An article written on the occasion of the 8th Yang style Taijiquan Expert Forum with Grandmaster Zheng Man Qing’s 110th birthday commemoration in Taipei, Taiwan 2010 by Tai Chi Huang China Chief Instructor, Master Foong Choon Sang & translated by Len Lee Nam.
Taijiquan was founded by sages based on the principle of softness overcoming hardness.
Lao Zi said “the weak overcoming the strong and the soft overcoming the hard is common knowledge but it is difficult to apply this knowledge.” This is to say that the weak is able to overcome the strong and the soft can overcome the hard; everybody seems to understand but very few are able to thoroughly experiment with it. All this is due to most people putting up a strong front with the attitude of showing off and wanting to win at all costs.
In the process of learning taijiquan, one of the most important aspects that needs to be thoroughly experimented with is “song”.
• Song and Sinking, Rooting, Expulsion
According to normal understanding, when the body is song and starts sinking, rooting will result but this could be mistaken as the relaxation of the body causing the force to accumulate at the soles of the feet and that gets affixed to the ground so as to remain firm and immobile. This totally contradicts with another concept of ‘thoroughly song, empty and agile’ because when the body is ‘thoroughly song, empty and agile’ the feet that touch the ground will never be firmly affixed to the ground. This is as a result of the extreme softness giving rise to hardness which causes the repulsion and the development of jin. On the other hand, sinking and standing firm alone do not result in complete song and if one were to attempt to repulse, then some force is needed to achieve this. The application of force in this manner is not natural which results in a dragging effect and when an opponent is applying great force, in view of the inability to fully nullify such force, the result is being stuck to each other as each try to outdo the other.
• “Song and Emptying”
In his later years of teaching, Grandmaster Huang Shen Shyan put heavy emphasis on soft nullification. When one is able to achieve soft nullification, expulsion will arise due to the extreme softness. He always said “when learning taiji, one has to first learn to be soft and to be song while remaining in softness. When practicing song, one has to be thorough and empty. Only then, agility will arise which results in the non-reception of external force and with that, expulsion will follow naturally.
• Non-Reception of External Force
Not being pushed over is not a result of affixing your footwork but is the result of non-reception of external force, as one is extremely soft with the ability to execute complete emptying and nullification. In the case of expulsion, this is not due to the application of brute force but the result of the interchange between receiving and expulsion that evolved from extreme softness to hardness and the instant interchangeability of yin and yang which gives rise to simultaneous nullification and expulsion. To be able to perform simultaneous nullification and expulsion, besides external training, one needs to cultivate and nurture internal yi, internal movement, internal nullification, internal mobilization and internal expulsion. With many years of martial arts experience, towards his twilight years when he taught us taiji, Grandmaster Huang incorporated hung yuan zhuang as the fundamental training and instilled that training into song sheng wu fa, the taiji form and in taiji push-hands.
• Hun Yuan Zhuang
When practicing hun yuan zhuang, one learns to be song while in the state of entropy. This results in changes with further development in song and yi. It mobilizes muscles and ligaments to contract and expand, to stretch and un-stretch, and mobilizes the qi to perform hun yuan circulation resulting in the state of qi being omnipresent and directed at will. When the body is accustomed to such training, taiji applications can then be executed coupled with the knowledge of physics and the understanding of yin and yang. When one observes Grandmaster Huang performing push-hands in his twilight years, the movements were natural, the footwork movements were agile and active. His internal yi and qi were ever-flowing and the movements perfectly inter-connected with the yin and yang in total harmony. With such ease of interchangeability between yin and yang, Grandmaster Huang was able to execute expulsion smoothly and he was equally at ease before and after the execution.
• Rooting with non-reception of external force, Nullification and Expulsion while seated
Grandmaster Huang was able to perform nullification and expulsion in pushing hands while seated. The main reason is because he was thoroughly song in mind and body. His ability to perform internal mobilization resulted in being nimble and being empty so that his opponent was unable to anchor the fulcrum to leverage on and apply force onto him. The opponent was expulsed as a reflex of his own force. How would rooting take effect while seated? Grandmaster Huang explained that this is because the hun yuan qi is ever-circulating resulting in the omnipresence of forces inter-connecting in perfect harmony with the state of equilibrium restored instantly. On the happy occasion of “The World 5th Generation Yang Style Tai Chi Quan and 8th Expert Forum combined with Grandmaster Zhen Man Qing’s 110th Birthday Commemoration” organized by Zheng Zi Taiji Research Association, I am writing this article in commemoration of the above Event. Please excuse any shortcomings in my article. I wish the above event a total success.
An article written on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Singapore Thai-Chi Society in Singapore 2009 by Tai Chi Huang China Chief Instructor, Master Foong Choon Sang & translated by Len Lee Nam
Grandmaster Huang Sheng Shyan had developed a shortcut towards successful learning of the Huang Tai Chi Quan Dao, starting with simple methods and progressing to more complex fundamental training. As a teacher of Huang Tai Chi Quan Dao, one has to be determined and not give up easily on students. There are no un-teachable students unless the students themselves give up. As a student of Huang Tai Chi Quan Dao, one has to follow wholeheartedly the cardinal precept of “respecting the Dao and the teacher” and believe that the teacher will be committed and dedicated to disseminate his knowledge to his students unreservedly, unless he is not well-versed with the art of tai chi.
The founder of Huang Tai Chi Quan Dao, Grandmaster Huang Sheng Shyan, had an affinity for martial arts since he was young. Having learned various forms of Chinese martial arts for nearly thirty years, he picked tai chi as the subject of lifelong learning. After sixty years of martial arts experience, he developed Huang Tai Chi Quan Dao. The mission is clearly based on the precept of “Dao being fundamental and skill as an augment.” He set various rules to cultivate good virtues in his students and formulated unique methods of teaching based on the Law of Nature as the natural learning process. This is to enable students to achieve good character with the ability to live in harmony and possess a healthy body and mind. He further improvised the required fundamental training which enabled students to leap frog along the journey of Huang Tai Chi Quan Dao.
The following is a brief outline for the fundamental training:
1. Hun Yuan Zhan Zhuang – the utilization and practice of yi to relax the body to remain song and the direction of yi to various parts of the body while in a standing position.
2. Kai He Jiau – this exercise attempts to distinguish substantiality and insubstantiality of footwork.
3. Song Shen Wu Fa – in the standing position, one utilizes the yi to perform opening and closing, up and down movements, turning of the waist and hips, leaning forward and backward to exercise muscles, ligaments, joints such as the neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, fingers, arms, upper torso, hips, waist, knees, ankles, toes and legs. Such movements are required to be as extensive as possible.
4. Tai Chi Quan Jia – once a student has acquired the training and understanding of 1 to 3 and with tai chi quan jia, the student learns to move forward, retreat backward, turning to the left and right while maintaining central equilibrium, as well as having the right posture and structure in such training so as to sustain the necessary balance while in motion.
5. Ding Bu He Tui – having completed 1 to 4, the student has satisfied the tai chi quan basics which is the Dao to a certain level and it is time to move on to the application or the skill side of the training. Remember not to lose sight of the basics while pursuing the training in skill. Ding jin, touch, connect, stick, follow, neither abandon nor resist is the lifeblood in the training of tai chi skill. How would one then be able to perform the above? This is when Ding Bu He Tui comes into the picture. Ding Bu He Tui requires practicing parties to help and learn from each other and not to use force to outdo each other. The above training is not about putting participants in a win-lose situation. Otherwise, this is a complete waste of time.
6. Huo Bu Tui Shou – the ultimate aim is to reach the stage of Zhao Di Sheng Gen, i.e. instantaneous rooting while grounding. In this process, one learns to consolidate all the training learned from 1 to 5 and to internalize it such that there is unification in heaven, earth and human. This may sound very complicated but once a student reaches there, he is near to acquiring the Dao.
As a teacher of Huang Tai Chi Quan Dao, one must first understand the background, its vision and mission, methodology, processes, peculiarities and distinctive competence. Having understood all these, step-by-step progress can then be implemented. A teacher has to lead by example and must be sincere, persevere, patient and determined to teach and not give up easily on students. He has to firmly believe that there are no un-teachable students unless the student himself gives up learning. Teaching and learning are intertwined and interconnected. While teaching others, an excellent opportunity presents itself as the teacher learns to further develop his Dao and skill. On the other hand, being irresponsible and having a self-defeating attitude do not augur well with the Dao and affects the teacher’s self-development. More importantly, if a student were to be expected to excel over his teacher, the teacher must teach his student the right path of becoming a better being. Learning tai chi involves the learning of Dao and skill and the concept of yin and yang that forms the fundamental of Dao. If one were to solely focus on the skill and ignore the Dao, one will never get very far. It is only through following the Dao that one can reach the upper echelon of the art. As a matter of fact, while teaching students, it is also a process of mutual learning and progress between the teacher and students where both parties learn from each other.
