Saturday, July 30, 2011

The man who wasn't there

Mr Zhang is a regular down at the park most mornings. Looking at him you wouldn't give him a second glance; skinny, almost gangly to a degree. About 65kgs soaking wet. But he is probably the most skilled push-hands exponent that i've crossed hands with. "Ethereal" comes to mind. He is most skilful at controlling your root so you literally don't have a leg to stand on - he has pushed me off my feet a number of times. Another sensation you get when playing with him is that he's there one minute, and in an instant his hands or arms are gone and you're pushing into thin air. He is also very open with his teaching and is quite unconventional. For one, he doesn't advocate long, extensive practise of forms. One of his mantra is "qing, qing de" which translates as 'lightly'. When asked how he developed this amazing skill he smiles and says "Just relax". I asked him about forms and the style of tai chi he practices and his response was "I don't have much time to practise forms. I just relax". One other noticeable thing about his push hands is that he doesn't use any fancy hand methods or techniques - it's all just push or pull and it's devastatingly effective.

Famous xingyi master Guo Yunsheng and students

This morning I had the opportunity to speak to him at some length about his opinions on relaxation, on fighting and his opinion on internal vs external martial arts. When asked about using his push hands for fighting he replied "You can use the same principles. When you're relaxed you can respond quickly and effectively without any tension in the body". He continued "We practise slowly. See how when I push with you I don't move fast or use many hand techniques, but you can't balance. It's simple. Relax your kua and the rest will follow". In English the translation for kua is most closely the hips or hip crease. It seems my kua are way too tense and tight and is the reason I cannot 'root' to the ground effectively. I could blame genetics but they tell me it isn't so. On forms I asked how many years he has practised and with whom did he learn this from - surely there must have been someone with a white beard who taught him this?? His reply "I haven't been training this for as long as you think. You might think I've had to practise this for many years but not so. Once you have the correct alignments and softness it will come". On teachers: "I've practised under many sifu (master) but not a disciple of anyone. Many teachers would not pass on all their knowledge to their students. But I don't agree with this. I teach everything and anyone".

Wang Xiang Zhai, founder of Yiquan in standing posture

On external vs internal: "In external arts there tends to be a 'one, two' punch (he demonstrates a reverse punch with pullback) but with what we do you can strike or move from any position" (he then demonstrated a palm strike from above his head, from underneath and from the side). I asked if he thought that in both external and internal martial arts if we are trying to reach the same end point, his reply "Yes, I think so. But I think the internal way is faster. You see old kung fu/karate masters and they seem to be more relaxed later in their years - they are using internal power". On health: "By pushing hands it's like receiving a massage; you find your tight points in your body and work on relaxing them. You can cure many things by pushing hands". This was obviously of interest to me considering my line of work. Various bodyworks like yoga and other taoist qigong systems must work in similar ways. He left me with this gem "Look at me. I don't look very strong do I? But can you push me?" I concurred. He then asked me to try to push him while he stood on one leg. I tried but the same thing happened; his soft, springy arms easily countered my pushing. I just scratched my head. He pointed over at a small fern on the ground. "Be like this plant" He pushed the frond and it moved but sprung back to position as he let it go. "Be springy, responsive - be like the fern".


  1. Excellent! I so wish I could meet Mr Zhang and learn from him!

  2. He is impressive'll have to come visit with the girls!!