Chen FaKe and Hong Jun Sheng’s Practical Method
As a practitioner of Chen style Taijiquan Practical Method of Hong Junsheng, it is good to find a discussion about my grand teacher. I am also glad other fellow classmates from around the world have begun to contribute to this topic. I think it is also healthy that practitioners of the different lineages of Chen Taijiquan sit down together and respectfully share their views. Chen style Taijiquan is defined by its principles, not its outward appearance. The history of our martial art is defined by innovations by different masters. Chen Changxing united the 7 original forms of Chen Wanting into what we know today as Yi Lu and Er Lu. That is what Chen Changxing taught Yang Luchan. Chen Fake is also know as an innovator since the form that he taught his first group of students in Beijing (referred to as lao jia) is different from what he taught his later students (referred to as xin jia).
Hong Junsheng studied from Chen Fake for a total of 15 years. He was a classmate of Chen Zhaoxu, Pan Yongzhou, Xu Rusheng, and Yang Xiaolou. This was the early class that Chen Fake taught. Hong therefore learned what many refer to as Lao Jia or old frame. He studied everyday with Chen Fake during those 15 years. From stories of Hong from my teacher, and Hongs own writings in the book “Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method”, Hong would always observe his classmates private lessons with Chen Fake before it was his turn for his private lessons. Since Hong did not work, he preferred that his classmates receive their lessons first before they went to work and then he would have his time with his teacher. According to Hong, Chen Fake’s teaching method was on a one on one basis with each of his students. If he had to demonstrate the same move 5 times to each student, he would do it no matter if there were 20 students present. Hong would always ask Chen Fake to demonstrate the moves to him again each time, for which Chen Fake’s answer was always “yes”. Hong would practice individual moves a lot and making sure that each one of his moves looked exactly like his master’s moves. If his moves did not resemble Chen Fake’s moves, he would practice it 100 times until it looked like Chen Fake’s moves. Hong learned in this manner form Chen Fake from 1930 to 1944. Master Chen Fake never withheld anything from his students. According to Chen Fake’s own words, “Even if I don’t reserve anything, I will not be able to teach correctly and the students will not be able to learn well. Why withhold anything”. As a teacher Hong did exactly as his teacher in not withholding anything (more on that later). From all this we can conclude that Master Chen Fake did not withhold anything from any of his students. Hong learned uninterrupted with Chen Fake for 15 years. He was part of Chen Fake’s first class of students. Hong worked hard to make sure everything he did matched Chen Fake’s moves and teachings. His knowledge of Chen Fake’s original style (commonly referred to as Lao Jia) was very deep.
What happened in 1944? China was immersed in WWII and most of it was occupied by the Japanese. Many Chinese suffered hardships during that time, and Chen Fake and Hong Junsheng were no exceptions. After the July 7th incident, when Japan invaded China, many of Chen Fake’s original group became dispersed. Many students were transferred elsewhere in the country. Chen Fake during those days stayed 2-3 months at a time in Hong’s house. Hong describes that when the Japanese invaded Beijing, his life took a downturn. There were days that he could not afford food for himself, his wife and 6 children. Many times he would go to Chen Fake’s house to have a big meal of millet porridge with his family. We can see here that Chen Fake’s relationship with Hong was very close. A true Master/disciple relationship in traditional Chinese culture. Hong relates how with the unfortunate events in China made him move from Beijing to Jinan, Shandong province in order to make a living. He “said goodbye to his teacher with tears in his eyes”.
During Hong’s years in Jinan, he continued to practice the martial art his master taught him. He eventually starts teaching. He would always make sure his movements and applications conformed to Chen Fake’s teachings and he also used Chen Xin´s Classic on Chen Family Taijiquan as a theoretical reference. One of the things Hong notices after 15 years of training with Chen Fake is that the way the form is executed is not the same way that the moves are used in actual combat. This is typical in Chinese martial arts and you also see that influence in Okinawa’s Karate which has heavy Chinese martial arts influence. Moves would have to be modified and sometimes other moves not done in the form were added in many martial arts in the applications so that strangers would not be able to easily copy the techniques and learn how to defeat x or y master who he observed practicing. This is commonly referred to as separation of Gong and Fa where Fa is the method of executing techniques while Gong is the specific skill needed to make the techniques and the moves actually work in combat. This is a cultural reality in Chinese martial arts especially when they were created in a time were no guns existed and many military people and masters´ livelihood depended on them. What did Hong do? He began modifying his form in order so that the application was exactly the same way that you execute the forms. There would no longer be any more need of modifying your form movements in order to use them effectively. Hong did not discover any new secrets; he improved the learning curve of Chen style Taijiquan with his innovative teaching methods. His teaching methods are what characterize what we now know as Chen style Taijiquan Practical Method. However, the story does not end here.
