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Interviews and articles

by Patrick Kelly

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Master Huang Xingxian (1909-1993, born Fujou, China, later lived in Kuching, Malaysia) practiced and taught Taiji with a depth and subtlety seldom seen in recent times. I first trained his Taiji in 1973 and continued closely with him until his death 20 years later. For the benefit of those who, choose to make some effort to follow his teachings, I would like to pass on something of his teaching style and details of the most important aspects of his Taiji. Throughout his life he constantly refined and evolved his methods – just like his teacher Grandmaster Zheng Manqing who labeled himself "The Old Child who never tires of Learning". Having worked hard to achieve his own understanding, Master Huang did not give away his methods easily but preferred to give hints, then leaving people to succeed or fail according to their own intelligent practice. While initially suspicious of Westerners he gradually warmed to my presence, later emphasizing to all that success at Taiji was completely independent of race. He strongly believed in the importance of personal effort saying, "Life is difficult and even when we become older it does not necessarily get any easier, but effort and the progress that comes from it is always fully worthwhile.” Though Master Huang was very much a martial artist in his younger days, he listened to his teacher Grandmaster Zheng Manqing who having explained that Taijiquan has both a martial side and an internal cultivation side, pronounced, "The martial art aspect of Taijiquan is useful but not important". In his later years Master Huang predictably often began his long talks to the students with, "Taijiquan, bu shi wushu (Taijiquan is not a martial art)", at other times stating, "I teach Taiji, not Taijiquan." Privately to myself he went further declaring over supper one evening, "Taiji is not important – the Dao is important." Set enigmatically against this leaning towards internal cultivation was his remarkable, fully tested seldom matched, martial arts skill. It was particularly for the quality and strength of his internal power (Taiji Jin) that master Huang was known and respected throughout the martial art world. In fact I travelled the world widely meeting many Taiji teachers but none compared in martial skill to Master Huang, except perhaps the Wu style master Ma Yueliang of Shanghai, son-in-law of Wu Jianquan. Even then, while on the more important level of the mind and beyond their ability was similar, on the level of the body Master Huang's movement was distinctly softer and more subtle. What is internal power as opposed to external power? This can be understood in two ways. Firstly external power is simply the superficial mind contracting the muscles with some effort where the subtle processes that occur, between the thought of moving and the movement actually appearing, are strengthened and refined by repetition but remain on an unconscious level. Conversely internal power involves consciously strengthening and refining these intermediate mind and energy processes, while paying only minimal attention to the strengthening of the muscles themselves. That is, external power involves using awareness and intention (generated by the desire to achieve) on the level of external body movement, while internal power involves using awareness and intention (generated by a deep and clear effort of will) on the level of the energy field and subtle body processes (which themselves produce the external movement). But further, the internal power that may be developed in say, Fujian White Crane, is different from the internal power developed through the correct training of Taiji. This may be compared to the difference between throwing a spear (White Crane) and shooting an arrow (Taiji). When throwing a spear with internal power, while the forces and energy are listened to and directed with a clear effort of the mind, the end result is a strong contraction of the muscles to extend the arm and push out the spear. However in shooting an arrow (the analogy is of the body as the bow) the body is pressed against the ground by a combination of momentum (from previous movement), inertia (of our body's mass and the partner's mass) and that component of the partners forces which we accept (intercept). During this process the muscles stretch like the fibres of the bow and the forces and energies are stored for a short moment within this elastic condition, then released like the shooting of an arrow. Using subtle awareness to perceive and direct this process ultimately leads to deep understanding of the Taiji-elastic-jin. When speaking of the Taiji Form Master Huang emphasised relaxing the body, listening deeply and using Yi to direct the subtle processes and internal forces within the body and energy field (Qi). When discussing the Taiji Pushing-hands he linked these with the concept of timing. Timing was the one English word that Master Huang used regularly in his teaching. There is timing in our own body as the subtle movements, forces, energy and mind move through the body. There is also timing in the interrelation of these processes in our partner and our self. The process of relaxing Master Huang explained more deeply as having 3 phases, loosening, sinking and emptying (Sung, Chen, Kung) – loosening concerns removing the external force of the body, sinking concerns the arising of the internal force, while emptying concerns the directing of these internal forces from a deep part of the mind. To understand loosening of the body is easy enough although to achieve it to a high level requires many years. After the muscles contract to initiate a movement, they relax and the body moves on due to momentum, falling slightly to the ground in the process. To understand the second phase of sinking is more difficult. It does not simply mean a settling of the energy and body as it presses onto the ground, but perhaps the exact opposite – the arising and intensifying of elastic forces and energy on a deeper level which replace the external strength simultaneously drained away by the loosening of the body. The third phase, the emptying of the mind, is even more difficult to understand. Again this does not mean the quietening down of the automatic superficial thoughts that habitually invade an untrained persons mind, though this does represent an early stage of the external training. Remember the Daoist phrase: "The Void that is empty is not the real Void. The Void that is full is the real Void." Just as the loosening of the body allows forces and energies to grow and work within it, so the concentration on these forces and energies gives rise to the strengthening of a deeper part of the mind (the Deep Mind, Empty Mind or 'Mind within the Mind') that arises gradually over the years with correct training. Then the Yi that issues forth from this deeper aspect of the mind takes control of the energies and subtle forces along with the body itself. To