Born in 1926 in Hebei province, Feng Zhiqiang studied Shaolin (ex. Tong Zi Gong) from his uncle, Wang Yun Kai. Later, in Beijing, he learned Tong Bei Quan from Grandmaster Han Xiao Feng. (Han Xiao Feng was from Cang Zhou, Hebei province, which is a famous area for several martial arts.) He then studied Liuhe Xinyi Quan from Grandmaster Hu Yaozhen and Chen Style Taiji from Grandmaster Chen Fake, both of whom taught him qin shou mi shou (closely and secretly).
He began to practice martial arts at eight, and learned a great variety of martial styles such as Shalin Tong-Zi-Gong. Later, he learned Tong-Bei-Quan from Han Xiao-Feng in He-Bei, Liu-He-Xing-Yi Quan from Hu Yao-Zhen of Shan-Xi, and Ba-Gua-Zhang from several famous masters. In 1951, on Master Hu Yao-Zhen's recommendation, Feng began to learn the Chen-style Tai-Ji-Quan from the well known 17th generation master Chen Fa-Ke in Beijing.
Grandmaster Feng is recognized as a top student of Chen Fake. Chen Zhaokui, the youngest son of Chen Fake and a recognized Master of the 18th generation of the Chen family, had told Yang Yang that “if you want to learn push hands, you must study with my Taiji brother (Feng Zhiqiang) in Beijing.”
Master Feng is truly a historic figure in the history of Taiji. He is the originator of Chen Shi Xinyi Hunyuan Taijiquan, a distinct training system that is mainly the combination of what he learned from Grandmasters Chen Fake and Hu Yaozhen. You can visit Master Feng's web page at www.hunyuantaiji.com.cn.
Before his training system evolved into a unique style, Master Feng was well known as the creator of the 48 movement form of the Chen style, which distilled the traditional “long form” by omitting replicate movements and incorporated additional movements from pao cui, the second routine of the traditional Chen style. He also created a set of 30 silk reeling exercises that are practiced throughout the world by practitioners of all styles of Taiji, and established the 12 Principles of Taijiquan that were first published in his book “Entering the Door of Chen Style Taijiquan”, published by Peoples Sports Publishing House, Beijing, 1992. He is also well known for his set of 10 Hunyuan Qigong exercises.
Grandmaster Feng was named a national treasure by the Chinese government, and is sought world wide for his teachings.
Mr.Feng Zhiqiang was born in 1928. His family was from Shulu County, Hebei Province. His great-grandfather was famous martial artist who passed military examinations and became Wuju (successful candidate in the imperial examinations on provincial level) during Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Although Feng's father did not practice martial arts, one of family relatives, Wang Yunkai, was proficient in Shaolin boxing and when Feng became 8 years old, Wang started to teach him Tong Zi Gong (stretching exercises), Standing Post methods, Boddhidharma's Yijinjing (Classic of Changing the Tendons, set of isometric exercises). Feng not only learnt very fast, but inherited his great-grandfather's strength, and at the age of 12 was able to carry 200kg heavy stone around the courtyard (this is traditionally called “Strength Kills Four Gates” - Li Sha Si Men). He liked to fight and many times taught bad youngsters in the neighbourhood a lesson. Because Feng, with his big eyes, looked like a tiger, he was often called “Tiger with Big Eyes” (Da Yan Hu).
At the age of 12 Feng was sent to relatives in Beiping (today's Beijing) to learn repairing electric appliances. One of his neighbours there was a Tongbei expert (also skillful in point striking and “Light Skill” - Qinggong) from famous Cangzhou County in Hebei Province, Han Xiaofeng. Feng studied under Han's guidance for four years, not only learning Tongbeiquan, but also Red Sand Palm skill (hands hardening method), kicking wooden posts and striking sand bags. Feng was able to break five bricks with one hand strike.
At the end of 40s there were two martial artists very famous in Beijing - Xinyiquan (Xingyiquan) master Hu Yaozhen from Shanxi Province, called “One Finger Shakes Heaven and Earth” (Dan Zhi Zhen Qiankun), expert not only in martial arts, but also traditional Chinese medicine and Taoist meditation methods; the second was Chen Fake, 17th generation inheritor of Chen style Taijiquan. At the age of 20 Feng Zhiqiang through introduction of one of his gongfu brothers (who was from the same town as Hu Yaozhen) met Hu Yaozhen. Hu criticized Feng's practice methods saying they were “ruining his body”. To make Feng understand better what he was talking about, Hu asked Feng to hit him. In spite of using whole strength Feng was easily defeated by Hu who only used one finger against him. As the result Feng knelt in front of Hu Yaozhen and started his Neijia boxing studies. Feng studied Liuhe Xinyi Quan under Hu's guidance for two years first learning Qi gathering methods, nourishing Qi, practising Intention and Qi, Santi standing, Dantian Methods, Wuxingquan (Five Elements Fists), Twelve Shapes, 24 Hands.
