Si Hongyu and Guo Kai
Health Qigong is a special sport. One of its unique features is the simultaneous body and mind regulation. Body regulation means the regulation of the physiological state and mind regulation means the regulation of psychological state. By practicing Health Qigong, we can adjust the physiological and psychological states which have gone out of balance due to various causes. Both the mental state and physical state are carried by the human body. They interact as both cause and effect and complement each other. The mental and physical imbalances and problems of man can be solved by co-regulation of the mental and physical states. Everybody has two properties, namely the natural property and social property. As a part of the nature, man is governed by the natural rules and will inevitably be subject to the threats of pathogens such as wind, cold, heat, and damp and go through a process of life, illness, aging, and death. As a part of the society, man is restricted by the conditions of the age he is in and will inevitably experience sorrow, happiness, unity, and departure. All these natural and social conditions will more or less influence the mental and physical states of everyone. Failure to make proper adjustments will result in damages to peoples’ health and longevity and prevent them from “living to the full span of life”. And Health Qigong exercise bears the feature of co-regulation of both the physical and mental states on the basis of the three elements of “body regulation, breath regulation, and mind regulation”.
Firstly, Health Qigong is a traditional sport of our nation with body movements, respiration regulation, and mental regulation as the major forms of exercise. Therefore Health Qigong is featured by co-regulation of both the mental and physical states: This is because physical regulation starts from essence cultivation and will go through a process covering saliva accumulation, essence generation, conversion of essence into Qi, and conversion of Qi into spirit, while mental regulation mainly involves spirit cultivation in which all concentration is focused on mental activities. Specifically, the physical regulation of Health Qigong is mainly represented by limb movements and focused on regulation of the physiological state of the practicer; and it will certainly assist mental regulation. The mental regulation of Health Qigong is mainly embodied in the moral cultivation and its health-preserving mechanism. It sheds light on self-inspiration and regulates people’s mental, as well as physical functions. Therefore we should not consider them as opposites, because the mental and physical states are united in the human body and have interactions. Every movement of Health Qigong has its mechanism and functions. And these mechanism and functions cannot be fully utilized unless under the guidance of a good mental state. Therefore importance should always be attached to the regulation of mental state before, during, and after the practice of Health Qigong. During the practice, there are some specific requirements in addition to the movement norms: The practicer is required to eliminate distracting thoughts, concentrate the mind, relax the entire body, turn a deaf ear to the external things, and adhere to vacancy and quietness. From this we can see that during the exercise, mental regulation is always the dominant role. Mental regulation has two aspects in Health Qigong. One of them is the regulation of mental state during exercise or, in other words, the conscious control of the body. Internal consciousness is used to turn disorderly and scattered mental activities into regular and focused mental activities in order to regulate Qi. The other is the regulation of mental state in social practice. In other words we should attach importance to the cultivation of morality, which is a necessary condition for maintaining a stable state of life. This is because the moral cultivation involves eliminating and reducing the interference by the Seven Emotions. And the Seven Emotions are factors that disturb the “body, Qi, and spirit” of the practicer. Therefore moral cultivation should be considered a precondition for health preservation. These two aspects of mental regulation depend on each other because the application of mind is restricted by the society and subject to the social and moral influences. Therefore moral cultivation is a part of mental regulation, a prerequisite for the correct and efficient application of the mind, a serenity-accomplishing process used to eliminate distracting thoughts, seek truth, and achieve Anatman, and one of the embodiments of the mental regulation of Health Qigong.
Secondly, the fact that Health Qigong exercise is meant to “increase life span, mental power, and morality” has further shown its feature of co-regulation of mental and physical states. Since the ancient times, practicers of Health Qigong have not only sought physical health and longevity, but also pursued and exhibited high morality and spiritual self-improvement. Health Qigong has been created by learning from the Yin and Yang and hardness and softness of the heaven and earth. Proper adherence to the exercise can be considered a “benevolent” behavior. According to etymology, “benevolence” means “kindness” just as “righteousness” and “goodness”. Practicers are seeking health and longevity. And health and longevity come from “benevolence”. “Moral cultivation and fulfillment of promises are called benevolence”. (Li Ji: Qu Li) Therefore Health Qigong can be considered as a benevolent behavior that leads to health and longevity. And “benevolence” belongs to “morality”. Therefore the mental state is used to determine and realize self-value and thus perform the co-regulation of mental and physical states in Health Qigong.
Secondly, the fact that Health Qigong exercise is meant for “approach-based benevolence” has further shown its feature of co-regulation of mental and physical states. Since health and longevity is a “self-benevolence”, Health Qigong is an “approach-based benevolence”, because the results of “approach-based benevolence” can meet the practicers’ demand for health and longevity. “Benevolence” belongs to “morality”. The achievement in the exercise is directly related to morality. Many regiment schools give the first priority to the cultivation of morality and lay special emphasis on making achievements of Health Qigong with morality. It was said in ancient times that “Achievement originates from virtue and virtue is the mother of achievement”. And “exercise without moral cultivation will definitely lead to evil possession” warns us that exercisers should “straighten the heart before exercising the body”. Straightening the heart exactly means cultivate morality. This is why Confucius pointed out in The Great Learning that: “wealth embellishes your house and morality embellishes your body. A person with a large heart tends to grow plump.” Zhu Xi construed it as: “wealth embellishes your house and morality embellishes your body because when you are free of dirty ideas, your mind will be open and commodious and your body will be always healthy. This is why morality embellishes your body.” How to elevate “morality”? Confucius’ “doing good” theory is based on self-communion, self-control, and self-behavior. In other words the moral cultivation of the subject itself is used to break the spiritual shackles and achieve ideal personalities. This means that moral cultivation is done by the subject itself. The motive for moral cultivation comes from the real human mind. It is an effort driven by the human awareness. Therefore the reason that some practicers fail to understand the gist of Health Qigong is probably related to the degree of conscious efforts. Whatever the reason, Health Qigong itself can cultivate “morality” by co-regulating the mental and physical states. It is just that some practicers haven’t grasped its core and obtained the real benefits. To sum up, long-term, correct practice of “approach-based benevolence” of Health Qigong can be used as a “Tao-upholding” process which naturally leads to “establishment of morality”. Therefore “upholding Tao can establish morality, and established morality can define Tao”. This is quite good evidence. Certainly, only constant, long-term, and continuous habitual adherence to this practice can cultivate morality. Just as Aristotle said: “the properties of morality are results of habit.” Since long-term, correct practice of “approach-based benevolence” of Health Qigong can cultivate morality, it will naturally regulate the mental state.
In a stressful society, people usually need to play multiple social roles. Work, life, and many other things are wearing everyone and the complicated interpersonal communications frequently befuddle us. In such times, we will be desperately in need of relaxation of the body and massage of the mind in order to reinvigorate ourselves and fulfill what we are supposed to do. Perhaps Health Qigong exercise is exactly what you want, because Health Qigong regulates both the mental and physical states. You may be unable to practice it all the time. But as long as you always keep an eye on the cultivation of your own morality anywhere and anytime in your daily life and embed the practice of Health Qigong in your daily life, you can still keep your spirit serene and free of fickleness and keep your mind straight and free of prejudice. This is another way of Health Qigong exercise which just lays more emphasis on the regulation of mental state.
Reference: Origin and Development of Qi-Promoting Techniques jsqg.sport.org.cn
Troubled by all kinds of thoughts and desires, people are liable to get nervous anal disturbed in daily life and with their natural character con-fused and the ability to sustain themselves lost, they are quite ill with vari-ous worries and diseases. The poem reads:
Displaying its horns, the buffalo bellows aloud,
Running along the mountain path into the distance.
A patch of black clouds overhangs the valley,
The buffalo tramples wheat seedlings wherever it goes.
When you start qigong practice, place your mind under control and set strict demands on yourself, as if fastening the buffalo with a rope. Af-ter persistent practice, you will become disciplined and avoid unnecessary losses. The poem reads:
Controlled by a rope through its nose,
The buffalo runs swiftly under the whip.
It is no easy thing to overcome a willful temper,
As the boy struggles hard to lead the buffalo.
After some practice, you will find yourself calm and stable gradually. But you cannot slacken your efforts at this moment, anyway. Be sure to forget fatigue and feel at home. The poem reads:
Under constant training the buffalo stops dashing,
Following the boy across streams and through clouds.
Not daring to loosen the rope in his hand,
The boy tends the buffalo all day in spite of his fatigue.
When you reach a certain stage in practice, a turn for the better will take place and the destination of your life’s voyage will appear before you. In so doing, you can grow out of recklessness and act in conformity with nature. At this juncture, keep your mind steady and consolidate the origi-nal ring and strengthen the original qi. The poem reads:
A long time has passed before the buffalo turns back,
Its reckless temper has gradually grown gentle.
Not trusting the buffalo completely to itself,
The boy has not yet unfastened the rope.
When you return to the true nature, you will enter a state of freedom; and when you combine the inside with the outside, you will not find yourself shrouded in dust any longer but see the light. Now that you have found your true character, you can do away with those strict demands. The poem reads:
Under the green poplar, by the ancient stream,
The buffalo moves in harmony with nature.
Returning at sunset over the fragrant meadow,
The buffalo follows the boy, who has dropped his rope.
Getting free of hindrance is a state of penetration and evenness, and real control of both the body and the mind. Then try to enter a state of void through qi and shen practice and you will feel the inherent rhythm of life. The poem reads:
Sleeping contentedly under the sky,
The buffalo needs the whip nevermore.
The boy, sitting under the pine tree,
Starts to play a peaceful, happy tune.
A man’s potential is boundless, and exploiting and making use of it will lay groundwork for the distillation of life. As the “buffalo” has been tamed and is free from worldly hindrance, it is time for you to enjoy the power of freedom and stroll in the realm of life. The poem reads:
Bathed in sunset, the river floats past the willow tree
Under the fragrant meadow in light mist.’
Totally at ease, the buffalo drinks when thirsty, eat when hungry,
And the boy is lying on a rock, deep in sleep.
What is above everything is the true reality and observing various things in the world with a tranquil mind. Attaining the “union of man and heaven,” an advanced state in qigong practice, you will be in harmony with yourself and with nature. The poem reads:
The white buffalo stays in the white clouds;
The boy is free of concern, and so is the buffalo.
Penetrated by moonlight, the white clouds grow whiter;
The moon goes its way, and the clouds drift by.
With the buffalo and its master in perfect harmony, there is not any difference between the outside and the inside. Shen merges with the body and willpower with qi. Whenever illumination comes, you will feel at ease and full of go and vigor. The poem reads:
After the buffalo has vanished, the boy enjoys leisure;
A solitary cloud drifts across the hill.
Clapping his hands, the boy sings under the moon,
Though he has another portal to cross before reaching home.
The mother of nature is formless, and everything may be back to the original purity and simplicity. The circle in the diagram shows a state of purity and perfection so that existence is non-existence and vice versa. Re-maining quiet and still, you will gain ultimate wisdom and enlightenment and the purification of your life will draw to an end. The poem reads:
Both the boy and the buffalo are nowhere to be found,
The moon illuminates the vast void.
If in search of the meaning of all this,
Look at the wild flowers and fragrant grass.
Chan (meditation) is a state in which you gain wisdom and enlight-enment through self-cultivation. There are many methods of achieving this state, including zuochan, xingchan (walking quietly)and wuchan (con-templation). Self-cultivation is an advanced skill in Buddhist qigong. Bojo Guksa, a Buddhist monk living in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), wrote ten poems and drew ten pictures to describe the steps to enlightenment through contemplation. The buffalo in the pictures stands for the natural character of man or the source of life.
The Ten Chan Pictures ( 十禅图 , shí chán tú ) also known as The Ox Herding Pictures originally comes from China.
Reference: Chinese Qigong Illustrated by Yu Gongbao
Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings compiled by Paul Reps and Nyogen Sensaki
By Yang Fukui, as told by Bob Feldman
Note: This interview was done over the course of several sessions. I took the liberty of organizing the interview into a cohesive discussion of an “insider’s view” of Yang style Taijiquan. The essence of what Yang Fukui says in this interview is consistent with how he personally practices the traditional methods of Yang style Taijiquan – Bob Feldman
Bob Feldman: You started learning Taijiquan as a child from your father and grandfather, and you also learned and taught within the official Wushu establishment. How different was your family’s traditional training from modern training that Taiji students now receive?
Yang Fukui: It was quite different. Traditionally, we do not train by long sequences of forms. We concentrate more on developing gongfu, but first it is necessary to discuss the connection between energy, gongfu, and forms.
