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Guang Ping aka Kuang P’ing Style of Tai Chi Chuan History
Kuang P’ing t’ai chi ch’uan was brought to the USA by Grandmaster Kuo Lien Ying. It is a unique style of t’ai-chi ch’uan and may be the bridge between the Old Ch’en form and The Old Yang Style.
Millions of people worldwide are benefiting from the unique form of low intensity exercise called t’ai-chi ch’uan. T’ai chi ch’uan is an “Internal System” of kung-fu which is used to improve ones health, lower blood pressure, improve balance and coordination. There are many styles of t’ai chi ch’uan and all are good, as long as the classical principles are kept to. All are artistic evolutions of the original art, a matter of taste that is why it is called an art. And as it is said, “In matters of Taste there is no dispute.”
A unique style of t’ai chi ch’uan which influenced our system is the Kuang P’ing (aka Guang Ping) style of Grandmaster Kuo Lien Ying.
After studying other arts and yoga for several years, I was fortunate to start studying with Grandmaster Kuo in 1970. At the time I had no idea how lucky I was. A martial art friend of mine introduced me to Kuo. Kuo and his wife taught in Chinatown in San Francisco across from Portsmouth Park. Kuo signed me up and scheduled private sessions with me. I was also studying Chinese at the time and this gave me a chance to practice. His group sessions started before dawn in the park and concluded about 10:00 PM in his studio, when he locked it up.
Originally my lesson was in the morning, then I discovered that the pre 10:00 PM time was when I got the best answers and impromptu instruction from Kuo. He was more open at that time. I remember him watching me practice and give me a thumbs up and say “Numbah One.” Which was his way of saying he liked what he saw, a positive saying.
He preferred teaching in short private sessions but had group workout in the early morning. It was magical time to learn.
At that time Kuo was in his 70’s and had a 20 something year old wife and a young son. His family lived behind the training hall, kwoon. He was bursting with energy, which he attributed to his tai chi practice, though I suspect his active lifestyle all his life contributed to that.
He believed tai chi would increase longevity and quality of life. Kuo who died in his late 90’s, and his friends, Tchoung Ta-tchen who is in his late 80’s and Liang Tsung-tsai who died at 103 years old, are good testaments to that health benefit of t’ai chi.
Kuo, like his friends Tchoung and Liang, was one of a handful of REAL t’ai chi masters teaching in the US in the 60’s and 70’s. They were the last of a generation, the “Real Deal”.
While many call themselves grandmasters today, rarely do they show the level of skill and knowledge of Kuo, Tchoung and Liang showed and taught. I am proud to consider them consider my pivotal teachers. While I now primarily teach the curriculum of Tchoung Ta-tchen, I was greatly influenced by both Kuo and Liang; I consider them all my Sifu. They were the real deal.
Kuo ran a group practice in the park at dawn, then kept his studio open until 10:00 PM. I trained 3 hours in the morning and three hours in the evening or about 6 hours a day, seven days a week. I found by staying until he closed the studio at 10:00 PM, and usually being the only student there at that time, I was able to get additional private instruction and corrections from him. That is when I received my most valuable lessons. I was also able to learn some of the pa-kua and Tam Tui (springy leg lines) exercises he taught. For example one night Kuo taught me what he called the pa-kua “Camel step” and what I later found out to be the Lion palm posture.
I was told that when Kuo returned to China, he was made a Cultural Treasure because of his skill t’ai chi ch’uan, pa-kua chang and Shaolin.
It is a small world, because Tchoung Ta-tchen was also a practice partner and good friend of Kuo and both were friends of T.T. Liang. I studied with Liang in Boston and Amherst. These three grandmasters are who I consider to be my most significant instructors.
Years later my pa-kua chang (bagua zhang) instructor, Zhang Jie from Beijing, told me more stories about Kuo. Kuo was very famous in China’s pa-kua circles.
Kuo’s t’ai-chi ch’uan form is most popularly called the Kuang Ping (Guang Ping) style today. Some have called it Ch’en style, others call it the “Secret” Yang style. In appearance it is a bridge between the modern form of Yang style and the Older version of Ch’en style. After watching me do the form, Pa-kua teacher Andrew Dale said some of the movements reminded him of pa-kua too. The form has both short movements and small circles, as well as flowing and expansive movements. It also has some fast kicks, a jump kick and some fast strikes.
The form’s movements are usually done with a faster rhythm than most of the more modern Yang style forms. The body is completely upright and back is straight when doing the form. The hands are held in a particular palm position, with the fingers open, wrist bent and fingers extended. The stance is relatively high and the typical bow and arrow stance of modern Yang style is not used. The body is held similar to some versions of Ch’en style in what could be called a back stance. The kicks are done fast with straight knees and toes pulled up so that the kick is done with the heel on separate legs, and there is a jump kick in the form as well.
Grandmaster Kuo told me that he took out some repetitions and shortened the original form. Later others claimed the form he taught was the original form, that is doubtful.
The form has little resemblance to the several versions of what are called “Traditional Yang Style” forms that are taught by the followers of Yang Cheng-fu and their students, or the form taught by Kuo’s friends Tchoung Ta-tchen or Liang Tsung-tsai. Though Tchoung’s form contains some movements similar to the Kuang P’ing style techniques.
