Interview of master Li jianyu (first part)

This interview was published by the french magazine "ART ET COMBAT" in 1995 after master Li jianyu first trip to France, the questions had being asked by françois Song. I did the translation in english...

Master Li jianyu, can you please talk to us about your beginning in the Wushu ?

I was born in 1924. Very interested in the practice of the wushu, I did already start to practice at 6 years old in a martial art school in Daxing, in the surbub of Beijing. The name of my first master was Tang fengting and he did practice Xingyiquan.

When did you meet your master, the famous Wang xiangzhai ?

When I was 18 years old, I met a martial art master named Hong lianshun in a parc. He was about 50 years old and had been the first teacher of Yao zongxun. He was very impressive because he could break stones with bare hands using his internal energie and he had a lot of gongfu. He told me that his art was nothing compared to Wang xiangzhai's one. This last had beaten him in a fight and now he felt his art was very superficial. He was advising all his student to study with master Wang xiangzhai and decided to introduce me to him as well. It was in 1943; This one was very happy to take me as a new student. I was short, very motivated and sincere. He did also appreciate to meet someone from the muslim religion. I was the only student to be muslim. At that time, Wang xiangzhai was around 58 years old.

Wang xiangzhai and his students, young Li jianyu is second from the left

What impression did he make on you ?

Well, he was very calm, very elegant. When you were seeing him, it was very difficult to imagine him practicing chinese boxing. It was a complete change as soon as he was taking a stance or a fighting position. He was then becoming very impressive in a minute and for a short time wich was, in general, long enough to finish the fight !
I was often invited to his home. He was talking about philosophy and important problems of life. From time to time, I was staying for the night. It was not only about daily physical training. He wanted me to have a right vision of the world by trying to see things through different angles. Philosophical theories were often discussed.The problem wasn't only to be physicaly strong. He talked about physical force and about force. Sometimes you have to keep this force, sometimes this force has to become explosive. In his teaching, the rule was to be soft, nifty and light outside while powerful and fast inside.

The master Wang xiangzhai had become a man of legend during his lifetime. Did you witness one of the feat that made his reputation to be ?

A famous boxer was always provoking master Wang xiangzhai. Finally, master Wang did accept the challenge and asked his opponent to choose the kind of fight he liked, with bare hands or weapons. This one, very nervous, did start to insult the master while looking for a weapon. Master Wang stayed completely unblinking, just scratching his ear, unaffected by the threat of his adversary. Seeing such an attitude, the man finally said : " I can't keep my calm like you. I feel I did already loose the fight, I give up."

Shili and walking by master Li jianyu

On what, exactly, was based the teaching of master Wang xiangzhai ?

It was essentially based on 3 exercices :
- Zhanzhuang, basic stances for the training of body and mind.
- Shili, movement to test the force.
- The walking, principles of moving
The first exercice was the only to be practiced for, at least, three years. Then, the two others were aded and could be practiced with differents levels of conscience, because without awakening, it's impossible to practice Yiquan. Patience and will are requiered. Then, he was teaching the sound, the fali, the tuishou with one arm and with two and then was coming the training of combat. It is a patern of training that absolutly need to be followed. Anyway, it's impossible to pass over this process, the "little things" are important. My master was insisting a lot on the details : How to hold a brush for the calligraphy, what is the right position for the little finger, the hand in zhanzhuang...

Fuhuzhuang by master Li jianyu

To be continued...

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