A Life of Taiji -by Chen Zhonghua

My master was Hong Junsheng. He was the most prominent disciple of the 17th generation standard bearer of the Chen family, grandmaster Chen Fake. Hong’s ancestors came from the city of Ningbo in Zhejiang province, yet he was born in 1907 in Yuxian County in Henan province. Yuxian is a small town close to the Chen Village . In 1996 he passed away in Jinan of Shandong province. According to the Chinese way of calculating age he was 90 years old.

From early childhood Hong was a sickly boy, and thus was recommended to practice Taijiquan. From 1930 to 1944 he studied Taijiquan from Chen Fake. He is the only disciple of Chen Fake who studied for fifteen years. After receiving the true and complete transmission from his teacher, Hong never kept anything secret while pursuing for his entire life the development and teaching of the art to others. His martial arts skill reached a level rarely seen in human history. His legacy continues.

For an ordinary man his story is an extraordinary one. An old quiet man that nobody heard of, living in a 72 square feet lean-to, using 30 years of his life to compile one book, the “Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method”.

Hong was a simple but extraordinary man. Throughout his life all he had was very simple; he did not become an official, rich or famous and there was nothing fancy looking about him. In reality his life was even simpler than that. Every morning very early he would get out of bed and go to the park to teach Taijiquan, then he would come back home to eat breakfast and some more students would knock on his door for more instructions. In the evening there would be more students who would come to learn Taijiquan.

Day after day, year after year his whole life was like that. This persistence made him an extraordinary person. Evident from that is his legacy, which remains with us. After his departure, the legacy of Hong is rich, magnificent and invaluable to all practitioners of Taijiquan. Even though his legacy has no physical shape, it is a legacy that an ordinary man could have never accomplished.

His whole life was devoted to preserving this old art and its rules, a Taijiquan art that found its origins several hundred years ago in the Chinese philosophy. Hong did not only talk the talk; he walked the walk. Four months before his death, he was insisting on pushing hands with students, lying in his death bed. The last hour of his life, he was holding his students hands asking them to stay within the rules of Taiji. Such a simple thing in today’s society is already extinct. This is why he is so extraordinary. While taking a very complicated thing and teaching it in a simple way, he truly got to the essence of Daoism and at the same time to the highest level of it. In addition, his Chen Style Taijiquan skill has transcended to a level which no ordinary person can reach. This is another extraordinary ability he possessed.

Chen Fake of the 17th generation was the one who wore the robe of his generation (the main representative of the art), as well as the grand grandson of the famous 14th generation Chen Changxing, who was the teacher of Yang Luchan. In 1928 Chen Fake was invited to Beijing to teach Taijiquan. He was the first Chen Village master to be formally invited to teach this art outside of the village.

Hong Junsheng was one of Chen Fake’s first disciples as Chen started teaching. Hong followed his teacher faithfully for 15 years. Among Chen Fake’s disciples Hong was the only one to have studied with him for such a long time.

Hong’s life was a Taijiquan life. Only for this one pursuit, all the rest he did not want. His Taiji life can be summarized into 6 stages.

Stage One. He became a disciple of Chen Fake. This was the period between 1930 and 1944. He studied the true essence of Chen Family Taijiquan from Chen Fake. As he was a weak person seeking Taijiquan for health, he adopted an entirely different learning method than others. He mainly observed, listened, analyzed, practice and asked. Due to this method, he received the full transmission.

Stage Two. Practicing and realizing Taijiquan. From 1945 to 1956 Hong practiced hard in Jinan, realizing the Dao (True Way), experiencing and reaching the Dao of Taiji. He Shugan was Hong’s first disciple. When he started with Hong in 1951, Hong was very good. By the time Hong came back from Beijing after further studies from Chen Fake, He Shugan noticed quantum leaps in Hong’s understanding and ability in Taijiquan.

Stage Three. He spread Taijiquan to the world. In 1957 when Chen Fake passed away, Hong established his own school and started teaching. At this time Hong was a local Taijiquan practitioner. At the martial arts circles on the outside world he was practically unknown. Hong assiduously plowed the virgin land of Taiji and continued to train hard. With his students he trained morning until evening, forgetting everything else. He lived as if he drank, ate and dreamt Taijiquan.

Eventually he produced a magnificent vibrant school of Chen style Taijiquan practitioners. Disciples such as Meng Xianbin, Xu Guicheng, Li Chugong, Han Baoli, Zhang Lianan, Li Enjiu, Wang Zongxian, Jiang Jiajun, He Shugan, Li Xuegang, Zhan Dingguo, Li Zongqing, Pang Yuzhu, Fu Jingzhen, Huang Dongzhi, etc. The above time period was stretched to the end of the 1970s.

