Translated by Wong Yuen Ming
From Tiyu (Sport) Magazine, 1932, 1
Mind-body cultivation and the masters of Taijiquan
The best Chinese Martial Arts usually are considered to be originated among the monks, like Bodhidharma for Shaolin and Sanfeng for Taiji, and although this might be legendary, it is also meaningful. Both Buddhism and Daoism consider being calm their main practice and strive to obtain fulfillment of the spirit to transcend the body. Being calm and receiving the Correct Method one can clear the mind and have a happy spirit. Being calm but without the Correct Method one’s body dries out and the spirit suffers. During cultivation the formless spirit feels happy but the body, having form, finally feels stuck. Since the spirit relies on the body, exercising the body results in cultivating the spirit. If the body doesn’t get enough exercise the spirit also doesn’t get refilled. For this reason, to master cultivation one has to practice both body and mind to be successful. Therefore these martial arts, high level practices among the monks, were then spread to the population.
The cultivation of the mind was described in depth in the old days. The Book of Changes says: ‘Exhausting principles to the utmost to deal with one’s Inner Nature, one can arrive at the working of Fate’. The Doctrine of the Mean says: “Only the sincere person can exhaust his own Inner Nature”. Buddhism and Daoism either discuss ‘doing’ or ‘not doing’ but this ‘doing’ or ‘not doing’ cannot be understood away from our Inner Nature and Fate. Our mind is blinded by our unlimited desire leaving us no peace. The body enjoys material supplies feeling happy, but that won’t last as it is only temporary. When the spirit gets no comfort, the mind has nothing to rely on and finally suffers. Mengzi says: “To nourish the mind there is nothing better than reducing desires” which means cultivating the mind and stop cravings to make it clear and detach oneself from everything in the word. The Study of Benevolence of Song dynasty confucians refers to working on oneself, the methods of Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism all follow this rule. Confucius and Mengzi say nothing about strange spirits while Laozi and Zhuangzi’s works are full of such tales. The world view of Buddhism has Heaven and Hell, and in Daoism after Wei Boyang there are even more such examples. Scholars who have spent years over Buddhist and Daoist classics often get lost and find difficult to define right from wrong. The early alchemists confused people even more with their alchemical arts, so the great Dao got lost and the door to mind cultivation was known by fewer people.
With regard to the art of fighting, it cannot be transmitted by the books. In the old days some scholars were also skilled in the martial arts and traveled the country sometimes using their skills against the law. These stories are still popular today. On the other side, the transmission of the method for Training Bones andTendons, Advancing and Retreating, Throwing and Falling, has been lost in both written and oral form. The fighting arts focus on the movement, but the details of those movements cannot be put into words. So the technique of cultivating the body and mind has to be transmitted directly from a skilled master in order for somebody to reach a high level, otherwise one gets lost and not only doesn’t get any result but even get harmed.
Taijiquan is a wonderful art of training the body and cultivating the spirit, which people refer to as ‘neigong’. These practitioners of ‘neigong’ say that it strengthens the interior organs and can put natural ‘qi’ to use, winning by unusual skills obtained by training inspired by Daoism. Among modern day Taijiquan practitioners, no one is more famous than the Yang family. Yang Shaohou, the real heir to this transmission, is certainly the best today. Born in Guangping, his original name was Zhaoxiong and was also called Mengxiang. During the past Qing dynasty there was a master called Chen Changxing in Henan, who transmitted the skills to mister Yang’s grandfather Fukui. His fighting skills mutually combined hard and soft, making him unique and too scary to oppose once in movement. At that time, the royal family were known to enjoy good entertainments and used to hire all kinds of people with strange skills from society, so Fukui’s expertise couldn’t pass unnoticed. Since he was into the entourage of the Eighth Prince, he was also called the Eighth Duke, and Luchan was his nickname. He had three kids, the elder one called Feng died early. The second was Banhou, famous for his hardness skills, who was also especially good at Vibrating and Receiving ‘jin’. The youngest was Jianhou who was well known for his softness skills and his Sticking and Following ‘jin’. Jianhou was Shaohou’s father. When Shaohou was 8 he had the chance to learn from his grandfather and since he was exceptionally clever, he was very much loved by Luchan and received complete transmission from both his grandfather and his uncle, reaching a very high skill level. His 20 years younger brother Chengfu, as well as his father’s disciple Quanyou and Quanyou’s son Wu Jianquan, practiced long hand and were skilled in softness. After the passing of Yang Luchan, together with Shaohou, they were all well known but Chengfu and Jianquan had the most disciples.