Yang Lu-Ch’an first studied the Chen style. It is quite different from the Yang style. In the Chen style forms, the energy is open, and it is expressed outwardly and explosively.
The forms of the Yang style, on the other hand, keep the energy internalized. Although forms appear to be outwardly quiet and slow, they have a lot of internal movement.
BF: By forms, do you mean the complete set or “Taolu”?
YF: By forms, I mean the individual movements.
BF: Can you continue?
YF: In the Chen style, the energy opens and is expressed externally in the forms. This is possible because the energy pathways, or meridians, are opened. In the Yang style, the focus is more upon gathering the energy than expressing it in the forms.
In the Yang style, our focus is slightly different. Although we must use explosive energy during a fight, we train by utilizing slow, soft movements that also have an inner hardness. We focus on utilizing our spirit to generate both the energy and the movement. This is also best accomplished by practicing the forms slowly, combining softness and hardness. The movements must have a quality of stillness. This is very good for health and internal energy circulation.
My grandfather told me that if you practice Taijiquan, you must develop a spiralic internal energy. This spiralic circulation is not externally apparent to others who may be watching you, but internally, it is there. To outsiders, the forms appear beautiful and balanced because of the spiral quality of the internal energy circulation. Yang Lu-Ch’an’s method results in the development of increased awareness and sensitivity to the world around you.
There is a famous story of the bird that could not fly off Yang Lu-Ch’an’s hand because every time the bird attempted to fly, he could neutralize the birds push-off by dropping his hand. This was because he was sensitive enough to feel the bird’s push off.
Therefore, in Yang style Taijiquan, we practice in order to increase our internal energy and our sensitivity and devote much time to cultivating the heart spirit. The heart spirit is our internal energy field, or circulation. It allows us to internally transform our body, keep our health, and refine our spirit. This is the essential foundation of traditional Yang style Taijiquan practice.
With this basic philosophy, Yang Lu-Ch’an combined Daoism with Taijiquan and modified the Chen style into a new style of art. He reinterpreted the principles behind the old Chen system and created the training methods, hand forms, and weapons of Yang style Taijiquan.
It is well known that he was quite an effective fighter and there are no records of his losing a challenge. He also never attempted to unnecessarily hurt or kill a challenger. This is why the system became known to the Imperial Court in Beijing and why Yang Lu-Ch’an was invited to train the Imperial guards.
BF: How was the second generation of the Yang family affected by their fathers’ reinterpretation of Taijiquan?
YF: Yang Ban Hou and Yang Chen Hou’s practices were both somewhat different from each other, as well as from modern practice. I think if they or their father were alive today and observed modern Taijiquan, they would not recognize much of what we call the Yang style Taijiquan.
BF: How did they practice then?
YF: First of all, they devoted most of their practice to gongfu and martial arts, not to health or “spiritual development,” although these two latter aspects certainly underlied their practice. Their emphasis was different. For example, they never practiced more than a two or three form or movements in sequence, in order to develop fighting skill and gongfu, and they never linked more than five forms together. There were no such things as the 24 or 85 or 108 form Taijiquan. Only two or three forms at a time were used for the solo practice of gongfu.
According to my grandfather, Yang Chen Hou’s practice stressed more form combinations while his brother, Yang Ban Hou, put more emphasis upon push hands for fighting and two-man practice. Yang Ban Hou also had fewer students than younger brother, perhaps because his teaching sessions were very rough and painful, as there was a lot of contact. Similarly, in the third generation, my great grandfather, Yang Xiao Hou, was also more interested in push hands and fighting. He had far fewer students than his brother Yang Cheng-fu. He was more “closed door” and interested in preserving the family’s practice. Yang Cheng-fu was a more of a public figure, and his desire was t promote the study of Yang style Taijiquan throughout China.
Therefore, he created the Taolu, which is known in English as “The Long Form.”
The Long Form Taijiquan set is good for health and for improving the quality of the body’s vital energy. But in order to fight, one must learn how to build u[p the energy and then explosively send it out. My grandfather told me that Yang Chen Hou’s energy was very elastic and spring-like during push hands, while Yang Ban Hou’s energy was more explosive and heavy.
Therefore, Taijiquan has several ways in which one can practice. The first way is to practice for physical exercise and emotional well-being. The second way is to practice Taijiquan to open one’s energy and to be able to use the energy in explosive expression. This second way serves as a basis for fighting.
Whatever direction one chooses, it is also good to practice push hands with another person. Push hands can both help to increase one’s sensitivity and explosivity, and also serve as an introduction to fighting. In addition, a higher level fighter can more easily use explosive force, while lower level Taiji practitioners use brute strength in pushing or striking the opponent instead. This is because they do not possess the inner sensitivity and ability to generate sufficient power and force by using the whole body together.
BF:How are push ands and fighting different?
YF: If you watch someone practice the Taiji forms, they are performed slowly, peacefully, and quietly. Fighting is different. Push hands is preliminary training for fighting and usually starts off slowly. In push hands one also has to “listen” or “sense” the opponent’s force, and to remain relaxed and soft while receiving an opponent’s force prior to responding.
In fighting, the opponent does not attack softly or slowly. The attack is as rapid as possible. In Taiji fighting, with experience, one can follow the opponent’s force, and use their own force and their energy to defeat them.
This method is part of Hua Jing, or the “mysterious force” of Taijiquan. Hua Jing is gained through many years of advanced practice, which allows you to summon a great amount of force from a deep state of centered relaxation and connectivity within your body, of the bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles, to achieve spring-like explosive power and minimal expenditure of are your own energy.
If I want, I can use your energy to fight you, by allowing you to fully extend yourself to the point where you are off-balance. I then redirect your energy back to you in order to defeat you. This must be executed very quickly. If you attempt to attack me quickly, I use circular or spiralic movement to gain the advantage and defeat you.
If you attack me with a slow, sustained force, I will become very soft and follow your force. I allow you to overextend, after which I pull you off balance. Hence, I follow you and then you follow me. Therefore, I have to use little of my own energy to accomplish this. If I really want to hurt you, I can add more of my own energy to make the counter-attack more powerful and destructive.
BF: In the traditional way of practice, how did the earlier Yang masters practice the forms to enhance their fighting skills?
YF: First of all, they would initially practice slowly and softly, but they would also practice the forms and sequences with speed and explosive power. The kicks and punches would also be done at full speed, but the kicks are internally generated by utilizing the power of the whole body. This sudden emission of force, using the internal methods, can cause deeper penetration and internal organ damage. It is not just muscular force emitted from the arms or legs; it uses the whole body. It can be achieved only by practicing Taijiquan as gongfu. You can only learn this from a master who understands the internal method of generating power.
BF:What other kinds of basics did they practice traditionally besides forms and push hands?
YF:: As in any Chinese martial art, one has to develop adequate flexibility through stretching. This is often not appreciated by many people in the West who learn Taiji. Although Taijiquan Taolu will help you obtain better flexibility, if you study Taijiquan as a martial art, it is required. After one gains adequate flexibility, one can start training the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones for strength and rooting. This is done by practicing in lower stances and using special weights, the long staff, and the Taiji ball.
BF: In researching some of the history of your family before this interview, I noticed that, especially in Tenjin, many masters of Xingyiquan, Baguazhang, and other martial arts also learned Taijiquan.
YF:: In the 19th century, China was a turbulent society, and many people would learn some type of martial art for self-defense. It was fairly unique, but in Tenjin, where there were a lot of martial artists, there was an open exchange within the Wushu associations that formed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Martial artists were often subject to many challenges and fights, causing emotional mental stress. Taijiquan is very good for quieting the emotions, as it is done slowly and softly. The Yang Taiji forms are very “quiet” compared to other martial arts. Therefore, many martial artists that specialized in other systems were attracted to Yang style Taijiquan.
If you can relax your mind and body, you can relax the emotions and become empty. This also enhances your abilities in other martial arts. Yang style Taiji is particularly soft and peaceful, which makes it very suitable for this purpose.
This is also why it has become popular today with many people who seek to lessen the stress of everyday life, as well as in hospitals and by senior citizens. The mental and physical health benefits of Taijiquan, especially Yang style Taijiquan, have been documented by scientific study both in China and in America.
BF: Can you tell me a little bit more about the differences between Yang Ban Hou and Yang Chen Hou and their personalities?
YF: Yang Ban Hou was a fierce fighter and more severe with his students than his brother, Yang Chen Hou,
BF: To return to the basic training of Yang Taijiquan, besides stretching, individual forms, and push hands, what else did the early Yang family practice for gongfu training?
YF: In Yang style Taijiquan, as well as in other internal martial arts, it is necessary to follow the cycle of natural change, the seasons and weather, and the four directions. This is very important.
If you practice Taiji and you are not aware of the differences in the energy of the daily cycle or the seasons, your practice cannot become very deep. You must follow Nature in your practice. This is essential.
BF: Can you further discuss the Taiji ball and other training aids that are used in traditional Yang style Taiji?
YF:: Yes, There are several. One is Taijixio, or Taiji ball. This ball is very heavy. The ball’s weight was usually between 2.5 to 10 kilograms (5.5 to 22 pounds). Some were made of leather and filled with sand and were hard on the inside. Others were made of wood.
One must use one’s muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones to perform the movements. By using the whole body to practice, we can get a lot of energy. In order to achieve this, however, we must practice from the core of our heart spirit.
If a teacher only teaches you the Taiji forms, or any of the training methods or weapons, this is the beginning level. If the teacher also teaches the student how to control the emotions and how to practice utilizing the heart spirit, this is a very high level of teaching. We called this “Gaoji.”
But the student must be ready for this kind of teaching. They must be open enough and have sufficient awareness to grasp the underlying principles, in order to be able to use them effectively in practice.
Physically, for internal martial arts, you also need strong bones, strong tendons, strong ligaments, and strong muscles. If your spirit is strong, you can heal your bones, ligaments and, in fact, your whole body, and use your heart spirit for gongfu, fighting, and Taolu. This is very high practice.
BF: How old were you when you first started to learn Yang Taijiquan?
YF: I started at six years of age, but I did not like it. I liked fast acrobatic exercise. Therefore, as a child I liked to practice external martial arts. I again became very interested in Taijiquan at 17 years of age and I began to vigorously study with my grandfather and father. Between the ages of six and 17, I learned much of our family’s Taiji, but it was not my favorite.
I also learned Baguazhang and Xingyiquan from my maternal granduncles. I liked Xingyi best at that time because it is explosive, but I preferred to practice external martial arts, and both my brother and I learned from some excellent teachers.
BF: How about your father and grandfather. How old were they when they began to learn:
YF: Both of them began as children. My grandfather exclusively practiced Taiji from the age of six, but my father also learned other internal martial arts, as well, as a child.
Very few children studied Taiji. Most of my father’s and grandfather’s younger students were in their early twenties. When my father was 12 years old, he devoted his full time practice to Taiji, but he always told me that when a child practices Taiji, it is usually not a deep practice. It is mainly play.
From six years old until he was 12, he was not able to comprehend or experience “energetic practice.” By the time he was 12, perhaps from repetitively practicing the Taiji forms and because of his father’s influence, he began to experience energy circulation during his practice.
BF: Can you discuss the other training aids that your family uses to practice Taiji gongfu?
YF: First, we use a heavy cube-shaped weight. It is used for certain simple exercises to help strengthen the bones, tendons, muscles, and ligaments. It is usually done in a low posture.
Next we progress to the Taiji ball, which is more advanced, as it incorporates circular and spiraling movements while holding the ball in a variety of exercises. It is also done in low postures and can vary in weight from light to heavy, as your root deepens and you become stronger.
There is also the long staff for which we have basic exercises. There is no Yang style long staff Taolu. The Taiji staff is similar to Xingyi and Bagua long staff exercises.
BF: When did you start to practice Taiji fighting?
YF:I had become accomplished in push hands by the age o f18, having pushed a lot with my grandfather, father, older brother, and their advanced students. I later even won a national championship competition in Weihua City, Shandong Province, in 1984 in the middleweight division of Yang style push hands.
If I tried to push my father and grandfather, they would become very soft and empty, but when they wanted, they could emit tremendous force, which permeated your whole body on impact. Push hands requires you to sense the opponent and follow them. If they are fast, you must move faster. You must start after them and finish before them. If they move slowly, you must find a way to change their direction and cause them to lose their balance.
