This article was originally written in late 1998.
It is interesting to know that among the many practitioners of Taijiquan (Grand Ultimate boxing) Gong Fu (skill gained through time and hard effort) that have come to America from Mainland China, none have impressed me as much as Xianhao. Interested in the American practitioners, Xianhao is determined to help bring a higher understanding of the art to better clarify the meaning of the Taiji principles into our physical culture. Xianhao holds a Doctorate of Oceanography from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, (now resides in Philadelphia PA) Xianhao actively pursuits his scientific responsibilities while maintaining his passion inherited from his Taiji masters. Quality of teaching is preferred to quantity of students, giving Xianhao the ability to discern closely what is needed to improve the students’ needs for correct practice.
Born in 1955 in Hangzhou, mainland China, he began martial arts at the age of 20. His first teacher was Song Geng Yu. Song Geng Yu was a member of the first Zhejiang Wushu Team, after the cultural revolution. Xianhao learned from him the Shaolin Chang Chuan or long-fist.
Four years later, he began to study Taiji in the parks of Hangzhou surrounded by many practitioners and teachers of the art. There he became interested in the oldest style of Taiji, Chen Style, and the push-hands method, Tui Shou. From this base he was able to meet with the real Taiji people who were non-public about their Tui Shou. Being interested in deepening his skills, Xianhao was initiated by some of the rarest teachers available at the time.
There are many Taiji players in the parks of mainland China, but only a handful really have a passion for the higher level skills. Xianhao really doesn’t associate with the public level of teaching, but finds great interest in the “underground” practitioners, who rarely let themselves be known. He mentions these people do not want to be bothered, published, and will rarely be seen in the parks.
He learned many forms, among them: a 13 wudang taiji postures , 13 wudang form video Wudang partner sword, and Taiji stick. He has had the opportunity to have meet teachers who trace back to Yang Jian Hao and Yang Shao Hao. This is a smaller circle fast Taijiquan.
Sifu Xianhao Cheng on Yang Small Frame: “Small frame is significantly different from long form. The long form focus on stretching tendon and bone as well as stance training. Therefore, it is loose, slow, and clearly differentiates on yin/yang separation. Small frame is high and fast. When I was learning, it only took about 4 min. for the postures as much as long form. The step is agitative with high posture. You can find its shadow when you see the Wu form.”
It was through Master Zhu Liang Fang, a fifth generation practitioner of Yang’s Taijiquan, a disciple of Jiang Yu Kueng that Xianhao’s Taiji began to flourish. Jiang Yu Kueng (fourth generation) was quite fortunate to have been a part of Yang Chen Fu’s teaching in Nan Jin Chinese Central Martial arts Academy in 1930-34. Jiang Yu Kueng was given inner student teachings. Thus becoming famous in China for his abilities fighting placing in competition for his Lao shir (respectable master) Yang Chen Fu. He graduated from the academy, where the students were very eminent in martial arts. Most of them ended up becoming famous martial arts instructors in China.
It is through this master that the foundation of Xianhao’s background was laid. With this base he was able to meet the non-public Tui Shou masters. Among his valued possession he keeps an original picture of Yang Chen Fu, given to him from his master, and an original copy of Yang Chen Fu’s book, “The Art of Tai Chi Chuan”. Xianhao also has Zhu Liang Fang’s book on Small Frame Fast Yang Taijiquan.
Zhu Liang Fang’s Taiji saber form #2
The long form that Xianhao demonstrates is very alive and successfully unifies every teaching into his movements. Unlike the stiff and dead movements executed by many, his is very circular, organic, rounded, low, soft, and flexible. As he moves, his internal energy, or jin, is always calmly aware, while remaining hidden, much like a cat ready to pounce. I have studied with many Taiji masters in the past few years, who are licensed by the Chinese government. Their specialties include compulsory routines for competition. They teach in methods that require the student to fulfill the standards of that particular routine and the rules for competition. The flavor and appeal of competition forms is much different.
Xianhao’s routine’s combines different points of attention based on push hands and combat knowledge, containing coiling, pulsating spirals far from the robotic compulsory movements. His movements show the variety of circles inherent in the Yang, Chen, and Wu styles as if giving reverence for the families of Taiji. His form is full of Yang knowledge, chi, and it blends with Tao, in his own special way much like how we would each write our name in cursive uniquely. His genuine display can never be truly mimicked because it’s at a level of true understanding of the function and principles.
This is an excellent example for us to humble ourselves to be willing to progress, and seek the true meaning of gong fu. He has gone to great lengths and extreme depth in his research of chin-na (joint control), combat applications, push hands, throwing techniques or shuai jiao. Living Gong Fu is exemplified in the way Xianhao carries himself to his students in an open and compassionate way.
Links to teachings from Xianhao:
Translation of health functions of Taijiquan
Article on Peng Jing
Hangzhou version of Ba Duan Jin
Empty and full in Taijiquan
Yang Taijiquan applications
Taiji straight sword basics
Saber long form
Xianhao’s teaching style is not based on talk, but practice and competition results in form and push hands events.
He emphasizes that it’s up to the student whether they want to learn. A real gong fu is developed when there is a close and friendly relationship with sifu, a long term relationship is valued because it is relaxed and most suitable for learning. The seriousness of lessons received are worthy of informally establishing a sense of humbleness in the heart and mind towards Xianhao, his teacher, and the respected lineage. Becoming a close student will enable the student in modern times to gain deeper knowledge. For example, his lessons on the pressure points and herbal remedies for example: to help the “tonifying-nourishing” body aches and pains, while the martial art dispel the “toxic pathogens” that prevent recovery and can lead to further imbalances, these are only shared outside regular Taiji training. Xianhao is truly a teacher who can train you to calm oneself mentally and physically allowing the Taijiquan to function consistently and harmoniously with the will. Xianhao lastly endeavors for the higher skills that Taiji encompasses and mentions the importance of seeking Tao.
Motto of Yongnian: Diligence, Perseverance, Respect, Sincerity.
Xianhao has a well-developed program covering all the essentials for progress.
The eight posture warm-ups Xianhao teaches was taught by Yang Chen Fu in Hangzhou for people as a gymnastic-like calisthenics which are strengthening.
Taiji Qigong is then introduced to allow the student to hone into chi feeling and then cultivate it further.
The next step is the 40 form compulsory of the Yang style. This is to prep newcomers for the long form.
Advanced students then continue onto the 54 sword form ,then graduate up to the Long form.
Yang Straight Sword
Xianhao is one of the few masters in America that teaches the Yang style spear form and the long Yang broadsword form learned from his sifu in Hangzhou.
Push Hands drills are slowly introduced early to benefit form. Beginning with single, double hand techniques, fixed step, moving step, then fa jing lessons.
Essential points of attention for push hands mentioned by Xianhao:
1. Don’t give up 30%
2. Be soft and Flexible
3. Empty, sink. turn
4. Apply jin to wrist and turn
5. Soft to hard, hard to soft, soft to emptiness interchangeably.
The three Jins:
Chang Jin– described as a long, silent and gentle energy. When applied the opponent is unaware, they’re off balanced. This energy is not designed to hurt people.
Duan Jin – a sudden and whip-like energy, it is relaxed and can hurt the opponent.
Ling Jin – cold energy, it is a hurting type of energy that is not easily noticed. It is sudden, shocking, and penetrates deep into the internal organs.
After the student grasps the previous concepts the introduction to Traditional Straight sword and the 108 Long form are taught, as well as other supplementary forms and Da Lu.