(1879-1973) native of Yuci in Shanxi Province; famous martial artist, expert in Qigong and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Graduated from Shanxi Chuanzhi Medical School; learnt from many masters of martial arts (internal styles of Taiji, Bagua and Xingyi), Buddhist and Taoist meditation, TCM; received secret transmission of Buddhist and Taoist meditation, and on the basis of his experience in medicine and internal martial arts methods created “Hu Yaozhen's Still and Moving Qigong”; in 1942 in Taiyuan set up Martial Arts Academy of Shanxi Province and became its president. Wrote several books: “Qigong and Health Preserving”, “Qigong”, “Hua Tuo's Five Animals Play”, etc. According to Mr.Feng Zhiqiang, Hu Yaozhen studied Xingyiquan from Wang Fuyuan (Liu Qilan's disciple) and his disciple Peng Tingjuan, which classifies Hu's style as Hebei Xingyiquan.
It is important to note that the practitioners in the lineage of Wang Fuyuan, who live in Yuci in Shanxi, call their art Xinyiquan (Mind and Intention Boxing), although in other areas it is generally known as Xingyiquan (Form and Intention Boxing) and should not be confused with original Xinyi styles of Dai Family or Henan Moslem branch. (JS)
After two years of diligent studies under Hu Yaozhen's guidance, Feng Zhiqiang's internal skills reached high level - not only his Large Heavenly Circle and Three Dantians were opened, but also there was a small ball of Qi that could circulate freely along his body at his will, Five Bows were developed so that his body was full of elastic power. Hu Yaozhen realised that his disciple had not only inborn talent for martial arts, but was also a person who could in the future synthesize and bring to highest development arts he learnt and establish his own style. Hu decided that Feng should also study other martial arts and not be limited to only one style. For this reason he introduced Feng to his good friend, Chen style Taijiquan expert, Chen Fake. Hu suggested that Feng learnt from Chen while at the same time continuing his studies of Xinyi Internal Methods. Since that moment Feng was practising even harder than before, getting up at 4 in the morning and practising until 11 for seven hours. He was exercising both Xinyi and Taiji, Internal and External Methods, standing and moving techniques, single techniques and routines as well as pushing hands. During eight years from 1950 till 1957, Chen Fake corrected Feng's routine eight times, so that Feng was able to understand its inner meanings and true practice methods.
(1887-1957), seventeenth generation descendant of Chen clan, famous Chen Style Taijiquan master, Chen Changxing's great-grandson. Chen became famous in his hometown for victories in leitai (free fighting) competitions held in the county and for defeating opponents armed with spear and saber while Chen stood barehanded (after he rejected the post offered to him by Han Fuju, local warlord). In 1929, through Chen Zhaopei's recommendation, Chen Fake left Chenjiagou and went to Beiping (today's Beijing) to teach Taijiquan. Very modest, used to say about himself “No Good” and for this reason became known in Beijing as “Chen No Good” (Chen Bu Zhong). Many times challenged by martial arts practitioners (including Bagua and Chinese wrestling experts), defeated them in great style, without hurting anybody. Emphasized Wude (Martial Virtue) in his teachings In his late he created New Frame (Xin Jia) of Chen Style Taijiquan, modifying the Old Frame (Lao Jia) by adding several movements and expressing Silk Reeling Power (Chan Si Jin) in more obvious manner.
Chen had many students, including Lei Muni, Tian Xiuchen, Feng Zhiqiang, Hong Junsheng, Li Jingwu, Shen Jiazhen, Gu Liuxin. Shen Jiazhen and Gu Liuxin wrote a book called “Chen style Taijiquan”, which was published in 1963. The drawings and explanations for the first and second routines of Chen style are based on Chen Fake's and his son, Chen Zhaokui's photos and introduce movements as taught by Chen Fake in his late years. Note: this book is a part of “The Complete Book of Taijiquan” (T029B).
In 1953 Capital Martial Arts Research Society was established with Chen Fake as its president and Hu Yaozhen as vice-president. Feng Zhiqiang was going there everyday, first helping his teachers with everyday chores, and then asking for guidance and teachings. In this way he became Chen Zhaokui's (Chen Fake's son) practice partner. Most of Chen Fake's disciples were afraid to practice pushing hands with Chen Fake because of pain, but Feng Zhiqiang treated this as the best way to learn true skill. Since Feng's gongfu brothers always let Feng “enjoy” this “pleasure”, at Chen Fake's late years it was usually Feng Zhiqiang who dealt with strangers coming to cross hands.
In his letter to Wan Wende of Shanghai, Chen Zhaokui wrote: “I have one older gongfu brother, his name is Feng Zhiqiang, he's extremely intelligent, and his skill is the best among all our gongfu brothers”.
At the age of thirty Feng was already very proficient in both arts of Xinyi and Taiji and became very famous in Beijing martial arts circles.
After Chen Fake passed away in 1957, Feng Zhiqiang, although busy with his work in electric appliances factory, was keeping in touch with his gongfu brothers and made few simple rules to be observed by those teaching martial arts: “first, do not make trouble; second, do not fight; third, if somebody comes to challenge you, I (e.g. Feng Zhiqiang) will deal with him”. It happened many times that either Feng or one of his gongfu brothers was challenged and Feng had to deal with the challenger. Once a Qigong master wanted to compare his skill of Bigu (fasting) with Feng. The rule was to sit in meditation for three days with some water as the only food. After three days Feng as usually went out to practise with his 19kg steel rod, while Qigong master could hardly walk!