Stage Four. Only until the 1980s that the Chen style Taijiquan received national and international recognition. Hong’s disciples began participating in national tournaments and rose to the national stage. Li Enjiu served as the president of the Jinan Martial Arts Academy and master Hong as the senior advisor. This is the first government owned but privately operated martial arts school in China at the time. Among Hong’s disciples, Li Enjiu, Zhang Lianen, Chen Zhonghua and others participated in national, provincial and local competitions and won various awards. Hong’s third generation disciples (mainly Li Enjiu’s disciples) won in national competitions 106 gold, silver and bronze medals. These include Huang Kanghui, Xie Yelei, Du Lingong, Wang Hongping, Ding Mingye, Wu Fengtian, Ju Zepeng, Li Lu, Hao Ping, Fang Jie, Yu Shugang, Wang Tianyu, Ge Xuejun, Long Zhaoqin, Chen Hui, Chen Yuzhong, Xu Bingjian, Zhao Min, Zhao Weimin, Zhang Yang, Hou Deyu, Zhao Xuanxuan, Ren Yinlin, Zhou Rui, Bo Jingmin, Zui Bo, Chen Qiang and Wang Yuzhong etc.

Stage Five. Hong expounded his ideas in writing. Hong wrote his book from 1961 until 1988, extending 27 years. During this period his life was so disastrous that he had to stop his writing several times. However with the help of his good friend the Yijing (Book of Changes) master Liu Ziheng, he never gave up. There was another reason why the book was published towards the end of his life. Hong believed that many Taijiquan books, including the so called Taijiquan classics, were written at a period where the authors were not yet at their peak of achievement and understanding.

While I was studying with Hong at the Black Tiger Spring I witnessed several publishers who came to persuade him to publish his book with them. He refused each time. He did not want to print his writings prematurely.

Another striking story about this book is that it was written in his tiny 72 square feet abode, where at night the bed was slept on and during the day it became the table for meals and the desk for his writing. It was under such stressful circumstances that he penned his masterpiece “Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method”.

Stage Six. This is the final sprint of his life. Reaching the end of his years, Hong only had one thing on his mind: the transmission of the Chen Style Taijiquan of his master. In the late 1980s faith came to test Hong again. He suffered a stroke. The result was paralysis of the lower body. At the age of 84 he wasn’t about to give up. He received the challenge of his life. Within several months of hard work he was able to practice again. Yet this success was due to his long years of practice. Taijiquan had become second nature to him. It was like a natural reflex. He could not walk but could do the Taijiquan forms.

In 1991 I went back with my disciple Ronnie Yee to visit him. My heart was saddened to see my master restricted to a wheelchair. I did not want to disturb him. In the evening I went to see him. “Where did you go? I was waiting for you all day?” I searched for an excuse but could not come up with one. My worries of disturbing him were unfounded. He still spent 6 hours a day practicing. Every morning Han Baoli, Xu Guicheng, Li Xuegang, Li Chugong, Liu Xiuwen and Zhang Guangzong were there.

At his 90th birthday party his first request was to push hands. With students supporting him at his waist he pushed hands. The way he easily bounced young people while paralyzed is a historical scene that will remain in our hearts forever.

I began my study with Hong by an accident. I was a student in Shandong University . I was learning Cha Quan and other external martial arts from Li Dunyin. One day, my kungfu brother Qin Jiansheng told me about an old white haired man at the Black Tiger Springs Park . Nobody in Jinan could beat him, according to Qin. I did not believe him and decided to check him out.

I was young and rebellious. Nothing could impress me, certainly not Taiji. When I got to the Park, I witnessed Hong being challenged by a high level karate sensei. What Hong did to him was something that cannot be described. It was nothing short of miraculous. His ability not only shocked his opponent but also shocked my young mind. I switched to Taijiquan on the spot.

Hong’s form of Chen Style Taijiquan is unique in appearance and in application. For people who do not understand Chen Style Taijiquan (and few people do), the external appearance of the forms differ from other Chen Style Taijiquan forms (such as the Chen Village form or the New Frame forms). Generally speaking, in Hong’s Practical Method, the movement is fine and smooth. It is firm but not abrupt; it is supple but not malformed. In a creditable and literal sense it imbeds the principles of Chen Style Taijiquan.

Practical Method clearly states the rules of Taijiquan. Mencius says, “Without rules, one can not draw squares and circles (Results are the products of conformity to rules).” In the martial arts world today no one knows what the rules are. “Anything goes” is the order of the day. This is why teachers teach different forms. Students end up with different forms from their teacher and from their fellow students. Teaching is subjective. It is not objective. There is not an independent set of rules that all must abide by.