understand and practice the 3 phase process of relaxing is to understand and practice the mind. To initiate the practice of the mind Master Huang, in his later life, talked explicitly of closing down the superficial daily awareness just as when we go to sleep at night, then using the deeper consciousness that arises to manage the internal training. The mind simultaneously functions on the external level of normal life (superficial mind within the physical world) and on each of its 3 internal levels (Deep Mind within the levels of Man, Earth and Heaven). During the process of internal training initially the mind is turned inwards and stabilised on a deeper sense of the body. Later it is tuned in to the intermediate level of the forces that operate in the body (Taiji-elastic-jin). Finally it is tuned to the personal energy field with its 3 levels – Jing, Qi and Shen. Further, mind has a triple aspect – awareness (Tingjin), intention (Yi) and intelligence – which operate on each of the above levels. This is reflected externally in the nervous system where it is understood that there are sensory nerves (awareness), motor nerves (intention) and processing neurons (intelligence), all working together to control the physical body. To further understand awareness (Tingjin) both in the sense of listening on the first level of body movement and the intermediate level of internal forces, it is necessary to know that just as we have 5 external senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch) for perceiving the external world, so we have internal senses (which can be conveniently grouped into 5) for perceiving our internal world. These physically existing sensors or nerve ending types are – pain sensors, joint-position sensors, muscle-state sensors, pressure sensors and temperature sensors. Temperature sensors and pain sensors are not directly involved in normal movements, leaving all actions to be regulated (on a subconscious level for untrained people) by the joint-position, muscle-state and pressure sensors. So to train Tingjin means to slowly redirect awareness from the 5 external senses to these 3 internal sensors. The effort to train the accurate positions in the Taiji Form focuses on the joint-position sensors. To train the muscle changes of, initially contracting and releasing then later stretching and un-stretching, focuses on the muscle-state sensors. To train initially the pressure of the feet against the ground and the pressure of the hands against the partner, then later the pressures that develop deeply inside the body but especially in and around the pelvic bowl and waist, focuses on the pressure sensors. Training these 3 will inevitably lead also to awareness of the heat field of the body (often mistaken for the Qi itself). To gain a deeper understanding of intention (Yi) and the training involved in its strengthening and refinement is more difficult again. In speaking of the Yi Master Huang usually quoted the classical saying: "The heart (Xin = deep core of being, not emotional nature) generates Yi (classical Chinese = intention or will). The Yi moves the Qi. When the Qi moves the body follows. Because of the increase in power arising from the correct development of the Yi, the methods of training Yi have historically been, as Master Ma Yueliang explained, "taught in secret to members of the inner-schools of the few masters who understood it." Training the Yi involves more direct effort than training Tingjin, just as to activate the muscles requires more effort than to be aware of sensory information. Essentially we strengthen the Yi first by concentrating on a point either within the body or later outside, while directing our power towards that point. To refine this we replace the point with a line of light either straight or later curved. To refine it further we replace the line with the changing sphere, extending to arm's length or a little beyond, which simultaneously includes all points and all lines. This final sphere is the unique space in which mind, energy and all possible body movements merge. In order to refine and deepen the emerging Yi, through the internal levels, it is important to remember that the Yi issues from the level on which the awareness is centred at that moment. The result of the training of awareness and intention on each of the levels is the development of the third aspect of the mind, intelligence, on each of those levels. Just as a baby through making great (semi-conscious) efforts to walk while using (semi-conscious) awareness to monitor the results gradually develops the moving intelligence and consequent ability to walk and move externally in complex ways, so in Taiji the conscious efforts (intentions) combined with conscious awareness on each of the levels builds intelligence, on each of those levels. Intelligence (understanding, or inner being) cannot be worked on directly, neither does it grow satisfactorily simply by training awareness alone. Intelligence, the most important aspect of the mind, develops only through the conscious interaction of awareness and intention. While training the Taiji Form develops internal strength. Training the Taiji Pushing-hands develops the sensitivity to apply that internal strength. At each stage and on every level, as the intelligence increases, whatever has been achieved inside yourself can be extended through your partner in the Taiji Pushing-hands. While discussing the Taiji Pushing-hands and the timing of the subtle processes and forces (Taiji-jin), Master Huang most often recalled the classical injunction: Zhan, Lien, Nian, Sui – bu dang, bu ding. This can be translated as Touch, connect, merge and follow – don't resist, don't let go. While this is best learnt through physical practice with those who understand it themselves, I can point out that 'Touch' corresponds to movement and the muscle state of contracting, 'Connect' corresponds to loosening and the muscle state of relaxing, 'Merge' corresponds to sinking and the muscle state of stretching, while 'Follow' corresponds to 'Empty' and the muscle state of un-stretching. These 4 taken along with 'bu dang, bu ding' form the 5 elements (Wuxing). The best thanks we can offer Master Huang for his tremendous effort in spreading and developing Taiji is to refine, evolve and spread his methods. I hope my small summary above of some of the deeper aspects of his teaching can help to stimulate that. Taiji is a Daoist art of great refinement. Don't lose that deep tradition – whether as a physical art for self-defence, as a health promoting art through the circulation of fluids and energy, or as a high art of spiritual development leading to immortality within the inner realms. If you ask me whether my 40 years of practice confirms this possibility of immortality then I must answer that it is completely true, theoretically accessible to all, but practically speaking available only to those prepared to make the lifelong effort while receiving the correct guidance – thereby following the disappearing footsteps of Master Huang's trodden Way.

