The story of Li Tian Ji from Niu Sheng Xian*
My teacher, Li Tian Ji, also known as “flying dragon” comes from Baiyangdian in Anxin County of Hebei province. Li Tian Ji has been taught from his father, the well known wushu teacher Li Yu Lin, as well as from Li Cun Yi, Zhang Zhao Dong, Li Jing Lin, Sun Lu Tang, Lin Zhi Yuan, Chen Yai Ging and Yang Fa Wu.
He excelled in Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua, Wudang Sword, Shuaijiao (Chinese wrestling) and Push Hands. In 1931 he graduated from the National School of Martial Arts in Shandong.
From 1932 to 1938 he was the coach of the National Wushu School in Shandong and won the first place in many competitions. During the decade of 30’s he was trained in Wudang Sword for two persons with the famous teacher Guo Qi Feng. The performance of that Taolu for two, from the two of them was considered the best in its era.
From 1938 until 1940 he helped his father to establish the Harbin Taiji Quan Union and he served as a teacher in Tianjin, Shengyan and Changchun. During the same period many teachers came to compete with him but all failed. After the establishment of the New China he became the leader of Harbin Taiji Quan Union and Wushu professor in Harbin Industrial University.
In 1953 he became the Head Coach of Harbin Wushu and judge in the 1st Competition of National Sports. During the competition Li Tian Ji presented the Wudang Sword. The crowd got excited clapping for long time, not letting him sit down, until he performed it again. The newspaper Tianjin Daily described Longfei Li “flying dragon Li” as “the best in the art of sword”. When the National Wushu Team went to Beijing to present its work in front of Mao Ze Dong, Zhou En Lai and the rest of the leadership, he was chosen to present Bagua Zhang and Wudang Sword for two persons. As the prime minister has been taught Bagua Zheng himself from the famous teacher Han Mu Xia, he became a very good friend with Li Tian Ji. Later on Li Tian Ji became the head coach of the first National Wushu Team in the New China. Among his students were Shao Shan Kang – professor of the sports university in Tianjin, Xiao Ying Peng – head coach of the Wushu Team in Shanghai, Li Wen Zhen – champion at Wushu, Cheng Chuan Rui – Dean of the sports university in Beijing, Zhang Wen Guang – Wushu teacher-level 9, also known as “lord of the long sword with the tassel”, Cai Long Yun - ex-Dean of the highest teaching office at the sports university in Beijing and Wushu teacher-level 9, Gu Liu Xin, Dean of the highest teaching office in Wushu in Shanghai, Zhang Ji Xin – Head coach in Wushu in Heilongjiang.
In 1955 Li Tian Li worked in the highest teaching office of the general secretariat of sports, and later on worked in Wushu secretariat.In 1956, the general He Long asked from the Wushu secretariat to create a “simplified Taiji Quan”. The reason behind that request was that he believed that Li Tian Ji is so competent that something should be created by him. So, Li Tian Ji created the 24 movements of the simplified Taiji, the 32 movements of the simplified Taiji sword, the 88 Taiji movements, the 66 movements of Zhong He Taiji, Taiji Push Hands etc.
From 1959 until 1961 he participates in the regulation committee for Wushu Taolu and for the Wushu Textbook of the National Sports University. He is also teaching at Worker’s and People’s Culture Palace and Army Club in Beijing and in the school of the Central Committee where many workers and governmental employees were studying, including: Ye Jiang Yin, the general Nie Rong Zhan, Xiao Jin Guan, Deng Ying Chao (spouse of Zhou En Lai), Zhao Lin (spouse of Deng Xiao Ping).
In 1964 he became a substitute secretary of the Wushu Union in China.
In 1979 he became a national judge in Wushu.
In 1980 Li Tian Ji participates in the composition of the China’s encyclopedia in charge of the Sports section. He was also extensively occupied with writing. His work includes a book about Xingyi Quan as well as books about Wudang Sword, the specific Wudang techniques and the essence of Chinese Wushu. He was also a member of the Chinese committee for the Sports research and science.
In 1982, serving as the coach of the Wushu National Team, he went to Japan to present his art. In his group He Fu Sheng and Sha Guo Zheng also participated. After that, the prime minister of that time in Japan became his student. In 1985, he was granted with the price of the pioneer in sports in the New China.
