In this series of articles, I delve into the old pile of hand written notes that I took down during my training with Chang. Mainly to preserve such treasures but also to get the good information out about Tai Chi.
This first conversation took place on the Sydney dockyards in a small alcove overlooking the Australian Navy depot early one morning in 1978.
How did you get to train with Yang Shou-hou?
I became his doctor and would go to his home to treat his illnesses which were mainly from his years of fighting. And as I was already adept at a number of martial arts systems, I became interested in his form of Tai Chi.
What made you want to learn from Shou-hou and no other teacher?
One day after I had finished making a poultice for his neck, I asked about his family’s Tai Chi. At first he was not interested but as the weeks went by I persisted and finally he agreed to test me.
Test you? What was that all about.
Shou-hou was very serious about his martial art and regarded it as his inheritance. At that time he only had one student of the inner circle who would train with him every day. So it was my luck that he wanted another student so that he could take a rest and have the two students beat each other. The test involved him asking me to attack him with every kind of attack and with full power, he asked me to attack as if I really wanted to kill him. At first I was reticent and he kept saying ‘stronger, stronger’, so I did and each time I ended up on my back with severe damage and often I would be unconscious. I suppose it was his way of seeing if I could take the punishment as he had many other students who would only last a few days when they discovered what was involved.
So you passed this testing.
Yes, but it was at a cost.
What was that cost?
I still have damage to one leg and my cheek-bone was also broken.
What did your initial training consist of.
As I was already an inner student, I was introduced to the houses.
The houses? What is that?
He would only ever teach inner circle students so he always taught the inner houses. These were the direct transmission from his Grandfather which taught the highest levels of the style.
How is it different from what we see today being taught as Yang Family Style.
You cannot recognise it because it is so different. You have seen me doing my style and you did not recognise it as being Tai Chi when you first saw me, that is how different it is. Which is why I did not tell you that it was Tai Chi but H’ao ch’uan. The movements are very small and adhere strictly to the Old Classic writings.
You use the backs of your forearms greatly in this system which is not inherent in other Yang systems or in any system of Tai Chi that I know of, why is this.
It is one of the Houses of Yang where we learn about the Thunder. When you use the backs of your arms, it will make the whole body aligned and balanced and also give one much great power in attack, it is like something rolling over and over until the fighting is finished. When the arms roll over, it makes the body as the Universe which is constantly changing and moving forward. This was the 2nd House.
Is this the reason that you constantly defeat me?
Yes of course, the arms are like water when as soon as they are touched, they change and attack from another direction.
Will you teach me?
But then you would might defeat me! (Chang had a great sense of humour and about three months later we began my training in this area).
Your way of doing pushing hands is the same as the ‘Rolling Thunder’ isn’t it, I have only just now realised this.
Yes of course but I never call it pushing hands because that is what others do and it is incorrect. It is ‘joining hands’, there are no pushing in Tai Chi.
But most people’s idea of Tai Chi is that is very powerful at pushing and we see demonstrations of Masters pushing their students many metres away.
Have I ever pushed you?
No, but you have stuck me.
Yes, so I have answered your question. Why would you want to push someone? Why would you wish to pull someone, that doesn’t do any real damage, he might get up and kill you with a knife. Pushing was introduced to keep people away from learning the real Tai Chi.
When we do ‘joining hands’, we have a normal stance other than the front foot is turned inward while the rear foot is kept straight. Other Tai Chi schools have a very low and wide stance just the same as when they practice their forms.
Do you walk down the street using this low wide stance? Of course you do not. So why would we practice our self defence in such as stance. You cannot ask your attacker to wait while you lower yourself. Our joining hands is solely for learning how to fight and how to issue energy. I use that same energy (Qi) when I do healing on patients. So why would we use a stance that is uncommon to us.
In what ‘house’ do you learn this way of Joining Hands.
This is the number three house.
Is there any of the Classic Lessons that you have learnt that really are your favourite?
I think the saying of a very small weight defeats a very large weight (4 oz defeats 4000 lbs) and you have to have it with the other one; a feather cannot land on you without your body knowing it.
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