Grandmaster Hong Jun-Sheng and His Chen Style TaiJiQuan
Grandmaster Hong Jun-sheng was born in the Jun county of Henan province in 1907. His name Jun-sheng literally meant 'born in Jun county'. His grandfather served in the government of the Qing dynasty (A.D. 1644 - 1912). He followed his father to live and study in Beijing when he was young. He passed away in Jinan city, the capital city of Shandong province, in the north eastern part of China, on the 23rd of January, 1996. According to the traditional Chinese chronological calculation, he died at the age of 90.
Hong was weak and frequently sick as a child. He stopped going to school at the age of 17 because of illness and his health remained poor. In 1930, he started to train in Wu style taijiquan under Master Liu Mu-san who was the leading student of Grandmaster Wu Jian-quan. Several months later, Liu brought along more than thirty students to study Chen style taijiquan under Grandmaster Chen Fa-ke. Hong became a student of Chen Fa-ke from then on. Hong's health was improved a lot by his training in taijiquan. This in turn enhanced his interest in taijiquan and also his close relationship with Chen - they treated each other as father and son. Chen occasionally lived in Hong's home for as long as two to three months. After the Japanese invasion and their occupation of Beijing, Hong's source of income from his family had ceased. Sometimes he did not even have enough food to feed his six children and had to bring them all to Chen Fa-ke's home for meals.
The deeds that we hear today about Chen Fa-ke's prominent martial skills were largely recorded by Hong. Hong was originally from an affluent family, but was in poor health and unemployed. This enabled him to accompany Chen every day to witness and record these stories. They allow us to have a more detailed understanding of Chen Fa-ke's taijiquan skills today. In 1944, Hong left Chen to work in Jinan city. In 1956, Hong was deeply upset by his wife’s death. He returned to Beijing for 4 months to revise the applications of taijiquan forms and push-hands with Chen Fa- ke. This brought his total training time under Chen Fa-ke in the fighting skills of Chen style taijiquan to 15 years.
His life long experiments and research have enabled him to grasp the theory and techniques of Chen style taijiquan, allowing him to become one of this generation's principal representatives. Two years have passed since the death of Grandmaster Hong and I am writing this article to commemorate him. Apart from Grandmaster Hong's virtues and profound martial skills, I believe the introduction of some of his detailed training techniques will be of great interest to the reader.
The Prominent Figure among the Famous Taijiquan Masters of the Present Day
With the passing of time, the function and status of taijiquan in people's lives has changed dramatically. It is commonly acknowledged that the famous taijiquan masters of today are far less skilful than the masters of the previous generations such as Chen Fa-ke and Yang Cheng-fu. Since the beginning of the 1980's, I have had come across many taijiquan masters who are renowned for their skills in mainland China or overseas. On different occasions, I have either trained under them, attended their lectures, or seen their demonstration. Others I have only seen on video tapes. My feeling about these masters of the present day is that once they can competently perform fa- jin (issue power) in the tui-shou (push-hands) exercise to throw off their opponents, they come to be regarded as a famous master with real kung-fu (techniques). Of course, this does not include merely pre-arranged fa-jin demonstrations.
In the 80's, I attended a big taijiquan competition in one city of China. One morning, one taijiquan master, who was asked by the organisers to demonstrate in the competition, was invited by one of the representative groups from another city to give them instruction and guidance. After completing the routines, some of the practitioners asked for push-hands drill instructions with him. This master arbitrarily selected one of the bystanders who was a retired professor and was slightly younger than him to demonstrate peng (ward-off), lu (roll-back), ji (press) and an (push) techniques. After several arm-circling movements, the master suddenly separated his both hands, while leaning his body forward, attempting to lift his opponent's armpits and push him away. However, his opponent immediately sank his qi and the master was bounced back a step (the front foot stepped back as the back foot). Of course, even a skilful master will not always win - that depends on his opponent's skill level. In the above case, the opponent was a student of the famous master of Wu (Hao) style taijiquan, Grandmaster Hao Sau-ru. Although his skills are not at a great level, he has some skills and power (gong-li). The problem was that the push-hands method used by this master was not good. It was not the truely correct technique but it is one commonly used by many practitioners. Ultimately, this will only push the opponent away but it will not throw him off cleanly and sharply. Overall, I feel that some famous masters are not as good as we are led to believe.
Among those taijiquan masters who can fa-jin sharply to throw off their opponents, there are not many who can uproot and send their opponents flying. Within this group of masters who can uproot their opponents, some use their own jin to throw their opponents off after neutralising the incoming jin. This is not the best technique and is quite exhausting. Some others can change the direction of the incoming jin, and rebound the jin back to their opponents while enhancing the total rebound force by adding their own jin to it. Only this is the best technique and the most energy-efficient. However, masters who can do this are extremely rare. Grandmaster Hong was one of these few.
Before I met Grandmaster Hong, I had read his manuscripts and articles. I had also read other articles about him which were written by other taijiquan practitioners. I had corresponded with him by letter. However, I was not sure about his level of skills. In late 1984, I went to Jinan city to live in his home and study under him, only then could I have the opportunity to see for myself his real skill. Hong could explain the application of taijiquan forms to others in a fascinating manner, but that also could not show his great skills either. This was because the explanation of the applications was just following the preset forms, and many such forms were designed for training the beginners. The only sure way to examine the skill level is in the push-hands drill.
One day, several students came to visit Hong and we all got together to chat and discuss taijiquan. Two of them, one was called Liu and the other person I called him Mr. A because I have forgotten his name, were practicing push- hands. When A tried to push Liu with force, Liu responded with lu-cai (roll-back and pull) technique, lifting both of A’s feet off the ground, and throwing A behind him. Although this was not very far, only about half to one meter away, it really amazed me. The reason was that they did not actually use much force in the drill and I was not sure how far Mr. A would be thrown off in the situation where real force was used. At that time, I was not clear about the technique of uprooting and throwing opponent off with both feet off the ground. I have read about it and listened as other people talked about it. Some people said you first need to obtain the skill to execute fa-jin to throw off your opponent sharply. You keep training with the same technique until your qi is full and your jin is complete (qi zhu jin zheng), then you can uproot the opponent with both feet off the ground. This seemed to be mainly a question of qi and jin, and not about the techniques. But once I saw their practice, I realised this was not the case. Whether you can send your opponent flying is still mainly dependent on the techniques. When you execute the pull technique correctly, you can send your opponent flying. The quantitative aspects of qi and jin will determine how far your opponent would fly. While it is not easy to send your opponent flying backwards using the ji (press) and an (push) techniques, it is even harder to execute the techniques of lu-cai (roll back and pull) to send your opponent flying behind you. If Hong's students could execute such a technique, there was no need to question Hong's skills any further.