In 1988, during the Wushu festival he wins the title of the “contributor in the China’s Wushu” and travels frequently to Japan and Singapore in order to teach. His student Zhang Ji Xiu turned out to be one of the “ten best teachers in the China’s Wushu”. Among his students are also the following: Ye Shu Dong champion in the Taiji Quan Competition at the 5th Sports Meeting, Liu Qing Zhan (Wushu level 8), Niu Sheng Xian (Wushu level 8), Ning Qiu Xia champion in the Taiji Quan Competition in 1959, 1960 and 1961.
His elder son Li De Bin, his daughter Li De Fang and his nephew Li De Yin are still spreading their family Taiji Quan. Li Tian Ji became famous in our days and most people have heard about him. The simplified Taiji Quan has spread throughout the whole world and it is considered the greatest offer by Li Tian Ji in the art of Taiji Quan.
The story of Niu Sheng Xian
Master Niu was born in Qinghe of the Hebei province in China in 1938. He has reached the 8th level at the Chinese Martial Arts. Master Niu inherited the traditional knowledge of his family and from his childhood he was trained by his father Niu Jinbao (also known as Xuan Jinzi) in the Taoist technique for the preservation of health by the Long Men Pai (Dragon’s Gate) genealogy. He has perfected the 4 levels, the 16 methods, the formula of marrow breathing, the basic rules for the preservation of health by Taoism and many others. He has also created unique therapeutic exercises and methods of practice.
In 1951, master Niu start learning Tai Ji and combat techniques by the general Yue Fei, from the master Yang Feng Xiang, fencing Ku Wu, fencing Chun Yang etc.
From 1959 to 1966, he followed Master Li Tianji to practice in boxing and fencing in Taiji. The following years during the “cultural revolution” Li Tien Ji quitted teaching. From 1975 he starts learning again from the master Li Tainji Xingji, Bagua Zhang, Taiji (boxing and Push and Pull Hands), Wudang fencing and many other. Master Niu has reached the highest level in the martial arts of Xingyi, Taiji, Bagua, Wudang Jian and many others.
From 1973 to 1981, he began his career as a coach in the martial art of Taiji at Worker’s Club in the area of Dongcheng in Beijing. The team won for three successive years from 1979 to 1981, the first place in the competition in martial arts of Beijing workers. Among his students are: Ma Jintong, Li Zhonglun, Jin Yudi, Wang Shumin, Liang Xiuzhen, Wang Xiuqing, Gao Xiaoguang, Zhao Zengtian and others.
From 1980 until 1985 he became a coach in the martial arts of Xingyi in Dongchen Martial Arts Hall in Beijing, while working at the same time as a coach in Xingyi, Bagua and Taiji in the areas Chongwen and Chaoyang.
From 1979 till 1987 he was seated in the Institute of Martial Arts in Beijing as a coach for the visitor team in Taiji from Japan, in order to train Japanese amateurs in martial arts.
From 1980 to 1982, he participated in the Martial Arts Competition in Beijing and he was awarded with the prize in performing Wudang fencing and Taiji Push and Pull Hands or else Taiji Tuishou.
In 1983 he won the first place in the Taiji competition in Beijing, in the feather category, while he participated in the 2nd National competition in martial arts and Taiji Tuishou as a member of the Beijing team in martial arts. He finally won the championship in Taiji and awarded with the gold medal in Taiji Tuishou for the Beijing team. From 1984 until 1988 and again in 1992, he was the chief coach in the Beijing Team in Taiji Tuishou. His students, including Zhang Weizhong, Li Hongqiang, Wang Yanji, Ma Shunli, Bao Fengli, Yu Daoping, Gao Xiaoguang and Yu Wenshui won in total 7 gold, 6 silver, 5 bronze medals at the National Competitions in Taiji Tuishou over that period. His team won 3 annual championships in Taiji Tuishou from 1986 to 1988, and also twice the title of the “honorable team” in 1984 and 1985. Unfortunately the National Physical Culture Commission didn’t organize more competitions in Taiji Tuishou after 2004.
From 1983 till 2004, the team took part in many Taiji Tuishou competitions in Beijing and won 116 titles in total of 132. The team included among others Wang Yuequn, Sun Liansheng, Ding Zili, Wu Jingxin, Shang Jinhai, Liu Delong, Guo Lianyou, Lu Jingtang etc.
