Article Wang Yen Nien

In Amsterdam I was part of a taijiquan training group who trained on Friday evening from eight till eleven and then again the next morning from eight thirty till one o’clock. We did standing exercises, the hand form, sword form and pushing hands. Our teacher was Kwee Swan Hoo who was a student of dr Chi Chiang Tao who learned with Cheng Man Ching in Taipei. We also invited teachers from abroad like William CC Chen and Benjamin Lo and because of that we erected an association called the STN. In 1981 Hoo was informed that Wang Yen Nien would come to Le Mans in France in Octobre. I had studied the book of Robert Smith called “Master and Methods” and was very much interested in the chapter about Wang Yen Nien who had been the first taiji teacher of Robert. Wang Yen Nien and Cheng Man Ching were brothers in the art since they both learned from Zhang Qinlin.
Four of our training group could make the time free to make the long travel to Le Mans to participate in the Michuan taiji workshop about form and also pushing hands. We were of course especially interested in the pushing hands part. The workshop organisers also provided a hotel for the participants who came from far so we traveled the evening before. We arrived at the workshop hall and started to register for all the classes including the pushing hands which seemed to be okay since our French was not that good. All of a sudden however somebody interfered who spoke good English and seemed to be in charge. He said that we first had to study the form and that only people who know the form could register for the pushing. Of course we started to argue saying that we had our own form and that we belong to a pushing hands group in Holland but the Frenchman in a kind of arrogant way kept on saying that we could not participate. We kept on arguing in an equal arrogant way that we really wanted to do the pushing hands and that we belonged to the top pushers in Holland and that we specially came for the pushing hands. The Frenchman looked at us for a moment and then said: “Oke let’s do some pushing to see if you can enter the pushing hands class” I was the first person to be tested and I was a bit irritated so I really wanted to get the guy but to my surprise I had no chance what so ever. Also, on several occasions, I felt he could have badly damaged me, even broken my back if he had continued his movement. I had never felt that before so I was impressed. The second person was Rob Völke who, at that time, could bend backwards until his head almost touched the ground and come up again. With this ability, Rob was able to yield to a strong push and pull the Frenchmen once. Maerle Willeumier and Erich Völke did as bad as I did, so I sat aside on a low bench being very disappointed thinking, “Well no pushing hands for us.” To my surprise however the unbeatable Frenchmen let us participate in the pushing hands class saying that at least we gave him some trouble. Later that day we realised that this guy was Serge Dreyer, top student of Wang Yen Nien in Taipei and several times pushing hands champion in Taiwan and the one who took the challenges against the school of Wang Yen Nien. Through time, I started to appreciate both his opinion and his ability and attended his workshops for many years.

The workshop in Le Mans organised by Serge Dreyer was about to start and I was a bit anxious I remember to meet a real master in taijiquan. Wang Yen Nien came in dressed in a white Chinese suit and I loved him on the spot. His appearance seemed very gentle to me and I liked the way he smiled and the gleam in his eyes. I had not anticipated that Wang did not speak English so everything had to be translated by Serge Dreyer who seem to speak fluent Chinese. Wang would say one sentence and Serge translated that into three or more sentences. I remember wondering whether or not Chinese is a very condensed language or that French is using so many words or that the translator was translating more then was being said. The form workshop was a bit unusual for us since everything was done from the back foot keeping the front heel from the floor. A lot of time was spend on loosening exercises and I do remember one exercise in particular. On the left back leg the body is turned to the left side with left arm pointed back wards and the right arm pointing forwards. Then the body is turned to the right while sinking in the back leg, the arms drop and are lifted again but now the left arm is forward and the right arm backward. Next movement is coming slightly up in he back leg while turning to the left, dropping and changing the arms so that the first position is attained again. This process is continued for several minutes to maybe half an hour (it felt that way sometimes). With Ben Lo and my own teacher Hoo I was used to a deep posture which would cause burning in my legs after some time. Then the teacher would correct the stance which would always be a bit deeper and as a result much more burning in the legs quite often beyond endurance so instead of accepting the correction I would physically come up after the correction and shake my legs. In general of course  I had to stay down in that low position with only one thing in my mind and that was up instead of down so I was not exactly sinking the qi, it was more rising qi. In the exercise with Wang however I had my first experience of really sinking my body, my feeling and my mind into the ground. This was because I was allowed to rise and sink in the (back) leg so my muscles would not get too sore and my mind was free and I was amazed to feel how my feelings and my mind could go the ground even while coming up physically in the leg. In the Yang style lineage of CMC and especially Ben Lo the stance had to stay on one level with only one exception of “snake creeps down”. You can image that I was enthusiastic  by this discovery. On the Saturday evening there was a demonstration by Wang Yen Nien and some of his advanced students (Charles Li)  in a theatre which created the chance for me to make a lot of pictures. The light was not optimal and somehow the film developer  made it worse so the pictures are a bit red.
I was impressed by the demonstration of the staff by Wang. The movements looked pretty simple but they were performed with such a strong concentration, focus and power that I had not seen in his performance of the hand and sword form which were more dominated by being relaxed and calmness.
Wang’s first book was for sale on the spot and Wang would signed it together with the sound of your own name in Chinese characters. I still have that book of course

