In the early 1940’s Wang Xiang Zhai was interviewed several times by reporters from Beijing newspapers. Those interviews have been collected and reproduced in various books on Xing Yi Quan and Da Cheng Quan under the title Essence of Boxing Science.
Correspondent: You have fixed a regular time to meet with boxers of various schools, which is eloquent proof of your modesty and enthusiasm for the martial art. Would you tell us why you have taken this trouble?
Wang: Progress of learning results from comparison. Boxing is no exception. Though one may be defeated in a boxing competition, it does no harm to one’s personality. On the contrary, it may improve one’s morality. If people can always inspect and learn from each other, prejudices among various schools, as well as irresponsible nonsense can be done away with. It is my firm hope that all my capable and virtuous compatriots, including wise recluses, will condescend to give me instructions with no reservation. Any comments or criticisms are welcome. If they would not come in person, just send me a message, I will surely call on them and listen respectfully to their teachings. What am I striving for, in short, is nothing less than to perfect the skills of the boxing art.
Correspondent: As the founding master of Da Cheng Quan, I am sure you have brilliant views on this method of boxing. Would you tell us something as to this point?
Wang: I should say that boxing is very complicated. But it is also simple and plain at the same time, when you grasp its essence. When one attempts to learn boxing, the first thing to be considered is for what purpose he is engaged in boxing. When he is fully aware of the purpose, he will no doubt gain something. Most people learn boxing for two purposes; namely for building up their health and for self-defense. Good health is the base of all humanactivity, so it is important to keep fit and learn some skills for self-defense. Methods are very important in learning boxing. If one practices boxing in the proper way, he will be greatly benefited. f he does it wrongly, it may even lead to his death. On the other hand, participants of strong exercises rarely enjoy a long life. For Boxers, if they don’t adopt a proper way in practice, it is not rare for them to get injured or even killed. Such boxing practitioners are really pitiful and ludicrous. When one is aware and unaware of the advantage and disadvantage of the boxing art, one should make efforts to have a true understanding of the strength exerting between movements and quietness. It is not only a kind of exercise with various physical postures, but with the central nerve observing the inside and outside of the whole body. Every movement should be in accord with the two principles of building up one’s health and self-defense. At the same time, one should keep asking himself the following questions: What purpose does the action serve? Why should one keep still at a particular moment? What is the result of an action or keeping still? And what phenomena can be observed during the whole process? When all this is perceived in exercising, one is close to the goal. Only then can one proceed to further his skills and work for higher goals. Otherwise, nothing can be achieved. Here I would like to give a brief introduction to the essentials of Da Cheng Quan, so as to initiate a heated discussion on the art of boxing together with my fellow boxers.
In learning boxing, one should first of all bear in mind the relationship between the above mentioned two principles, i.e. boxing for building up one’s health and boxing for self-defense. Neglecting either will surely lead to the wrong practices, thus leading art of boxing astray. The Student should begin with spiritual training of his temperament, and follow it up with exercises aimed at bringing out the instinctive strength of the nerve and limbs. The first step to take in learning boxing exercises is the training of one’s mind, and on this basis the ability to perceive the mechanism of the movements of all four limbs and bones. The second is the trial of strength and breath, and the third, skills for self-defense. With these three steps as the foundation, one can make further efforts in intuitively perceiving the real meaning of Tui Shou and the mechanism of force exertion, together with the application of footwork. Having accomplished these trainings, one can be said to have taken the correct path of the boxing.
- The basic training
In daily life, the student should, at any place or time, pay attention to his body postures in walking sitting, standing or lying and regard them as part of proper training. It is done based on Zhuang Fa (Stake Standing Method) – the skill to keep steadfast like a post under all circumstances. One sets all parts of his body to an appropriate state and keeps body erect, with a mind free from any distractions, regulates the mind and breath, conserves the muscles so that he can direct the natural energy of cells from inside to outside, through the whole body. In so doing, he has all his muscles, bones and nervous system trained without his knowing it. What is crucial here is that he should concentrate his mind on perceiving the delicate motion and stillness inside the body. When such a realm is reached, one will certainly understand the magical effect of stake standing. So Zhuang Fa is the first thing one should learn to practice.