From 1989 to 1993, he led his students from Guangzhou to take part in competitions Taiji Tuishou at Canton, Hongkong and Macau, where they won 4 gold, 4 silver and one bronze medal. As a result he gained the fame of one of the four masters in martial arts in the area of Canton. His students that took part in the competitions are Lai Zhuodong, Guan Jian, Pan Bin, Huang Yeyu, Xu Xianjun, Luo Zhongwen etc.
In 1994, he travelled in Sweden for the promotion and teaching of Chinese Kung Fu.
In 1996, he established the Guangzhou Union of martial arts in Xingyi and the committee Guangdong Qianfeng Pu’en Taoism and he became the lifelong president in both organizations. He is also the head teacher in martial arts union Macau Flying Dragon that was established from his students.
From 1997 till 2004, he was defined as a member in the judge committee, deputy director in the judge committee and head in the teaching committee in many national and international competitions in Xingyi martial arts at Shanxi, Hebei and Beijing. The following students of his had an excellent presence and won the first four places: Zou Meicheng, Peng Dongyuan, Deng Chundang, Liu Zuoxin, Huang Yeyu, Zhang Weifeng, Tan Xikun and Niu Tianci.
In 1998, his book “The Preservation of Health in Taoism” was published in Guangzhou that is out of print. In 1999, he returned from Guangzhou to Beijing and established the school of Martial Arts in Wangfujing.
From 1999 to 2001, he was lecturing in the central radio station in China, on “how to practice the 88 Taiji types”, “how to practice Taiji Tuishou”, “how to practice Xingyi and Bagua” “the use of 88 Taiji types” etc. In 2003, his article with title “You ruined my Taiji” was posted in the martial arts website with intense correspondance. In his article he was intensely criticizing the Wushu university trainers for their false approach towards Taiji. The same year he gave a lecture on Taiji for the preservation of health at Tsinhua University.
In 2005, he participated in the first International forum in martial arts that took place at Beijing University, where he received from the organizer the “Achievement Award” for the Chinese martial arts. In January 2006, from the part of the martial arts team of Beijing University, he was invited by Mr. Chen Jian (substitute general secretariat of United Nations) and Dr. Su Lihuang (World Harmony Foundation) to take part in the 2nd World Chinese People Spring Festival Party that took place in New York. There he presented Taiji and Wudang fencing. He also visited MIT and Columbia University to present the Wudang fencing, while he was accepted in the central office of United Nations in order to present Taiji at diplomats from many countries.
In April 2006, he was confirmed President of the executive committee of Taiji union from the World Taiji Health Preservation Scientific Federation. In August 2006, his fifty years old student Zhang Weizhong won the championship in Taiji Tuishou in 90 plus category, at Jincheng of Shanxi province. Despite his old age, Zhang won his opponent with obvious superiority and the result was 15:0. After the fight, the audience asked Zhang for the origin of the kung fu he presented. He replied that his arts originated from Sun Lutang from Hebei, through Li Tianji and Niu Shengxian.
In September 2006, he was invited from the China Culture University to give lectures to businessmen nationwide. The basic subjects were relevant to Health Preservation in Taiji and Taoism.
The presence of Master Niu Sheng Xian has been recorded in the following publications: “China Martial Arts Glossary”, “China Martial Arts Encyclopedia”, China Well-Loved Land”, “World Outstanding Experts Glossary”, “China Martial Arts Personal Name Dictionary”, “China: Walking Towards the Word”, “21st Century Experts Glossary” etc. Until today he has written many books on Xingyi, Chinese Wushu and Taoist meditation, while in 2015 he established the Niu Sheng Xian Academy of Traditional Internal Boxing at Hong Kong. There are many articles about Master Niu in the Internet, or in academic publications.
The Character of Taiji
The movements should be soft, peaceful and not rigid. They should follow the natural body movements, without sudden ups and downs or weird jumping movements. After the completion of a form, someone may be sweating, but his/her breathing should stay calm. The practice of Taiji is for everyone. As we pass from one movement to the next, the connection shouldn’t be lost, the form should be continuous similar to the running water or the moving clouds. The movements of the upper body are not straight but curving. The Taiji movements should be circular and include ellipses as well as half circles. Through the circular activity every hole of the body (eyes, nose, ears etc.) is working out, so that every part of the body develops healthy. The waist is the mother – every movement emerges from it as the whole body is moving. The upper and the lower part of the body are moving together, while the waist operates as their connective center. The whole body follows the movement and direction interchange, until the end of the form. During the form execution, the mind should be consistent to the movements. When the upper body is moving, it is moving from downward and the other way around. When the hands are moving the legs are doing the same. Natural breathing adjusts and cooperates with the movements, following movements up and down. The inner and outer, the up and down become a unified whole.