Strictly speaking, Taiji practitioners usually do not “practice” fighting by sparring for practice. When we have to fight, we fight. As in other internal martial arts, we devote more time to developing internal power and good gongfu, by cultivating Fa-li and Fa-jing.
Of course, one gains fighting experience mainly by fighting, but the application of powerful attacks are soft, elusive responses to an opponent’s attack, and the ability to both follow and redirect the opponents force is more the product of good training in the other aspects of Taiji that we have discussed. If your skills are good, then you need to fight to be able to learn how to use them, while keeping the relaxed, centered mental state of Taijiquan.
The foundation of Taiji fighting comes in part from push hands, although push hands is not all there is to fighting. Most Taijiquan fighting utilizes close fighting methods, but in push hands we still have to adhere to some form, which is the basis for our movement. Fighting is much more free and without forms.
There are two general types of push hands. One-handed and two-handed push hands. One-handed push hands is basic. Both one-handed and two-handed push hands can be divided into standing and moving push hands. One progresses from standing to moving push hands, as well as to Da Lu, or the “Great Pulling” techniques, which teach you how to follow the opponent and attack them. In addition, one must practice Peng (Ward Off), Lu (Roll Back), Ji (Squeeze or Jostle), An (Press), Cai (Pluck or Grab), Lie (Split), Zhou (Elbow Stroke), and Kao (Bump). This is closer to real fighting.
BF: What if one fights with an opponent is not trained in Taiji?
YF: Taiji fighters will usually look for the opponent’s center and attempt to uproot their balance by whatever technique is used.
BF: How important are the kicks and punches that one practices in the forms?
YF: In the forms, one practices the kicks and punches very slowly, but when we use them, we use very fast moves. Kicks and punches in a fight and in the forms are different. For example, although a kick may be high in the form, the kicks in fighting are usually low kicks.
Internal martial arts requires that the whole body must have root. Without root, Taiji fighting is not as effective. To kick implies the loss of some root. Yang Cheng-fu slowed down the speed of the kicks in the form. Before him they were practiced with speed and some rooting. Therefore, the kicks are executed low to minimize loss of rooting.
BF: In the West, many books have been written suggesting that the Yang family possesses two separate methods of training and there are two separate Tao Lu, one “outdoor” for the public, and a second “indoor” for the family. Is this true?
YF: This is true, but probably not in the way you think. In internal martial arts, each move has gongfu, and each move can transform into many variations. These numerous variations and the gongfu needed to apply the techniques comprise true internal martial arts.
For example, some people need only to use one form, such as “Loxiapu,” or “Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail,” to win a fight. These people are usually highly advanced internal, marital artists. They can do this because of superior speed, sensitivity, training, and internal power.
Therefore, our so-called “Family Taolu” is really the method by which we train, not a series of secret forms. It is rather the ability to take each form or a series of several forms, and utilize them effectively. This is traditional Yang Taiji training. You will recall that the Taolu did not develop substantially until the 3rd generation. The Taolu created by Yang Cheng-fu and others are good fro health and conditioning but are not that meaningful for fighting as the training methods we have discussed: the ball, weight, staff training, and push hands.
BF: What is your opinion as to how old one must be to study Taijiquan for gongfu?
YF: While it is healthy for your people to train in Taijiquan, it is my opinion after studying both traditional and modern training methods that heavier, more intense training methods such as Taiji long spear or Taiji ball, are better reserved for students once their development reaches adulthood. If they practice these methods when they are younger, it may not be that healthy and may be very stressful to their joints, muscles, tendons, bones, ligaments, and internal organs.
If they are practicing with light weapons, that is okay, but they will not reap all the benefits of why we practice with these weapons. It is better for them to focus more on softness, flexibility, and eventually explosive power when they are younger. By 18 or 20, their internal energy is very strong and they can then learn these other methods.
BF: How similar or different was your grandfather’s practice from your father’s?
YF: My grandfather practiced only Taijiquan for most of his life. He had a lot of internal energy and fighting skills. He stressed the importance of imagination and the power of Nature in his practice. My father talked about intuitively sensing the natural Bagua or eight directions and the process of Natural Change, such as in the Yi Jing.
But my father was required to teach the government mandated forms, unlike my grandfather, who only practiced and taught traditional Taijiquan. Because my father had to teach modern Taijiquan, perhaps he could not as much convey the deeper training to many of his students. Nor could he teach the old way as often as my grandfather.
Both my grandfather and my father stressed to me that, although I had to teach the new way, I must remember and continue to practice the old way, in order to enhance vital energy, feel the changes of Nature, be able to combine hardness with softness together, and be able to emit the explosive energy of Taijiquan. If you only practice Taolu, this is difficult to achieve.
BF: Some publications and some Yang style Tajiquan teachers teach standing qigong postures along with the Taolu. In the family, do you use or are there any standing postures that you practice traditionally?
YF: We do not have specific standing postures, although the forms and Taolu should mostly be practiced very slowly. How slow depends upon your ability y to feel or guide the energy. The slower you practice, the more you can guide the energy. Normal speed takes about 20 minutes. My grandfather, Yang Jun Xiang, would usually practice each set for about 30 to 40 minutes.
In my experience, the Taolu, or set, was never practiced quickly. Speed is used only for the traditional short combinations of individual forms of fighting, or at times, in push hands.
We have already discussed the inner state of consciousness that should occur during the practice of Yang style Taijiquan. This, perhaps, could be likened to the internal state of some qigong practices.
(Interviewer’s note, based on Yang Fukui’s discussions in the past: Yang Fukui teaches the same set as Yang Cheng-fu, as well as the 24 and 42 forms for competition and the 48 forms for broadening the student’s experience. But they are not the original, traditional or family practice. He said when you practice traditionally, you first work on developing tranquil natural energy. Later, you concentrate on power and gongfu.
Repeating short combinations helps to develop intent for fighting and also to develop qi. It is not to develop form. Each movement is practiced repeatedly on the left and right sides. This enables the mind to find the fighting intent within the movement. The combinations were practiced slowly and only executed rapidly in push hands or fighting situation, which might be among family members and indoor students or in actual fighting outside the family.
It was not required to practice a certain number of repetitions per practice session or concentrate on how often you practiced each movement.
The focus was on practicing the energy. This can be done anywhere, even standing in line. The most important thing is to develop your gongfu.
At a deeper level, you should practice according to the meridians of the body and their associated times of the day and year.
In the beginning, on a physical level, your practice must be more repetitive, to make the movements natural and to allow the mind to inculcate the feeling of the movements, to deepen your root, and develop softness, flexibility, and power.
As your practice becomes deeper, it becomes of an energetic practice. That is why an advanced practitioner can gain more than a less advanced practitioner in a shorter period of time.)
BF: What did your grandfather, Yang Jun Xiang, tell you about your great-grandfather Yan Xiao Hou?
YF: My great-grandfather died a long time before I was born, so I never met him, but my grandfather told me that when he practiced, you would sense the power of the energy in his movements. It was very unique. He was also more “indoor” than his brother. He was a hard teacher and like to practice fighting.
BF: In Yang style, what constitutes the basic practice methods?
YF: It is essential that in internal martial arts, one must use the heart spirit to practice any movement or forms.
The first goal is to develop flexibility. In order to develop gongfu for internal strength and fighting, one should also train by practicing the circular movements of Taijiquan both on the left and right in low postures as well as with the heavy square weight, and later with the heavy staff and Taiji ball.
One should also use a slightly heavier weapon when practicing Taiji weapons than one would sue in external weapons practice. This will stimulate the development of internal energy in one’s muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones, thereby stimulating the bone marrow to increase vital energy and circulation.
My father said that the blood is the physical connection between the Heart Spirit (vital connection of internal energy in the body) and the Yi, or mind, as blood circulates throughout the body and the brain. Therefore, the goal of these practices is twofold: to stimulate the circulation of blood and qi. On a practical level, this will help give one good gongfu.
BF: After practicing these basic exercises, what else does one practice?
YF: The individual forms, both on the left and right sides, one-handed and two-handed push hands, standing and moving push hands, emphasizing Peng, Lu, Ji An, Cai, Lie, Zhou, and Kao (“ward off,” “pull back,” “press,” “press down,” “grab,” “split,” “elbow,” “shoulder”), and two-person Taiji individual fighting forms.
There is a Taolu which is much newer, broadsword forms for a single person and two persons (the Taolu came later), straight sword forms for single and two persons, (the Taolu came later), heavy long staff forms (there is no Taolu), and staff and spear forms (and their Taolu) for single and two persons.
BF: You have practiced a number of internal martial arts. How would you characterize the Yang style differences in push hands between the Yang style and other styles, as well as other internal systems?
YF: In the Yang style, our mental state should be without preconceived intention: “I will follow you and react to your intention.” Therefore, it appears soft or quiet on the outside, but internally it is full of movements. Yang style push hands is more Yin than Chen style push hands.
In Chen style push hands, although you still utilize the principle of “Ting Jing,” one uses more intention. “I want to push you.” Therefore, Chen style push hands, like their Taolu, is more full and explosive.
Xingyi push hands is also more explosive than Yang style push hands. The principles is to keep going in with explosive force and to uproot the opponent.
In Bagua push hands, one circles the opponent, usually from the outside, and follows their energy. One catches the opponent in a spiraling motion and then emits explosive attacks and uprooting force to defeat them.
BF: Are there separate spear and staff forms?
YF: Yes. The traditional spear was a “she qiang” or “snake spear.” This allowed one to use pulling or “Lu” methods, as well as stabbing methods with the blade, but the standard spear is also acceptable.
BF: Thank you, Master Yang, for these insights into your family’s Taijiquan. It has been very enlightening.
YF: You’re welcome.
T’AI CHI – Vol. 24, No. 5 AN INTERVIEW WITH YANG FUKUI xinyiwuguan.com
Recorded by Huang Jitao Translated from chinese by Andrzej Kalisz
Zhao Enqing originally was disciple of Zhang Zhankui (Zhang Zhaodong). Later he learned from the founder of yiquan – Wang Xiangzhai and became one of his best students, receiving from Wang a honorary name Daoxin.
The original interview was made by Huang Jitao in 4 sessions over 4 days and is quite long. Here is only a translation of small part.
So also traditional wushu is not efficient in fighting?
People from traditional styles say that the modern wushu from national institutes is just „flowery forms”. But it still doesn’t mean that themselves they possess „true gongfu”. The wushu from institutes neglects fighting side, while traditional wushu is talking about fighting. But it doesn’t mean that it really got it… Contemporary traditional wushu, just like the wushu from institutes is mainly about training forms. Moreover there is a lot of symbolic or ritual gestures, with no relation to fighting. Looking from point of view of training – they still use old methods of low efficiency. In theory they should help to develop practical skills, but in fact are more like kind of praying, method of developing patience, and just a lot of useless efort. I don’t know how many dozens of thousands of people practice traditional wushu in China. But I also don’t know about any of them, who could prove their abilities in fighting on international stage.
But in times when foreign fighting experts and strong men kept coming to China, Chinese masters of that generation defeated them many times…
If there are so many examples of Chinese master defeating foreigners, why we can only hear about it from our side, and they don’t mention this? Maybe they don’t want to talk about being defeated. But on the other side how many Chinese were defeated, but we didn’t talk about it, because it would be humiliating. Anyway we don’t know what were the proportions between victories and defeats. And if Wu Song had fought not a tiger, but just a cat, there wouldn’t be reason to praise him for centuries. And what kind of opponents were those foreigners, who were defeated by our masters? My teacher (Zhang Zhankui) met Russian „strong man”, I met Danish „boxer”. Other friends had similiar situations. But our opponents were defeated after just one action, there was no real fight. But this was only because traditional Chinese wushu didn’t meet real tigers. In those times you could easily became famous because of „defeating” some foreigner, but it was only because they were not any real experts.
More challenging was fighting with other Chinese at that time. No foreigners signed up for the leitai tournaments in Hangzhou or Shanghai. And the people from traditional styles, no matter if they were some monks or great masters famous in some place, they either became injured in fights or were not brave enough to fight. And the winners, although they signed up as representatives of some traditional systems, instead of forms and other methods of those systems, they were using completely different methods preparing for fighting.
Could you tell us your opinion and views about chinese martial arts?
There is not much time. So I will only outline some issues. This will not be very systematic disscussion. And because people all the time talk a lot about advantages, I will say rather about problems.
First tell us, what you think about the internal and external division, and division based on territory.
