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Mongolian Taijiquan master Tuo Mu Si about training with Chen Zhaokui

Translated by Linda Yeo from Chen Taijiquan Nairobi

Fascinating account by Mongolian taijiquan master Tuo Mu Si 妥木斯 who is featured in this video pushing hands with CZK.

Born in 1932, Tumut Zuoqi, Inner Mongolia, Mongolian. Oil painter, art educator. In 1958, he graduated from the Oil Painting Department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts. In 1963, he graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts Oil Painting Research Class. In 1983, he was awarded the professor of Fine Arts Department of Inner Mongolia Normal University. Retired in 1998. He studied Chen style Taijiquan from Chen Zhaokui and gives the following account of his time spent with CZK.

I learned boxing with teacher Chen Zhaokui in 1971. It has been 30 years since then. Mr. Chen seemed a bit overweight. He was as tall as me, about 163 cm high, a small head, at that time his weight had been 160 jin. However, this was not the result he wanted. He showed me the picture he took on the Yangtze River bridge in Nanjing, which showed a totally different him, very thin. At that time, he was spending his days in high volume exercise. Upon getting up, he would go for a 5km run. After that, he bathed and ate breakfast and went to the gym to carry out ten rounds of taijiquan in one breath followed by one-hour of solo drill. He would then teach taijiquan in the afternoon. At the start of the Cultural Revolution campaign, when Gu Lixin was arrested in Shanghai, he immediately felt that this campaign was no ordinary movement, and immediately returned to Beijing quietly. Upon his quiet departure, Shanghai's rebel factions went for him but could not locate him for arrest. Back in Beijing, during the Cultural Revolution, it was impossible for CZK to set up a venue to teach boxing, but he had no other economic source of income so unobtrusively he taught in several clandestine places. As a fugitive in semi-hiding, this change in lifestyle caused a sudden drop in activity for CZK’s body but the ability to digest was still very strong, so there came the weight gain. When he was in a bad mood he would smoke a big pipe. The death of his old mother was a great blow to him. In his letter to me, he said: "Her passing has had a great impact on my spirit, my blood pressure has risen tremendously.” All these pressures posed an insurmountable hazard to his health.

As a taijiquan teacher, CZK possessed a very scientific spirit of the boxing art. The boxing frame he taught was very low, and in order to increase the exercise and combat practical skills, he also taught a set of live steps (increased footwork) that were extremely hard. One set of these live steps was three times more tiring than the ordinary steps. He showed me the picture of Master Chen Fake, saying that this was the frame during the late stage of his life. In order to save his strength, CFK did not want to go low. In fact, CFK’s traditional frame was very low. When CZK taught us, he was very strict and serious. He first demonstrated and explained to us, and then led us to do it. When he estimated that most people had mastered it, he would ask us to demonstrate one by one, to correct us. If any individual could not master a move, he would teach it again differently. I had learned Yang-style tai chi with Mr. Cui Yishi in 1959. In the 1960s, I also learned Baguazhang, Xingyiquan and the Three Emperors' boxing, my body was still very much dominated by my mind, but as a painter, my feelings for forms were very quick and accurate, so CZK was very interested in teaching me. Later he asked me to go to his house, which gave more access to our teacher-student relationship. At his home most of the time the practice was focused on pushing hands. 

During the learning period, I gave the teacher two sets of "Tuishou" materials, and after reading what I wrote CZK had more understanding and trust in me. He asked me to read and write up some of his boxing materials. CZK always took a negative view of the supernatural and mysterious. When he was teaching boxing in Shanghai, a karate expert came to his door to learn boxing, and insisted on mastering the mystery. In order to knock some sense to the man, teacher CZK told him to come out in a class demonstration to take on a “fu kao” (leaning strike) in Ji Di Qui. Despite being told to ready himself for a “kao” strike, the karate expert was struck senseless and rolled. Afterwards, to save face the humiliated expert invited teacher to a meal accompanied by some of the disciples. He said to teacher CZK on the table: “When you practice boxing, I can see you surrounded by a foot thick of “qi”! CZK could not accept his flattery. It baffled him how the karate expert who was also an associate professor in the university could possess no scientific attitude! This is a karate gongfu expert who can scale walls to strike opponents, and yet when he could not withstand a “kao” blow, he had to put it down to mystery and would not face up the fact that there is a distinction between true and false gongfu.