Another day Liu came to visit Hong with another student, Mr. B. Mr. B had originally practiced Chinese wrestling (shuai-jiao) before learning taijiquan under Hong. Once, Mr. B practiced push-hands with a famous taijiquan master. The taijiquan master could not do anything to B and praised B's skills, saying they were not 'too bad'. This taijiquan master also wrote a book about taijiquan and he seemed to have a lot of knowledge about taijiquan. Mr. B came to ask Hong about push-hands. Hong and B then began to push-hands in the lounge room. No matter what techniques B used, once B's both hands began to use force, Hong would turn his body with very little hand movement, and in some cases, Hong did not step forward, while at other times Hong just stepped forward a little bit, B was uprooted (with both feet off the ground) and thrown backwards about a meter. In some cases the distance was a bit further, and B was thrown onto the sofa (the lounge room was small in size). This was very fascinating and made me very happy. After watching for a while, I could not help myself and said to B, "Once you use force, your whole body is controlled by Grandmaster Hong." This was very obvious, once B began to use force, Hong turned his body, B was already being put into a disadvantageous position. Since B's force kept coming, the force was being sprung back towards him.
After a while, I said the same thing again. After hearing what I said, B turned back towards me with a smile and said, "Let's try.", then grabbed and twisted my right arm with his both hands. This was the first time we had met. B did not know my level of skill, therefore we were both very gentle, not very fast and not applying a lot of force. I used the neutralising movement which I had recently learnt from Hong. After two consecutive attempts, B realised that I could neutralise, and he then quickly used force to seize my right hand (i.e. B used his right hand to hold my right wrist while his left hand was below my elbow and pushed upwards). I countered immediately by extending my peng-jin (ward-off energy) on my right hand, and turned my body slightly towards the right. My left hand also moved forward and held his right elbow. At the same time, pushed forward with both hands. B was being uprooted (with both feet off the ground) and jumped backwards with a distance of half a meter. B then smiled and said, "You also have the ability". Mr Liu then said, "Of course, Master Wu has the ability". I quickly said, "I have to use both hands. Master Hong only needed one hand". Grandmaster Hong smiled after listening to what I have said. I said this courteously because it was in front of Grandmaster Hong. This was mainly because I really knew there was an obvious difference of skill levels between Grandmaster Hong and myself. I mainly used B's both hands to make him hard to change and then used my own force to throw him off. I neither controlled him first and put him into a disadvantaged position nor made use of his own force to throw him off. The nature of this technique was different from what Grandmaster Hong used.
On another occasion, my martial arts brother, Mr. Jiang Jia-jun, came to Jinan from Xuzhou to visit Grandmaster Hong. Jiang previously trained under many famous Chen style taijiquan teachers like Master Chen Zhao-pi (1892 - 1973, 18th generation of the Chen family), Master Chen Zhao-kui (1928 - 1981, 18th generation of the Chen family, son of great Grandmaster Chen Fa-ke) and Master Chen Jin-ao (18th generation of the Chen Family, learnt taijiquan from Chen Xin). Jiang later learnt taijiquan from Grandmaster Hong. Jiang also raised some questions regarding push-hands. This time Hong and Jiang were in a bigger room. No matter what techniques Jiang used, once his both hands used force, Hong turned his body and Jiang was being controlled and was put into a disadvantaged position. Sometimes Hong stepped forward. Jiang was being uprooted and thrown off one to two meters away. As Jiang used more force and became quicker, he was being uprooted faster and was thrown away even further. The sounds from both of his feet as he landed on the ground became louder. However, Jiang could still maintain his body in an upright position, as if he was ready to attack again. It was very fascinating and amusing to watch. I started to laugh loudly.
Before I met Grandmaster Hong, I read an article by Jiang regarding his push-hands experience with Hong in 1971. In the article, it was stated that "When I pushed hands with Grandmaster Hong, I always felt as if my hands were shorter, whereas the hands of Grandmaster Hong's seemed to be longer'. I inadvertently asked Hong, 'If the opponent suddenly push you against your chest, can you counter without using hand techniques ?'. Hong smiled and then said, 'You can try me with force and I will not use my hands to intercept'. With a puzzling mind, I then really pushed Hong's chest abruptly with great power. I felt that my hands were pushing against a wall of springs. Suddenly I was being sprung and pushed back about 4 to 5 meters away. After this incident, I was so scared that my whole body began to perspire".
I asked Hong how he could bounce brother Jiang away. He then let me have a try. When I pushed against his body with my both hands, I felt that I could not control him, my hands could not find any substantial places. I only felt the internal of his body was turning and changing, without any visible external movements, as if I was pushing against a very sensitive spinning device. Therefore, I became more cautious in using force. While I was hesitating, Hong took a small step forward, using his body through my hands and pushed me backwards (i.e. my front leg stepped back). I asked Hong, "Do you have to step forward ?". He replied, "No, this is because you did not use any force and then I need to step forward". I understood that if I used more force to press, I would be thrown even farther away.
Grandmaster Hong told me this story: Once he was practicing taijiquan applications with a student on one side of a building which was about the size of three bedrooms in total. Hong's wife was squatting down in the middle of the room to do some housework. The student attacked with his right fist, Hong then used the hand intercepting technique from the first posture of Chen style taijiquan routine - "Buddha pounds the mortar" (jin-gang dao dui), where one hand was used to intercept the opponent's wrist and the other hand to intercept the elbow. As soon as Hong used his right hand to intercept the external side of the student's wrist, the student was sent flying over Hong's wife, falling at the other end of the room about 5 to 6 meters away from his original position. This gave Hong's wife a shock. From then on, whenever Hong practiced push-hands with someone, she would walk off the area. Hong said that this student was originally a practitioner of the xingyiquan (form and mind boxing). That particular punch from him was extremely powerful and swift, and consequently he was bounced back in such a long distance.
In Shanghai, there was a famous wushu (martial art) master called Li Dong-yuan. He had a lot of real fighting experience. He once learnt Chen style taijiquan under great Grandmaster Chen Fa-ke. In 1982, Hong went to Shanghai to attend the National Taijiquan Famous Masters Demonstration. Li Dong-yuan saw Hong's demonstration. After he met Hong, he told one of his students, "Grandmaster Hong's kung-fu is very good. It is much better than Master XXX (who was a very famous Chen style taijiquan practitioner and frequently came to Shanghai to visit Li), they are not of the same level.". The student told me about this when she migrated to Melbourne in Australia.
