Luo Ji-Hong

A Life Through Tai Chi

My father was born on August 12, 1920 in the village of Xing Ning, Guang Dong Province in China. His people were Kejia (visitors) who had migrated from Central to Southern China over a hundred years before. When my father was three years old, my grandfather fell ill and died while away on one of his trading expeditions, leaving his family destitute. My grandmother worked tirelessly farming a small plot of rented land to feed and clothe her son.

Because the Kejia settled in the poorest areas of Guang Dong Province, life was a constant struggle just to survive. Consequently, they placed a great emphasis on education for their sons as a means of improving their lives. My grandmother was no exception. Through great effort and self sacrifice she was able to arrange for my father to receive a Classical Chinese education in the village. My father realized his only chance to improve his family's fortune was through school. He studied intensely and advanced swiftly through the education system, even skipping a few grades. This early thirst for knowledge and self-discipline later enabled my father to study Tai Chi even when there was a scarcity of qualified instructors in his area.

After completing his Classical Chinese education, he went on to a secondary school where the emphasis was more towards the Western-style analytical approach. It was also at this time he began to study and learn English which became one of his two great obsessions in life. Upon graduation, he applied for a scholarship to attend university. At that time, the most prestigious university in southern China was Zhong Shan University in Guangzhou. Named after Dr Sun Yat-Sen, founder of the Chinese Republic. Zhong Shan University had to turn away applicants every year because it could not accommodate them all. In 1944, he received a letter advising him he was awarded a scholarship to Zhong Shan University. Overjoyed, he moved to Guangzhou and began classes. He graduated in 1947 with a degree in Sociology.

He took a position as an English teacher at a junior college until the Revolution in 1949. In 1950, he became manager for a local state-owned enterprise. He remained there until, in 1956, he fell ill with kidney disease. Surgery was performed and his left kidney was removed. It was also discovered that his right kidney was deteriorating as well. My father has access to the best medical care in the city. He sought the opinions of several doctors but the prognosis was always the same. He also sought help through Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) with no better results. His kidney was failing and he had only five months to live. Friends had recommended Tai Chi but his doctors advised against it fearing it would put too much strain on his already bleeding renal artery. In the meantime, his weight dropped from 65kg to 40kg! He was failing fast.

My father decided to go against his doctor's advice and began leaving the hospital every morning to go to a local park and practice Tai Chi with the crowds. Although he had been living under a sentence of death by his doctors, my father found that practicing Tai Chi enabled him to shift his focus on something other than his failing health. Instead of dwelling on his problems, he focussed his attention on Tai Chi, thus, allowing his body to begin a healing process. This positive outlook on life and refusal to fixate on negative events helped my father through many difficult periods in his life.

Incredibly, after a month of practice my father began to feel better. He thought the internal bleeding was diminishing. When he went back to his doctor for a check up, they discovered the deterioration of his remaining kidney had stopped and there was no more internal bleeding.

My father contacted a Yang Style Tai Chi instructor named Zhou and began his formal studies in Tai Chi. Six months later, my father presented himself to his surgeon. The doctor was amazed! My father had begun to put weight back on his emaciated frame. He showed surprising strength and agility and gave no indication he had suffered from a serious illness.

When my father was released from hospital, he faced a dilemma. He felt he needed to continue his study of Tai Chi but his town was 50 kilometers away from Master Zhou. He eventually rented a small room on a rooftop in Shan Tou just to continue his training. He returned to visit us whenever he could afford, which was only once or twice a month.

My Father's Tai Chi Training:

As his health continued to improve, my father's fascination with Tai Chi grew. He became quite interested in Tui Shou (Push Hands) as the martial art aspect of Tai Chi Chuan. The senior students were reluctant to practice push hands with my father for fear of injuring him (he was still recovering from his illness and surgery). He insisted, however, and a few consented to practice with him, albeit gently.

At that time, the most common principal of Push Hands being taught was the concept of "relaxation" and "yielding". Master Zhou stressed the commonly accepted principle: "If your opponent advances a foot, you should yield a foot." My father did not understand how you would overcome your opponent if you continually yielded. Master Zhou was not able to offer a satisfactory explanation so my father turned to the Tai Chi Classics and the few contemporary articles he could find. Fortunately, his formal education enabled him to understand the meaning behind the formal prose of the Classics. Books on Tai Chi were very scarce so he had to borrow from friends and acquaintances. As he found relevant passages, he would copy them by hand (no photocopiers in those days). Often, on his visits home he would enlist my help with the copying. As I was still very young, I could only place a piece of paper over the page and trace the drawings without really understanding what I was sketching. These were my first lessons in the Tai Chi Form.

The two most common methods of Push Hands were to either yield until your opponent overextended himself (at which time you could pull him off-balance) [Yin] or to root so firmly your opponent could not move you [Yang]. The problem with the first method is: what do you do if your opponent can extend farther or faster than you can yield? The second method implies that the physically stronger opponent will always prevail. My father's studies led him to the conclusion that Tai Chi must have Yin and Yang in balance simultaneously. Instead of yielding from an advance, you should slow your opponent down, like applying a bicycle brake ("Peng" ward off). He also concluded that "spiral" force was the proper application of Tai Chi. No straight lines, instead you redirect your opponent's force on a tangent. In order to succeed you must alter three things about your opponent's attack: his pressure, his speed and his direction.