As a student of Huang Tai Chi Quan Dao, it is important to understand the background, its vision and mission, methodology, processes, peculiarities and distinctive competence. Having understood the above, a student has to take note of the advice given by the teacher and remain steadfast in the learning, bearing in mind not to attempt to learn too much too quickly. Otherwise, he will not achieve the required results. It is particularly important that a student must respect the teacher and the Dao and liken it to “when one drinks water, never forget its source.” Bear in mind that a teacher is fully dedicated to teach unless he is not up to the standard. Being a student, one has to observe the duties of a student. It is important to have confidence in one’s teacher and during training, one has to be totally devoted. According to the seniors, the way a teacher teaches depends very much on the student’s performance and attitude. If even prior to learning from the teacher, one is already suspicious of the teacher and have doubt in the training to be undergone, one is destined to fail and no one else is to be blamed for such failure. Grandmaster Huang used to draw an analogy that a student-teacher relationship is likened to that of husband and wife. When there is fundamental lack in respect and trust amongst parties it is not possible for the teacher to teach neither is it possible for the student to learn from the teacher. After all, we are all human beings and it is only through mutual trust and respect that we are able to bring out our very best.
Simplified Fundamental Training
With many years of teaching experience, I have come to terms that in order to be well-versed in tai chi, it is not sufficient to just refer to reference books or watch videos and carry out self-learning. What is important, is to have good teachers and compatriots to continuously correct and improve you so as to reach the required level of expertise. Soon, one will understand and discover the “secret within the secret.” It can be said that the method of learning fundamental training in Huang Tai Chi Quan Dao is rather simple, such that most students often tend to overlook it.
Grandmaster Huang used to say “simple method is likely to be mundane and boring. It may look stupidly simple and useless but with perseverance, this can become the most interesting, the most effective and the quickest way to success.” And that has proven to be the truth.
There is only a fine line between shortcut and long cut depending on a person’s mindset. A shortcut sounds very good but it requires a student to personally go through the process with sincerity, determination and dedication to achieve the required results.
I am happy to write this article on the invitation of Mr Samuel Kuah for the occasion of Singapore Thai-Chi Society’s 50th Anniversary. Please excuse my shortcomings in the deliberation of this article. I wish the Society a successful anniversary and continuous vibrancy in all its activities.
An article written on the occasion of the 9th International Tai Chi Huang Tournament with the 4th Tai Chi Huang Push-Hand Competition 2011 by Tai Chi Huang China Chief Instructor, Master Foong Choon Sang & translated by Len Lee Nam
At the end of August 2009 following the post-event evaluation meeting of the 8th International Tai Chi Huang Tournament hosted by the Association of Tai Chi Huang Malaysia (Jerantut Branch) in Jerantut, Pahang, Malaysia, Tai Chi Huang China was nominated to host the 9th International Tai Chi Huang Tournament. Having only been established for just over a year, Tai Chi Huang China at first declined the nomination being mindful of its many shortcomings. However, in the spirit of “Tai Chi As One Family” and in full confidence that we would receive all the support and understanding needed from fellow member organizations, instructors, and all members concerned we finally humbly accepted to host the 9th International Tai Chi Huang Tournament.
In any competition, there will be winners and losers. However, the spirit of participation and cooperation in making the event a success is paramount. We are confident that all referees will be fair in carrying out their duties and competitors will uphold the spirit of “friendship precedes competition”; such that winners will be gracious whilst losers are not disheartened, which is exemplary to future participants.
Having studied and taught tai chi for many years, I take this opportunity to share with you some of the queries raised by some students while learning Huang Tai Chi.
Questions & Answers
Q: Is hun yuan zhan zhuang, kai he jiau, song shen wu fa, etc and other basic fundamental training be considered as “warming up” exercises prior to performing the solo exercise(taiji form) in Tai Chi Huang? Can one learn all the basics in just one week?
A: Grandmaster Huang Sheng Shyan had said “basic fundamental training mentioned above can never be fully accomplished in one’s lifetime.” Hence hun yuan zhan zhuang, etc and other fundamental training are not warming up exercises but rather internal training that needs lifetime cultivation. Most people know that Tai Chi Quan is a form of internal boxing/training and internal boxing/training entails internal mobilization. One not only has to learn internal visualization (jing), qi and concentration (shen), in addition, when one practices Huang Tai Chi, the training encompasses internal mindfulness, internal song, internal movements, internal mobilization, internal nullification and internal expulsion. These basic fundamental training including hun yuan zhan zhuang is the beginning of internal training. Similarly, tai chi solo exercise, fixed step push-hand and free push-hand exercises are all internal training. Many thought hun yuan zhan zhuang, kai he jiau, song shen wu fa, etc are rather simplistic in their movements and might be completed within one week after which, one may just simply swing the arms, turn the waist, loosen some joints then continue with training in the solo exercise proper. If that is the thinking, then it will be a grave mistake. Grandmaster Huang has repeatedly said that hun yuan zhan zhuang and other basic fundamental exercises can never be accomplished within one’s lifetime. One can never achieve its highest level if hun yuan gong is absent in any of Huang Tai Chi’s form and other syllabus. It is likened to dao, the universal truth that is never-ending, ever-evolving, vast and deep. As one continues with one’s pursuit in the art, one will continue to have new discoveries. Hence Grandmaster Huang often mentioned that there are “steps within steps” and “secrets within secrets” in Huang Tai Chi.
Q: When performing push-hand training, how would one be able to push over the opponent when no force is being applied? Surely some force is required!
A: The person who asks this question has indeed answered his own question, as he is already convinced that one must use force in push-hands. Often, you will find this question among beginners but even students of tai chi with many years of experience are likely to share this sentiment due to either their lack of understanding in the principles of tai chi, their lack of confidence or they had learned the wrong method so much so that they have reached a bottleneck situation. The tai chi principles are derived by the universal law of nature and that is hardly disputable. Dao De Jing says “Nothing in the world is softer and more yielding than water. Nevertheless, among all things that can overcome the hard and the strong, none is more formidable than water and none can supplant it. Everybody knows that the soft can overcome the hard and the weak can subdue the strong but few can put these into practice.” This is to say that understanding and practice are two different things altogether. From the above, we can come to terms that the principles of tai chi and the practical effects of tai chi is the ability to enable the soft overcoming the hard. If one does not understand nor subscribe to the above concept and simply practices blindly, naturally one will not achieve the result. On the other hand, if one knows the principles but lacks confidence or is suspicious of the principles, then it is better not to learn as there will only be disappointment. If one understands the soft in overcoming the hard but does not realize that the soft has to reach to the state of supreme softness before it can turn hard, then when one only achieves a state of semi hard and soft and hurriedly tries to perform expulsion, naturally one will not succeed as that only gives rise to the use of brute force. Once a person is clear of the above, then he will realize that in push-hands, one should never use force and if one has not reached the state of thorough song but merely proactively try to push the opponent, this is a big mistake as in the situation of force versus force, the one with the greater force will prevail. If one were to push a small-built person who never used force but blamed the same person for failing to use force to counter push you, then that completely runs foul of the tai chi principle. On the other hand, if one can realize that by not being able to “push” your opponent is the result of using too much force which was then detected by the opponent which results in its nullification, then in a way, one will begin to improve. That is why Grandmaster Huang said “you improve with every fall.” In order to inculcate learning how to be song and to nullify external force when pushing, he wanted students to learn to nullify and learn to fall and not to resist in order not to fall. He said that when you are able to push over your opponent, it is not because of using force but because of the ability to touch, connect, stick and follow with the right timing, as well as the result of being extremely soft that creates hardness. The ability to execute simultaneous nullification and expulsion is not due to one standing solidly, firmly and affixing to the ground but rather the ability to become empty and the act of non-reception of external force resulting in the opponent’s force falling into a vacuum.
Q: How can one learn well in tai chi quan? What is the most important point to note?
A: In tai chi quan, the development is in both the dao and the skill, and the dao always precedes the skill. When one subscribes to the dao, the skill will follow suit.
Dao –two examples of becoming a better being:
1. Confidence and experimentation
One has to believe one hundred percent in the tai chi principles of extreme softness giving rise to hardness and absolutely believe in the teacher’s teaching; especially in song and softness. Once you know the method, you have to experiment with it. A great philosopher of the Ming Dynasty by the name of Wang Yang Ming used to say “knowledge and deed has to be in one.” When learning Huang Tai Chi, knowledge gives rise to the beginning of an action and action serves to confirm the knowledge through experimentation. Only after much experimentation will one truly realize that extreme softness gives rise to hardness. Knowing the principle and not walking the talk will never come to this realization.