The Exquisite and Profound Skills
Prior to discussing the taijiquan skills of Grandmaster Hong, we need to clarify several issues regarding the taijiquan skills and techniques.
Some people believe that taijiquan skills and techniques are all the same. Whatever one master teaches should also be taught by others. Otherwise, the master will be regarded as incompetent. In fact this is a misunderstanding in taijiquan. Taijiquan has a recorded history of over 300 years. Millions of people have practiced the art. Every skilful expert will have his own techniques and characteristics. For instance, Grandmaster Yang Lu-chan had very good martial skills. His two sons also had very good kung-fu. However, not only were each son’s techniques not exactly the same as their father's but they were also different from each other's. In fact it is normal to see variations in the techniques between different martial arts experts. This is because everyone has his own unique physical condition and a different psychology. Their characters and upbringings are also different. When their kung-fu has reached a certain level, they certainly will develop the techniques and specialties that are most suitable for themselves. Therefore, one should imitate his own master as much as possible during the learning phase. He should try his best to understand and experiment what has been taught by his teacher. Once the skills have reached a high level, the techniques will become different from his master's. If one's techniques are exactly the same as the master, his kung- fu will not have reached a high level. He still has not developed and made full use of his own advantages. This is because not everybody will have the same conditions as the master. Therefore, the variations may be fairly significant for the same taijiquan technique. Nowadays, what some masters teach are in fact not real taijiquan techniques. Some were borrowed from other martial arts that do not match with characteristics of taijiquan. Some of them are even wrong practices. Not only that, even within the real taijiquan techniques, there are various skill levels. Some are high while others are low.
For example, the requirement of "qi chen dantian" (sinking the qi down to the dantian) can frequently be mentioned by many taijiquan practitioners and can be seen in many books. For those who have not achieved a high level yet, it is not easy to sink their qi down to the dantian. In 1984, I went to Xi-an city to study Chen style taijiquan under Master Chen Li-qing. I met with a descendant from the Chen village, who has fairly good taijiquan skills. During the cultural revolution, he went back to live in Chen village for several years and learnt taijiquan from a couple of senior masters there. After we became familiar with each other, once I went to visit his home. He sincerely told me some of the Chen style taijiquan training methods. When talking about "qi chen dantian", he said that the qi should sink down to the bottom of the feet in order to be able to uproot your opponent into the air with both feet off the ground. I felt what he said was sensible. Later when I mentioned this to Master Liu Ji-shun and he said that the qi should actually sink into the ground.
After a period of experiment, I came to realise that sinking the qi to the dantian, or to the bottom of the feet, or into the ground are all correct. It was just the same skill at a different levels. If you only knew about sinking the qi down to the dantian, and did not know about whether to sink the qi to the bottom of the feet or into the ground, or you thought that sinking the qi to the bottom of the feet or into the ground were both incorrect, then you would only attain a certain level of skills and would not progress further. Thus, after you have the opportunity to learn some taijiquan techniques, you should not believe or consider yourself to have understood the secrets of taijiquan, while other people do not. Instead, you must learn the techniques from different perspective, to compare and experiment with various techniques in order to find out which one is correct, and which skill is of the higher level.
Some people believe that whatever written in the taijiquan books is all correct and truth, especially the old taijiquan classics. I once explained to a student the requirement of a technique. Another student who has learnt taijiquan elsewhere for many years, he then later learnt taijiquan from me. He said that he had never read about this requirement in any taijiquan books. I replied that there were a lot of things not mentioned in the books and some of the materials were wrong. He was surprised and said, "Would it be wrong in the taijiquan book ?". In fact, many of the olden day Chinese wushu (martial art) masters were not well educated and did not know how to write articles. Even though if they could write, they would adopt a conservative approach not to tell very clearly. Therefore, there are heaps of materials out there more than that mentioned in the books. Some of the materials in the books may be wrong or of low levels. There is a saying in the Chinese martial arts community which could be translated literally as: "To pass down [the knowledge] only through a phrase but not in three books", meaning if a master really wanted to pass down his true technique, it could be concluded within a phrase. Of course, even in this saying, there are a lot of specific methods that were needed to be explained further. If a master did not wish to pass down his skills, he would not let you understand what he meant even though he had written down his knowledge in as many as three books.
Provided the master might sincerely want to write down the knowledge, there were also differences between the written words and their interpretations.
In the Chinese proverbs there is a saying "To find a steed according to the book". The story said that once there was a famous horse expert, called Bo-le, who was able to distinguish steeds from ordinary horses. He wrote a book by summing up his many years of experience in this field. Everybody said this was a well-written book. Bo-le’s son studied the book very hard and soon he was able to remember all the details mentioned in the book. He thought he was already capable of distinguishing steeds from ordinary horses. His father let him to go out to look for a steed. He came across many steeds, but failed to recognise any of them. Finally, he caught a large toad instead that he reckoned would satisfy all the requirements of a steed mentioned in his father's book.
Taijiquan books can assist people to learn taijiquan, but one cannot solely rely on them. There are also some people who, after reading a few taijiquan books and watching some taijiquan videos, believe that they have mastered the art of taijiquan and began to write articles in an authoritative manner. These people not only deceive themselves but also mislead others.
Grandmaster Hong told me that in the 1960s, someone had written a book on Chen style taijiquan. After reading the book, Grandmaster Hong felt that many theories or the routine movements mentioned in the books were not in accordance with the teachings of Grandmaster Chen Fa-ke. As he read the book, he made comments and criticisms on the available spaces in the book. Eventually, his comments were more than the original book. Grandmaster Hong’s comments totalled two books which were kept by his student.