After one year of intense study and practice, my father was able to defeat his "Shi-Xiong" (Senior Classmates) in Push Hands. They were amazed and wanted to know his secret. As they were not as well educated, they did not understand my father's references to the principle from the Tai Chi Classics. They went to Master Zhou and demanded he find the reason behind Ji-Hong's remarkable progress.

Soon after, Master Zhou dismissed the class one day, but asked my father to stay behind. He invited my father to push hands with him and lost! The next morning, he invited my father back to his house. Upon my father's arrival, Master Zhou announced "I have studied Tai Chi for 30 years and have taught for 20. Yet, with less than 2 years training you have defeated me! As my student, I am proud of your achievement but, How is this possible?"

My father explained his conclusions from studying a portion of the Tai Chi Classics. He expressed his regret that he did not have access to more books. He offered to share whatever he had learning with Master Zhou and his fellow students. At that, Master Zhou summoned all his senior students and demanded they turn over all their books on Tai Chi to my father. As my father was fortunate enough to be one of the few educated students in the school, and probably the only one who could translate the classical Chinese literature, they were only too happy to oblige. He soon embarked on a period of intense study and practice. For the next seven years, my father read, theorized, practiced and wrote about Tai Chi on a full-time basis. He scoured second-hand bookstores for texts on Tai Chi. He was even able to place orders with stores in Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjen. He eventually collected an extensive library of information on Tai Chi and related disciplines. As he studied each author's theories and principles of Tai Chi, my father questioned everything. Because he was not the disciple of a famous master, he did not have the preconceptions and biases regarding one school or style versus another. Instead, he saw himself as a seeker of truth. He accepted the classical Tai Chi theories as valid, but wanted to discover their purpose and relationship to one's daily practice. He felt it necessary to interpret these theories in terms anyone could understand.

In order for my father to consider a principal valid, he subjected it to three questions:

Why? (i.e. Why must we "raise the head"?)
How? (i.e. How do we "raise the head"?)
Result? (i.e. If I "raise the head" correctly, what will be the result?)
As he studied different texts, he would highlight important passages. He would select one specific topic from all of his books and study each author's viewpoint. Every source offered a different point of view, a different analogy and different explanation. He began to study Wu JiQuan Style under a Master Cai to gain a new perspective. He had a small blackboard in his room upon which he would write reminders to himself about various aspects of theory and practice. I remember seeing it once with the words "Waist is the First Principle" written on it. This was a reminder for my father to concentrate on his Ming Men whatever he was doing.

The Tai Chi Classics state: "all movements begin in the waist". My father felt a more complete explanation was needed. He decided that by "waist" the old masters meant the area encompassing the Dan Tian and the Ming Men. Why was this so important? Every aspect of movement (origin, frequency, direction, magnitude, intensity and speed) started in this area. It was therefore necessary to understand and coordinate the waist properly.

There were times, however, when my father's research and experimentation were proven to be invaluable to the Tai Chi community. In one of the earliest treatises on Tai Chi, an author stressed the importance of developing a "monkey head". Later publishers did not understand the meaning of "monkey head" and assumed it was a misprint. [Ed. In Chinese writing, the characters meaning Monkey Head look almost identical to the characters meaning Throat. The confusion is further compounded in certain dialects as both terms are pronounced the same.] They explained that the original author was referring to the neck or throat area. No one questioned the validity of this statement until my father read an original copy of the passage. He pondered the meaning of "monkey head" and how it related to the flow of internal energy for weeks. He delved deeper into the book hoping to find a clue as to what the author was really trying to say. One day, he took me to the zoo and we headed straight for the monkey enclosure. He observed the animals for a lengthy period and then it hit him! He noticed that when the monkeys were alarmed or cautious, they would stand up to better view their surroundings. My father noticed how they held their heads as they began to rise up on their hind legs. Their heads were held high with their chins slightly tucked in. He began to imitate this posture in this practice and immediately noticed an improvement in the flow of his Chi. This is what the old masters meant by "monkey head"!

My father's desire to test every principal in his own training would manifest itself in some strange ways. For example, some books compared the feeling of "lift the head" to holding a bowl of water on your head. My father carried a bowl of water on his head for a full day as part of his training. As a result, he had a very stiff neck the next morning.

As a reminder to himself to "sink the elbows", he began carrying an umbrella in the crook of his arm at all times, even on hot sunny days. My mother used to walk behind him in public because she was so embarrassed.

To test the theory of "spiral force" and "reacting to external force like a coiled spring", he would ride the public transportation all day long standing in the aisle. As the bus would drive along the bumpy roads, and hit a pothole, my father would allow the motion of the bus to force him to "compress" and then "expand".