Huang's 100th Birthday Commemoration
By Patrick A Kelly, Huang Taiji Kuala Lumpur. 28.11.2010

In remembrance of Master Huang Xingxian on the occasion of the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of his birth, in response to the lifelong obligation I feel towards him as my teacher to pass on his teaching, I would like to write something of what he personally explained and taught to me some decades ago. Master Huang was both a martial artist and a Daoist. In time he was first a martial artist, then was gradually introduced to Daoism by his main Fujian Baihe (White Crane) teacher, Grand Master Xie Zhongxian, then later led deeper by Grand Master Zheng Manqing. But by the time I came to know Master Huang, inside he was first a Daoist and second a martial artist. Once when sitting outside eating, late at night in Kuala Lumpur, he looked up at the stars then gesturing to the expanse of the night sky he turned to me and said, “That is the big Taiji, inside us is the small Taiji”, then after a moment’s pause added quietly, “Now I teach Taiji, not Taijiquan.” The depth and sincerity of expression behind his words, I have never forgotten. From that time I subtitled my practice and teaching of Master Huang’s methods, “Taiji – Daoist Principles in Practice”. The best remembrance of Master Huang is to practice and teach as accurately as possible the subtle expression of the deep art of Taiji that he left to the world. I offer this article with that aim. Of all aspects of Taiji perhaps the most well known, most talked about, yet least understood on a deep level, is Qi or energy. Only now, at 60 years of age and approaching my 40th anniversary of training Taiji within Master Huang’s system do I feel more or less qualified to attempt this obscure subject. There are many who aim to explain the physical side of Master Huang’s Taiji, illustrating their attempts – as did Master Huang himself – with great skill in the Free Pushing-hands. I leave that task to them as, following another side of my teacher, I also teach Taiji, not Taijiquan. To begin with a literal dictionary translation of the character Qi may not be helpful as modern Chinese has deviated so much from the classical meanings and those in turn varied according to the discipline involved, so that medical, may differ from martial, may differ from Daoist interpretations. As the modern medical idea of Qi has been reduced to not much more than some physiological symptoms in its attempt to be scientific, I will only discuss the martial and Daoist concept of Qi. While the true internal training of Taiji concerns Qi, it is necessary to understand that there are different grades of Qi, humans are a mixture of these grades and it is possible to refine the gross Qi inside ourselves transmuting it into something much higher. Cosmologically, Dao in its most subtle form descends from Heaven (perhaps better called the Celestial level to avoid religious connotations). Humans are based on Earth and Taiji is a method of raising a Human from the Earth level to the Celestial level, to merge with the Dao. The medium is the Qi. For these practices it is not enough to know the theory, the precise method must be known. Both Master Huang Xingxian and Grandmaster Zheng Manqing – and there is cause to believe, also Great Grandmaster Yang Zhengfu along with his father and grandfather – were members of a Daoist school “The Sacred Society”, originally based in China but now headquartered in Taiwan with a large branch in Singapore still active today, where these forms of meditation were taught. Grandmaster Zheng Manqing explained that the 3 energy levels, Earth, Man and Heaven, were each further divided into 3, giving 9 stages through which we pass as we refine our internal energy within the 3 worlds. At that time he stated that he had reached the 7th stage, but it appears he later achieved the 9th before his death. Master Huang also talked at times about these 9 stages of inner refinement and it is my observation that he also reached the 9th and beyond by the time of his death. The tradition is not to speak openly of the inner training, but if that continues then practitioners with a deeper interest will waste many years on outer forms without access to the methods and explanations they need to refine their inner energy. So, I describe something of these methods here in the hope that it may help those who wish to follow the more subtle side of Master Huang’s teaching. Theoretically and practically, Qi – when considered in the light of Earth, Human and Celestial levels – can be divided into Jing (Essence), Qi (Energy) and Shen (Spirit-Mind). Jing is the basic energy of the body (Earth) and centres itself in the Lower Dantian which envelops the pelvic region and extends from the perineum (Huiyin) to the navel. Qi is the central energy of a person (Human) and centres itself in the Middle Dantian which envelops the thoracic region and extends from the solar plexus to the base of the neck. Shen is the most refined energy (Celestial) centred deep within our mind in the Upper Dantian which envelops the head. Each of the 3 Dantians has 3 levels, e.g. the 3 levels within the Lower Dantian are the Hui Yin (perineum), the point in the centre of the abdomen and the point just below the navel. Note that the 3 Dantians are not really in the body but are energy concentrations within the large energy field (Great Dantian or Personal Energy Sphere) extending out to arms length in all directions that envelops the body and within which the body exists. In relation to Taiji practice Master Huang asserted that the Taiji Form was to gather Qi, while the Pushing-hands were to learn how to use that energy in combination with the forces that develop between our partner and ourselves. He explained that concentrating in outer life through the external senses disperses energy into the world around us while, conversely, concentrating through the internal senses within the body (Tingjin) conserves and accumulates that energy which would otherwise be lost. Similarly, he cautioned, while practising the Taiji Form accumulates energy in the body, practising the Pushing-hands may cause it to dissipate. This is because when practising the Pushing-hands people usually shift back to an external level of concentration, then energy is lost as it is in normal life. This is especially true of the Free Pushing–hands which Master Huang discouraged in his classes. Rather Master Huang assembled 18 basic fixed pattern Pushing-hands within which students could train the Pushing-hands skills while concentrating on a deep level as in the Taiji Form. Only at a much later stage, such as Master Huang’s in his later life, can the practice of the Free Pushing-hands also be used to gather energy. That reserve of energy, generated through practicing the Taiji Form deeply and later perhaps also generated in the Pushing-hands, can be drawn up to a higher level within us through certain practices, often kept secret but more correctly the property of all. The truly higher practices have their own natural protection through the inability of unrefined people to perceive and understand their subtlety. Master Huang taught that initially when practising Taiji, the circulation of the Qi in the body should be light and natural. Maintaining this light, relaxed, awareness of the body allows the Energies to circulate freely while accumulating where necessary in their natural power centres. At this early stage gentle warmth will be felt occasionally around the Body. However privately, when students had reached a more advanced stage, he advised sinking the mind to a deeper level and using the Yi (mind intention or will) to drive the energies through the body stimulating an increased flow of Qi, strengthening the energy field and training the body to increase its capacity to handle the increased energy. Strong heat is usually felt in the body at this stage as the increased energy flow burns away the gross restrictions in the energy pathways of the body. This intense heat occurs sometimes at random places in the body and can be accompanied by very cold areas. In reply to my detailed questioning on the subject, Master Huang suggested that it may not be correct to simply concentrate on the Lower Dantian during the Taiji Form, as is often written in the books. Better, he explained, was to spread your awareness through and around the whole body while simultaneously releasing the hold of the mind on the body. Long practice on that level, accompanied by further emptying towards a still deeper level of the mind, allows the now stimulated energy flows to become natural and circulate freely with no impediments from the coarse physical body. There exists a refined natural intelligence connected with the deeper levels of the body and its energy circulation throughout the meridians. This intelligence now manages the enhanced energy flow with no further deliberate interference. At this stage the heat settles into a gentle overall glow felt both inside and surrounding the body – once described by Master Huang as “the sensation that someone is walking beside you holding a large bowl of steaming water”. When Master Huang felt that the energy