Beijing Years Continued
Jarek: I actually made two trips to Wudang in 1991. In the summer of 1991, I went back to Poland for the summer break, but didn’t have enough money to fly back. I made the money for the flight back by teaching taiji to Polish people in Poland – so I taught them Chen taiji to make the money for the flight back in September. When I arrived back at the Beijing Language Institute I found out that they were about to cancel my scholarship as I hadn’t reported at the beginning of term. There was a field trip to Qufu, the home of Confucius, in Shandong for the whole class which I missed because I had arrived back so late. As I was wondering what to do, I picked up a copy of the MA magazine Wudang from a newspaper kiosk and saw that the first Wudang Wushu Culture Festival (武当武术文化节) was being held near Wudang during exactly the same period, i.e. first week of Oct. Without giving it a second thought I bought a train ticket to Liuliping, and after several hours on the hard sleeper train arrived in Wudang. The train had an uscheduled stop in Laoying Town, which has since been renamed Wudang Town, and I got off the train there.
Lots of famous teachers were there, and there were many demonstrations as well. I remember one demo where three men demonstrated, with two men holding their friend upside down and using his head as a battering ram to break a concrete slab. Unfortunately after several attempts – accompanied by the unpleasant sound of his head hitting the slab – the slab did not break, so the demonstrators just stood up and bowed to the crowd of onlookers. It was difficult to see whether the man’s head was injured as he was wearing a piece of cloth around his head. There was yet another demonstrator who was put in a steel cage and showed how he could squeeze out from the bars of a cage; the bars were thick, and it looked like the cage was probably made of reinforced steel, but he still managed to squeeze through the narrow space between them..
I also saw my eventual taiji teacher, Liu Rui, at the festival for the first time. I didn’t think much of him at the time – I remember thinking it was old man taiji, with high postures, absolutely no use of power or any strength.
It was at the same festival that I met another of my future teachers, Bagua expert, Di Zhaolong. My first sight was of this old man with a whispy beard demonstrating with a giant broadsword, moving very well for a person in his eighties.
Later on I found out that Di healed people for free and always refused to take money. In his home town in Liyang he was known more for his healing than as a kungfu teacher. He called it ‘Qigong Anmo’ (qigong massage) – he would lay his hands on the patient’s body and hold them there, very similar to Tuina. My teacher told me the healing part of his curriculum was taught to Yang Rongben by an imperial doctor, who in exchange learnt baguazhang from Yang. Yang later passed it to his disciple, Di Zhaolong. Di was a doctor at the Liyang Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) hospital and was allowed to retire only after he had passed his healing art to two disciples in Liyang.
Di’s background was that he came from a wealthy family which jokingly were said to own half of Liyang. As a child, he was physically weak, so first studied some Shaolin boxing at home. Later on, his cousin told him about a bagua master, a buddhist monk, living in a temple in the mountains near Liyang. At first the master – Yang Rongben – did not want to accept Di because he was weak. However, Yang then performed a divination using the Yijing (Book of Change) and the result said that this person (Di) would inherit his art and help to spread and promote it. Di told me this story himself. At the Wudang festival, I was particularly impressed by the number of different kinds of weapons Di showed, such as bagua jian (straightsword) and chicken’s claw sickles (ji zhao rui).
At that time Di was around 83 years old and living at his disciple’s home in the winter – in the 50s he had given all his wealth to the state, leaving him with a small house in Liyang; however during the Cultural Revolution, he and his family were sent down to the countryside.
At the same festival, I also met a woman from the US called Lee Hen, who was teaching English in Shiyan city – the nearest big city to Wudang Mountain – at a school associated with the local automobile factory. She was a disciple of the famous qigong teacher Mantak Chia. To me what Mantak Chia practices appears to be a strange branch of Daoism, not similar to the orthodox Nei Dan (Internal Alchemy) practice I was introduced to later. In my opinion these visualisations are just another illusion, they are not working to still the mind. Li Hen was there with her Dutch boyfriend – they were in their 50s or early 60s I would say.