Prerequisites for Each Position and for Each Body Part.
Keep the chin inwards, head straight up, feel the energy in the head crown. The head feels like pulled from above, but the muscles should be relaxed. The facial expression should be natural, the mouth naturally closed, the tongue touching the palate aiding the production of saliva.
The back should be like an arc, while the chest curving, without hunching – it has to create a relaxed feeling so as for the energy to dive into the energy center dantien. Keep the natural curving of the back, in order for the back muscles to follow the hands. At the same time, the chest muscles and the chest have to be relaxed.
Waist – Spinal Cord
The waist is used as an axis, while the energy is like the wheel. The feet, the legs and the waist create wholeness. Each time you step or turn, the waist should relax and sink. The tension in waist negatively affects flexibility, while a relaxed waist is using the legs strength, facilitating the effort for wholeness. The spinal cord has to remain straight, supporting our body weight keeping the right position. The waist and the spinal cord control the Taiji practice.
Sink the hips and keep them in, using more the mind rather than an intense power. Otherwise the body shape is ruined. Pay attention as you go down, avoiding turning left or right, keeping the upper body straight all the time. Relaxing the hip muscles aids the waist and the spinal cord to relax.
When we step, the legs are the roots of power and stability of the whole body. Taiji theory states that “the roots are on feet, the power on legs, the waist is the mother and the form is on fingers”. The position and the movement of the legs and feet are affecting the whole body. So, when you move the legs, make sure that the hips and the joints of the knees are following, so as for the forward or backward movement to be easy and natural. When we rest or lift the legs, they should remain flexible, “the steps should be like the cat’s walking”. We have to pay much attention in the distribution of the body weight (empty/full). Avoiding the double burden we have to be careful on which leg is empty and which is full. When the weight is on the right leg, then the right leg is full and the left one is empty and the other way around. The position should remain natural and comfortable, with the bending leg supporting the body weight and the other approaching naturally. The kicks have to be done slowly, as the body remains stable. The strike of the legs needs not to be intense but proportional to one’s ability.
Sink the shoulder and the elbow meaning relax the joints. If you sink the shoulder’s joint “reach out the shoulder” you can sink the elbow’s joint, as they are united. According to Taiji theory “the eyes follow the hands”. All movements are displayed in the hands. When one is pushing, the wrist relaxes, the palm remains natural and the fingers open and curve a little bit. The wrist shouldn’t be tight. The movements of the hands are consistent with the movements of the shoulders, so when the palms are taken away too much, the hands are stretching and the effort for relaxed shoulders and elbows is cancelled. On the other hand, if the shoulders and elbows are sinking a lot, the hands cannot stretch and will be too curved. When we move, the hands should be curved and flexible all the time, without collapsing, stable but not rigid.
Requirements for the Whole Body
The mind should lead the movements.
In the Taiji practice we don’t just move the hands. Contrary, one has to think of the movement first and then fulfill it slowly. When someone is pushing, he/she has to think of the pushing first and the lead the energy into the energy center, before accomplishing the movement. The mind never stops, therefore the movements never stop – there are no brakes – like a line that connects all the movements together. From the beginning till the end one should use his mind in order to lead his movements. Taiji theory states that “the mind is the mother, the body is the son thus the body follows the mind”. One has to pay attention in stillness and concentration. When someone begins the practice he/she has to clear and relax his/her mind, to empty the mind from thoughts and be affirmed that all parts of the body are in the right position – the head straight, the hands and the body relaxed, the breathing natural - and only then he/she begins. During the practice, the mind should stay clear and calm. Despite the form’s difficulty, or the height and the duration of each position, one should keep the meditation mood, otherwise the hands and the legs will move away from their place and the right rhythm of the movement will get lost. As the Taiji theory postulates “use stillness to control the power” – despite one is moving he/she appears still, despite one is still he/she appears moving. If one will follow those directions he/she will not get excessively tired or become irritated. When you practice the form the mind should stay still, while you pay attention at each movement. The mind should not think of problems during the form. This is something that beginners easily forget. We practice in order to gain body and mind integration.
