Heng Shan Do | Winston Salem Martial Arts School

The Origin of Heng Shan Do Print E-mail

Our story begins with Chen Mai-Shou. Chen Mai Shou was from the enforcer branch of Chen family. This is why he is not listed in many records. Those listed in records tend to be figureheads and politicians. The enforcers, on the other hand, were the guys that came to your house and persuaded you if you weren't paying your bills. So they're weren't spoken of among open circles. Chen family is of course referring to the famous Chen Village (Chenjiagou) in the Henan Province of China.

The past 150 years or so have been marked by rapid upheaval in China.  In the mid-to-late 1800's there was a period of Chinese immigration into the United States during the Gold Rush.  Guns were also on the rise as the revolutions started in China, vastly affecting the culture surrounding Chinese martial arts.

The following period of the early-to-mid 1900's saw the third burning of the Shaolin Temples in 1927 and the martial arts were outlawed, the modern-version of the Chinese Triads was emerging and China was forcefully being moved from an imperialist dynasty to what ultimately became a communist regime.  It was during this cultural revolution that the President of the Republic of China at the time, Chiang Kai Shek fled China to Taiwan and General Mao Zedong ultimately took over China.   

Since then, in the modern People's Republic of China, the ban on martial arts has been lifted. The new government securely in place, they re-opened the Shaolin Temples under their own government sponsor. According to some sources, the Temples were originally burned because the government felt the Shaolin were too powerful. Stories abound of their prowess, such as 7 Shaolin Warrior Monks being able to defeat 100 soldiers. The re-opening of the Temples was carefully monitored by the new government, and an abbot was appointed to oversee the Temple and government-approved "wushu", which translates to "martial art".

The martial arts being practiced in the Temples now is regarded by some as much more an athletic sport, a performance piece, rather than the rich, esoteric arts of previous generations. These modern day martial arts, wushu, are often beautiful forms, exemplifying grace and athleticism. The Temple's earlier emphasis on the cultivating and refining of qi (or ch'i) seems to be largely absent from the modern forms of martial arts, which are often presented as gymnastic routines.

It was during this earlier period of the Boxer Rebellion and the ensuing cultural revolution that Chen Mai Shou fled China and came to New York, where he settled in Chinatown. There, he opened a school. Master Chen's school, however, was not open to just anybody.

During this time, nobody from China was teaching the Westeners their martial arts. Even those Chinese students that would have been accepted to his school would not receive the full teaching unless they showed themselves of utmost character and dedication. This was both for their own safety (so they don't hurt themselves) and to prevent misuse of the martial arts (so they don't hurt others). What's more, those that fled China may not have wanted the Chinese government to know their whereabouts.  New students would have to prove themselves over time before being given deeper access to the style.

Master Chen knew the depths of the style, and he knew it would in fact be wrong to openly teach the true depths of a style to someone that was not prepared -- they could hurt themselves, and perhaps others in the process. It would be a detriment to the student. What happens when you run 1000 watts through a 60 watt bulb? It explodes. The vessel has limits on the amount it can sustain. In the martial arts, the body-mind is the vessel that is trained to be able to sustain more and more subtle layers of understanding and more and more potent energy development. So the depths of the style cannot be taught to just anyone. "One is taught in accordance with one's fitness to learn." Fitness here applies to the physical, and even moreso to the mental, energetic and spiritual.

Perhaps the cultural revolution spanned beyond China's borders. It would be no small wonder that the Chinese in Chinatown were very protective of their heritage at this time. Perhaps for this reason, only Chinese were allowed into martial arts schools. Perhaps they wanted to preserve dynastic traditions, maintain the purity of the style, and it may also have to do with distrust of the Americans that enslaved the Chinese to build railroads in times past.


One day, a young Jewish boy was walking through Chinatown. As he recalls, he suddenly stopped, his foot seemingly stuck to the ground. Looking up, he saw a sign on a building, written in Chinese. He didn't know Chinese prior to this, but he *knew* what this sign meant, and he knew he had to go inside. As it turns out, this sign belonged to Master Chen.

