Touring and Training in China – continued
– Chief Instructor Brett Wagland
Interview with Feng Xiu Qian Laoshi, daughter of the founder of the Hun Yuan Tai Chi System
It is always a reluctant goodbye to Wudang as it holds enormous charm for those who appreciate Chinese culture and the beauty of these mountains. It was only a two-hour drive to Xiang Fan, an old dusty town. We had a spicy meal that we all enjoyed and then off to Hotel Vienna. The following day, we flew to Beijing, the last leg of the tour.
Arriving at grey skies in the capital was not the most pleasant welcome. However, the scale of the new Beijing Airport was monumental. Even the weather could not dampen our sense of awe. Beijing is fast becoming a city of the 21st century. With a population nearing twenty million, it pulsates with energy and power. It still has its imperial past on display, in the form of enormous walls and ancient buildings that speak volumes of a powerful and well-developed culture.
The next morning, we were greeted with blue skies and warm weather – a charming day to train with the effervescent Feng Xiu Qian Laoshi (teacher), daughter of Grandmaster Feng Zhi Qiang, founder of our Hun Yuan Tai Chi system. We trained in the Heavenly Temple Park which covers 270 hectares. The grounds include the Heavenly Temple with its old walls, peaceful gardens and ancient trees – a truly inspirational setting. Feng Laoshi guided us through the fa soong qong (deep relaxation), qigong, chan si gong (silk reeling) and the Hun Yuan Tai Chi 24 form. Our trusty guide Vincent was there to help in the translation of the important principles and philosophy behind the practice.
While in Beijing, I was able to interview Feng Laoshi to find out more about her and her training. Feng Laoshi is the third daughter of four girls. She has been training for about 30 years. At first, she did not like her father’s gong fu (also commonly transliterated as kung fu) training. As a young girl, she saw little of her father. He was busy with work and instructing students in Tai Chi at night and on the weekends. There were always people around who were studying with her famous father. It was not until she became ill with work that she decided to try Tai Chi.
As a child, Feng Laoshi was sickly and very introverted. Times were hard in China. Food and medicine were in short supply. Her poor constitution caused more health problems when she was employed in an office, typing and sitting all day. She developed back and heart problems. After seeing doctors and with no improvement, she decided to try her father’s way. A month after she started her practice, she felt better and was ready to resume work. The more she practised, the more she could feel. Her energy improved to the point where her friends hardly recognised her. No longer was she pale and sickly, she was now vibrant and confident. She was a different person.
Feng Laoshi’s father saw the changes and decided to train her himself. Now he could see that she was determined and willing to persevere. At first, she was learning from her father’s disciples. Feng Laoshi mentioned that her father never praised her. He was very critical. At first, she found it difficult to accept. In Chinese, they call this eating bitter. Now she realised that he did this to develop her gong fu to a higher level. If he was always praising her, she would not be able to go deep in the training. To go deep means being able to see beyond the external appearance of the practice and experience its essence.
On the journey to achieving gong fu in Tai Chi, you come to a certain level where you can calm down. Feng Laoshi suggested this could be easier for women because they are softer and more sensitive, and thus more able to relax and capture the feeling of the training. Men tend to be tense and have more pressures in general. In Chinese culture, men are often referred to as mountain and women as water. In Tai Chi, it is said that by accumulating more and more softness, we gradually achieve hardness. When you practise correctly, you will begin to combine the yin and yang energies to produce warmth in the Dan Tian in the abdomen. As your practice develops, you will have many different sensations. We mustn't look for these things. When the conditions are right, the feelings will arise naturally. Sometimes people hear about all these amazing phenomena and want to chase after them. If you keep thinking too much, you will not be feeling. Just practise.
Reflections on Her Father
At first, Feng Laoshi did not understand her father. She resented his Tai Chi activities. It was only later that she saw him in a different light. He was looking after his wife, four children and running a large factory. He had a lot of responsibilities and was respected by his co-workers and students alike.
