Interview with Master WenQing Zeng

© 2005 Kung Fu Tai Chi Magazine, reprinted by permission

by PengCheng Chen

Master WenQing Zeng won the championship at the Zhuhai International Tai Chi Quan Competition in November 2001, and he is now director of Kung Fu Center of Shizhushan Scholar and Kung Fu School in Fuqing, Fujian, China. On May 8, 2004, PengCheng Chen traveled to Fuqing City and had the honor of sitting down with him. The following is that interview.

PengCheng Chen: “What style did you first study? Could you tell something about your early age of kung fu history?”

WenQing Zeng: “I first studied ChangQuan, or the Long Fist kung fu which was popular in my hometown, Xian, Xiangxi. I trained under my Sifu, NeiHui Wang, for a total period of eight years. My Sifu settled down in Xian from other place. My Sifu was an upright man. Though he was small, he was a highly skilled kung fu master. He had a strong love of kung fu throughout his life. I began my training with my Sifu at the age of eight, when I was in my second year in the primary school. At that time, I was a weak and timid boy. Very often, I was bullied by the school children who were older and stronger. One day, my father said to me, “You shall do some exercises so that you will be strong.” Later he got me a kung fu master, and in this way I began my journey into the kung fu world. Whenever I was free, I rode in my old bicycle and headed toward the countryside where my Sifu lived. I was born into a poor family and I didn’t have enough money to pay for my kung fu lessons. So instead I brought my Sifu a bundle of firewood each time. When I started my training. I was small and weak. So among a group of my strong kung fu brothers, I was inconspicuous. In spite of this, my Sifu loved me very much. One evening, having observed our daily routines, he told my kung fu brothers that I would succeed in my kung fu. I studied the routines for the first seven years. Sometimes, I did some demonstrations as required, which drew favorable responses. It was not until one day when I competed with another kung fu man who was from another school that I realized that I didn’t know how to use my kung fu. In other words, I had no ideas about fighting. After the competition, my kung fu brothers gathered around and made remarks. My kung fu brothers said that I should have won the game since I performed well in both my daily routines and demonstration. My Sifu sat next to me, keeping silent. The next day, my Sifu said to me,” I pass on the PaiZiShou to you.” PaiZiShou was a combination of a series of movements, specially designed for fighting. The PaiZiShou was the essence of my Sifu’s kung fu. It was very practical and effective. My Sifu trained me PaiZiShou for one year and I came to have an overall view of fighting. Actually, I often conquered my opponents by using the PaiZiShou techniques. In retrospect, what happened to me reflects the prevailing phenomena in the martial arts community in China. The masters, in some sense, show a conservative attitude towards their kung fu.”

Chen: ” What do you benefit from your Sifu, NeiHui Wang?”

Master: “First of all, I would like to mention his great character, his patience, kindness and uprightness and also his devotion to kung fu. In addition to those, I would like to thank my Sifu for his passing the PaiZiShou techniques to me. As far as I know, among the group of my kung fu brothers, I am the only lucky student to whom my Sifu taught the PaiZiShou techniques. I still remember quite clearly that on the day he taught me the PaiZiShou techniques, he asked me to practice stealthily and not to show my skills easily.”

Chen: ” Except from teaching or demonstration on the stage, have you ever used your kung fu in the real life, fighting for something important in your life?”

Master: “At the age of 23, invited by a big family in Xiashan, Chaoyang, Guangdong Province, I set up a kung fu center of my own, beginning to give sanda (the free boxing) lessons to my students. However, many local martial artists belittled this form of kung fu, claiming that it was not the real kung fu and it was just something associated with the gymnastics, being not effective for fighting. Many martial artists challenged us. I ignored them at the very beginning. The rumor grew day after day, and then one day one of my students could bear it any more and he approached me and said, “Sifu, let me fight.” I persuaded him to keep calm. At last, I accepted the challenge, bearing in mind that if I failed through, I would pack my personal belongings and go back to the place where I came from. The first man who challenged me was studying the Southern Style. After reaching the agreement that the loser would unilaterally bear the outcome of the fight, injury or something worse, we began the fight. It was not a good fight since we fought with bare hands and we did not wear the protective gears. Comparing to the competition on the stage, it was much crueler. Fortunately, I quickly put an end to the game, knocking over the opponent to the ground. After the fight, I won a quick reputation and gained a footing there.