Grandmaster Hong’s main taijiquan techniques were all learnt from Grandmaster Chen Fa-ke. Hong was a very intelligent person. After learning from Grandmaster Chen Fa-ke for a period of 15 years, he had obtained a deep understanding of Grandmaster Chen Fa-ke’s techniques and applications. He then tested and experimented the techniques with his students. Therefore, his techniques and applications were very practical and were of a high level. Some of the minor movements in Hong’s form were different from Grandmaster Chen Fa-ke. This is because the practice of each movement of the Grandmaster Hong’s form was according to the actual technique application - meaning how you apply the technique will determine how you practice the movement. In olden days, people were more conservative. Some of the movements they taught would miss the details of the corresponding applications. Looking at the movements, the application techniques are not there or they are not practical. Just to look at the form would not make you understand how to apply them, or how to apply them effectively. Only after explanation by the teacher can one understand the specifics of the applications. Take for example the intercepting hand movement in the form "jin-gang dao dui" (Buddha pounds the mortar). What Grandmaster Chen Fa-ke originally taught was to raise both hands simultaneously, with the palms facing each other, up to shoulder level. But when he explained the application, it was one hand at the front and the other at the back while one hand was higher than the other. One hand moved in the "ni chan" (opposite spiralling motion) while the other hand moved in "shun chan" (along the spiralling motion). One hand which intercepted the opponent’s wrist while the other hand intercepted the opponent’s elbow. After seeking the approval from Grandmaster Chen Fa-ke, Hong then practiced the forms in accordance to the actual technique applications. In addition, there were also some other movements absorbed from other martial arts. These were all previous mentioned in details in Grandmaster Hong's manuscripts.
In the '80s, the daughter of Grandmaster Chen Fa-ke, Chen Yu-xia went to Jinan city twice to visit and stay with Grandmaster Hong so as to learn taijiquan form applications and tui-shou techniques from him. After watching the practice of Grandmaster Hong, she said it was just like watching her father practicing taijiquan. She even said that visiting Hong was just like returning home. She treated Grandmaster Hong like her elder brother, as her father and elder brother had both passed away.
Since Grandmaster Hong used practical and higher level taijiquan techniques to instruct his students, many of them had acquired very good push-hands skills. Some of them had even attained a high level of skills. Nowadays in China, there are annual national push-hands competition. The competition was categorised into five classes according to body weight. If a student of a particular taijiquan teacher wins a gold medal, the teacher will be very happy as everyone will regard him as a good teacher. The students taught by Grandmaster Hong’s students have for many years been representing the Shandong province in the national push-hands competition. They have been achieving very good results for many years. They frequently won the majority of the five gold medals. Sometime they even won gold medals in all five weight categories. This can also be used as a proof of Grandmaster Hong’s teachings. Even with these good results, Grandmaster Hong was still not satisfied. He told me in his letter that these good results did not prove that these students of his students had already attained the high level taijiquan techniques. This was only because their opponents’ skills were lower. Grandmaster Hong always encouraged his students to strive for excellence in real taijiquan.
Here, I am not prepared to comprehensively introduce and describe the techniques of Grandmaster Hong’s taijiquan. This is impossible to describe all that even in one book. I will only mention his several outstanding and important techniques for the reference of the readers:
1. The True "wai rou nei gang" (Externally Soft and Internally Hard)
Grandmaster Hong said, "taijiquan is peng-jin", meaning taijiquan is the fist of ward-off jin and if there is no peng-jin then there is no taijiquan. Peng-jin (outward radial jin) is the basis of all the taijiquan martial techniques. In fact, many taijiquan masters, such as Chen Fa-ke and Yang Cheng-fu, had made similar proposal. They emphasised that one should attain peng-jin in taijiquan training, until it developed into the stage of "externally soft and internally hard".
Some taijiquan practitioners emphasise relaxation and softness, and disagree on the emphasis of peng-jin. They say that the practice of peng-jin adversely affects the relaxation and softness, and as a result ding-jin (opposing jin) may occur in the push-hands. In fact, the reason for saying that is mainly due to their lack of correct understanding of peng-jin, and do not know what peng-jin actually is. They think that peng-jin is the stretching out of the torso and the limbs in a circular manner that looks elastic. There are also people who misunderstand Chen style taijiquan, thinking that there are fa-jin movements in the tao-lu (forms), and these movements must utilise brute force and must be very firm and hard. If one has had the opportunity to see how Grandmaster Hong demonstrated the Chen style taijiquan routines, and to practice push-hands with him, then he will have a new understanding of the peng-jin and Chen style taijiquan.
Grandmaster Hong practiced taijiquan with great relaxation and softness. Some of his movements required big circular motions at the joints, in particular the palm and arm movements. You would feel that this could only be achieved by relaxing, softening and opening up his joints. When Grandmaster Hong performed fa-jin, you would not feel any brute muscular force. Instead, it was only the sudden change of speed of his motion that expelled his opponent away swiftly. If you had the opportunity to practice push-hands drill with Grandmaster Hong, the touching feeling with his arms were soft and relaxed. But you would also feel there was peng-jin inside and this peng-jin was neither opposing your force nor has it any overwhelming pressure on you. Hong's practice was soft but you would feel the softness of his movements was not insubstance, hollow and light but relax, firm and stable. You knew his peng-jin was there during the push-hands, but you would feel it rotating very slippery and smoothly. Experienced opponents would not initiate an attack on him without caution.
The benefits of loosening the joints and maintaining softness in the push-hands exercise are as follows:
(1) to allow adherence, ‘sticking’, more easily once in contact with your opponent (2) to increase your touching sensitivity (Ting-jin: Listening jin) (3) to follow better, so that more time can be spared to know your opponent's jin and to determine your own response
(4) to prevent your opponent's force transferring to your body and to make your opponent's jin ineffective
(5) to make it easier to change to other postures.
There are people who overemphasise the benefits of relaxation and softness but they dare not, and do not know how, to fill their relaxation with peng-jin. Consequently, they can only deal with opponents who only know the simple techniques and are physically stiff. They cannot deal with the pressures that are imposed by opponents who know how to move with relaxation and to sink their qi. Without peng-jin, their line of defence will be basically lost when facing opponents who can issue speedy and powerful jin. Another advantage of having relaxation, softness and peng- jin in Grandmaster Hong's techniques was that it would induce his opponents to mistakenly believe that they could easily break into the centre of defence, leading them to initiate an attack without much cautions. The attacker’s force would then rebound back onto the attackers themselves. If relaxation and softness exist without peng-jin, cautious opponents will not initiate an attack on the insubstantial locations, in the same way that no one would bother to hit a soft hanging tree branch with force. An experienced practitioner will use relaxed and sinking jin to pressure the opponent until the opponent can no longer alter his position and then execute fa-jin at the substantial point once it is located.