One time, he stood on a bridge for two hours watching the waves roll in. He was visualizing his Dan Tian moving with the rhythm of the waves. Unfortunately, some passersby thought he was about to commit suicide and called the police.

By studying and questioning, my father was able to relate the principles and theories to his everyday practice. He felt books could be helpful if you studied the appropriate level text at the correct stage of your abilities. There is a danger of misinterpretation if you study a passage too advanced for your level. My father had many false starts because of this.

As the shared his discovery with others, he began to develop a reputation as a Tai Chi scholar. While he accepted the principles passed on from the old masters, he saw them as pieces of a giant puzzle. He attempted to gather as many pieces as possible in order to develop a complete picture.

He developed a four-point method of research:

  1. Collect
  2. Understand
  3. Analyze
  4. Develop.
He often referred to himself as an ox with four stomachs. In his first stomach he collected all the information he could. In his second stomach he "regurgitated" the information until he understood what the author was trying to say. In this third stomach he "digested" or analyzed the information retaining all the valid points. Finally, in his fourth stomach he analyzed all theories, not limiting himself to any one style or school. Neither did he limit himself to just the stated principles but, rather, he postulated how they were interrelated. For example, many books on Tai Chi instruct the practitioner to "lift the head". Another author would advise one to "pull out the Ming Men". A third book might direct a student to "curve the pelvis under". My father discovered that all three concepts were related and must be developed together to achieve a straightened spine and, thus, the correct posture. (A side note: as he developed the correct posture for the practice of Tai Chi, his height increased from 172 to 174 cm.) He determined that many other separate concepts such as "sink the elbows", "relax the shoulder", etc were also related and must be considered as part of the overall puzzle. This was my father's major contribution to Tai Chi literature. He took diverse viewpoints and vague references from many sources and combined them into a set of principles that could be understood by the average person in his daily practice. He understood the concept of Yin/Yang and was able to apply it to his Tai Chi training. At the same time, he appreciated the Western scientific method of analysis and was able to use it to explain many of the principles of Tai Chi. This rare gift of reconciling traditional Chinese philosophy with western methodology helped my father progress rapidly. All his life he demonstrated a total commitment to his studies. He had the ability to focus on the subject at hand and did not allow himself to become distracted by wrong turns or small failures. Once he decided to pursue a course of study, he never gave up. At the same time, he kept a careful record of his progress in the hopes that students after him could progress even more quickly.

Many authors had written dozens of volumes on Tai Chi. The biggest limitation of these texts, however, was they only described the level of the author at the time of writing. Few, if any, described how to get to that level. For example, one of the earliest books ever written about Tai Chi Chuan was "The Manual of Taijiquan" written by Wan Zong-Yue in the early 19th century. Master Wang wrote about the "9th Heaven" level of Tai Chi and the abilities of masters at that level. Unfortunately, he did not describe how one attained the 9th Heaven level. This is common in most Tai Chi books. My father attempted to take various concepts, merge them into an understandable philosophy, and describe a path for others to follow to help them to reach these concepts.

As this knowledge increased and his ideas were proven in his own daily practice, my father began to write articles on his discoveries and submit them to various journals for publication. They were well-received and often started lively debates in the sports newspapers. He often reviewed other authors and their writings in his articles. It was one such article wherein he reviewed a book by Gu Liu-Xin that began one of the most important relationships in his Tai Chi career.

Part II

Gu Liu-Xin:

In 1958, the government of China formed a national commission to oversee Wu Shu. One of its first tasks was to create a standardized Simplified Yang Style Tai Chi Form. The commission published a book on the Form that was little more than a series of photographs and diagrams showing the movements. Eventually, a famous master, Gu Liu-Xin, wrote a book entitled "How to Practice Simplified Yang Style Tai Chi". In it, he described the need to develop a "spiral force", internal energy (Nei Jing), and the flow of Chi when practicing Tai Chi. He stated that, although the external movements had been simplified the internal movements still required traditional effort. Master Gu, who studied Yang Style Tai Chi under Yang Cheng-Fu and Chen style under Chen Fa-Ke was certainly qualified to write such a treatise. [Ed. See page 5 Ji Hong Tai Chi Magazine issue 2]. He had been an avid martial artist for several decades when he was appointed the Deputy Director of the Shanghai Institute of Physical Culture. He was so highly regarded that Chou En-Lai, Premier of the People's Republic of China, asked Master Gu to go to North Viet Nam and teach Tai Chi to Ho Chi-Minh. Gu's book, however, began a quiet debate throughout China with his theories on spiral force in Yang Style.

It was Gu Liu-Xin, after all, who used his position to preserve and promote Tai Chi and Wu Shu in China when the official government position was to discourage martial arts practice as a remnant from the "Old" China. Gu was respectful to others and encouraged masters of other styles to bring their skills out in the open for the benefit of all people. He considered Wu Shu to be a National Treasure of China and strove to preserve and develop it further. Gu turned the former French Greyhound Race Track in Shanghai into a permanent learning centre for the Martial Arts called the Shanghai Wushu Centre. Many famous and well-respected masters of different styles came to the Centre to teach and conduct seminars.