If we want Chinese martial arts develop, we must reject such divisions. It doesn’t mean that there is no meaning in them at all. But they only partially describe way of demonstration, and they don’t really say anything about way of fighting. Divisions in martial art should be based on effect in fighting, and not the way of practice, and they should not be effect of swindle. They should express human body and developing technique, and not sect-like customs nourished for hundreds and thousands years. The division for Shaolin, Wudang, Emei and Zhongnan arts is only expressing fact, that communication was difficult in old times. But it is past. And the internal-external division was made up by literatti fascinated by the style which they practiced, so they started calling it internal family art – skillfull writers created flowery descriptions. But in fact nobody would talk about himself being representative of external family art. In fact, in real fighting there are no styles.
But the internal-external division is at least representing the real division for soft and hard.
This division is even more muddled. Some just use it to criticize other schools. But when they talk about their own school, they stress that „soft and hard supplement each other”, that „internal and external are trained together”. They maintain that it’s only them who keep right balance between soft and hard, while others tend to much toward softness or hardness.
But the concepts of internal-external, soft-hard, at least led to developing sophisticated theories of internal training – concept „from yi to qi to jin”.
„Yi, qi, li”, „jing, qi, shen” – those concepts related to internal training are hard to express with normal language. We could say that it is about using self-suggestion to induce feeling of comfort and strength. There are new concepts, at least evenly useful, and even more efficient in practical use.
What are the shortcomings of Chinese martial arts if we are talking about way of fighting?
There is a lot of shortcomings and taboos. Apart from those which are common for all Chinese martial arts, there are other, specific for some school. For example everybody fears that his style will resemble some other, so they try hard to make it look different. If you tell some person doing baguazhang, that his movements resemble taijiquan, he will hardly accept such opinion. If you tell some xingyiquan practitioner that you notice some similarities to western boxing he will feel bad about it. But actually the differences between styles are more in ritual gestures than in the way of figthing. But those gestures are usefull only for demonstration or meeting, in fight they are useless and stupid.
There is also taboo of falling down. In challenges there was an unwritten rule, that touching ground with part of body different than feet meant defeat. So in the south they stress „ma”, and in the north „zhuang”. In many styles long, low postures and centered torso are stressed. But what is real value of those stable techniques? The principle „when leg is raised, half body is empty” results in loosing opportunity of efficient kicks and hitting with knee. And the force which can be generated from non-balance is not used conciously yet. Constant talking about „not loosing center” disturbs developing agile body work and fast footwork. What is rejected in Chinese martial arts, is exactly what is most valuable on the international martial arts stage. Traditional Chinese martial arts are old men arts. Old is seen as equal to saint, authority, deep knowledge. But for old man it’s hard to raise leg for kick, and each falling down can be dangerous. So this hidden weakness of old master, in teaching process becomes taboo of „not loosing balance”. But fighting is not limited to shuaijiao competitions. In many cases loosing balance or even falling down is not big price for getting opportunity of executing efficient action.
Let’s now talk about training methods.
Our martial arts teachers like to seek for differences in techniques and to hide „secrets” in techniques. But in fact, where can be real differences, and where could be secrets is training methods. Combat efficiency is decided by way of training. And methods of traditional training have low efficiency. You need a lot of time, and even after long time you are not sure if you will be able to use your skills in fighting. Training is a complex science – on border of many disciplines. Just repeating some exercises for dozens of years is not enough. I will not talk much, I will only mention several discrepancies.
First there is discrepancy between training and use. No matter which style, the problem is lack of actual fighting training. In which traditional school most time is spend on fighting training? Traditional teachers make two funny mistakes. First – they say that fighting training can only be the last part of training process, that only when you have gongli, you can start testing it in fight. Second – they think that when you become proficient in tui shou and other exercises with partner which resemble fighting, it means that you developed fighting skill. Of course it is difficult to introduce hard fighting during training. Martial arts hobbysts don’t want to go to work next day with swollen face, and bruised legs. But if you want to achieve high level in martial art, you must make it. From the beginning you should train like you will fight.
Next is discrepancy between fatigue and intensity of training. Traditional teachers talk about practicing many hours a day. This is long time training but with low intensity. Muscles and nervous system are not activated in a way which is necessary for fighting. Those teacher hate using modern training equipment, and will not ask other person to train together. They prefer to hide in dark place, keep repeating some movements and pondering over theory.
Then there is also discrepancy between theory and practice, between technique and physical attributes, between what is practiced in public and behind closed door. These are only some examples.
We were talking about Chinese martial arts in general. Would you care to talk about specific styles?
Let’s start from xingyiquan and baguazhang…
…first xingyiquan. In 1920s and 1930s there were many representatives of xingyiquan among winners of leitai tournaments. But today „power” of xingyiquan decreased. The reason is that apart from problems common for all chinese martial arts, this one which stresses harmony-unity has many aspects where there is lack of such harmony.
For example there is lack of harmony between technique and force. In xingyiquan hitting technique is powered by pushing force. Fists or palms mainly push opponent, in small part causing damage. But it also doesn’t allow pushing opponent far away in pushing hands. Actually, it seems as if xingyiquan people have not decided whether their technique is for san shou or for tui shou.
And lack of harmony between form and intention. All are talking about form and intention both being important, but actually they go close toward one of the extremes… There is also lack of harmony between fighting methods and exercises.
People like comparing xingyiquan to western boxing. But they also fear this comparing. They think that Chinese „thing” should be pure. So when there is even coincidencal similarity, they prefer to get rid of it. But I think, that as for training methods and competition, xingyiquan should learn from boxing.
Was creation of xingyibagua a result of trying to fill shortcomings of xingyiquan by using baguazhang?
Mutual supplementing started from friendly contacts between Dong Haichuang and Guo Yunshen and between their students. Then Zhan Zhankui linked them together into one system. But shortcomings of xingyi cannot be filled by using bagua. Bagua also has a lot of shortcomings, and they cannot be filled by using xingyi. Baguazhang has a thick outside layers through which it is difficult to see anything. If you look from outside, there is only impression of complexness and mystery. Big part of first layer are legends about Dong Haichuan and his students. Second layer is the unnecessary and forced use of the theory of eight trigrams. Baguazhang teachers always talked about „Book of changes”, but nobody could explain at least one necessary link between this martial art and that classic book. Third layer is not distinguishing between basic exercises and fighting. Even teachers think „how to use this change”, „how to move around opponent with tangnibu steps”, „how to move behind opponent and attack his back” – that’s just illusory thoughts. And beyond the third layer – practitioners expand their arms and move around, like people starting to learn skating, and sometimes they make some change into extremely twisted position. So this is mix of legends, old saint books and strange techniques.
Taijiquan is attracting a lot of people, because of theory and health benefits. But many people doubt that such soft and slow method could work against explosive power…
Layman has not developed prejudice, so his first impression can be quite right. Taijiquan has its own form of comparing skill – tui shou. Why not be happy with just this? Not every martial art must be good for real figthing. I remember as in period of Republic of China taijiquan experts explained that the reason for no taijiquan people being able to prove their fighting skill at leitai tournaments is because taijiquan is too profund and it’s difficult to master it. Was this some kind of excuse or sincere statement? Taijiquan theory looks great and could be a model for other classical theories of martial art. The main idea is relation between yin and yang. You want to be hard? So start from being as soft as possible, because ultimate softness changes into hardness. You want to be fast? Then start from slowness. This philosophy, that after achieving extreme some attribute changes into its opposite is attracting many people. But did anyone test it? No, if you see what those taijiquan masters, who can demonstrate issuing power are practicing in secret, you will understand what I’m talking about.
So you say that those young people who want to develop fighting skills are in some part misled by taijiquan concepts. If so, then maybe Shaolin is more sincere? They stress hard, fast, fierce, using both hands and legs. People think that Shaolin monks are the last kings of real fighting.
Ming dynasty generals went to Shaolin temple, having such opinion, and they became disappointed. Today many young people leave school and go to Shaolin. With the same effect – their faith in Shaolin becomes ashes. They come with thought of developing incredible fighting skill, not available for normal people. But in fact they just learn some acrobatics tricks. Training methods which they learn are outdated and not useful for developing real fighting skills. Breaking stones, standing upside-down on fingers, taking hits, when you make such demonstrations, with addition of some tricks typical for illusionists – public will be delighted. Ma Liang’s new wushu (Ma Liang published book „New Chinese wushu” in 1918) and modern wushu, despised even by representatives of traditional systems, are based on Shaolin. And I remember as in 1920s and 1930s those „last kings of real fighting” kept loosing at leitai tournaments and were going away like rats, one after another.
And what you think about southern systems.
When we look at southern styles, we can see that they have their own, quite different character. But I cannot say much, as I didn’t study them. But from what I saw at the tournaments at end of 1920s „southern wind is not making you freeze”.
Finally, please tell us about the martial art created by yourself.
My „thing” comes from mistakes and losts. When I was young I liked to fight with famous experts. I had no respect for them, and when I defeated them, I didn’t care about some good things they had anyway. It not only disturbed exchange of knowledge, but also hurt feelings. And because disputing and maintaining different views from the main stream of Chinese martial arts, I kept some distance from the martial arts circles. Until now people call me excentric and stubborn.
At beginning I created xinhuizhang, in order to explain traditional methods of using force, but actually this is just a form, and cannot efficiently improve practitioner’s combat abilities. Only now I’m working on summarizing all those training methods and fighting methods which I benefited from, with thought of supplementing xinhuizhang. But the way of competitive fighting on international scene is constantly changing. So my „things” are constantly being outmached by others. If will not work on improving it, there will be no progress. Lately I’m worried about xinhuizhang explosive issuing power with legs, so far I have not resolved this problem. And I hope that younger will criticize me.
Interview with zhao daoxin yiquan-academy.eu
I was born in Longtouye House, Chaolang Village, Chashan Town, Dongquan County, Guangdong Province, China in 1930, on 17th June of the Lunar calendar. I had a craving for martial arts since I was young. Though I had learned Chinese martial art of Northern and Southern style, martial art was something beyond touch to me in those days.
In the 50’s, I came across a book named Secrets of Internal and External Martial Arts in a bookstall that sold second-hand books. The book was published by the Hong Kong Martial Arts Research Society in 1928, and contained two volumes. The first volume titled The Way of Yiquan was written by the late Grandmaster Wang Xiangzhai. As the book revealed so many insights into martial arts, it was indeed an invaluable treasure. I longed for the art of Yiquan and hoped that I could learn it some day. But the problem was: Did anyone know this art in Hong Kong? In the following ten years, I earnestly looked for a Yiquan master, but to no avail.
One day, I suddenly thought of Mr Yau, an old friend of mine who worked in a Shanghai style barbershop. As he had met so many people from Northern China, he might have good news for me. I visted Mr Yau and was much delighted. He told me he knew a man from Northern China who was a disciple of Wang Xiangzhai. This man could send a person flying off the ground effortlessly and every time the person would land on a designated barber chair. Mr Yau was a renowned master of Fengyang style martial art and a friend whom I had known for over 10 years. What he witnessed must be true! Guess who that man was? He was Master Han Xingyuan, who later became my teacher.
After being referred by three people and visited Master Han for three times, I was finally accepted by Master Han who later passed the essence of Yiquan on me. At that time, Master Han taught at Grace Church, 2/F., 33 Un Chau Street, Kowloon (the church no longer exists now). It was in the early 60s.
On 4th December 1966, Master Han opened a new school at 3/F., 24 Kimberly Road, Tsimshatsui, Kowloon. I followed him to the new training place. At that time, I was lucky enough to be chosen by Master Han who began to give private lessons to me.
The days I cherished most were those when Master Han still lived by himself. The trainings were so tough, but the benefits were so immense. Master Han gave me a key of his flat and asked me to wake him up every morning (he was usually still sleeping when I arrived). Then, we would go upstairs and practise on the rooftop. Afterwards, we would go to Jade Garden Restaurant at Dong Ying Building to have dim sum for breakfast. After that, Master Han would go to Fei Ngo Hill to treat his patients, while I would deal with my own business. After one o’clock in the afternoon, I would go to the new school and practise by myself. When Master Han came back from Fei Ngo Hill, he would guide me with my practice again. Day after day, I sweated head over heels and even wetted the floor in mid summertime. The pain was on my body, but the gain was on my skill!
Master Han taught me at several places other than the school, including the park on old Chatham Road, Kowloon Park and 2/F., 116 Portland Street, Yaumatei.
Master Han also enjoyed discussing martial arts with me. With the book of The Way of Yiquan and Attainment of Yiquan in my hands, Master Han would explain and demonstrate to me the true meanings of Yiquan. He always taught me with a tireless heart and a pleasant smile.
