Must Read Notes from Yang Style Master Yang Chengfu

Yang Chengfu summarized the practice of Yang-style Tai Chi Chuan into ten essentials: “Empty the mind and top up the energy, contain the chest and pull up the back, relax the waist, distinguish between solid and empty, sink the shoulders and drop the elbows, use intent not force, coordinate the upper and lower body, harmonize the inside and outside, continue movements without interruption, and find stillness in motion.” Master Yang Zhenji, the fourth-generation descendant of Yang Lu-Chan and Yang Chengfu’s second son, adhered to the family teachings from a young age, dedicated himself to Tai Chi, and after more than eighty years of practicing and teaching, he fully inherited the essence of the Yang family’s Tai Chi Chuan. His deep cultivation of Tai Chi skills led to a unique style characterized by a correct body method, rigorous structure, concise movements, precise positioning, expansive postures, smooth movements, clear differentiation between solid and empty, and an effortlessly light nature. This style was later named Yang Chengfu-style Tai Chi Chuan (Ninety-one Forms).

Relaxation: When I first began learning Yang Chengfu Tai Chi Chuan, my teacher emphasized that practicing boxing must start with relaxation. Relaxation means not being tense, allowing for a natural and easy state. However, one must not deliberately try to relax, as deliberate effort contradicts true relaxation. The goal of relaxation is to return the body to a thoroughly natural state, thereby achieving a state where the whole body is flexible and agile. According to the principles of Tai Chi practice, the root is in the feet, initiated from the legs, governed by the waist, and expressed in the fingers, highlighting the waist’s crucial role as the pivot and core. Thus, relaxing the waist is at the core of the core. This describes the first phase of relaxation. Once these aspects are mastered, one can proceed to the second phase of deep relaxation practice. My understanding of the two stages of relaxation is that relaxation is a state, while deep relaxation is a skill.

Internal: Yang Chengfu-style Tai Chi Chuan is a type of internal martial art. People often say that all martial arts stem from Shaolin. Shaolin is known for its powerful and external techniques, primarily physical and externally focused. Internal martial arts, however, emphasize using stillness to control movement, reacting instantly and effectively to any attack, distinguishing them from Shaolin as external martial arts. Tai Chi, as an internal martial art, features stillness, relaxation, and stability. These qualities are particularly useful in fixed-step push hands. From my modest experience with push hands, maintaining a calm mindset, as immovable as Mount Tai, using stillness to control movement, and achieving preemptive control are essential. The upper body should be relaxed and flexible, constantly changing, with the waist as a pivot for rapid turning, which prevents the opponent’s force from affecting you. The lower body should be stable like a pillar to avoid being “pushed out the door.” When issuing force, lead with the mind, drive with the Qi, and follow through with strength. Achieving these makes one unbeatable; in Tai Chi Chuan, not losing equates to winning.

Teacher Ye invited Master Yang Chengfu to go shopping and entered Kuang Keming’s clothing store, where he pretended to ask Master Yang to try on clothes. In fact, given Master Yang’s physique, it was usually difficult to find fitting clothes in regular stores, but surprisingly, a fox fur coat he tried on was both well-fitting and warm. Teacher Ye, together with Kuang Keming and others, praised it endlessly and persuaded Master Yang to naturally wear this coat. Afterwards, Teacher Ye took the opportunity to invite him to the Hendry Watch Shop, where he spent 80 dollars to buy an Ingersoll pocket watch as a gift for Master Yang. Master Yang appreciated Teacher Ye’s thoughtful gesture so much that he specifically returned to the Wudang Tai Chi Society to teach Teacher Ye a training method of “running Qi against the wall, freely and unobstructed, drawing a horizontal, invisible and intangible linked circle on the chest.” Teacher Jin said that this was actually a secret not passed down from the Yang family. On June 8, 1932, Master Yang Chengfu’s 50th birthday was celebrated in Shanghai, attended by many of his disciples and renowned figures from various sectors. During the celebration, someone asked Master Yang about the rumor that Yang-style Tai Chi Chuan’s large frame focuses on health preservation and the small frame focuses on combat techniques. Master Yang replied that every move in his large frame could be used for combat and to strike people. A student provocatively asked how Master Yang could strike someone with the Cross Hands, which is usually a closing move in the form and not typically discussed in terms of combat. In high spirits, Master Yang then had five strong men hold his arms and legs; he leaned against the wall, repeatedly moved his chest from side to side, borrowed strength, and then sent all five men flying, earning a round of applause. In June 1967, when Teacher Ye recalled this event, he was still deeply moved and wrote in his diary: “This method was personally taught to me at my home by the late Master Yang Chengfu of Yongnian, Hebei, when he was in Shanghai… I am so touched by this that I have recorded it here to commemorate.”