circulations, within the Taiji Form, were at a sufficient level – typically he suggested after about 7 years Taiji practice – then he might teach the “quiet sitting”, which was never intended to replace the Taiji Form but rather augment it. He taught 2 basic meditations – one to concentrate on the energy centre of the Lower Dantian within the pelvic region and another to concentrate on the energy centre of the Upper Dantian within the head. These are for 2 different but connected purposes. The Lower Dantian was to connect into the lowest aspect of Qi - that is, Jing. The Upper Dantian was to connect in to the highest aspect of Qi – that is, Shen. At a later stage these two are merged in the Middle Dantian where Jing is gradually transformed and accumulated as Qi. Later again the Qi is lifted to the Upper Dantian when the completion of the final 3 levels of the 9 stages can be accomplished. To begin these internal exercises before a student was ready, Master Huang felt was a waste of time. If the mind was not sufficiently settled then the superficial thoughts would circle endlessly in the students minds, who would then struggle to watch or arrest these thoughts and might at most obtain moments of a blank thoughtless state, which in itself may be of little help for inner refinement. In fact to concentrate within the Upper Dantian at this early stage would almost certainly strengthen the superficial aspect of the mind, either stimulating more thoughts or fixing a person in the blank thoughtless state, locking the gate to further progress. The training Master Huang gave, to the students he felt were ready and who showed an interest in more than the body oriented health or martial aspects, was as follows. Sit or lie quietly while concentrating the mind internally on the centre of the Lower Dantian. Then allow the mind to sink deeper until heat is felt at this point. If the student was not already sensing something of this in the Taiji Form, then this may take years during which the thoughts would arise again and again to assail the person’s concentration and all but the most determined would give up the seemingly hopeless task. On detecting the sensation of heat the other students, with whom I discussed these matters, generally believed that this was the Qi but when I talked directly to Master Huang concerning my experience of heat he corrected this assumption, explaining clearly, “You can’t say that is the Qi, rather it is a sign that the mind is going deeper.” Though I didn’t understand this at the time, I now know that the superficial aspect of the mind concentrates out to the external world through the 5 external senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste) while the deeper mind – Daoists refer to it as the mind within the mind – on the first of its 3 levels looks inwards through the 5 groups of internal sensors (joint sensors, muscle sensors, pressure sensors, pain sensors and heat sensors). While moving in the Taiji Form, joint, muscle and pressure sensors are most active, pain sensors only activate on gross mistakes, while the heat sensors function quietly in the background. While sitting quietly however, the joint, muscle and pressure sensors have limited activity and the heat sensors may move to the foreground. Although, as Master Huang explained, the sensation of warmth experienced in the meditation was not the Qi, still it is true that the heat sensors are somewhat sensitive to the body’s energy field – so that for example strong bad energies may cause a feeling of coldness and strong good ones can cause a feeling of warmth. The full truth is that the warmth felt in the meditation is both a result of increased Qi activating the heat sensors more strongly and simultaneously a result of the deepening level of the mind becoming more strongly aware of the heat sensors which are already lightly active on the subconscious level of every person. When the mind had turned inward to this degree, Master Huang would then instruct the student in the micro-cosmic circulation. The Yi is used to lead the energy down the front of the abdomen to the Huiyin or perineum, then on up the back to the top of the head while breathing in and then down the front of the face and torso back to the Huiyin while breathing out. Actually the microcosmic orbit is only the first 2 paths of the 8 special channels or meridians in the body. As soon as the micro-cosmic circuit is established you may move on to the full 8 paths as outlined below. Little harm can come from this exercise. If the student is not ready then it will only be imagination with no energy response. 8 Paths. Basic body energy (Jing) is based in the perineum (Hui Yin) between the legs, expanding during the process of refinement to fill the abdomen (Lower Dantian). This energy circulates throughout the body in a network of 8 special channels. Follow the paths with the Mind visualising a stream of golden light, while listening to the resulting body sensations. 1. Inhale; lift energy up the spine from perineum to top of head. 2. Exhale; sink energy down the front of the body and return it to perineum. 3. Inhale; lift energy up the spine, divide at the belt then 2 streams rise to shoulders. 4. Exhale; sink energy down the outer arms, along the middle fingers to the palms. 5. Inhale; lift energy up the inner arms on to each side of the chest. 6. Exhale; sink energy down across the nipples, join at the waist and return to perineum. 7. Inhale; lift energy up in the central channel to the solar plexus. 8. Exhale; drop energy back to perineum, divide down front of the legs to middle toes and soles. 9. Inhale; raise energy via rear of the legs, join at perineum then rise in central channel to navel. 10. Exhale; return the energy to its base in the perineum, completing one round of 5 breaths. After several rounds of the 8 paths a further simple step can be practiced to promote the transmutation of Jing into Qi as follows. Expand the Light. Qi is based in the solar-plexus, expanding during the process of refinement to fill the thorax (Middle Dantian). The Personal Energy Sphere (field of Qi or Great Dantian) is centred on the (Middle Dantian), extends out to arms length in all directions and encompasses the Lower and the Upper Dantians. 1. Take 3 deep breaths. Each inhale lift the light from the Hui Yin up through the centre of the body via the solar-plexus to fill the Middle Dantian. Each exhale intensify then expand this light out around the body forming a cloud of golden light extending to arms length in all directions. 2. Breathe deeply, each inhale condense the sphere of light slightly towards the centre. Each exhale re-expand and intensify the cloud of golden light around the body, while taking the mind deeper until the mind is lost in the light. Then forget the breathing, gradually allowing the mind to sink even deeper while maintaining awareness of the light. In that deeply harmonised state the following exercise, based on the 5 elements, may be added if people have the time and inclination to further strengthen and refine the Qi. 5 Elements. 1. (Earth) Centre the Mind in the cloud of golden light in the solar plexus. Each out breath, intensify and expand the light taking the Mind deeper until the body and breath are lost in the light. 2. (Metal) Allow the cloud to drift up to cover the lungs where it becomes white like the clouds. With each out breath, intensify and expand the light as the Mind goes deeper. 3. (Water) The cloud moves down to cover the lower abdomen and turns a deep blue like the ocean. With each out breath, intensify and expand the light as the Mind goes deeper. 4. (Wood) The cloud moves to the region of the liver on the right side of the body and becomes a deep green like the forest. Intensify and expand the light as the Mind goes deeper. 5. (Fire) The cloud floats across to surround the heart and turns deep red like a ruby. With each out breath, intensify and expand the light as the Mind goes deeper. After one or more cycles, return the cloud to the solar plexus, re-expand out to arms length, then rest in the golden light that surrounds the body. The above exercises may be practiced without further guidance but it is safer and more efficient, if possible, to have an experienced guide. The effect of these practices and the resulting inner growth will gradually appear in your outer life. Moments of remembrance of the deep-body sensations, the body’s energy flow and later the energies of the Great Dantian should occur increasingly over time, while your strengthened internal Being will assist in the management of difficult situations. Then arises the possibility of the highest of Daoist aims – immortality, not of the body but of your inner Being, within the 3 energy worlds and beyond. Shortly before Master Huang’s death, while visiting New Zealand in preparation for his emigrating there (we had already obtained him ‘permanent residence’ status), he spoke again of his deepest aims, saying, “To teach Taijiquan is not too difficult, but to teach the heart of Taiji...”, then he just shook his head. I hope the above article serves to commemorate and contribute to the understanding of this deepest aspect of Master Huang’s life and teaching.