Perhaps he knew Chinese in a previous life, who knows. But he could read the sign. He walked into the school. The young Jewish boy began asking questions to those he encountered. Not being Chinese himself, he may not have received what would be called an open welcome. When he relayed his story of reading the sign, however, it was taken as a portent by the Master. He was allowed to stay and sweep the floors.

As time passed, the young boy, sweeping the floors, began mimmicking the movements he saw the others doing. He became quite proficient doing so, perhaps as far as brown belt. Then someone saw him performing a certain movement. "That's not the move, it's this way," he was corrected. The boy insisted he knew the move and that he was correct. Who did this adolescent think he was? What made him think he had any say? He wasn't even a student, and here he thinks he knows this style better than the people training in it? The issue was taken directly to Master Chen.

The young boy performed the movement for Master Chen. Ah. Master Chen recognized the movement, "That's the way the movement was done prior to the 13th century." Was he some reincarnation of a Chinese martial artist from prior to the 13th century? Who knows. But that is how young Harvey Sober's story with Chen Mai Shou begins.

From that time, Harvey Sober was allowed to train with the others. Over time, he grew in stature and favor with Master Chen and was taught the subtle heart of the style. Sober studied with Master Chen for years until the unfortunate passing of his teacher. After some time, he met other teachers that practiced their own arts. Among them were Herman Kauz and Cheng Man-Ch'ing, whose lessons he rapidly absorbed.

Some time later, wanting to pass on a legacy, Harvey Sober offered classes at Yeshiva University in martial arts. The style he taught was an amalgamation of his training in Chinese and Japanese arts which he termed Tora Dojo. "Tora" here has a double meaning. "Tora" is the Japanese word for Tiger, and "Torah" is the primary sacred text of Judaism.

The style begins primarily Japanese. Japanese movements are very straight and very precise. For most, if not all, it's easier to learn and follow motion precisely along a straight line than to learn motion along a curve. Thus, Tora Dojo begins as a Japanese style, using traditional Japanese belts, until the point of black belt. Having attained a certain degree of proficiency, the curvilinear Chinese martial arts are introduced, including Bagua, Taiji, Long Fist, Tiger-Crane, White Crane, Monkey Sage, Wing Chun and so forth.

What Sober wasn't expecting in all of this was that some students would stick around. One such person to pursue this martial art fervently was Michael Andron. Michael at this point was already an adept in yoga, taught by Blanche DeVries. He trained with Sober full-time, hours per day, all week, for two years to become the style's first black belt.

After some time, Michael moved south, eventually opening a martial arts school in Winston-Salem. Michael modified Tora Dojo to draw more emphasis unto certain areas and to incorporate elements of yoga. He also spent years developing his own forms to include in the style. While Tora Dojo is for the Jewish community, Michael wanted to open his style to the entire community as a non-sectarian, secular school of martial arts. When all was ready, Sober came down from New York for the school's opening in the early to mid 1980's, and provided the name of the style.

In China, there are five sacred mountains. Having moved south, Michael Andron's style was named after the southern sacred mountain, Mt. Heng. The Chinese word for mountain is Shan, and the word for south is Nan. Two of the five sacred mountains are named Heng Shan (or, Mt. Heng). This style is named after the southern mountain, Heng Shan (Nan) in Hunan Province of China. Heng Shan (Nan) represents Balance. Balance is a pivotal theme of our style.

"Do" is a Japanese word, generally translated as "Way". It is the same as the Chinese word Dao (or Tao), as in Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching), Daoyin, and Daoism (Taoism). Japanese styles primarily end with either "Do", as in Aikido, Kendo, Judo, Karate-Do or "Jitsu", as in Aiki-Jitsu and Jiu-Jitsu. The difference between "Jitsu" and "Do" is that a "Jitsu" is purely a fighting system. A "Do" style, however, adds a philosophy, a way of life onto the system. Honoring the Japanese elements of our style, we include the Japanese rendition of "Do" in our name.

Thus our style was born with the name, Heng Shan Do, "Way of Balance".

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