Liang De Hua Interview: At the sources of the Yang style

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Liang De Hua (Leung Tak Wah) was born in Hong Kong and has been living in Thailand since the age of 8.
His father was from Foshan so when Liang De Hua was a child practiced the Hung Gar and Wu Taijiquan style.
At the age of 23 Liang discovered his interest in Taijiquan through some teachers of this martial art met at the university. He later traveled to China where he became an inner disciple of Gu Lisheng‘s lineage through the Master Chi Qingsheng. (Gu Li Sheng was an inner student of Yang Shaohou and Yang Chengfu.)
Today Liang De Hua teaches in Thailand and travels in Europe, America and Asia to teach Taijiquan through workshops and private classes.

 


SIFU LIANG DE HUA INTERVIEW

Hello Mr Liang, can you please introduce yourself to the readers?
You are Thai with chinese origins, aren’t you? And you are practicing and teaching the Yang familly Taijiquan? How and when did you start this kind of practice?

Hello, my Chinese name is Liang Dehua. I was born in Hong Kong, my father came from Foshan in Canton, (mainland China) and my mother was Thai.
After we got some economic problem in Hong Kong when I was 8, my family moved to Thailand, where I grew up. My father was from Foshan, so he had learned some Hung Gar kung fu and Wu style Taiji Quan from Hong Kong. So I learned these styles when I was young. But after I have a brawl during my high school day, my father decided to stop teaching me.
After I left my home for studying at university, when I was 23 (in 2000), I met some of my Taiji Quan teacher and I start my Taiji career at the university. Later, I also traveled to China to studied more Taiji Quan and some other martial arts from several masters, then I become an indoor disciple of Yang style Taiji in Gu Lisheng lineage (also know as Gu Luping). He was a student of Yang Shaohou and Yang Chengfu. Now I am teaching Yang style Taiji Quan in Thailand and Asia, and I recently start to have workshop around the world.
 

What did first seduce you in the practice of Taijiquan?

At first, when I was young, my father taught me martial art because I had very poor health. At that time I could not even run. After I practiced some martial arts, my health started to get better.
When I was in university first year, I started having some problems with my family. My family was Chinese and they were very strict with Chinese culture, that means I could not say no to whatever they want. So I ran away from them and quite my university studying. I started to live stealing mobile phone data and clone phones, offer them to people who want to call with a cheap price (because at that time phone call in Thailand was very expensive). I also started to learn lockpicking, pocket-picking and many illegal things.
One day I saw a movie about Zhang Sanfeng – It was a kung fu movie that talked about Taiji Quan and also how Zhang Sanfeng changed himself and created Taiji Quan. That movie made me look at myself and helped me to realize that I needed to make some significant changes and try to improve my life. So I started looking for Taiji Quan again. At that time I had some money from my illegal business, and I also sold all my mobile phones to collect some money and went to Bangkok. In Bangkok, there were many Taiji groups in the parks. So, I started by learning Dong Ying Jie style Taiji Quan, that was very popular in Thailand. At the same time, I was looking for someone who can be taught me personally. Several months later, through some recommendation, I have met my first teacher. I lived with my teacher in his store as a worker and learned Taiji Quan from him. After several months he told me that his older cousin would come from China and he recommended me to study with his cousin who becomes my first teacher in Yang Shaohou lineage. I learned many variations of the old Yang family basic frame, small frame, small-fast frame, etc from this teacher. He also taught me the philosophy and some basic knowledge of I Ching, he didn’t  just taught me martial arts but also a life way. After 3 years I start my life again, I went back to university to the Chemical Engineering college. Later, my family was stopped sending me money because financial problem, So I started to teach Taiji in the university and it changed my life again. Since then, I have been teaching and studying Taiji, I go to China every year for continuous learning and after I became an indoor disciple of Yang style Taiji in Gu Lisheng lineage and I started to teach in public and worldwide.

So, I would like to say that I started to learn Taiji Quan because I was looking for something that made my life worth and can changed me in direction of a better life.

 


I have seen that you insist a lot on the Song / 松 quality in your teaching. Can you explain why it is so important to you ?

In Taiji Quan, the most important is not using force. If you use force, it is not Taiji. To train not to use force you have to Song. So, Song is the primary key to the training. Taiji Quan is the internal art, and we need to do less on our external body and focus more on using our internal, such as Yi and Qi. We need to Song to release our tension from the body and let it follow the guidance of the Yi and Qi. So, if we can Song, we can move the body without tension, so our Yi and Qi will move freely through the body. And it will create the quality of Jin without using force in our body too. So I can say, we cannot have Taiji Jin or Taiji power without Song.

 

Do you think that the qualities required to perform a powerful Taijiquan lies in naturalness or, at contrary, on some « unnatural behavior » that people can only get through a dedicated training ?

