During my trip to Beijing over the Chinese National Holiday, I made several visits to Tiantan park, which is one of the hotspots of CMA activity in Beijing. In addition to the taijiquan groups which can be found in any park in China, there are teachers of xingyiquan, baguazhang Tongbei, San Huang Paochui as well. On my way out of the park after one of these visits, I noticed a short, heavyset man practicing what I recognized to be Yiquan / Dachengquan postures in a corner of the park. As seeing people practicing Dachengquan in parks* is very rare, even in China, I went across and struck up a conversation with him. Following a brief conversation about his background and how he had come to learn Dachengquan. It turned out his name was Deng Fuli, that he had been practicing Dachengquan for more than 20 years, and that he had originally studied from Wang Xuanjie’s student He Zhenwei, then later changed to study with Zhang Jinhe, who had studied with several teachers but whose main material came from Zhao Daoxin. (This is according to Deng himself – I have not been able to find from public sources exactly who Zhang Jinhe studied from).
After this brief conversation, he offered to show me some of the basic whole body power (zheng jin) that Dachengquan can produce. He took up a basic Cheng Bao Zhuang (lit. “expanding and embracing pose”) and invited me to try and move his arms. Try as I might, I could not move his arms an inch in any direction, whether pressing from above, or pulling from below. For the sake of full disclosure, I am not a strong or heavy guy by any means (75kg, skinny build by Western standards). What impressed me more than the feat itself was his relaxation throughout – it really did not feel like he was using local muscle to resist, it was very clearly the structural power of the whole body. When he was certain I had had enough of pushing and pulling him, he said “Let me launch you” (wo fa ni yi xia) and with very little effort threw me into the air a couple of metres away.
Convinced that here was someone who could certainly teach me a thing or two about Dachengquan, I spent my remaining mornings in Beijing practicing basic Dachengquan postures and exercises under Deng laoshi’s watchful eye.
Because of my limited time in Beijing, we only really worked on 3 things, namely Cheng Bao Zhuang (lit. expanding hugging pose), Kai He Shi Li (Opening and Closing Force Testing) and Mo Ca Bu (Dachengquan footwork). Although I had learnt several basic Dachengquan poses several years previously, I only learnt the very basics (basic posture and very basic instructions on the forces going on inside) and had practiced only infrequently since (maybe a couple of times a week). So it was unsurprising that Deng laoshi, after testing my Cheng Bao Zhuang (by ‘hanging’ his whole body weight on to my outstretched arms), said that I had developed no gongfu from my standing. In correcting my Cheng Bao Zhuang, he emphasized the feeling of force going to the fingertips (li tou shaojie), and that in Cheng Bao Zhuang there should not only be an outward expansive force (cheng) but also also an inward contracting force. The expansive force is relatively easy for beginners to recreate, but most have trouble producing good inward hugging force at the same time. Deng laoshi’s advice was to focus on the ‘wrapping / hugging’ (Dou Guo) feeling of the entire back and chest.
For the Kai He Shi Li, like a couple of other Yiquan teachers I had come into contact with, he emphasized that one needs to seek the slight feeling of resistance both on the opening and on the closing, that it shouldn’t open so wide that your elbows go behind the back. For beginners, it is often easier to find the correct feeling with the eyes closed.
Just from a few days of practice, I could feel the postures helping to dissolve the tightness of the shoulders, which is a consistent problem I have had in transmitting power from the lower body to my arms and have been criticized for many times by my teacher.
I will continue to practice Dachengquan and will hopefully have another chance to study with Deng laoshi early next year.
*Whether one uses the terms Yiquan / Dachengquan for the art of Wang Xiangzhai is a political decision in China. Yiquan tends to be used by the Yao family and other early students of Wang, while the later students and in particular Wang Xuanjie’s group prefer Dachengquan. As the teacher discussed in this article calls the art he practices Dachengquan, I shall use this throughout.