She took me to Li Chengyu, a well-known Taoist nun at Yuxu Gong on Wudangshan. Li Hen didn’t really speak much Chinese, but fortunately I could already speak Chinese well enough to understand the old nun, and in case of language problems – as Li Chengyu often slipped into the local dialect – her disciples would come to help.
Li Chengyu had a good relationship with Guo Gaoyi, who was the the Wushu coach in Wudang Zixiaogong during the 80s / 90s. Li Chengyu’s disciple taught me Qi Xing Zhuang [7 star post], which was very similar to the Dai style Squatting Monkey posture (dun hou shi), except the head was facing straight forward and the hands were clenched into fists, so the standing posture looked very much like a human embryo. The trip ended at the train station in Liuliping with a lunch at which I met a student of Wang Peisheng as well as Liang Chaoqun, a disciple of Wan Laisheng who now teaches the Natural Gate style (Ziranmen) in France.
It was on the long train journey back to Beijing on which I met a reporter from Wuhun magazine named Yin Jian. We spent over 20 hours talking, mostly about Daoism and Martial Arts, on the train back to Beijing. Yin had an amazing breadth of knowledge about Daoist practices, especially Internal Alchemy, and had a very high opinion of Liu Rui. He also discussed in detail the concept of softness in relation to MA and Daoist practice – although ironically I am not sure what or how much he himself practiced. The conversation with him clarified a lot of things for me in relation to Daoism. Strangely enough, despite living in the same city we did not connect much after that.
I gave up practicing xingyiquan with Guo Maosheng after the summer of 1991 because it was too far – out in Tao Ran Ting park (on the other side of Beijing). Also, in my first year in Beijing I had felt like I needed to learn as much as possible. However, I continued with my studies in Chen taijiquan, Liang style bagua and Yiquan.
The main change for me came at the end of my formal studies at Beijing Language Institute, which was upgraded to become a university and renamed as the Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU) – meaning one could take post-graduate studies there .
During 1993 – 1994 I basically just spent the whole year practicing MA and travelling around China. My wife and son’s visas expired in July 1993, so they had to return to Poland. I also was considering returning to Poland, when in August 1993 unexpectedly a Polish businessman asked me to help with translation for a business deals. The negotiations were to be held at the Sheraton in Tianjin, which was a big step up from the accommodation I had gotten used to in China. Although the translation itself only lasted one week, after the job was done that same businessman asked me to become his representative in China, with the offer of a steady monthly salary, which I happily accepted.
This was the time when I really started to learn the real core Daoist practices at White Cloud Temple (Bai Yun Guan) in Beijing. I studied from Cao Xinyi, who was a Daoist monk in the Dragon Gate (Longmen) sect.
During that same year I also made several trips to learn more bagua from Di Zhaolong, going first to Nanjing in 1993 and then with my friend Per Nyfelt, who also studied Daoism from Cao Xinyi, to Dalian for three weeks in May 1994.
One year earlier, in May 1993, there was a big taiji gathering in Guangfu town in Hebei province – the hometown of the founder of Yang style taiji, Yang Luchan. The gathering was affiliated to Wudang / Yang stylists, so almost no Chen style teachers were invited, but many very senior teachers from several other taiji styles came, such as Sun Jianyun (Sun style), Yao Jizu (Wu/Hao style), Yang Zhenhe (old Yang style) and Yang Chengfu’s son Yang Zhenji. Many Zhaobao style teachers also took part.
The pushing hands on display varied from the ridiculous, such as empty force displays from Wu Tunan’s students, to the sublime. I was particularly impressed by the pushing hands skills of He Baoguo, a Zhaobao style teacher, which to me exemplified the principles of leading into emptiness, etc. I have a vivid image of He’s opponent trying to throw him to his left. He Baoguo just followed the movement. His opponent, sensing the lack of resistance, pulled back, at which moment He used his pull back to throw him to the ground. The rest however was completely alike a lot of the limp noodle or ‘butting cow’ (ding niu) style push hands you see nowadays.