The further back in time we look, the more obscure the history of Taiji becomes. Yet from the study of this past, two things become clear. Firstly, that the inner essence of Taiji flows down from genuine teachers to sincere pupils in unbroken chains. Secondly, that each teacher must devise his or her own training system to express and pass on this impersonal inner teaching. The teaching must evolve outwardly or die inwardly. Yang Cheng-Fu developed the Yang Style Slow Form. Cheng Man-Ching created the Yang Short Form, and shifted the emphasis from fighting to internal harmonisation. Master Huang Xingxian created the Five Loosening Exercises, systematised 18 patterns of pushing-hands, and included the Sanfeng Quaiquan (Quick Fist) – a fighting fast form with ancient roots. With Master Huang’s direction, students taught his system of Yang Taiji from their own individual understanding.
Master Huang Xingxian (Huang Sheng-Shyan) was born in Fujian Province, China, 1910. From the age of 14 he trained Baihequan (White Crane), Lohanquan (18 Buddha boxing) and Neigung (Daoist Internal Alchemy) under the well known Fujian White Crane Master Xie Zhongxian (b. 1852 — d. 1930).
Later he trained under Master Pan Chun-Nien who also educated Huang in Chinese Medicine and the Literary Classics. Subsequently Huang opened a school in Shanghai where he trained together with his friends Chung Yu-Jen (Taiji), Chiang Hai-Ching (Xingyi) and Yang Chih-Ching (Bagua). He also studied Taiji with Wan Laisheng (China Martial Arts Champion 1938). In 1947, having moved to Taiwan, he began Taiji with Zheng Manqing – a direct disciple of Yang Cheng-Fu. Quickly Huang entered the inner-school and in later years came to be regarded as Zheng’s most accomplished disciple.
From 1958 on Huang lived and taught in Singapore and Malaysia. By the time of his death in December 1992, he had established 40 schools and taught 10,000 people throughout South East Asia. During the last 5 years of his life he gathered around him about 40 active initiated members of his inner-school and to them attempted to pass his final teachings. In choosing these people, he said, he was mostly concerned with the sincerity of their inner motives. He explained that he wished no one person to make claims as his successor but that he hoped the combined knowledge of these 40 (of whom only a few continue to teach today) would contain the essence of his methods and these people would represent his teaching for the future.
In this role Grandmaster Huang repeatedly said that “the essence of Taiji is in the Form”. Which is the sets of movements developed as a means to train the body to move in a synchronised and harmonious Taiji manner. So that eventually every movement contains the ‘Principles’, and the Form becomes formless.
At the age of 60 Grand Master Huang Sheng-Shyan again demonstrated his abilities in Taiji by defeating Liao Kuang-Cheng, the Asian champion wrestler, 26 throws to 0, in a fund raising event in Kuching Malaysia.
When teaching Grandmaster Huang would repeatedly point out that; “slow is fast and fast is slow”, to students eager to learn the Form in as short a time as possible. Those who paid no attention to this and rushed on to Pushing-hands classes often found the need to return to the beginners and start again, as they in their haste they had forgone accuracies. “Seek the quality not the quantity” was another frequent saying, encouraging the students to get one movement right before moving on to the next. Not many people like to spend a lot of time just learning one movement, and few teachers are prepared to teach the details of one movement. The basics might seem dull and monotonous, but future progress will depend on a sound foundation. “If you have a foundation deep enough for three stories, you can only build a three story building. For a twenty story building you need to have laid a foundation to support twenty stories.”
Pushing-hands is an extension of the Form where you work towards remaining synchronised, balanced and grounded even with an external forces affecting you. It works on the principle of yielding to an oncoming force, and redirecting back to its source.
In Pushing-hands the practitioner learns to listen to the oncoming force of their opponent, stick and adhere to him or her, follow them back until they loose their centre, then issuing the relaxed force.
“The way that you do the form will result in the way that you push hands”. “By understanding yourself and understanding your opponent, you will excel in pushing-hands.” Therefore, the way you move your body and synchronise your movements in the pushing hands must be the same way as in the Taiji Form.
Listening begins in the Form, where-by you cultivate the ‘understanding of yourself’ and how your body moves and synchronises. From this you can extend your listening cultivation into the Pushing-hands to ‘understand your opponent’.
Training Pushing-hands begins with fixed pattern routines in which the body learns to respond to an external force that has a controlled direction and velocity. As per the Form, every movement must contain sticking, adhering, listening, neutralising and issuing. Practitioners must be careful not to lapse into a mechanical movement of just ‘going through the motions’. The listening should develop to include not only listening to the incoming force but also listening also to your reaction to the force, your movement in relation to your relaxation, how you push your opponent and their reaction to your push.
Everyone has a different understanding, and a different way of delivering Taiji teachings, but as long as it adheres to the ‘Principles’ then it is correct. Learning Taiji is an ongoing process, the more you practice the more you can continue to refine your Taiji until the day you die. Even if you live to be over 100 years old.