In Beijing last December, I had the good fortune to visit Tai Chi Grandmaster Feng Zhi Qiang. Feng taught me Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan, Tai Chi Push Hands and Hun Yuan Qigong in the 1980s and 1990s. It had been about 13 years since our last meeting.
Master Feng’s daughter Xiu Fang picked us up at a Beijing hotel and drove us to her father’s new apartment, an hour away from the city center. Feng Xiu Fang also teaches tai chi. During the car ride, she mentioned that outside China, she mostly teaches in Japan, just as her father used to. She also sometimes travels to Europe and America.
Xiu Fang mentioned that when teaching her father’s tai chi which he personally learned from the famous Chen Fa Ke, she emphasizes health at all levels. Naturalness and circularity, everything returning to its source in its natural time, are also important components of her teaching.
With Feng’s daughter was a female student who had come from Germany for the 3rd Hunyuan tai chi conference. Master Feng calls his organization Hunyuan Taiji, just as mine is called Energy Arts.
Reconnecting with Feng Zhi Qiang
When we arrived at Feng Zhi Qiang’s home, another of his daughters met us at the elevator and greeted us pleasantly in English.
Xiu Fang is a good daughter who looks after her father. She said the conversation had to be short because her dad was recovering from a nasty lung condition. These lung issues are quite common in Beijing amongst the older crowd and are most likely caused or at least aggravated by Beijing’s terrible air pollution.
Master Feng Zhi Qiang is a very down-to-earth man; genuinely human. In the beginning, you could see he was really under the weather and a bit distracted. I gave him a bunch of photographs from the old days of us doing tai chi push hands together. I showed him my two books with his pictures inside.
The discussion moved to what I had been up to for the past 25 years. He seemed pleased, especially that I had been continuously actively teaching. Many people learn tai chi and even get teaching certifications, but very few teach on a regular basis. Since I didn’t know if I would see him again because I don’t visit China often, I asked him some questions that I thought would be helpful for the general tai chi community.
The Chen Style of Tai Chi
Master Feng was the last push hands student of Chen Fa Ke of the Chen style of tai chi. Chen Fa Ke was the top master in the Chen Family village, and brought Chen Tai Chi out of the Chen Village and into Beijing. When I was in China, 25 years back, Feng was considered – generally and officially – the most knowledgeable Chen style tai chi master in China. Today, at 85 years of age, he is still recognized as such.
I told Feng that in my many years of teaching tai chi, I continually meet many people in China and the West suffering from knee damage as a result of doing Chen tai chi, particularly in students directly associated with teachers from the Chen village. I asked Feng why he thought this was so. He made several points that are useful if you practice the Chen style or if you plan on studying it in the future.
Master Feng said:
- Chen Tai Chi has a technique of overly hard stamping of the feet, which can cause shocks to the body when done incorrectly.
- Pain could result from a general lack of sufficient attention to leg alignments within the form.
- The chi needs to properly reach the ground from the perineum. Not getting it there could also cause problems.
- Chen Tai Chi’s overly low stances cause a lot of stress on the body. The pressures are more than many can handle. He said he had a bigger body build than Chen Fa Ke; consequently, Chen Fa Ke never had him go that extra bit lower that causes the bodily stress.
These points mirrored my own observations. Since the recent growth of Chen tai chi is mostly being generated from members of the Chen Village and specifically the Chen brothers Zhen Lei and Xiao Wang, I asked Feng for his perspective, which I may go into at another time.
At this point, the good daughter Xiu Fang kept trying to get me to let her father rest, but as time went on, Feng wanted to engage and became progressively more animated. He gave me a signed copy of one of his books. I have always felt and still have great affection for Feng, which in the old days seemed mutual. As time elapsed our connection seemed to reignite. At some point he pointed to an old picture with me and him together that he had on his wall from the time I visited Beijing in 1998 and asked “Who is this?” to which I replied, “Not the faintest clue”. He smiled his trademark smile – wry, broad, and quite charming.
Feng’s Message: Tai Chi Circularity
As I was getting up to leave he kept saying “tai chi is circular” and then very gently did a bit of the beginning of the Chen tai chi form movement (tying the coat). He then gently grabbed my arm, wouldn’t let me leave and said, “Lock closed hands”, after which he demonstrated how to use Chan Sz Jin to put me in a thumb lock and twist my arm. Again his daughter got nervous, watching him get excited and fearful as a caring daughter will be, regardless if it was totally necessary or not.
We moved around a while and talked a bit more. Then returning to teaching mode he continues to emphasize the circularity of tai chi. Next he had me grab his arms and then starts to do his spiraling Chan Sz Jin. This rapidly turns into a form of Chen spiraling push hands. What I can say is boy does he still got it, even at 85 and while recovering from a severe illness. The line of spiraling Chan Sz Jin energy he emitted was clear as a bell and highly instructive.
He seemed like he wanted to keep going but like a good daughter does, Xiu Fang jumped in and protected her dad so he wouldn’t get drained because it might slow his recovery. Just before leaving I asked for the bathroom and said I would only be a minute. She replied, “It’s OK, you can take two.” The Feng family, besides being very charming and gracious, have a wonderful sense of humor.
As I was starting to leave, three people in their 30s arrived. I suppose they were his students. Especially the taller strapping lad, as I could feel the obvious strength of his internal energy in his handshake.
Feng followed us to the door and outside to the elevator,where we said our goodbyes. Feng even said “bye bye” in English. As the elevator was closing, my wife commented that Feng seemed genuinely sad to see me go, and I felt the same way.
Since this post, Grandmaster Feng Zhi Qiang passed on May 5th. He will be dearly missed.
I shall be writing another blog post about this great man shortly.