Tai Chi Grandmaster Feng Zhi Qiang – In Memory

by Tai Chi Master Bruce Frantzis

Grandmaster Feng Zhi Qiang and Master Bruce Frantzis

Grandmaster Feng Zhi Qiang and Master Bruce Frantzis

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

Feng Zhi Qiang and Bruce Frantzis Circa 1986

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.

In Memory

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.

Bruce

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Hommage à deux Grands Maîtres : Arts internes
February 3, 2013 at 6:32 am

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Alena Nickos April 26, 2012 at 6:48 pm

Thank you for sharing your connection with Grandmaster Feng

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David Johnston April 27, 2012 at 5:46 am

Bruce, thanks for sharing the story of your visit with Grandmaster Feng and his family.

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mckey April 29, 2012 at 6:45 am

Thank you for the informative and touching account of your visit with Grandmaster Feng. There is still so much wisdom he has to impart. I hope you will soon continue with posts on your thoughts about the recent growth of the Chen style in the West. I am a new student of the Chen style, studying with a student on Master Chen Qingzhou, and am eager to learn more of your thoughts.

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Dan Kleiman April 29, 2012 at 12:41 pm

So cool that you were able to pick up the same thread and reconnect after so many years!

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William May 1, 2012 at 2:25 am

What love and energy in the photograph of you two!!!

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philippe piriou May 1, 2012 at 2:37 am

I’ve been in China since 1993 and the environment has degraded a lot. In big cities, pollution is now beyond awful and green areas are gone due to crazy real estate. It’s impossible to practise outside anymore (actually, doing it is bad because the polluted air go deep in your body and instead of healing yourself, you’re deeply damaging). I don’t like to go to China anymore because of that. It’s really terrible for those living there; lungs disease is the norm, especially in young children.

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Sam Miller May 1, 2012 at 2:58 am

Dear Bruce,

It has been some time since we last spoke. I hope all is going well. I currently am in Shijiazhunag, Hebei, China which is 2 hours outside of Bei-jing. I was wondering if there was a way I could meet any of the masters you have spoken of. I’m in the process of learning chinese but have a translator who could come with me to help with the communication. I also notices you spoke of the head of the Bei-jing Ba-Gua Association. If you have any advice on studying with these people or visiting the White Cloud Temple please let me know.

Thank you agian for everythng,
Sam.

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Sam Miller May 1, 2012 at 3:13 am

I forgot to add that I recently visited Lama Wangdor Rimpoche in Tsol-Pema, India. It was a wonderful experience and I plan on returning. The cermony of the Padmasambhave statue was on March 30th. Lama Wangdor is now teaching within the statue which is a rare treat. Thank you again for introducing me to these wonderful people. You have been a wonderful guide on my journey of spiritual awakening…

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terry May 1, 2012 at 3:57 am

good to see old friends treat each other with respect and friendship

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Jim Creek May 1, 2012 at 5:35 am

Great story, thanks Bruce!

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Carol Braverman May 1, 2012 at 5:53 am

Many thanks for sharing this knowledge, a continuation of your teaching style.

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chip carter May 1, 2012 at 6:19 am

Bruce,
Obviously good vibrations in both of your directions. Thanks for sharing with us.
Chip

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Meredith May 1, 2012 at 6:34 am

This is great. I so appreciate this window into the reality of the deep connection of Master Teacher & students – the energy creates a bond – so heartfelt – like nothing else. The gift of a wonderful Master Teacher, aligning with the gift of an open hearted student – passing along — keeping alive – sharing the Truths of this amazing work.
Thank you so much for this.

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SRINATH May 1, 2012 at 6:43 am

Hi Bruce
Even though I haven’t met you, my memory went down the lane 33 years back. My master (martial arts) passed away in 2006 and your wife’s comment really made me feel that and I can understand as to how and what is a personal relationship you establish with your Teacher which cannot be measured in any terms.

Thanks Brue

Srinath
Bangalore
India

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Matt Howes May 1, 2012 at 6:52 am

Thank you for the story. It’s always great to hear a story about Granmaster Feng Zhi Qiang. My teacher, Dr. Aihan Kuhn of Chinese Medicine for Health & N.E. School of Tai Chi was also a student of Grandmaster Feng, on her visits to China through-out the 90′s and early 2K’s I believe (she is from Changsha originally). She says how lucky she is that he accepted her as a student. She has also trained with Master Zhu Tian Cai and Professor Li De Yin, both of whom made visits to her school.
I’ve been learning GM Feng’s Hunyuan Chen style 24 step routine, his hunyuan primordial qigong set, and some push hands…. definitly a “long journey” with a long way to go, lol. It was a book by Bruce Frantzis though, that convinced me I wanted to learn Tai Chi in the first place. Very cool, thanks for sharing.

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don May 1, 2012 at 7:17 am

THANK YOU FOR THE INSTRUCTION AND FOR SHARING THESE STIRRING EXPERIENCES.
DP

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Freda Ruderham May 1, 2012 at 7:28 am

I know this feeling well. If one is deeply passionate, and truly understands TaiJi, and Qigong, one feels it emanating, even via the computer.
As a practitioner of 32 years, I shall still be practicing and teaching till I am ancient,to be in that space, is Supreme. Bruce, thank you for sharing.

