GRANDMASTER HONG JUN-SHENG AND HIS CHEN STYLE TAIJIQUAN
By Peter Wu Shi-zeng
Translated by Hean K. Low / C. K. Kan
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.
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