My father, however, was from a small community and did not know who Gu Liu-Xin was. He obtained a copy of Gu's book and was delighted to discover that Gu expounded the same theories on "spiral force" and spring-like compression power that my father had developed. He differed from Gu on a few relatively minor points and said as much in a review of Gu's book. Because of Gu's fame and influence, the newspaper was reluctant to publish an article even slightly critical of Master Gu. Instead, they forwarded a copy of my father's review to Master Gu requesting instructions.

Master Gu was very impressed with the quality of the writing and the deep insights of the author. He wrote directly to my father and enclosed a magazine article about his teaching experiences in Viet Nam. This was the beginning of a regular correspondence between my father and Gu Liu-Xin that lasted the rest of my father's life. They exchanged letters every month. They discussed all aspects of Tai Chi history, theory and training.

My Father's Time in Shanghai:

In 1963, Gu Liu-Xin organized a National Wushu Championship in Shanghai. Famous masters from all across China were invited to give demonstrations and workshops. In addition, each province was asked to send a team to compete and one judge to participate. Master Gu specifically invited my father to be an adjudicator. Unfortunately, Guang Dong Province was unable to come up with the funding for transportation so my father paid his own train fare to Shanghai. Master Gu honoured my father by meeting his train in Shanghai. Although they had corresponded for some time, this was the first face-to-face meeting between my father and Gu Liu-Xin. He again complimented my father on his insights and skills for one who had trained such a relatively short period of time. My father's response was "Do not ask how long one has practiced Tai Chi. Instead ask how much energy has been applied to your practice. It is not time, but effort, that will determine your progress."

Instead of taking my father to this hotel from the train station, Master Gu informed him they were going to meet Hao Shao-Ru, the acknowledged Grandmaster of the Wu Style. On the way, Master explained that he was very impressed myth my father's scholarly research of the Tai Chi Classics and his insights into Tai Chi Theories. He wanted my father to intensively study the Wu (Hao) Style while in Shanghai for a long-range project he was planning. He explained that, in his view, the Wu (Hao) style could claim it had the best insight of advanced Tai Chi principles.

Master Gu introduced my father to Hao Shao-Ru and asked Master Hao to teach the fundamentals of Wu (Hao) style to my father. Because of Gu Liu-Xin's position, Master Hao accepted my father as a student. Gu instructed my father to work diligently and learn as much as he could during his brief stay in Shanghai.

After introducing my father to Hao Shao-Ru, Master Gu took my father to his hotel. Before my father could unpack, Master Gu asked to push hands. After several bouts, my father asked Gu if he was using Xing-Yi instead of Tai Chi. Gu exclusively used a quick, straight-line attack. This was my father's first experience with the short-range offensive style of Tui Shou. Gu explained that there were three traditional forms of Push Hands:

  1. Large Circle/Spiral or Long Range
  2. Medium Range or Subtle Spiral
  3. Short Range or Invisible Spiral.
Gu was a proponent of the Short Range style and explained that one must have very strong internal pressure or the Invisible Spiral method will be ineffective. His Push Hands was almost entirely offense, using short, quick, tightly spiraled movements. Over the course of the next three months, my father would often push hands with Gu. From this practice, he learned to build up his internal pressure and to redirect an opponent's force back on him using sudden, smaller movements. My father incorporated this teaching with the Large Circle long-range techniques he learned from his Yang Style training. My father considered Gu Liu-Xin a true Tai Chi master, a valued teacher and a good friend. Master Gu used his reputation and influence to open many doors for my father and helped him meet and study with some of the most famous Tai Chi masters of the day. My father realized he must keep his mind open to all styles and to avoid insulating himself from other theories and practices.

Hao Shao-Ru:

My father began his training every morning in the park with Master Hao. Several times a week he would go to Hao's home for private lessons and , later joined special classes for advanced students. Hao Shao-Ru was an extremely accomplished Tai Chi master from the old school. His skills came from a lifetime of hard work and practical experience. His teaching method was to show the student a movement and expect the student to practice on his own. He would not show the student the next move until he had mastered the previous one to Hao's satisfaction. The Wu (Hao) style places a much greater emphasis on maintaining a constant, strong internal pressure throughout the body. In addition, it requires the practitioner to "curve the pelvis up" in order to maintain a straight spine or main bow. The style is characterized by small movements that are led by the "Dan Tian". My father felt Hao Shao-Ru had incredible internal power and was one of the top "Push-Hands' experts he had ever met. At one workshop, Hao demonstrated "sticky spear" training by throwing his opponent out of the ring! The second attempt resulted in Hao causing his opponent's spear to go flying out of his hands! In both instances, my father could detect only the slightest external movement. Later, when pushing hands against Hao, my father said "The harder I pushed, the stronger his rebound force! Yet I seldom detected any movement!"