In Chinese, when we talk about Taijiquan, we often refer to the term “Zi ran” that means “natural”. We must perform every movement of the Taijiquan as naturally as possible. You must be relaxed, open your joints and your whole body, be in line with your mind, breathe naturally, let the Qi come down. But the problem is that we live with bad habits. We use too much muscle strength, we are weakened by too much computer work, we get stressed, which raises the Qi instead of letting it go down and the breath becomes short and jerky. We also do muscle exercises focusing on visible muscles that are not really useful in everyday life.
So, when you start practicing Taijiquan, how do you know what is natural and what is not?
Transforming our unnatural habits, it will feel unnatural. Until we familiar with our natural structure, habit, and feeling, we will know what is natural and can do Taiji in natural ways.
 

Do you practice standing post exercices and, if yes, how important are they to you? How long do you recommand to perform these standing exercices during training sessions?

Posizioni statiche - Maestro Liang De Hua

Yes, I practice them and this is one of the most important aspects in Taijiquan training. In the school of my lineage there are many Zhang Zhuang (or standing post postures). Every posture can train for a different purpose, but mainly they can give some same benefit. They can help us to release tension from our body, to correct our body alignment, stretch our body in all six directions, increase our ability to understand and use the internal components, such as Shen, Yi, Qi, and also help us to sink the Qi to the Dantian.
Zhan Zhang can help us to align our mind with the body and also can fulfill our body with Qi. So they are good for both: martial arts and health.
During the training, I recommend to do it for 20 / 40 minutes, otherwise, if we do it for a short time, will not get enough benefits, but, at the same time, if we do them for too long our body will start to be fatigued and our mind cannot align with our body anymore. Moreover we can hurt our body too.




 

It is said that the two Yang brothers, Yang Shaohou and Yang Chengfu have learned with the same masters, so how do you explain the differences, which seems to be huge, in their two styles?

Forma stile Yang - Maestro Liang De Hua

I can say, they learned the same family stuff. But as I know, in the past there were many variations of the Yang family form. So it can be adapted to fit any personality and skill of the practitioners. That is why if we look to the Yang form in the past from any old masters, most of them were different. We have started to had the standard form since Yang Chengfu public his form on his book, and later also by the government when they created the standard simplify forms.
In the past, every Yang family masters did the same form but differently. So I can say, Yang family masters they had the same basic form, that is the basic long form or slow form, but they did it differently. Both Yang Luchan sons, Yang Banhou and Yang Jianhou, did it with a different variations. Later, Yang Shaohou learned from his uncle Yang Banhou, and Yang Chengfu learned from his father Yang Jianhou, that is why they got a different skill. Since I have learned both Yang Shaohou and Yang Chengfu style, I found that in the basic form, both Yang Chengfu and Yang Shaohou start by the same big frame. The Yang Chengfu form would concentrate more on the slow movements to open the body with a low stance, focus a lot on sinking the Qi, energy is very direct and simple. But the Yang Shaohou form, it looks smaller outside but still full of stretching inside, movements have more circles and hands technique, focus more on the Yi-Qi (Mind and Qi), there are many “8” shape circles both inside and outside and create the Luo Xuan or the screw movements. Yang Shaohou style would concentrate more on the small frame with the fast movements, focus more on Fa Jin, more on hands technique, stepping, and fighting technique. On pushing hands, Yang Shaohou style has more pushing hands forms more than Yang Chengfu style, concentrate more on the stepping pushing hands forms and even more on the free hands and free stepping or Lan Cai Hua. But Yang Chengfu style seems to concentrate more on the fixing step pushing hands and also rooting skill.

 

It seems that the push hand exercises taught in the Yang family have been simplified in many ways, especially when compared to the Wu jianquan lineage. What do you think about it and how do you, personnaly, consider this exercice?

Tui Shou - Maestro Liang De Hua

Formerly the push hands exercise was for training. When we talk about push hands or Tui Shou, it mean push hands forms or push hands sets, not tui shou competition or even free pushing hands. But nowaday, many practitioner not really train the push hands sets. They simplify it to a very simple set or even do it without the push hands sets and turn it to a competition. They try to be good on push hands but not on fighting skill. But actually this is not a purpose of Taiji quan. As some Yang style masters said: “Taiji is a training for health and martial art, not for tui shou”.
Since the pushing hands is a training so we need many push hands sets to train for different purposes. Wu family Taiji came from Yang family, so actually Yang family also has many push hands exercise sets and some of them are also same as Wu family. For example, in my lineage we start by many sets of single push hands exercise, then followed by many set of double hands exercise, then Four-squares push-hands and also with stepping such as three steps back and forth, Five steps (or Plum Blossom) steps, Nine palace steps, Circle steps, then followed by many sets of Da Lu or Large Roll back. All these push hands sets are the training sets to help the practitioners to be familiar with the Taiji circle and all necessary skill such as the sticking energy and the 8 basic energies of Taiji: Peng (ward off), Lu (Roll back), Ji (squeeze), An (Press), Cai (Pluck), Lie (Split) and Kao (Bumps), and also train these all skills with the proper stepping. We needs to be sure that we train all these necessary skills before we going to the free pushing hands with free stepping called Lan Cai Hua or “randomly stepping on flowers on the ground” and San Shou or free sparring. In this way, we can be sure we can maintain what Taiji look like in the free sparring or fighting.