Chen: ” I was told that you won the championship at the Zhuhai International Tai Chi Quan Competition in 2001. What style did you do for the competition?”

Master: “I did the ZhaoBao Tai Chi Quan, a very ancient and traditional Tai Chi Quan.”

Chen: ” What are the most distinguishing features of the ZhaoBao Tai Chi?”

Master: “The legend has it that the ZhaoBao Tai Chi was founded by SanFeng Zhang, a great Taoist. Therefore, the ZhaoBao Tai Chi was thoroughly governed by the philosophy of the Taoism or the principle of the way. The philosophy of the Taoism highly values the concept of WuWei (literally means letting things take their own course). In ZhaoBao Tai Chi, it refers to the state of being natural. In training, avoid thinking that you are studying something that enables you to fight. What you bear in mind is that you just describe some movements that your Sifu has taught you and you feel good by doing so. In the ZhaoBao Tai Chi, there exists a saying: WuYuZeGang (????), which literally means that “bearing no desires produces the power.” Avoid struggling for what you want or striving for the state or level you want to reach. When you abandon all and desire for nothing, what you want begins to emerge. It is there. Your movements shall be like the clouds in the sky. When there is no wind, the clouds gather up. When the wind blows, the clouds scatter away. Nothing against the nature. The techniques obtained in this way are very natural, nothing artificial. When being applied, they are executed in a natural way as well, being very suitable for the actual fighting. For example, when doing push-hands, being sticky to the counterpart naturally – quite often – gives rise to some techniques that my Sifu has never told me about. They are something coming out of the nature, something produced by the principle.

Another distinguishing factor is that there is no “root” in the ZhaoBao Tai Chi. Root refers to the crouching work that trains the stable footwork. A ZhaoBao Tai Chi practitioner has to move his footwork all the time. He has to learn how to keep balance when he moves. So the footwork of the ZhaoBao Tai Chi is very light and floating. In the ZhaoBao Tai Chi, this kind of footwork is also known as the moving crouching. Avoid remaining in the same place and taking root. This philosophy comes from the fact that in the actual fighting, all the opponents you face are moving all the time. They won’t stay in the same place. So you have to learn how to conquer them when you are moving.”

Chen: ” The demonstration you did just before this interview showed that you kept describing circles, either the flat or the vertical ones, which required not only the contribution of your hands and feet, but also that of your torso. I could feel that your energy moved through your torso. This is quite different from other forms of Tai Chi; what is the purpose of these movements, either for the health-keeping or for the fighting?”

Master: “This movement shows the path that the internal energy goes. When you release the energy, you have to use other parts of the body, not just your hands or your feet. For instance, when the opponent delivers a punch towards your belly, you can draw in your belly to dissolve his energy and then your energy will go through the torso and reach your hands via the shoulders and then you can fight back immediately. When you do this, you are describing a vertical circle and this vertical circle gives you a powerful energy, which is not generated only by the hands, but your body. Additionally, it also benefits the entire internal organs as well. By moving the torso regularly, the qi of the internal organs is made in order and flows freely. In this way, the “root” of your body is trained and fortified and then it grows stronger and stronger day after day.”

Chen: ” All the martial artists who study the Tai Chi Quan pay great attention to the state of being soft or being relaxing. What’s your understanding of it and how do you manage to do it?”