Grandmaster Hong emphasised the need to loosen up every single joint of the body (this instruction was originally said by Grandmaster Chen Fa-ke). Only then could one maintain the peng-jin within the softness. This kind of opening up of the joints should come naturally without intentionally stretching the muscles with strength. Grandmaster Hong specifically emphasised the need to open up the finger joints which should not be bent and slack. Furthermore, attention should be paid to their direction and angle of opening up. Previously when I read Grandmaster Hong's manuscripts, in regard to the need to match the fingers pointing directions with certain kind of motions, it made me feel hard to comprehend. It seemed that these kind of recommendations were troublesome. Later when I studied under Grandmaster Hong, I then gradually realised that the angle direction of opening up the fingers should be adjusted according to the change of jin used in the motion. Only when this was done properly and then diu-jin (disconnected energy) and ding-jin (opposing energy) would not occur. The more I experimented with these techniques, the more interesting they became. Some people can perform the fa-jin movements in a form powerfully while practicing but their fingers are bent and slack in other relaxed and soft movements. This explains that the finger joints have not been opened up and peng-jin has been lost. When this situation occurs in the push-hands drill, an experienced opponent would seize this opportunity to break into your defence.
Many people agree that peng-jin should be attained in taijiquan training, but there are different opinions on how to achieve this. For instance, how would you respond by extending peng-jin when your opponent presses on one of your front arms. One of the usual practices is to extend your front arms as much as possible. The elbows do not touch the rib cage, as if there are springs placed under your armpits to stretch your front arms, wrists and palms in a circular manner. This will result your opponent's incoming jin to be lifted up. This can be regarded as a type of peng-jin, but it is a lower level, simple technique. Such peng-jin may seem to survive the pressure from the incoming jin but your opponent may make use of your extended jin by performing lu-jin (pull back). Over-extending of jin can make transitional changes relatively difficult and slow. For the same hand peng-jin technique, Grandmaster Hong would open up his shoulder joints by sinking the elbows downward while at the same time extending the fingers upward in order to open up the joints at the elbows, wrists and fingers. Such peng-jin was mainly generated by the pulling force in the opposite directions, upwards and downwards. There is neither forward opposing force nor backward retreating force that can be utilised by your opponent. When the attacking force is coming straight in, I will open up the joints sideways. Hong also suggested that one's elbows can touch his own rib cage when necessary. One may think the opponent's incoming force may transfer from your arms to your rib cage. In fact, it will not happen. Although the elbow may look like it is in contact with the ribs, the jin of the elbow is not loosely touching the rib but sunk down to maintain the peng-jin. There is still a tiny gap between the elbows and ribs. Your opponent's jin will not reach the ribs. The advantage of this is that it will give you more space to perform hua-jin (deflection jin) without ding-jin (opposing jin). The joints are opened up and articulate enough to make changes.
Whoever had the chance to practice push-hands drill with Grandmaster Chen Fa-ke could tell you about their experience. When Chen really took the drill seriously, his opponents would feel big shocks in their internal organs, tears would come out of their eyes and there was a temptation to vomit as if experiencing an electric shock. He could send his opponent flying with the very first fa-jin. In 1956, Grandmaster Hong went back to Beijing from Jinan city to revisit his skills with Chen Fa-ke. During the push-hands exercise, Hong could neutralise Chen's first fa-jin attack. When Hong was sent flying by Chen's second attack, Chen's wife praised Hong's progress, saying "Even though I was outside and didn't see what had happened, I could tell that the sound was different from others when you were sent flying by your teacher". In regard to the lesser impact on Hong in reaction to Chen's fa-jin, Hong said humbly, "Maybe my hands have no power". In fact, this was because Hong had maintained peng-jin in his relaxation and softness. If it was only no power and no peng-jin in Hong's hands, Chen's jin would hit directly onto Hong's body. There would have been no way Hong could have neutralised Chen's force.
Because of the great relaxation and softness in Grandmaster Hong's taijiquan practice, he could execute fa-jin with full control. When he was nearly 80 years old, he demonstrated the whole Pao-chui (Cannon fist) routine in an open exhibition in just over 2 minutes. This cannot be done easily even by a young practitioner.
2. The True Spherical Spiral Movement
A lot of taijiquan practitioners know the need to have Spiral jin in taijiquan. Chen style taijiquan has more obvious spiral rotations, called "chensi-jin" (silk reeling jin). Many people usually refer to it as how their hands and legs should perform the normal and reverse reeling techniques. In fact, they are only talking about its external movement but not the jin itself. Chensi movement can be commonly found in daily life. An innocent baby can move his or her hands spirally when they are getting excited but we can not say they are practicing chensi-jin. Jin, in Chinese martial arts terms, is the focus of power and energy to move the whole body towards a direction in a coordinated manner by means of certain kinds of formal training. Therefore, chensi-jin or spiral jin is to perform a certain spiral movement through the concentration and coordination of the whole body's jin and force. The rotation of the hands must be led by the jin from the whole body. Only such a movement will constitute the chensi-jin which is pursued by taijiquan practitioners.
It is generally recognised by every taijiquan practitioner that "jin originates from the root of the feet" (not necessarily the heel), but the issue is how the jin should continue to progress once it is generated from the root of the feet. Different people have different practices, and because of that, the quality of spiral jin varies depending upon the skill level of the practitioners. This also prevents people from further progress after achieving a certain level of skill. Since Grandmaster Hong could perform chensi-jin very well, he could deflect, control, uproot and send his opponents flying easily. Here, we can not thoroughly discuss how to perform chensi-jin in detail. I can only introduce one of the key points that Hong emphasised. This key point is on how to execute good chensi-jin.
Let us examine one of the common practices among the taijiquan practitioners: double hand push with the right bow stance (i.e. the right leg is bending forward at the front while the left leg is stretching backwards behind). Normally people would push opponent with both hands by extending the left foot and bending the right knee with both knees of the same height. This will lead the waist and torso to turn right (where the two sides of the hip bone are of the same height as well) which in turn brings the hands forward. The jin produced by these postures of legs and waist is rotating in a level plane. The generated power is basically moving horizontally. Your opponent can be pushed away but cannot be uprooted and sent flying. It is necessary to position your centre of gravity lower than your opponent and to push slightly upwards in order to execute uproot technique. The chance to send your opponent flying is very small. Grandmaster Hong emphasised the use of upwards and downwards movements of both knees so that the jin will encapsulate spherical and spiral motion from the start. For the same movement, Hong would sink his left knee and pull up his right knee such that the left is lower than the right. To lead the waist to rotate to the right, the left side of the hip bone follows the left knee to sink down a little bit so that the right hip bone is slightly higher. This makes the rotation of leg and waist not level any more. Rather, the motion is spherical in nature.