Freda

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Jenifer Tsang May 1, 2012 at 7:39 am

Hi Bruce,

That is a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing it with us. I can just imagine the joy felt when you re-connected with Feng. I am enjoying my training with you (via cd, dcd, books and manuals). I hope to get to a live course someday. I know there is so much that can be learned just by being in the presence with a great teacher.

All the best chi,
Jenifer

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Adhiraj May 1, 2012 at 8:34 am

Thank you Bruce for sharing your adventures!

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Van Knight May 1, 2012 at 8:40 am

Thank you for this. Again, as though I was there… please share more when the time is right…

Love

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Edward Fowler May 1, 2012 at 11:46 am

As always, Bruce, it is wonderful to get your perspectives. Thanks for all you have done to make this a better world.
peace, love & light

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Hans May 1, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Hello,

thank you for your report. I joined one time a weekend with you in your workshops in Berlin: Marriage of Earth and Heaven Qi Gong and Get more Chi in your Tai Chi.

I have trained some years Chen Style, that comes from Chen Xiao Wang, you mentioned here in Germany. I hope you will also report soon about Feng perspective about these Chen practices, called Tai Chi Chuan. In Germany they say, it is the most authentic way of doing Chen Style.

Today i am not learning martial arts anymore. In these times i noticed knee problems after a long while doing this, also i do not like the combat character.
Now i am in a peaceful way with Fan Huan Gong and Qi Gong Meditation.

Take care and thank you again,

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Noah Allyn May 1, 2012 at 2:24 pm

This article hits home for me right now!

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Richard N May 1, 2012 at 11:56 pm

Brief but, insightful. Thanks :)

Richard

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Rambi Virk May 2, 2012 at 9:38 am

Hi Bruce
Thank you for your thoughtful insights & beautiful to see the mutual love & respect between two masters. Maybe one day I will be blessed enough to be a disciple of the Energy Arts.

Kind Regards

Rambi

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David Zucker May 2, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Thanks for sharing this Bruce. I’d be VERY interested in what is the proper way to stomp. My style of internal art does not have this, but I practice it in various other activities and always thought I had figured it out – you don’t stomp at all; you simply drop the whole body down like a sumo wrestler where the energy drops into the earth with absolutely no rebound upward – basically free-falling for an inch or two with your entire weight, and then catching yourself suddenly. Would like to hear your take on Chen foot stomping.

warm regards,
David Zucker

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Jeff Meyer May 2, 2012 at 8:00 pm

Thanks Bruce. In regards to Chen style, your demonstration on the “Taoist Energy Arts” video of this style (ending in “Single Whip”) is extremely impressive and shows the power and mastery you have of the style. (I hope Energy Arts offers book/video instruction someday!)

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Basil Rozells/Sijo kuntao martial arts May 3, 2012 at 8:23 am

Dear bruce,I really enjoy looking @ yr website,I appreciate yr openess in sharing the internal arts,whuch is lacking in a lot of internalists.These days,i combine the hard with the soft,& maybe,i am beginning to feel the chan su chin,chin,shen,li,etc.I also learned some Hsing-I in Ipoh,malaysia,from master Mark Lee,whose master came from beijing in the early days.He had a unique way of popping his feet when doing the movements.He taught me the 5 basic moves,& 2 forms,lin-wah & Siong-Sang.I also learned from master John Ding in London,for a short while.I learned the 7 star chi-king from Gabriel lee from Kuching,Sarawak.These days,i try to combine these & the harder methods like five ancestors,wing-chun & shukokai karate,which i did in the Kisan karate club in Kilmarnock,Scotland/once again,thank u fr sharing yr knowledge with everyone,basil rozells

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Nathan May 5, 2012 at 8:09 pm

Mr. Frantzis, your article is a timely one. It seems Feng Zhiqiang recently passed away. He will be missed.

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Kok hong May 6, 2012 at 7:33 am

Sadly GM Feng had pass away over the weekend. Condolence to all those who personally knew him.

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Fabrice May 6, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Hello everyone. For those who didn’t get the news yet, Grandmaster Feng Zhi Qiang past away on May 5th 2012.
Thank you Bruce for sharing with all of us this great meeting you had with him.

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hkteo May 6, 2012 at 7:16 pm

Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang passed away on May 5, 2012 in Beijing peacefully. The martial world lost a grandmaster! The funeral will be held on May 11, 2012.

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Michael Becker May 7, 2012 at 12:05 am

Very sad news. Grandmaster Feng passed away this Saturday past, May 5th 2012. I had the great honour of meeting him several times at the main school in Beijing. He was not only a truly great martial arts master, but he was a wonderful human being. My deepest condolences to all his family, friends, disciples and students.

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someone May 7, 2012 at 1:40 am

Hello,

Just to let you know GM Feng Zhiqiang’s passing.
http://www.hunyuantaiji.com.cn/

Best

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Tom Hirons May 7, 2012 at 11:51 am

Thanks for this, Bruce

I was so sorry to see that Feng Zhi-qiang passed away on May 5th. Thank you for sharing this insight into a great tai chi master.

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Cutedervish May 30, 2012 at 7:30 am

Very heartfelt post. Thank you.

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Mayte October 27, 2012 at 1:25 am

Both are Granmaster and I admiration Grand master Feng Zi Qian.
All my respect.
Mayte

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