Feng was in very good relations with Chen Fake's son, Chen Zhaokui. Before death Chen Fake asked Feng to take care of Chen Zhaokui. Feng was often practising together with Chen Zhaokui, taking care and protecting him. When Zhaokui passed away in 1981 at the age of 53, Feng was very sad and was often saying that he did not take good care of his gongfu brother.
Chenjiagou is the place where Chen style Taijiquan comes from. Every generation of the clan had its masters, and in the 17th generation the most skilfull was Chen Fake. However, since after his arrival to Beijing Chen Fake was living in the capital, Beijing became the center of Chen style Taijiquan. After the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) was over, Zhang Weizhen, Communist Party secretary of Chenjiagou, wrote a letter to Feng Zhiqiang asking him to come to Chenjiagou to teach Taijiquan. Feng Zhiqiang visited Chenjiagou three times, teaching Taijiquan to the 19th generation descendants of the style. Many Taijiquan practitioners of Chen clan from Chenjiagou were also often coming to Beijing to deepen their studies with Feng. This part of the history of Chen style Taijiquan will always be recorded in the chronicles.
In 1981 Feng Zhiqiang was asked by one of his friends from Beijing PE Institute to meet a foreign martial arts expert. The foreigner, skillful in many Chinese and foreign combat arts, came to China to look for martial arts masters, and although BPEI introduced him to many experts, he was still not satisfied and asked for meeting with Feng Zhiqiang. Feng asked the foreigner to demonstrate his martial art and found out that although the man's upper part of the body was very strong, the lower one was without roots. Feng asked the foreigner to hit him, and using “scaring the up to get the bottom” method (also called “drawing into emptiness”) pushed the opponent flying on the wall. Since the foreigner could not understand what happened and found out that he was not hurt, he asked to try again and was defeated again. Afterwards the foreigner was full of respect towards Feng's skill and took up Taijiquan study.
In 1981 Feng Zhiqiang retired and in 1983 became the president of the Beijing Chen style Taijiquan Research Association established the same year. Since 1981 Feng Zhiqiang has been invited to take part in many competitions in China, and in 1984 for the first time went abroad, to Japan, to teach Chen style Taijiquan. Later Feng also visited Mexico, USA, Singapore, Denmark, Holland, France and Hongkong. The country Feng visits most often is Japan. Among his student there are not only Taiji practitioners, but also Karate, Judo and Aikido experts. He has been challenged there many times by local martial artists and gained great respect. Same situation happened in 1986 in the US and in 1988 in Singapore.
Feng Zhiqiang has many times been invited to move abroad to stay and teach Taijiquan, but he always refuses saying: “My roots are in China”.
He has also authored many books and video tapes/CDs on Chen style Taijiquan, like “Practical Fighting of Taijiquan”, “The Essence of Chen Style Taijiquan”, “Hunyuan Method of Taijiquan”, “Silk Reeling Method of Chen Style Taijiquan”, “Twenty Four Elbows of Chen Style Taiji”, “Chen Style Taiji Grappling Methods”, “Chen Style Xinyi Hunyuan Taijiquan” and many others.
Feng Zhiqiang often says: “It is my greatest wish is to let Taijiquan culture from China better benefit the mankind!”.
In the first days of March this year I visited Mr.Feng Zhiqiang at his home in Beijing. Because of annoying traffice jams I came to a place near his home quite late and we did not have much time for the conversation. Since he and his family were afraid that I would not find the place, Mr.Feng's daughter came out to meet me and then Mr.Feng also came out to greet me and we all went to his apartment. Mr.Feng was very friendly, full of energy, often joking (he complained about being too short because “it was so easy for a tall person to fetch things that are put on a high shelf…”), open during the conversation. He answered all the question I was asking and it is a real pity the time was so short…
The questions for this interview were sent by persons who subscribed to the updates notifications of this site as well as by some members of Internet discussion lists.
Jarek Szymanski: Mr.Feng, it is known that you studied Shaolin Standing Post methods in your youth. How would you compare it to Neijia practice?
MR.FENG ZHIQIANG: Yes, I learnt and practised Standing Post exercises of Shaolin school. The main difference between them and the methods of Neijia school is that Neijia emphasizes relaxation to greater degree. For this I think there is certain reason in dividing martial arts into External and Internal Families. It is also related to the methods of using Qi - External Family (Waijia) uses physical strength (Li) to drive Qi, while Internal Family (Neijia) uses Intention (Yi) to move Qi. Anyway, I had to give up all my external practise after I started practising Neijia.
JS: What is Qi?
MR.FENG: Qi is a kind of driving force (Dong Li). For example blood circulation can be explained with the term “Qi”. Internal styles say: “exercise Intention (Yi), not Qi”, “when you use Intention, your channels will not be blocked”, “exercise Qi, not physical strength (Li); when you exercise physical strength, it will easily break”; “Intention should be focused on Spirit (Shen), not Qi; when it is focused on Qi, then Qi will become stagnant”. There is also another saying “Where Intention arrives, Qi also arrives”. However one has to build Qi to reach this level. Qi comes from food, from breathing, it is also given to us by our parents and stored in the body as “Original Qi” (Yuan Qi).