“Your level of kung fu is a reflection of your being”. In this connection, the process of self-development is the key to success. Xun Zi said “those who understand I-Ching will not go for fortune telling.” I-Ching follows the Law of Nature. If everyone follows the Law of Nature and conducts oneself accordingly, there is no need to go for fortune telling as by virtue of one’s conduct, the results will follow suit. Those who do not understand I-Ching will only be interested in the results and not the process. Hence, the person will not be prepared to work hard and will take things by chance. In Huang Tai Chi, after knowing the principle of extreme softness giving rise to hardness, hence the ability of the soft overcoming the hard, one has to experiment with it through conduct. Firstly, one has to practice softness in overcoming hardness. As one follows the Law of Nature including being respectful to one’s teachers and subscribe to the Dao, always be humble and be respectful to all beings and forsake one’s ego and be magnanimous. There is also the need to practice the Four Cardinal Virtues-SI WEI (1) decorum-li (2) equity-yi (3) frugality-lian (4) sense of shame-chi, as well as the Eight Cardinal Virtues-BA DE(1) loyalty-zhong (2) fidelity-xiao 3) humanity-ren (4) benevolence-ai (5) trustworthiness-xin (6) justice-yi (7) harmony-he and (8) peace-ping. With a determination likened to Su Qin Ci Gu and Sun Jing Xianliang*, and by following the above teachings, one will achieve one’s target. On the other hand, if one lacks the proper perspective and is not prepared to work hard and merely take chances or by backstabbing others, one will never achieve one’s target. That is why Grandmaster Huang said “to learn tai chi, one has to first learn how to be a good human being.”
Skill – unification of heaven, earth and human.
Extreme softness giving rise to hardness - First learn to become soft and song.
When one is able to follow the Dao and satisfy the conditions that comply with the principles of tai chi, the unification of heaven, earth and man takes place and the result of which is extreme softness giving rise to hardness thereby enabling the soft to subdue the hard. According to Grandmaster Huang, while he was learning from Grandmaster Cheng, he was asked merely to be at the receiving end for three years; i.e. not allowed to counter attack when being attacked but merely nullify and neutralize. At times when he acted through counter attack, he was stopped by his teacher. Grandmaster Huang further explained that in push-hands, one will always remain reactive rather than proactive. But with the combination of yin and yang, it will give rise to the situation where reactive becomes proactive. This is due to cause and effect; i.e. the opponent’s cause has resulted in the effect that befalls him. To put it even more plainly, when one first learns tai chi, it will be to learn to neutralize and nullify the opponent’s force until such that the opponent is unable to push you down and your neutralization and nullification causes your opponent to lose his control. On further improvement, one learns to combine yin and yang where simultaneous nullification and expulsiontakes place rendering complete nullification of the opponent’s force unnecessary as the ability to neutralize will pre-empt the opponent from issuing his force.
It is not good enough to have a good teacher who knows how to teach and is prepared to teach. It also counts on the students who are prepared and willing to learn and follow the teachings religiously.
In combining both the dao and the skill of Huang Tai Chi, I have attempted to explain the method of learning to be completely soft and empty and to be at the receiving end until even with force your opponent is unable to push you down. Even if he did not use force, he will not be able to touch you. With this condition coupled with years of being at the receiving end and investing in loss, accumulating many experiences, an understanding of physics and the accumulation of hun yuan gong, which will enable you to be proactive while being first reactive and the whole process of overthrowing your opponent become so natural and done at ease. When this results, you will not even notice nor will you feel proud and excited as all this is just a natural process. I am writing this as I feel obliged to reveal what Grandmaster Huang has taught us. If I have mistakenly illustrated in some way, please forgive my shortcomings.
* In the quest of their pursuits, Su Qin pierced his buttocks with a sharp object whilst Sun Jing tied his hair with a rope that hung from the ceiling in order to stay awake and to be reminded of their goals and to work hard; such is the grit endured by successful personalities.
Written by Foong Choon Sang in 2010 and translated by Len Lee Nam.
It has been almost eighteen years since the passing of our beloved teacher - Grandmaster Huang Sheng Shyan. If our teacher was still alive today, he would have reached the grand old age of one hundred years and it would be so wonderful to have him continue to share with us his expertise, wisdom and experience in life!
Grandmaster Huang lived an extraordinary life which is worthy of being held in high regards by his disciples and the public at large. From the time he learned tai chi from his master – Grandmaster Cheng Man Ching and subsequently under the latter’s instruction, he had propagated the art of tai chi to Singapore and Malaysia (then still the British colonies) in the fifties. In the following three decades, he was instrumental in spreading Huang Tai Chi throughout most parts of the world. Grandmaster Huang set the noble vision of deploying the tao and exercise of tai chi for the health and well-being of mankind and he remained unwavered until his untimely death in 1992.
Huang Tai Chi continues to thrive in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei after Grandmaster’s passing. With sheer determination, disciples of Huang Tai Chi continued to propagate the teachings of their master and developed strong presences in their respective regions. Besides being well-known in Asia, Huang Tai Chi has also gained good acceptance amongst practitioners in the Western world, specifically in New Zealand, Australia, England, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, and other European nations. We are proud that there are many practitioners of Huang Tai Chi throughout most parts of the world today. Also worthy of mention is that Huang Tai Chi is gaining ground in China, its place of origin. This came about through the concerted efforts of Grandmaster Huang’s descendants and disciples in fulfilling his wish to propagate Huang Tai Chi in his place of birth. We are confident that Huang Tai Chi will one day excel in China, thus fulfilling Grandmaster Huang’s wish and ensuring that his legacy lives on.
Grandmaster Huang often stressed that one of tai chi’s cardinal precepts is “tao is of fundamental importance whilst skill is of the least.” He also placed great emphasis on the precept of “respecting the tao and respecting one’s teacher.” He equated it to the quote “when one drinks water, never lose sight of its source.” In olden days, a student had to travel thousands of miles in search of a teacher, whereas Grandmaster Huang had virtually availed himself to his students. He travelled far and wide with the spirit of propagating tai chi and in particular widely covered countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei as well as Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America. Everywhere he went, he passionately and enthusiastically disseminated his knowledge and expertise in tai chi to his students. As students of Huang Tai Chi, we are most fortunate and privileged as in addition to gaining good health and vitality through practising tai chi, we are further taught the virtues of the tao of tai chi. Henceforth, equipped with these essential ingredients, we strive towards achieving a healthier, more harmonious and better world.
Grandmaster Huang’s words of wisdom and advice continue to reverberate in our ears and his memories linger on. We are deeply indebted to our beloved teacher and continuously show our gratitude and appreciation of his teachings. On this very auspicious occasion to mark his 100th birthday, we gathered our members and Grandmaster Huang’s compatriots throughout the world in commemoration and reminiscence of Grandmaster Huang. We pledge to continue with his vision of “Tai Chi as One Family” and to fulfill his wish of propagating the tao and art of tai chi for the betterment of health and well-being of mankind.
TAI CHI AS ONE FAMILY
Written by Foong Choon Sang and translated by Len Lee Nam.
• The legacy of Grandmaster Huang Sheng Shyan “Tai Chi As One Family” lives on
• Historical revelation of the propagation by Grandmaster Huang Sheng Shyan with regard to the betterment of mankind is to be reckoned with
• The expertise and knowledge in tai chi by Grandmaster Huang Sheng Shyan is to be further propagated
Grandmaster Huang Sheng Shyan had sixty eight years of martial arts experience, of which he spent thirty six years outside China propagating the art of tai chi.
He set the vision of “Tai Chi As One Family” based on the cardinal precept of Tao as fundamental whilst skill be given least regard. With this vision, he longed for a healthy, caring and harmonious society. Grandmaster Huang’s missionary endeavour has moved many followers who shared his compliance in traditional Chinese values and his expertise in tai chi. With sheer determination and charisma together with the help of his students and the public at large, many tai chi schools were established and branches of the Association of Tai Chi Huang Malaysia were set up in different states in Malaysia. Also established were tai chi schools in Singapore, Brunei, and New Zealand. Dedicated buildings used for the practice of tai chi were either owned or secured through long term tenancy agreements. All these set a firm footing in the propagation of tai chi.