I once discussed taijiquan with a friend who had been studying taijiquan for many years specifically under a famous push-hands master. I mentioned to him how Grandmaster Hong performed his spiral jin. In order to make him understand, I let him push me with both hands. He pressed on both sides of my waist with his two hands and attempted to push me backward forcefully. Once I received his jin, I sank one knee down while pulling the other up. This made one of his hands higher than the other and consequently his torso's balance was upset. He found it hard to comprehend because he knew it is necessary to turn the waist to perform any taijiquan technique. He then used both his hands to lock the two sides of my waist in order to prevent my waist from turning so that I would not be able to change. However, he again nearly fell to the ground but I did not retreat. I let him do it again by experimenting and explaining slowly. I received both his hands' force and knew that I could not rotate left or right. But I used the upward and downward movements of my knees to lead my hip to rotate up and down as well. This brought his hands into a one up and one down position, leading his torso to turn and unbalance. In fact, my technique was not good enough. This is because I rotated upward and downward too much after I received his jin. This made his hands' jin completely changed directions to an up and down positions. When he lost his balance, he only used part of his jin. He did not use his most powerful jin. If this was Hong who did it, once the opponent used force he would rotate just right to the point. He would only allow the opponent's jin to deviate a little bit but his balance would not be largely upset. The opponent still would be able to push even harder. This would allow the jin to rebound back and send the opponent flying. This technique is more delicate and skilful.
Someone said Grandmaster Hong had not learnt the secret technique of "dantian nei zhuan" (internally rotate your dantian) but his criticism merely exposes his own ignorance and shallow knowledge. Not only because he had not seen Hong's taijiquan, but also because he did not know how to train to rotate the dantian. Once you have seen Hong's demonstration you realise that his dantian did rotate obviously, precisely and right to the point. If you have had dantian internal rotation training yourself, you will know that the external appearance of the training method is very obvious and is very hard to cover up. For those who know the technique how to rotate their dantian, he could prevent it from showing while practicing, but it will certainly be utilised in push-hands drill. Hong was intelligent and would probably have understood the rotation of dantian on his own in 15 days, no need to mention about the fact that he had had trained under Grandmaster Chen Fa-ke for 15 years. I knew the need to rotate dantian while practicing taijiquan routines, but had not heard about "dantian nei zhuan". This fitted the characteristics of Chen style taijiquan when the term was used in one particular martial arts article later on. However, I was not sure whether this was a new secret training method or just a new term for the same traditional method. I consulted several people, then I wrote to Grandmaster Hong and he simply said Grandmaster Chen Fa-ke did not teach him "dantian nei zhuan". The fact was that Chen Fa-ke only taught his disciples, including Hong and other students, the technique of rotating the dantian, but did not mention "dantian nei zhuan". If we refer to many other old articles, including Master Chen Zhao-kui's long article on the rotation of the dantian when practicing chensi-jin in Chen style taijiquan routines and push-hands back in 1963, where the requirement for "qi chan dantian" was mentioned and the importance of rotating the dantian when practicing chensi-jin. But it did not mention the term "dantian nei zhuan". I guess the term was later made up by Master Chen Zhao-kui in order to remind people to pay attention to the need of rotating the dantian in training. Many traditional Chen style techniques did not have any specific terms to describe them until someone gave them new names afterwards. Grandmaster Hong told me a story. During a visit to Hong by Master Chen Zhao-kui in Jinan city, Chen mentioned the name of a technique that Hong had not heard of. Chen asked, "Martial art brother, haven't you trained with this technique before ?". Hong said, "Can you show me ?". Hong started to laugh after Chen had demonstrated the technique. Hong said, "This is the basic training that should be practiced prior to learning any routines". This basic technique, which is to draw circles in the air with a single hand, did not have any names previously. Hong did not get the meaning from Chen only that because Chen used new term to describe it. In fact Hong did value this basic technique a lot. He not only requested that his new students practice the technique, but also insisted on constant training by the more experienced students. Simply to draw circular motions in the air with the hands to train for the rotation of the chensi-jin of the whole body. Grandmaster Hong grouped the motions into two types: the normal hand circle and the reverse hand circle.
People would wonder why Hong did not use the term "dantian nei zhuan". This was possibly due to avoidance of confusion. In Grandmaster Hong's technique the motion of the dantian did not originate from itself. The dantian should not move by itself. The movement of the dantian is led by the upward and downward movements of the knees. Moreover, dantian should be tilted on one side. There is no technique that should move the whole dantian to circle up and down. To move the whole dantian up and down will only affect the stability of your centre of gravity. Nevertheless, to move the dantian with one side up while keeping the other side down will keep your centre of gravity stable and firm. I have not seen Master Chen Zhao-kui's taijiquan demonstration and do not know how he performs "dantian nei zhuan". In addition, his students seemed to do it differently among themselves. In 1984, I went to train in another province where I met a student who had trained for 10 years under Master Chen Zhao-kui. His movements were elegant. His chensi movement was distinct and obvious, but I felt the degree of rotation of his dantian was far too big, leading to the rising up of his centre of gravity. I asked Master Chen Li-qing whether Master Chen Zhao-kui trained like that himself and the answer from him was a straight "Never !".
Some people say the dantian is the centre. To lead the rotation of the body by the rotation of the dantian will make the starting point of jin too high, and the centre of gravity will rise up easily and make it very hard to send your opponent flying. Also, the development of the jin power will become limited. On the other hand, Grandmaster Hong used the legs' jin to lead the rotation movement of the dantian. This made the centre of gravity sink and become stable and firm. The starting point of jin was very low and made it easier to send your opponent flying. This also benefits the future development of the jin.
Most taijiquan practitioners know that the hand movements should move in an arc or in a circle. At the same time, the arms should also twist or spiral. It is normally quite easy to swing your hands in a circular motion but fairly hard to synchronise the spiralling of the arms with the whole body's movement. It is necessary to understand the fighting technique of each movement in order to determine the degree of spiralling of the arms. Inexperienced people rotate their arms either too much or insufficiently. In one of Grandmaster Hong's manuscripts, he indicated that the fingers should point to, and the inner palm should face a particular direction while executing certain movements. Without a full understanding, I felt that these requirements were far too complex and appeared to be unnecessary. It was not until Grandmaster Hong did the demonstration and also through my own experiments that I realised the importance of these requirements. I sometimes experimented with my students to observe the effect of various aspects of the techniques. Only when they were done properly would it unveil the miraculous and the fun part of taijiquan. Master Lei Mu-ni said, "Master Hong's hands rotate a lot and it is correct. It is the realisation of chensi-jin". Master Feng Zhi- qiang also said, "Master Hong's hands rotate a lot". Here, I would like to point out that the rotation is referring to the twisting of Master Hong's hands, rather than the overall circular swinging movements of his arms.
