A Short and Intense visit to the Grand Master Yang Zhenduo

di Enzo Bordi

It was during the Yang style Taiji courses held in Rome that my instructor Ms Wu Min Yi proposed to a small group of advanced students, a travel to China. She said she would have tried to meet her instructor, the Grand Master Yang Zhenduo and would have asked him to allow us some of his precious teachings. It was a wonderful and unforgetable experience that I wanted to share with other passioned Taiji practitioners and the opportunitycame when reading the”Tai Chi Chuan” magazine I noticed an invitation by the editors to enthusiasts to submit articles, letters, photos, for publication regarding the form and the contents of the journal.

In the 2005 summer we left Rome and after 10 hours flights we reached Beijing. We needed one day for accomodation and relax but soon after we started taking Qi Gong lessons at the Beijing Sport University. Luckily we could reach the gym area on foot avoiding the intense cars traffic andwithout loosing time. The teachers were highly competent and paid lot of attention to our movements giving us individual and detailed corrections not only for the posture, legs, arms, fingers but also on the proper breathing, “speed” of the exercises, eyes look and empty mind. Our difficulty was not mainly regarding the knowledge of the exercises like the Paduanjin, Yijinjing and Daoyin some of which we had previously achieved but their correct performance. At the beginning the idea of harmonizing the very detailed body movements, full and empty weight shifting, the right inspiration and expiration, the eyes direction and more else, with an empty mind was actually inconcievable but gradually we started entering the spirit of wholeness Taiji. We had also the opportunity to review the 24 Yang short form and 32 Yang sword form while for the Traditional 103 Yang form, our goal was to meet the living discendants of the originator of the Taiji Quan Yang style.

I do not remember the distance between Beijing and Taiyuan but surely the train took a certain numbers of hours as I felt asleep despite the large number of adult passengers and children among which, to my wonder, one woke me up by his crying and loudelly calling his mother “mamma, mamma” exactly like an italian child.

We arrived at the Mining Hotel and after the usual paper formalities and rooms accomodation our instructor contacted Master Yang Bin, grandson of Master Yang Zhenduo, to plan the time and place where we would have taken the Taiji lessons. The weather at Taiyuan was better than in Beijing and therefore we agreed that our lessons took place in the open air. At that time Master Yang Bin did not speak English except for some basic words and expresions but together with him there was his nephew, I guess the daughter of Master Yang Jun, who acted as interpreter from Chinese to English and viceversa. Despite her young age she behaved like an actual professional helping her uncle and ourselves when in addition to the pratical demonstrations some verbal explanations were necessary to better understand the suggestions.

In our group there was a lady, friend of Wu Min Yi who does not practice the Taiji but, being fond of China, every day organized cultural trips to ancient and important sites in the Taiyuan area like Liu Xiang Lane, the Twin Pagoda Temple and others. This was a perfect combination of visit/study tour and in order to make the most of it we were complelled, after the morning lessons, to have shower and lunch in a very restricted time.

As we took individual lessons, I was used to practice the 103 form early in the morning before my turn and one day I remained astonished when I saw that a group of chinese women was behind me following my movements. I asked to myself how this was possible that an italian taiji student being followed by chinese people whose taiji is in their DNA. I realized that they perfecty knew the concatenation of the 103 postures but my impression was that their arms were not extended or lifted enough and the grounding too light. At that time I thought that the probable answer could then have beeen that while I was taking lessons trying to perform the form as possible as I could in accordance to the Yang family principles, they saw in me this imprinting or, perhaps, this was only my inner wish.

Master Yang Bin was very kind and patient with us but at the same time strict and punctual, meaning that until he saw his instructions, I would not say perfectly applied, but acceptably applied, we had to repeat the movements several times nearly to activate their body memorization more than a mind understanding.

The time to meet the Gran Master Yang Zhenduo had come, Min was eager to see him again while I, to the contrary, was from one hand worried not to be sufficiently prepared in front of such authority in taiji and from the other hand, I felt supported for having taken lessons from his grandson Yang Bin. We went to his home and were supposed to take lessons in the open air but the weather was not good and a heavy rain started falling down, unfortunately we thought we had to postpone the visit or even renounce to it as only few days remained before our departure. When we entered his home Mr Yang Zhenduo and his wife gave us a warm welcome and soon I had the impression to have already known him, something of familiar. The rain was not an obstacle to our aim, we moved a table to another room and placed the remaining living room furniture next to the walls and a fit space for the practice was astonishingly created. The Grand Master asked me, through the young interpreter, how long I started practicing as if the time played an important role in the awareness of the profound aspect of Taiji. His body emaneted power and at the same time elegance, showed kindness and ability through his calm and natural paths along the room. He made me feel confortable and gave me simple, basic indications to be always borne into the taiji practice at any level like “be natural, soft, and let the body behave free from any mental impediment” and encouraged me to carry on the taiji walk; I took this experience and his words like a blessing for the future. Once our lessons were over we sat dawn with a warm cup of tea and the Grand Master showed us the books which had been published in honour to his 80th birthday. The book I have brought with me is in Chinese but luckily full of useful taiji photos of him performing the entire 103 and 49sequences forms, tui shou,67 sword form and 13 saber form. The Grand Master has kindly left on my book a dedication to remember that wonderful time spent together and more than a hand writing it looks like a painting. Five years have spent and his warm welcome, familiar attitude and joyful smile are still in my eyes and in my heart.

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