Feng Laoshi considered her father to be a very virtuous man. In traditional Chinese culture, philosophers such as Lao Tzu, Confucius and Chuang Tzu regarded virtue as one of the hallmarks of an accomplished person. Virtue means doing something good for its own sake; doing good because it feels right and accords with laws of nature. This quality is enhanced through the practice of arts such as Tai Chi. A good master would not pass his knowledge to a person of questionable character, even for a great sum of money. People of virtue always try to keep a good standard, no matter what. When Grandmaster Feng was challenged by a young ruffian, he controlled his power and simply unbalanced the attacker without causing serious harm. He could have quite easily hurt this man.
Grandmaster Feng recommends the practice of Xiu Lian (self-cultivation). He encourages students to develop mindfulness and to try to amend shortcomings they may have. This practice will sharpen your mind and purify your energy. Feng Laoshi stated that her father's virtues include a deep level of gong fu (mastery of his art) and bravery. His deep understanding of the principles is expressed through his ability to apply his gong fu in different situations. He never shows fear and always defends the weak. Intelligence alone is not enough to enable us to implement this knowledge. It also requires courage. Only when your gongfu is deep will you feel calm in the face of danger. If you want to learn from a real master, you will also need to have virtue.
Requirements for Achieving a Good Level of Practice
Developing gong fu needs the time and accumulation of daily practice. When you stop, you break the connection. Finding the correct path to good training requires a good teacher. There are many twists and turns along the path. A good teacher will always find your weaknesses and correct you, thus helping you to improve.
In the beginning, we need to collect and nurture our energy. This is called practising the gong. As we develop, we merge with nature, feeling a strong connection with our surroundings. This also indicates a strengthening of our internal energy. When we reach the state of tranquillity, we will communicate more deeply with nature. Wu Wei means to be natural, not interfering with the natural process. Our hearts beat, our hair grows – all without our conscious doing. Learn to appreciate nature. The more you practise, the more you will become in harmony with nature.
Practise each movement until you know it well and it feels natural. The movements are based on principles which in turn are based on nature. Nature follows the Tao (the Way). The more you practise according to the principles, the closer you are to the Tao. Tai Chi is based on 13 kinetic movements:
- the 5 directions: left, right, forwards, backwards, centre, and
- the 8 energies: pung, lu, Ji, an, Tsia, li, Jou, Khor (ward off, rollback, press, push, uproot, split, elbow, "shoulder".
Practise these well individually, then combine them and your form will be good.
Learn to communicate with Dan Tian. As the energy grows stronger, the Dan Tian becomes warmer. Other important areas include the kidneys, Ming Mum (Gate of Life) and the perineum. The more you practise, the more you will feel these centres of the body. Before we are born, our nutrients come from our parents. Once we are born, we take in nutrients from nature through air and food. Our training enables us to absorb more energy from nature. Training is about transforming jing (essence) to qi (energy) to Shen (spirit or greater consciousness and vitality). The essence is drawn from the organs and refined in the Dan Tian into qi. Eventually, qi is further refined into vitality or spirit. This process is called Hun Yuan and comes from the time of the Yellow Emperor.
Discovering the Art in Health or Martial Arts
Tai Chi training is endless. There is always a higher mountain to climb. The more you practise, the more you see there is to learn. Once the basic principles and techniques are mastered, you can use them in many more creative ways. Reaching the stage where your Tai Chi becomes an art means you have transcended the limitations of form and are now able to embody and express its principles in everything that you do. Most arts deal with various objects such as wood in sculpture or paint in art. Our art is the human body, mind and spirit. This is high-level art. Watching Grandmaster Feng practise is like watching an artist expressing his masterpiece on the canvas of the human body. Every movement expresses power and grace, evoking feelings of joy and tranquillity.
Unfortunately, in our modern world, most people are driven by profit, not virtue. This is confusing and it becomes harder to distinguish the real masters. Virtue sounds so old fashioned in today’s internet savvy society. However, some values hold and enable us to become better people, regardless of time. Grandmaster Feng's teachers, Hu Yao Zhen (1879-1973) and Chen Fa Ke (1887-1957) were people who refined themselves and embodied the principles of their arts. They are still respected for the legacy they left behind and which Grandmaster Feng (1928- ) continues. The more you cultivate yourself, the more virtuous you become and the greater your influence. I hope you all practise well and understand the true flavour of the Hun Yuan system and become a beacon of light in your communities.