3. The True "bu sui shen huan" (Footwork follows the Change of Torso Movements)
Taijiquan practitioners know the need to coordinate the movements of the upper and lower torsos, "bu sui shen huan". However, many people would become stationary once they tried to apply force to the opponent. They also do not know how to change their footwork. After training for a while, people may know how to change the centre of gravity between the two legs, however they still would not know how to change their footwork. Only when the changing of footwork has become familiar would it then allow for the effective execution of various techniques of the upper torso.
Grandmaster Hong had mentioned an incident. In 1930, he started to train under Grandmaster Chen Fa-ke. Several years later, while on the way to another place, he saw a man (who looked like a taijiquan "Master") practicing push- hands in turn with his students. It amused Hong and he decided to join in. When the "Master" tried to perform the lu (pull back) technique on Hong, Hong followed his momentum and moved a half step forward, stepping in between the man's legs while at the same time executing the ji (press). The "Master" was pressed one step backward. After the incident, someone later told Hong that the "Master" was actually a prominent student of a famous master of another taijiquan style. Hong said he would not have practiced tui-shou with this "Master" if he knew who this "Master" was before joining in. This is not to suggest that the overall skill level of Hong was stronger than the other master at that time. Instead, it is to say that most people did not know how to step forward in order to follow the Master’s movements and therefore would be much more easily pulled back by him. He did not expect Hong to be able to penetrate so swiftly and stably into his stance. He may have been pushed away just because he was not on guard, but at least this incident illustrates that using good footwork to penetrate the opponent's stance will make the hand techniques more effective.
Under what circumstances should you change your footwork ? Normally there are two situations. One is to change your footwork when your existing stance has reached the limit of its travel. For instance, when you try pushing your opponent with both hands stretched to their limit and your knee is already bent as far as the vertical line of the toe, then if you have no other option you should change your footwork in order to maintain your forward momentum. The second situation is when your stance has not reached its stretching limit, meaning your front knee bends only up to the vertical line of the heel of the same foot, and you only apply your techniques within the most powerful range. If you intend to attack beyond the range you should change your footwork accordingly. There are two ways to change footwork. One is to advance your front foot forward by roughly half a step and then the back foot follows the same distance behind. The second is to allow the back foot to step forward to become the front foot. This is because once the stance and the hands have reached their limit, the end stage of the application will not be within the most powerful range. Although you would still be able to push your opponent away, the technique applied has lost its power and the effectiveness of the attack will be much diminished.
But if one wants to maintain the hands and legs in the most powerful application range, he should execute changes of footwork very well. If one's changing of footwork is not good enough, the centre of gravity will become unstable once in motion. This will give your opponent an opportunity to take advantage of. Therefore, Grandmaster Hong imposed very strict requirements on footwork and they are very practical in use. For instance, in order to step forward, some Chen style taijiquan practitioners would require the front foot to extend forward while brushing the floor with the heel while others would not. Other taijiquan styles do not have this requirement at all. Grandmaster Chen Fa-ke's teaching required the brushing action. Apart from the fact that one can actually attack his opponent by shovelling the opponent's feet with the extending front foot, the main function of the practice is to make moving forward quick as well as stable. With the front foot brushing the floor, the centre of gravity is less prone to rocking. It can also prevent your opponent hooking your leg and tripping you. Your centre of gravity can also follow your foot to move forward to an appropriate and useful distance from your opponent. Hong required the distance between the two feet to be about shoulder width at the moment the heel of the front foot touched the floor. The inside part of the heel touches the floor but not the middle back parts. While the front foot should move pointing slightly inwards when moving forward, the back leg should lower slightly to maintain the groin's jin This makes the brushing action quick and stable. If the sinking of the jin from the hip joint to the back foot is insufficient and as a result the front leg also needs to support part of the body weight, the motion will become heavy, clumsy and slow.
Grandmaster Hong was a person full of character. He was intelligent and acute, studied broadly, had a good memory, and was multi-talented. He treated people warm-heartedly and sincerely with a receptive and open mind. He was also righteous, practical, humorous and optimistic. Even if you did not learn taijiquan from him, just to sit down and have a little chat with him was a joyful experience. Hong possessed many traditional Chinese virtues which are worth learning from:
1. Value on Intimacy and Feelings, Disregard for Materialistic and Monetary Rewards
In the fall of 1984, after nearly two years' correspondence with him by mail, I eventually had the opportunity to go to meet him. I wrote to him requesting that he arrange hostel accommodation for me that was close to his home. I hoped it would make my study at Hong's place a little more convenient. Hong replied that I could stay in his home. I was very pleased by this since not only would it save me money but also it was convenient for study purposes. However, this caused him a lot of trouble. After arriving at Hong's home, we were chatting together happily. After all the other students had left at night, I took out a little sum of money and some food dockets to give him (at that time, major food items were limited and strictly controlled and supplied by the government). Hong pushed them back to me, saying, "Do we still need to do this ?", meaning he had accepted me as a close friend and there was no need to pay a tuition fee. I was moved by the action, saying, "I come here to share the meals with you, we still need to buy some rice for cooking." He then accepted my offer. Hong's words have deeply impressed me ever since. In today's society, many people place a lot of emphasis on money, even in relationships between father and son or between brothers, not to mention dealings between friends or students. One day, one of Hong's students escorted me to the martial arts stadium to see how Hong's other two students taught others. On the way, he told me that if I met any government officials there, I had better not tell them I was staying at Hong's house and studying under him. This was because the local government had decided that all non-local students, including those from interstate or overseas, ought to pay them first and then they would pay Hong portion of the money. Hong worried that the financial burden would be too much for me to afford, therefore he would neither charge me personally for tuition nor allow the government official to charge me for the fee. If this student had not tell me about this, I would have never known. In fact, Hong took a risk by doing this. This was because his own political problems were still unsettled. Another of Hong's students told me that when I wrote to Hong to suggest a visit, Hong said to them that I would be allowed to stay and study in his home and I would not go to study in the martial art stadium. Grandmaster Hong had not told me anything about all this.