JS: You are well known as Chen style Taijiquan expert, but you also learnt Liuhe Xinyiquan. Could you tell more about your studies of this style?
MR.FENG: My Xinyiquan teacher, Hu Yaozhen, was from Yuci in Shanxi Province. His style was of Wang Fuyuan's and Peng Tingjuan's lineage. I was studying under Hu's guidance for nine years. Hu Yaozhen put great emphasis on standing post exercises (Zhan Zhuang). I learnt many standing methods from him, not only San Ti Shi, but also Embrasing Post (Bao Zhuang), Closing Post (He Zhuang), Even Post (Ping Zhuang) and others. Each method had to be practised for three years, and while outside form did not really change, the Intention was changing. The teacher was teaching different Intentions to different students, it was very individual, and the Intentions were changing with the level of the practitioner.
JS: Was it then something similar to Yi Quan (Intention Boxing)?
MR.FENG: I do not know enough about Yi Quan to be able to compare the methods. Hu Yaozhen did not teach standing methods where palms were turned outwards because in his opinion this made Qi flow away.
JS: Is Qi related to Dantian?
MR.FENG: Dantian is closely related to movements of the waist. In microscale it is the center of the body - point between belly button and Mingmen, where Qi originates from. In macroscale it covers whole body. In order to develop Dantian one should start from standing exercises and collect and nourish Qi - first focus Intention on the center of the body. Once the Qi in the body becomes abundant, one feels warm and movement inside. Then Dantian breathing should be used to induce the outside movement of the body with internal movement. When Intention and Qi are coordinated, Dantian turns and Qi flows freely in the whole body. All parts of the body move in a round way. This is Hunyuan.
JS: “Hunyuan” seems to be very important idea as you decided to add it to the name of your system…
MR.FENG: Heaven and Earth are continuously revolving, stars, the Sun, all of the heavenly bodies spin and rotate. This round, circular, coordinated movement is called “Hunyuan”. This movement should also be reflected in martial arts practice. I learnt many martial arts and walked a very crooked path before I understood the core of Neijia arts. I want to show other people a straight, direct path to achieve high skill. For this reason I emphasize “Hunyuan” and the function of Xinyi (Mind and Intention).
JS: Is Dantian movement usefull in fighting?
MR.FENG: The body moves as a cordinated whole because of Dantian movement. While issuing power (Fa Li) Dantian turns and the whole body power is focused in one point. In this way the power issued can penetrate the bones of the opponent. While issuing power the body should be relaxed, but one should be very conscious about so-called “Shaking Power” (Dou Jin). This power has to be focused and not scattered all over the body. The more advanced one is, the smaller the shaking. When we were learning Taijiquan from Chen Fake shaking the body in Fa Li was the greatest taboo to be avoided.
JS: Is Silk Reeling Power (Chan Si Jin) the feature of Chen style only or other styles of Taijiquan have it too?
MR.FENG: All Taiji styles emphasize Opening and Closing (Kai-He), Empty and Solid (Xu-Shi), Hardness and Softness (Gang-Rou), Contracting and Opening (Qu-Shen), Yin and Yang, etc. Silk Reeling Power appears in all Taiji styles but Chen style emphasizes it more than other schools and the round movement of all parts of the body is its feature. Other schools of Taiji pay more attention to Opening and Closing. Actually all martial arts contain circular and round, Hunyuan movements. In Xingyiquan this feature is described by Drilling (Zuan), Wrapping (Guo), Twisting (Ning), Overturning (Fan).
JS: What is Peng Jin?
MR.FENG: It is a kind of power that both Internal and External styles should have (although External styles do not use this term). It is a protective, warding off, directed forward power, which is not weak/soft (ruan). All Taijiquan powers should have Peng, and the differences among them lie in different directions it is applied.
JS: Is Liu He - Six Harmonies - the feature of only Neijia arts?
MR.FENG: Six Harmonies mean coordination between Mind (Xin), Intention (Yi), Qi and the body. Externally they can be understood as “arriving at the same time”. Both Neijia and Waijia should use Liu He principles. Feng Zhiqiang performing Lean With Back (Bei Zhe Kao) movement
JS: What do you consider to be the most important part of Taijiquan practice, most useful in building gongfu (skill)?
MR.FENG: The skill should be build upon a strong basis of Internal Exercises (Neigong). Hunyuan Neigong is a kind of Qigong which is a set of basic exercises and at the same time very advanced practice method. I was able to realize how powerful Internal Power (Nei Jin) is when one day in the 60s in the factory I was working in a 500kg generator was falling down and I could hold it and put on the ground. I believe it was possible only because of neigong exercises. These exercises not only help in maintaining or regaining health but also serve martial purposes.
JS: What about fighting?
