An interview with Wang Yen-nien, fourth generation master of the Yangjia Michuan Taijiquan lineage, by Thomas W. Campbell. Our talk took place on July 13, 2002 in Madison, Wisconsin and Julia Fairchild provided the translation. The workshop was produced by Don and Kathryn Coleman. Originally published in the Journal of AYMTA (American Yangjia Michuan Taijiquan)
Wang Yen-nien, Madison, Wisconsin in 2002
When I finally sat down with Wang Yen-nien to conduct an interview the festival was over and we had only a short amount of time. It was early Saturday morning and obvious that Master Wang was tired and in need of more green tea than he had probably consumed so far. But we settled in, with Julia Fairchild translating, and started right up. Within minutes Master Wang became attentive and inspired, looking back on his life and discussing it with deep interest. His responses were carefully considered and spoken with emotional authority.
TWC – Master Wang, you have practiced and taught taijiquan from many years and trained many students and teachers. Would you discuss why you have dedicated yourself to the practice and teaching of Yangjia Michuan Taijiquan?
WYN – It was a time when the world was changing, when eras were changing, from the end of the world war, of arriving in Taiwan, and retiring from military service and into private life. Having been in the army I realized how little life was worth, during the war. [Wang Yen-nien was a Colonel, fighting with the Nationalist Army in the Chinese Civil war.] So, considering all of my experiences in the war, I decided after stepping down from military service to dedicate myself to something that would be of use to people’s health and to mankind. In Chinese there is saying that once you have seen so much disaster and death you are able to let go of all attachments because you have been to zero and now you can only go up. Also I realized that once you teach taijiquan it is a benefit to oneself, but also a benefit to others. So taijiquan is something meaningful to do with oneself. Something that is meaningful to oneself and meaningful to others. So that’s why I chose this route to continue the development, and to spread and expand the practice of Yangjia Michuan Taijiquan.
TWC – Can you discuss how the different elements of Yangjia Michuan Taijiquan are interconnected? For instance how do we benefit from each part of our practice, meaning form, weapons, tuishou, etc., and what are the benefits that we discover in training the complete system?
WYN – In the practice of Yangjia Michuan Taijiquan, in the beginning Yang Luchan did not openly teach his very effective style. He only taught something that we could think of as “openly,” hoping that this could be for better health. In what we call the “hidden tradition,” there are places in the forms that are not the same [as the “open form”]; the path he began to take was a Daoist path. Many people say where did this Yang family hidden tradition come from, there is no such thing, But it’s not that it didn’t exist, it’s that these people did not know about it. Because Yang Luchan kept it hidden. He did not transmit it openly. Each generation was only allowed to transmit it to one person.
Even though Yang Luchan had three sons, he only transmitted this Yang family tradition to Yang Jianhou, and not to his other sons. “Transmit to one, and not two”- because when you transmit to one you can be more assured that the tradition can remain hidden, and maintained. But when you transmit to two then the likelihood of this secret getting out will be greater.
Then this [Yangjia Michuan Taijiquan] was transmitted from Yang Luchan to Yang Jianhou to Zhang Qinlin to Wang Yen-nien.
The overall benefit of practicing the entire system of Yangjia Michuan Taijiquan is, of course, for better health and happiness. Today, most other styles of taiji that we see also have this as their goal better health and happiness. But because some other traditions miss this longevity aspect, they are missing part of it. They might find the health and happiness but the goal of longevity will be missing. In Yangjia Michuan Taijiquan the emphasis is not only on health and happiness but also on longevity, and that is the Daoist aspect.
Sometimes other forms will add in a practice of “Qigong.” But what is already a part of Yangjia Michuan Taijiquan is called “neigong.” That’s as far as the form goes.
The benefit of neigong – it is an internal Daoist alchemist art. Those who are interested in continuing a practice of self-cultivation and internal alchemical arts begin with the practice of neigong. This idea of neigong is to cultivate and nurture the internal organs, to strengthen the inner. In addition there is what we call tu-na, the Daoist art of breathing technique. And once we practice this Daoist art of breathing technique, the internal organs become stronger and healthier. The three treasures that we have, our inner elixirs, are Jing, Qi, and Shen. Ordinarily we have these inner elixirs, but if they are not taken care of, cultured and nurtured, they will slowly dissipate over time. When we practice an internal alchemical art, using neigong to develop and strengthen ourselves, and use the Daoist art of breathing, we will be able to develop, strengthen, and augment these three naturally occurring inner elixirs, Jing, Qi, and Shen.
Jing, Qi, and Shen will become full and plentiful, and not dissipate over time.
So this is where, in addition to the form, we also have included in our system neigong that we say adds to longevity. So the idea is to have a long healthy life, a goal that may be missing form other schools. That comes from the benefit of practicing neigong, as it is included in the system of Yangjia Michuan Taijiquan practice.
What about sword, fan, pole, tuishou? These are supplementary things. We have the form, which is fundamental. To supplement that we have fan, sword, (Kunlun and Wudang), and tuishou. These are all to help increase the elasticity and strength in the body. For example tuishou can help to open up the meridians and cultivation areas in the body that are needed in neigong. They also help to increase and benefit the circulation, moving qi about the body. These supplemental parts of our study, for example tuishou, are designed to open up meridians and blocks and barriers in the body that in a solo practice of a form, or neigong by itself, our qi may not be strong enough to open.
So we say that the foundation, the base of our practice, is form and the neigong. The other parts, weapons and tuishou practice, are designed to supplement in either a solo or two-person way, to further open up meridians in the body.