The Taiji Journey of Huang Sheng-Shyan

There is alot of conjecture about the origin of Taiji, there are few facts and many legends. What is undisputable though, is that Taijiquan has continued to evolve as a very effective martial art and exercise over the centuries of its history. 


Taijiquan is an ancient Chinese martial art and exercise developed from the principles in the ‘I-Ching’, or ‘Book of Changes’ whereby everything in the universe is an expression of Yin and Yang.


Different styles have emerged bearing the family names of the custodians; ‘Chen’, ‘Yang’, ‘Wu’ and ‘Sung’ being the most widespread. From these generations there has been a number of great ‘Masters’; Cheng Chang Sing; Yang Lu Chang; Yang Cheng Fu; Wu Chien Chuan; Cheng Man Ching; Ma Yueh Liang; and Huang Sheng Shyan are some of the more famous.
This however is the story of a Taiji journey with the late Grandmaster Huang Sheng Shyan. 


Huang Sheng-Shyan was born in 1910 in Minhou County of the Fujian province in Mainland China. At the age of 14 he began his life-long career into the ‘Martial Arts’ by learning Fujian White Crane from Xie Zhong-Xian, in which he first became renowned. In 1947 he resettled in Taiwan where he became a disciple of Cheng Man-Ching. Yang Cheng-Fu as the grandson of the Yang style founder, had been Cheng Man-Ching’s teacher. It was into this tradition that Master Huang committed himself for the net 45 years.


In 1955 Huang Sheng-Shyan along with eight fellow students of Cheng Man-Ching, represented the Shih Chung Association, in the Provincial Chinese Martial Arts Tournament. Huang was adjudged champion in the Taiji section and runner-up in the open section.


Grandmaster Huang emigrated to Singapore in 1956 and then in the 60’s moved to Malaysia. Both times with the expressed purpose of propagating the Art of Taijiquan.


In this role Grandmaster Huang repeatedly said that “the essence of Taiji is in the Form”. Which is the sets of movements developed as a means to train the body to move in a synchronised and harmonious Taiji manner. So that eventually every movement contains the 'Principles', and the Form becomes formless.


At the age of 60 Grand Master Huang Sheng-Shyan again demonstrated his abilities in Taiji by defeating Liao Kuang-Cheng, the Asian champion wrestler, 26 throws to 0, in a fund raising event in Kuching Malaysia.


When teaching Grandmaster Huang would repeatedly pointed out that; “slow is fast and fast is slow”, to students eager to learn the Form in as short a time as possible. Those who paid no attention to this and rushed on to Pushing-hands classes often found the need to return to the beginners and start again, as they in their haste they had forgone accuracies.  “Seek the quality not the quantity” was another frequent saying, encouraging the students to get one movement right before moving on to the next. Not many people like to spend alot of time just learning one movement, and few teachers are prepared to teach the details of one movement. The basics might seem dull and monotonous, but future progress will depend on a sound foundation. “If you have a foundation deep enough for three stories, you can only build a three story building. For a twenty story building you need to have laid a foundation to support twenty stories.”


The practise of Taiji is not performing posture 'A' and posture ‘B', it is whether you understand the transition from posture 'A' to posture 'B'. Attention needs to be paid to the sequence of synchronising, the timing and body alignment within every movement of the Taiji Form. If all of these can be achieved than the relaxed force will naturally be cultivated - from the Form.
In learning the Taiji Form we must first emphasise the accuracies of the external postures and movements. Then we work on the internal 'relaxation', ‘sinking', and 'grounding' before the releasing of the rebounding force is possible. In the later stages the external and internal needs to be synchronised together.


Relaxation in the Form is produced by mind 'awareness'. We all begin with 'regional' awareness where you move your mind to different parts of the body and visualise them to relax. After a while then when you think of relaxing the whole body will relax as one unit. But if you only work on relaxing the body, you are not likely to develop grounding without which there can not be any rebounding force. So we next need to work on 'sinking', which is a mental process where-by you guide the melting sensations of relaxing, into the ground. The rebounding force is a product of the sinking.


Pushing-hands is an extension of the Form where you work towards remaining synchronised, balanced and grounded even with an external forces affecting you. It works on the principle of yielding to an oncoming force, and redirecting back to its source. 


In Pushing-hands the practitioner learns to listen to the oncoming force of their opponent, stick and adhere to him or her, follow them back until they loose their centre, then issuing the relaxed force.


"The way that you do the form will result in the way that you push hands". "By understanding yourself and understanding your opponent, you will excel in pushing-hands." Therefore the way you move your body and sychronise your movements in the pushing hands must be the same way as in the Taiji Form. 
Listening begins in the Form, where-by you cultivate the 'understanding of yourself' and how your body moves and synchronises. From this you can extend your listening cultivation into the Pushing-hands to 'understand your opponent'.


Training Pushing-hands begins with fixed pattern routines in which the body learns to respond to an external force that has a controlled direction and velocity. As per the Form, every movement must contain sticking, adhering, listening, neutralising and issuing. We must be careful not to lapse into a mechanical movement of just 'going through the motions'. The listening should develop to include not only listening to the incoming force but also listening also to your reaction to the force, your movement in relation to your relaxation, how you push your opponent and their reaction to your push. 


Grandmaster Huang would remind students that “yielding is not running away from the force, or even just going with the flow”. The 'Classics' state that “when a fly alights it sets you in motion”, not that you pull away because the fly lands. What that means is that the incoming force that ‘sets our body in motion’,  just like a sponge that absorbs all of the push and returns as the push withdraws.


Grandmaster Huang often said that the  “students wrongly focus on the result, and not the process”. But if the process is incorrect how can you achieve the right result. From analysing what you learn and practise, –  comes the break-throughs
The teacher’s goal should be for the student to become better than themself, otherwise the ‘Art’ will get diluted over generations. Grandmaster Huang would encourage his students to; “never live in the shadow of your teacher. Learn well what you are taught, thoroughly understand it, then use it as a foundation to further refine the 'Art'”. But things should only be modified for improvement, not just to be different. 


Everyone has a different understanding, and a different way of delivering Taiji teachings, but that as long as it adheres to the ‘Principles’ then it is correct. Learning Taiji is an ongoing process, so always with the attitude of always being a student, you can continue to refine your Taiji until the day you die. Even if you live to be over 100 years old.


True to this sentiment Grandmaster Huang Sheng-Shyan, developed his 'Art' right up until his death in December 1992, at the age of 82. Those fortunate to know him any length of his later life, give testimony to this.