Interview with Chang Yiu-Chun a student of Yang Shao-Hou
An interview from China Wushu Magazine from the mid seventies with Chang Yiu-Chun a student of Yang Shao-Hou.
Q. How long have you been practicing the Taijiquan?
A. Since 1911.
Q. Who was your first teacher and how long did you study with him?
A. My teacher was Yang Shao-Hou the grandson of the founder of the Yang style, Yang Lu-Chan. I was with Yang from 1911 until his death in 1930.
Q. Many people have commented upon the sometimes brutal nature of Yang Shao-Hou’s teaching methods.
A. Yes, quite often we would finish a training period with blood on our vests and many bruises. Sometimes a bone would be broken. Yang did not have many students.
Q. What are your views on this type of training?
A. It was good for me because I was very undisciplined in my younger days. I always wanted to fight and so with Yang I got plenty of fighting. It taught us that if we did not do Taijiquan correctly then we were hurt.
Q. Most people in the West would look upon this type of Taijiquan training as being quite brutal. The style of Yang style Taijiquan today in the West is not brutal at all.
A. I do not know about what they do in the West. But what they do in China is a modified form of Taijiquan invented by Yang Shao-Hou’s younger brother Yang Cheng-Fu. This style is Yang Cheng-Fu’s own invention so that many older and sick people can do Taijiquan.
Q. What you are telling me is that there are actually two different types of Yang style?
A. Yes, the one that was founded by Yang Lu-Chan is not like the Yang Cheng-Fu type.
Q. What are the differences?
A. When my teacher used to do his Taijiquan, we would often say that he was like a cannon shot one second and like the great river in the next second. He was very energetic. The Yang Cheng-Fu style is all soft and flowing with no cannon shots.
Q. I have never heard of this and I find it quite interesting. Why is it that no one knows that there are two Yang types of Taijiquan. Did Yang Cheng-Fu do the original Taijiquan?
A. In the early days before Yang Cheng-Fu, we would only teach Taijiquan to family members and very close friends, friends who were almost like family members. I am a family member, a second cousin to the Yang Shao-Hou family. Yang Cheng-Fu was the first one to teach everyone and he became very famous all over China. So this is why we only ever hear about this style. Yes, Yang Cheng-Fu did the original Yang style of his grandfather before about 1915, then he changed it. Many people watched him practice the original style and he even taught a few people. But when he invented his own style and changed it over a few years, all of his students forgot about the original style.
Q. From what you know about him, was Yang Cheng-Fu as good at self defense as we are told today?
A. Yes, he was very good at self defense. He was quite large and strong and he could also be quite brutal in his pushing hands but he learnt the original style first.
Q. Other Taijiquan styles sometimes say that the Yang style is no good for self defense, why is this?
A. Yes, it is no good for self defense if you are talking about the Yang Cheng-Fu style. But if you mean the Yang Lu-sum style then it is very good for self defense. No-one outside of the family knows the Yang Lu-Chan style and so everyone thinks that the Yang style is useless.
Q. How good then is the original Yang style of Taijiquan?
A. … it is the best.
Q. Why and how is it used for self defense.
A. We use Taijiquan in two ways. The first I can tell you about because many people know this way today. This way we take the movements and use them for self defense. we move out of the way of an oncoming force and give our own attack as he passes. we lock his bones, we break his legs and arms. This is the first level of Taijiquan self defense. The second way is too sinister and evil for me to talk about.
A. I am sorry, I have taken an oath not to tell about this way of self defense.
Q. Does pushing hands play an important part in your Taijiquan?
A. Today it does but in the early days it did not. we used to place more importance upon the fighting but as we learned more, we used pushing hands to teach us about balance and the theory of yin and yang.
Q. What do you mean by ‘fighting’.
A. By that I mean the san-shou. But there are also today two versions of the san-shou. The one version by the Yang Cheng-Fu family is softer and less brutal while the older version is quite brutal.
Q. Brutal, why.
A. We do the san-shou in three ways. The first way is to learn the movements of attack and defense. The second way is to do these movements faster and with much more power, this is where we get some bruises. The third way is when we try to strike each other for real and try to get each other off balance by doing the movements in the wrong sequence.
Q. If Yeung Lu-sum were to be alive today, what would he say about his Taijiquan.
A. Firstly he would not recognize the name because it was not called Taijiquan until fairly recently. He would even recognize what is being taught in his name today. Unless he saw the Yang Shao-Hou style. Although I am sure that over the years this too has changed as everything does. But not as much as the Yang Cheng-Fu style.
Q. Many people in the West have changed the Yang Cheng-Fu style even more. Even in China we now have people changing the styles trying to integrate the three styles. (the beginning of the Peking styles… Editor). What is the future of Taijiquan.
A. I do not want to say anything about the way in which our Government is changing the styles and I do not care what is happening in the West. But if Taijiquan changes any more and no more people begin to teach the original Yang style then when we used to have a goat, now we have a duck.