Master: “I would like to mention my experience in Zhuhai City, China. Just a few days before the competition, I was sick and I suffered from diarrhea. I had to keep training as usual since the competition was approaching. One morning, I trained together with my kung fu brothers in a park. There was a Tai Chi Master there. After having seen our demonstrations, he said to me, “Among those, you do the best.” I told him in truth that I was suffering from diarrhea and I felt weak and I just described some movements at random. He replied, “That is the right feeling.” Later, I pondered his words and realized that he was right. I felt good when I did the Tai Chi in that way. My mind was clear and I was completely free of stress. So this feeling of lacking strength by suffering from diarrhea can bring you to the state of complete relaxation.”

Chen: ” How to master the energy in the Tai Chi push hand?”

Master: “Tai Chi push-hand is an exercise in which you can feel the energy and detect the opponent’s intention. There is one principle that you have to follow, that is ???,???. ???,??? (which literally means that if the opponent keeps still and has no intention to start an attack, you follow him by doing the same; if the opponent is ready to launch an attack, you have to take a timing action just before his releasing the energy so that you can control him). The most important thing is to detect the opponent’s real intention. Take the motor for instance. You won’t get hurt if you stop the motor when it is just beginning to move. But if you try to stop the motor when it is working normally, your attempt will definitely be a failure.

Chen: ” How can you know the real intention of your opponent or your counterpart?”

Master: “You have to study his breathing. A good command of this technique promises the victory. When the opponent breathes in, you can immediately release the energy and push forward, since at this time the opponent is in an unfavorable condition. Though his hands keep moving normally and it seems that nothing is changing, his inner organs are experiencing something different. They are drawing in. The opponent is not able to release the energy at this point. When the opponent breathes out, you have to be careful since at this point, he is ready to start an attack. You can take the initiative by launching a sudden attack when the opponent is just beginning to release the energy, so that his energy is halted in the half way. In exercises, you have to make preparations for the faints or you may get trapped. However, the opponent feels and detects your energy as well. So the victory depends on who senses more subtly and who has a better command of the energy.”

Chen: ” How is the principle WuWei embodied in the fighting techniques in the ZhaoBao Tai Chi?”

Master: “In ZhaoBao Tai Chi, you are required to follow the opponent. This means that both your force and the opponent’s force go in the exactly same line. For instance, the opponent punches or pushes towards you; you can stick your hand to his coming hand and then go with it. When the opponent is in the utmost of his power, you can keep him off balance by simply dragging him backward. So the opponent will suffer the combined forward force – one generated from his ongoing attack, the other comes from your energy. So in push-hand exercise, those who compete with the ZhaoBao Tai Chi practitioners quite often have such a feeling that they are not conquered by their counterparts. Instead, they feel that they are just not careful and they cannot control their movements properly. When losing the game, they are unwilling to submit since they feel no energy or force against them. They often feel very strange and mysterious and the techniques confronting them are very clever. All of these come out of the nature. No trace of artificiality can be found.”

Chen: ” Does the ZhaoBao Tai Chi attach a great importance to the “door” in the actual fighting, which means that it teaches the practitioner to fight on the basis of being safe?”

Master: “No. Quite the contrary, it keeps the “door” open. There are two fighting principles. One is to keep the “door” closed, fighting against the opponent outside the “door.” Under this circumstance, the safety is the first consideration. The other is to keep the “door” open. It lures the opponent in and then tries to trap the attacker in the “door.” It is also known as “Closing the door, beating the dog.” So in ZhaoBao Tai Chi, the weak points are often deliberately exposed, and it seems that the opponent is given a great many good opportunities. However, the trap is well prepared. So if the opponent enters the “door,” the Ying and Yang begin to change.”

Chen: ” As far as I know, the essence of Tai Chi Quan can be echoed in four words, which are fu, gai, tun, tu (?, ?, ?,?). How do you understand these four words?”