MR.FENG: Although martial arts are about fighting, one should not think about fighting during practice. The fighting skill comes naturally after a certain time of correct practice. One should practice Neigong (Internal Methods), routine, pushing hands (Tui Shou). Pushing Hands should be practised in a cooperative way, to get the skill of “knowing the opponent” (Zhi Bi), without any thought of fighting. Then one should also practice single movements and their applications, free techniques, footwork.
JS: What changes have you noticed in the last twenty years and how in your opinion will Chen style Taijiquan evolve in the next fifty years?
MR.FENG: The recent years showed some phenomena that were not present when I was learning Taijiquan. Most of practitioners show a lot of Shaking Power. As I already said, the better the skill the smaller the shaking. Concerning the future, I believe there will be constant improvement in the skill level of the practitioners - they will realize the importance of Hunyuan. As old saying goes “Skill is satisfied only with clear understanding” - it is very important that the teacher understands and is able to explain clearly the principles of the art.
JS: But it is a common phenomena that the skill of the next generation is worse than that of the one before, isn't it?
MR.FENG: This is mainly because the teachers were very conservative at sharing their knowledge. I believe the opening of the teachers will have very positive influence on the level of their students.
JS: Mr.Feng, thank you very much for your kind explanations and your time!
By Yang Yang and Scott Grubisich
Originally published in the June 2000 issue of T'ai Chi Magazine. Reprinted here courtesy of Wayfarer Publications.
Feng Zhiqiang is a Grandmaster of the 18th generation of the Chen style Taijiquan. He is well known as a top student of the 17th generation Grandmaster Chen Fake, as well as the Xinyi Grandmaster Hu Yuezhen.
In December 1997, I returned to China for the first time since my arrival in the United States. In accordance with martial tradition, my first priority was to visit my shifu, Grandmaster Feng.
The following is an interview that I had conducted then, and during subsequent visits over the past few years, with Grandmaster Feng. The interviews were conducted at the request of Mr. Marvin Smalheiser, editor of T'Al CHI Magazine.
Taijiquan is a subtle art. Inescapably, words used to describe levels of progression are subtle also. To reproduce Grandmaster Feng's teaching without editing, I have tried to translate his words as directly as possible. In many instances, it was imperative to retain the original Chinese terms.
I believe that accurate translations and explanations of traditional sayings are crucial for non-Chinese speaking persons to study the art. I have observed, on several occasions, instances where poor translations and/or mispronunciations have confused and even distorted the correct teachings.
In this article we have used the pinyin system for writing Chinese words, with the intonation noted in parenthesis. In Mandarin Chinese, each word can be spoken with one of four different tones. Different intonations have different meanings, so any romanization must include the tone to convey the intended meaning. For example, xin(1) means xin with the first tone, with the number 1 representing that first tone.
I have assumed that the Western Taiji community is readily familiar with some of the most common Chinese terms, such as xin(l) [heart-mind], yi(4)[mind-intent], peng(2)/lu(3)/ji(3)/an(4)[wardoff/roll-back/press/push], and jing(l)/qi(4)/shen(2) [essence/intrinsic energy/spirit]. Where necessary, I have explained or clarified the original Chinese sayings.
My translations and comments are included in brackets  to distinguish them from Grandmaster Feng's words. It is difficult to translate some of the traditional sayings into English. I wish to express my gratitude to Dr. Kam Ming Wong of the University of Georgia at Athens for his review and comments on some of the translations.
At several points Grandmaster Feng emphasizes xiu(1)lian(4), which refers to a deeper level of practice and understanding. Xiulian demands the integration and practice of mind and body.
When referring to practice of the mind xiu-lian is a form of spiritual exercise, encompassing morality, purity of thoughts and behavior, etc. It can be either a verb or a noun, and Master Feng uses it as both.
Yang Yang (YY): What is Taiji? How is it expressed in the art of taijiquan?
Feng Zhiqiang (FZQ): Taiji is essentially Heaven and Earth. Before the Earth and Heaven originated, it was an abyss or void, called wuji. There was no difference between clear and opaque.
Although wuji is characterized by jing(4) [stillness], it also had movement, a dynamic element. When the movement accumulated to a critical level, then you have ji(2) dong(4) [grand movement].
At this point, the clear energy goes up, and the opaque energy goes down. Going up means Heaven, going down means Earth. Then, it is Taiji. Taiji has yin and yang: stillness and movement, inhale and exhale, soft and hard, close and open, empty and solid, short and long, withdraw and extend.
Yin and yang should be evenly distributed. The balance of Heaven and Earth will bring a good environment. The country and people will be safe and peaceful; the harvest will be plentiful. If Heaven and Earth are not balanced, there will be natural disasters, such as floods or droughts.
Human beings need the balance of yin and yang to keep healthy. If yin and yang are not balanced in the human body, there will be a disorder of qi and xue(3) [blood], manifested by the disease of limbs and organs.
We have three sources: Heaven, Earth, and human beings. Heaven and Earth (yang and yin) create everything. Everything has yin and yang. Between Heaven and Earth, there are beings.
We say human beings are the ling(2) [soul] of everything. The world is created by the combination of Heaven, Earth, and human beings. Heaven has three best things: sun, moon, and star. Earth has three best things: water, earth, and fire. Human beings have three best things: jing(1), qi(4), and shen(2).