Q. So you think that Taijiquan has changed much since it was founded by Yang Lu Chan
A. Yes, I look around China and see everywhere people who think they are doing Taijiquan but not many are really doing Taijiquan.
Q. What do you mean, surely it does not matter what style they do, it must all be Taijiquan?
A. I am not talking about the different styles, I am talking about the way in which people learn Taijiquan today. They think that if they learn some slow movements that they are doing Taijiquan. It takes much longer and much more dedication to learn Taijiquan properly.
Q. But surely, those who do not wish to do Taijiquan for fighting will only ever have to do the slow movements for good health.
A. Some of them will gain some small benefit to their health, I agree but much better health is available through doing Taijiquan in the correct way.
Q. Why did you take up Taijiquan, for health improvement or for fighting.
A. Most of us when we started our Taijiquan training years ago only knew it as one thing and that was for fighting. No-one even suspected that this great art could be good for health until Yang Cheng-Fu popularized his version. In doing the fighting, we also improved our health automatically but we did not take classes with the thought of improving our health.
Q. But surely, many people must build up the body first of all before fighting and isn’t this where the slower forms come in?
A. What people today do not realize is that back then when I was learning and it was still relatively unheard of even in China with only the main families like the Chen, the Wu and the Yang keeping it to themselves. It was only after Taijiquan became good for the health that many people started to learn. Most of us were already good at other styles of fighting. I knew Tiger Boxing and because of this and having to work very hard I and many others were already robust so we did not have to do the slow Taijiquan and even if we were not robust, there was no slow Taijiquan anyway!
Q. What was the area in which you trained when you first went to see Yang Shao-Hou?
A. As I have already said, I was good at Tiger Boxing and so I was boastful about my ability. This boastfulness was soon taken out of me by Yang Shao-Hou.
Q.How was this done?
A. I was much younger than Yang Shao-Hou and thought that I was strong and like a young stallion but when I arrived at my Cousin’s school I was forced to fight with him.
Q. You had to fight with Yang Shao-Hou!
A. Yes, before this he was just cousin Yang but now he was no longer my cousin, he was someone that I had to fight.
Q. What happened?
A. I thought that I could surprise him with a technique we used to call The Tiger Is Cornered and this is when we use many attacking techniques to get us out of a corner. When I attacked Yang, I thought at first that he had disappeared but later I believed that he just moved so quickly and at the same time that I moved that he was right in front of me before I could do anything. My strikes were aimed at a greater distance than Yang actually was and I found myself hitting the floor unconscious.
Q. How did he knock you out?
A. He used a very advanced technique, one that I am unable to talk about.
Q. Were you hurt badly?
A. No, only my behind was sore when I hit the floor, I did not feel anything at first but later there was some slight swelling around where he struck me.
Q. And did you eventually learn these techniques.
A. Only when I had been with Yang for many years and even though I was a family member, I had to prove myself to be an honorable person.
Q. What do you mean by an honorable person.
A. By that I mean that I would never go out and use these techniques for the purpose of being boastful or to show off. Yang taught that if we were ever provoked that we should try to play the coward first of all but if that failed then we must act so quickly as to not allow our attackers to know which techniques we were using.
Q. Did you have to defend yourself many times.
A. As I progressed, I became one of the senior students and it was my job to teach the younger students. When I say younger students, there were only about three ever at a time because the training was so brutal. Many times we would have people from different schools coming around to Yang’s house and be boastful about their ability. We were told to ignore this. It was only when these people actually came inside of Yang’s house that I was allowed to fight them.
Q. And the outcome?
A. I am no longer boastful. I will say that in all of the years with Yang, I never saw any of his students beaten.
Q. Not once.
A. Well, there was one time when this person came to the school but he was different and did not seem to show off like some of the others. He would look in and we would stop, he would go away, then he would appear again and we would stop. This went on for some time until I was asked to go out and invite him inside. This chap was called Chiang and he was apparently good at Baguazhang. I did not fight him but one of the other students did and the fight lasted quite a long time with no-one winning. In the end Yang stopped the fight and congratulated the young man and then invited him to attack. This seemed to be getting serious but in the end the young man just stood there waiting. Yang stood there waiting. Then they bowed and he left.
Q. Why did they do that?
A. Yang and Chiang knew that they both knew something. There are no attacks in Taijiquan or Baguazhang. It may look like we are attacking but we only ever attack after we have been attacked so Chiang did not attack and neither did Yang and so there was no fight. We were all disappointed but learnt a good lesson.
Q. What happened after Yang Shao-Hou died, the style seemed to disappear.
A. Yes, the few senior students of Yang Shao-Hou decided that it would be best not to teach what we knew to everyone and so we all went our different ways to teach only a selected few students.
Q. How many students did you have?
A. I only taught about seven people what I knew and they in turn did not teach many.