About Yao Zongxun
Posted by Andrzej Kalisz on October 04 2013 16:57:35

A speech made at Yiquan conference commemorating master Yao Zongxun in 2007


Anyone practicing yiquan knows about Yao Zongxun, his life and achievements. We will not quote all this here. Today we want to look from different point of view at his contribution to establishing martial science thought and  to modernizing teaching methods, and to consult our opinions with fellow practitioners.

Greatness and obstacles


Talking about Yao Zongxun we must mention his two mentors: Hong Lianshun and Wang Xiangzhai. I want to say something about Hong Lianshun – it was really exceptional in the old society, that a man teaching wushu for living, after being defeated by Wang Xiangzhai, would tell his students about this and would tell them to change teacher. This was a great power able to breach old habits and customs. Among the stories from history of yiquan, the one of Hong Lianshun impresses us most. Without his generous attitude Yao Zongxun would had not start learning from Wang Xiangzhai. So Yao Zongxun treated Hong Lianshun as his own father and was taking care of him until Hong's last days.


We need to stress that forming of Yao Zongxun's character was mainly influenced by Hong Lianshun's example, while from Wang Xiangzhai he received the highest level martial science. Those two masters had set the best examples of character and knowledge to him. This created basis for his struggling against big waves in his life, for moving forward under really unfavourable conditions, teaching and developing yiquan, inheriting from the past and inspiring successors.


Successor and rebel


In the culture thousands years old, also martial arts follow some fixed tracks and it is difficult to make change. Establishing of yiquan was like a camel suddenly appearing among a herd of sheep. It seemed to be too much different. People became used to some common ideas, so when you told someone that you practiced wushu, he would ask you for demonstrating some taolu – fixed set of movements. Until now it is quite difficult for an yiquan practitioner to explain to someone what he is doing, and there are no taolu to demonstrate. It's something so different from what most people know. The establishing of yiquan meant destroying those prevailing ideas about martial arts. At that time it caused a lot of  disscussion.


The „rebellion” by both Wang Xiangzhai and Yao Zongxun actually had a basis in inherited  tradition. It was not „a stream without source”. The traditional culture provided them with great benefits, but they moved further, beyond traditional culture. This was influenced and inspired by new culture movements at the end of empire and beginning of republic, and by western martial arts being brought to China. When the traditional and the modern met, naturally something new  developed. Wang Xiangzhai was engaged in the physical culture. He was inteligent, insigtful and he had a deep foundation in traditional wushu. He was seriously studying new things, absorbing them and synthesizing, becoming a pioneer, opening a new era in the development of wushu. Later Yao Zongxun took over, providing further contribution to developing yiquan and yiquan teaching methods.


Missing and inadequate


Wang Xiangzhai's merits are obvious, and we will not talk much about it here. Talking about missing and inadequate might seem a heresy and lack of respect, but in fact it is not. Only by maintaining scientific attitude in studying and seeking the truth we can make our yiquan develop. We should listen to the opinions of others, otherwise we will keep repeating the mistakes of the past.


The missing and inadequate refers to many systems which appeared after establishing of yiquan. A martial artist having his ideas is creating some teaching system. The longevity of the system depends on how good it is. Through many years of studies we have discovered that altough Wang Xiangzhai's skill level was very high, his teaching and training method was not extremely good. This was the issue left for Yao Zongxun to resolve. 


Everybody knows, that in the first stage of teaching yiquan by Wang Xiangzhai, almost all of his students had martial arts background already. Zhao Daoxin, Bu Enfu, Zhang Entong and others were already know as high level experts in all China before learning yiquan, and thanks to Wang Xiangzhai's teaching they were able to achieve still higher levels of skill. None of those famous students known for great achievements started from learning yiquan. How to improve the training system was an issue worrying Wang Xiangzhai his whole life. He was leading students to researching constantly, testing things which often led to disapproving them, then researching again and developing something and again disapproving some things. He was a human, not a god – he provided us with a lot of wealth, but also left some problems to solve. 


After Wang passed away, Yao Zongxun took over the responsibility, and commited his life to this work, no matter what problems and hardships appeared. On the basis what he inherited, he was further continuing studies. Many yiquan friends constantly repeated, that something was lacking, but what actually? This was the inadequacy of the training system. And Yao Zongxun put effort to explaining and translating the contents of yiquan in such a way that next generation could have more complete training system.


Experience and regret


We mentioned some problems already. For example Wang Xiangzhai's teaching stopped at the stage of using expressions like „fist no fist, mind no mind, in no mind there is true mind”, „one side drum, one side swing”, „springs everywhere in whole body”.  Those were expressions difficult to understand by others, related to personally experienced feeling and insight resulting from this. You can find them in „The central pivot of the way of fist” („Theory of dachengquan). Most of his descriptions relate to subjective perception, and there is lack of description of actual training methods. For example how to quantify some basic training methods? Contemporary physical culture demands using language of quantifying, language more precise, more scientific, more standardized. I think that what was restricting the development of chinese wushu was: 1 – lack of unified training rules, 2 – lack of unified competition rules. Wang Xiangzhai was limited by conditions of his times. But Yao Zongxun realized this and was working hard to resolve those problems. He tried to use more standardized language in teaching, so more students could understand aspects like mental training, strength training, training of the feeling of distance, training of reaction etc. This helped many people to understand and practice yiquan. He started making the yiquan training system more scientific and systemized. Beginning of this can be seen in his book. Unfortunately he left us too early. He still had a lot of ideas which he didn't manage to put in life. Talking about Yao Zongxun, just stressing how many opponents he defeated means not seeing all of his achievement. He made a heavy imprint on the history of chinese wushu, leaving a big treasure for us.


Authors: Cui Fushan, Shi Guofu

Translated from chinese by: Andrzej Kalisz