Taijiquan originated by following the dao of Heaven and Earth movement, the dao of yin and yang, combined with traditional Chinese medical theory. Heaven, Earth, and human beings all have cyclical movement. All have the character of circulation.
In human beings, the energy circulates in the meridians, the network of the whole body. Various health problems will appear if the meridians are blocked. So it is said bu(4) tong(1) ze(2) tong(4) [you will feel pain if the meridians are blocked].
The spiral movement of Taiji is based on the same theory of the heaven and earth rotation. Qi rises through the du meridian, sinks through the ren meridian, and fills the dai meridian.
So Taiji practice is mainly the xiulian of yin and yang; practice both xing(4) [character/spirituality/personality] and ming(4) [body/life/physical health]. Xing determines jing(4) [stillness, peaceful, quiet]; ming determines movement.
Wuji is jing(4); Taiji needs movement. Central equilibrium is required when you move; yin and yang must be evenly distributed. Jing(4) will arise after enough movement.
Conversely, you want to move after you rest for a while. It is a very natural procedure. [Master Feng is emphasizing that the correct practice of Taiji is a very natural process. Stillness naturally follows movement, and movement naturally follows stillness. The two depend upon and evolve into each other, just as the yin and yang portions of the Taiji diagram.]
Taiji is an art based on this theory. This mainly is talking about nurturing health. If you talk about self-defense, Taijiquan absorbed the best things from many different internal and external martial arts and combined them with its theory of yin and yang.
It became a unique art with a very valuable, effective health function and practical self-defense ability. This is the character of Taijiquan.
YY: You are famous as one of the top students of the Chen style 17th Generation Grandmaster Chen Fake. Besides Chen style, did you study other arts? How are these arts integrated into the essence of your training system?
FZQ: As a young man, in my hometown [Sulu, Hebei Province] I studied Shaolin from my uncle, Wang Yun Kai. Later in Beijing, I learned Tong Bei Quan from Grandmaster Han Xiao Feng, who is from Can Zhou, Hebei Province. [Cang Zhou is a famous area for several martial arts.]
I learned the Chen style from Grandmaster Chen Fake. Prior to this, I had studied Xinyi from Grandmaster Hu Yuezhen. Both teachers taught me qin(1) shou(4) mi(4) shou(4) [closely and secretly].
Chen style Xin Yi Hun Yuan Taijiquan [Grandmaster Feng's training system] is mainly the combination of what I learned form Grandmasters Chen Fake and Hu Yuezhen.
Besides the Chen style first and second routines, we also have many single form repetition practices. The essential single forms are called taiji hun(2) yuan(2) gong(1) [dynamic qigong exercises], taiji chan(2) si(1) gong [silk reeling exercises], taiji ji(4) ji(2) [fighting] gong, etc.
If we put all the gong together, we have almost 10 routines. Those are the gong that will help Taiji practitioners reach a high level. There is an old Chinese saying: “You will get nothing, even if you practice all of your life, if you do not practice gong.”
We call it xin yi because we have to use yi to guide the qi, use qi to move our body. So practice qi instead of li [psychical/muscular force], and practice yi instead of qi. If you practice li, it will break. If you practice only qi, you will be stiff. It will flow if you practice intention.
Hun yuan is the essential nature of the Taiji symbol. If you can master hun yuan, you will know the direct route to reach the high level of Taijiquan. With dantian hun yuan qi as the base, guided by xin yi, following the principals of yin/yang and practicing/experiencing/applying the 13 postures, one can accomplish the crystal of hun yuan qi, the high level of gongfu.
The most important thing is jing(1) shen(2) yi(4) nian(4) [spirit and intention]. This is the main principal of our practice. So we call it Xin Yi Hun Yuan Taiji. We have the name Chen style because it was first studied and developed by the Chen family. It is not mysterious; it is a very scientific art. It becomes more complete after many generations' contributions.
YY: You say that you must practice gong. What is gong?
FZQ: Gong practice is the foundation; it is the bigger xiu(1) lian(4). Gong practice strengthens internal qi. It is the process of collecting the qi from nature to replenish our human energy.
If I want to cook dumplings and noodles, I need flour [as the main ingredient]. The gong is the flour. Qi is the source of our dong(4)li(4) [power]. Because it is an internal art, you must start with the internal first, and then learn to coordinate the internal with external movement. There is an old saying: Xing(2) qi(4) ru(2) liu(2) shui(3) [Circulating qi is like water flowing]. If you don't have the feeling of internal qi, that means you are doing only the external form.
[Correct practice of the form is also the process of accumulating gong. Feng Zhiqiang is emphasizing that gong practice is the beginning point. As you proceed, each subsequent step should use the gong accumulated and is also a further means for the continued accumulation of gong.
[The gong he is talking about here is the same Chinese character as in the term gongfu or qigong, but when used as a single word has the meaning described above. The relationship may be described as follows: qigong (energy work) is an essential practice to achieve a foundation of gong. With a strong foundation of gong, one can ultimately achieve a high level of gongfu. Practice of form, applications, fa jin, etc. without the foundation of gong is empty practice that may yield short term benefits but will not allow the practitioner to reach a high level of gongfu. [I would also add that some people have paid a high price for emphasizing short term gains in fighting skill and ignoring gong.]