Teacher CZK was excellent at “na fa” 拿法 method. Chen-style tai chi ”na fa” method is very rich. The basic principle is to follow the strength “jin” of the opponent, lock the back of their joints. Before your opponent discovers that his joint is locked, the “qinna” move is already executed. For your opponent to discover that he has been tricked before his joint is locked, that would have been too late. Many of the joint locks are opposing locks 反拿, which comply with the principles of taijiquan, to first reach target before issuing power 后发先至. CZK never taught any secret move or tricks. In Hohhot, I have learned a few joint lock moves from some old fighters, such as "xianzi carrying basket", "iron crutch li holding calabash", "the girl holding gold bottle" and so on, all said to be unique skills as yet unbroken. CZK asked me to execute these moves and to do them seriously. With a jerk, he catapulted me from the ground to the bed. He said to me come again! The second time I executed my na fa, he instinctively followed his jin and laid me flat on the ground motionless, I could not help but exclaim: “Wonderful!” 妙!He said: “Come again!" I executed it for the third time, and grabbed his hand, he slapped me with his other free hand, catapulting me against the wall. The space time in between was perfect execution. When I told him that those who taught these unique na fa moves swore they were as yet unbroken, CZK simply smiled : “That’s not right! Techniques are mutually promoted and restrained, there’s no such thing as techniques that are unbreakable!" Once, I said that my wrist was very flexible. I was not afraid of being snapped. CZK said, “Let me see!" Locking both our hands, the moment I song jin, CZK turned a circle and I was immediately under unbearable pain squatting straight to the ground. I had heard from fellow disciples how comrades from the Ministry of Public Security came specifically to learn the principles of “qinna". CZK never set down how many ways to joint lock, not because he never had the inclination to do so or that there was no time, but rather the regulation of “qinna” itself sets the limit and constraints. If you know how to use it at all, you should be able to change everything. CZK took the concept of “song kai” (松开 loosened and opened of joints) particularly seriously, the biggest problem of my generation of practitioners was the inability to “song kai” or have not properly reached the stage. He often used the word “song kai" instead of “fang song” (relax), which is intended to let students understand the difference between loose requirements as opposed to the complete lack of effort and droop in daily life. What CZK said was that to loosen is by no means soft. Once to demonstrate “song kai” he put an arm on my right shoulder. I stood at the table, he gave me a ‘jin’ and I had to hold the table for support. He smiled and gave me another ‘jin', and I promptly sat on the ground and suffered a sore shoulder for two or three days. Another time, he stood there on a high horse stance and asked me to push his chest. I lunged into a bow stance towards his crotch and shoved his chest with both hands, unable to move. Changing the direction of my force, up, down or left and right, I was unable to move him one bit. I couldn't understand it, and CZK said that was exactly “song kai". It felt like I was pushing against the wall. He said that if you do not “song kai”, you could not be “huo” (活 lively). If you could not grasp the principle of “song huo"(松活 loose and llively), then you could not achieve the “tan dou” (snap and shake force).

CZK's ability of “tan dou jin" is extremely unique. The “tan dou" energy completes its transformation in the shortest time. On speed, he thought that the training of “tan dou jin” could be both fast and slow. To use however, it must be quick. First steady, second quick. The power in a ping-pong ball is in it’s speed and spin, so is it with boxing. He had heard Mr. Gu Liuxin in Shanghai mentioned about Mr. Yang Cheng Fu's requirement that “tan dou jin” had to be crisp, like glass suddenly thrown onto a hard floor, rather than slowly pulling down (from the table). In boxing theory, ‘fa jin” is akin to shooting an arrow, hair on their ends, sent forth suddenly, appearing out of nowhere. To listen to the truth, go at speed and yet quiet like Yue mountain, move like electricity, hand must be quick, without speed there be delay, raise your hands like lightning, hit the enemy like thunder..., all these were descriptions about speed. Observing how the ancients such as Wang Zongyue viewed the matter, they were not against rapid actions either. The rapidity of taijiquan depends on “huo song”, “tan dou” and the innate ability to strike from anywhere, these are not contradictory with its slow practice. Just like the saying 四两拨千斤 "four ounces against two thousand jin", by no means does it infer that a small force can hit up against a large force, causing pain, but rather it is saying a small force can move against a large force. “Ba” (拔) is a adjective, not a precise verb.

When Chen Xin said this, he was clear and easy to understand. After taking over the point of attack, the relationship of strength (劲力 jin li) between the two sides definitely favours the one who possesses more strength. In fact, if you really do not need strength, why put any effort at all to practice 内劲( inner “jin"). Quan without power is empty training and that is a matter of sheer practical experience, not imaginary reasoning. Wang Zongyue refers to a person with little power who can exert great power over a much stronger opponent utilising the principle of 四两拨千斤 "four ounces against two thousand jin”, this does not mean a small force can overcome a large force. CZK had a very stringent requirement for establishing a foundation for strength, without this certain foundation was impossible. If one's skill is good, one can overcome the strength of those with twice one’s power, this is a fact from experience. When you are lightly struck by CZK, he lets you check yourself for errors in the relationship between your “song", center, and power, he was definitely not asking you to experience some concept of “shen”, “yi” and “qi”.. these concepts are sheer incoherence for the beginners, unfathomable. Once, a student had his right arm pressed against CZK’s right arm, he was vertical while CZK was horizontal, issuing a movement from his waist CZK’s right arm caused the student to jump up a foot in the air and to let out a cry. When CZK spoke about tui-shou, very few knew about his tui-shou’s abilities because of his attitude towards tui-shou. I discerned that during tui-shou, CZK would control the opponent until he loses completely any means to resist. Basically he would wholly control the movement of the opponent’s jin, and it was not a matter of letting the opponent jump or quit after retreating a few steps. The material on tui-shou which CZK and I worked on was basically thus. During tui-shou, he would illustrate both the practice of tui-shou and the application of it in combat.

