Yang Zhenji, 1921-2007

Yang Zhenji, 1921-2007

Postby Louis Swaim » Tue Jun 26, 2007 5:14 am

As a tribute to Yang Zhenji, who passed on March 27, I thought I would translate a bit of the biographical material from his book, Yang Chengfu Shi Taijiquan. The biographical sections in the appendix are based on the research and interviews of Yan Hanxiu, martial arts journalist. I’m going to be away for a few days, but when I return I’ll try to post some more from the book.

~~~
Yang Zhenji, the second son of the great Yang style master, Yang Chengfu, is 69 this year [1991]. In the third month of spring, I went to interview him. He was large and tall of build, quick-witted of speech, resolute and rich in philosophical qualities, frequently explaining taijiquan theory from contrasting points of view with quick witticisms that made an easy impression. Although he had not made a life career of teaching taijiquan as had his forebears, he still never departed from studying and teaching the art. He has suffered deprivations and hardships, yet led a life full of drama and color, so that until now most people understood little about him.

Yang Zhenji was brought up in an extended lineage of martial artists. His great grandfather Yang Luchan, his grand uncle Yang Banhou, his grandfather Yang Jianhou, his uncle Yang Shaohou, and his father Yang Chengfu were all men of exalted stature in the martial arts realm of modern China. Studying under the influence of such profound erudites, he began testing his limits and studying quan beginning at the age of five. In the 1930s, when Yang Chengfu’s disciple Chen Weiming invited him to Shanghai to teach, his entire family accompanied him there. His father observed him grow more clever and solid, so he began to concentrate on teaching him form. At that time, Yang Banhou’s son Zhaopeng moved from the old family home in Yongnian Hebei to Shanghai to study with Yang Chengfu, and Chengfu asked him to take charge in managing Zhenji, Zhenduo and others in their training.

Yang Zhaopeng, like his father, was irascible in temperament, and was rigorously strict with Zhenji and his brothers in their training. At that time, Zhenji was eleven or twelve; there were some movement requirements of which his understanding was unclear—there were points in his advancing and retreating footwork and body turns that were incorrect. If Zhaopeng had to tell him twice, but he still did it wrong, Zhaopeng would strike him. If the leg was in the wrong position, he would strike the leg; if the arm was wrong, he would strike the arm. Moreover, Zhaopeng’s skill was considerable, so Zhenji would persevere, restrain the tears, and bear the strikes. After completing several training sessions, his entire body aching, he could barely lift his legs to climb the stairs, and could only crawl up. Even under these conditions, he would still train late into the night each day.

His father often watched them train, and would correct their movements, but he never struck him. Yang Zhenji later said, “Papa’s skill was formidable, but he did not like to hit, so he had uncle Zhaopeng manage us.”

When Yang Chengfu went down south to Guangzhou to teach, the family resided in a small loft. Downstairs there was a spacious parlor with a backyard. The parlor was the place where Yang Chengfu and Yang Shouzhong taught quan. Shouzhong also practiced with Yang Zhenji and a few others in the backyard.

In Guangzhou, Yang Zhenji entered the middle school attached to Zhong Shan University to study. Because he lived far from school, he would set out early in the morning for the long walk to class, and then as soon as classes ended would return home. No one in the entire family went out to movies or performances. Any spare time was for training quan. Their father stipulated that Zhenji and his brothers must train at least three times every night. If they were reluctant to practice, they would still have to practice; if they could not bear practice, still they must practice. If they were not training effectively, they would continue to practice. If they hadn’t practiced enough times, they were not allowed to go to bed or to attend school. Training quan was primary; attending school was secondary. It may be OK to miss school, but it was not OK to miss training quan. Life was wholly focused on training quan.