Despite his death in 1992, disciples of Grandmaster Huang continued with his methods of teaching and remained steadfast in further propagating Huang Tai Chi throughout the world. Descendants of Grandmaster Huang who are deeply touched by the loyalty and propriety of his disciples have taken a leading role in the spread of Huang Tai Chi in China. The second son of Grandmaster Huang, Shu Chao, started Huang’s Tai Chi Research Centre in Fuzhou while his elder son, Shu Lin’s children Rui and Chuan Wu established Huang Tai Chi Centre in Shenzhen in 2008 and dedicated a building with full facilities for the practice of tai chi. Also established is Kylin Culture Communication Co. Ltd whose objectives are to conduct research, disseminate information and further the development of Huang Tai Chi in China. Huang Tai Chi Centre in Fuzhou is also set up to cater for the needs of local tai chi enthusiasts and Grandmaster Huang’s Memorial Hall stationed in Fuzhou is in the final stage of completion.
Grandmaster Huang often stressed “your level in tai chi is a reflection of your personality.” In other words, the better you are as a person, the better would be your understanding and learning of tai chi. It is imperative to have good disposition and be respectful to your compatriots and the latter will reciprocate, thus fostering the situation of “being in a family”. With the extension of this concept to practitioners of tai chi of different schools and styles, the vision of “Tai Chi As One Family” is cultivated. If different countries are to share the same concept of mutual respect, the world will be more peaceful and harmonious. History has taught us these yearnings cannot be attained in a short span of time, not even in one generation. It would instead require conscious and concerted efforts by all to continue to implement the concept and hopefully, this will become reality one day. We are committed to continue with Grandmaster Huang’s vision albeit mindful of the challenges ahead. We may be just a drop in the ocean; at the same time we have lost the pillar of strength caused by the passing of our teacher, nevertheless, we will strive on and remain unperturbed in our pursuit. Let us not be disheartened nor wavered in our mission. As the sage once said, “to love another, one must first love oneself” and “to uplift another, one must first be uplifted.” Based on these sayings, we must lead by example. Only by going through the process ourselves will we be able to share our experience with others and rejoice with them on their success.
Before conducting a proper tai chi class, Grandmaster Huang would normally give a lecture on the pertinence of the ways of becoming a better person. Some of his students failed to comprehend the relevance of his deeds as they were there solely to learn tai chi. Grandmaster Huang was aware of their thoughts and attempted to inculcate in them the values of traditional Chinese culture. Amongst the essentials emphasised by Grandmaster Huang were: The Four Cardinal Virtues-SI WEI (1) decorum-li (2) equity-yi (3) frugality-lian (4) shame-chi; The Eight Cardinal Virtues-BA DE which includes the four above mentioned plus (5) fidelity-xiao (6) respect-ti (7) loyalty-zhong and (8) trustworthiness-xin (The Eight Cardinal Virtues may also be referred as (1) loyalty-zhong (2) fidelity-xiao 3) humanity-ren (4) benevolence-ai (5) trustworthiness-xin (6) justice-yi (7) harmony-he and (8) peace-ping); The Three Bonds-SAN GANG (1) Sovereign and courtier-jun cheng (2) father and son-fu zi (3) husband and wife-fu fu; Five Human Relations-WU LUN (1) sovereign and courtier-jun cheng (2) father and son-fu zi (3) husband and wife-fu fu (4) elder and younger brothers-xiong di (5) friends-peng you; Five Constant-WU CHANG (1) humanity-ren (2) justice-yi (3) decorum-li (4) wisdom-zhi (5) trustworthiness-xin. Grandmaster Huang exposed these virtues to his students hoping that they would help to shape their characters and uplift their moral, thus transforming them into better individuals.
Grandmaster Huang often taught us to strive towards betterment of ourselves by first understanding the Tao and then learning the skills of tai chi. By doing so, both mind and body are strengthened. He further cautioned his students to be grateful to the teacher and not to forget their roots. Students who show respect and decorum to their teachers and serve their teachers as if they were their fathers, would accordingly be guided and taught full-heartedly by their teachers. Grandmaster Huang further advised his students to observe the Cardinal Virtues when dealing with each other.
Grandmaster Huang in his quest to achieving his vision of “Tai Chi As One Family” advised all his students to start the practice at home. Only when they are able to do that will they be able to convince others to follow suit. With regard to the doctrine of respecting one’s teacher, it is paramount that a student should respect his instructor, even though he may surpass or have surpassed his instructor in the level of tai chi skills. A student should never be ungrateful to his teacher. As the saying goes, in ancient China under the imperial examination system, it was possible to have a student who succeeded in becoming an optimus (zhuang yuan) but one will never find an optimus serving as a teacher. In other words, it is perfectly normal and gladdening that a student should out-perform his teacher provided that the student observes his duties to his teacher; for were it not for his teacher, who had taught him selflessly and full-heartedly, he would not have achieved the desired results. If students and instructors alike are to observe the teachings propounded by Grandmaster Huang in accordance with traditional Chinese wisdom and virtues, the propagation of tai chi will most certainly continue to thrive.
On this very auspicious occasion to mark Grandmaster Huang Sheng Shyan’s 100th Birthday, let us join hands in our endeavour to be “in one family”, and aim towards achieving the vision of “Tai Chi As One Family”. Together we strive for a peaceful and harmonious society and a better world.
Footnote: Optimus (zhuang yuan) refers to the highest qualification attained in the ancient Chinese Imperial examination system. An optimus will usually be honoured by the Emperor and given one the highest posts in the country and also serve as an advisor to the Emperor. There are historical cases where optimus were made sons-in-law of the Emperor. Needless to say an optimus will not only bring fame and glory to himself but also to his family, clan, birth place, his whole village, district, county, province, and be known in the whole country. Such were the ramifications of an optimus. Given such status, one would never find an optimus serving as a teacher, however an optimus like any other ordinary citizen needed to be groomed and taught by his teacher of whom he was indebted.
“QI GEN ZAI JIAO, FA YU TUI, ZHU ZAI YU YAO, XING HU SHOU ZHI”
- THE ROOTING LIES IN THE FEET, EXECUTE VIA THE LEGS, MANOEUVRE
THROUGH THE WAIST, AND MANIFEST AT THE FINGERS
“ZHAO DI SHENG GEN”- IN-SITU ROOTING WHILE GROUNDING
“HUN YUAN GONG FA”- FUNCTIONALITIES OF ‘HUN YUAN’ TRAINING
Written by Foong Choon Sang and translated by Len Lee Nam
Mr Chairman, Honorary Elders, Fellow Compatriots, Ladies and Gentlemen, a very good afternoon to all of you. It is with great honour that I am invited to share my little knowledge of tai chi with you and I stand corrected.
My topic of discussion this afternoon is centred around the fundamental training taught by Grandmaster Huang (GMH). These are “hun yuan zhan zhuang (HYZZ)”, “kai he jiao (KHJ)”, “song sheng wu fa (SSWF)”, “taiji quan jia (TJQJ)”, “ding bu he tui (DBHT)”, “huo bu he tui (HBHT)” and “zhao di sheng gen fa (ZDSGF)”.
The Tai Chi Classics states that when issuing jing (explosive force), the sequence is “rooting in the feet, execute via the legs, manoeuvre through the waist and manifest at the fingers”. Thus the primary foundation lies in the feet and the emphasis is on being rooted whenever one attempts to issue jing. If one were to watch the video of GMH in his younger days, it was obvious and true that his ability then was more in the issuance of jing rather than nullifying or neutralizing forces of his opponents. At that time, many thought that this was due to him being stout and his background in bai he (white crane boxing) coupled with the song which he attained through the practice of tai chi. They further maintained that GMH’s ability then was derived not entirely from the training of tai chi per se.
However, when GMH was in his seventies, students who had not “pushed hand” with him on a regular basis, some even for as long as two decades, remarked that irrespective of whether GMH was standing or sitting, it was difficult to locate his ‘centre point’. Hence, they were unable to push him off balance. At times when they appeared to be successful in locating GMH’s ‘centre point’, the moment just dissipated and they were unable to apply force and were being flung away in a split second. Many could not understand where the force which threw them originated from and were awed by the fact that even when GMH was seated on a four-wheeled chair with both feet suspended in air, he still managed to nullify and neutralize external forces and issue jing with such precision and ease. Hence, the question arose: wouldn’t that contradict the Tai Chi Classics mentioned earlier whereby jing is rooted at the feet or is there an explanation that may account for this phenomenon?
