hooking and Hanging of the Long Handled Axe

With regard to turning the handle,
The yue axe follows yin and yang
From where comes its fame?
When the axe chopped at Old Monarch’s Hall,
Save for the help of the myriad spirits,
Little King Tang would have been scared to death.

The method is like the shuo spear
It takes the knack of hooking and hanging
-Heaven-Ascended Taoist

 

Heaven-Ascended Taoist’s Shaolin Manual on weapons shows a figure holding a single long bladed axe and wearing an actor’s black face costume. There is only one person in Chinese literature that meets that description and that is the Black Whirlwind Li Kui.
The Black Whirlwind was originally depicted as holding a single long handled axe. The first publication of Water Margin (Shui Hu Zhuan) in the mid-1500’s changed that to him holding a pair of short handled axes.


Since the illustration in Heaven-Ascended Taoist’s book carries a single long handled axe and he is drawn with an actors face costume, none of Heaven-Ascended Taoist’s 17 other weapon bearing warriors wear a mask, we can deduce that Heaven-Ascended Taoist had Black Whirlwind in mind.


Furthermore, it is apparent that Heaven-Ascended Taoist was not influenced by Water Margin as commonly believed but by the predecessors to Water Margin.
 

Black Whirlwind Li Spurns Riches out of Righteousness

When we saw a few dozen of them
flaunt their vicious stupidity,
With one or two rounds
We beat them all into a pulpy mess,
Since our
Reckless eyes have no fists
We beat them til
They scattered in all four directions, as if in convulsions,
-Zhu Youdun (1433)

From the early Ming Dynasty play Black Whirlwind Li Spurns Riches out of Righteousness written by Zhu Youdun, nephew to the emperor, in the year 1433. He devoted two plays to the noble bandits of the Liangshan marshes whose adventures later would be written up as the famous novel Water Margin. This play pairs Black Whirlwind together with Yan Qing, another hero of Water Margin.


The Black Whirlwind was so famous with earlier Yuan playwrights that his name appeared on fourteen titles. No Doubt, The Black Whirlwind’s fearless ability to confront and beat corrupt officials and bullies stimulated his popularity and made him known to Heaven-Ascended Taoist.


In Zhu Yuodun's description his weapon was the single long handled axe and his sidekick was Yan Qing. They traveled together and always caused a calamity when they encountered corrupt officials. The excitement of the performance began when they sang songs such as these;

We will rely on
Our doubled fists of iron,
Our single lance
That can defeat spirits and pulverize ghosts,
And our one axe that
Calls up the moon and raises storms!
-Zhu Youdun (1433)

If you were raised on a culture of such performances you may come to look at the Black Whirlwind as a hero of the people, one who comes to help those in need. I believe that Heaven-Ascended Taoist was influenced by plays such as those by Zhu Youdun as opposed to the later and much more popular work Water Margin. He either never read Water Margin or was active before Water Margin either first appeared or gained popularity. It is interesting to note that the most popular version of Water Margin did not appear until the early Qing and was banned by the government.

All bookshops which print the licentious story Shui Hu Zhuan must be rigorously sought out, and the work prohibited. Both the wood blocks and the printed matter should be burned.
-Imperial Mandate March 1799

Water Margin’s description of Black Whirlwind with a pair of short handled axes and Black Whirlwind’s less than admiral qualities of his tendencies to slaughter the innocent are widespread in Water Margin.

And the big black fellow killed his way straight to the river’s edge and his body was covered with blood. Yet even there at the river’s edge he still killed on. Then Chao, holding his sword, cried out, “This matter has naught to do with the people! Do not keep on killing them, therefore!”
But how could that fellow be willing to hear what Chao called? With every blow of an axe he struck a man down.
-Shui Hu Zhuan-Water Margin

I conclude that Heaven-Ascended Taoist was not influenced by Water Margin as is commonly believed and instead was influenced by dramatists from the early Ming and Yuan. We may also conclude that Black Whirlwind originally, at least in this instance, used a long handled axe as opposed to a pair of short handled axes. Both types of weapons were popular military issue during the Song, the era when the Black Whirlwind most likely existed in real life as first recorded in Anecdotes of the Xuan He Reign (Xuanhe Yishi 宣和遺事) from approximately 1250 AD.


Heaven-Ascended Taoist was a writer who wrote as if he wished to educate and uplift the mental state of his students.

The mind and thoughts are like restless gibbons and horses incapable of being confined.
The qi is affected by a strong fright and blood will be insufficient.
Stabilize the heart, nourish and cultivate the spirit and qi.
You can immediately see proof of efficacy, success comes quickly.
-Heaven-Ascended Taoist

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