When Yang Chengfu was teaching them, he was extremely rigorous about each move and every posture. No missed detail was let go. Usually he spoke while he was observing, saying: “Place your hand towards here, place it towards there, move your foot toward here a bit.” If the position and placement were right, he didn’t say anything. In this way, from a young age Yang Zhenji was able to lay a good foundation. Yang Chengfu was very fond of him, often using the endearment, “Lao Er” (second son) when he took him places. At night he slept with his father near by.

In 1936, Yang Chengfu passed away, and not much later the war of resistance [against the Japanese occupation] erupted. Pressed for a means of livelihood, his mother decided that Yang Shouzhong should remain and teach in Guangzhou, while she would take Zhenji, his brothers, and one of Shouzhong’s daughters back to the family home in Yongnian county. Mother said to them: “You must persevere in your quan training; the Yang family art must not be lost. In the future when circumstances have improved, you can again go out and teach quan.” Besides attending school, the three brothers practiced quan at home behind closed doors uninterruptedly. Hebei had already been occupied by the Japanese, and in that region some youths had often been abducted, unaccountably disappearing in the middle of the night.

Yang Zhenji had grown to adulthood. One day his mother said to him: “There’s no gain in your remaining home. You have brother masters in Beijing and Tianjin. Why not go there and see if you can find work?” As a result he was able to get recommendations in Tianjin, first working at the Wanhua Bank, and later at Dahua Company as an office worker. During his time at Tianjin, he was often able to meet with friends to practice quan together and hone their skills.

In Guangzhou, his older brother Yang Shouzhong had been very concerned about him all along. In 1948 Shouzhong inquired with Fu Zhongwen in Shanghai about his brother’s whereabouts. Learning that he was in Tianjin, Yang Shouzhong asked Fu Zhongwen to get word to him to come to Guangzhou. By then, Tianjin was ravaged by the war. Yang Zhenji was jobless and penniless, with no means to travel. Yang Shouzhong sent him some travel money, which he used to take a boat to Shanghai, and then take a plane to Guangzhou. His brother met him at the airport. After such adversity and turmoil, seeing his older brother moved him to tears.

When the two brothers returned to his home, Yang Shouzhong said, “Come, let’s practice quan together.”

When Yang Chengfu used to teach his students, he would most often first rely on Yang Shouzhong to demonstrate, and later let him correct students’ movements. Having long accompanied his father in teaching quan, he attained his father’s true transmission, and became a representative of Yang family taijiquan. In Guangzhou, Zhenji practiced the movements of the form in unison with his brother. Since Yang Zhenji’s cultural foundation was fairly good, and had ceaselessly practiced quan, he also attained his older brother’s teachings, and quickly grasped the marrow of the family’s taijiquan.

—Yan Hanxiu, in Yang Zhenji’s book, Yang Chengfu Shi Taijiquan, 1993, pages 227-229
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Tue Jun 26, 2007 1:34 pm

Louis,
Thank you.
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Postby César » Tue Jun 26, 2007 8:14 pm

Hi
thanks Louis for this translation. I hope you could give us more information about this great master in the future.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMjAEra9ubY
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cu334CRifik
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkfflUXU02Y
César
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Postby yslim » Sat Jun 30, 2007 7:33 pm

Hi Louis

Much appreciated for your post to brought forward such inspirational Taiji practice and Taiji life of GM Yang Zhenji.

It had moves me so that I will change my Taiji practice attitude from this day forward

I thank you both
Ciao
yslim

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Louis Swaim:
<B>As a tribute to Yang Zhenji, who passed on March 27, I thought I would translate a bit of the biographical material from his book, Yang Chengfu Shi Taijiquan. The biographical sections in the appendix are based on the research and interviews of Yan Hanxiu, martial arts journalist. I’m going to be away for a few days, but when I return I’ll try to post some more from the book.

