Harmony in Motion
[b]When we speck about China we imagine the following image in our mind. Morning. Park. Many people do their morning exercises or dance with slow harmonious and delayed movements. Anyone who knows nothing about China (but how many of such people visit China?) and see the slow movements of “dancers” may decide that they are in a trance[/b]Anyone who knows China traditions will stop and think “It is true! They indeed do it!” and nod his head satisfactorily. It is true Chine. No tricks.The Chinese indeed do their morning (as well as day and evening) exercises which resembles a slow dance. They are sure that it is the exercises that help them to keep energy, mobility and health in their extreme old age. There are many types of such gymnastics and taijiquan is the most popular gymnastics indeed.
Anyone who knows China traditions will stop and think “It is true! They indeed do it!” and nod his head satisfactorily. It is true Chine. No tricks.
The Chinese indeed do their morning (as well as day and evening) exercises which resembles a slow dance. They are sure that it is the exercises that help them to keep energy, mobility and health in their extreme old age. There are many types of such gymnastics and taijiquan is the most popular gymnastics indeed.
…It is sunny morning and I do to the main square of the country Tyananman. An entry into a small park which once was an imperial temple of forefathers is on the right hand of Mao Tszedun portrait. A very different group makes the exercises in the park in the lights of cool but bright winter sun. The majority of the group is the Chinese, but foreigners are here too. Here is Belarus Vadim Sugak, here is American, here is the Koreans… 70-year-old Victor Sjao the instructor of the group moves easy as a young person. “It is all due to taiji,” he laughs. We were acquainted with Victor Sjao several years ago in Minsk where he holds taijiquan seminars.
Such people as Victor Sjao would be called a man with an unusual destiny. But he does not agree with it and think that “canvas of his life” is quite simple. “I was born in a cave,” he tells… Here, of course we have to mention that a “cave” means Shaanxi province were houses are often cut right in Loessial plateau even today. But Victor was born in an unusual cave located within the territory of small town of Yanan, which was a communistic capital of China for over 13 years (from 1935 till 1948).
Way to taijiquan
— Did your parents were communists? — ask.
— My dad was a communist, but my mum was always a nonparty person.
Perhaps as a result of living in the communistic capital of China, Victor’s childhood resembles childhood of many other children of his age born in Yanan. In 1943 his mum took him and his brothers and sisters to Chimkent, and in four years they were sent to the well-known Ivanovo children`s home where about 50 children from China including children of ideological (and not only ideological) opponents Mao Tszedun and Tchan Kayshi (who became friends despite of their fathers) were raised there. “In 1949 my father took us from Ivanovo,” Victor tells. From 1951 till 1953 we lived in Prague were the International Council of Piece Defence was held. And only in 1953 I finally returned to China. I was 12 years old and I spoke no Chinese at all only Russian. It was necessary to learn language of my fathers. Now I on speak Russian and Chinese with equal ease and both language are native for me”.
Victor has opened taijiquan for himself as a result of a necessity. He did gymnastics but damaged his vertebra. “My body already required movement in this time and my friends recommended taiji. I was fascinated by taiji and master myself since that time. Firstly, I learned so-called park taijiquan anyhow and from anyone. I found my master only in 1982. It takes 20 years to find him.” Victor does not say the name of his master. He says that original Chinese tradition requires to keep name of a master in secret. Of course nowadays many traditions are forgotten and his own learners will say name of their without hesitation, but he is a person of old traditions… “Is it possible to gain insight into the taijiquan without a master?” I ask. “No,” he says steadily at once.
— But why?
— Because knowledge is transferred through the contact with a master using your feeling. There are no books which can explain which feelings you should have…
— Do you mean physical feelings?
— There is a memory of a body, physical memory. You cannot understand taijiquan without a teacher otherwise anyone could learn it from books and video records. A teacher neutralises tension, he helps to neutralise your personal conflicts and personal tensions. Contact with a master showing taijiquan movements is obligatory…
Roots and Philosophy
Traditional taijiquan (learned by Victor Sjao and his Belarusian learners) is a fantastic mixture of almost all achievements of Chinese culture. Taiji principles is not a opposition of contrasts such as Yin and Yan as many believe. Marxist unity and conflict of opposites are well known to Victor Sjao born in a communistic cave. He notes that “Taiji is not a conflict it is a harmony of contrasts”. Ancient China has discovered the main space law consisting in harmony and all other laws are derivative of it”.
Taijiquan began as fighting art and became very popular in the early 19th century when Yan Luchan became the main trainer of emperor guards. Yan was invincible and it explains sudden popularity of taijiquan. Even the name of the art was different. Is was called “soft, wadded” (“tsuan” — “struggle, fight”).