Questions & Answers By Patrick Kelly

By Patrick A Kelly, 2004

WHAT HAVE YOU GAINED FROM YOUR YEARS OF TAIJI WORK? Internal evolution is the main result of practise under the direction of a genuine teacher. Effort and sacrifice is the cost. In my early twenties, with 10 years training in Western martial arts, some knowledge of yoga and meditation, and about to complete my university studies, I made the decision to concentrate my life on the search for inner meaning and development. Boxing and wrestling had no depth, Yoga had depth but was too passive, while meditation lacked balance without some complementary training. I tried some of the Japanese systems but their culturally based severity turned me towards the Chinese arts, where I began Taiji. Taiji, at least the teaching of Master Huang Xingxian, has fulfilled all my expectations in terms of supporting balanced internal development. WHAT PARTICULAR ASPECTS OF TAIJI REALLY INTEREST YOU MOST TODAY? Only the mind and beyond interest me. Teaching how to bring the body under the control of the mind is my chosen area in which to help people. Personally, as the mind goes deeper towards its source, my interest is gathered in by that process. Health and self-defence are very minor interests. HAS YOUR IMAGE OF TAIJI CHANGED MUCH OVER THE PAST 30 YEARS? Not really - I began Taiji not having seen it, only knowing it was one of the internal Chinese Martial Arts which were based on Daoist principles and that their purpose was internal development. After meeting one of Master Huang's instructors who clearly demonstrated knowledge and ability beyond anything seen in my previous 10 years of research, and then meeting Master Huang himself, I knew I had found what I was looking for. WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL TEACHING PHILOSOPHY? It is important to encourage students to make an effort, both to extend their outer limits and to go deeper inside themselves. It is important to ensure students understand why they are practising certain exercises and where those practices will lead them. Seeing the way ahead and the purpose in going there, gradually allows them to be less dependent on myself. This understanding also protects them from being misled by unscrupulous teachers in the future. It is also important to recognize the responsibility in becoming a teacher. Practice is for your own development, while teaching is to help others. If you practice in order to become a teacher, or you teach to gain prestige or money, it will neither help your own internal development nor others. WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS FOR TEACHING IN EUROPE? From the large numbers who first came to my workshops, I chose and now concentrate on one hundred students who were most prepared to train what was being taught. My aim is to guide them until they can stand independently. If those hundred can really understand the methods well, find it in their own bodies and then pass it to their students, we will be free to concentrate on the deeper aspects. My experience and that of my teacher, is that it requires about fourteen or fifteen years consistent training before a student is capable of teaching independently. I trained under Master Huang for twenty years until his death in 1992, and that is the basis for the help I offer. When I first came to Europe the training experience of many people who were teaching was a little weak as a result of them jumping around from one teacher to another, then adding their own bright ideas into the mix. Another common problem is students who learn for 5 or 6 years then overestimate their own abilities. When their dubious idea of themselves is challenged, they get angry, decide I suddenly know nothing, and go off to teach independently. This is messy for themselves and dangerous for their students, towards whom I feel some responsibility. My teacher, Master Huang, also had to deal with a long string of these people. WHAT ARE THE DEEPER ASPECTS? The deeper aspects are of the mind and beyond. There are three clear levels in Taiji, the body, the mind and beyond the mind (Spirit). I try to teach people the body level thoroughly, lead them further into areas of the mind, while steadily introducing the spiritual aspects. WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS TO TRAIN ON THE DIFFERENT LEVELS? The aim is to unite the levels, not to work exclusively on any one of them. People should first learn how to move smoothly in their body, then how to release and align, then to find the forces in the body - combining all these with the mind. All this is for the mind-body co-ordination. Just body training barely has any place in Taiji. Then there is training for mind-energy co-ordination and later for the deepest part of the mind. Simultaneously the Deep Mind connection with the Spirit can be allowed to grow. IN TERMS OF THE MIND, WHAT ARE YOU TEACHING? P.K.: It is possible to say something but real understanding comes from training. There is awareness and intention on many levels from superficial to very deep. Awareness and intention combine and interact to produce response. Commonly people train some sort of awareness in Taiji but they seldom train the intention. Action with awareness implies body active, mind passive, while action with intention implies mind active, body passive. The special training of the mind intention (Yi) was quite deliberately kept secret by the old masters. Master Huang and Master Ma, for example, kept it just for their inner school pupils, only passing it on to a few of their thousands of students. Because of this the method of developing intention is not usually found in the training either in China or the West, yet strangely, in the Classics it is stated as the most important thing. Even when it is taught, students must practice for a long time before they begin to find it for themselves and take it deeper. CAN FREE PUSHING REPLACE THE FIXED PATTERN PUSHING HANDS? It is much better to train the fixed pattern pushing hands and teach your body and mind the correct responses under controlled conditions. If you practice the free pushing you just use your existing abilities while attempting to become faster and stronger. Consequently it fixes these inefficient habitual responses more solidly in yourself. When a person’s responses have changed to conform to the principles of Taiji, then gentle controlled free pushing can be used to enhance the naturalness of these responses. PLEASE EXPLAIN THE IMPORTANCE OF THE VERTICAL CIRCLE AS OPPOSED TO THE HORIZONTAL CIRCLE. The horizontal circle contains the external movements of the body which involve repositioning the centre. In the vertical circle the internal changes take place within the mind and within the body, producing subtle changes in the height and vertical forces of the body, while the body makes its external movements. The internal changes in their simplest form are contraction which produces movement followed by release which allows the body to 'swing' or move on under the influence of momentum and gravity. Because the body works against the ground to move, contraction produces both a horizontal force and a vertical one. Faster movements require a greater horizontal force, which necessitates a stronger vertical force, which will produce a slight lifting in the body. While moving slowly in the Taiji Form gravity overcomes this lifting so people may not become sensitive to it. When people need to move quickly the vertical force overcomes gravity and will lift the body slightly, followed by a settling down of the body once the wave of contraction passes. Many people find this for themselves and Zheng Manqing mentioned it in one of this books, but this second phase of releasing or swing has 3 hidden phases that people seldom