I have been interested in Yiquan (‘intention boxing’), also known as Dachengquan (Great Achievement Boxing), the chinese martial art famous for its focus on the practice of ‘zhan zhuang’ (stake standing) as a training method for a while now. I came across an interview (here ) with Cui Ruibin (grandstudent of Wang Xiangzhai, Yiquan’s founder, through his senior student Yao Zongxun), which is interesting both for its historical insights and advice for practice. As it is very long, I have only translated a part below:
“On the 11th of January 1985, Yao Zongxun, one of the foremost masters of Yiquan of his generation, passed away. In the 20 years since his passing, from inauspicious beginnings, having initially been decried as not a ‘real’ martial art, today Yiquan is thriving, attracting martial arts devotees both at home and abroad with its unique style and content. To commemorate the 20th anniversary of M Yao’s passing, I interviewed one of M Yao’s senior disciples, Cui Ruibin at Beijing International Yiquan Training Centre, located in Taolin village, Xingshou town in the Changping district of Beijing. In the airy, spacious office of the training centre, I asked M Cui to share with us his experience of studying with M Yao and discuss M Yao’s accomplishments in martial arts. As soon as I mentioned M Yao, M Cui, at that time already over 50, couldn’t help but being engulfed by memories of past times. His affection and nostalgia for M Yao was evident in every word.
Cui Ruibin’s International Yiquan Training Centre
Author (henceforth A): When did you start studying Yiquan with Mr Yao?
Cui Ruibin (henceforth C): I first came into contact with Yiquan in 1968, but at first I wasn’t studying with M Yao. I originally studied with Li Zhiliang (Li Yongzong’s elder brother, who was originally called Li Yongliang), who I had met through a classmate of mine at the technical college I was studying at. They (the Lis) had trained with Wang Xiangzhai and had stayed over at M Yao’s house. I must have studied with M Li for close to 4 years.
Cui Ruibin practicing Du Li Zhuang (Single Leg Pose)
A: What did you practice under M Li?
C: Under M Li, we practiced lots of things, as well as xingyi’s five fists (Pi, Beng, Zuan, Pao, Heng), right up till 1972, when I started work. In 1972, I went to Dalian for training. Normally I would practice zhan zhuang, but the zhan zhuang I was practicing then was very different from what I practiced under GM Yao. Some time later, I returned to Beijing from Dalian. A few days after I got back, my classmate Zhang Xiangheng phoned me, saying that he had found a good teacher for us. And so, Zhang Xiangheng, Zhang Hongcheng (one of GM Yao’s disciples from the 60s) and I rode our bikes to Cuicun in Changping district to see GM Yao. Upon seeing M Yao I was shocked – apart from being clean-shaven, he looked the spitting image of my ‘dream’ master! I wanted to go through the traditional baishi (which involves 3 full kowtows). GM Yao said “No need to kowtow, 3 bows will be fine.” M Yao was living in Cuicun because he had been ‘sent down’ from the city, he was still under observation.
A: After you became M Yao’s disciple, did you tell M Li?
C: M Li was pretty displeased that I started studying with M Yao. When GM Yao found out, he wrote M Li a letter, telling him that he had formally accepted me as his disciple, so there was no point in getting upset. Every year after that I would visit M Li at Chinese New Year. Because M Li’s wife, Hong Pinzhen was the daughter of Hong Lianshun (a Beijing master of Xingyiquan and Tantui who later became Wang Xiangzhai’s disciple), I called her shigu (my martial arts ‘auntie’).
A: How long did you study with M Yao?
C: I started studying with him in 1972 when he had been sent down to the countryside, and continued studying with him right up until his passing in 1985. During those 13 years, I went through 4 phases. In the first phase, I had to study from M Yao in the countryside in secret; in the second phase, M Yao had returned to the city and classes were semi-public; in the third, classes in Beijing became truly public; and the fourth phase was when M Yao held a training intensive at Nongtan Sports Stadium with the support of the Research Insitute of the Beijing Physical Education Commission.
A: What was it like, practicing in the countryside?
C: After our first meeting with M Yao, he told me that from then on I should come by myself. At that time, to get from Fengtai district where I lived to Changping took 4 hours on bicycle, it was probably a 70km round trip. I changed shifts so that I could take 3 days off together each month. From then on I would go to GM Yao’s house once a month, and stay there for 3 days each time. Later on, I felt that cycling such long distances was tiring me out and affecting my practice, so I started taking the bus instead. Every time I visited M Yao I would have to get a bus just after 5am from Fengtai to Deshengmen, then wait for the next bus to Changping. The buses back then weren’t as frequent as they are now, there was only a bus from Deshengmen to Changping once every couple of hours. Then, on reaching Changping I’d have to get another bus to Cuicun. By the time I’d walked to M Yao’s house from the bus stop it was usually past 1pm. Getting there and back was a real hassle. When I got there, I’d eat lunch, then practice right up until dinnertime. After dinner we’d practice some more. At the time, whenever I came, M Yao would take leave from his production unit. He would always get Guangzi (as M Cui calls Yao Chengguang) to take the leave slip to his unit, saying he had guests over to stay and that he needed 2 days’ leave.
A: Practicing under those conditions must have been very tough.
C: Yes, it was. The environment in those days was really bad. GM Yao always used to admonish me, saying: “If someone asks you why you’ve come to Cuicun, just say you’re sick and have come here for treatment. Never say you’ve come to practice martial arts!” To be honest, I only joined the Communist Youth League because M Yao told me to. He said, “We’re living in modern times now, you’ve got to climb the ladder, in both your working and private lives. If you don’t, our Yiquan will still be kept down. If you do go up in the world, practicing yiquan will benefit you. What I mean to say is, Yiquan is a real gem, I don’t want other factors [i.e. political reasons] to hinder your training.” At that time, whenever I went to Cuicun, people would often ask me “Why have you come here? Who are you looking for? What do you do? What’s your political background?” After M had that talk with me, when I went back to the factory where I worked I applied to join the Youth League. It turned out that because my work performance and general attitude were pretty good, I was already entitled to join. After I joined, I became a commissioner (?) for my local CYL. After that, I was much more assured in my response when people asked me why I was going to Cuicun, not furtive like before.
A: Who else practiced with you during that period?
C: In the mornings and evenings Rongzi (Yao Chengrong) and Guangzi (Yao Chengguang) would practice with me, but during the day they had to work in the fields to earn credits. As a result, during the day it was normally just me and M Yao.
A: You must feel very fortunate to have had that privilege, studying one-on-one with M Yao.
C: Later on, when the Unit Secretary’s son started studying with M Yao, things started to change. The stopped sending him out in the fields to work. Instead, they gave him the much easier task of looking after a horse, which earned exactly the same number of credits. From then on, M Yao didn’t need to request leave each time I came to see him. We would bring the horse up into the hills or to some other place with no people around. As soon as the horse was securely tethered and started grazing, M Yao would start to teach me. M Yao was living in a small house with 3 north-facing rooms and smaller east-facing one. Conditions back then were pretty cramped – out of the 3 north-facing rooms only one was a bedroom, so every time I came to visit Rongzi had to sleep at a nieghbour’s house. The four of us (M Yao, his wife, M Cui and Yao Chengguang) all slept on one kang. Guangzi and I slept under one blanket, with one’s feet facing the other’s head. For the 7 years until M Yao returned to the city in 1979, Guangzi and I slept under the same blanket.
A: You two must be really close.
C: Yes, we are. […to be continued…]”
I will translate the other sections when I get the time. Note: I have used M as an abbreviation for Master.