How the Cultural Revolution made me a Taiji teacher
Born to be a doctor, it was the Cultural Revolution that made me a professional Taiji teacher. Here is my story.
Teaching Taijiquan in FuXing park
On May 1st, it was very good weather and I took my son ZhengYu to FuXing park. In the park we met a group of people most of whom I had met before in Prof. Yao's home. One of them, Zhang KaiYu1, lived in Prof. Yao's home helping other students of Yao to correct their positions in Taijiquan form. We did not know each other as we had not studied together, but some of the others such as Mr. Hu and Mr. Zhang knew me, because we studied with Prof. Yao on the same evenings. They were speaking to me and one of them said "Young Shen, can you demonstrate what you know to Mr. Zhang?" For a long time I had not had a teacher to help me correct the form, so I liked the idea, and got permission from Mr. Zhang.
I wanted him to see my Taijiquan level, so I really did my best. Afterwards everybody said it was good. Previously I had often practised pushing hands with Mr.Hu, so he asked me to demonstrate this with him. Afterwards many people asked me to teach them Taijiquan, and the next weekend I began, teaching the Taijiquan I had learnt from Yao. When I think back, I can see that this demonstration must have been a key. It caused me to begin researching deeply into Taijiquan and from this, I was to discover how I could use Taiji forces professionally to heal illness.
I was very lucky because below the window of my bedroom was a private park belonging to the FuXinZhong villa where an English director of a shipping company lived. After the Korean War, he had to leave China and the park was incorporated into the police grounds. But because of the Cultural Revolution, the policemen who lived there before were sent to rural areas to do manual labour, and just a few children were left behind. So for four years I was able to use that park every day for teaching. I was only 27 at that time. Most students were older than me; only 12 were younger (most of them were about 20 years older). My daughter Shen Jin was only 11 years old when she joined; the youngest in the group.
Mr. Zhang YiQun came to see me every day. Some of Prof.Yao's students brought their sons to study with me, such as Zhou ReiZheng. His father was a high-level student of Prof. Yao's. I also had students of Master Dong SiZou (the best student of Prof. Yao) coming, and some of them sent their sons, for example Wu LiuMing. If I could contact such people again now, I would like to bring them to the West to teach. Not only students of Prof. Yao came to study, but also students of the Yang style and other styles too. Some teachers brought their students to study with me. One was 72-year-old Master Tang XianShen, a student of Yang ChenFu. He had studied Taijiquan for 40 years and been teaching Taijiquan for more than 30 years. He brought all of his students to me and said "I was not lucky enough to study with Master Yao, but today I am still lucky to be able to study with Young Shen".
In fact, at that time I did not understood Taijiquan very well, but what Master Tang said pushed me to practise more. I was not arrogant, I knew I still had a lot to learn and each day I came to understand Taijiquan more and more, and reached a higher level. This is one of the reasons why this group quickly increased from ten to 300 students.
In those days I was teaching Yao form Taijiquan, pushing hands and the free fighting of Taijiquan. Older students studied Taijiwuxigong, and because people liked the spontaneous movement, many younger students joined Taijiwuxigong too. Sometimes during this period I also gave Buqi treatments and acupuncture courses.
Knowledge really came from practising, although it had been given a good foundation by many high level teachers. In fact, while I was teaching, my students were also teaching me, especially during pushing hands and free fighting. I got the chance to practice with a great number of different people. They helped me in my research of Taiji forces. So I often tell people "during the Cultural Revolution, in this private park, I finished my Taijiquan University studies."
At that time I had people coming every day to try pushing hands or free fighting. A master must always accept a fight, and the most difficult thing is that you must always win but must never harm your opponent or cause him to have an accident. Today I think this kind of competition is unequal. The opponent is not restricted in any way. It does not matter if he is 3 times taller, or 3 times heavier, or if you are tired - you must always accept the challenge and fight. Also, he can use any technique whereas you may only use the Taijiquan techniques. Opponents were unknown and hoped to win in order to give themselves name and fame. If a master lost, he would lose everything - I was lucky and never lost once.
I was not born to lose. I practiced really hard, I admit. But there was also the fear of being taken by the Red Army people to drive me on. We had to be constantly prepared because at any time they could come and get us. They would catch people in what is literally called the 'fly the airplane-position2', drag them into the streets to humiliate them, torture and even kill them. Every day I practiced this position with my younger students: they would grab me from behind, and I developed total freedom in the shoulder joints and strong force to escape the attack. I also practiced a lot to develop my 'empty force'3. After a few years however, I became weary of this kind of life, I felt that life had more value, and that keeping good health is more important than winning a fight. From then on I taught Taijiquan only a little, and focussed mainly on teaching Taijiwuxigong.