If you want to do Taiji well, it is not enough to only practice form. You have to practice gong: hun yuan gong, silk reeling gong, ji(4) ji(2) [fighting] gong, step by step. Hun yuan gong [qigong exercises] will nurture you energy, help your transition of jing/qi/shen, and improve the electronic/magnetic energy.
Hun yuan gong will allow you to proceed to a higher level, from small to medium to big accomplishment. You will absorb the best things from Heaven and Earth.
There is an old saying: You can skip quan, but you cannot skip gong. After you know gong, then you can know quan. Not many people have a lot of time to practice everyday.
If you are busy, try to find time to practice gong. You can skip quan [form]. This was my teacher's advice. The busier you are, the more you need to practice gong, because it can replenish the jing/qi/shen you consume. This way you can have a healthy, long life.
To practice this kind of art, your qi must be smooth (qi shun(4)).
[Traditional Chinese medical theory says that in order to have smooth qi, you must be taiji tai he, or peaceful]. You have to xiulian; don't let the distractions of the material world bother you. Xiulian primarily refers to your mind and behavior; you have to improve your xin and shen. One who has xiulian does not desire another's material possessions. Your thoughts should be zheng(4) [proper, i.e., you cannot have bad thoughts].
You have to xiulian your zhong qi. Zhong qi can reach up to Heaven or down to the Earth. Bai hui [the acupuncture point at the crown of the skull] is Heaven, and hui yin [the point between the anus and genitals] is Earth. If you have accomplished the xiulian, your qi will reach Heaven, otherwise it will only reach Earth/Hell. [This is a well-known Chinese saying.]
Between Heaven and Earth is the human being. When human beings are in the womb, they absorb nutrients through the umbilical cord. It is not possible to breathe through the nose. After birth, human beings start post-natal breathing [using the nose and mouth]. Our practice is to return to pre-natal breathing. We return our post-natal modality to our pre-natal origin.
YY: Xiulian is obviously a very important aspect of Taiji practice. Can you tell us more about how to xiulian? How is the concept related to de [morality]?
FZQ: In the martial arts community, people refer to improving de and technique simultaneously. It is called practicing both dao and martial art. There is a reason. Without de, people may use the art to do bad things. To be honest, I think my Taiji practice makes my dao higher than that of the average person.
If your de is not good, your art and technique cannot possibly reach a high level. I learned about de from my two teachers. Sometimes I would make mistakes. But the important thing is that I could check myself and find the problem, correct it, and improve my de.
So we have to improve our de when we pursue the art. You can talk about dao after you improve your de and master the art. This dao is not evil dao. It is the big Dao of yin and yang. It is consistent with Earth and Heaven. It is as big as the sun and moon. It is the goal for our xiulian. But how to xiulian? We should cultivate our mind before we practice quan. Practice xin(1) shen(2) yi(4) xing(4). Those four things are actually one thing. Xin is shen, shen is yi, yi is xing. Xiulian improves our mind, both and courage.
It is not an easy job to xiulian our mind and body. It cannot be done in one day. So we are practicing our mind and body, practicing our courage, practicing our jing/qi/shen.
The whole Taiji process [if done correctly] is xiulian. Dao practice will make the person strong to defend themselves and they will defeat the evil things. So our purpose is very clear; otherwise, why do we practice? It is also said “Taiji should tai(4) he(2).” He means peaceful harmony of the internal organs and all cells. Without he, you will fight internally within yourself and feel sick. You must be able to nurture your qi.
[The phrase “Taiji should be tai he” means that the harmony described above is a goal of the Taiji practitioner. It is something one works towards, and an indication that one's Taiji practice is proceeding correctly.]
If you can do this, people will recognize and respect your art from their hearts, not by force. If you hurt people's eyes, break their ribs, etc., you are damaging your de. Taiji practitioners shouldn't do that. It requires big gongfu.
When you use Taiji to fight, you need big gongfu to defeat people without hurting them. The big gongfu can also prevent evil things from happening. It will scare people from doing bad things.
I came out into society after I retired from my job [in the early 1980's]. I recalled I never hurt another person. I am very happy with what I have contributed to society and the world within such a short period of time. I am also very happy with the friendships I have built. We have a very good relationship with other martial arts.
YY: People get confused about peng. How do you define it?
FZQ: Peng(2) lu(3) ji(3) an(4) xu(I) ren(4) zhen(l) [you must clearly differentiate and pay attention to peng/lu/ji/an]. Shang(4) xia(4) xiang(l) shui(2) ren(2) nan(2) jin(4) [a good coordination between the upper and lower body will prevent the opponent from entering].
Ren(4) ping(2) dui(4) fang(1) lai(2) da(3) wo(3). Si(4) liang(3) hua(4) dong(4) bo(1) qian(1) jin(1) [no matter how hard the opponent attacks, I can use four ounces to neutralize]. These sayings are used to express the purpose.