My father spent the entire first month without progressing beyond the first movement. Hao could see that my father had not mastered the correct posture, but was unable to explain what my father's error was. Finally, my father approached a visiting senior student and begged for guidance. The student pointed out my father was not "curving his pelvis up" and, thus, had not attained the correct posture. My father's background in Yang and Wu JiQuan styles had not prepared him for this modification in straightening the spine. Hao Style theory holds that, by curling the tailbone under, you create a "platform" for the Dan Tian. Thus, when you "sink your Chi", you can compress the Dan Tian to a much greater degree and consequently create enormous internal pressure. This pressure allows one to absorb any external force by dispersing it evenly and then redirect it in a tightly focussed direction back onto your opponent. My father adjusted his posture and practiced incessantly. The same time he had his breakthrough in learning the fundamentals of Hao Style, my father had a further revelation in his grasp of Tai Chi principals and in particular, his understanding of the internal movements of the Hao Style. He began to better understand the deeper meaning behind many of the various theories. The concept of "the 5 Bows", along with "emptying the chest" and "relax the shoulders" started to take on a more profound significance for my father. The change was remarkable! He progressed swiftly after that and soon learned all the movements of the form. He discussed his revelation with Master Hao, who was very impressed that my father could put into words the principles that he (Hao) had understood instinctively for years. Hao Shao-Ru later commented that "he has been training and teaching for many years but had never taught anyone of Luo Ji-Hong's caliber before." Towards the end of his stay in Shanghai, my father even assisted Master Hao in his demonstrations. Master Hao would demonstrate a principal and my father, with his extensive education and research, would explain the theory behind it.

For the entire three months of my father's stay in Shanghai, he practiced Wu (Hao) style several times a day. Even after he returned home, Wu (Hao) style became part of his daily practice. From Master Hao Shao-Ru, my father learned how to create intense internal power that would enable him to receive, dissipate and redirect an opponent's external force.

In 1975, it became apparent why Gu Liu-Xin had wanted my father to study the Wu (Hao) style. Gu was compiling what he hoped would become the definitive text on the 5 major styles of Tai Chi Chuan. With Hao Shao-Ru's approval, he asked my father to write the chapter on Wu (Hao) style. The first two generations of the Wu Style, Wu Yu-Xiang (1812-1880) and Li Ye-Yu (1832-1892), were well-educated men who wrote comprehensive treatises on Tai Chi. Both Master Gu and Master Hao felt my father had the education and practical training to best interpret and modernize these classic writings.

Unfortunately, because of political turmoil in China during this time, the book was never published and all my father's notes were destroyed.

Zhang Da-Quan:

Prior to his departure for Shanghai, my father obtained a letter of introduction from Shui Tze-Yi (a famous Wu JiQuan Style teacher in Beijing) to Master Zhang Da-Quan. Zhang was a classmate of Wu Ji-Quan himself. Master Zhang invited my father into his home. After a brief discussion, they cleared the furniture out of the main room, Master Zhang blindfolded himself and proceeded to push hands with my father. Zhang demonstrated an incredible mastery of "Dong Jing" or "understanding skill". Whatever direction my father moved, Master Zhang could locate his centre of gravity and direct my father off balance. At the same time, he was able to control my father's force using Large Circle movements. Not only was Master Zhang blindfolded, he was also 84 years old at the time! [Ed. For a description of a student's experience pushing hands with Zhang Da-Quan, see page 39 of Ji Hong Tai Chi Magazine issue 1].

My father began training under Master Zhang and was constantly amazed at the master's skill in Tui Shou. One time, while practicing in a park, my father observed Zhang pushing hands with a number of students. My father noticed that Zhang would often rock back on his heels while pushing. He had discovered Zhang's weakness! When it came to my father's turn to push against the Master, he faced a dilemma. Should he exploit the apparent error in Zhang's technique or should he allow the old master to save face by letting him win? My father chose not to take advantage and, consequently, was easily pushed by Master Zhang. Soon afterwards, one of Zhang's senior students came up to my father and said "I noticed you thought you had the Master at a disadvantage, but you refrained from pressing. It was fortunate for your that you did. Watch!" At that moment, another new student (with a strong background in the external martial arts), who had come to the same conclusion as my father, was pushing against Zhang and obviously concentrating on the master's heels. Without any apparent effort, Zhang sent him flying a considerable distance into a puddle. My father suddenly realized that, instead of being off-balance when rocking back on his heels, Zhang Da-Quan was actually narrowing his central axis. Thus, a small movement from the axis resulted in a large, powerful movement further away from his body. My father studied this concept diligently and credited Zhang Da-Quan with teaching him how to narrow his own central axis and control an opponent's focal point. He felt this resulted in greater flexibility in his movements and a faster reaction time.

Shao Pin Gen:

It was in Shanghai that my father met Shao Pin Gen, another Wu JiQuan Style practitioner. One day, as he was leaving a particularly grueling training session, my father was introduced to Shao. As they shook hands, my father unconsciously "dissolved" Shao's energy. Shao, who detected the movement, exclaimed "Excellent! But why didn't you take the next step? (i.e. Peng)" My father was puzzled at first, the suddenly realized he had still been thinking about his Push Hands training. Shao was able to detect the very subtle movements of my father's energy from just a handshake! He invited my father to his home where they sat discussing Tai Chi through the night until the next morning! This was the beginning of a lasting friendship between Shao and my father.