 

Do you practice Fajin within the push hand exercice?

Fajin - Maestro Liang De Hua

Yes, in push hands exercises there are four steps to apply your skills, these are: Ting (Listening), Hua (Neutralizing), Na (Controlling) and Fa (Issuing). So, Fa Jin is the Jin we use at the last state after we can control our opponents and no need to keep sticking anymore. The Fa Jin in push hands is the long Jin (or Jin) that we use it to send opponents away without hurt them. When we apply Fa Jin in pushing hands, it‘s not because we try to Fa and win our partners, on the other hand we need to help each others. We use Fa Jin because we can control our partners from his mistake. When his circles or his energies get error in pushing hands he will be got controlled by Na, this is his mistake, not because we try to push or pull him for Fa Jin. So, this mean we train push hands to improve our correctness on our energies, so we can Ting (Listening) and Hua (Neutralizing) so we are not controlled by our partner.

 

What about the use of the intention (Yi) in your teaching ? How do you train it?

There is saying in Taiji classic, “Yi and Qi are the kings, bone and flesh are the officer”, also “Using Yi, not Li (force)”. These mean we need to use Yi to guide and command our body, when Yi move our body also move.
In my teaching and training, I will use Yi to set the five direction, there are; forward, backward, left, right, and center. When we step with the Yi‘s direction this is stepping forward, when we step in the opposite direction with the Yi this is stepping backward, when we look to the left with the Yi this is looked left, when we looked right with the Yi this is gaze right, we need to always aware of our center this is Zhong Ding, this is what we know as “Wu Bu” or “five steps” in Taijiquan. So the Yi will guide where we are in the space. When I do the form, my Yi move first, to guide where I have to go, then my Yi leads my feeling and also my Qi, the Qi will lead my hands and then my whole body. This will create the internal feeling like the Yi pull me in the direction and move my whole body. My body needs to be Song and sink and let the Yi lead my body, My Yi is active or Yang and my is passive or Yin. By this training, my Yi will become strong until it can command my body, and my body will work follow my Yi until Yi and body can work together, this is what we know as using the Yi but not force.

 

Do you think that there is a difference in the way people were used to train in the past and nowadays?

Yes, I think there are some differences. Yang Chengfu once said, “Taiji is only one”, so, even Taiji separated to many families such as Yang, Wu, Wu/Hao, and Sun, but actually they do the same long-form differently. But nowadays, there are many different new simplify forms, and most of them are only the form without any another training from the Taiji systems.
In the past, they train Taiji both for health and martial arts, so they did many Nei Gong exercises training, but now most we train for health and lag of the martial arts knowledge. Even in China now, most people just train Taiji for health and the forms performance competition.

 


How important is the breath in your practice and teaching?

It is very important, but we do breathe training in a passive way. In some Neigong and Zhan Zhuang exercises, there are some breath training. For example, when we do the Golden Turtle posture, we need to concentrate on breathing through the spine to Ming Men point and our breathing will become the reverse breathing. We don’t need to try to do the reverse breathing, but it will happen after we do breathing correctly in the correct posture.
But when we do the Taiji forms, we will not focus on breathing, if we focus on breathing our Qi or energy will not flow because our Yi or intention on breathing and not send out to lead the Qi to flow. Grandmaster Wu Jianquan the founder of Wu style Taiji also said “when we eat or drink, nobody thinks about controlling the breath and I have never heard anyone will be injured from this. But if I suggest you when you eat or drink you focus and control your breath, and also try to move your Qi, I am sure you will get injurious, this is the easiest way to explain why we don’t need to control our breath in the forms”. So, we do not focus on breathing in the forms. However, even we do not concentrate on breathing, but after a long period of these all training, our breath will become deep, long, and elaborate. It will start to harmonize with our movements in the forms. At this state, you will begin to feel comfortable with breathing and your Qi will flow freely.

 

Original interview in English released by Master Liang De Hua, then translated into French by Emmanuel Agletiner, for the magazine Taichimag No.19.
Versione tradotta in italiano su Energie in Equilibrio da © Valerio Bellone (28 Gennaio 2019).

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