Friday 11 May 2012

Links in a chain

Davidine Sim, Feng Zhiqiang & David Gaffney in front of  Feng's school in Beijing
I've just got back to the UK after a couple of weeks'  training in Poland with Chen Ziqiang, one of the best of the young teachers from Chenjiagou. While we were there we heard the sad news of the passing of Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang, a renowned disciple of Chen Fake. It really brought home the value of the  art that we practise. Generations of masters have passed the baton of real Chen Taijiquan skill for the best part of four centuries. It is important for all of us who teach the system to remember that we are no more than links in a chain that connects us back to Chen Wangting and forward to future generations of practitioners.

I met Feng Zhiqiang about eight years ago in Beijing and found him to be warm and welcoming.  His great Taijiquan skill is well known, but perhaps most illuminating was the way he treated the ordinary people in the local neighbourhood. On the way from the small apartment he shared with his wife to go to lunch at a nearby restaurant we got into the lift with Master Feng when he started to chat with the lift operator. She was a simple looking young woman whom he obviously knew well. Master Feng took an apple from his pocket and gave it to the woman. She took it, thanked him and went to put it in her pocket. With a stern voice but with a twinkle in his eyes he scolded her and insisted that she ate the apple there and then which, after some persuasion, she did. Afterwards he explained to us that she was poor and always put her family's needs before her own. If he did not make her eat the apple she was sure to give it to some one else and do without herself! Master Feng spoke of the importance of treating both  "important" and ordinary people the same. That he was kind to the ordinary people around him, the lift operator and later a street cleaner we met on the way to the restaurant shows the quality the great man possessed, and not just in his taijiquan skill.

After a lifetime of practice Master Feng's "Twelve Principles of Taijiquan" is worthy of study:
  1. The heart and spirit void and quiet from start to end.
  2. Center equilibrium.
  3. Use the mind to move qi. The heart is the commander.
  4. Start with sink and drop. Search for soft and smooth.
  5. The inside/outside and upper/lower should work together.
  6. The transition of yin/yang will help you find hard/soft.
  7. The silk reeling force should be present through the body.
  8. Search for open/close by folding the chest and abdomen.
  9. Concentrate on the dantian to improve neigong (internal force).
  10. Keep your heart calm, mind quiet, and practise slowly (stillness in movement). 
  11. The form is like a moving standing pole (huo zhuang).
  12. You will be successful if you know both how to practise and how to nurture yourself (yang sheng).                                                                                                                                                                       With the sadness of Master Feng's passing still lingering,  the training with Chen Ziqiang resumed. I guess this is how it has always been. From Chen Wangting, through the pantheon of great masters, some heralded, others forgotten, the art will survive as long as there are people who really value it. Thus the legacy continues.           


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