The next workshop with Wang Yen Nien was in November in Paris. We went again and now our teacher Hoo was coming as well. One student of  Hoo had an appartment in Paris so that was easy and we used the opportunity to see Paris a bit. In the metro we were pushing a bit while we were walking and I remember that Erich lost his balance on a mean push of me and could just avoid to crash into three police officers who fortunately had to smile a bit on the situation. Later on Hoo was walking with a friend and there were three girls coming behind him and the middle girl with her arm in a  sling put a shawl over Hoo’s bag on his hip. The three of us who were walking behind, saw it and I thought “he strange” but Rob jumped forward and pushed the shawl away and we could see her hand trying to open the bag. The girl furious responded with hitting Rob with her apparently broken arm because she seemed to have more pain because of the blow then Rob. We had to laugh so much that the girls could get away.
The workshop started on a slightly raining a bit cold morning in November and the key to the door seemed to be missing so we understood. More and more people were coming and I remember myself sitting on a big stone. Time was passing and the moment that the workshop should have started we were still outside the building. Some people were talking about getting an axe from a car and smash the door. Others were against it and there was quite some commotion going on. Wang who was standing all that time unobtrusive at the side just stepped forward and moved a little to the right to a small square and started to do his exercises with a small gesture to follow him through these exercises. From the moment he stepped forward the atmosphere changed from hectic to very quiet without him saying a word everybody just followed his movements in that very light rain. Soon the key arrived and I felt a disappointment because it was so beautiful to be there with this man in that amazing atmosphere. Later on in Taiwan I understood that for Wang training outside in any weather was normal.
The other thing that I remember was that at the end of the workshop I wanted to ask Wang something about a certain movement but there was no translator so with gestures I tried to make my point which was not really working out well so I intended to take his hand but his hand had  already left the place where my hand moved towards. I felt stupid and helpless and in awe by such a sensitivity. Unfortunately there was no opportunity to do some free pushing with the master. I do not recall much more from the workshop which was more or less a rehearsal of the Le Mans workshop.

We decided to invite Wang Yen Nien to Holland in October 1983.
The STN needed a translator since nobody of the board spoke Chinese. Kwee Swan Hoo knew Bruno Hardesmeets from his visits to Taiwan. Dutch Bruno was a first year student in Taipei of Wang Yen Nien. Peter Clifford was the back up translator.

The workshop started with a nice demonstration of Wang and some of his students in the famous Kosmos in Amsterdam

In the evening we sat down in the living room of the house where Wang Yen Nien was staying and Wang took up the hand of Erich felt it and said that his qi did not extend all the way to his hand and followed up with a long explanation about qi and taiji. Peter Clifford who was a long time student of Wang grabbed a note book and started to make notes saying that he had never heard Wang talk about these things.