Do not use raw power. Relaxing doesn’t mean to totally surrender, but moving the body naturally and let the muscles and joints to be as relaxed as possible. Rigidity should be avoided. During the practice make sure that the spinal cord is naturally straight, leaving the head, the body and the hands to be naturally open and relaxed. The right position in Taiji requires the upper body to be straight and relaxed and not leaning forward. Use the natural power to control the body parts that demand power for their right alignment and try to relax all the muscles. For beginners it is really hard to realize the “limit of power”. From relaxation bring all the power from the whole body together, and afterwards do each movement in a round and continuous way.
Cooperation Between Upper and Lower Body Parts.
Taiji theory states that “when one part is moving, all the parts are moving, when one part remains still, all the parts remain still – feet, legs, waist create a whole. Beginners although familiar with the theory – that the waist for example is an axis – they cannot let the mind cooperate with the movements. As a result is better to practice one movement each time, since only this way they can ensure hands and legs cooperation. They should also practice standing in postures including one empty leg – the crane that is stretching its wings – and later on to practice in moving forward and backward and turning the body.
Body Weight Distribution – Segregate the Full from Empty.
After the positions requirements, one should pay attention to the distribution of weight, since as the posture and direction is changing the weight should also change from full to empty leg. If one knows how to change from full to empty, when he/she will move forward and backwards he/she will bend or lean. Taiji theory states to “step as a cat using refined power”. The steps should be flexible, stable and evenly, without trembling. The weight should change depending on the posture and the direction of the movement so as for the body to remain balanced. When the waist turns, the body should be stabilized first before moving the leg. When one steps, should first touch the ground with the feet and then gradually put more weight. The relaxation of the upper body helps the movements to be more flexible and stable. One should avoid having the upper body heavy and the lower light.
When one is practicing Taiji should breathe naturally and deep, using more oxygen, without affecting the natural breathing process. Beginners should first breathe naturally, without their movements restricting their breathing or their breathing restricting their movements. When one learns the movements his breath should follow the course of movement. Upwards – inhale, downwards – exhale. Push forward/downwards – exhale. Push upwards/backwards – inhale. Following those principles breathing will cooperate with the movements. Nonetheless, one should not force breathing in order to achieve the cooperation with the movements – that wouldn’t be right.
Sinking the shoulder and the elbow is not only related to the hands position, but also helps in the relaxation of the body and the chest muscles. The waist relaxation is not merely related to the correction of the upper body’s position, but also helps to keep the spinal cord and the head straight up. If the mind cannot stay quiet, one cannot concentrate and it is hard to keep the contact between mind and movements, and as a result it is impossible to achieve circularity and continuity. If one cannot control weight shifting and switching between full and empty, will not manage to move his/her body as a whole and achieve the natural breathing.
Instructions for Beginners
Balance the Speed.
Try to do the exercises in a stable rhythm. You have to move slowly, since only then you are capable of paying attention at each detail and produce an even movement. Maintain the same speed from the beginning to the end. Don’t stay too high neither too low. When you practice the positions you have to maintain the same height. The fluctuation in height is decided in the first movement. Make sure that the movements in the whole form remain in the same height. For the beginners, a higher level is more suitable, while gradually it lowers, according to the progress.
Proposed Frequency of Practicing
Practice as frequent as your physical condition permits it. Do each form once or twice, or repeat on or two parts of it, or simple chose to exercise a movement.
The beginners should not worry, as they need to move from the easy to the difficult. One has first to learn one part very well and only then move to the next. One doesn’t have to move too quickly, since he/she needs to study carefully each movement.
Learn by Yourself and Help Each Other!!
One can practice by him/herself without the teacher or help each other by correcting movements. Conclusion The beginners have to be patient, to insist in practice and perfect the rules of Taiji. Preserve your health and improve your physical condition.
*All information and theory presented here belong to Singung Li Tian Zi, to Shifu Niu Shen Xian and the ancestors. It is presented here in order to be accessible to whoever is in search of it, when he/she reaches the level that it is required.