Master: “[SMILING].I will briefly talk about the first two words. First word fu (?) refers to the touching of hands on those of your opponent. Let me give you an example. Suppose that you are a doctor and you will apply a plaster to the patient whose wound is sore. You have to stick the plaster to his wound without letting him feel painful. So the main technique is to do it lightly. In Tai Chi, it means that you have to touch your opponent’s hand very lightly, just like the soft feather landing on the ground. Take the push-hand for example: though you touch your opponent’s hands, the opponent has no feeling that you pose as a threat to him since your hands are soft and they seemingly have no power. In this way, it makes the opponent hard to detect your potential changes. The word fu (?) also means that your hand adhere to your opponent and then go with his movements. Wherever he goes, you follow, just like the shadow following the body.”

Chen: ” Apart from being light, is there any technique that helps you apply the plaster to the patient without letting him feel painful?”

Master: “To achieve the satisfactory result, the first important is to be light. The other is to distract his attention. Make a feint in the east while actually attacking in the west. Don’t let the patient notice that you are applying the plaster to the wound.”

Chen: ” What about the other word, gai (?)?”

Master: “The word gai (?) literally means “shroud.” Using the two hands to shroud your opponent. Whatever he does or wherever he goes, he is always under your control. Your opponent is like the bird getting trapped in the cage. There is no means for him to escape the “cage” that you build.”

Chen: ” How can you keep the bird in your cage?”

Master: “For example, when you push or punch toward me, I will raise one of my hands and then stick to your attacking hand and then go with it. At the same time, I will move the other hand to your elbow. When one of my hands drags you forward, the other hand drives you as well in the same way that I am driving the flocks. Therefore you are given no way to retreat. Of course, alternatively, I can push you forward as well and both hands work in the same way.”

Chen: ” Many martial artists often try to compete with others, which is not for the fighting, but for the improvement of the techniques. Does this kind of thing happen in your life?”

Master: “Yes, very often. It is an important phase in the long road of kung fu. Some concepts of the principle or the techniques can only be sensed and then understood in the person-to-person competition in reality. I spent one and half a year in Shanghai. During my stay in Shanghai, I competed with others in a friendly way almost every day. Whenever I came to know the skilled Tai Chi masters, I would set out to find them and then practiced and exchanged the skills with them. The friendly competition was done in free push-hand in which we could strike, punch, elbow and some other techniques. This friendly competition often lasted for the whole morning. I often competed with several masters in the mornings. I sweated a lot and the dress was wet. They all said that I seemed to have an endless power and I never felt tired. Sometimes, I was hit in the head or in the chest by the masters in the competition, but I didn’t keep this in my heart and nurse the hatred. It didn’t matter. It was very normal. Actually, I was delighted. I just loved kung fu, loved the feeling. I was a kung fu enthusiast. Through the competition, I experienced the different techniques and felt the diverse energy of the masters. It was very helpful. I realized that I was improving day after day.”

Chen: ” Suppose that in push-hand exercise two players are well matched in terms of strength and skill; what is the most important factor that brings on the victory?”

Master: “One has to wait. Wait for the chance that you may get when you detect the real attention of your counterpart. The final victory is bestowed to whoever can keep calm. People are always told to win the game, to be the Number.One. They have a burning desire for the victory. You have to abandon your flaming desire in either the exercise or the fight. Put the victory in the second place. What you need to keep in mind is that you are just doing the exercise and you try to remedy your weak points and keep yourself intact. Avoid being impatient. Should you be impatient, you may expose your weak points that you often neglect. So try to be patient and keep calm and then you can seize the opportunity.”

Chen: ” From whom did you benefit most for your Tai Chi?”

Master: “The Grand Master DeCheng Ma (???) in Shanghai. The Grand Master DeCheng Ma is a Hui people and he enjoys a good reputation for his kung fu in Shanghai. Most of my current knowledge of Tai Chi comes from the Grand Master DeCheng Ma. The Grand Master DeCheng Ma has been nice to me. He often gave me a whole-morning lesson, and sometimes in the afternoon we remained in the park where he fed me the techniques in person, and then he explained the application of the techniques in details. It is my luck to meet the Grand Master DeCheng Ma. I feel very indebted to him.”