To answer this, we will have to trace back to the martial arts background of GMH, who has had wide exposure to different styles of Chinese martial arts. He learned bai he, luo han and tai chi amongst others. He also exchanged experience with many contemporary martial artists at that time. He had practical experience in combating and sparring and had taken part in competitions whereby he was challenged by exponents of bai he, tai zu quan, ji fa quan, long hu zhuan, wrestling, and iron fist. He further researched into and gained good understanding in other styles of martial arts, including zi ran men, xing yi, and ba gua and came to the conclusion that basically there are two broad categories of martial arts training; external form and internal form. The external form of training places great emphasis on the usage of force and strength of the practitioner. The disadvantage of this form of training is that when one is old and weak, one will be at the mercy of the young and strong. Even if one is strong, one cannot match a stronger party with external form of training. By countering force with force, it can only cause injuries to both parties. In this form of training, one will not achieve the desired effect of the weak overcoming the strong and those of smaller-build defeating the bigger-sized opponent. On the other hand, the internal form of training gives due emphasis in internal development which conforms to the laws of nature. The method focuses on concentration which facilitates the smooth flow of chi aided by nimble and soft, yet uninterrupted and well connected movements. When encountering external force, one yields rather than engages head-on. This is likened to being one’s opponent’s shadow without counteracting nor abandoning one’s opponent but always following and sticking onto him. With such practice, the soft will be equipped to counter the forceful. This method of training does the body no harm, instead it actually strengthens it thus giving rise to better health and aids longevity.
GMH became enlightened when he met his master, Great Grandmaster Cheng Man Ching. Despite his strength and martial arts background, GMH was totally impressed by his small-sized master. From then on, GMH wholeheartedly adhered to Great Grandmaster Cheng’s advice and placed great emphasis in yielding and staying song instead of deploying force in his manoeuvres with his opponents. In addition, he was told by Great Grandmaster Cheng to experience and accept defeat with an open heart. Only when he had accustomed to all these, would he reach the stage where his movements became spontaneous, defence mechanism synchronized with the ability to reverse a situation from being reactive to proactive, and develop the capability of transforming from a disadvantaged position to an empowering one. With this, he was in total control of any situation.
Through research and practical experimentation, GMH formulated the fundamental training which he reckoned would enable his students to reach the stage of total control. The sequence of training is HYZZ, KHJ, SSWF, TJQJ, DBHT, HBHT and ZDSGF (relevant notes to the first 3 sets of training have been handed out to those who attended the 11th and 12th Instructors Training Courses conducted in 1991 at Seremban, Malaysia). The above sets of training are inter-connected and have to be practised in totality to achieve the desired effect of being in total control.
HUN YUAN ZHAN ZHUANG (HYZZ)
GMH included HYZZ as the necessary teaching syllabus in his twilight years and placed it as first on the list of the required training. He reckoned that beginners in tai chi should be given the right perspective from the onset as they are most likely and willing to comply with these requirements. With proper instructions and explanatory notes, students learn to practice the utilization of yi to direct the flow of chi up and down repetitiously in set patterns while in the state of tranquility. In so doing, students learn to be song and yield at various parts of the anatomy.
The up and down movements enable the practitioner to appreciate expansion and contraction, extension and retraction of body parts which help to develop foundation in softness, flexibility, lightness, song and ‘emptiness’. With ardent and consistent practice, the practitioner will then be able to cultivate the continuous flow of chi and move towards the development of hung yuan gong. After going through different stages in the hung yuan gong from being in the state of entropy and oblivion hun dun to the state of mindfulness with defined execution hun yuan and to the state of defined completion hun yuan, it would enable the body to develop internal song, internal mobilization, internal generation, internal neutralization/nullification, and internal expulsion. The internal changes in the body are so subtle, spontaneous and connected that nullification and expulsion are instantaneous which GMH termed “ONE”. Under this circumstance, there is yin embedded in yang and vice versa, thus allowing the person to be in full control of any given situation.
KAI HE JIAU (KHJ)
This training is aimed at instilling in students the differentiation of substantiality and insubstantiality which is necessary in the practice of advancing and retreating of footwork. The inter-changeability of substantiality and insubstantiality is essential for a practitioner to be agile and nimble while changing stance and in various movements be it in solo exercise or in ‘push hands’ training. It is also an essential training for developing and inculcating the reflexes as when the left side is substantial, it is insubstantial at the same time. Thus, if any part on the left side of the body is encountering an external force (substantial), the same side is quickly turned insubstantial and the same principle applies to the right side of the body.
SONG SHEN WU FA (SSWF)
In this training, the practitioner directs yi when performing extension and retraction of arms, turning of hips and waist, up and down movements of the anatomy including leaning forward and backward of torso resulting in the entire human ligaments, cartilage and joints including the neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, fingers, waist, hips, knees, ankles, soles, toes becoming ‘song’ while in a standing position.
TAIJI QUAN JIA (TJQJ)
The first three sets of training are performed while in a stationary position. According to GMH, it is difficult for beginners to learn TJQJ (solo exercise) without having gone through the fundamental training (HYZZ, KHJ and SSWF) as it would not be easy to remember the steps while being in concentration and remaining song at the same time. In fact, TJQJ is an extension of the fundamental training in HYZZ, KHJ and SSWF. After one is able to attain some degree of calmness and concentration, directing of yi, appreciation of opening/closing, maintenance of body central equilibrium, substantiality/insubstantiality, contraction/expansion, extension/retraction, relaxation/loosening of muscles, joints, turning of hips and waist, etc., the practice of TJQJ is made easier with the abovementioned prerequisites.
TJQJ also requires movements of stance, be it left or right, forward or backward. These extensive movements add to the difficulties and usually a student will experience diminution of the hun yuan gong in the solo exercise vis-à-vis the first three basic sets of training mentioned earlier. Thus, the objectives of the solo exercise are to achieve uninterrupted continuous linkages and the sustenance of hun yuan gong while in extensive movements and with changing of positions.
DING BU, HUO BU HE TUI (DB,HBHT)
The requirement set forth by GMH in ‘push hands’ is in he tui. Through he tui, practitioners learn the ability to simultaneously retreat, nullify and counteract, extend and retract at will. Also, it aims to enable practitioners to develop ‘listening’ skill through adhering, connecting, sticking, following, neither losing sight nor resisting external force of one’s practicing partner. He tui is an extension of HYZZ, KHJ, SSWF and TJQJ. The ultimate aim is to achieve the ability to simultaneously nullify and expel, to emphasize the importance of developing the capability to nullify and neutralize. GMH termed the stage used for ‘push hands’ as hua fa tai to remind practitioners to first neutralize and nullify one’s opponent’s force before the latter can be effectively expelled by the combination of the opponent’s and one’s own force.
In ding bu he tui, all the prerequisites attained such as the degree of song, sensitivity of listening, reactive capability of hun yuan gong are greatly diminished during huo bu he tui. It is not surprising then to note that many who practise ‘push hands’ are reluctant to move their footwork but would rather stay put with both feet firmly rooted on the ground because due to lack of coordination in yi and movements, they will easily be pushed over by the opponent. Through huo bu he tui, such situations can be rectified with the ability of becoming automatic and reflective thus one will not be pushed off easily. GMH emphasized that in the process of learning ding hu and huo bu he tui, it is important not to use brute force as it contradicts tai chi principles and he tui is never meant for competition. If at all there is a need to compete, it would have served the purpose if it is based on song and not force.
ZHAO DI SHENG GEN FA (ZDSGF)
This can be considered as GMH’s summation and crystallization of all that he learnt. To achieve this, one has to revisit the earlier training exercises over and over again and internalize all essentials required in them. With the ever continuity of chi, the exponent does not reveal any form nor stance and yet is able to confront any situation at will. With deep concentration, neutralization and nullification become automatic, and intensive training is no longer necessary, whilst improvement becomes a natural and gradual process. One would notice that GMH was always mobile in his footwork which was never affixed to the ground when performing ‘push hands’. With full concentration and in total relaxation, coupled with the utilization of yi directing chi, GMH’s movements were lightest, most agile and most sensitive, and yet so natural and complete, that his opponent was being thrown out without being aware of what transpired. It may look rather simple on the surface but it was caused by GMH’s ability to be nimble and with body parts staying connected. With constant motion in executing zhao di sheng geng in split seconds, the issuance of jing could quickly dissipate and accumulate at will and this process repeated manifold goes unnoticed by his opponent. All this come about as a result of internal changes taking place naturally.
When GMH performed ‘push hands’ while seated, he actually utilized hun yuan gong. Hun yuan refers to the ever flowing of chi. From being in the state of oblivion and entropy to the state of mindfulness with defined execution to the state of defined completion, GMH was utilizing yi to direct chi which provided continuous and connected movements in muscles and joints. When external force is being directed to one part of the body, the body will react in situ and in toto. With this, GMH was able to issue jing despite not having both feet resting on the ground. This explains the question posed at the start of the talk.