understand. PLEASE EXPLAIN THE DIFFERENT STATES OF THE MUSCLES AND HOW THEY AFFECT THE FORCES IN THE BODY. The muscles cycle through contract, release, stretch and un-stretch, while the mind has its corresponding cycle of concentrate, relax, sink and empty, plus a neutral state for both giving 5 phases. Practical understanding of this only comes from long study. This cycle of mind and body is the basis of all Master Huang taught me in my 20 years learning under his direction. If you don't understand the five states then it's difficult to find the relaxed elastic force of Taiji. It's commonly taught that there are just the two muscle states of contraction and relax. If you only know these two you will be stuck on the pairs of opposites, the Yin and the Yang. If you only consider, or attempt to combine these two as in first contract and then relax, or partly relaxed, partly contracted, then the search for the relaxed elastic force of Taiji is doomed to failure. Stretching and un-stretching are seldom talked about or understood. The corresponding changes in the state of the mind are even more obscure. PLEASE EXPLAIN THE DIFFERENT MIND STATES TO TRAIN IN THE FORM? No, I can't really explain that. They need to be trained with a person who understands them. I can say, people first have to listen very closely to their body. Its not the normal listening which is from the superficial mind. Look for genuine body sensations such as warmth, pressure and non-visual body positioning.. This is the first step and it is considerably different from the feeling type of awareness that the average Taiji person trains. Merely increasing concentration on the level of normal daily awareness is a false method which just makes it more difficult to go deeper later on. Unfortunately, many modern systems of meditation teach people to value and strengthen just this superficial awareness. The ego observes the superficial perceptions, vision, hearing etc. and feels it sees reality 'just as it is'. It is not a true path. Each of my teachers spoke of this error, and my experience confirms what they said. ON EVERY LEVEL OF TAIJI THERE IS THE PARADOX OF LETTING GO AND KEEPING CONTROL. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS AND WHAT WAYS OF WORKING WITH THIS DO YOU RECOMMEND? Central to Taiji is the paradox of how to combine the yin and the yang, e.g. Contract/release or control/naturalness. What we are looking for is not more yin or yang, or a mixture, but something new. You could call it yin-yang, as one thing. It seems like a mixture of the two, but it is something different, a third thing that is produced. Its never a matter of one is right and the other is wrong, but the simultaneous combination of the two produces something more subtle. When producing Taiji force (jin) there is drawing in and sending out at the same time. The state of stretching is actually a new state that's produced within the muscle. The stretching allows the yielding and at the same time produces a force, it's not a simple combination of contracting and relaxing either in time or space. The same with letting go and keeping control. The letting go that interferes with keeping control, is not the letting go that you need. The keeping control that interferes with letting go is not the control that you need. You must find that which simultaneously allows an increasing control and an increasing letting go. WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO ALIGN THE BODY? It's important to align, at the time of forces passing through the body. It's not necessary to align when you are just relaxing. Aligning creates a line of connection from the ground to the point of application which allows the forces to pass through the body without producing contraction, resistance or pain. A straight and vertical spine for example, allows the strongest vertical forces to rise from the ground. Usually as people get older their spine becomes less flexible and the curves increase causing problems with the disks. Releasing and aligning within the Form and auxiliary exercises can reverse this process. WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF FORMING A GOOD BASE? Internal forces of Taiji work up and down from the ground. Without a good base people can't find these forces and will never escape using upper-body strength and weight, signalled by leaning and excessive movement when issuing force. Only when the body is stable can you really loosen the upper-body and find the vertical circle. Only when the body is extremely stable can you concentrate the mind deeply while in the midst of action. WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR THE BODY TO BE LOOSE? When babies are born they are already loose, but they don't know how to move. The first thing they learn in order to survive, is a reasonable ability to move the body, which involves contraction. Everybody learns that but they may never learn how to release. Consequently, residual contraction remains and accumulates in the body so that when they become older their whole body becomes tight and locked. As an antidote, people first need to learn how to release these residual, habitual contractions. Then, once they make a contraction, how to release it fully, immediately afterwards. Residual contractions block the blood flow and energy flow, as well as interfering with subsequent movements. Certainly when the forces flow from the ground through the body, it is necessary to be able to release previous contractions completely to allow the semi-automatic stretching and un-stretching to take place. WHY IS ACCURACY IN THE FORM IMPORTANT? The main reason is to train the mind/body control on the initial level. This is achieved by accurate positioning of the body according to a clear intention of the mind, either the stored memory of the position, or a fresh intention at that moment. With beginners, the mind intends one thing and the body does something different. Accuracy is the first step in practising mind/body control, as well as the first step in finding the types of position that allow a greater transmission of forces to and from the ground. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR MAIN TEACHERS PATRICK? When beginning on the path, it became obvious that I needed to find a teacher who really knew what they were about in a spiritual sense. I began Master Huang's Taiji and shortly after began training with a Sufi teacher. He was a sheikh in the Nasqabandi tradition from Afghanistan, drawing also partly on the Gurdjieff tradition. I continued to train with these two people until their deaths (Master Huang in 1992; the Sufi in 1987). Other teachers who have had some influence are an old yogi who lives in the desert in India, whom I visit from time to time, and an old Daoist sage who is hidden in China and unknown in the West. Master Ma Yueliang, who stayed in NZ for 6 months and whom I later visited in China, helped me also and I have kept close contact for the past 15 years with Master Ni Hua Ching who knew Yang Shou Hou and Yang Cheng Fu and was a good friend of Zheng Manqing. These teachers all pushed me to teach. Without their mandate I wouldn't be so bold as to direct other people in their lives. TO COME BACK TO THE TAIJI PRACTISE - WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF PUSHING HANDS? Pushing hands is for sensitivity, the Form is to train internal strength. This is their original purpose but poorly trained students reverse this, training the Form lightly with awareness but no intention looking for sensitivity, then using strength combined with elementary mechanics in the pushing hands in an attempt to find internal strength. Pushing hands teaches you to expand and extend your awareness to include others. It allows you to practise awareness of, and