When I had time in the evening, I loved going to the school to just ‘watch’. I intended to train my power of observation and see if I could observe the rights or wrongs of other students’ practice. I also liked to observe Master Han’s movements and listen to his words when he gave lessons. All these nourished my Yiquan skills because ‘Lookers-on see most of the game’. Thus, less than ten students of Master Han had seen me practise in the school.
In the early 70’s, Master Han urged me several times to open a school to teach Yiquan. However, I could not do so because I was too busy. Some time later, a few juniors of mine like Tong Hoi Tai, Cheng Cheuk Hing, Nip Wah Chi, etc. found that the schedule of Master Han’s school did not fit their spare times and proposed to be trained by me at my home instead. Thus, with permission from Master Han, I taught them on behalf of my master.
In 1977, Master Han went to the United States to teach Yiquan for the second time (He went for half a year this time). He lived at Li Cheuk’s home in San Francisco. Li was a leader of the local Chinese citizens and had a nephew who took Master Han as his Godfather. At that time, Li’s nephew was going to get married in Hong Kong, and planned to stay in Hong Kong for several months. Before Li’s nephew left the States, Master Han told him to learn from me. Half a month later, Master Han called me and asked whether his godson had come to see me. I said ‘not yet’. Master Han then told me the room number of a hotel where his godson stayed and asked me to find him. Later, I gave the godson of Master Han a call, and invited him to meet me at the car park of Grantham Institute of Education at 9:00 a.m. the next day, where I practised everyday. When he came the next day, my Junior, Cheung Chi Wan and Keung Sang, whom I taught on behalf of Master Han, were also present. After chatting for a while, I knew he had learned two schools of Kungfu and Qigong, and was learning from a renowned martial artist in Hong Kong. He asked how long I had practised Yiquan. I replied ‘not long’. He then asked for a bout. I said ‘okay’. So we got into contact and … he just exclaimed, ‘Very Wonderful! Very Wonderful!’ (no need to repeat what happened because it was just another old Yiquan story). After the trial, he at once wanted to learn from me and quit all other schools of martial art. I consoled him and said, ‘the style that you are learning was well known. I don’t mind if you keep on learning it. But if you really want to learn from me, I am glad to teach you.’ Finally, he quitted what he was learning and started learning Yiquan from me. I was happy that I had not disappointed Master Han and fulfilled the task he assigned to me.
One day in the afternoon, when I was practicing with my junior Or Kwang Sing, Master Han came over and said, “Should someone ask what you are learning, tell him it is ‘The Way of Yiquan’ ”. What he meant was the right path of Yiquan.
On 18th January 1983, Master Han passed away. At his last moment, his wife, Or Kwang Sing and I were by his side. We saw him off for his last journey!
In early 1985, Master Han’s elder brother, Han Xingqiao opened the ‘Yiquan Training Centre’ in the ‘ Zhu Hai Government Officials Rehabilitation Centre’. I attended the training class there and hoped to absorb more valuable knowledge of Yiquan. I was trained under Master Han Xingqiao for more than two years and greatly benefited from his concept of ‘take what you need’. It was a pity that because of full occupant of my work, I subsequently stopped learning from Master Han Xingqiao.
In July 1987, the Hong Kong Yiquan Society was founded. I was one of the founders and a supervisor of the society’s affairs. Starting from the second session, I have been the vice-chairman, while Fok Zan Wan (also a student of Master Han, my junior) has been the Chairman.
In 1991, I became a director of the ‘Hong Kong Jing Wu Athletic Association’ and opened a Yiquan Class to teach people who love the art. My class has a large number of students since its commencement. This shows that many people like Yiquan in Hong Kong.
I am not trying to say that I have made contribution in promoting Yiquan (Dachengquan), but I deeply feel that I have the responsibility to do so. Now, in my old age, I determined to contribute my remaining days for the promotion of Yiquan!
“All sorts of strengths originate in the void and nothingness, which can only be felt gradually by the tiny edges and corners of the body”.
We must, first and foremost, avoid the use of clumsy force, in body and in mind. Using this force makes the qi stagnant. When the qi is stagnant, the yi stops; when the yi stops, the spirit is broken.
A small movement is better than a big movement,
No movement is better than a small movement,
Stillness is the mother of all movements.
In quietude you are like a maiden
In motion you are like a dragon.
The mountains seem to fly when you apply your mind,
The seas overflow when you apply your power.
One should know that if one can take the time to practice martial arts, do it without any method, freely and slowly perceiving by intuition, the results will be great.
To sum up, what cannot lead to comfort, happiness, and gaining strength does not deserve to be called martial art.
In movement, slow excels over quick, be relaxed rather than impatient, the movement should be slight and the spirit full. When one wants to move one will stop, when one wants to stop one will move, furthermore, when moving one cannot help but stop, when stopped, one cannot help but move.
Why move? Why be still?
What are the results?
What is the phenomenon in the middle of the process?
Thus perceive by intuition, and you will be approaching the truth!
Wang Xiangzhai Discusses the Essence of Combat Science
An Interview with Mr. Wang Xiangzhai
The founding master of ‘Dachengquan, Wang Xiangzhai, who is famous in the North and South, and praised by the martial arts circles of the whole country, has recently moved to Beijing. For the exchange of knowledge and opinions among the practitioners of different martial arts, he has arranged a meeting time every Sunday afternoon from 1:00 pm to 6:00 pm, at Dayangyibin Alley, where he acts as the host, and exchanges opinions with other famous experts of boxing, carrying forward and promoting the martial spirit of our nation as his sincere wish. A reporter interviewed Mr. Wang yesterday, having the following discussion with him.
 Interviewer: I have always admired and respected your superb boxing skills, may I ask what is your aspiration with regard to the combat science?
Wang Xiangzhai: Being praised as the representative of ‘Dachengquan’ by my friends really makes me embarrassed. I left my teacher in the 33rd year of the Reign of Guang Xu of the Qing Dynasty (1907), and since then, I have traveled all around the country, and thus I have seen much and learned much about life, left my footprints on uncountable places, both north and south of the Yangtze River, met many famous masters and veteran boxers, and experienced untold hardships. My biggest gain during these more than thirty years has been meeting many good teachers and helpful friends to compare skills and knowledge with, thus I am confident that I, as a veteran boxer, am on the right path of combat science.
A few days ago, Mr. Zhang Yuheng repeatedly made some comments in newspapers. Fearing that people of different circles have not clearly understood his meaning, and thus have had some misunderstandings, I wholeheartedly want to let people know what I have in mind. My remaining years are gradually waning away, life itself is enough, there is no room for fame and gain to occupy my mind, thus I am so anxious to, while this body of mine has not yet decayed, join forces with prominent compatriots to advocate the full development of natural instincts and martial virtue, and get rid of heresies. I do not want to be praised in vain, like those deceiving the public in order to gain fame.
 Interviewer: What is the basis of combat science?
Wang Xiangzhai: What is, after all, the basic principle of combat science? Different people have different answers to this question, but studying boxing routines, forms of movements, fixed techniques, and training hits and beats, all fall into the category of superficial, and although the boxing routines and forms of movements have been popular already for a long time, they are, indeed, extremely harmful to the people.
 Interviewer: ‘Xingyi’, ‘Taiji’, ‘Bagua’, and ‘Tongbei’ are considered to be schools of internal boxing, what are the differences of all these branches?
Wang Xiangzhai: People often say that ‘Xingyi’, ‘Taiji’, ‘Bagua’ and ‘Tongbei’ are internal styles, I do not know how the names of internal and external came about, so I cannot comment on that. By observing the past famous masters, one can see a part of it though.
The original ‘Xingyi’, and the ‘Xinyiba’ and ‘Liuhebu’ of Henan province, are of the same school. When tracing the lineage of Mr. Li Daidong (who was known as Old Dai) of Henan, you can find out that he is Mr. Li Zhihe’s great-grandson, Mr. Li Zhihe was the teacher of the old gentleman Dai Longbang. The Yuan family of Jiyuan in fact followed the school of Mr. Li , although they named the art differently. Mr. Dai, although he changed the name ‘Xinyi’ into ‘Xingyi’, was not in contrary with the original meaning, and in that boxing the word ‘boxing’ carried the meaning of most faithfully adhering to it.
One should know that the original ‘Xingyi’ completely lacked the training method of the twelve forms, but the whole body was meant to express the essence of all these twelve forms. It did not have the theory of the mutual promotion and restraint of the five elements, there were just the five elements representing five kinds of forces. It did not have any fixed techniques, boxing routines or forms of movements either. I remember well the words of my late teacher about the five elements: Metal means the strength contained in the bones and the muscles, the mind being firm like iron or stone, being able to cut gold and steel. Wood has the meaning of the bending but rooted posture of a tree. Water means force like the waves of the vast sea, lively like a dragon or a snake, when used, it is able to pervade everything. Fire means strength being like gunpowder, fists being like bullets shot out, having the strength to burn the opponent’s body by the first touch. Earth means exerting strength heavy, deep, solid, and perfectly round, the qi being strong, having the force of oneness with heaven and earth. This is the syncretism of the five elements. It has nothing to do with one technique overcoming another technique as the modern people claim. If one first sees with the eyes, then thinks of it again in the mind, and then launches the counter-attack towards the enemy, it is very seldom that one will not get beaten up.
‘Bagua’ was originally known as ‘Chuanzhang’. In my childhood I met Mr. Cheng Tinghua, I remember he seemed to be like a divine dragon roaming in the sky, changing infinitely, it is hardly possible for the modern person to reach such skill and strength. I distantly remember Mr. Dong Haichuan, it is even harder to understand how profound was his insight into the Sea of Law and attainment of the Tao. Mr. Liu Fengchun is a friend of mine, his skills are really profound, but his attainments are slightly inferior, but still those studying the sixty-four palms and seventy-two steps cannot compare with him.
I wish that the people practising ‘Bagua’ would concentrate on the double and single ‘chuanzhang’, paying special attention to intuitively perceiving every movement, doing their best to take a more advanced course of training, and earnestly enter into the theory, putting it all into practise for a long time, then they could get close to approaching its essence.
As masters of the original ‘Taijiquan’, I should recommend the Yang brothers Shaohou and Chengfu. They are also old friends of mine, thus I know that this boxing really has some knowledge of mechanics, but out of one hundred persons not even one gains its essence, and even if one can gain it, it is still one-sided, because the basic skills of intuitive perception already died out a long time ago, thus their lower bodies have no real strength to speak of. Originally this boxing consisted of three fists, also called the “old three cuts”, Mr. Wang Zongyue changed it into “thirteen postures”, and it was later changed into as much as one hundred and forty or fifty postures, this is the major reason for the distortion.
For health preservation, it restrains the spirit and mettle, and brings discomfort to the practitioner. For combat, it harms the practitioner’s limbs and trunk, and causes the useful body to become a mechanical and stiff thing, it also disturbs the student’s nerves, and is nothing more than wasting one’s time. As for its method of training, a punch with a fist here, a slap with the palm there, a kick to the left, and another one to the right, that is pitiful and laughable.
As for dealing with an enemy in a fight, against a master-hand, please do not even consider it, if the adversary is not stiff and sluggish, even the famous masters of this boxing have no chance to apply their skills. These abuses are so big that ‘Taijiquan’ might soon become just a mere form comparable to a chess manual. For the last twenty years, most people who have studied this boxing have not been able to differentiate right and wrong, even if someone has been able to differentiate them, he has not been capable of putting it into practice. As for common students, most of them use their ears instead of their eyes.
So ruined is this boxing that it has become useless, this is really deplorable. I wish that the powerful members of this school would promptly and strictly clean it up, and attempt to develop it in the future. When the day of success comes, they will be held as the bosom friends of all the boxing fans. I dare to say that I understand ‘Taijiquan’ deeply, those who do not agree, can notify me or lay the blame on me, only the wise ones might understand. At the same time, I suppose those who have really gained something in their study of ‘Taijiquan’, when they read this, they will nod in agreement and cannot help laughing.
‘Tongbeiquan’ is popular in northern China , especially in Beijing . The practitioners I have met were mostly out of shape, however, some were also holding a theory that was close to being right, but when checking their skills, they were very far from it. Most probably their predecessors were not like that, but the later generations have lost the essence. Although occasionally there were some who had deep and great skills in some one-sided parts of it, eventually they will have no hope of walking down the right path of combat science.