Shao had suffered from polio as a child and was paralyzed in one leg. As an adult, he weight only 105 lbs. Nevertheless, he was an enthusiastic practitioner of Tai Chi and, like my father, trained constantly. Because of his disability, he could not use the powerful, direct short-range style of push hands. Instead, he developed lightning-fast reactions. My father described him like "a grasshopper's antennae - deceptively soft, yet incredibly fast". From Shao Pin Gen, my father learned to sharpen his own reaction time and developed the ability to focus all his energy at a small point on his opponent in a split-second. Because of his friendship with my father, Master Shao allowed me considerable insight into his abilities and training when I visited him in 1985.

My father later described the three months the spent in Shanghai as an "eye-opening and profound experience". He had discovered different facets of Tai Chi from several different masters. From Fu Zhong-Wen my father received advanced instruction in the Yang Style Form and Push Hands along with the rarely taught Yang style Fa Jing exercises. Ma Yueh-Liang instructed my father in Wu JiQuan Push Hands while his wife, Wu Ying-Hua taught him the Wu Form. My father impressed these masters with his dedication and devotion to Tai Chi. Later on, these same masters generously gave me advanced instruction in their arts. In 1983, Ma Yueh-Liang taught me Wu Style sword while Wu Ying-Hua instructed me in the Form. They later wrote a very flattering letter to my father about me. In 1985-86, I studied Yang Style with Fu Zhong-Wen.

During his brief stay in Shanghai, my father compared himself to a bee, flirting from flower to flower sampling various nectars. He had wanted to experience as much as he could in a relatively short period of time, hoping to examine and analyze these experiences once he returned home. Thanks to his scholarly training, he kept two sets of journals during his time in Shanghai. One was a verbatim account of the teachings and demonstrations he experienced. The second was his initial interpretations and analysis. Regrettably, both journals were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.

Part III

Through Gu Liu-Xin, my father gained access to many high-level Tai Chi masters throughout China. Gu told several people about my father and how impressed he was with this scholar who, without the benefit of a famous teacher, had attained such a high level of ability and understanding in such a short period of time. Coming from a man with the prestige and fame of Gu Liu-Xin, this was high praise indeed! Such was the generous nature of Master Gu, that I was given several opportunities to train with him. In 1982, I spent an intensive seven days devoted to Push Hands practice. In 1984, he helped Jennifer and I refine our Chen Form. I had other periods of instruction from this noted master in 1985 and 1986.

My father had the opportunity to make contact with several famous Tai chi masters. He exchanged views with many of them and began lengthy correspondences with a number of teachers. He also began publishing several articles in various sport and health journals in China. He wrote two articles on "spiral force" that caused quite a sensation in 1964. Gu Liu-Xin later joked with my father that, "at the time Luo Ji-Hong's articles were being printed throughout China, I submitted similar articles that the editors rejected!" In 1964, a debate emerged in the Tai Chi community throughout China. A number of noted masters claimed that "spiral force" was unique to one style (notably the Chen Style). Others, like my father and Gu Liu-Xin, claimed that spiral force was common to all Tai Chi styles. Unprecedented in China at that time, scholars and practitioners throughout the country put forth their views in national sports magazines. My father wrote a third article, which was to have been the definitive work on Spiral Force. It was never published due to a change in the political climate in China in 1964.

My father discussed several topics relating to Tai Chi. On "push hands" he said "You must first control yourself. Then you can learn to control your opponent." On the healing power of Tai Chi, he would say "The mind is an extremely powerful organ. Attitude and outlook play a very significant role in both causing and curing disease." He often said his own remarkable recovery from kidney disease was as much due to his positive attitude as to his diligent practice of Tai Chi. His own education and training caused him to always seek a scientific explanation for seemingly "supernatural" abilities.

While in Shanghai, he met a student of Zhang Da-Quan. A three-time Gold Medal Winner, this student enrolled at the Physical Education Institute of Shanghai. He advised my father to study Physiology in order to comprehend the effects of Tai Chi on the body. My father went even further. Upon his return home, he applied as a non-credit student at a local medical school. He studied anatomy and even acquired human skeletons in order to study spine alignment and joint movement. He attended a Traditional Chinese Medical school to study the meridians of the body and the movement of Chi. He took courses in Engineering and Physics to study the application of force. He considered Tai Chi Chuan a doctrine worthy of scientific study.

Part IV

After his return from Shanghai, my father devoted his time to organizing his theories and assimilating them into his daily practice. He was approached by many people who wanted to learn Tai Chi and he became a dedicated teacher. He began to develop what later became the Ji Hong Method of instruction. He believed in open discussion between teacher and student. He felt a qualified teacher should not only lead by example, but should be able to explain the rational behind the various theories and principles. He used his ability to merge traditional Chinese philosophy with western analytical thought. He felt that if the could emphasize the correct understanding of Tai Chi principles, he would be able to attract a new generation of Tai Chi practitioners and ensure a safe future for Tai Chi Chuan.

