Most of us are polite. We dare not question what is obvious. Yet we should if we want to make headway in our Tai Chi Chuan training. Consider what the last chapter in a book on creativity says :-
Creative people are constantly surprised. They don’t assume that they understand what is happening around them, and they don’t assume that anybody else does either. They question the obvious – not out of contrariness but because they see the shortcomings of accepted explanations before the rest of us do. They sense problems before they are generally perceived and are able to define what they are.
I read on a thread in the rumsoakedfist forum that a speaker in a video mentioned that Yang Luchan was a physically big man. If this were true I would not be surprised given that Northern Chinese tend to be bigger in size than their southern counterparts. One point which I think the various posters missed out was that if Yang was a big man does that mean that other masters that were in the employment of the various princes were physically small?
If Yang Luchan were really tall and big wouldn’t the stories of him mentioned that? A common comment that is made when a person loses even a friendly match is that the other person used a lot of strength or he is big in size. I don’t remember reading similar comments about Yang Luchan. If anything, it is his skill, the soft touch that is frequently mentioned.
However, considering that other styles also use softness why would they be impressed by Yang’s soft skills unless it was such that they do not know how to imitate what he did much less begin to explain it. A few weeks back my student said that he didn’t know how to explain to friends why he is learning Tai Chi Chuan. Part of the problem is that he didn’t know how to explain the feeling of being uprooted. Maybe if it was performed the way we commonly see then it would be easy to explain. However, it was not easy to put into words things that are largely intangible.
I hate to say it but for a long time I had to agree with my Wing Chun teacher when he said that there was no big deal about Tai Chi Chuan, not its techniques, not its power. My teacher even dissected the techniques and pointed out similar techniques in other northern Chinese martial arts styles. In fact, my teacher’s power was much more impressive than that of a lot of Tai Chi Chuan masters.
Its common to gush about things we don’t understand but it does not mean that others don’t understand it though they would normally be to polite to state the obvious. Its like the common misunderstanding between the condition of expansion known as peng and the force named Peng (Ward-Off) Jing. Most practitioners and even masters are confused between both of them when to anyone who really knows Tai Chi Chuan that one is a necessary condition to issue force and the other is a type of force that can be applied with the necessary (but not sufficient) condition.
If a practitioner could not even begin to understand this and insists on going with a wrong explanation how could he or she then even begin to understand more advanced force topics such as multi-force generation. Again, consider that if a practitioner could not define properly what Press Jing and Push Jing is how would he understand how to apply these two forces in tandem with Ward-Off Jing?
So you see, despite all the information and knowledge today many practitioners are still confused if not downright ignorant of the possibilities of Yang style. When Grandmaster Wei’s book came out I can imagine the confounded expressions on many a masters’ face when they realized that despite their seniority and experience in Tai Chi Chuan particularly Yang style they had no idea what was written in the book. I know of at least a famous master of the internal arts who visited my teacher to find out more but the “face” thing would not allow them to acknowledge that they don’t know what was going on and had to secretly visit to dig for more information.
Assuming that such a similar scenario existed back in Yang Luchan’s time I would not be surprised if the other masters too did not understand Yang’s skill. If it was a matter of techniques I don’t think the masters would be impressed. I have researched many of the northern styles and I have to say when it comes to gung lik, techniques, strategies, etc these styles have a longer history and wider syllabus that is easily more impressive than anything I have seen in any style of Tai Chi Chuan. Even their techniques are deadlier and direct. An obvious example would be Bajiquan.
In conclusion, many have tried to explain the phenomenon of Yang Luchan but 99.9% missed the mark. Until I learned Grandmaster Wei’s version of Yang style I couldn’t find any plausible explanation to explain the big deal about Yang Luchan. Now that I know I can understand why many would be puzzled because the use of intention though commonly mentioned at an advanced level in many martial arts but it is only in Grandmaster Wei’s Yang style Tai Chi Chuan that we have super defined and clearcut methods for training the use of the intention to shape our physical skills in a manner that is largely intangible.