Taijiquan originally did not have the differentiation between long and short hand. The”Boxing Method” say ‘first seek to open and expand, afterwards seek to draw up and gather together’. The long hand opens and expands, the short hand draw up and gathers together – the appearance is similar but the mind usage is different. Beginners in Taijiquan should strive to open and expand without using strength, being completely soft so that the techniques become connected and completed in one breath. The reasoning behind this is that if somebody exerts strength his muscular apparatus would be tense, his blood and energy will get stuck, so it is necessary to start opening and expanding thus relaxing the muscles. The practice is about repeating the movement without stop from end to beginning continuously. After months or years of exercise one should feel a complete body transformation with an increase of strength, rooting to the ground from the feet and should gain whole body’s strength. If the training is correct the whole body should become soft like cotton, the internal organs solid, one should become healthy and the spirit should be whole. The next step is to look for joining up and gather together. What matters is the correct focus of the mind not the external appearance, one’s liveliness and not being numb. When starting to move, one has to be quiet like a virgin and moving like a rabbit. The Boxing Method says: ‘jin [organized strength] looks ‘song’ [flexible/elastic] and not ‘song’, stretched and not stretched, [if] ‘jin’ breaks intention does not break’. This sentence reviews the wonder of Taijiquan as art of self-defense. [Yang] Shaohou said: ‘Those practicing long hand are like the long hand of a clock, they make big circles. Those practicing short hand are [like] the [clock hand] axis, which has not the shape of a circle but has its wonderful function’. He also said that using ‘jin’against an opponent in Taijiquan the key lies in the mutual combination of hard and soft, in the respective usage of yin and yang, when a smile doesn’t mean happiness but outrage shows anger. Fist drawing in then extending, relaxing before issuing, moving like a falcon chasing a rabbit, one’s spirit should be like a hunting mouse. The result is that an expression of anger brings fear to everyone and one of serenity conveys peace. Those practicing complete softness can borrow the opponents’ strength to subdue them while those utilizing hard strength can win only by using force. Apart from those with a shallow knowledge of the Boxing Method, everyone understands that no pure hard or pure soft method can lead to a victory, so one has to combine the two. In Taijiquan we get to hardness through softness, in the external arts one gets to softness through hardness, so the two systems are basically the same.
Shaohou was a solitary and righteous man, not used to social life and not enthusiastic about showing off his skills. He liked to drink and when drunk he might expose his abilities. When somebody referred to Taijiquan as a poor method, unable to bring fighting skills, Shaohou would get in the mood to fight and although the opponents were often strong men they would not stand a chance against him. Shaohou’s skills in Vibrating and Receiving ‘jin’ were so deep that he would win with just one touch. Many admired his skills but few managed to learn from him. Some only learned one or two techniques, only scratching the surface of his method. His fighting style relied on vitality, he appreciated moving steps pushing hands, and when exercising it he would change rapidly from joy to anger, breathing in and out in an instant in an unpredictable way. Those who were watching could feel the intensity of his spirit and bow in respect, but only a few had a real understanding.
The Boxing Method says: ‘be still like like a mountain, move like a flowing river. Store ‘jin’ as though drawing a bow. Issue ‘jin’ as though releasing an arrow. Seek the straight in the curved. Store up then issue. The strength issues from the spine, the step follow the body’s changes. To gather in is in fact to release. To break off is to again connect. In going to and fro there must be folding, in advancing and retreating there must be turning transitions. Arriving at the extreme of yielding softness, one afterward arrives at the extreme of solid hardness. With the ability to inhale and exhale will follow the ability to be nimble and lively. When ‘qi’ is cultivated in a straightforward manner, there will be no harm. When ‘jin’ is stored up in the curves, there will be a surplus. The mind/heart is the commander, the ‘qi’ is the signal flag, the waist is the directional banner.’ Shaohou’s BoxingMethod links spirit and ‘qi’, it is simple but profound. There is not a single part of the intentions in the hands, fists, waist and eyes that is not coordinated, fully grasping the deep meaning of this three elements.