~~~
Yang Zhenji, the second son of the great Yang style master, Yang Chengfu, is 69 this year [1991]. In the third month of spring, I went to interview him. He was large and tall of build, quick-witted of speech, resolute and rich in philosophical qualities, frequently explaining taijiquan theory from contrasting points of view with quick witticisms that made an easy impression. Although he had not made a life career of teaching taijiquan as had his forebears, he still never departed from studying and teaching the art. He has suffered deprivations and hardships, yet led a life full of drama and color, so that until now most people understood little about him.

Yang Zhenji was brought up in an extended lineage of martial artists. His great grandfather Yang Luchan, his grand uncle Yang Banhou, his grandfather Yang Jianhou, his uncle Yang Shaohou, and his father Yang Chengfu were all men of exalted stature in the martial arts realm of modern China. Studying under the influence of such profound erudites, he began testing his limits and studying quan beginning at the age of five. In the 1930s, when Yang Chengfu’s disciple Chen Weiming invited him to Shanghai to teach, his entire family accompanied him there. His father observed him grow more clever and solid, so he began to concentrate on teaching him form. At that time, Yang Banhou’s son Zhaopeng moved from the old family home in Yongnian Hebei to Shanghai to study with Yang Chengfu, and Chengfu asked him to take charge in managing Zhenji, Zhenduo and others in their training.

Yang Zhaopeng, like his father, was irascible in temperament, and was rigorously strict with Zhenji and his brothers in their training. At that time, Zhenji was eleven or twelve; there were some movement requirements of which his understanding was unclear—there were points in his advancing and retreating footwork and body turns that were incorrect. If Zhaopeng had to tell him twice, but he still did it wrong, Zhaopeng would strike him. If the leg was in the wrong position, he would strike the leg; if the arm was wrong, he would strike the arm. Moreover, Zhaopeng’s skill was considerable, so Zhenji would persevere, restrain the tears, and bear the strikes. After completing several training sessions, his entire body aching, he could barely lift his legs to climb the stairs, and could only crawl up. Even under these conditions, he would still train late into the night each day.

His father often watched them train, and would correct their movements, but he never struck him. Yang Zhenji later said, “Papa’s skill was formidable, but he did not like to hit, so he had uncle Zhaopeng manage us.”

When Yang Chengfu went down south to Guangzhou to teach, the family resided in a small loft. Downstairs there was a spacious parlor with a backyard. The parlor was the place where Yang Chengfu and Yang Shouzhong taught quan. Shouzhong also practiced with Yang Zhenji and a few others in the backyard.

In Guangzhou, Yang Zhenji entered the middle school attached to Zhong Shan University to study. Because he lived far from school, he would set out early in the morning for the long walk to class, and then as soon as classes ended would return home. No one in the entire family went out to movies or performances. Any spare time was for training quan. Their father stipulated that Zhenji and his brothers must train at least three times every night. If they were reluctant to practice, they would still have to practice; if they could not bear practice, still they must practice. If they were not training effectively, they would continue to practice. If they hadn’t practiced enough times, they were not allowed to go to bed or to attend school. Training quan was primary; attending school was secondary. It may be OK to miss school, but it was not OK to miss training quan. Life was wholly focused on training quan.

When Yang Chengfu was teaching them, he was extremely rigorous about each move and every posture. No missed detail was let go. Usually he spoke while he was observing, saying: “Place your hand towards here, place it towards there, move your foot toward here a bit.” If the position and placement were right, he didn’t say anything. In this way, from a young age Yang Zhenji was able to lay a good foundation. Yang Chengfu was very fond of him, often using the endearment, “Lao Er” (second son) when he took him places. At night he slept with his father near by.

In 1936, Yang Chengfu passed away, and not much later the war of resistance [against the Japanese occupation] erupted. Pressed for a means of livelihood, his mother decided that Yang Shouzhong should remain and teach in Guangzhou, while she would take Zhenji, his brothers, and one of Shouzhong’s daughters back to the family home in Yongnian county. Mother said to them: “You must persevere in your quan training; the Yang family art must not be lost. In the future when circumstances have improved, you can again go out and teach quan.” Besides attending school, the three brothers practiced quan at home behind closed doors uninterruptedly. Hebei had already been occupied by the Japanese, and in that region some youths had often been abducted, unaccountably disappearing in the middle of the night.

Yang Zhenji had grown to adulthood. One day his mother said to him: “There’s no gain in your remaining home. You have brother masters in Beijing and Tianjin. Why not go there and see if you can find work?” As a result he was able to get recommendations in Tianjin, first working at the Wanhua Bank, and later at Dahua Company as an office worker. During his time at Tianjin, he was often able to meet with friends to practice quan together and hone their skills.