GMH stressed that there is no easy way to success; everything goes back to basics, and fundamental training is of prime importance. Nothing can substitute practice and students were reminded of the absolute determination shown by Su Qin as in Su Qin ci gu and Sun Jing as in Sun Jing xian liang in ancient China. In the quest of their pursuits, Su Qin pierced his buttocks with a sharp object whilst Sun Jing tied his hair with a rope that hung from the ceiling in order to stay awake and to be reminded of their goals and to work hard; such were the grit endured by successful personalities. Of the twelve Instructors Training Courses conducted by GMH, virtually all of them were centred on the training of fundamental exercises mentioned above. On occasions when he taught us the solo exercise, he stopped at the first subset of the 37 Form. He maintained that if one achieves x% in one’s fundamental training (HYZZ, KHJ, and SSWF), then one’s TJQJ will likewise be at x% at the most. So it is pointless to be concerned with the number of tai chi forms to be learned.
We are extremely fortunate and privileged as in his twilight years, GMH often visited us in Tenom, Sabah, Malaysia. He was so eager and generous to share with us his knowledge especially in ‘push hands’ that even before the class ended, he would ask for a chair and sit at the centre of the association hall waiting to ‘push hands’ with us. He used to remark that if all of us still adopt a lackadaisical attitude, it would be too late for him to disseminate his knowledge to us. I was especially touched by the care and kindness showered upon us and made sure that whenever GMH visited us, I would take leave and spend time with him including having breakfast, lunch and dinner with him during his entire visit. I did not expect to have learned much but merely to oblige GMH so as not to disappoint him. Whenever we have ‘push hand’ sessions, I would attempt to figure out what was in GMH’s mind. He would usually joke with me and ask “Why can’t you nullify my hand?” and my usual answer would be “You are so good that you stick and adhere to me that I can’t neutralize, not even one of your movements” and the ‘old man’ would laugh heartily. The sessions went on….. Whenever I reflect on the situation, I can’t help but reminisce over these fond memories and I will forever treasure them.
A lot has been said, still I am incapable of nullifying one movement! I may not have met with your expectation but I have endeavoured to share with you my experience. Let’s hope that the expertise of GMH will be in succession and his spirit of propagating the Tao and art of tai chi will continue to live on forever.
Written by Foong Choon Sang & translated by Len Lee Nam
In June 1975 at the age of 65, Grandmaster Huang Sheng Shyan, accompanied by the former President of Sabah Tai Chi Association, Mr Kok Peng Fui, at the invitation of the former Chairman of Tenom Tai Chi Association, Mr Ng Kim Guan et al arrived in Tenom, Sabah to spread the tao and art of tai chi. From 5 June 1983 (aged 73) until 22 August 1991 (aged 81), Grandmaster Huang (GMH) conducted twelve International Instructors’ Training Courses. The respective venues were at Tenom & Kuching in Malaysia, Taiwan, and Kuala Lumpur & Seremban in Malaysia. I attended eleven out of twelve such courses. Of course, the number of training courses attended may not necessarily correlate and correspond with the level of understanding of tai chi. As GMH often remarked after each course “you see not and hear not”, hence I do not profess that what I am about to share with you is verbatim of GMH’s teachings. Although I have tried to recall as much as what was being taught by GMH, it merely represents my understanding during these courses.
Basic training of ‘song’ – Hun Yuan Zhan Zhuang (HYZZ)
Of the twelve Instructors’ Training Courses conducted by GMH, the emphasis was always centered on the basic training of ‘song’ viz HYZZ. Before attending the courses, many of the trainees having already attained high levels of expertise be it in tai chi or other martial arts, had reservations as to why they had to undergo the training of ‘song’ and were not taught the technique and secret of ‘fa jing’ i.e. expulsion of one’s opponent using trained internal forces. Such simplistic movements in the training of ‘song’ could have been easily learned within days; why place such great emphasis on it, so they thought.
External training – hands/arms movements & technique
Internal training – inner articulation & understanding
As class monitor and GMH’s immediate assistant of the many training courses, in order to clear this doubt, I unabashedly asked GMH, “Master, could you teach us the secret of ‘fa jing’?” I was expecting a tongue lashing from GMH but to my surprise, he smiled and answered, “Your question represents those of all others. The only difference is you posed the question while others chose to remain silent.” He further added, “I have repeatedly taught all of you the secret of ‘fa jing’.” Everybody disagreed but none dared to dispute with GMH. He appeared to have noted our discontent and said, “all of you have learned tai chi for many years and each of you has attained a certain degree of expertise and level of understanding depending on your individual efforts. In terms of technique, especially in the external form of using hands and arms movements to deflect your opponent's attack and overcome him, all these I need not teach you. The reason I keep repeating and teaching you the basics is to instill in all of you internal training which encompasses inner understanding and internal articulation. With this, you are able to counter the hard with the soft, thereby allowing the weak to overcome the strong.”
Discharged or ‘flat’ battery
GMH further said, “In tai chi, one has to progress from practicing the external form to achieving internal articulation and from internal articulation to external manifestation.” If one were to utilize mere hands/arms movements and technique without internal understanding and articulation, one will have no match against an opponent who is equipped with internal understanding and articulation. Without internal articulation, it is likened to a ‘flat’ battery which although has in it the physical form but without the capacity to generate electricity, thus is incapable of discharging the functions of a battery. In tai chi, if one were to practice mere external hands/arms movements, the form is an empty form and without substance. How then would one be able to develop ‘song’ thoroughly and have the ability to nullify and neutralize and simultaneously expulse instantaneously, automatically and naturally? If you recognize these linkages, you will not find it boring to practice HYZZ. With perseverance, what appears to be monotonous and uninteresting in a step-by-step way of training is in fact the most effective and quickest way to achieving ‘song’. Internal articulation includes internal mindfulness, internal ‘song’, internal mobilization, internal nullification and neutralization, and internal expulsion. How would one then train in internal articulation? The training requires full awareness and concentration to stimulate and align all the body parts to achieve thorough ‘song’ and relaxation resulting in the synchrony of internal articulation and external manifestation. Hence, every movement is not merely physical but premeditated as a result of internal articulation and yet executed naturally.
Internal Training – ‘magnanimity/tranquility’, ‘letting go’, ‘lack of confidence’, ‘arrogance’, ‘suspicion’, ‘jealousy’, ‘blame’, ‘vengeance’
In fact, ‘Song Wu Zhi Jing’ or Infinite ‘Song’ is never monotonous nor boring. It only appears boring when one has not discovered the joy of ‘song’. The joy of ‘song’ lies in the ability in letting go. One will be most happy when one is able to let go. When there is joy, life will neither be monotonous nor boring. Of course, letting go is a lifelong learning process and ‘song’ is an infinite process.
GMH related the teaching of tai chi to the knowledge of physiology, physics and psychology. If a student does not display magnanimity and attain tranquility, he will not even pass the initial physiological stage in tai chi. For example, the prerequisites of learning tai chi are mindfulness and total relaxation which every practitioner of tai chi seems to agree. However, when it comes to pushing hands, as a result of not being ‘song’ and in order to ‘save face’ of not being pushed over or thrown off balance, one will struggle and use brute force, and blame the opponent resulting in an ‘eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ situation and exchange of force. Time passes quickly; one may have been learning tai chi for five years, ten years or twenty years and yet still use brute force in attempting to outdo the opponent and lose sight of learning true ‘song’. With such attitude, GMH retorted that without being magnanimous and at peace with oneself, it is difficult to attain ‘song’ and progress in tai chi is thus limited. The greatest enemies of not achieving tranquility and letting go in a student are lack of confidence, arrogance, suspicion, jealousy, quick to blame and vengeance.
‘Personality and way of life as a function of tai chi learning’, ‘rid one’s weaknesses and adopt others’ strengths’, ‘guidance to the route and door of tai chi’
Following the above discussion, the greatest enemy is oneself. On the other hand, letting go is the best method of achieving tranquility and training in ‘song’. GMH always reminded us to be mindful of the fact that arrogance will bring calamity whilst humility will bring benefits. He also advised us to be cognizant and get rid of our weaknesses, adopt and benefit from other people’s strengths and the fact that one’s level in tai chi is a reflection of one’s personality and way of life. These words of wisdom aim at directing us in becoming ‘song’ and the proper route to tai chi. Indeed, the learning of ‘song’ is the learning of becoming a better human being. Hence, one should avoid being arrogant, suspicious, jealous, quick to blame and revengeful. By getting rid of these negativities and developing a positive outlook in life, one will be on the right path to becoming ‘song’. GMH cited that if one places self at the centre of the universe and is self-righteous, biased, prejudiced and jealous even to the extent of demeaning others, with false pretence of understanding/knowing but is in fact ignorant, or with little knowledge and understanding but holding out as an expert, it is likened to building a castle in a vacuum and defeats the adage of ridding one’s weaknesses and adopting others’ strengths. With such negative attitudes, how would one be shown the route and the door to tai chi? GMH compared the relationship of a student and teacher with that of husband and wife. He reckoned that if there is no mutual understanding and if there is lack of feelings and trust in a teacher/student relationship, it is impossible for the teacher to teach nor for the student to learn.