‘Meihuaquan’, which is also known as ‘Wushizhuang’, has a direct lineage that has been passed down generation by generation, especially in Henan and Sichuan provinces. Their way is different in approach but equally satisfactory in results with that of the practitioners of ‘Wujisanshou’ of Fuzhou , Xinghua, Quanzhou, Shantou , and other places. They also have their special and profound strong points for dealing with the enemy, but unfortunately most of them are one-sided and only very few are complete.
‘Bafan’, ‘Mianzhang’, ‘Pigua’, ‘Baji’, ‘Dagongli’, ‘Sanhuangpao’, ‘Niantui’, and ‘Lianquan’, all have their strong and weak points, most are one-sidedly inclined to hardness and a few to softness, they lack the internal skill of gathering the spirit. As for ‘Dahongquan’, ‘Xiaohongquan’, ‘Tantui’, ‘Chuojiao’, long boxing, short boxing, and the other various schools, I would rather not discuss them.
 Interviewer: What is your opinion on preserving the national arts?
Wang Xiangzhai: The boxing arts of our nation are in a chaotic state, thus the people cannot know what course to take. Summed up, they have abandoned the quintessence and kept only the scum, nothing more. Although the martial arts of Japan and the boxing of Western Europe are one-sided, they all have their original points. In comparison to an ordinary boxer of our nation, they are countless miles ahead. The people should be very ashamed of this. So we should clean up and carry forward the old knowledge. Except for us, who else is there left to do it? Despite my meagerness, I call for action to advocate it, only for this purpose.
 Interviewer: Sir, you have fixed a time to play host to the martial artists of various circles, this has proved that you are very modest and enthusiastic for the martial way, but why do you do all this?
Wang Xiangzhai: The way of learning builds up from comparison, this applies to boxing as well. When comparing skills, there is victory or defeat, but one’s personality is not harmed by it, on the contrary, it may improve one’s personality and increase one’s morals. If everyone could inspect and learn from each other’s experiences, the dispute between different schools could be avoided, and furthermore, it could stop the irresponsible talking. I wish that those who pursue the same things as I, will not take these words as empty talk, and if the prominent personage and the wise hermits of this country will be willing to make a journey to grant me instruction, they are very welcome. If you do not wish to come to visit me, please just send me a note and I will surely and wholeheartedly pay you a visit and respectfully listen to all you have to say. To sum up, I only seek to improve the boxing art, I do not bother about anything else.
 Interviewer: Sir, you are the founding master of ‘Dachengquan’, you must have some judicious views about this school, would you please tell us some details about it.
Wang Xiangzhai: The way of combat science is extremely complicated and difficult to unravel. Extremely complicated and difficult, yet it is extremely simple when its gist has been grasped. Thus when we study boxing, we should first know what we study it for. When we know that, we can surely gain something. Most people study boxing mainly for health, and then secondly for self-defence. Good health is the basis of all the human activities, so the ways of health preservation and protecting one’s body really cannot be neglected.
If one learns the method of exercise properly, then the benefits will be great, but learning it improperly can even lead to death. Only very few of the sportsmen doing strenuous exercise can enjoy longevity. The boxers who have lost their lives or injured their bodies because of improper exercise are uncountable. That kind of boxing is indeed pitiful and also laughable. Knowing the advantages and disadvantages of studying boxing, one should experience and observe the states of movement and stillness with special care while exercising, not only the external movement of the body, but also the moving state of the spirit.
One should use the spirit and mind to observe the whole body inside and outside, and whether every action is in accord with the requirements of health preservation and self-defence or not. Why move? Why be still? What are the results? What is the phenomenon in the middle of the process? Thus perceive by intuition, and you will be approaching the truth! As for the profound and subtle essence of the Tao, one can only keep on studying and searching, otherwise it is not easily gained. Now here is a brief summation of the be-all and end-all of ‘Dachengquan’ to be questioned by the various fellow martial artists, so that an open discussion on combat science can be started.
First I shall talk about the stages in the study of boxing. As I said before, health preservation and self-defence are inseparable from each other, if one is lost, then abuses are created and one will enter the wrong path. First of all, one should train and foster the spirit, the temperament, and the natural instincts, and only after that start talking about bringing the fine instinctive strength of the nerves, the limbs, and the trunk into play. The first step in studying boxing is exercising the nerves as the basic training method, and intuitively perceiving the peristalsis of the whole body. The second step is training the trial of strength (shili) and the trial of voice (shisheng). The third step is self-defence. They are separately narrated below:
Basic training: in daily life, in order to gain results from training all the time, while walking, standing, sitting, and reclining, one must start the training from the pile standing (zhanzhuang) method. Arrange the posture of the whole body properly, keep the body upright, have no thoughts, strengthen the nerves in stillness, adjust the breath, warm up and nourish the muscles, let every cell activate naturally. The strength comes from the inside and reaches the outside smoothly in the whole body. Thus, one does not train the bones and the muscles, yet they get trained by themselves, one does not nourish the nerves but they get nourished by themselves, one should especially experience and observe their barely perceptible movement and activity. When one has done it for long enough time, one will know that standing brings many inexhaustible wonders. One who wants to achieve wonders in his boxing skills, should first dedicate his time to pile standing.
Trial of strength and trial of voice: after having the basic training in boxing, one’s natural instincts have been strengthened. In applying them one must take strict precautions against the predominance of human desire, or else the misapplication of the illusory will arise. Sometimes, because of the predominance of desire, the natural instinctive strength becomes something that has nothing to do with exercising the natural instincts.
Therefore the scholars of the past told us not to try helping the shoots grow faster by pulling them up. The way of applying the natural instincts can be suited to personal needs, but first, one must understand the moving state of strength, only then can one continue to the second phase. Trial of strength is the most important thing in learning the basis of boxing skills, with trial of strength, one gains strength. The strength is gained and realised by trying it, and one will realise how to use the strength too.
First one must make the strength equal all over the body, the muscles agile, and the bones supporting the frame of the body, so that the muscles can contract, stretch, relax, and tense in harmony. Strength should come from inside and be issued outside. In movement, slow excels over quick, be relaxed rather than impatient, the movement should be slight and the spirit full. When one wants to move one will stop, when one wants to stop one will move, furthermore, when moving one cannot help but stop, when stopped, one cannot help but move.
In trial of strength, one should not have unilateral strength, furthermore, one should not have sheer strength. First of all, one should perceive by intuition whether the strength of the whole body is all-pervading or not, whether the strength can be issued out at any moment or not, and whether one can react to the atmosphere or not, furthermore, one must not let the mind break and the spirit disperse. Have light and heavy forces ready to be issued out, when one part of the body moves, the whole body moves. The strength is consistent, resulting in nimble and heavy insubstantiality, and round and whole substantiality. Up and down, left and right, front and back, do not forget them. To sum up, what cannot lead to comfort, happiness, and gaining strength does not deserve to be called boxing.
The trial of voice is a supplement for the insufficiencies of trial of strength. All people have physiological differences due to the congenital, so everyone’s body has parts difficult to connect, thus trial of voice is namely complementary internal breath work. It is also called inner breath, or brain [abdomen]-back breathe.
Self-defence: namely combat. One should know that a big movement is not as good as a small movement, a small movement is not as good as stillness, one must know that only stillness is the endless movement. If the body moves, that is just an expression of immobility and lack of strength, what is called movement in stillness, is moving as if one was not moving, the movement and stillness are the basis of each other, and the wonders of their application mostly depend on the nervous system being connected, the mind leading, the big and small joints and ligaments extending and contracting mutually, the fulcrum being firm like iron, having twisting and opposite strengths, rotating around the pivot point, moving the centre in a balanced way, and issuing the explosive power together with the breath. If one can exert it properly, one has the basis of combat.
What was said above was mostly abstract, but much of its meaning cannot be described in words. If one can keep practising unceasingly, then it is naturally not difficult to realise. What is the distinction between the so called big movement and small movement, in fact, depends on individual basic skills, and whether all kinds of strengths are being gained by the body and understood by the mind or not. If one can raise the hands and move the feet with the whole body having mechanical skills everywhere, then a big movement is fine, a small movement is fine as well, and a movement that is neither big nor small is also equally fine.
If one does not have the basic mechanical ability, then no matter what the movement is like, it is all wrong. The same applies to using strength and not using strength. The movements of an ordinary person cannot have strength without constant unilateral tension that disturbs the blood circulation. Every kind of strength based on constant unilateral tension is stiff and inharmonious, and besides that, harmful to health. Having strength without constant unilateral tension is namely having strength without using strength, and when using it, one gains strength.
That is what the natural instinctive strength is like. It is like seeking all kinds of real things from the unreal, which is hardly possible to express in words. Anyway, ‘Dachengquan’ is beyond the external form of being good or bad, it actually depends on dealing with the mind. In a nutshell, having a fixed form and fixed techniques are all false, skills reaching the level of no-mind are getting very rare, this is what the above means.
 Interviewer: I think there must have been many visitors calling on you since the last time your views appeared in a newspaper. Were there any brilliant persons of unusual ability?
Wang Xiangzhai: I’m very gratified that you care and introduce me to the readers. Among the martial artists of Beijing , there still was not a single person willing to come and grant me instruction. But the numerous letters coming from all quarters of the country expressed that there are many people who hold me in favour and esteem. Moreover, there were some people from some places who came here to bargain, wishing to be appointed to the position of an instructor. Furthermore there was an incident that I can tell you about. Recently, there were very many people who were seriously researching combat science and seeking for advice. Most came to ask for instruction by their own initiative and there were also those who were introduced by someone else. That is the only reason I advocate combat science.
I have no intention of contending with others, moreover, I scorn contention. I wish to help all the countrymen who are interested in combat science to understand it, and also hope that the combat science legislation will be reformed completely. Victory or defeat should not be taken as honour or disgrace. I wish that other boxers would not consider themselves to always be right just by studying blindly and practising recklessly. I especially hope that all boxers will become healthy pugilists. I do not wish them to become martial artists wandering from place to place making a living with their tricks. But nowadays, out of one hundred boxers, not even one has anything right at all.
Looking at them, I mostly get the feeling that it is all completely wrong. As for the boxers who rely on boxing to make their living, they just should not feel ashamed of studying again from others after they have started teaching. They should not be hard on themselves in spirit, but try hard to follow those who excel over them. They must keep in mind that they should not mislead and harm their students. Nowadays, boxers do not know where the spirit of combat science is. While they have no alternative but to make their living with it, surely they should not instruct people with mystery and violence. That way they might not commit the great error of going as far from the truth as the heaven is from the deep sea.
But then again, the weaknesses of these men are too numerous and they cannot be easily influenced over a short period of time. I only hope that they will become conscious of the truth and start to self-examine themselves bit by bit, nothing more.
 Interviewer: Since the martial way arose, many schools have been born, each advocating its own way so that eventually the students end up with a feeling of ignorance. What is legitimate after all?
Wang Xiangzhai: All learning in the world depends on comparison, only that way can good and bad be distinguished, otherwise every school will claim to be right, and the laymen will have difficulties distinguishing right and wrong. The correctness of boxing cannot be judged merely by the criterion of victory or defeat, it must be judged by whether it is reasonable and suitable to the human needs or not. What is reasonable is achieving comfort, gaining strength, and getting zest into one’s life. If one does not achieve comfort, gain strength, and if the study does not bring zest into one’s life, then it cannot be called boxing.
Whether one knows of the history of boxing or not does not matter at all, one should only see whether there is any value in regard to learning and whether it accords with the requirements of life. But speaking of the combat science of our nation, it has a centuries-old history. It began revealing its brilliance in the Warring States Period (403 BC – 221 BC), and gradually advanced and evolved. During the times of the Tang and Song dynasties, boxing started to turn into technical skills and different styles started to evolve. During the Yuan, Ming, and early Qing dynasties, the different schools were most popular.
There were very many practitioners, and only because their strength, skill, and attainments were different and some being wise and others stupid, boxing broke into different schools, each claiming its teachings as correct. Those schools are namely what are now called the various styles. During the reigns of Kangxi and Yongzheng of the Qing dynasty (1662 – 1735), firearms were not yet prevalent. The emperors feared that the martial arts would be used against the government, therefore they wanted to destroy them for good and so that they could never recover.
Therefore they started to influence the people to think highly of the civil arts and look down upon everything martial. On one hand they advocated flying immortal swordsmen and taught the mystical on purpose, on the other hand they praised the boxing forms and fixed techniques in order to lead the martial arts astray. The middle road and the great Tao could not be asked about, and they used opera and storybooks to serve as their tools of propaganda. Furthermore they made the people who practised martial arts to be despised by the scholar-bureaucrats, so the situation went from bad to even worse. All kinds of ugly performances emerged, what a great pity and tragedy.