In Guangzhou, his older brother Yang Shouzhong had been very concerned about him all along. In 1948 Shouzhong inquired with Fu Zhongwen in Shanghai about his brother’s whereabouts. Learning that he was in Tianjin, Yang Shouzhong asked Fu Zhongwen to get word to him to come to Guangzhou. By then, Tianjin was ravaged by the war. Yang Zhenji was jobless and penniless, with no means to travel. Yang Shouzhong sent him some travel money, which he used to take a boat to Shanghai, and then take a plane to Guangzhou. His brother met him at the airport. After such adversity and turmoil, seeing his older brother moved him to tears.

When the two brothers returned to his home, Yang Shouzhong said, “Come, let’s practice quan together.”

When Yang Chengfu used to teach his students, he would most often first rely on Yang Shouzhong to demonstrate, and later let him correct students’ movements. Having long accompanied his father in teaching quan, he attained his father’s true transmission, and became a representative of Yang family taijiquan. In Guangzhou, Zhenji practiced the movements of the form in unison with his brother. Since Yang Zhenji’s cultural foundation was fairly good, and had ceaselessly practiced quan, he also attained his older brother’s teachings, and quickly grasped the marrow of the family’s taijiquan.

—Yan Hanxiu, in Yang Zhenji’s book, Yang Chengfu Shi Taijiquan, 1993, pages 227-229</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>
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Postby Bradeos Graphon » Wed Jul 04, 2007 10:56 pm

Thank you for the biographies and links to the youtube videos of the late master Yang Zhenji.

There is so much bad Taiji in the world, it is a rare treat to see demonstrations by someone who is actually very good at what they do.
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Postby Louis Swaim » Tue Jul 10, 2007 5:23 am

Greetings All,

Here is a bit more biographical material on Yang Zhenji.

Yang Zhenji biographical material, Part 2

~~~
During the several months that Yang Zhenji remained in Guangzhou (Canton), his older brother (Shouzhong) would go out to teach during the day, and he would practice at home. In the evenings, the two brothers would train together. His older brother saw that his comprehension in learning quan was keen, and that he had already attained a standard in his boxing skills. At that time, there were some people in Zhongshan county inviting Yang Shouzhong to teach, but Shouzhong had teaching commitments at various places in Guangzhou, and could not take on any more. So he said to Zhenji, “Why don’t you go teach on my behalf; each month I’ll come see you once or twice.” Yang Shouzhong tutored him on a few Cantonese customs, and some points for attention in teaching quan. So Zhenji set out on his own to Shiqi City. The First Middle School of Zhongshan County issued him a contract that he still has. It reads “This cordially contracts Mr. Yang Zhenji as a full-time lead instructor in martial arts (guoshu) at this school for the period from August 1, 1949 [Min Guo year 38] to January 31, 1950. [signed] Principle Lin Weiyan, issued August 1, 1949. Later, he concurrently taught martial arts at Shiguang Elementary School in an after-school program for students of that school. Each afternoon, he taught at First Zhongshan Middle School for an hour or more, and afterwards at Shiguang Elementary for an hour or more. When teaching he would first lecture and perform, and later practice together with his students. His salary was calculated using rice in place of cash.

He resided at the Shiqi City Library. Mornings and evenings he taught private lessons. The people of this area were experienced and knowledgeable; many of them were active in business in Hong Kong, Kowloon, and Macao. Some of them were familiar with the benefits of taijiquan, so they came to study from him. A few among his students were well-known local gentry. In this locale there were some boxing teachers, gangsters, and local ruffians who observed his stalwart posture and saw that his quan was light and lively and well-composed, his push hands rounded and smooth, so he earned their respect and admiration. They did not dare to rashly cross hands or compete with him.

At first his older brother often came to check in on him, but later came less often when he realized that he was equal to the task and able to take full charge himself. In this manner, Zhenji trained himself as he taught others, occasionally discussing quan and push hands with his older brother. Before he knew it, more than a year had passed.

Just before liberation occurred in Guangzhou [the Peoples’ Republic of China was established in October of 1949], Yang Shouzhong’s entire family had moved to Hong Kong, and Zhenji had continued to teach quan in Zhongshan county. After liberation, when the railroad had once again gone into service, he returned to the old family home in Yongnian.

The time in Guangzhou and Zhongshan county was a turning point for Zhenji in his study and teaching of quan. Later he would say, “When my father was alive, I was still young; so much of what I learned of taijiquan was from this time with my older brother.”

—Yan Hanxiu, in Yang Zhenji’s book, Yang Chengfu Shi Taijiquan, 1993, pages 229-230
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Tue Jul 10, 2007 8:53 pm

Thank you, Louis.
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Postby Louis Swaim » Fri Jul 13, 2007 4:50 pm

There's still more to come, as time permits.
--Louis
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Postby Louis Swaim » Sun Jul 22, 2007 5:20 pm

Greetings,

I've been away on a backpacking trip with my daughter and busy with other things, but here is another installment of biographical material.

