A: Just now we got to talking about how you quit your job for Yiquan, what was all that about?
C: In 1981, soon after M Yao and I had returned from Shanghai, in order to develop a Beijing San Da team, [the world-renowned wushu coach] Wu Bin invited me to join what later became the Beijing Combat Research Association. But my factory refused flat out to let me go. Wu Bin then said, as long as you find a way to temporarily transfer over for 2 weeks, I’ve got a way to make you permanent. But my factory still wouldn’t let me go, and I had no way to change their mind. It was only when Wu Bin saw that I really couldn’t come over, that he decided to transfer Mei Huizhi instead.
A: That was a real opportunity to promote Yiquan.
C: Yes. If I’d just gritted my teeth and quit then it would have been OK. From then on, I felt hard done by the factory and lost all enthusiasm for my work. Soon afterwards, I found various excuses to not go to work, instead spending practically every day over at Tucheng training with M Yao. At that time it was usually just me and Guangzi there. Sometimes Liu Pulei and Wu Xiaonan (two of M Yao’s other disciples) would come over too.
By that point, Rongzi had already gotten married and moved out. M Ao, seeing how hard we practiced, bought pig’s trotters, ribs and kidneys for M Yao’s wife to cook. She would add seaweed to it to make it more nutritious. With the kidneys, Madame Yao would fry up a dish of ‘yao huar’ (lit. ‘kidney flowers’, a dish of pan-fried kidneys cut into flower shapes). It was interesting, because sometimes, having eaten Madame Yao’s ‘yao huar’, M Yao would personally fry me up his own version of yao huar, saying “Rui Bin, you’ve tasted some of my wife’s kidneys, now try my version..”
A: You mentioned before that during the intensive training at Xian Nong Tan, apart from research, M Yao also used Yiquan’s training methods to help athletes from other disciplines. Could you go into a bit more detail about that?
C: At the end of 1981, start of 1982, the Sports Research Facility of Beijing Sports Commission founded the Yiquan Research Group and conducted extensive tests regarding the application of Yiquan training methods to other sporting events. For example, we assisted Xiu Ruijuan in her experiments on “The micro-circulatory system is the second heart of the human body” and proved that her hypothesis was correct. In another experiment, under the auspices of the National Sports Commission, myself, Guangzi and Gao Changyou ran 1500m on running machines with other athletes. Before running, our resting pulse rate and blood pressure were taken. The experiment was looking at how fast we returned to our resting state after exertion. Although we couldn’t run as fast as the athletes, we tried our best. I returned to resting state the fastest by doing zhan zhuang and shi li: it took me just over 4 minutes to return to my resting state. The athletes, using their traditional methods, required 12 minutes to return to their resting state. It’s a proven fact that the longer the recovery time, the less able an athlete is to engage in intense training. M Yao helped the 3-time Asian discus champion, Li Weinan, with his training. At that point, Li wanted to compete at the World Championships, but to do so he had to break the 61m barrier. That day, footage of Li’s performances was brought to the Yiquan Research Group for us to have a look. M Yao asked me, “Ruibin, can you see anything wrong with his action?” I immediately focused on Li’s posture at the moment of release, and said “His neck is bent.” Throwing events are all the same in that if you don’t have vertical force, the centrifugal force at the moment of release will be diminished. It’s like a car axle; if the axle is bent, how are the wheels supposed to turn? And so naturally M Yao used Yiquan’s methods to help Li Weinan improve his discus-throwing.
A: Which methods would those be then?
C: Apart from teaching him zhan zhuang to solve his own problems, M Yao also got him to repeat his ‘release action’ without a discus as a kind of shi li exercise. If you hold the discus with your right hand, then the left hand needs to be coordinated accordingly, you need to have an awareness of the left hand extending – the ‘distance’ of your intention is crucial. That’s why Yiquan isn’t just standing there or waving your arms around. Just zhan zhuang by itself trains a person on spiritual, physiological and psychological levels. These 3 levels are like a circle, they all feedback onto each other. During this period of research, M Yao really wanted to take this opportunity to infuse Yiquan training methods into those of modern competitive sports in order to help them improve their performance. On the 3rd day of the Chinese New Year in 1981 (M Yao was living at Xiao Guan at that point), when I awoke after my post-lunch nap to hear two officials from the Beijing and National Sports Commissions talking to M Yao. I heard M Yao say “I’ve got no problem with coaching the boxing team, how many gold medals do you want within 3 years? How many gold medals do you want within 5 years? Give me a number. On one condition: I’m to be in charge of their training, I don’t want any zhidao yuan (‘political supervisors’ from the Communist party apparatus).