He thought of himself as a tour guide. It was not enough to show a student the "other side of the river", but a good teacher had to be able to show his pupil how to safely get there.

The Cultural Revolution:

In 1965, his health had recovered to such an extent that my father returned to work full-time. He was appointed supervisor at a mine 60 miles from home. There he worked all day and taught Tai Chi to an ever growing number of students in the evenings.

In 1966 one of the most turbulent episodes in China's history began. The Cultural Revolution started a period of chaos and destruction whose effects are still felt today.

Because he once taught English, had been friends with a foreign priest in his youth and received his education before the 1949 revolution, my father was branded "an enemy of the people". The Red Guard showed up at the mine site one day, seized my father and tied him to a tree. They kept him there all day under the burning sun, berating him for his "crimes" and demanding to know who his "accomplices" were. One of his Tai Chi students risked his life to bring my father some water. My father asked him to hurry to our home and warn us. He begged the student to hide his Tai Chi books and journals. The man and another student rushed to our hometown and warned my family of what had occurred. One student took all my father's textbooks and hid them at his home. The other student hid my father's personal journals. Unfortunately, the second student was also harassed by the Red Guard. They found my father's journals and notebooks and destroyed them.

My father was eventually found "guilty" and sentenced to a Labour Camp for "re-education". There, he was forbidden to practice Tai Chi. He managed, however, to maintain his studies in various ways. At night in bed he would practice Qigong and "sitting" Tai Chi. He would practice Tai Chi movements in the shower when the guards were not looking.

The guards could be brutal in the camp. One incident involved a particularly vicious guard who liked to have the prisoners kneel in a line with their hands behind their backs during the evening "indoctrination" sessions. He would then walk behind them, shout out an accusation, and kick them forward so they would fall face first into the ground. On occasion, he would scatter sharp stones in front of the kneeling prisoners so they would cut themselves as they fell. Because of my father's reputation as a Tai Chi master, they would make him kneel on a brick ledge more than a foot off the ground so he had farther to fall. One day, as the guard was going down the line screaming at the prisoners and kicking them, he came up behind my father. Using the strong internal pressure he developed from the Hao style, my father resisted the guard's kicks. No mater how hard he tried, the guard could not budge my father! Finally, in a terrible rage, the guard took a run and lashed out viciously at my father's back. My father slightly turned his body deflecting the kick and causing the guard to stumble forward on to the ground. In order to disguise what he had done, my father then fell forward on his shoulder, making it look like the guard had succeeded. However, the guards began to treat my father with a wary respect after that.

My father later told me that Tai Chi saved his life in the labour camp. In one incident, a guard tried to beat him with a shovel. My father deflected the blow, applied fa jing to the deflection causing the shovel to fly out of the guard's hands. As my father calmly picked up the shovel, the guard, fearing for his life, ran off screaming. My father simply returned the implement to its storage place. After that, my father was always escorted by several guards wherever he went. These guards, however, were instructed not to come within 2 meters of my father as he was considered "dangerous".

In 1971 my father was "paroled" to work in an agricultural commune. Here he had a bit more freedom and began to cautiously teach Qigong and simplified Tai Chi in the evenings to his fellow inmates.

In 1972 he was allowed to return to the mine as a labourer. He tried to pick up the threads of his life. He resumed his correspondence with old friends and colleagues. He discovered many of them, like Gu Liu-Xin and Hao Shao-Ru, had shared similar fates. In 1973, I went to live with my father at that time. While he was at the mine site during the day, I would study and practice various Tai Chi exercises. Each evening, I trained for several hours as part of his classes and long after the last student had left. It was then I began to grasp my father's devotion to Tai Chi and I realized I wanted to become a teacher myself one day.

For the rest of the Cultural Revolution, which lasted until the downfall of the Gang of Four in 1976, Wu Shu (including Tai Chi) was discouraged by the government. My father was forced to teach me and a small handful of trusted students in various secret locations. Among my fellow students was my cousin Peter Wu. [Ed. Peter Wu is a famous Tai Chi instructor and Gold Medal winner now living in Australia.] I remember one of our favourite sites was in the local cemetery late at night. It was one place we were sure the Red Guard would hesitate to investigate.

In 1975, Deng Xiao-Peng came to power the first time. He encouraged academic thought and debate. Gu Liu-Xin felt the time was right to compile the ultimate work on the five major styles of Tai Chi. After consulting with Hao Shao-Ru, Gu asked my father to update and expand on the earlier writings of the past Wu Style masters. When Deng Xiao-Peng fell from power, however, work on the book was terminated and all the notes were lost.

After the Gang of Four were toppled in 1976, my father was "rehabilitated" and restored to his former position at the mine. He often regretted the Cultural Revolution. During the ten-year period, there was no national progress in the martial arts and much was lost to future generations. My father began to feel that time was running out and he needed to pass on his knowledge and skills to as many people as he could.