Chen: ” I was told that you and your Sifu, the Grand Master DeCheng Ma, and your kung fu brothers staged an open challenge for Tai Chi push-hand in Shanghai in September 2003. Could you tell us something about the open challenge?”

Master: “We initially staged the open challenge for seven days, but it suspended at the fifth day due to various reasons. Actually, on the first day of the open challenge, the public security police came and asked us to quit since it was organized in the non-governmental way without the official permission. They feared that a fight might occur during the open challenge and the participants would be hurt since the open challenge was presented in Tai Chi push-hand (free style), in which we could use every technique to conquer the opponent. A number of famed martial artists came and accepted the challenge during these five days. It drew a great response in the martial arts circle in Shanghai and it received opinions of all sorts as well. Since the first day when we drove out to post the announcements, many people held up their thumbs, appraising us for our martial art spirit. However, to be honest, the response from the martial arts world was quite negative and they gave it a cold welcome. Some said we were arrogant. Some said we just fished for fame. Some martial artists even claimed that such an open challenge might be a result of our Sifu’s intention to win a fast-spread fame.”

Chen: ” Why did you stage such an open challenge?”

Master: “We intended to have our kung fu tested and took the chance to meet more skilled masters as well. Just as the Grand Master DeCheng Ma said, a real martial artist should take up a serious attitude of kung fu. Kung fu is not something on the mouth; it needs testing in the real world. We often hear that someone is good at kung fu and he boasts wonderful techniques. However, whether his techniques are effective cannot be proved in some sense, since if there is one, his competition with others may be carried out in a quite friendly way that often gives too much imagination to the potential changes or moves. Only competing in a thorough way can we get to know whether the techniques are really effective or not, and the conditions in which we use them. The Grand Master DeCheng Ma often told us that the journey into the kung fu world had no end, in which we should be serious about it and we should never pretend to know what we did not know.”

Chen: ” Keeping the opponent unbalanced is highlighted in every style of kung fu. For example in Tai Chi push-hand, what is the key technique that enables you to unbalance your counterpart?”

Master: “I would like to mention the ZhunTou (??), which means the direction of the energy. It is the most important and the most difficult technique to master. One of the key techniques to master the ZhunTou is that your energy shall go in the same line with that of your counterpart. The first way is that your energy is going exactly opposite to that of your counterpart in the same line. You can release your energy to launch an attack just as the energy of your counterpart is in the early stage. Take an example, the energy of your counterpart is 40 pounds and your energy is 50 pounds. When two energies meet together, your counterpart will bounce backward just like he is crashing into a steel wall, since you are more powerful than he. Under this circumstance, he suffers 40 pounds of energy of his own and hurts himself. In other words, he is attacking himself. The other way is to make your energy go in the same direction with your counterpart in the same line. Take an example once more, when your counterpart strikes towards you and his energy is supposed to be 40 pounds, you can deflect his attack first and make the attacking hand land empty. You then go your hands with the coming hand of your counterpart in the same direction and release your energy to make an attack, and your energy is supposed to be 40 pounds as well. Under this circumstance, your counterpart will be thrown forward and he will suffer 80 pounds of energy from both you and himself. Comparing with other technique, it is quite clever and very effective. So if you master the ZhunTou of your counterpart, you can easily unbalance him, and your counterpart will suffer a feeling of being thrown away or rushing forward with a sudden. When I did the push-hand with the Grand Master DeCheng Ma, I suffered this feeling as well. In the very beginning, I felt strange and it seemed that my thinking was disrupted. I had been failing to stand firm. To be honest, I felt afraid to continue the practice. However, every time, the Grand Master DeCheng Ma stood there, smiling and looking at me without a word. In fact, the Grand Master DeCheng Ma found my ZhunTou.”


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