On 12 June 2013 a low profile titan of the Taijiquan world, Master Wei Shuren of Beijing, passed on.
As a living art the quality of Taijiquan of each generation is only as good as the master practitioner’s skill. In this respect, Master Wei stood above many. I suspect that for this reason we don’t hear or read much about him because when his art is put side by side with others there is practically no comparison in terms of the methodology and practical compliance with the principles of the Taijiquan Classics. More important Master Wei could actually demonstrate the things he talked and wrote about and his skill was such that it could confound many, even high level masters, how he did some of those demos that are on the internet.
On another level, Master Wei brought into light information on a very important topic in Taijiquan – the use of intention. Before the publication of his 2nd book which I deem to be the most important there was little information on how intention was to be trained in Taijiquan. It didn’t matter if the book was from China or from the West. Many know the importance of the use of intention but few know how to train it and even fewer can actually demonstrate it in a convincing manner that didn’t smell of fakery.
Before taking up the style of Master Wei I had many questions about Taijiquan. I did my research, took my lessons, spoke to others and I ended up with more questions than answers. It is only after learning Master Wei’s style that my questions were answered and my need to look for the “it” style no longer exist.
A living art requires living transmission. This means that for the art to continue the master must be able to transmit the art onwards and the disciple be able to take his skill higher and further the art. In this respect Master Wei was a tremendous success even though he was not a disciple of his teacher Wang Yongquan. However, the teachings that he received was something that only an indoor disciple would get. Even then with the information if the student was less than hardworking, talented and intelligent he would still fail to grasp the intricacies of the art and hence not get the transmission properly.
As a teacher Master Wei was open and generous with his knowledge otherwise the information that came through our side of the lineage would not have enabled our teacher to master the art and passed it down to us. What happens next will depend on us and the generation that follows. Master Wei’s passing is a sad day for us and we should honor him by striving to carry on his teachings and let it not be lost as it once nearly was.
Top 3 things I learned from the art of Master Wei :-
1) The art of breathing
Many Taijiquan practitioners thought the secret to mastering Taijiquan lies in the breathing method. Hence, they keep looking for the secret method that makes the difference.
I have learned some of these methods but they don’t really make much of a difference to my skill. When I analysed it carefully and tried to use the breathing methods even in push hands I find that its laborious to use and highly artificial.
When it came to Master Wei’s art the secret breathing method that was passed down is simply no breathe out, no breathe in. It was a head scratcher because it was telling me not to breathe in or breathe out unlike the other breathing methods I had learned which required me to move my abdomen in a certain manner and timing with my breathing. However, after practicing the form for years I understood what this principle means and why in this sense Taijiquan is an internal art.
2) The art of fajing
Another favorite topic of Taijiquan practitioners is the method of fajing. I have come across many methods. Whilst many of these methods are powerful, however, they don’t perform as well when used under pressure against an opponent who is resisting and moves fast.
Like it or not, a fast opponent can beat you even if your power is the more powerful. I was reminded of this every time I touch hands with people who do Wing Chun. So the reasoning is that if Taijiquan is a martial art it cannot be the slow, lumbering but powerful art that I seem to be learning. And its not.
In this sense, to issue power through the use of intention to create subtle body mechanics make a lot more sense than relying on slower but powerful biomechanics. But it took a while to overcome my resistance to seeing things this way as I was brainwashed to believe otherwise.
3) The art of the form
The purpose of learning form is to liberate yourself so that you can apply the principles of the art. But more often than not in real life the form enslaves and can potentially give you joint pains. I also noticed that the majority me included fail to use the techniques of the form in push hands. If we can’t even use it in push hands then certainly it will be impossible to use it in free sparring.
So why do we practice a form then that is divorced from the reality of combat? That is for all practical reasons useless? I have no idea. Tradition, I guess.
In Master Wei’s art it is said that we grasp the art through the techniques of the form and in turn grasp the techniques through the art, a dual purpose learning. However, if you think that you can easily get this then you are wrong. It took me many years before the practice churned out habits that enabled me to understand this teaching.
So yes, there is a reason why form training is important and this is one of them. I don’t see any reason why you can’t do a drill and still get it. But there are reasons why form training is so much better for this purpose. This is one of those things that with practice you will know the answer. There is no value to debating it.
I can go on and on and into a lot greater details of the interesting aspects of Master Wei’s art but like I said its a living art. Meaning if you practice it well and long you reap the benefits. Talking about it doesn’t get you as far. This is the meaning of kung fu.
To Master Wei we owe a great debt for preserving and transmitting the art for which we have today and hopefully, will still have tomorrow and for generations to come.