Luckily our combat science predecessors secretly had successors, and they succeeded in having a gleam of light survive. Although training halls were set up all over the country to advocate the martial arts during the last twenty years, the more they were advocated, the sooner they would be lost, never being able to return to the right path of combat science. In fact, learning boxing is not difficult, but because the brains of the ordinary people are tormented by the storybooks, and furthermore, because the boxers of modern times mostly do it for living, the combat science is completely at loss. Even if some people are conscious of that, they are still too ashamed to study from others, and thus have no way out.
During the last half of the year, the other boxers have come to me to compare their skills in combat. I will not point out who they were, in order to let them keep their ways of making a living. Now they mostly understand that they were wrong, but why do they not agree to come and discuss the martial arts openly, and furthermore, why are they not willing to compare their skills in combat, in order to improve their learning? On the contrary, they go against their conscience and claim others to be wrong. They do nothing but secretly create absurd tales, and still they pretend being ignorant of those tales. What do they do that for? As for the non-professional martial artists, they want to become mysterious boxers by creating these tales, being like theatregoers not well versed in drama, they are not able to do anything but throw punches at random to show off their skills.
That is really something to be despised. In case my words are considered erroneous, can the non-professional boxing students agree to grant me instruction? Furthermore, I wish to have small friendly tests of skills in combat, and even if the people who come to me have no martial skills at all, I will not insult them, and I will not tell about them to other people in order not to harm their business. If one cannot come to visit me to grant me instruction, then please tell me the place and the time, and I will come to pay my respects on time. If one has even a tiny strong point, I will do my utmost to give him publicity, and if one has no strong points at all, I will keep my mouth shut. If one always considers oneself as a top boxer behind closed doors, that is not worth a penny.
 Interviewer: I have heard your discussion pointing out the right path of our national arts. You have introduced something new, and a fresh approach in seeking the good of everyone pursuing the same things, but I think you went a bit too far in some of your critique towards ‘Taijiquan’.
Wang Xiangzhai: My understanding of the Tao is still shallow, I do not dare to say that I have introduced something new, I just follow and spread the tradition of the predecessors, nothing more. There are many more things, but I feel embarrassed to say them because I have many good friends practising ‘Taiji’. Also, this boxing is less abused than most of the others, and has more sensible practitioners, thus I freely criticise it. I would have already stopped discussing about it a long time ago otherwise.
Talking of criticism, I am afraid that among the ‘Taiji’ practitioners, those who will never understand combat science are fearfully many, and those who are far from being learned masters are even more numerous. In my childhood I heard of the fame of the Taoist Zhang Sanfeng. Having grown up, I travelled all around the country, so I know that among all the schools of boxing, ‘Taiji’ has the biggest amount of practitioners. I had already been doubtful of this boxing for a long time. I heard this boxing was handed down from Mr. Zhang Sanfeng, thus I had despised Sanfeng for a long time. Later I read the collected edition of Mr. Sanfeng’s teachings, and began to realise that he had advanced all along the great Tao.
He had already gone deep into the Sea of Law and profoundly realised absolute truth. However, I even more deeply believe that such boxing was not handed down from him. Actually, if it was or was not does not matter at all, because, even if one was the descendant of Sanfeng, one is not worthy to talk about his art if one has not gained its essence. I do not know who were the successors of Mr. Sanfeng, but I suppose they were inferior to Sanfeng. If they had been capable, why would they have misled others? Whether the teachings gained by the students are true or false is the key.
Moreover, nowadays the practitioners of this boxing are different from each other and the theories vary. It is all random and false! I remember that Mr. Sanfeng said: Leaving one’s own body is wrong, but clinging to one’s own body is much worse. ‘Taijiquan’ has one hundred and forty or fifty postures, is there any posture or method that is not being clung to? What are these postures for? Moreover, the spirit is firmly bound and cannot be liberated. It is indeed harmful to the freedom of the nerves, the limbs, and the trunk. Remembering how wise Mr. Sanfeng was, he should not have gone so far as to hand down ‘Taijiquan’ that is so improper.
Discussing the wordy content of the ‘Theory of Taijiquan’, the single and double weighting and even weighting, and all such profound things are also nothing more than a part of the rudiments of combat science. May I ask the famous ‘Taiji’ masters to examine their conscience, whether there can be even a single posture or method in accord with the theories of this boxing guide? Since they claim it to be supreme combat science, why does it not produce any results in practice? Furthermore, the practitioners of this boxing believe that they can gain good boxing skills with superstitious practises. This is even more absurd.
Even if all the methods of this boxing would excel over the others, and the skills would tower above the ordinary, there is no doubt that it would still be wrong on the spiritual side, and besides, that is not the case. Although ‘Taijiquan’ is practised by a huge amount of people, which has given it much publicity, the sensible people have long known that it has collapsed of itself. Perhaps there was something improper in my words, I really hope that the other martial artists will question me without any hesitation, if there is someone who can instruct me, I will sweep the pathway to welcome him.
 Interviewer: Sir, you criticised the shortcomings of ‘Taijiquan’, I certainly have to admit, but I also have many friends who have gained good health by practising this boxing, I am afraid that your critique is somewhat inappropriate.
Wang Xiangzhai: The value of combat science is not only in relaxation and other trifling achievements. One must know that combat science is persistent learning, which is a human need and one cannot learn it thoroughly in a very short time. Therefore Zhuangzi said: Martial arts do indeed enter the Tao. They are the basis of culture and arts, they are the lifeblood of Zen and philosophy. If just a tiny result could represent boxing, then there would be no need to observe and study combat science. If one sticks to the practice of boxing in the way you said, it will produce some results. Furthermore, one should know that if one can take the time to practise boxing, do it without any method, freely and slowly perceiving by intuition, then the results will be great. I dare to say they will be much more than what you mentioned .
 Interviewer: The different schools of boxing are extremely numerous and their theories differ. Among my good friends there are many who practise boxing. Some of them practise according to books, but none of them has gained any results. What kind of a book should they adopt?
Wang Xiangzhai: Combat science cannot be divided into schools, and the boxing theory does not have the distinction of Chinese or foreign, and new or old. Do nothing but examine whether it is right or wrong, and suitable or unsuitable, that is enough. At large, the numerous schools of our society, generally take the approach of forms and techniques to learn boxing. One must know that this kind practice is just forgery conducted by the later generations, it is not the original essence of combat science. Even though a few people by chance realise some side-mechanics and one-sided techniques, they have not, however, left the methods and forms after all, so it is without avail in the end.
As for the writers of the martial arts guide books, they cannot exceed this boundary either. Although this doctrine is very easy to study, it is still not as simple as following others like sheep. Sometimes those who are taught by a famous master who passed the knowledge orally and from the heart, still cannot differentiate between right and wrong after dozens of years. How could these writings then be of any use? In any kind of learning, one should first understand the fundamental principle, and bit by bit intuitively perceive the skills, starting from the basics. In addition to that, one should ponder carefully, making a clear distinction between right and wrong, and proving one’s perceptions by experimenting in many ways. Only then can one move on to study those technical skills.
One should avoid training in front of a mirror, because this way one can easily become similar in form but untrue in spirit. Those training according to books are really the blind being led by the blind. Then again, by reading a book one can collect the crystallization of all sorts of theories, not paying any attention to the postures and form. According to the survey of my thirty years of teaching, this branch of learning is extremely difficult yet also extremely easy. A gifted student, in less than one hundred days of exercise, has the hope to become a great learned master, but among one hundred students there is not even one or two of them, and in most cases the talented sagacious people lack honesty and tolerance, some of them are even shams and cheaters.
Therefore most are abandoned halfway by their teachers, this is also a pity! As for the common students of our society, their difficulties are really lamentable. Most people always believe their ears instead of their eyes. The two words, fame and fact, cannot be mentioned in the same sentence. Even though the amount of boxers in the world is uncountable, those who have gained the essence are rare like a unicorn’s horn. All of those who have gained the essence are very different from the ordinary people in character. They cannot be enticed by fame or attracted by benefit, and they would never associate with the hypocrites! Finding a master is very difficult indeed.
Even if you meet a wise master how can you differentiate whether he is wise or not, and then he is not necessarily willing to teach you. Even if he agrees to teach you, he does not necessarily have a good method of teaching. Be it that he has a good teaching method, it is still not certain that one can realise the essence of his teachings. There exist a variety of difficulties that an inexperienced person cannot know. Then again, nowadays it is easier to study than before, because the science is flourishing. It helps very much in understanding the principles of combat science, but still, combat science cannot be limited to this.
If it is explained with the hierarchy of science and local anatomy, then it should be the one and the only way and phase of studying. But there are still many principles in our combat science that cannot be explained, but after some years they might be proved by science. Learning knows no limits, perhaps there are no means to ever explain it, this cannot be known. Summed up, if discussed under the conditions and knowledge of today, one should add a scientific method to the spirit of combat science, then it will not be difficult to solve the problems in combat science.
 Interviewer: Repeatedly in their comments, the readers did not deny your theory, but they felt uneasy studying without forms and routines, especially the beginners!
Wang Xiangzhai: The human body has all kinds of functions; no wise man can exhaust them all even if practising all his life. What is the reason to abandon the essence and study the scum? The more one studies the methods of forms and routines the farther one will be from the truth. That is like binding the feet of the women, the more profound one’s skill is, the more difficult it is to extend the feet, therefore the beginners advance much faster than the veterans. This argument has been proved by many irrefutable examples. The theory created by the later generations where a certain posture breeds a certain strength, and a certain method overcomes a certain boxing skill is real magniloquence resulting in deceiving the people. I am afraid that the one who claims such things has no understanding of boxing at all.
 Interviewer: What you said, Sir, is very right, and the martial arts are indeed at a loss. Would you teach everybody a simple and convenient way to succeed, that people could easily produce results with?
Wang Xiangzhai: A general idea of health preservation was already outlined above. If one is willing to do as advised, then one has already advanced halfway on the path of health preservation. If one wants to study the profound skills of combat, then one must also go through that, but if one is not an extremely foolish person or great sage, one will not be willing to do so. If one is a genius or has a character close to that of the sages, then there is no need to study all those methods. Also the methods of combat have pile standing (zhanzhuang) and trial of strength (shili) as the basis. I already narrated their general ideas above. The methods of trial of strength are too numerous, and besides, after all kinds of strengths are gained by the body, one should not think that the way of combat has been completed.
At that point one has just begun to have the possibility of studying combat. For example, how to gain the mastery of “interaction of relaxation and tension never not being correct, and the interaction of void and solid coming to equilibrium” is another problem. Anyway, after finding a teacher, the profundity or shallowness of one’s attainments indeed depend on one’s individual talent, strength, and skill, and whether one can grasp the right timing to be able to launch an attack at any moment, but without much experience in actual combat, it is hardly possible to gain it.
 Interviewer: I have heard many martial artists saying: “If you do not use strength, how can you increase it? None of the ancient and modern masters neglected the enriching of the dantian qi, and only because of that, could they be successful.”
Wang Xiangzhai: The theory of using strength is the talk of laymen. There are also those who speciously support the theory of not using strength, but do not know what it means after all. One must know that not to use strength is correct, but not to use the mind is incorrect. If one uses strength then the internal organs die, the body becomes ineffective, stiff, stupid, and easy to be taken advantage of by others. In other words, it is just a disguised form of passive resistance. The idea of resisting is produced by the fear of being hit by the adversary, but in this way one is completely ignorant of the fact that the spirit has already accepted to be hit. How could one then not get hit by the adversary?
Therefore, using strength is a great taboo in combat science. As for the theory of the dantian qi, from the theoretical point of view, field tests, and my own perception from experience and observation, this theory does not seem proper. Within the abdomen there are the intestines, the stomach, and the liver, there is no place to fill with the qi. As for the functions of force, they are all effects of the opposite power, the explosive power, and the power of the universe combined, and exerted together with breath that makes the body bulge and undulate, open and close, and the body and spirit being integrated with the atmosphere in one’s mind.
That has nothing to do with what the people call the qi of qigong. They always take a potbelly as dantian qi, that is just extremely wrong. One must know that when exerted, the strength must be issued evenly and completely. In order to be entirely free from worry and to gain strength, one should also be at leisure and natural, that is just being reasonable. The students of modern times do not understand this truth, they spend dozens of years working hard, and instead of gaining lively bodies and minds from the training, they become machines. Is that not a great pity!