Taijiquan philosophy is interesting: soft wins firm, weak wins strong, slow wins fast. “It is much wiser than an unconditioned reflex and desire to use force against force,” Victor Sjao tells. But after three invincible generations of Yan family taiji was degraded Victor thinks. The main reason of such degradation was underestimation of the traditional culture which included taijiquan as its essential part. And today in Victor’s opinion traditional taiji is “almost forgotten”. But in the same time sport taiji develops actively and due to it “taijiquan” term is still in vocabulary of modern people.
After the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949 fighting arts were forbidden for non-military people, and therefore ancient practices such as taiji and other “tsuans” became necessarily health-improving exercises. But the ban was highly effective and up-to-date taiji is a puzzle with a great deal of pieces saved by old masters. Whether the puzzle pieces could be collected again? Victor Sjao is not ready to give unequivocal positive answer. “We study ancient practices in archives and try to understand how taijiquan have looked like. It resembles paleontology when you shall understand the whole dinosaur using one tooth or one bone” he said.
But Victor Sjao believes in revival taijiquan. “Taiji is the unique system which does not require attack and approach and attacking person lose. It means that taijiquan philosophy learns that I cannot and I shouldn’t attack. Isn’t it the space harmony law?”
Victor Sjao is sure that taijiquan has a universal value. He has learners not only in China but in Belarus and in Russia and knows it very well. After all taiji is more difficult for foreign learners that for Chinese ones. The Chinese understand taiji since the beginning — it runs in our veins, but foreign learners have to learn it from scratch… But if they fill and understand taijiquan philosophy and art at any time they became persevering and even annoying in a good sense.”
Victor Sjao considers his learners from Belarus and Russia as an “experiment”. He visits them only two times per year and it means that constant contact of a learner and a master which is very important according to his previous words cannot be provided. “It is an unimaginable for China,” he says. But nevertheless he is happy with the experiment results. The group of instructors had developed which insistently study traditional taijiquan. Victor believes in his learners. “I don`t even know now whether traditional taijiquan will be restored in China or abroad,” he says.
Evgeny Skornyakov, the only individual learner of Victor Sjao in Belarus who was granted the official title on a Bayshi ceremony in Beijing follows steps of his master in Minsk.
Perhaps, Evgeny is one of those instructors-methodologists of Beijing taiji school who persistently “study” the ancient art, my colleague has quoted words of the Chinese master. I suppose that Skornyakov has any ground to become a dedicated learner!
But what did they study? I will try to understand it at metting with Evgeniy in his taiji studio located on the ground floor of an apartment house on Rabkorovskaya Street southwards and not far from Minsk railway where “Druzhnaya” station locates. I go down the steep stone steps. And feel atmosphere of the interior which reminds of China where I have never been at once. Walls made of red-brown stone, arches and columns separating one hall from another, low benches… Most part of my generation have seen exotic of this great country in colour, very soft and smooth wipers with dragons and strange beautiful flowers, dazzling Chinese lamps, thermoses and painted caskets.
Now we have a priori a great variety of other possibilities to face China in real or in virtual world. And mysterious taijiquan is one of such possibilities.
Yin — Yan
We are in a great hall where lessons take place. I stay away from learners trying not to interfere their lesson. Meditative music created positive atmosphere. With my lateral sight I observe activity on the green carpet. Eight ladies of respectable age move fluent and almost simultaneously. They do not look at each other. It seems that they are shrink into themselves. I’m glad to note that I’ve seen something like that in a TV program devoted to Oriental single combats.
— It is my favorite group, my “girls,” Evgeny says about 65-year old and older women. Meanwhile, women take bright red fans…
Later I was told that some women are 80 years old. There was also a 95-year old woman who joined the grout when she was 89 years old! According to the ancient Chinese tradition period of a life after seventy years old is called “desired” period. It is not amazing that our women whose age we in the old manner consider as respectable or declining years learn taijiquan with Skornyakov for about 10 years! By the way, I say to Evgeniy that modern psychologists classified the age after 70 years old as “late adulthood.” We both agree with the widespread statement that the life is good at any age if a person is healthy.
Everything what Evgeny says is interesting to me. Before our meeting I visited “Taiji-Minsk” site where a lot of that curious information for journalists and interested persons who wants to join this ancient art is provided. I have found a treatise about ushu and quotations of wise men about oriental single combats, articles of Victor Sjao and impression of the Belarusians who have visited seminars in Beijing. Impressions about the country and about meetings with taiji masters organized by Victor are very enthusiastic.
— Generally, word “taijiquan” is more correct, though “taiji” is also used, Evgeniy says. He explains that “taiji” stands for “great border.” The philosophy of taiji is based on the doctrine about two polar beginnings Yin-Yan, interaction and alternation of which generates the great border on which the Universe genesis is based. Now we discuss the meaning of Yin and Yan, weak and strong, dark and light, day and night … but we do nothing, he says. And there, he nods to women, people try to understand tsuan. That is how Yin and Yan make itself felt in the human body and human understanding of this process. A practice provides feelings and understanding of harmony in movement and ways of its achievement. The Chinese have understood law of Yin and Yan movement without separating people from nature a long time ago and developed taijiquan practices.