A: Surely M Yao’s ‘coach comes first’ approach wouldn’t have worked back in those days?
C: That’s why in the end, the issue [of M Yao coaching the boxing team] was dropped. In my experience, we still need zhidao yuan when training people, because it’s the mental work that’s the hardest. Having said that, zhidao yuan need to know their place and not overstep their boundaries.
A: In hindsight, the newness of M Yao’s discoveries, the breadth of his vision and the modernity of his thinking all rode at the forefront of chinese traditional MA.
c: I have vivid memories of M Yao teaching the shooting team. The nature of shooting meant that what was important to them was their front-back line. When aiming for the bullseye, the barrel of the rifle tends to waver around. M Yao told the team to imagine that the muzzle and bullseye were connected by a length of string; the straighter they pulled the string, the more accurately they aimed and the smaller the wavering of the barrel. In Yiquan this is called ‘Enlarging a mental rod’ [jingshen ganggan fangda]. Later on, those shooters [that M Yao had trained] all went on to perform extremely well. M Yao also helped to coach the national football, swimming and weightlifting teams. During that period, apart from training, the research centre would often ask us to write articles about the ‘application of Yiquan to the training of other sports’. The swimming coach of the National Sports Commission, Yu Xian-gui, became interested in Yiquan after attending one of M Yao’s talks and started studying Yiquan with M Yao. He later applied his Yiquan training to swimming. Even to the present day, he hasn’t forgotten M Yao’s guidance. Later on he invited me several times to continue investigating this topic [applying Yiquan to swimming] when I had some free time. He even mentioned Yiquan when he went to the US on an exchange scheme, which was very laudable of him.
One day, after he had finished training the football team, M Yao called me to Rongzi’s house. While we were having lunch, M Yao said to me “In future I won’t be able to train them [the football team] regularly, the two of you should get ready to substitute for me.” Zhang Li-de was once considered the ‘Master Boxer of the North’ (bei quan wang) in Chinese boxing circles. He had a lot of respect for M Yao. During 1980 and 1981, as soon as he got a spare moment at the weekend he would go to the Exhibition Hall looking for M Yao, and also trained with us. Every time he met M Yao he would do a full 90-degree bow out of respect. M Zhang was the real thing, a true fighter, as well as a martial artist who kept up with the latest developments and was continually innovating – he knew who had real gongfu and who didn’t. He used Yiquan’s ‘planting punch’ (zai chui) in his boxing.
A: How did you carry out experiments at the research centre?
C: At the research centre we [M Yao and us students] would do zhan zhuang with many instruments attached to us by wires. When we did zhan zhuang, the trace on the instruments would form a regular wave pattern, but when M Yao did it, the instrument would just display a 3cm-thick flat band – no spikes, no waves. The doctors were exceedingly puzzled at this and would keep looking back and forth between M Yao and their instruments. Even though M Yao’s trace was just a flat band, he was obviously still exerting himself strenuously, as attested to by the beads of sweat on his forehead. While we were training at Xian Nong Tan, one of the athletics coaches, coach He, saw M Yao training with his shirt off: coach He was extremely surprised to see that when not issuing force [fa li], M Yao’s body was completely relaxed, but as soon as he issued force, ‘snakes’ of muscle would immediately appear on his back. During our trip to Shanghai with M Yao, we all went to a public baths with him and I saw that his lower abdomen was like a balloon, really round. This is the last of 3 stages [of the abdomen]: the first is ‘relaxed roundness’ [song yuan], the second is ‘normal roundness’ [chang yuan], and the third is ‘firm roundness’ [shi yuan].