 Interviewer: Although your critique is appropriate, it is still always the same combat arena, and if you, in the long run, accidentally misstep in one of the challenge fights, then what?
Wang Xiangzhai: How would I dare to give an open challenge, I do not even dare to act as the ringleader for challenge. I just wish that my fellow boxers would be willing to advocate, discuss, and investigate combat science like this, then it would not be difficult to carry it forward in the future. However, if nobody does this, I wish to start from myself, with nothing else other than advising the others with earnest words and good intentions, and often injecting cardiotonic shots into the arms of the other boxers of our country in order to little by little cure their illness of paralysis, I offer a few commonplace remarks by way of introduction so that others may come up with valuable opinions. Even if my body be full of cuts and bruises, my utmost wish will come true if combat science can be promoted.
 Interviewer: People generally accepted your talks, but there were still some who were liberal in their condemnation of you.
Wang Xiangzhai: Those who understand me are wise people, those who condemn me should sit alone in the still of night to listen to their hearts. Anyhow, let them laugh who will, I will not mind. If the true essence of combat science will prosper again, how could personal praise or blame make any difference?
 Interviewer: How can the ordinary people dare to disagree with your knowledge and virtue?
Wang Xiangzhai: What you said is right, I am very ashamed, but our countrymen have already become socially reserved. Honesty and prudence are really the basis of the self-cultivation of learning and morals, in other words: being solid inside and void outside, or firm outside and nimble inside. That is just the same principle as that of Laozi, “The desireless one can see the essence, while the desiring one only sees its manifestation.“ But somehow it is made use of by the people. It has already become the talisman of those who make their living by deceiving others. Lies in the society are also created by such people.
I have traveled all around the country for almost forty years, often feeling that there is only the art of “opera acting“ that does not put up with the society. Opera does not allow the laymen to assume positions in it either, but there are many styles of opera which all differ, I do not know all of them. As for what is called honesty and prudence toward others, I think one should act according to the other party, there should not be any unreasonable politeness. Like the sages of the past, respectfully serve others and be honest and sincere, overcome your desires and show love to others.
I am very glad to comply with that as the teachings of the books of good intercourse and treating each other with respect cannot be seen nowadays. I do not deserve praise for my learning and morals. In studying morals I only put myself under the patronage of the important people. What is called Tao is the truth that is all pervading and complex, and the only proper course to take. In other words, is it reasonable or unreasonable? Reasonable is namely the Tao and unreasonable is not the Tao.
It is not a mystical and strange thing, it is not the poor superstitious chapters and verses of the vulgar and pedantic literati either. It has especially nothing to do with the eccentric people, who pretend insaneness, calling that the doctrine of Buddhism and Taoism in order to look different, they cannot even dream about the gate to the great Tao. If one does not understand the society, I have no choice but to retain talking about other things with him.
 Interviewer: You said that there are still many places in opera where the essence has not been lost, which are far ahead of the average schools of boxing. I do not understand on what ground you can say that, I feel that this comment is rather improper.
Wang Xiangzhai: Opera was originally meant to subsidy the shortcomings of education, all of its martial performances originated from the way of boxing. In boxing there was originally the qiba (pulling the body) exercise, which is one of the skills of shili (trial of strength). Qiba is seeking the pivoting strength of the barycenters of the vertex and the two feet, making the whole body extend equally and completely, becoming one with the universe, therefore named qiba exercise.
In opera it is mistakenly called “rising of the domination”, but watching their postures and the meaning of their theories, although they are not proper, they are not far from that either, thus we know that it has some essence. As for all kinds of postures which try to please the eye and win people’s adoration, they are all forged. Of the postures of today’s boxers I have not seen a single one that would have gained equilibrium, even the old veterans and young Elites turn into imitating the untruthful and childish ones, and some of them cannot even succeed in that, how could they ever see the profundity of the martial way?
 Interviewer: I suppose that recently there was no lack of people asking for advice. What is your sentiment, Sir?
Wang Xiangzhai: Although there were many people from all circles who came to see me these days, they were all just curious people and what they talked about was not related to combat science. As for the visitor pursuing the same way, none of them was the kind of person I expected.
 Interviewer: What did you expect then?
Wang Xiangzhai: Although I am incompetent, I really expected the visitors to test me with difficult questions to the best of their abilities. To discuss what is reasonable in combat science and its important connection with life, and to pay attention to seeking the true spirit of the martial way. Although combat is just a trifling skill, without it the results cannot be proved, therefore I am also ready to have friendly comparisons of skills in combat. These days there were many small things, thus I could not personally meet all the visitors one by one. I am ashamed of that, and thus from now on, I plan to also fix reception times for Wednesdays and Fridays, from three o’clock to six o’clock .
 Interviewer: What do your fellow boxers think of that?
Wang Xiangzhai: In order to research the true essence of combat science in its entirety, I already cling to disregarding derision and taunts, and will never promote the supernatural. I always support altruism, I do not worry about there being no one coming to grant me instruction or asking for advice. What I worry about is that the famous masters do not inspect and learn from each other and discuss the problems. I fear it is hardly possible to gain the hope of combat science succeeding. Anyway, I hope that combat science will advance, polish up the goal of the martial way of our society, and wash off the deep rooted bad habits. I am not concerned about other things.
 Interviewer: The conversation with you that was published in a newspaper last time has caused quite a stir. I suppose that there was no lack of visitors. Were there any pursuing the same way as you?
Wang Xiangzhai: I was granted the favour of not being abandoned by the society, there was indeed no lack of visitors, but most of them came to learn from me, there were only two gentlemen pursuing the same way, Lu Zhijie and Shao Zefen from Fengtai, who wanted to do push-hands (tuishou), which is nothing more than what the experts call “listening to strength”. There were no others, furthermore no one agreed to enter into combat. The method of push-hands is only a one-sided part of the way of boxing, it is not what I welcome.
As for the famous masters in Beijing , there was not a single person willing to come to instruct me, that is really not what I expected. I do not understand why the other boxers do not want to contact me. What I have always respected are the martial morals, therefore courtesy must come first, so there are also some limits, namely, the old people I modestly decline, the modest and gentle people I modestly decline, the incompetent people I modestly decline.
If you do not believe in my words, please ask those who came to visit me and you will know. When Mr. Lu visited me for the first time, we did a little push-hands and he took my skill only as such, and thus was not convinced. Later he started to visit frequently and started to realise that there was a huge difference between our skills, and now he has become a faithful disciple of mine.
 Interviewer: How many people are there among our martial arts predecessors that you admire?
Wang Xiangzhai: Examining the boxing predecessors of the last one hundred years, besides Dong Haichuan, Che Yizhai, and Guo Yunshen, these three masters, all the others are of minor importance, but our country is huge and has a big population, there are still many people pursuing the martial way who I have not met. I do not dare to make comments at random.
 Interviewer: The people often mention Yang Luchan, how was his learning?
Wang Xiangzhai: Mr. Luchan was a combat science predecessor as well, he was skilled in ‘Taiji’, and now most people follow his lineage. What I talk about has to be observed from every aspect, Luchan only achieved a part of the Tao, even Mr. Wang Zongyue of the Ming dynasty was not a complete expert. Mr. Zongyue obtained the one-sided part of push-hands with both hands, originating from General Yue Fei, changed the three fists into thirteen postures, and named it ‘Taiji’.
There is no way to do textual research on what was handed down from Zhang Sanfeng and the people would just draw wrong conclusions from it. As for the one hundred and forty or fifty postures, I have no idea where they originated from. But talking of the practice of this boxing, it does not only abuse the limbs and the trunk, but also does infinite harm to the spirit, it is still very far from the art of actual combat, they have nothing in common with each other.
 Interviewer: You have frequently published commentary on boxing in the newspapers, how have others pursuing the same path reacted to that? Have you ever heard?
Wang Xiangzhai: The sensible people pursuing the same path accepted it without an exception. As for the conservative people who cannot differentiate between right and wrong, I have no choice but to let them have their own way. Even if one can understand, it is still not easy to put it into practice, and it is even more difficult for those who cannot differentiate between right or wrong at all. However, the ordinary boxers still take exercising the body as the catchword and stop talking about combat. Watching that, one can also know that the way of combat, compared to health preservation, is a very trifling thing.
The way of health preservation relies on concentrating one’s spirit and nourishing one’s nature. The mind becomes empty and unified; that is called the art of one’s body and mind, life and nature. With this movement and that posture, springing forward and jumping backward, it is really difficult to even dream about entering the gate of health preservation. In fact health preservation is simple and easy.
True human nature loves naturalness and unrestricted free movement, the whole offshoot of the natural instincts are the basis of that. Every morning in the fresh air, without any method, just let the joints of the whole body be slightly bent, consider the sky, move slowly and freely, experience and observe the intestinal qi and the flow of blood. At the same time, intuitively perceive the external void and nimble opposing strength. This is called the spirit resembles as if it was swimming.
The spirit and the body are comfortable and natural, not only free and unrestricted, but also gradually realising the echo of nature. After a long time of training, the instincts unveil and the rays of the spirit will shine, one will have gained the basis of combat even without having sought them. If one always sticks to mechanical movement, plays around with a staff and performs with a spear seeking beauty, taking that as the glory of being good in martial arts, then one does not know that if a man of insight sees that, he will feel sick for ten days. That is terrible, such a person cannot comprehend boxing for life.
 Interviewer: Your purpose is studying truth and developing the martial arts, why were there so few visitors? Can you think of a reason?
Wang Xiangzhai: It is very difficult to find an answer for this. According to my conjecture, in the martial arts circles of our country there are no doubt many wise ones, but the unworthy ones are especially numerous. Everyone studying a certain style of martial arts, assiduously practises for many years and flatters oneself by claiming that one alone has accomplished the profound skills, and then calls oneself the successor of that school. This way one will even be respected by the society, so one can solve the problem of making a living at the same time. Once such people are told to abandon all their learning and start studying from the beginning, it is really intolerable for them.
Perhaps their way of making a living would also be affected by that, thus they consider their personal advantages and disadvantages, and notice that the disadvantages would be huge, therefore it is no wonder that the visitors were so sparse. The most unfortunate thing in the end is that there are some ignorant people, who do not dare to measure or discuss right and wrong, and thus just make gossip at random, making irresponsible remarks in order to hide their weak points. The people in our society trust them and the people who have been deceived by them are really numerous, this is a great pity. If we do not wipe out this obstacle, the martial arts of our country will hardly have any hope of a quiet and great progress.
 Interviewer: Sir, you are the forerunner in the martial arts, and you are holding the decision in your hands. Furthermore, I hope you will keep on working with perseverance, then the martial arts will surely have no difficulties in seeing the days of glory and progress.
Wang Xiangzhai: Your words touch me deeply, naturally I shall do my utmost. Success or failure, praise or blame, I do not dare to care for them. There is only one goal, namely to solve the question of how combat science can advance. Therefore I tell other boxers here: originally combat was just a minor skill, but the ordinary people mostly judge one’s boxing skills by the relative superiority or inferiority in combat, therefore there are two research methods.
If one is willing to research the suitability of each action, then I immensely welcome him. If one wants to enter into combat or do push-hands, they are both fine as well. The scope of researching combat science is extensive. If the amount of visitors will increase, then there will be no dilemma. If the visitor has even tiny strong points, I will certainly do my utmost to blazon forth and praise him. If he has no strong points at all, I will certainly say nothing, because even talking cannot make him understand. I really hope that the visitors will test me with difficult questions to the best of their abilities, in order to compare experiences with each other, aiming at the progress of combat science, everyone pursuing the same way with me, all should shoulder the duty to develop combat science.
This important prospect should definitely not be weakened because of personal reasons, if it can really benefit the general interest. Even if one has to suffer any personal sacrifices, one should still give up something small to achieve something great. I maintain this determination, if combat science can thereby progress, it would not only be an individual gain, but also the whole world and our descendants would benefit greatly.
The reporter and Mr. Wang finished their conversation, and because it was already late, they bid farewell to each other and left.
In the 1940’s ‘Yiquan’ was known as ‘Dachengquan’. Later Mr. Wang Xiangzhai dropped the name ‘Dachengquan’ and asked his students to return to the old name as well. All of Mr. Wang’s top students did that, but some people still kept using the name ‘Dachengquan’. Thus ‘Yiquan’ and ‘Dachengquan’ are just two names for one art.
by Wang Xuanjie
Hai Feng Publishing Co. May 1988