Evgeniy tells me about constant change of Yin and Yan which cannot be stopped by anyone. Not only day and night movement but also taijiquan are everlasting. My interlocutor is absolutely sure that this ancient art of harmony in movement which was developed in the in Udan mountains in ancient days is immortal. And moreover, it is in China with its deep traditional roots where taijiquan will be revived. After all, Chinese civilisation is about 5000 years old. Yes, Evgeniy says, today the traditional culture of the country is changed and does not prevail. For example, many people hardly know that porcelain, enamel, varnish, silk, gunpowder, compass and many other things were invented in ancient China. And average life expectancy of the Chinese is 92 years! Did such life expectancy result from the alive genetic memory of the people living in harmony with nature? I agree with Evgeny that any nation is strong with its traditions, admitting that it is not that important that today taijiquan in China is rather a popular exercise. If form is preserved, it will be filled with the content some day, since it is known that all global events are cyclical and new life cycle will revive long-forgotten things.
Way of Life
Skornyakov has been learning taijiquan from Victor Sjao, a master of the 7th generation of the Yan family of Van Yunchuan school, for more that 10 years. Victor Sjao is is noly taijiquan teacher. “The teacher gave me understanding of the taijiquan core. It is impossible to explain,” Evgeniy says.
Earlier his teachers were Vietnamese master Red Dragon An and professor Le Cimhoa who revealed secrets of Oriental single combats, such as ushu in particular. Evgeniy has been going in for ushu for about 35 years. By the way, Evgeniy graduated from the Physical Culture University as a training specialist. When he was a student he worked with 6-year old children. He says it was interesting to play with them to understand technique of single combats and to explain in to children.
Evgeniy`s wish to share with people his knowledge arose in China for a long time when he taught ushu in the country`s major sports university. Now he has two diplomas. He received his second diploma in Beijing in the presence of all elders and masters of the traditional taijiquan. Evgeniy recorded a video of this official ceremony. I should admit that the festive admission of a learner of such outstanding master as Victor Sjao is impressive.
Now Skornyakov has his own learners. There are adult people among them. Some of them do their exercises at “White dragon” school, some teach other people in other cities of the Republic, in particular, in Mogilev and in Brest under the supervision of Evgeniy. There are two taijiquan directions in Evgeniy`s school: ushu (an external one) including all animal styles and taijiquan (an internal one). What are the results of such way of life?
“Here are the results,” he laughs. The medical board examining for long-term business trip shows that I am an absolutely healthy 50-year old man.
Except for health, Evgeniy admits, taijiquan ensures internal peace. It is an admirable way of life. “But who may ignore problems arising sometimes in a subway where someone may step on your foot?” I ask. He answers as easy as, possibly, he reacts to inconveniences which accompany our movement in public transport at rush hours.
— Yes, my finger and my brain feel it. But I understand that it is not the end of a life I behave accordingly and keep my psychical balance.
— Do you mean that taijiquan helps you in such situations?
— It does. I understand what is the most important thing for me and if I should subdue to reflexes or keep my internal harmony.
— And if you see an openly violent behaviour?
— I stop it.
— Is it difficult in a daily life to infuriate you?
— It would better to ask my wife…
I speak with his wife after the lesson is over. Tamara smiles, as though trying to convey that it is indeed difficult. By the way, she has never tried teaching because she learns taijiquan in another group of her husband. It seems that taijiquan supports her, too.
“It helps so much!” one of “girls,” Maria Vasilievna Kolodezhnaya says. I can see that Maria Vasilievna is the head of the group. “I am 82 year old,” she reveals her “secret.” She looks like a conspirator since she knows that I’m amazed. I cannot stop my whoop. She looks 10-15 years younger! Other women come to us, too. Each of them wants to tell about changes which became possible due to taijiquan: easiness and energy of the body, no insomnia, a relief from joint pain, well see sight and strong immune system…
“If you could see us at the beginning,” another one of taiji learners remembers. We could not boot ourselves and helped each other… The third woman says that thoughts about life hardships are almost gone and it is not easy to quarrel with somebody.
These women don`t even account for the fact that they have been visiting our studio for a long time because, step by step, taiji became their lifestyle. They are still proud that their “adult” group is unique in the CIS and “even in Moscow.” The women are extremely grateful to the teacher, Evgeniy Skornyakov and respectfully call him Evgeniy Kirillovich.
Health and desire of self-improvement are the bonuses of taijiquan and something undefinable but easily felt by all learners.
And now I think, perhaps, I should join taijiquan learning?
By Valentina Zhdanovich