The second time Wang came to Amsterdam was from 23 till 27 of August 1989. By this time the leg of Wang was injured because of a car accident in a taxi I believe. Wang stayed in my house together with Julia Fairchild as a translator and a french lady called Sabine Metzlé. Afterwards we received a big bottle of Champagne by mail from her for the board of the association. Wang was limping a bit and I offered acupuncture treatment for the pain which he accepted to my surprise. Unfortunately I could not take the limping away. Since Wang was staying in my house we got a lot more closer relationship then before and I remember in a cafe in Amsterdam where we had dinner after class that he ordered a cognac so I did too. Wang was a little more quicker in emptying his cognac glass then I was so at a certain moment when I was not paying attention, my still half full glass was all of a sudden empty and his glass was again half full. I looked around because I could not trust my taiji friends as well but one look at Wang’s too innocent face made it clear to me that the master himself had changed the glasses. From that moment on we were stealing things from each other as little boys much to the disapproval of Julia. Even food on our plates was not safe and I must say that Wang was quicker and more clever then I was. It was really great to be with him. The workshop was very well attended but Wang with his injured leg, had to leave much of the practical teaching to Julia who did a good job. Wang explained and demonstrated all the exercises and then let Julia lead the class.

The workshop was about pushing, hand form and the fan form. There was a part about breathing and Wang sat down and people could feel what was happening in the abdomen  and back but I did not understood the translation that well and also I did not have a change to feel what was happening in his body but I can still remember the situation.

In the evening at a dinner with the board of the association Wang invited the STN to become a member of the Tai Chi Chuan Association of the Republic of China, of which he was the president at that time. It fitted into our future plans so we accepted the invitation gladly.
At the end of the workshop I handed over the money in my home to Wang, he gave it to Julia who counted it, then she gave it to Wang who counted it also and then the money went back to Julia who counted it again.

In 1999 on my suggestion William CC Chen was one of the teachers in Rencontres Jasnieres organised by Serge Dreyer. At the same time Wang Yen Nien was having a workshop in Algers so while speaking about it while having a tea before my tent  the idea rose to pay a visit to Wang so we left the camping place together with Bob Lowey who is always responsible for some fun. The drive was a bit longer then anticipated so we arrived just after dinner. I had brought a bottle of cognac as a gift thinking of my adventure in Amsterdam. Wang was sitting at a table full with other people who all left when we arrived so that the old friends could talk. William knew Wang from the pushing hands class at Cheng Man Ching’s place in Taipei. They seem to have fun together and Bob and me went to find some left over food which was still plenty around and meet and talk with some old taiji acquaintances in one of the big party tents who were erected for the occasion.

Last time I saw Wang Yen Nien was in 2000 in Taipei. I had accepted an invitation of William Chen to go with his students to the competition of the Tai Chi Chuan Association ROC. I was not competing so I was looking around and all of a sudden I saw Wang Yen Nien coming in dressed in a black Chinese suit with a flower on the collar and leaning heavely on his walking stick. He recognised me immediately and gave me his beautiful smile. I still cannot speak Chinese and he does not speak English so the communication was a bit limited. We made an appointment to visit his school some days later and he sat down at the VIP place. Finding his school was not that hard because Julia Fairchild had explained over the phone how to get there. Room is scarce in Taipei so the school is not very big. I watched the training and hobbled along with the exercises and talked with Wang whenever possible who was sitting at a table. He said that my exercises were no good which was no surprise to me because I had not trained them for ten years. After the class Wang left and I had a nice dinner with Julia who told me that Wang had developed some idea’s about competition and I really liked those idea’s. In short: There is a small group of pushing hands participants who all in turn push with each other. There are no referee’s only a time keeper and a paper on which every participant could fill in his judgement of the taiji level of his opponent so the participants are the referee’s. The paper should be designed well with the level of relaxation , yielding, fa jin, softness etc. In this way it is not so important anymore who can move the other person but how he or she does it. I still want to introduce this kind of competition as a try out in the official Dutch competition but until now due to my sabbatical period it has not happened yet.

In December 2006 I was again in Taipei and tried to arrange a visit but Wang had to go twice a week to the hospital for kidney dialyse so he was to weak to do an interview.

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