In 1956, Hong had the chance to return to Beijing and meet up with his Master for what would be the last time due to Chen Fake passing away shortly after. Hong described this reunion as “after thirteen years apart, master and disciple were reunited and it was as if a long lost son returned to his mother on his knees. The emotions were beyond description” Hong begged his master to correct his form. For the next 4 months, Chen Fake and Hong Junsheng went together to Tao Ran Ting Park in Beijing every day. Now some may argue here that none of us were there and don’t know what went on or if that encounter even took place in the first place. However, that is not the case. In fact there was a witness in Tao Ran Ting Park in Beijing during those 4 months of Hong receiving final corrections from Chen Fake in 1956 shortly before Chen Fake died. That witness is He Shugan who is still living in Heze, Shandong to this very day. I happen to have a video of an interview done to He Shugan by my Teacher. He Shugan also happened to be curious to why no other people were present in those training sessions in Tao Ran Ting Park at that time. (The video is available for sale at my Shifu´s webpage, www.chenzhonghua.net) if anybody wants to see it for themselves. There is also a preface by He Shugan in Hong Junsheng´s “Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method” book in which he says “I had the honor to accompany Master Hong to his private sessions with Grandmaster Chen Fake. Even today scenes of his learning sessions still appear vividly in front of my eyes. Whenever Hong asked Chen weather asked Chen weather he could use a technique in a certain way the answer was always “affirmative!” When Hong went back to Jinan, he practiced those special points discussed with Grandmaster Chen Fake and then transmitted the knowledge to his students and fellow martial artists accordingly.” Those are the words of the witness of Grandmasters Hong and Chen Fake’s last training sessions. So even though we were not there, He Shugan was. He Shugan is a retired professor of Heze Normal University of Shandong Province, China.
So what happened during those 4 months in Tao Ran Ting Park? Hong asked Chen Fake why the way the applications are done different from the way the forms are executed. Chen fake did not know why. He was just taught that way. Hong asked permission to practice and teach his form in the exact same way that you apply the moves in combat. Chen Fake said he could. After that Chen Fake corrected each and every one of Hong’s applications. From Hong’s studies in 1956 what resulted was Chen style Taijiquan Practical Method. Hong planed to continue to go to Beijing after those 4 months to continue reefing his style with Chen Fake’s help, but unfortunately Chen Fake passed away shortly after that.
Hong mentions in his book that his form is not the original Chen Fake form, but as mentioned above, he changed the old form 20 years after he started to learn from Chen Fake according to Chen Fake’s own teachings, the teachings of Chen Xin, and experiences he gained from many years of teaching. In 1956 Chen Fake reassured Hong that his system was essentially the same as his own and encouraged Hong to concentrate on the principles instead of the outer appearance. All this while He Shugan was witnessing the whole thing. Hong stated that he understood what he meant because with the system that Chen Fake taught his post WWII students, like Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang, Chen Fake showed that he had also changed his own system in a way. Hong also mentioned that the system that Chen Zhaokui, Chen Fake’s son, taught in Nanjing and Shanghai also varied greatly from the system he originally learned from Chen Fake.
Hong’s way of measuring a form was according to what Chen Fake repeatedly told him: “This set of Taijiquan does not have one movement which is useless. Everything was carefully designed for a purpose”. Therefore, Hong said that the best way to test whether a certain technique is to put it into practice in push hands. So we can conclude from this that whether you understand the principles and whether a principle you are talking about is understood is by actually being able to apply it in push hands. That applies to “double heavy”, “never moving the center”, and so on. Hong explains them all well in his book. Through guidance of a qualified teacher and by actually practicing and eventually being able to apply them is when you understand them. Not by merely seeing the moves, reading of the moves and principles, or debating about the principles. Practice hard for many years under the proper teacher’s guidance.