To an even worse degree, under these circumstances, mistakes have become “Secrets”. Indeed Wang Zongyue was right when he stated, “With the deviation of one millimeter at the foundation, the end result is one thousand miles distant.”

Hong learned all the rules of Chen Style Taijiquan from Chen Fake, who in turn learned them from his father. These rules were passed down to Hong through a process of 15 years. He practiced according to those rules and then taught them to his students. This is the correct path.

A group of Japanese students commented that their many years of video footage showed that Hong had never changed the form. His foot landed on the same brick in all the videos of him doing the same move.

Master Hong belonged to the old school. He only pursued the art, not the reputation, money, fame, power and a good life. His superior martial art skill was only a by-product of his pursuit. He did not use it promote himself or to beat others. No one knows just how high his level of skill was. He always modestly said that his skills were very shallow compared to that of his master Chen Fake.

My Taiji brother Jiang Jiajun believed that Hong’s ability is “A crane standing among chickens!” When he went to Jinan for the first meeting with Hong after his masters Chen Zhaopei and Chen Zhaokui both passed away, Hong did not waste any words on pleasantries. He threw Jiang from inside the room to the yard outside, making Jiang turn in mid-air across the table and several other people on the way in the room. The level of skill of Hong cannot be measured. His sophistication got to the extreme.

One morning in the spring of 1982, after finishing our morning practice, I accompanied Hong back to his residence. As we neared the Blue Dragon Bridge a bicycle came pouncing at us. The rider on the bike seemed to have lost control over his bike and looked helpless. As we were crossing this very narrow stone bridge there was no escape for us. I only saw master Hong in a very calm way stretching his arm forward and catching the front wheel of the bicycle. The bricks carried in the basket on the bike were all tossed out. The bike rider stared at master Hong puzzled. At the time I did not think much of it. In later years I got to realize that catching a wheel of a bicycle rushing towards you in a high speed is not an easy feat.

Now let me relay the story of the first time I saw Hong’s martial skills. One Sunday morning I was in the Black Tiger Spring park with my younger Gongfu brother Li Chongliang. That morning I got exposed for the first time to master Hong’s true Gongfu. As we got to the park we saw a sixth degree black belt Karate master challenging master Hong. The Karate master from Japan claimed he just wanted to experience master Hong’s skill. Master Hong agreed to his request. The Karate master asked Hong what method of attack he could use, and master Hong replied: “Whatever!”

The Karate master went into good Karate posture, aligned his body and threw a full powered punch towards Hong’s right shoulder. I only saw Hong reacting with no fear of the danger, opened his eyes looking at the opponent. At the same time the opponent’s feet departed the ground and he flew backwards more than 10 feet. The Karate master tried again and landed on the exact same spot. After the third time the Karate master gave up. I was only able to see master Hong sink his shoulder slightly. I became an instant student.

I have a Taiji brother who originally learned Shuai Jiao. After suffering an injury he started his study of Chen style Taijiquan. He was really a quick learner and within a short period of time he became very good at push hands. At one occasion at Hong’s house he bragged about his great ability. Hong asked him to show this ability. As he touched Hong’s wrist Hong made a slight rotation. He sprung upwards instantaneously hitting his head against the ceiling, and broke Hong’s 2/6 bed frame. After that day this older Taiji brother never dared to brag about his great skill again.

In the early 1970’s Xu Guicheng and Hong practiced push hands on the Heroes Mountain . One evening Xu brought a tall Baiji friend from the municipal Wushu team. Xu’s friend Li was not impressed with the push hands he saw. He thought Hong and Xu were cooperating in their little game and there was no real martial art involved. He requested to try it with Hong. The night was very dark with no moon. Li felt that Hong did not have any force in him. He thought that it was Xu Guicheng’s lack of skill that gave Hong the ability to toss him easily. He saw an opening and without hesitation he hit Hong’s shoulder. He was supposed to nail Hong on the floor with that move but instead, he sprung upwards. He said nothing and later went home.

The next morning Xu Guicheng’s neighbor Mr. Liu, a famous Tui Na (Chinese massage) practitioner, said that Li had gone to his house at 3 in the morning for treatment of his wrist. Li’s wrist was swollen. His eagerness to hurt Hong had back fired.

Explore posts in the same categories: Chen Style Taiji, Hong Junsheng, Life Experiences, Taiji Story Link

One Comment on “A Life of Taiji -by Chen Zhonghua”

  1. Jorvik Says:

    That is a marvelous story. It is wonderful to hear stories about great masters with almost unbelievable skills who do their art for the love of it and not for money.
    Who at the same time are good people and not into the thuggishness that we so often see in the martial arts world today.
    Wonderful story

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