By Dong Kit-yung
Translated by David Chow, London University Hong Kong.
A word From Erle Montaigue: Liang Shih-kan at the time of this interview was 2nd in command for the original Wudang system of "T’ai chi". I place it is inverted commas because the phrase T’ai Chi was not even invented back then when this system was founded. It’s just that all Taiji came from this original system, hence people tending to call it "T’ai Chi", although technically it is not. When I studied with Liang, he had become the leader of the system.
This article was transcribed from an interview taken by one of the journalists from Beijing who first visited the Wudang village in 1973.
Dong Kit-yung is the leader of the Wudang T'ai Chi Ch'uan style which still exists today on Wudang Mountain in China, said to be the birthplace of T'ai Chi. This style is not to be mistaken for the Wu style of Chen Ting-Hung in Hong Kong who has assumed this name.
T'ai Chi Ch'uan has existed for many hundreds of years, some would say thousands of years but I do not think it is that long. The name of T'ai Chi Ch'uan is a recent invention of one of the modern founders of one of the famous family styles in China, before that it was called something like 'Loose boxing' or sometimes 'swinging boxing'. My ancestors would not be so presumptuous as to call their style the 'peak of ultimate boxing'.
All forms of modern day T'ai Chi originated from my ancestor's way of the fist as can be clearly seen by looking closely at two of the modern styles, the Chen and the Yang. There is some controversy as to who taught who when it comes to these two forms but it is my belief that the Chen family first of all learned some of my ancestor's forms and then one of the original Yang people firstly learned that form. Then, one of our students, not one of our family members visited the Chen Village and began to teach both the Chen leaders and the Yang visitor. We are told that the Yang visitor became very good at our family form and then left the Chen village returning at a later stage to teach the Chen family his form of T'ai Chi.
Today, the Yang style of T'ai Chi is no more known to the masses but a newer easier form is only known to the masses. My family form is not known to the masses, only to my family members and we have taken a vow to never reveal the secrets of our inheritance. Some have come to our village and begged us to show them, many from the West have come and we have only shown them the first two or three forms. The other nine forms are kept for our own family. Many people ask me and other elders of our village why we do not wish to share our T'ai Chi with the rest of the world and my answer is always the same. Look what the rest of the world has already done to the Original Chen and Yang styles, it is almost impossible to see any resemblance to the Original forms but a few of the explosive movements inherited from our original forms. This is my answer, our family forms are precious to us, handed down from generation to generation through the hundreds of years and we do not wish this form to be taken up by people in the Western countries so that they are able to claim all kinds of lies about our style and their own knowledge. Only in our situation are we able to train our children in the true boxing of T'ai Chi Ch'uan, the children grow up knowing this form and it has become a part of their lives. In the West, people want to learn their forms in one or two years and this is wrong, there can be no inner mind learned in this way.
People who visit us ask me what is this inner mind and I say to them that it is like asking a great artist how they paint. It takes many years of hard training and mind study to gain the inner mind and only after at least twenty years of practice does one only begin to enter into the T'ai Chi but it cannot be learned.
Yes, all of our family are able to defend themselves in a very short period of time but to gain mastery of the self it takes many years more, fighting is only the first steps in attaining the inner mind. Men must go past the initial barrier of the self and not be afraid of human attack, only then will they be able to go into the inner mind and learn. This is why we teach our family members how to defend themselves first of all. We do not really need to know how to defend ourselves today but deep down in every man's mind, no matter how much he has nei kung, he is always wanting to know if he is able to -defend himself against attack. Only when he is able to put that part of his fear behind him will he be able to continue on ward and inward to self mastery. Mastery should not be counted in years practiced or in money spent or in physical attributes but in how the master has been able to master his own destiny and inner spirit.
I began this talk because I was hoping that I might be able to help some people to try and find their own way but upon reflection, it will be very difficult for anyone who reads these words to be able to gain many centuries of handed down tradition and to put aside their physical fears in order to gain the inner mind.
There are sometimes very special people, who with only a small amount of the correct teaching will be able to know how to teach themselves. Some people are able to learn through the inner mind even though it has not yet been opened. These people are known to us as 'large people' (rough translation, there is no real translation to this word), they are able to take in information from the without in order to teach the within. Most of these people will never know that they have this ability, only that they are able to understand their own inner martial arts better than anyone else and sometimes there comes to them in dreams or just ideas, methods that have taken hundreds of years to perfect. This leads us to believe that these people are able to communicate with the outer world and the spirits of this world.
No, I do not mean ghosts but ideas and thoughts that come in the form of energy into the front of the brain so that we are able to use it. Energy that comes into the back of the brain is not able to be used in this current physical lifetime but is stored for a later period. By your questions it is plain to see that you want me to speak of talking with the dead or something like that but I will disappoint you because we cannot speak with the dead, how can you speak with something that is dead, we are only able to receive communications with something that is alive but it is on a level that we do not know about and is impossible for someone who has not experienced such things to understand so I must not speak anymore about this subject.
On a physical level the practice begins with simple coordinated movement as a child and this is all we give to our children. If we try to teach any more then the progress will be slowed. Every child must take his own path in learning boxing, some will learn quickly while others will be natural at moving in a coordinated manner. The breathing methods are not given to the children as this is impossible to learn until one has reached adulthood. All that we are able to teach the children are ideas and living skills and in this way the inner skills will come naturally. We do not tell the children about any limitations in life but prefer to allow them to find out for themselves, in this way every child will only learn about his own limitations and not take on anyone else's.
Yes, the forms are learned at an early age but only when they wish to. Because the children see everyone in the family performing the ritual exercises, it is natural for them to copy and to want to learn what their family is doing. Their kung-fu becomes like walking and talking to them.
One short set of movements is learned every two years until the whole twelve sets of movements are learned. This takes the child into early adulthood, and it is here that we begin the inner training. The inner training begins with simple breathing ways and then we teach them to lower the breath. No, not just the external physical breath, I mean the inner breath. But here again I am finding it quite impossible to explain something that is just learned through experience. I can tell you something now and you will feel something immediately and you will say to yourself, "Ah yes, this is what he means". But this is wrong as you will only have the first physical experience of Ch'i Kung and this is not what you are looking for. You see, it will take you another twenty years or more before you will know what I am talking about so you will write in your newspaper that you have experienced Ch'i Kung but this will not be true and after that twenty years you might want to explain it to someone and you will also have the same problem. So it is not good to try and explain Ch'i kung to anyone who has not yet been learning it for many years.
This is my son, he is Po nien and he has attained the inner mind, he is only thirty five years old. When he was twenty, he thought that he knew it all and would want to go out of our village and fight with all others and sometimes he would, and he would win. Now, he does not want to fight with anyone because he has finally realized that he will die some day and that he is not so good after all. This is what happens in the Western world, I see and hear about people who fight for money and for glory but why do they do this. These people have not yet mastered themselves and so they should not be fighting with others for money.
At this level of understanding, I can only tell you to master yourself before you can master others.