Peng means energy goes up; lu, back (left or right side); ji, forward; an, down. But peng is also expressed in lu, ji, and an. Lu is back peng. Ji is forward peng. An is down peng. If you don't have the peng energy, you are too soft. Peng/lu/ji/an are just the variation of peng: up/down, forward/backward, and left right.
YY: Does this mean there are two definitions of peng? One is the upward direction of the four side energy, while the other is a broader concept, the expanding energy concept?
FZQ: It is OK to differentiate; to give two definitions. One is the upward direction of the four-sided energy (peng/lu/ji/an), the other is yi(4) qi(4) gu(3)dang(4). [Gudang has a very subtle meaning. Here it is used to describe the outward expansion/movement/vibration of yi and qi.]
Every movement is guided by yi and qi movement. If you don't have yi qi gudang, you collapse. Even if your limbs do not move, you need to have yi and qi. When your intention arrives, your qi will arrive. Movement will follow naturally and your force will arrive.
YY: What is your advice for people in America to practice taiji? What should they pay attention to for push hands practice?
FZQ: Practicing quan and gong is solo work. Push hands is two person training. Quan and gong are xiulian; push hands is also xiulian. Quan and gong are practicing yi and qi movement; push hands is also practicing yi and qi movement.
Because push hands is practice of yi and qi movement, the following are required:
1) zhong ding [central equilibrium],
2) luo(2)xiuan(2)chan(2)rao (3) [spiral-ling energy], and
3) 3) zhan(l) lian(2) nian(2) shui(2).
[Zhan lian nian shui is most often translated as adhere/connect/stick/follow. An understanding of the application of spiral energy and adhere/connect/stick/follow can only be gained through experience [i.e., by the teacher demonstrating, one on one, to the student.]
You must avoid ding(3) pian(l) diu(I) kang(4). [Ding means meeting and responding to an incoming force “head on.” Pian means “oblique,” referring to the loss of central equilibrium.
[Diu means yielding without response, yin but no yang. Diu also means disconnected, without listening. Kang means resist/fight/struggle while you already lose your balance without doing any neutralization]. You must be able to bian(l) hua(4) bian(l) fa(l) [release energy at the same time you neutralize]. It is called hua(4) zhong(t) you(3) fa(l) [having release within neutralization].
Practice and cultivate qi instead of li; practice and cultivate yi instead of qi. After you have practiced enough and in the proper way, you will naturally accumulate the gong(1) dao(4) zi(4) ran(2) cheng(2).
[This is a very well-known saying. The meaning is similar to the term gongfu. It refers to an accomplishment, which is the fruit of constant and dedicated effort and correct practice. This saying can refer to any accomplishment - not just wushu.]
After you have practiced push hands, then you practice jian(4)shou(3) fen(1) li(2) [to throw the opponent away immediately upon touching during sparring].
It is like you are raising wheat. You cannot pull the wheat up [force it to grow]. Or, to use another example, you cannot expect a baby to run before it can even stand. You must proceed step by step. It sounds slow, but actually it is the most efficient way. You cannot proceed too quickly If you do, you will break the moderation principle, wu(2) guo(4) wu(2) bu(4) ji(2). Push hands requires moderation and the avoidance of ding pian diu kang [defined above]. Never have the idea of hurting people; this is also xiulian.
In the classics it is said “rou(2) hua(4) gang(l) fa(l),” which means yield/neutralize with softness, release with hardness. You must practice rou(2) [softness] and hua(4) [yielding/neutralizing].
The same principle applies to quan, [form] practice; practice song(l) [relaxation] first. It is easy to practice quan, but difficult to practice song. In push hands, it is easy to practice fa [quick release], but difficult to practice hua(4). If you can hua with 1,000 pounds, it is such an easy job to fa.
[Another issue is how to fa. The correct, or most efficient, way is to remain relaxed until the point of contact. All energy is then focused on that point.]
You should think of push hands as a gong practice. After you have practiced enough, concise instruction from the teacher will be sufficient to explain the deeper meaning.
[The actual words used by Master Feng here were “yi ( I )di an (3) jiu (4) tou(4),” which means one touch can penetrate. “One touch” refers to brief instruction from the teacher.] If you haven't practiced enough, you will never understand, no matter how hard the teacher tries to explain. If you haven't practiced enough, your instinctual reaction to a push will be to ding [apply force against incoming force].
Push hands is gong practice, and it is qigong practice. Lastly, it is practice of technique. [Note: Feng Zhiqiang has defined the step-by-step order of practice: gong-Chuan-push hands-free fighting.]
The entire interview is available in the June 2000 edition of T'ai Chi Magazine (Vol. 24, No. 3), published by Wayfarer Publications, p.o box 39938, Los Angeles, CA 90039, Fax No. (323) 665-1627, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional subjects addressed by Master Feng include daoist meditation, stories of his teachers (Grandmasters Hu Yuezhen and Chen Fake), criteria for a student to find a teacher and for a teacher to accept a disciple, chan-si “silk reeling” force, historical relationships of “old” & “new” and “big” & “small” versions of the Chen style, cai/lie/zhou/kao, and definition of “ling”.