The wonder of Taijiquan is in ‘pushing hands’. Peng, Lü, Ji, An are the four direct [principles], Cai, Lie, Zhou, Kao are the four corners. ‘Peng’ (Hit), ‘Zhuo’ (Peck), ‘Na’ (Grab) and ‘Pi’ (Hack) are the hand techniques. Stick, Follow, Vibrate and Receive refer to moving the ‘jin’. Touching and Sealing the acupoints, Intercept and Pressing the meridians, are the marvelous formula. One’s strong presence is used in Taijiquan to scare and subdue an opponent, just like a cat hunting for a mouse. When using ‘jin’ to Catch and Vibrate, means the elastic force of the whole body is drawing in and then extended, collected and then released, waiting quietly for the opponent to be exhausted, spying his movements from a quiet point. Vibrating ‘jin’ is issued from the waist and united at the feet, generating a shock involving the whole body. Catching means utilizing ‘jin’ of hands and feet, Receiving means intercepting the opponents’ ‘jin’ half way. Sticking resembles sucking in, following stands for going along. Therefore, to win an opponent with Taijiquan one has to use softness to destroy hardness, make use of Sticking and Following, Vibrating and Receiving, to obtain a marvelous victory. The Boxing Method says: ‘if the opponent doesn’t move, I don’t move. If the opponent makes a slight move, I move first.’ This means attacking the movement and not the stillness, looking for an opportunity in his movement to issue first and be invincible. Moving ‘jin’ first results in following behind already. In Taijiquan, fingers are used because among the different fighting components they have the smallest surface. Having the smallest surface they are difficult to be noticed by the opponents who cannot therefore offer adequate resistance. Winning a fight using fingers then, be that by Touching, Sealing, Pressing or Intercepting, can be done at will. When the Boxing Method says: ‘it is rooted in the feet, issued by the legs, governed by the waist and expressed in the fingers’ these are not empty words.
When I was young, I loved martial arts and enjoyed fighting, but my body was weak by nature so although I was willing to learn my strength was limited. At the time in the north the most famous martial arts were Shaolin, Xingyi, Bagua and Taiji in many different versions. To learn Shaolin a lot of jumping was required, which may lead to over using my breath. In Xingyi they do a lot of stomping that may cause my feet to become heavy and dumb. Bagua is famous for the usage of its stepping but beginners start with single and double circular palm and I was not interested. In learning Taiji the breath is calm and soft, steps are light and agile, making it suitable for a scholar. In the 8th year of Republican Era , together with my friend Chen Junfeng, I visited the Sport Research Center of Beijing. That day, there was a gathering of Taiji masters, among which Shaohou’s method stood out for its wonder. For those who practice long hand, the goal is to move softly. When pushing hands they stand without stepping, only trying to stick and follow, careless of anything else. With regard to the marvel of extension and retraction, unsubstantial and substantial, Yin and Yang, hard and soft, no one could compare to Shaohou. So I decided to learn from him and during ten years I never stopped. I also learned quiet sitting from my father so as to cultivate both the body and the mind, to connect essence, ‘qi’ and spirit, and unify hands, feet, waist, eyes and intention. Training bones and tendons, regulating the breath, turns the body healthy and put the spirit at ease, totally changing my originally weak complexion. The effect of my practice became visible day after day. Last year, my father passed away in Beijing while sitting, and in spring of this year, master Yang took his life in Nanjing. So I lost both of my teachers in mind and body cultivation, and when discussing about them, I can only sigh. Being afraid that the fame of my master would be forgotten, I record here this method of body mind cultivation and my master’s Taiji skills and present it to everybody. Last year, my master came to Nanjing as a guest at the house of minister Wang Bocui. On the fifteenth day of the first month of this year [1932.20.02], outraged by the society, he committed suicide. At the time, the son of minister Wang rushed him to the Drum Tower Hospital but, having lost too much blood, he finally passed away on 17th day [1932.22.02] at the Xu hour [7 to 9 PM] at the age of 69. Just the day before the suicide, he was still talking and laughing, well spirited as usual, discussing about the Universal Law and Human Nature. Ah, isn’t such sudden death unexplainable? How could he talk and laugh as usual and then look at death as going home?