Notes from G.M. Yang Zhenduo

Hi everybody!

Workshop with Yang Zhenduo

Instalment #2 in this BLOG experiment is also from the Masters' Symposium of 2006. This entry includes the "Twenty-four Word Wheel" as transmitted by Grandmaster Yang. I do not know whether this originates with him or whether it is an older teaching.

Enjoy! *************

Notes from 2006 on Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan (taken by Steve Higgins, Cold Mountain Internal Arts,

These remarks were recorded in 2006 in lessons given by Grandmaster Yang Zhenduo, son of Yang Chengfu, at Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. He spoke no English, so these remarks were through an interpreter. This was the first of the “Grandmasters’ Symposiums”; there have been three in North America since this occasion, which I believe also marked Grandmaster Yang Zhenduo’s last public appearance in North America. (The function of Yang family representative has since been assumed by his grandson, Yang Jun.)

What astonished me was the size of the frame he taught. It was much more stretched out than anything I had experienced previously. Above you can see him expanding my 'Ward Left' posture!

I was privileged to be in a small group with him over the course of a week in which he taught a sixteen movement short form in the classic Yang-family large-frame style. This form is demonstrated in the video section of the CMIA website: ( I was even able to briefly push with him in the course of one of the lessons! __________________________________________________________________

The traditional Yang style is characterized by movements which are slow, smooth and even. The energy is retained inside the body, rather than displayed openly. It is soft outside, but hard within! This is much misunderstood. There must be real power inside, not nothing but softness.

Do not apply brute force. Brute force is stiff force. Force must be refined and skillful like a steel needle hidden in cotton. The strength is there, but not presented openly. It is implied in posture. There must be a quality of vibrancy, as opposed to listlessness.

This involves stretching out; the motion opens out. The secret is seen in the palm which is stretched out with the fingers bent but slightly open. The palm is both stretched and at the same time, relaxed. Beginners are usually either too relaxed or too stiff. This influences strength through the whole arm.

This quality (of being stretched and relaxed) permeates the whole body. This is so important – because this principle should be applied to wrist, forearm, shoulder…whole body! All shapes should have internal power, stretching power, stretching out. Eg. In Single Whip there is power channeled into the hooked fingers. (note: full flexion!)

Movements should be soft and even, but filled with internal stretching power. In Yang style there are no alternations in tempo. Maintain this in the practice environment. In this way Yang style is slower and simpler than Chen style. This is crucial in promoting the ten points (enunciated by) my Father, Yang Cheng Fu. These key points are expressed in the Twenty-Word Wheel:

Stretch the elbow Empty the armpit; Elbow leads the shoulder Stretch includes wrist and hand. This empties the chest and stretches the back; This relaxes waist and loosens hips. Then all joints are loose together, Coordinated and filled with power. Go slow and savour it!

(In a later session Grandmaster YZD stressed that while the Twenty-Word Wheel (“Twenty Words” is simply a traditional formula to emphasize importance, he said) is primarily focused on the upper body, it applies to the whole.) ____________________________________________________________________________

Pull the elbow and the armpit is emptied. When the elbow is pulling, your shoulder is connected to your ankle. The hand should be vital, palm stretched and fingers slightly open. The armpit is empty and everything is pulling. The armpit is empty and everything is pulling. Everything is curved but pulled open, and everything is connected to everything. Everything is curved and the back is open. So even though the Twenty Words deal with the upper body, because of this principle of connectedness the entire body is implied.

What pulls the armpit open? The tip of the elbow. The tip of the elbow pulls and the armpit opens. With regards to the palm, the fingers open and the palm is stretched but slightly curved. This seems a small detail but is very important; it influences other things.

With regards to the spirit, the inside and the outside must be connected. You open your tendons and sinews, and sense your inner connectedness.

In Chinese the waist is equal to the back. “Relax the waist” implies “Relax the back”. You must pay attention to this relaxation and never force it. “Relax” does not mean “limp”. It means to loosen and connect.

Bodily configuration manifests differently in different postures, but shares a single principle. In Single Whip the upper body is held perpendicular but in Grasp Bird’s Tail it is inclined with a loosened sacroiliac. In each case the back is not “straight”, but “centered”. In Brush Knee the incline results from looseness. (Remember, in this context looseness implies stretching with relaxation outwards.) Single Whip is very open with an upright body and a straight rear leg; the same thing is true of Ward Off. But in each case the back is relaxed and centered.

In forward stances, where one hand wards so as to protect the knee, this hand wards horizontally across - not just down. Then it sinks as if grabbing and controlling the opponent who may be then struck with the other hand.

In Single Whip the upper body is upright because the two arms are extending power out, but in different directions. These postures are similar to formal script for official documents. They are jun – upright. This is a stylistic issue. A style may be performed in different ways. By looking at my Father’s postures as photographed at different times in his career, one can see that his personal style changed. This is permissible and inevitable.

The form may also be performed cursively. But in formal context (which is jen: correct and morally upright) the back is the central axis and therefore does not lean as it does in other postures such as Grasp Bird’s Tail. In Single Whip the hips are very open. A similar posture is Fan Through the Back, but in comparison to Single Whip this posture does manifest a lean.

The mind should always be calm and centered. The eyes look out into the space into which you are moving or striking. They change their object of regard as required. They are therefore not fixed, but neither are they wandering or easily distracted.

All movements in Yang style have the drawing of silk. This is a basic principle shared by all traditions of Tai Chi. But the Yang method is simpler.

Focus on energy, rather than Qi. Focus on your Tai Chi, on your body and what it is doing. If your body is relaxed and connected, the energy will be developed from outside to inside (and you will have internal power). Connect your body and your mind through coordination and concentration. Then energy will come. There is no set rule for this.

Breathing is important. As you relax down (with the breath) you can feel your Qi rising. This is why it is so important at the beginning to sink the Qi to the lower Dan Tien. If your muscles and your bones are relaxed, then you will feel Qi.

Once the principles and the form have been realized, one may engage in sparring to perfect skills and the capacity for spontaneous movement. Initially this sparring should be slow. The principles of slow sparring are:

1. Do not speed up; stay slow. 2. Take turns in attack and response. 3. Initially, pause between the two. 4. Movements should be at a constant slow speed. 5. When receiving, allow the blow to touch; welcome it. 6. If needed, push harder. 7. Don’t analyze or think. Feel the direction and neutralize. 8. Then use the closest striking surface on the closest target. 9. After much practice one may increase the tempo while retaining regularity. 10. One must relax muscles, joints, bones and mind.

During these teachings which lasted over a week I had many opportunities to physically interact with the Grandmaster. Whenever he asked for a volunteer, I was usually the one to step forward and therefore was able to pick things up through touch and through having my postures and movements personally adjusted by him. I was also privileged to briefly push hands with him when he was teaching Grasp Bird’s Tail. (I remember the pleasure he showed when watching me pushing hands with my good friend Ed Cooper.)

A number of times I was standing next to Grandmaster Chen Zhenlei during these sessions in which we were sharing floor space with Grandmaster Chen’s workshops, and I remember Grandmaster Chen smiling and nodding with evident enjoyment and agreement at what Grandmaster Yang was saying to us.

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