~~~
Yang Zhenji biographical material, Part 3

In September of 1950, Yang Zhenji began work as a clerk at the Handan division of the China Cotton Company. Because of the changes that had come about in society, he did not dare to practice quan openly. During the days when his father had taught in Hangzhou, the Superintendent of Guoshu (martial arts), Zhang Jingjiang, made a gift to him of four Long Quan double-edged swords—one for each of his four sons. After the Japanese had occupied Yongnian, Zhenji’s maternal grandmother mistakenly took them to be contraband weapons, and threw them into a well, so this left Zhenji with no practice sword. At the break of dawn each morning, he would secretly practice quan, and use a stick for a sword or saber. Occasionally he could not avoid being seen by neighbors, who misunderstood what he was doing, saying, “Has this Mr. Yang got a mental problem?” How could they know the sincere intention of this martial master? He merely wanted to do honor to his father’s and older brothers’ teachings, so each day he ceaselessly practiced his art in the belief that he could one day resume his true profession, and help spread his family’s taijiquan tradition. At that time, even the people in his work unit had no idea that he was proficient in quan.

At last, opportunity came to him in an extraordinary way. Near the end of the 1950s, First Secretary of the North China Party Bureau, Li Xuefeng, was studying quan from Fu Zhongwen in Shanghai. As a young man Fu Zhongwen had received Yang Chengfu’s teachings, and had been looked after as well by Mrs. Yang, so he constantly bore in mind the Yang family descendants. Once, after a training session, Fu said to Secretary Li, “Taijiquan was developed by the Yang family ancestor, Yang Luchan. We have already lost the third generation. Among the forth generation, we have Yang Chengfu’s four sons. The eldest son is teaching quan in Hong Kong. The second and fourth sons [Zhenji & Zhenguo] are in Handan, the third son [Zhenduo] is in Shanxi—all of them received the true transmission, but none of them is currently engaged in teaching quan. Would it not be possible to arrange for transfers in their employment so as to allow them to carry on and develop their ancestral trade? They could make a great contribution in the dissemination of taijiquan.”

Comrade Li Xuefeng had formerly been in poor health, but had experienced the health benefits of studying quan, and was intimately aware that taijiquan was a national treasure. Upon hearing that there were Yang family descendants still living, he gave a deep sigh and said, “This is something that can be arranged.” Before long, Li Xuefeng was doing inspection work in Handan city in Hebei, and asked the prefect secretary to invite Yang Zhenji to the military bureau. [Li was a very powerful party official at the time. Among other roles, he headed the “Industrial Work Department,” according to Klein & Clark, Biographic Dictionary of Chinese Communism 1921-1965, Vol I, pp 504-506. –LS] Comrade Li Xuefeng asked Yang, “What are you doing currently?” Yang Zhenji said, “I’m a manager at the cotton supply and marketing co-op.” “Would you be willing to come out and teach quan?” Once Yang Zhenji heard that it would be to teach taijiquan, he was extremely elated, and blurted out, “Of course I would be willing!” Comrade Li Xuefeng said, “Wait awhile until further notice.”