a correct response to the partners intention whereas in the Form it is your intention that produces the movement in response to the stored body memory of the sequence. Over time and with the correct method you become sensitive to the intention to move in the partner's body, energy field and mind. Pushing hands is also a teaching method where the students can interact with the teacher and learn from that contact. HAVE YOU COMPETED IN A PUSH HANDS CONTEST? HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT COMPETITIONS? I have never competed in a pushing hands contest, but in the Chinese world when you push hands it tends to be very competitive, remembering that most students and teachers in Asia have, at best, learnt in the 'outer schools' of the good masters. In Asia we would often go to the parks on the weekend where there would be Taiji people from many different schools meeting. Though our intention was to learn, this situation was extremely competitive. In China when I visited various teachers, it was often taken mistakenly as a challenge, and serious pushing hands would be difficult to escape. I have watched competitions and they appear to produce and stimulate the worst aspects of Taiji. What people are doing, the competitiveness and desperate trying to win, is against the basic principles. I don't believe people learn much of worth from it. Some people feel they learn to handle an aggressive energy or an aggressive situation but I observe people just become more competitive themselves. The aggressive situation stimulates aggressiveness so it achieves the exact opposite of what people imagine. Pushy people feel justified in their behaviour and rise through the ranks of the organisations that convene the contests, perpetuating these patterns of behaviour. WHY IS IT NECESSARY TO DEVELOP THE DEEP MIND? The superficial mind, or normal daily awareness is basically brain consciousness. The real mind, in all its parts, exists in the energy field, not in the brain. When you die the superficial mind is gone with the brain, but the deeper aspects of the mind still exist and operate on three different levels. There is the mind connected with the body, the mind connected with the energy field and then there is the intelligence of the mind. The Deep Mind Intelligence functions through these three aspects. It connects into the brain and body through these 3 aspects, but is quite different from the brain. The Deep Mind, which includes the deeper parts of the energy field, is your real individual self. It's born in a body to develop its energy field and its associated intelligence's. That is the purpose of life. Not remembering this, you waste your lifetime. SO YOU WOULD SAY IT'S THE MAIN PURPOSE IN TRAINING TAIJI? The classics say the main purpose in training Taiji is to achieve longevity, which in the Daoist teaching means immortality or the ability to survive after death in your diamond body. The Buddhists talk of enlightenment which means to create a body of light for the same purpose. After death you live on in your energy body one way or another. If your energy body is strengthened and refined through correct effort during your lifetime then the deeper aspects of yourself become independent from the body, immune from death in your crystallised energy body. If you haven't achieved that, then you either gradually fade from all individual existence or return in a body to try again to escape the rounds of lives and deaths. This is the truth of life. It is well understood by all real teachers. Other purposes for Taiji are minor ones, created by people in normal life, usually to nurse the body and make it more comfortable, or to attain fighting power and the dubious respect that confers. Unfortunately concentrating on health or self-defence may just make the mind more attached to the body, strengthen the ego and block internal development. HOW CAN THOSE INTERESTED IN YOUR CONCEPTS MAKE CONTACT WITH YOUR TEACHING? I don't advertise widely, but there is enough information around, such as this interview, my books and my students who teach. If a person is really interested, if they make some effort to look and if there is some inner resonance with the teaching, then the opportunity to make contact will no doubt be arranged by their own Deep Mind...

The Death of a Master
By Patrick A Kelly, October 1993 (Originally published in the St Benedicts st Taiji-school Magazine and also in the American “Tai Chi” magazine) 

In December 1992 ten thousand Taiji exponents felt the loss of their teacher, Master Huang Xingxiang (Huang Sheng-Shyan). He died in Fuzhou, China, the place of his birth 83 years earlier – having returned there a few months before his death after 43 years spent living and teaching in first Taiwan then later Singapore and Malaysia. He left behind approximately 35 independent schools throughout Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. Each of these schools has professional instructors and many have more than one hundred students. The first of these schools were formed over 30 years ago in Singapore and East Malaysia. I personally established a school in Auckland New Zealand in 1979 after 7 years training under Master Huang and his senior instructors and being accepted as one of his personal pupils in 1978. Master Huang was well known and respected in Chinese martial arts circles around the world for the subtlety and strength of his internal power and his ability to use it in the Taiji pushing hands. Unfortunately few Westerners ever experienced his abilities first hand and many disbelieved his skill and felt the need to convince others of their disbelief with rational arguments founded on lack of personal experience. I have never met anybody who if lucky enough to practice with Master Huang, had any doubt of his capabilities. Some did argue that his 20 years of practicing Fujian White Crane under some of the most famous masters of his time was a major factor in his later success at Taiji, and he never denied it, but while giving due credit to the three Daoist Sages who taught him White Crane from the age of 14, he always attributed his Taiji skill to the late Grand Master Cheng Man-Ching. Master Huang met G. M. Cheng Man-Ching in 1949 in Taiwan. He kneeled to and was accepted by him, the first Taiji exponent who had been able to deal comfortably with Master Huang's White Crane in a friendly test of skills. Master Ben Lo Pang Jang of San Francisco, a student of G. M. Cheng, was present in those early days and he told me that when Master Huang first attended G. M. Cheng's school he was already able to throw normal people 10 metres using his White Crane hands, but the relaxed students of G.M. Cheng could escape his push to some extent. Because of this at first G.M. Cheng refused to believe that Master Huang had not learnt Taiji somewhere before but then Master Huang showed G.M. Cheng the secret White Crane training manual handed down from his Daoist teachers containing on the first page the characters: Sung, Sung, Sung; meaning: Relax, Relax, Relax; and on the second: Yi, Yi, Yi; meaning: Mind, Mind, Mind. G.M. Cheng said he could see that the systems were very similar and that Master Huang had already achieved the first 10 years of Taiji through his training in White Crane. Master Huang stayed with G.M. Cheng until 1959 when at G.M. Cheng's injunction he emigrated to Singapore and later to Malaysia setting up home in Kuching on the island of Borneo. There he remained for most of the rest of his life, steadily practicing, teaching, experimenting, developing his training system and opening new schools as well-trained instructors became available. In later years he held centralized training sessions for serious students from within his schools and sometimes from within the