After I had moved to Australia, I once sent some money to Grandmaster Hong. Not long after that, I heard that there was a plan to build a monumental stele (as a pseudo burial site where only the dead person's clothing would be buried) in Beijing, in honour of Grandmaster Chen Fa-ke. I wrote to Grandmaster Hong requesting that he keep me informed and let me know of the final details of the proposal, since I was willing to donate some money to the project. Grandmaster Hong replied that he would use the money I had given him as the donation in my name. I immediately replied to him that the money I had given him was for his own personal use. In fact, the financial situation of Grandmaster Hong had not been good (due to his personal political problems) for many years. He was really in need of the money. However, because of consideration of other people's feelings was more important to him than how much money he could get for himself, he had thought only of my own financial position.
2. Emphasise on Taijiquan and Less on Worldly Materials
Grandmaster Hong placed a high demand in practicing taijiquan, and much attention was paid to minor details. He had mentioned one incident: there was a Japanese lady who went to China to learn taijiquan from him every year. One day, several years later, she began to cry during training saying that she believed the learning path would become easier as the years went by, but how come it was getting more difficult ? In fact, it was Grandmaster Hong who put higher demands on her as her training progressed further. And that had made her training feel more difficult. When I was staying with Grandmaster Hong, it happened once that one of his students held a family celebration, and he invited all of us to his home for a meal. I said that I was about to leave for my hometown, and it would be better for me to stay back at Hong's home and practice. Grandmaster Hong then went there by himself. However, there were a few students from different places who had come to visit Grandmaster Hong. After watching me practise the last couple of movements of the Pao-chui, one of them told me how to perform the withdrawal of the right fist in "The Cannon Out of Bosom" posture, and it was different from what I had done. His stance was very low and the withdrawal of his right fist was also low and turned more. I felt the way he performed the posture looked great and began to follow his method of practising. Later when Grandmaster Hong saw me practising, he discovered that I had changed this particular movement. His facial expression then changed, using a severe tone, he asked me from whom I had learnt this movement. He also explained that this was the old way of doing the movement. This was because the right fist had been withdrawn too close to the body and the arm had turned too much. These would make hua-jin (deflection jin) unable to be performed very well.
Grandmaster Hong took an easy going attitude towards materialistic living, although when he was young he was brought up with a good supply of materials in an affluent family. Nowadays, the daily three meals were prepared by his second wife or his students. He never went to the kitchen and never asked for the menu. Due to my lack of culinary skills, I also did not go to the kitchen. Therefore, when the meals were being prepared, we chatted along and discussed taijiquan until it was time for meals at the dinning table. We ate whatever food was prepared on the table. He never mentioned to me anything about food or clothing. Grandmaster Hong normally did not wear eyeglasses except when he wrote. I asked him why his writings were so small. He laughed and told me that when he had asked someone to buy him a pair of long-sighted eyeglasses, a pair with excessive corrective degrees was delivered. It appeared like a magnifying glass. This made the small writings appear not that small when he wrote. In order to avoid wastage, he kept using this pair of eyeglasses. After hearing this, we all began to laugh. Later when Master Gu Liu- xing asked me why Grandmaster Hong’s writings were so small, I told him the reason and he too began to laugh happily.
3. Emphasise on Real Achievement and Less of Popularity
Grandmaster Hong once wrote to me, and mentioned that one local government officer had said to him that Chen style taijiquan research societies had been set up in Beijing and Shanghai, therefore Shandong province must have one too. Grandmaster Hong had replied, "You guys better make sure that you can really spare the time in the research, as I will not have the time to do it. Whoever wants this should do it". Grandmaster Hong reckoned that many people just wanted to carry the titles, and they would have no practical contributions. Therefore he would rather not have this kind of popularity. When people praised his taijiquan and push-hand skills, he often said that we had not really seen the very best yet. He reckoned Grandmaster Chen Fa-ke was really the best. Some foreigners had honoured Grandmaster Hong with the title "Taijiquan Super Star". He laughed and said that super star does not serve any purpose, it is better to really understand taijiquan. Grandmaster Hong had his own unique ways of teaching taijiquan. When I wrote to him asking for advice, he not only answered my questions, but also at times asked for my opinions on some issues. In reply to his questions, just like sitting in an examination, I would always think hard to find the best possible answer prior to my reply. Consequently I always replied by letter very late. But this did not upset Grandmaster Hong. Sometimes, he would send me another letter before I had replied to the previous one. This made me feel uneasy. According to custom, students must always reply to their teachers' letters as soon as possible and only the teachers can reply late. But this did not bother Grandmaster Hong. After going through his way of learning, I was not only able to perform some of the taijiquan practice requirements, but also would be able to analyse some of the philosophies.
Although it has been many years since my last meeting with Grandmaster Hong, whenever I recalled the days I spent learning taijiquan in his house, I would always feel intimacy and happiness in my heart. Grandmaster Hong and his wife were living in a small apartment which comprised two bedrooms and a lounge room. Hong chose the ground floor apartment for the convenience of practicing taijiquan. They lived in the large bedroom while I was staying at the smaller one. Everyday I woke up at 6:00 a.m. and began to train in the lounge room. During my stay with Grandmaster Hong, he did not go out to teach taijiquan. At about 7:00 o'clock in the morning, Grandmaster Hong would open his room door and come out and I would greet him. After washing up, we would sit and chat together in his bigger room while we were having tea. Grandmaster Hong always sat at the sofa near the door while I sat on the other one. It was either Hong’s wife or his students who prepared the breakfast. After the breakfast, we continued chatting and drinking tea. Whenever I had questions I would ask and he replied. Whenever there was a need to see the movements, we would both get up and experiment. Sometimes we discussed about human life and experiences. We even discussed whether the human soul existed ! It was not until Grandmaster Hong said, "Let's practise taijiquan", then I began to learn new techniques from him. Sometimes, his other student came by. Often there were students from other places. When Grandmaster Hong taught them, I stayed on the side and watched carefully. I also learnt a lot of things this way. This continued until 9:00 o'clock in the evening. It was about bed time for Grandmaster Hong and I wished him good night before returning to my room. Once inside my room, I began to review and record what I had heard and learnt during the day. Each day I spent more than 10 hours together with Grandmaster Hong. The routines seemed to be always the same, but every day I had new gains. Many experiences gained from that time have allowed me to recall them until today, helping me to comprehend more about taijiquan. I believe it will continue to be like that in the future. The kind and intimate image of Grandmaster Hong still appears in my mind as if he is standing in front of me and it will remain like that forever.
I would like to thank my students Joseph Wong, Hugh Grady, Hean K. Low, Danny McCartin and C. K. Kan for their assistance and dedication in the preparation of this article. I also want to express my gratitude to all my great taijiquan teachers, in particular the late Grandmaster Hong Jun-sheng, whose wisdom, knowledge and inspiration has made this article possible.