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Why Do Famous Masters Have Short Lives – Hong Jun Sheng ?

Quote from Jiang Jiajun’s book “Dialogues with Tai Chi Masters.”

During the conversation, Brother He asked Master Hong, “Does practicing Tai Chi Chuan lead to longevity?” Master Hong looked at Brother He and said, “I know what you want to ask. You want to know why some Tai Chi Chuan predecessors and masters passed away early. What is the reason behind it?” Master Hong continued, “People who practice Tai Chi Chuan should have a long life; their achievements will be greater. ‘No longevity’ means they do not live to an old age. Master Chen Changxing lived to eighty-two, his disciple Yang Luchan lived to seventy-two, Master Chen Xin lived to eighty, and my teacher Master Chen Fake also lived to over seventy. They can all be considered relatively long-lived. If they had passed away in their forties or fifties, their records in the history of Tai Chi Chuan would not have been well documented.

Take Brother Zhao Kaiwei as an example, he started learning martial arts from a young age, was intelligent and eager to learn, and should have reached the pinnacle of Tai Chi Chuan. Unfortunately, he only lived to fifty-three years old, just starting on the path of artistry, with a strong foundation and superb cultivation, all of which did not have enough time to reach full potential before he passed away. If Brother Zhao Kaiwei could have lived to the same age as your teacher, he would have become the foremost Tai Chi Chuan master in China and would have surpassed his predecessors in achievements. Because he was well-educated, had good physical conditions, diligently studied and trained, and also learned the ‘Dian Xue’ technique from your teacher, which was unparalleled at that time. Therefore, from Brother Zhao Kaiwei’s case, we can verify that ‘people who practice Tai Chi Chuan should have longevity.’

Before and after Brother Zhao Kaiwei’s passing, several books were published, but they were compiled by his disciples and friends. Unfortunately, they did not adequately showcase his true skills, greatly impacting the evaluation of him within the Tai Chi Chuan community. His postures and skills were excellent, especially with remarkable potential for further development. Brother Yu Xia, a senior disciple, described him as ‘talented and outstanding in martial arts.’ He had unique advantages, and Master Chen Fake often sparred with him personally, spending the most time with him. Therefore, he enjoyed great prestige in the world of Tai Chi Chuan, and his sudden passing at the age of fifty-three was mourned by all who heard of it! The impact he made in the Tai Chi Chuan community was akin to a flooding Yellow River.”

Master Hong then talked about Yang-style Tai Chi Chuan master Yang Chengfu. He said, “Yang Chengfu’s postures in his forties cannot be compared to his postures in his fifties. When I first saw his postures in his fifties, I casually wrote, ‘His movements are profound, supporting all directions, truly a master.’ Unfortunately, he also lived only to fifty-three. At present, among practitioners of Yang-style Tai Chi Chuan, there are few who possess the same skills as Yang Chengfu, and very few can compare to his postures.

Regarding the question of whether practicing Tai Chi Chuan can lead to longevity, I believe there are many complex factors involved, and it is hard to say definitively. It depends on one’s level of cultivation. Practice and nourishment should be combined, not just practice without nourishment or vice versa. Personally, I have been weak and sickly since childhood, relied on medicine as food, and now I am eighty-eight years old. Considering this situation, it can be said that practicing Tai Chi Chuan can contribute to longevity. What do you all think?

What can be affirmed is that the level of artistic attainment is related to longevity because art requires sufficient time for learning, digestion, and growth. Achieving a high level in a short time is difficult. Throughout one’s life of learning art, with advancing age, there will be constant changes and progress. In my own practice, the method of postures has changed at different stages of life. This is because postures must undergo a process of transition from incorrect to correct, from individual movements to coordinated sets of actions. Therefore, when looking back at past postures, one may not be satisfied. This is why. A person who perseveres in daily learning will make progress, and the postures at each stage cannot remain unchanged.

As one ages, one’s techniques continue to improve, but with advanced age, new shortcomings will also emerge. Speaking for myself, after watching last year’s video in summer, I felt dissatisfied. The coordination of my hands is still good, but my legs are clearly not up to par anymore. Some difficult movements like ‘Whirlwind Kick,’ ‘Double Upward Kick,’ and ‘Sweeping Leg,’ any large rotating postures, are far from what they used to be. People often say ‘old age does not rely on tendon and bone.’ This statement is true. At my age, you will understand. This is the law of life, irresistible, and it repeats itself. Some young people laugh at the slow movements of the elderly, making fun of their old age, not realizing that everyone will grow old, and then you will not find it so funny.”

Master Hong refers to himself as an “eighty-eight-year-old,” and although he walks slowly, he never allows others to assist him. He takes care of all aspects of his life independently. There was a time when one of my students from Huaiyin, Xie Jianjun, did not know about Master Hong’s habits. When he saw Master Hong heading to the restroom, he hurriedly went to help, but the moment he touched Master Hong, Master Hong swiftly turned (his movements were so fast that it was unclear what he did), and Xie Jianjun was sent flying seven or eight steps away. Master Hong said, “What are you doing?”

Don’t be deceived by Master Hong’s slow walking. Once he demonstrates his postures, they are fast and light, appearing ingenious and imperceptible. We all greatly admire Master Hong’s skills, and if one has the chance to witness his complete set of Tai Chi Chuan, it is truly a rare opportunity. Many disciples and students never get the chance to witness Master Hong performing the entire set of Tai Chi Chuan, and it is not surprising at all. Those who have had the opportunity to watch Master Hong’s complete set describe his skill as “breathtaking.”

Master Hong has his reasons for not easily letting others observe his complete set of Tai Chi Chuan. He once said, “If you can’t recognize letters, how can you read an article!”

Note: I have kept Master Hong’s words from that day in my memory. However, I always believed that as long as I diligently studied and practiced daily until old age, how could my legs and feet regress? Looking back now, Master Hong’s words were indeed reasonable. As age increases, the gongfu of the waist and legs indeed decline, and I can no longer perform movements like “Bai Jiao Tie Cha” where one leaps into the air and lands in a forward stance without using hands to support the ground. Now at nearly seventy, there is nothing I can do but adopt high stances in my practice.

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