Two months later, Yang Zhenji was transferred to Hebei provincial system work brigade, where he was appointed as the taijiquan coach, but in fact he did not teach for the work brigade, but was specially appointed to teach a number of leader cadres and functionaries for the Hebei province section of the North China Bureau.

After reporting for that post, he received notice to go to Shanghai to meet with Fu Zhongwen and assist teaching taijiquan to comrade Li Xuefeng.

From 1962 to 1966, he continuously taught quan in Shanghai, Tianjin, Beijing, Beidaihe, and other places. On some occasions, government leaders would come out and observe or follow along. In his spare time, he would instruct them in quan training.

In Beijing, he lived in the Eastern Military Academy. Every morning, carrying his sword, he would go to several government leaders’ homes to teach quan. Afterwards he would proceed to the White Pagoda Temple to teach functionaries and cadres during their work breaks. In the afternoons, he went to Xiyi Military Academy to teach more functionaries and cadres during breaks. His personal time at home, while on call, was taken up by personal practice. At that time, teaching the leaders and cadres always had to follow secret protocols. He had little opportunity for going to movies or plays, or visiting with friends; his daily schedules were very tight, with little leisure time.

Later, Yang Zhenji would recollect: “Those leaders and cadres were quite amiable in their dealings with people. They did not treat people on the basis of status or position, but as equals.” He often talked with the leader comrades about taijiquan theory, explaining important training principles. They would all listen conscientiously, and were very respectful towards him personally. His personal feeling about the situation was that, were it not for the regard these leader comrades showed for taijiquan as an endeavor, and for the Yang family descendants, where would he be today? Therefore, he was willing to bear the burden conscientiously, cooperate rather than calculate his personal loss or gain, and exert himself in teaching taijiquan to the best of his abilities.

—Yan Hanxiu, in Yang Zhenji’s book, Yang Chengfu Shi Taijiquan, 1993, pages 230-231

--Louis
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Postby Louis Swaim » Mon Jul 23, 2007 12:29 am

A bit more. . .

Yang Zhenji biographical material, Part 4

Good times do not last long. By 1966, the turmoil had begun, and the leaders and cadres had to step aside as some groups carried out “revolution.” [i.e., the Cultural Revolution —LS] Now, no one studied quan, so Yang no longer had a way to engage his talents. He was again returned to Handan city, where he was grouped with a number of other people in the physical education facility.

Because of the fact that he had an older brother in Hong Kong and the implied “connections abroad,” he was investigated and had to account for his connections with his brother. He replied with complete assurance to his interrogators, saying: “My family has taught quan as a profession for generations. My older brother is no exception. We do not participate in any factional organizations. I have clearly explained my dealings with my older brother as having to do with the work that we do. I have explained it that way in the past, and I am doing so now. There is nothing that I have to account for.” The interrogators were unable to turn anything up, yet they still seemed to lack an understanding of the situation.

The factional struggles in Handan city became more and more intense, and society was very unstable. The physical education facility was located in the center of the city. Because of the frequent factional demonstrations, the local leaders appointed Yang Zhenji and a member of the kitchen crew to guard the large gate in order to assure the safety of the government functionaries. He did not carry a weapon, but day and night he stood or sat at the gate opening. Somehow a rumor circulated saying that the man keeping guard at the gate was a Yang family taijiquan descendant with formidable martial skills. Among some of the more serious factionalists [most likely this refers to Red Guards —LS] were some trained in martial arts, shuai jiao, etc. They did not dare to approach the gate; they would even go out of their way to avoid it because he was standing guard. The government functionaries within the gate were never attacked.

—Yan Hanxiu, in Yang Zhenji’s book, Yang Chengfu Shi Taijiquan, 1993, page 232


[This message has been edited by Louis Swaim (edited 07-23-2007).]
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Mon Jul 23, 2007 8:07 pm

Louis,
Thank you. This is truly excellent.
I had no idea about any of this history from the Yang family.
Looking forward to as much as you can give us.

Bob
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