‘See not, hear not’ and ‘pride & ego’
GMH used to remark that what he has said or demonstrated, we probably ‘see not, hear not’. Some students felt indignant over the remark and a blow to the ego for they had listened intensely to the master and observed him attentively. Here, the ego of a person plays a major role in the learning process. Every student has his or her own notion and is usually self opinionated. The way we see and interpret things is influenced to a large extent by our own prejudices and level of comprehension and preconceived ideas resulting in misinterpretation of actual situations. Most students thought that after being shown by GMH and asked to repeat the same steps, they could achieve at least 70% accuracy but due to the degree of ‘song’ and the level of comprehension, they were unable to decipher the fine movements that go with the steps. Upon correction by GMH, they soon discovered that there was a big gap or difference between what they first thought and what was required of them. If a person is egoistic and too proud and embarrassed to be corrected, then he will never progress. If his mistakes are not pointed out by the teacher and fellow colleagues for fear of him ‘losing face’, then according to GMH, “I’m sorry, you are ‘running on the spot’.”
‘In the eyes of GMH, you are forever wrong’, ‘your every practice is wrong’, ‘with every correction, you are still wrong’
In the eyes of GMH, you are forever wrong. Since you are wrong, you would have taken steps to correct yourself. Hence, your level of expertise is raised. If you are prepared to be corrected, obviously you will face more challenges and continue to make mistakes along the process. With further correction of the mistakes made, you continue to upgrade yourself. That is why GMH remarked that your every practice is wrong and with every correction, you are still wrong. From my experience with GMH, I have come to the conclusion that he rarely paid compliments to his students. The reason being it may backfire. According to GMH, he had come across many students with good potential. However, after being praised or being awarded in some championships, some have become arrogant or complacent or could not accept defeat so much so that they ended up ‘running on the spot’ i.e. not progressing. GMH would place great emphasis on students who are sincere and conscientious as he reckoned that success cannot be achieved without sincerity and knowledge will not be obtained without effort in learning. With sincerity and perseverance, a student will not leave any stone unturned which is a prerequisite to success in tai chi. Hence, the emphasis by GMH on the quality of students rather than the quantity in the Courses conducted by him.
‘Thousands of miles in search of a teacher’, ‘hundred thousands of miles in search of a student’
In olden days, a student has to travel thousands of miles in search of a teacher. But GMH even travelled more extensively in search of his students. Great Grandmaster Cheng Man Ching once said, “You would have failed in the tao if you come across the right candidate and had not taught him properly; you would have done an injustice to society if you had taught someone with bad character and ill intentions”. Obviously, a teacher would like all his students to be of good character. With changing times and society, the aim of propagating tai chi is now focused on fostering health and well being among mankind. Therefore, GMH’s teachings had cut across boundaries and were not limited to selection of candidates but rather spread across all levels of society and to all who would be interested in learning. GMH further commented that in olden days, hermits seldom disseminate their expertise to those who were interested to learn as they felt that if the latter were not absolutely determined, they would be wasting not only their effort and time but that of their teachers’. It would then be better if these potential learners spent the equivalent of time and effort to pursue other endeavours which were more fruitful.
‘Improve with every fall’
‘Neutralization by arms is inferior to neutralization by body’, ‘neutralization by body is inferior to neutralization by changing of stance’
‘Learning tai chi is difficult enough while teaching tai chi is even more difficult’
GMH’s emphasis of push hand in tai chi is to yield through non-acceptance of external force and to be able to ‘song’ thoroughly. It follows therefore that in push hand competitions, the judging should be based on the student’s ability to be ‘song’. When a student used force to push over another student, GMH would tell the former that he has a lot of strength and to the latter that he is still not ‘song’ enough. On the surface, the praise seems to have been given to the former student who used force. In actual fact he has failed as he has gotten the right answer for the wrong question. The emphasis here is to learn to become ‘song’ and not use force. No matter how forceful or how far apart his opponent has been thrown as a result of the use of force and not the result of ‘song’, his score was still zero.
GMH added that neutralization by arms movements was inferior compared to that of neutralization by the body and neutralization by the body is inferior to that of neutralization by changing of stance. If a student falls every time he is being pushed but once he is able to neutralize such force, he will not be pushed over any longer. The person who uses force who initially was able to push over his opponent soon realizes the ineffectiveness of using force and would then decide to practice ‘song’. However, it is important to realize that it will take some time for the same person to unlearn his method before he can start learning to practice ‘song’. In this respect, it would be better for him to learn to practice ‘song’ at the very onset. The above incident indicates that there are three methods in learning tai chi: (1) method with little effort but with resounding results (2) irrelevant method (3) method with much effort but with meager results.
The standard of placing ‘song’ as the main criteria in tai chi by GMH could be illustrated in an incident when I was accompanying him to one of the functions. A fellow compatriot asked GMH why he was not hosting a tai chi pushing hand competition. GMH merely shook his head. When probed further, he sighed and said, “If I am made an umpire, I would judge the one who used force and remained upright as the loser, while the one who nullified and neutralized but fell onto the ground as the winner. Could you then picture the consequence?” GMH continued, “Learning tai chi is difficult whilst teaching tai chi is even much more difficult.”
‘Physiology’, body ‘song’
When one is able to achieve tranquility and being magnanimous when dealing with others, then one is ready to learn tai chi starting from the physiological standpoint. With the various training undergone in loosening and relaxation of physical body joints, muscles and ligaments as well as the right mental attitudes, one is thus conditioned to the prerequisites of the practice of tai chi. Armed with the knowledge and theory of physics and psychology, one would then be able to put tai chi into application. GMH said that while in training, the body has to be first conditioned to be “relaxed and soft” and then to be “‘song’ and nimble”. Both these sets are interdependent and interconnected for tai chi to be in application. If one is “‘song’ and nimble” but not “relaxed and soft”, it is impossible for simultaneous neutralization and expulsion to take effect, as without being “relaxed and soft”, it is then ‘hard’ and hardness causes blockage in mindfulness concentration and chi flow along the meridians. On the other hand, when one is “relaxed and soft” but not “‘song’ and nimble”, it can only result in neutralization without expulsion as being soft is likened to dough with only absorption property. Concentration, mindfulness and chi do not reach the fingers and the toes and there is no expulsion property in this situation. Thus, being “relaxed and soft” and “‘song’ and nimble” are interdependent for successful execution. Equipped with these attributes, the whole body will be able to react and yield through non-acceptance of external force and be able to neutralize and expulse simultaneously and have the capability of countering hardness with softness. When one has reached this stage, one’s learning in tai chi becomes relatively easy.
‘Spring’, ‘automatic’, ‘timing’, ‘one & two’
Once a person is thoroughly ‘song’, the human body will naturally possess ‘song’ and springy properties and the ability to absorb (neutralize) and release (expulse), extend and retract naturally. With the aforementioned properties, one must look for the right time for execution which can be achieved through the knowledge of physics. GMH did not speak English yet he was able to utter a few words like ‘spring’, ‘automatic’, ‘timing’, ‘one & two’. At the right occasions, such words came out of his mouth naturally. Thus, one can appreciate the importance these words meant to him and his ability to relate these words in the practical approach to tai chi.
‘Spring’ refers to the ability to yield through non-acceptance of external force with elasticity.
‘Automatic’ refers to natural reaction.
‘Timing’ refers to the right opportunity in commanding position.
‘One & two’ refers to time lag and delayed action. GMH reckoned that you should have only ‘one’ which means neutralization and expulsion is done simultaneously and instantaneously.
The above explanation fulfills the prerequisites of tai chi in conformance with the Law of Nature. The ability to counter hard with soft in a commanding position and simultaneous neutralization and expulsion instantaneously whilst reacting in totality were the results of the application of the theory of tai chi.
GMH had certainly achieved a high standard in the tao and art of tai chi. He was also far sighted, as back in the 1970s he mooted the vision of “Tai Chi As One Family”. With this vision, it has successfully united many followers with the setting up of many branches and association buildings throughout Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Australasia and other parts of the world for the spread of tai chi; a feat which few can match. It is with the hope that followers of Huang Tai Chi will uphold the cardinal precepts of “when one drinks water, never lose sight of its source” and together in unity continue to propagate and carry on with the legacy of GMH towards a healthier, more harmonious and peaceful world.