He redoubled his studies and practice, constantly refining his skills and striving to improve. He devoted more time to teaching. As his reputation grew, more and more people approached him for instruction. He accepted everyone and taught without charge. In 1978 he began teaching a young girl named Gu Dai-Juan (Jennifer) who became one of his favourite students.

He retired from the mine in 1983 at the age of 63. Although he was in great health and his Tai Chi was leading him to higher levels, he wanted to devote more time to teaching.

The Wuhan International Tai Chi Chuan and Sword Competition was announced in 1984. This was the biggest Tai Chi event since the Cultural Revolution. My father escorted Jennifer and I there as his students. He was overjoyed to be reunited with former teachers and colleagues such as Gu Liu-Xin, Ma Yueh-Liang (Wu Jiquan Style), Wu Ying-Hua (Wu Jiquan Style), Fu Zhong-Wen (Yang Style), and Sun Jian-Yun (Sun Style).

I won the Gold Medal in the Men's Division for Traditional Tai Chi Forms while Jennifer won the Gold Medal in the Women's Division. We were both extremely happy that my father was able to be there. He was very proud of us and pleased that his teaching methods had been validated at such a prestigious event.

After the competition, my father went to Shanghai for a month to visit friends. His fame had spread and many people encouraged him to write about his experiences. Many of his colleagues were impressed with the high level he had achieved in Tai Chi and suggested he put his theories and practices in writing.

He visited his old friend Shao Pin-Gen. Shao noted that my father had attained a much high level of Tai Chi than he had but he (my father) was still restricted by form. He encouraged my father to leave the "forbidden city" level and enter the "liberal city" where the spirit of Tai Chi becomes more important than the form. One no longer "practices" Tai Chi but rather, becomes a part of Tai Chi.

My father returned home and resumed his teaching. Many students and former students began to arrive to pay their respects and train under my father. Every day new students would show up and would be welcomed. Many practitioners wanted to push hands with my father to test their own abilities. He never turned away any friendly challenge.

My father was not only flattered by all this attention, but he seriously considered how he would leave his Tai Chi legacy for future generations.

On June 14, 1984 he returned from a three day teaching trip to find a group of students waiting outside our home to train with him. He pushed hands and practiced with each of them. Before the could return to the house for breakfast, another group came seeking instruction and then another group. My father, who never turned away a student in his life, gave each of them his attention. Late in the morning, however, he began to feel weak. Realizing something was wrong, my mother summoned a doctor and ambulance. It took over two hours for qualified medical help to arrive even though the hospital was only 7 kilometres away. In the meantime, a "barefoot" doctor happened by and tried to revive my father. Realizing his skills were inadequate and that my father was in more serious shape than the "doctor" first thought, he suddenly abandoned his efforts and ran away. Eventually an ambulance and doctor did arrive, but by then it was too late. Despite all efforts, my father passed away.

An autopsy was performed. They discovered that all his internal organs were healthy and, in fact, appeared to be those of a much younger man. The doctors concluded that my father died of exhaustion. He was such a dedicated teacher that he expended all his energy and chi in his push hands instructions and his body finally gave out.

My father had always claimed that Tai Chi gave him back his health when he was diagnosed with kidney disease. Tai Chi had helped him through adversity and had given him some measure of fame. In the end, however, his extreme dedication to Tai Chi may have contributed to his death.

Conclusion:

My father had three main regrets regarding his life through Tai Chi. In 1963, during his first visit to Shanghai, Gu Liu-Xin approached my father and asked him to become co-editor of a Tai Chi Journal that Gu was about to start. This was to have been the first national magazine in China devoted to Tai Chi. It would have been a forum for masters of all styles to put forward their views and training methods. Unfortunately, it was never begun.

Secondly, my father felt that the instruction he received in Shanghai had started him towards a level of Tai Chi practice that few people ever attain. The advent of the Cultural Revolution not only halted his progress, but may have caused his abilities to diminish slightly. Even worse, from my father's point of view, the Cultural Revolution caused a regression in Tai Chi throughout China.

Finally, when he returned from Shanghai in 1984, I believe my father sensed his remaining time was limited. He desperately wanted to set all his ideas and experiences down in writing. He hoped to reconstruct many of the journals that were destroyed. Unfortunately, the end came much too soon.

It is my hope that, by telling the story of my father's life, students of Tai Chi will be inspired and will strive to attain higher and higher levels. I hope his biography shows how determination, dedication and drive can lead to overcoming challenges and setbacks. Do not look for "sudden" enlightenment. Enlightenment often comes only after long periods of hard effort.

My father was a great man, but he was not a "superman". He attained his skills only after a lifetime of study and hard practice. His legacy will continue. Here, at the Ji Hong Tai Chi College, we continue his proven methods of instruction. The success of our students is a testament to those methods.
 
 

Luo Hong-Yuan
(transcribed by David Ward and Bosco Yiu)