Teacher Ye introduced his own students such as Pu Bingru, Pu Wei, Zheng Manqing, and Huang Jinghua to Master Yang Chengfu, who formally accepted them into his school. Master Yang, grateful to Teacher Ye, on February 10, 1932, personally signed and gave Teacher Ye a photograph taken at the Baoki Photo Studio in Shanghai. The inscription read: “For the benevolent brother Ye Dami, from Yang Chengfu, February 10, 21st year of the Republic of China.”

【Interpretation of Life and Tai Chi Everywhere】

The costly chest-training circular infinity symbol heart method acquired by Teacher Ye Dami is one of the essences of Yang Family Tai Chi’s internal strength and technique.

First: Internal Qi is about the transformation of yin and yang, and the application of solidity and emptiness.

The I Ching states: “One yin and one yang are called the Taiji,” and Sun Lutang said, “Taiji is one Qi.” The core of Tai Chi Chuan is the transformation of yin and yang Qi based on the Taiji diagram, a traditional Chinese martial art for cultivating both body and spirit.

The circle ∞ heart method taught by Grandmaster Yang Chengfu involves internal transformations, 【Draw a circle ⭕ around the infinity symbol ∞, which represents the overlapping of two Taiji diagrams】, thus the core of Tai Chi Chuan is the exercise of the internal circle ⭕ Taiji’s yin and yang Qi, if one truly seeks traditional Tai Chi skills.

Using the external circle to practice the infinity heart method makes the body changes too obvious. When a master issues power, you won’t know how this power comes.


【To practice boxing, one must achieve relaxation, elusive both day and night.】

Why do some practitioners, even after 20-30 years, see no significant progress in their Tai Chi skills? A major reason is the lack of guidance from a knowledgeable master, looking for strength in the external form of the body. Using the form of Tai Chi but the heart of external martial arts to practice Tai Chi Chuan is called “neither this nor that.” Going in opposite directions, the methodology is wrong.

【Once the relaxation is understood, it is realized that all previous practice was in vain.】

Tai Chi Chuan is a form of energy and potential in life, with the hope of meeting a knowledgeable master soon.


Key points of the circle ∞ heart method:

【External shape relaxed, internal Qi contained】

Transform and maintain bodily relaxation, yet stay connected—a rare achievement.

【Strength originates from the feet, concentration is at the crown】

Heaven, earth, and man, three levels, those who can communicate up and down, truly possess skill.

【Do not forget,

do not assist, display the miraculous】

Do not compete yet compete, do not seek yet seek, all is as fate wills. The Dao is subtle, what about human hearts? Quick for success!

The mind leads, not the forceful contest of winning or losing, this is Zhang Sanfeng’s approach to entering the Dao through martial arts.

【Summary of the Heart Method】

Run Qi against the wall (wall, panel, or door all suitable), freely and unobstructedly (this method was personally taught to me at my home by the late Master Yang Chengfu of Yongnian, Hebei when he was in Shanghai, my wife didn’t know, it would not be passed to me in his family, hence I am extraordinarily grateful, recorded here in his memory) draw a horizontal, invisible, and intangible linked circle (like the ∞ symbol) on the chest.

Leave a Reply