- The Trials of Strength and Breath
When the basic training is done, one’s ability is likely to develop. But in practice one must guard against being controlled by his own desire, thus leading to illusion. Very often the result turns out contrary to expectations when the force of instinct is controlled by the human desire. Mencius, an ancient Chinese scholar, once advised, “Let the good in man grow naturally.” The use of instinct force firstly depends on the understanding of the mood of movement. When this is acquired, the student can move on to the next step, the trial of strength, which is the most important step towards obtaining boxing skills. Trial of strength is really the source of force, for one gets to know his force, only by trying his strength, and only when he has a correct understanding of his force, can he apply it most effectively. When one first tries his strength, he should balance his strength, keep muscles flexible and let bones firmly support the frame of the body. Thus muscles can contract, release, relax, or restrain freely in close coordination and strength can generate within and discharge without. In the beginning, moving slowly and unhurriedly is better than moving quickly and hurriedly. The slighter the movement is, the more fully one’s spirit concentrates. One should see that he has the feeling that he moves involuntarily when he wants to stop and vice versa. Lopsided strength is not encouraged, still less is the sheer animal strength. The first and foremost thing to do is to perceive intuitively whether the body strength is full and well balanced, whether the strength can be discharged at will and whether one can integrate himself into the air around himself to produce reaction. Still more important is that the thought should not be interrupted and attention not diverted. Whether one moves forcefully or slightly, one is always ready to exert force. Movement of one part of the body is accompanied by movements of every part. As soon as the strength reaches it, that part of the body seems to enter the realm of “meditation and wisdom,” in which every direction is well taken care of. In a word, unless one attains comfort, interest and force, he is not qualified to talk about boxing.
The trial of breath is supplementary to the trial of strength. Owing to congenital reasons, physiological structure varies with different people. Each exerciser, therefore has his own special points in the body which are not easily accessible by strength. This is made up for by trial of breath which is also known as inner breathing exercise, or brain-back breathing.
Self-defense means combat. It should be said that in actual combat moving violently is not as good as moving slightly, which is again not as good as not moving at all. It is stillness that is constant movement, just like a fly wheel which, when turning extremely fast, looks static. A visible movement is actually nothing but a reflection of weakness. The motion which resides in stillness and looks like stillness is really powerful. Such motion and stillness are interdependent, each being the source of the other. Their magical application depends mainly on the control of the nervous system, the guidance of intention, the contraction and stretching of joints and ligaments as well as their firm support, the action and reaction of rotating movements and the use of the elastic force produced in breathing. If all of these can be properly used the exerciser can be said to have laid a solid foundation for actual combat.
What is said here is only something abstract. There are still things which cannot be described with words. But if one goes on practicing boxing with perseverance, he can certainly perceive them in due course. The difference between a violent motion and a slight one varies with the individual and depends upon his foundation, skill and ability to perceive the mechanism of all forces. If one can perform movements and show mechanical skills everywhere, he can move either slightly or violently or neither slightly or violently. If one doesn‘t posses any mechanical skill, movements in whatever way are of no avail. The same is also true of the difference between exerting force and not exerting force. The strength of ordinary people comes from quickened blood circulation only, and such strength is always rigid, divergent, and harmful to health. The strength that doesn’t come from quickened blood circulation is the natural, instinctive strength. Such a strength will come into play when needed without efforts. Other delicate points such as substantiality and insubstantiality are simply beyond words and now I would not touch on this subject here. All in all, Da Cheng Quan is not judged by its mere form, but by the reaction of the mind. All that are visible and tangible are nevertheless illusive. Only when one reaches the realm of freedom and spontaneity will one’s skills become really miraculous and formidable.