Speaking of being rooted underfoot, Mr. Chen expressed it vividly like standing in a speeding vehicle and in a sudden brake, no one can remain standing; or standing on the carpet which is suddenly pulled from underneath, anyone would fall! Human stability is relative and cannot be rooted. He often emphasized strength (jin), and often talked about the need “to be loosened and opened” (song kai). Receiving an external force one should never lose track of one’s jin, at this moment the jin is expressed as an expression of “support jin” after song kai; issuing force against an opponent after song kai the jin is expressed as having an explosive bomb-like quality; neutralising an external force after being song kai the jin is expressed spirally as chansijin; during “an” and “cai” the jin is expressed as song and sinking. Jin is thus the overall and partial strength expressed in quan practice, it is fundamental to taijiquan. In order to cultivate “peng” jin, CZK would teach me to rotate the dantian, and issue forth “fa jin” practices with the elbow, arm or wrist. Once I told him about the spinal spur I suffered in the lumbar after an attack in Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution, he taught me Zhanzhuang and said if my practice of it could produce heat, it would help with recovery. From this, I later sought especially to learn the Zhanzhuang methods in Da Cheng Quan.

Speaking about "If your opponent does not move, one does not move”, “If your opponent moves, one has already moved”, CZK illustrated this principle through his controlling my body movement, whenever I had the mere intention to move, my jin road was totally under his control. Illustrating a sudden attack without touching your opponent, I moved my right leg to perform a kick and CZK’s leg was already kicking my right heel. He said that his true aim was my crotch, but aiming at the heel was an illustration without injuring. I had never expected the speed of his leg which was thick but could shoot like a rubber band.

In many years of contact, I have never heard CZK said or revealed the source of taijiquan as being from taoism, immortals or wudang mountain. Nor has he ever credited the martial arts, which have been passed down from hundreds of millions of people through thousands of years of accumulation, to have been created by monks or Laotze. To think that this is now a mentality mushrooming amongst taijiquan folks has to do with the market economy of course. For the sake of connecting taijiquan to taoism or laozi, many people refer to the moral sutras of laozi to clarify the principles of taiji. Not all such intentions are bad, some of them may be inferred correctly, but many are taken out of context and do not reflect the original intention of the sutras. In fact, they are improper. If someone wanted to find a positive source for the form 13, and quotes from a passage in laozi’s chapter 50 which is : 出生入死,生之徒,十有三,死之徒,十有三,人之生动之于死地,亦十有三. Laozi’s original intention was about the relationship between life and death, living and the dead but the references to the numbers 13 have led some to infer that the source of the taiji form 13 is linked to that verse. (Author gives further examples of such hubris.. I set out the straight up google translation here…) Another example is the origin of eight kinds of jin and five bufas (steps) which are very clear, but why do they seek the origin from the moral sutras of laozi’s tao te ching? If it had anything to do with bagua’s five elements, maybe that is acceptable. Then there is chapter 3 of the tao te ching which cites .. 圣人之治,虚其心,实其腹,弱其志,强其骨几句. The original intention of the chapter is on governance and yet they have interpreted as the source for emptying your mind, spirit, and quieting the upper body to enable yang to become yin and soft and let the qi sink to dantian….

It is of course important to quote the classics, but it is necessary to understand the whole meaning correctly without subjective interpretation, and avoid quoting sentences and words out of context, it is necessary to do this without losing respect for the ancient saints and sages. "Laozi" and each chapter have an independent and complete meaning. Different meanings are listed in different chapters. We should not cut them and interpret according to our own wishes, which hurts the original meaning of the whole chapter. The more I see this kind of article, the more I feel the value of simplicity, sincerity and de-mystifying, and the more I feel the respect of teacher Chen Zhaokui. Those who cherish this simplicity are few and far between.

In 1972, I went back to Hohhot to practice. There were many people who wanted to learn taijiquan. I wrote to him for his views. He encouraged me to teach and wrote back: "From the point of view of promotion of Chen taijiquan, you can teach. Because everything still needs to be learnt and taught in practice, so part teaching, part learning, and summarise, in order to achieve higher overall level... If you have any questions, please feel free to write to me and I will do my best to help you solve them." I didn't teach until I got the teacher's permission. What made me sad was that when we set up the Inner Mongolia chen-style taijiquan research association, the teacher would no longer know. Mr. Chen Zhaokui belonged to the group of people who devoted themselves to seeking the Tao, they were not the ostentatious star type; he was the sincere master, not the famous teachers that the media hyped up. He belonged to the group of teachers of virtue and art;, and not the masters of the hustle and bustle of worldly fame. This is my deep respect of my teacher Chen Zhaokui.

Video Links:

Tuo Musi is still hosting a Chen Shi Taijiquan annual meeting in Hohhot this video was released in July this year. And he is still referring to his teacher CZK in his talks. This gentleman is now in his 80’s sharing his 40 years of experience in CTJ with taijiquan folks in Inner Mongolia..

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