A Conversation with the Great Ma Yueliang (anglais)

Master Ma. What year did you begin studying with Master Wu Chien-chuan?

When I was 20 years old. I knew him when I was younger but I didn't formally begin studying with him until the age of 20.

What do you remember most about Wu's teaching?

He never changed the Form. I teach the origional syle of Wu Chien-chuan. It's not unusual for it to be changed, like in America or Hong Kong, because it is like handwriting. Everyone has a different style. I believe you can change the Form only if you are very skilled. I studied forms for 10 years with no changes; exactly like Wu. After studying for 10 years I came to Shanghai and began to assist Master Wu. Still his Form did not change.

Because your body is slightly different from Wu's, has your Form changed at all?

Only in trivial ways.

Before learning Taijiquan, did you learn any other styles of gongfu?

Plenty of hard gongfu and tombei chuan.

Many Taijiquan players practise other forms of qigong as a supplement. Do you teach other methods to develop internal strength?

Acually there is no need to practise special qigong. Taijiquan is qigong. We don't have any practise like this in our own style.

Many Westerners and Chinese doubt that Taijiquan is useful for self-defense. Is it?

The first purpose is for health. Second is for self-defense. Taijiquan contains no initiative to attack others first.

Wu style is the most popular style in Hong Kong. Do you know the history of Wu style in Hong Kong?

I know the main points of the style are the same, but they play the Slow Form faster and they don't know the fast style of Taijiquan. The methods of the fast and slow Forms are not the same.

You studied soon after Taiji was made public through the school where Yang Cheng-fu and Wu Chien-chuan taught together. What is your memeory of Yang?

I often saw Yang Cheng-fu going to Wu's house to learn Taiji push-hands. Yang style fast Form is lost. Cheng-fu died with the fast Form. I witnessed Cheng-fu practising fast Form.

I ask about Yang because Yang style is the most popular form in America and one of Yang's students Cheng Man-ching is resonsible for popularising Taiji in America. Did you know Cheng as a young man?

Yes; he was a traditional Chinese doctor. He taught Taiji only after he went to America. He was good. He knew the push-hands. After 'liberation' he went to Taiwan, from Taiwan to America.

One reason that Taiji is poular in the West is because many peole consider it a spiritual path.

Taijiquan is related to Daoism. The originator of Taiji is a Daoist monk. For us (here in China), we only (are permitted to) talk about the health effects and the martial arts in Taijiquan. Before 1914, Taiji was secret; only taught to the Master's disciples

Who was the first Westerner to learn Wu style?

In 1914 one famous Western wrestler came to beijing. He did not believe in Chinese martial arts. He met master Wu and challenged him and the man was easily thrown to the ground. Then he started to practise Taijiquan with Master Wu. he is perhaps the first Westerner to practise Taijiquan. He was named William or Williams. He graduated in 1914 from Wu's first graduating class. He was a professional wrestler. I believe he ractised for about one year. Sophia Delza studied with me in the 1940's. She was probably the first Westerner to teach Taijiquan in America. (Note: At this point he brought out a photograph of Wu's first graduating class. He pointed out himself as a teen-ager as well as the Westerner named William(s)).

What are your ideas about the future of Taiji in the West?

The condition is good. The prospect is alright. Some of the students who come here learn only the Forms for a short time and go back to become teachers, but it's a pity that very few people really know Taijiquan.

How does Wu style differ from other Taijiquan styles?

I only practise Wu style so I can't explain why one styleis better than the other. There are 5 main styles of Taijiquan in China: Yang, Wu, Chen, Woo and Sung styles. All have their own characteristics, but their theoretical basis are the same.

What advice would you give to beginners?

My 5-character motto for the learner is: stillness, ightness, slowness, consciousness and perserverance. These 5 essentials are interrelated. The learner should always keep these principles in mind.

You have taught for many years. In your opinion, what makes a student good in Taijiquan?

Only if the 5 character motto has been ernestly followed.

After practising for so long, you must have gone through many difficult paths in your study of Taijiquan. Can you describe some of these levels of learning and how would you describe your understanding of Taijiquan now?

The results of a hard-working student who follows the strict rules of the classics, and of one who learns Taijiquan only with formalism are quite different. The former may be called a true practitoner and the latter a false practitioner. The late Master Wu Chien-chuan used to advise his students to practise 10,000 times the slow Taiji Form within 3 years. I also remember in ancient Beijing the Master sometimes used a long string lined just over the top of the students head during the exercise while the teacher was standing at the side with a ruler in hand. He would strike the students head with the ruler when the student's head ascended above the level of the string. The knees should always be bent while performing the Forms. Never stand straight unless the learner is too weak or tired out, and then take only a short rest. I think in some respects one can understand the essence of Taijiquan only when one has attained to some extent the real skills of the art.

Does Wu style contain a method of teaching free-sparring after studying push-hands for a certain period of time? Does Wu style contain 2-person forms besides push-hands?

Yes, we have thefree-sparring method called lan cai hua. For many reasons it is seldom taught to outside-the-door persons

How can a student best judge the ability of a Taijiquan teacher?

I think a new student can judge the ability of a teacher in many respects. One most correct way is to study the teachings of the classics. Only the teachings of a teacher who conforms to the classics are to be followed, and one should discard those ideas which contradict the teachings of the classics.

Do you imagine circulating the Qi through specific paths in the body or does this happen naturally after long years of practise?

I don't imagine circulating the Qi through specific paths during the exercise. The classics say: "Motivate the Qi with the Mind and motivate the body movement with the Qi." Actually, the effects of practising Taijiquan are three-fold: the Mind, the Qi and the body, both internally and externally with a sudden using of the Mind, which in Chinese is "Yi". The classics also state: "Put stress on the Spirit, not the Qi. Too much preoccuation with Qi results in stagnancy." this may be difficult for the beginner to understand. For training the Qi it is more apropriate to practise while "standing like a stake." The learner is advised not to imagine the circulation of the Qi (while practising the Taiji Form).

Once you begin to experience the circulation of Qi in the body, what do you do? Observe it? Play with it? Try not to think about it?

The student is able to feel the movement of the internal Qi going through the body, to some extent, after 3 years of ernest practise. But the learner is still in the early stage of gongfu. They should keep practising as normal.

Is it possible in your experience to push a person without touching them through the use of internal energy? if yes, why do people practise this skill? Of what use is it?

Yes. The mechanism of pushing a person without touching the body is quite complex, but never is it mysterious. It is the effect of the sensitivity of the mind, the Qi and the technoques of taijiquan on the parts of both the practitioners, the maturity of the skill of one's Taijiquan, which means that one's skill is even more effective and stronger when used in real fighting.

In addition to Taijiquan (Form), is push-hands also a form of qigong.

Push-hands should also be done in accordance with the principles of qigong.

Are weapons forms essential to the mastry of Taijiquan. What specific skills or energy does weapons-training develop?

Weapons are used as the extension of the arms. But weapons-training is also useful in push-hands or bare-handed fighting.

In your 87 years, what is the most important thing you have learned from the practise of Taijiquan?

I would like to quote a saying from the classics to answer your question: "Ask what the final purpose is: it is longevity with eternal spring (Spiritual immortality)."

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