The Tai Chi of Hong Jun Sheng

Hong Jun Sheng (GongXiao) was what one might call a true martial ARTIST. And, like an artist, he lived a life of many strange turns and reversals…

Master Hong Jun Sheng

Born over a hundred years ago in 1906 in YuXian, Henan; he was brought up in a wealthy merchant family. His private schooling was aimed at hid inheriting the family’s business holdings. But throughout his health was poor so, at the age of twenty, he began his study of Tai Chi under his first teacher, Liu MuSan. This style was Wu Tai Chi and Liu at the time was well known Beijing instructor. After about a year with Liu a fateful event occurred which was personally important for Hong and at the same time of major import for Tai Chi.  1928: As one of Liu’s students, Hong was invited to the martial arts demonstration that was causing a buzz in the community: the demonstration of what was supposed to be the “first” form of Tai Chi, that from which the Yang family version derived. This so called “Chen” version raised a lot of speculation since all the Tai Chi people were familiar with at the time was derived in one sense or another from the Yang style.

Liu and his students attended this demonstration by Chen Fa Ke thinking that, since Tai Chi was performed so slowly, it would probably be a few hours long. In less than twenty minutes Chen had finished leaving the many teachers and students  completely baffled. A number of on-lookers just couldn’t accept that this explosive, sinuous, open form of boxing was Tai Chi at all. It seemed to break too many rules, to stop, to change speed, to use force, to stomp, to visibly issue power. It certainly wasn’t the soft silk reeling style they had grown accustomed to. But Liu’s analysis was quite different. He saw  a lot of merit in Chen’s performance. He felt, for instance that though power was issued Chen never stopped being relaxed. Also all of Chen’s movements were actually round and this roundness expressed itself in a continual coiling action. His Push Hands, too, was deep and changeable. It was Liu’s conclusion that he and his students should study with Chen Fa Ke and learn more before deciding on his skill.

This began long discipleship for Hong Jun Sheng with Chen Fa Ke. Being wealthy he would often invite  the poor Tai Chi instructor to his house to practice. Still plagued by poor health Hong would allow his fellow classmates to receive individual instruction before he did. That way he garnered the benefit of hearing the instruction many times repeated.

All this ended when the fortunes of the Hongs took a turn for the worse a decade later. By now, however, Chen Fa Ke’s fortune was on the rise as he had become a popular and sought after instructor. In one of those rare twists of fate he was able to invite the Hong family to stay with him. They accepted his invitation but Hong finally decided that it was too much of an imposition and took his family to Jinan. At this point he had worked for fifteen years with Chen Fa Ke.

In Jinan Hong became a member of an anti-communist and anti-Japanese association. But after China turned communist Hong was branded as a political undesirable. This lasted for many years reducing him and his family to poverty. The opprobation re-emerged during the Cultural Revolution and forced Hong’s family to renounce him so they could lead normal lives. Hong was so poor he made match sticks, lived in a hobble and was known to eat chicken feed to survive.

Hong’s writings on Chen Fa Ke’s method of Taijiquan.

His fortunes changed again when China opened up a bit and Japanese students came to study under him. The government was forced to supply him with a Jinan Hotel room in which to teach. When a Chinese soldier, Xiao MingQui, became his student to study the short stick the officials were also placed in a position where hey had to find Hong an apartment. Xiao spent his entire leave studying with Hong and then volunteered to find people for him to teach in secret. From here Hong’s fortunes took another important turn and his acceptance as a great instructor began an expansion that never stopped.

It was from this time that Hong finished his text on Chen Fa Ke’s principles of Chen Tai Chi, thirty years in the writing. He also left a host of students: Li Enjiu, Zhang Lianan and Chen Zhonghua (two standard bearers) ; and third generation grandson disciples: Huang Kanghui, Xie Yelei, Du Lingong, Wang Hongping, Ding Mingye, Wu Fengtian, Ju Zepeng, Li Lu, Hao Ping, Fang Jie, Yu Shugang, Wang Tianyu, Ge Xuejun, Long Zhaoqin, Chen Hui, Chen Yuzhong, Xu Bingjian, Zhao Min, Zhao Weimin, Zhang Yang, Hou Deyu, Zhao Xuanxuan, Ren Yinlin, Zhou Rui, Bo Jingmin, Zui Bo, Chen Qiang and Wang Yuzhong etc.

He lived to be 90 and, though seriously restricted by a stroke towards the end, his skill never left him. His student, Chen Zhonghua, tells of a big party where students had to support Hong long enough for him to stand and play Push Hands with some of his young students, tossing them across the room with his skills.

Hong left behind a legacy of a highly refined style where movement was precise. Some would say it looked like Chen Taiji performed with the elegance of Wu style. Those who actually saw Chen Fa Ke, though, consider Hong’s one of the most faithful of all versions. This faithfulness being also a large part of his legacy, holding fast to his style, practicing through poverty and plenty, amassing skill and never letting up. Hong Jun Sheng, a beacon to his fellow martial artists.

Resources:

Li EnJiu’s (the Hong style standard bearer)  Hong style VCD’s

DVDs on Hong Style