G.M. Cheng tradition. He visited Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand regularly in his last few years while travelling constantly around his schools in Malaysia and Singapore. In his final years he considered moving to various countries and we arranged permanent residence for him in N.Z. but a small injury suffered in 1992 persuaded him to retire to China amongst his extended family and old friends and this was his last move. A few years earlier we had accompanied him on an emotional trip back to China for his first time in 40 years and although at the time he said that he would never return there the pull of his birth place in the end was too great. Master Huang was noticeable in his teaching in many ways but one which I as a foreigner experienced was his insistence that it was not a person’s race (being Chinese) or the family lineage that had any influence on learning Taiji, but the person’s attitude, practice method and the help of a good Master that led to success. He told me that in his experience neither the very rich nor the very poor would succeed in learning Taiji as they were both too concerned with money. Though he was comfortably well off in his later years, students at his schools paid only US$15 to US$20 per month for classes 2 to 3 times per week. When I was short of money he would charge nothing and I often saw him pay the expenses of students who otherwise could not have continued practicing. In the old Chinese tradition he never demonstrated the full extent of his abilities especially the more internal ones, saying when we asked him why, that many people doubted the things he did show, so the chance of many people being able to appreciate his deeper skills was very small. He did on occasions in the presence of small numbers of his old students, show some of these things but on this subject I will for the same reason say no more. Let those who wish to doubt him do so and those with an open mind investigate further. Like all genuine teachers who teach from their own experience his teaching sometimes seemed opposite to other accepted methods but the results always spoke for themselves. In the Taiji-form, while most stressed the postures themselves, he stressed the changes that occur in moving from one posture to another and in later years said the training method of holding postures went against the principle of constant change and could teach bad habits and interfere with the free flow of Qi (chi) (though holding postures also produces many good effects and he used it extensively in his younger days). I spent many long hours over the space of 15 years, often in the middle of the night, being thrown by him and he said that in this time he was "passing me the Taiji-jin (Taiji relaxed force)". By the technique of listening in the body to the sensations produced by the flow of his Taiji-jin, slowly but surely my own body began to understand and reproduce the processes involved. Though the student might come to understand these things by their own investigations, this process of energy transmission was most direct and sure and a most important part of the traditional student-teacher relationship. Fortunately for myself as the only Western student among the 40 or 50 students of his inner school he said that he counted on me to spread the Taiji that he was teaching to the Western World and for this reason possibly passed on to me a lot more than I personally had earned. Taiji tuishou (pushing hands) was certainly his favourite practice and entertainment. The more subtle and skillful you could be against him the more he would laugh and return the compliment. When people insisted on relying on the external factors of strength and speed, substituting the desire to win for the opportunity to learn, their experience would be a short one. Throughout the 70 years over which he developed his skills he constantly sought to refine and internalize them through hours of daily practice and original thought. Over the last 20 years of his life I saw the physical movements he used being withdrawn from his legs and arms then being concentrated and minimized within the centre of his body until at the last it would appear to all but the most experienced eye that he would yield neutralize and issue with no visible changes. This is the stage of pure mind intention (Yi) and all the genuine internal masters have this to some degree. But over the same time a more important refinement was taking place unnoticed by most but he attempted to explain it on occasions. It involved removing the intention (Yi) from the process of issuing energy so that the issuing phase appeared naturally and spontaneously during the sinking and letting go of the mind with the result that it felt both to his mind and the others involved that the receivers of his energy threw themselves. This paralleled the Daoist ideal in daily life of doing nothing yet all things still being done (not to be confused with the elementary psychological method of splitting ones attention and simultaneously doing and observing). Such was his humour that once he lined us all up and had us marching on the spot and said that was what all people were doing each day, marching towards their own death. Then he would pull a few people out and move them farther back down the line explaining that these were people who practiced Taiji and that while nobody could stop marching towards their death they could move a little farther back down the queue. He said that while there were hundreds of books available on Taiji most of them were just the same information going from book to book with very little original experience. He asked each person to go back to first principles and study nature and the animals to understand and rediscover the Taiji principles for ourselves as the old masters who founded and developed Taiji had done in their time. This he had done for himself over the years and he often talked about the results of his own studies. He felt that Taiji was a living teaching and that it must grow within each person rather than become stagnant and fixed. He also acknowledged the individual contribution of all genuine practitioners of Taiji whatever their level. Knowing that I was involved in other internal disciplines simultaneously he advised that all teachers have their strengths and their weakness' and to make sure that I learnt only from each ones strong points – as he had done himself over his lifetime. This was the open-mindedness that held me and so many others to him while at the same time leaving us free to find our own path. Some of his old Daoist sayings that I remember and that characterized his life are: When you drink the water, remember the person who dug the well. When you water the plant you water the roots and the flower will appear by itself. Don't be content with being the student of a successful Master; you must make a success of your own practice. It is all in the Taiji Form. If I teach and you don't practice, we are both wasting our time. Learn less and practice more. All the principles are in the Taiji (Yin/Yang) Diagram. The most important concept in Taiji is change. The Universe is a big Taiji; inside us is a small Taiji. When assessing peoples Taiji I look 30% at their body and 70% at their psychology. Taiji is not important; the Dao is important. Some people think the pushing hands is all technique but they do not understand that unless they are an upright and principled person they will never get passed a certain level. All Taiji practitioners are brothers and sisters. Even after 70 years of struggle things do not get easy; it still requires a daily effort to live a worthwhile and successful life. For Taiji to be successful it must become relaxed and natural.

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