Extract from: Cheng Man-ch'ing and Robert W. Smith. ‘T’ai Chi. The “Supreme Ultimate” Exercise for Health, Sport, and Self Defense’. Tuttle Publishing 2004, pages 101-105.
We sat and the master smiled. I had been told that he might answer questions if he was in the mood. “If you hit a bell with a pebble,” he said, “you will get a small sound. If you hit it with a mallet you will achieve a large sound. Similarly, if you ask me big questions, you will get big answers.” The onus squarely where it should be, I began.
STUDENT: In most fighting arts, students have invariably approached and surpassed the achievements of their teachers. Why is it that none of your pupils approach you? Indeed, irrespective of how rapidly some have progressed, all of them fall far below your level. What is the secret?
MASTER: You are right, there is a secret. But it is so simple as to be unbelievable. Its nature insists that you believe, that you have faith; otherwise you will fail. The secret is simply this: you must relax body and mind totally. You must be prepared to accept defeat repeatedly and for a long period; you must “invest in loss” - otherwise you will never succeed. I succeeded to my present state because I pushed pride aside and believed my master’s words. I relaxed my body and stilled my mind so that only ch’i, flowing at the command of my mind, remained. Initially, this brought many bruises and defeats. In fact, in some matches I was pushed so hard that I lost consciousness. But I persisted. I followed my teacher by listening to and heeding my ch’i. In crushing defeat, I forgot anxiety, pride, ego. By emptying myself I gave the full field to ch’i. Gradually my technique improved. Then, and then only, did my responses sharpen so that neutralizing and countering were the work of a moment. My students either do not believe in this path or, if they do, they do not pursue it eagerly enough.
STUDENT: You make it all sound so easy. If the mind is “right” and the body relaxed, then progress must come, you say. But what of sheer hard work, regular practice, unremitting labor?
MASTER: To reach mastery one must have recourse to the things you mention; one must work hard and never leave off daily practice. But we must be careful lest we make the work of T’ai-chi synonymous with that of Shao-lin. The latter generally is muscle, power, and perspiration smothering the mind. T’ai-chi, however, asks that you work with its principles always in mind. It is not enough to allot an hour or two daily for practice; the practice itself must be done correctly. Otherwise, it is a total waste. My teacher, Yang Cheng-fu, had been taught by his illustrious father, Yang Chien-hou, and at age thirty was teaching a rich official in Shantung province. Here life was easy and Yang grew lazy and fat. During this dissipation he returned to Peking and revelled in a life of debauchery. His father heard of this and ordered him home, where he imprisoned Yang in a bare room, isolated from all and everyone. For four years he was kept there and permitted no visitors except his father, who came daily to practice the solo and joint-hands exercise, as well as the stick techniques of T’ai-chi, with the degenerate son. During this period his accomplishment was far greater than throughout his previous lifetime, and he came out of the room after four years able to defeat easily those senior students of his father who a few years earlier invariably beat him. He was now a great boxer and the greatness never left him, even though, in later years he required little practice to maintain his efficiency. For this is a truism of T’ai-chi: if one progresses, there will come a point where mere physical practice is unnecessary. Reaching this point, one has breached the profound, and I will say no more on it now.
STUDENT: In doing the postures how does one know when he is relaxed?
MASTER: This is a subjective thing, this knowing, whereas the relaxation is objective. I would say a good start is made on relaxation when the student is able to go through a round without letting outside influences into his mind. But this is only the first step. The next step is to do the exercises in such a true manner that you are nearly exhausted at the conclusion. When your shoulders feel heavy you will know you are approaching real relaxation. This is a result of “swimming in air.”
STUDENT: But do not the Classics say that the body must be so light that a feather will be felt? How do you equate this lightness with the exhaustion which comes from exercising against imagined resistance?
MASTER: There is no contradiction here although it does sound paradoxical. You could, of course, do postures for five minutes lightly and quickly and not be tired. This would not help you relax. By doing the postures slowly, correctly, and against an imagined resistance you tire, but in a real fight your body is freed of the resistance leash put on it by your mind and becomes incomparably light, sensitive, adroit, and quick.
STUDENT: As you know, I have learned T’ai-chi from several other teachers. I meant no disrespect to you, but since time was limited for both of us, and since I wanted to write of the varieties of T’ai-chi, I though it wise to learn as much as I could. Most of these other methods employ auxiliary exercises to enhance correct breathing, the postures, and overall agility. Are such exercises beneficial?
MASTER: Only a teacher with a small art is jealous of a student’s instruction elsewhere. I welcome your sampling of other systems, for I know you will come to realize that you really have but one master in this art. The postures themselves are so fully rounded, so variable, and so beneficial that additional exercises will only detract from your progress.
STUDENT: Is Shao-lin an excellent exercise and means of self-defense?
MASTER: If I thought so, I would do it rather than T’ai-chi. As exercise, its emphasis on brute strength and muscle strain impedes rather than builds health. In fighting, since it can never go beyond reliance on strength, force, and technique, it never achieves true superiority. Without egotism allow me to say that on the mainland in my younger days I frequently met the challenges of all manner of men and my art never left me.
STUDENT: Can one learn by watching?
MASTER: One can learn something but, of course, not all. Practice is necessary. In this respect, there is the story of Yang Chien-hou’s neighbor, who secretly watched the T’ai-chi practice from his premises for several months and then asked one of Yang’s students to attack him. When the student complied, he was ferociously pushed down by the neighbor. Yang saw it and asked where the man had learned the technique. His neighbor, amused, responded: “From you.” A better story concerns Yang Lu-ch’an, perhaps the greatest of all T’ai-chi masters. Yang was employed by a druggist who had engaged famed T’ai-chi master Ch’en Chiang-hsiang to teach his sons. Yang secretly watched the practices and became so proficient that Ch’en accepted him as a full-fledged student.
STUDENT: How important is the Pushing-Hands Practice?
MASTER: Very important. You will not advance without it. But heed these things, I tell you now about the practice. It is better to push with a child than with a technically skillful man who uses strength - which, of course, causes you to use strength also. In pushing with a child, regard him as a man; in pushing with a man, regard him as a child. This may sound paradoxical but it is not. The child affords you a relaxed partner to practice with, but, while benefiting from his “relaxability,” you pretend he is like you, a man. This brings functional point to the exercise. Now, the other side of the coin. Why should one practicing with a man pretend he is a child? This is simply a diminishing process by which we rid ourselves of fear. It does not mean, however that cockiness will succeed departed fear. We empty ourselves of fear and pride alike.
STUDENT: Isn’t the Pushing-Hands Practice dangerous in that in it you permit your opponent to touch your body? In a real fight wouldn’t this permissiveness be your undoing?
MASTER: No. The Pushing-Hands Practice is only a means to an end. It teaches tactile sensitivity and discrimination. But it also teaches distance appreciation. In a real fight you do not permit your enemy to touch you, but you work as close to him as possible so that you may counter easily. Some masters have what we call receiving energy, with which one’s body not only absorbs an enemy’s strike, but also repels him at the same time. Some higher masters have this ability under subconscious control, so that they can be attacked from the rear and the enemy repelled ten feet by the force of his own attack, with the master hardly being aware of it. This type of person has no difficulty in a real fight. The more ordinary player, though lacking this ability, will find that the Pushing-Hands Practice has sharpened his senses and that it permits him to fight close to his antagonist, but without permitting the enemy to touch him.
STUDENT: Chuang Tzu (399-295 B.C.) stated that a drunk man escapes injury because his soul is intact. Isn’t this protection what we seek in T’ai-chi? If Chuang Tzu is correct, wouldn’t it be easier merely to become an alcoholic?
MASTER: To empty oneself is to conquer fear. This was one of the main goals of wu wei. This it was which enabled a Taoist, when he came to die, to build a funeral pyre and then calmly walk into the flames. (I interposed here that this quality of erasing fear was not unique to China. The lifelong discipline of the Japanese samurai was aimed at dying well, not to mention St. Lawrence, who, as he was being grilled alive, remarked to his torturers: “Turn me over, this side is done.” The master acknowledged this with a smile and continued.) True enough, a drunk’s inhibitions are released, his muscle tone depressed, and his body relaxed. But not entirely: a drunk will always find his way home. A drunk forfeits I [yi] (mind) and is thus at the mercy of circumstances. In T’ai-chi, on the other hand, we relax but keep an active comprehending mind.
STUDENT: Why didn’t Yang Cheng-fu go to the West to make money with his skill?
MASTER: Once a Chinese doctor returned to Canton from the United States and implored Yang to return with him. Both, he said, could reap a huge fortune. Yang refused. The West held no allure for him, nor did money. He was so wrapped up in his environment he desired no change.
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