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Monday, 04 June 2007
Yongnian Tai Ji Quan
     Guangfu Town, Yongnian County in Hebei Province, is an old town recording the history of the development of Tai Ji Quan (shadow boxing). What's the situation today in Guangh? Do people living there still keep the custom habit in practicing Kung-fu as what practitioners of the older generation said? How many fans of Tai Ji Quan today? What were the styles and features of Tai Ji Quan in the past? I went to Guangfu again after this Spring Festival with a series of questions.
     Yang Zhiying, one of the Guangfu Tai Ji Quan researchers belonging to the new generation, and Hao Pingshun, one of the posterities of Master Hao Weizhen, welcomed me.
According to what Yang and Hao said, Guangfu Town had been surrounded by water. There were bulrushes, willows and fishing boats everywhere. Numberless streams and brooklets overlapped and interlaced with one another. It was an attractive land flowing with milk and honey. However, the attractive land has gone nowadays, the custom of practicing Kung-fu is also hard to be seen.
     From the Republic of China era on, some Tai Ji Quan masters had left Guangfu one after another. They made a living by promoting the Quan in every place. By the end of last century, as the society changed, new generation of Yongnian Tai Ji Quan masters lived by going out to promote the Quan just as what masters had done several decades earlier. There was only one difference between their circumstances, the old ones could promote the Quan everywhere in China and the new could also do it this way plus doing the same all over the world. That's what Yongnian people have been contributing to global humankind.
     Because of the changing of the society, there have been fewer people like practicing Tai Ji Quan in Guangfu in recent years. Maybe most of the Yang Jia (Yang school) Tai Ji Quan practitioners of the older generation had worked outside of the town or moved elsewhere, I could only find few of them. In the former residence of Yang Luchan, I met Han Huiming, who has been voluntarily taking care of Yang's former residence. He said that he didn't practice the Quan every day. I invited him to perform a set of Quan and then asked him who passed the Quan Jia (boxing frame) of this Quan. He told me that the Quan Jia he teamed was passed by Master Fu Zhongwen. Presently in Guangfu, fans of Tai Ji Quan such as Hao Pingshun, Yang Zhiying and so on, have been mostly practicing the Quan Jia handed down from Master Wu Yuxiang. Among the elder practitioners, Hao Shuying, one of the granddaughters of Master Hao Weizhen, and old Li Disheng, had witnessed the history of Guangfu Tai Ji Quan in some extent.
     Some elders in Guangfu usually said that people normally didn't care if the Quan belonged to Yang school or the Wu when they practiced in the past, they only cared whose Quan Jia coming down they were practicing. Tai Ji Quan was divided into five styles with different characteristics of movements only since the national sports department distinguished them in several decades earlier in order to promote popular exercising program and facilitate the spread of Tai Ji in preserving health.
     As a kind of Chinese traditional Kung-fu, Tai Ji Quan had only a little essential difference with others theoretically and technically in its beginning past. The difference between them exists in the concepts of Quan Jia in preserving health and in the process of practicing. If we are intending to categorize Tai Ji Quan into different varieties, subspecies or species, we could get nearly a thousand or even more.
     I believe that there might be 1.3 billion kinds of Tai Ji in China as China has a population of 1.3 billion. There is a certain form of Tai Ji in everyone's mind. That might be a best explanation for "Tai Ji".
     We can only read, see and search some limited information and views on the style and features of the Tai Ji Quan created by Yang Luchan in the books published in the era of early Republic of China. Yang Luchan was a great Kung-fu master. Some of his experiences in playing Tai Ji Kung-fu could be heard in the Kung-fu circle in Beijing during the early years in that era.
The book of Tai Ji Quan Tu Jie (illustration of Tai Ji Quan postures) written and published by Xu Longhou in 1921, tells a short story about Yang Luchan. Joining the Manchuria military camp to teach them Kung-fu, Yang had got only three prentices having inherited his Tai Ji Quan in reality. They were Wan Chun, Ling Shan and Quan You. The first one was powerful, another was good in sending out his Ta Ji Jin (strength) letting his rival falling down and the third had been quite softening his movements in melting any attacking. It is said that the three had obtained the excellences in Yang's Tai Ji respectively, Jin (tendon), Gu (bones) and Pi (skin). Getting this description with a rounded message, we know that Yang Luchan was credibly a great martial artist and, he had a real talent in learning Kung-fu. The powerfulness inherited by Wan Chun mentioned above shows Yan's Tai Ji strength. Being good at setting people free represented that Yang Luchan not only knew how to strike, but also won his rival without hurting him, making him convinced by Yang's generosity as a Kung-fu master. Being good at softening his movements, Yang had got full abilities and skills in freely defending and counterattacking. Unflappably meeting enemies, he would be striking them as he wished.
     Being one of the disciples of Yang Luchan, Yang Banhou was said having reached an advanced level in Tai Ji Kung-fu. People nowadays could not make clear how good Yang Banhou's Kung-fu really was. From the performances and descriptions by Wu Mengxia, Jia Z3ixiang, Wang Changxing and others, grand-prentices of Yang Banhou, we could realize that the Quan Jia handed down by Yang Luchan and Yang Banhou was different from anyone we can see today.It has been even more difficult for people to reach senior masters’ level nowadays. In addition, we can also notice the differences between various understandings of the Quan Jia and explanations issued by other prentices and grand-prentices(in the era of the Republic of China) of Yang Luchan.
    Within the period from the end of Qing Dynasty to the beginning of the Republic of China, many experts in (the Eight Diagrams) Zhang (palm) also practiced Tai Ji Quan at the same time. There were many reasons and factors why those Kung-fu experts had practiced Tai Ji Luchan’s Tai Ji Quan founded by Yang Lunchan and Yang Banhou especially the commonness in terms of Kung-fu practice.
     Getting from the books talking about Tai Ji Quan published in the era of the Republic of China, we could realize how the experts understood and comprehended Tai Ji Quan then. Some books introduce and explain Tai Ji Quan spread in the Kung-fu circle and the society in that era quite well. They are, Tai Ji Quan Jiang 3'i (Tai Ji Quan teaching material), written by Yao Fuxiang and ShanRongqiao, published by Shanghai Martial Art Studies Press in 1930, Tai Ji Quan Shi Tu Jie (illustration of Tai Ji Quan postures), written by Xu Longhou, published in 1921, Tai Ji Quan Qian Shuo (elementary introduction of Tai Ji Quan), written by Xu Zhiyi, published by Cultural Books Press Company in 1927 and Tai Ji Zheng Zong (orthodox school of Tai Ji Quan), wriiten by Wu Zhiqing, published by Great Oriental Press in 1940. We will make a further comparison between them in the next issue of our Magazine.


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