A living legend, Feng Zhiqiang was a peaceful warrior who demonstrated his high level martial skill many times but always counseled a peaceful mind and heart as the best path to martial achievement.
Born into a family with strong martial art connections, even though his father didn’t practice martial arts, Feng began learning at 8 years old from an uncle, carrying on a tradition from his great-grandfather, who was a famous martial artist.
In his own life, Feng Zhiqiang became more than a martial artist through his own self-cultivation and insights into the larger world of Chinese health and philosophy. This process gave him a deeper understanding of martial arts and lifted him to higher levels.
I had heard about Feng for many years from his students and other martial artists, but didn’t meet him until he came to the U.S. in 2001, invited by disciples in San Francisco (Zhang Xuexin), Seattle, WA, and Champaign, IL (Yang Yang Ph.D.).
I met him in Champaign and found him very impressive and expressive. He appeared to be about 5’9” or 5’10,” solidly built. I was told that he liked to eat. He had long arms and an open face, very expressive. He handled himself as if he was very comfortable and could handle any situation.
During the seminars, he gave talks, taught exercises and was very generous with his time and insights.
In the interview with me (see article about his teachings) he was very cooperative and informative through the interpreters, Yang Yang and Chun Man Sit.
What impressed me about his responses was that he wasn’t talking just technique or winning and losing. He was talking about the processes of the energies, the heart and mind and how to nurture them.
Improving health was a major concern. He wanted people to improve and protect their health. Yet he was a formidable fighter if he had to fight. I told him I had heard that he was famous for his strength and skill and he replied that there are many higher mountains.
One of his students was Gao Fu, who lived and taught for a number of years in Seattle, where I interviewed her.
She was a wonderful woman in her 80’s who suffered after the Communists’ Revolution because she came from a well to do family. She went to a Beijing park and studied Yang style Tai Chi with an older teacher, who never missed a day, even when it was snowing.
When he died, she started learning from Feng Zhiqiang and would practice in his class in the morning and then practice in the afternoon in the park by herself achieving a high level of skill.
Feng called his Tai Chi system Xinyi Hunyuan Chen Tai Chi Chuan. It includes elements of Hu Yaozhen’s Xinyi qigong practice as well as the principle of Hunyuan in the Chen style Tai Chi Chuan.
Xinyi refers to heart mind practice and qigong. Hunyuan refers to the circular movements in Tai Chi.
Feng had a different vision for the Chen style than some other teachers.
He felt that fajin could be harmful to the body and should be limited. This is reasonable since many people who learn fajin, learn it before they have developed mature internal strength so their fajin is more external than internal.
Feng said that foot stamping could cause damage to the hip and knee joints. Similarly, if someone has not yet developed internal energy, they are likely to use external strength in foot stamping. It may feel forceful but could result in injury over time.
He didn’t believe in very low postures as they could be harmful to the joints in the body and cause qi to be leaked from the perineum.
Implicit in these views was idea that martial skill and internal energy and strength could be cultivated to a high level even without stamping or low postures.
He also felt slow movement was better than fast. He felt that good extension and springiness were very important.
The good extension meant that the arm should extend without straightening the elbow or knee. Springiness enables one to absorb the opponent’s energy and bounce it back to him. It also nourishes the joints and the internal energy.
One of the primary characteristics of Tai Chi as a martial art is to deflect and divert the opponent’s energy. But it works best if that effort is one of springiness that the opponent cannot easily figure out.
Feng also emphasized the importance of practice and doing practice well in such a way that one constantly learns how to improve it and understand the subtle aspects of Tai Chi as a continual process.
Students should not short change or limit themselves by limiting their practice or doing it in a non-productive way.Practice is not just learning new techniques or implementing “secrets.” It has the potential of changing the body, emotions, mind and spirit.
Robert Thoreau, Milwaukee, WI, who writes about the complexity theory and Tai Chi, has worked for the past 34 years as a licensed clinical therapist and substance abuse counselor.Among his martial arts teachers is Pan Ching Fu and the late Yin Chian Ho.
Yin Chian Ho, who originally came from China, fought against the Communist takeover and fled to Taiwan and eventually to Utah in the USA. He finally ended up in Milwaukee, WI, for his last 14 years before he passed away.
Thoreau studied and learned Wu Style (indoor version), Tai Chi sword, dragon/phoenix double sword, saber, staff, spear, baquazhang, hsing I, and approximately 40 shaolin forms, some with weapons.
Chris Recklies, Youngstown, OH, is a martial arts researcher and historian. He has studied Bagua, Tai Chi and Xingyi for over a decade.
Adrian Chan-Wyles is an independent researcher, and free lance writer in Great Britain. He practices traditional (Hakka) Chinese martial arts, and Yang Style Taijiquan.•