Yang Pan-hou lineage:
Kuo’s form is said to be traced back to Yang Pan-hou, the son of Yang Lu-chan. Yang Lu-chan, called “Yang the Unsurpassed” because he was never beaten in fights, was the originator of what we now call Yang family style. There are several versions of Yang Family forms taught today, I find it intriguing that some bear no resemblance to the other forms at all.
Yang Pan-hou was the official teacher for the Imperial court, who was the Manchu’s. The Chinese nationals were subjugated by the Manchu’s and hated them. Yang was Chinese, so many t’ai chi historians claim that he taught a watered down t’ai chi ch’uan to Manchurians and taught the real art to his family and select students. The Yang family lived in the town of Kuang Ping (also spelled Guang Ping, and this has nothing to do with Kwan Yin) and that is where the form’s name comes from. At least that is one story. There is no way to know if any of this is true as even among family members there is disagreement over the true history of Yang Style. One of Yang Pan-hou’s top students was Wong Jiao-yu, a native (Han) Chinese and stableman for the Imperial family one of the very few to teach this system.
Yang Chien-hou’s alternate styles:
Side note: Yang Pan-hou’s brother, the famous Yang Chien-hou, also taught an older alternative version of the Yang form. Our Tchoung Symmetrical Long form (240) and our San Shou (two person) Form (sections 7 & 8) are traced directly to him and his son Yang Shao-hou and his student Tian Zhao-lin (Tain Shaolin) and Hsiung Yang-ho. Tian Zhao-lin is said to be the student of Yang Chien-hou in one version of history, of Yang Shao-hou in another, Yang Pan-hou in another, and Tian is even placed on the Yang Cheng-fu lineage chart and was considered Yang Cheng-fu’s number One student. It is likely that Tian may have studied with each Yang and just went along with whoever the family head teacher was at the time. We are looking into this now.
There are several people teaching what are known as “Older forms”, “Secret forms”, etc., but resemble each other superficially, if at all. One may speculate that most “Secret Styles” have evolved on their own.
Kuo studied kung-fu from a young age and was a master of a Moslem version of Northern Style Shaolin ch’uan. He traveled around China challenging kung-fu masters to “testing” matches. If he found someone who could beat him, he would study with him. This is considered bad form today, and today’s world that would have gotten him arrested, or at least viewed as a thug, especially since most people do t’ai chi for health, not fighting. Kuo came from a different world. He even challenged the boxing legend Joe Louis in 1951, and in 1972 he still claimed,” I could have thrown him.” (San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 22, 1972).
Wong Jiao-yu Connection:
He met Wong Jiao-yu, who was of advanced age, legend says he was over 112, but healthy and spry. Wong easily threw the 30ish Kuo around. Kuo asked to become his disciple, and then had to pass certain physical tests. He was one of a very few disciples of Wong. It is claimed that Wong died at the age of 121 years. Kuo later became the primary teacher of this particular form of t’ai-chi ch’uan. It is his students and their student’s who carry on this style today.
Fled China after Mao took over:
Kuo was a General under Chiang Kai-shek. After the communist takeover, Kuo, like many other masters fled to Taiwan where he and they eventually taught their arts. Kuo left his 4 wives and 8 children in China, when he fled Mao. He became a congressman in Taiwan and then later moved to San Francisco.
The many masters fleeing to Taiwan ultimately benefited the martial art world, because shortly after then, the traditional martial arts such as t’ai chi ch’uan were outlawed as part of “Getting rid of the old” in Communist China. This lowered the level of traditional arts in China. Then later in China the forms were turned into politically correct, calisthenics forms such as the “Simplified 24 Form” and other modern forms now for basic exercise and competition.
The modern exercise and competition forms, e.g. 24 simplified form, were choreographed by committee to replace the “Sifu” based traditional arts. So the continuation of the real arts were in Taiwan for many years. Kuo and others taught their arts in Taiwan keeping the traditional methods alive, well and evolving; while at that time the arts went through a period of stagnation and persecution in China. This happened to other art forms as well including the art of the puppet master and even basic education.
One Chinese student, who was caught up in this, told me that while things changed, the anti-intellectual and anti-Old Fashioned, Anti-Western Ideas”, not teaching basic education, continued until around 1977, when the political climate changed again. This is much later than I would have thought. Another observer told me there is a whole generation of uneducated Chinese due to the political decisions of that time, now many Chinese of that generation feel cheated by a lack of proper education. But that is another story but it parallels the martial art story as well.
Kuo, Tchoung and other masters were able to continue to train and share with each other in Taiwan where the traditional arts flourished, progressed, and were preserved. Just think of the progress these men made in their training by being to workout with each other and share ideas, or debate concepts? This was a very fertile time for the martial arts in Taiwan. Kuo and Tchoung, both rough and tough customers, were friends and would workout, push hands, show-off, with each other in Taiwan. Tchoung told me that he had the greatest respect for Kuo and he told me about their pushing hands workout sessions and other stories of their adventures. They can be seen together in Tchoung’s book on page 287.
Kuo moved to San Francisco around 1965. He had many students. Some of his students, especially his Shaolin students were incredible athletes and did exquisite Shaolin forms. I remember them doing their beautiful forms early in the morning. Their athletic ability was amazing, showing incredible flexibility, grace and flow. They were poetry in motion.
Later, many of Kuo’s t’ai-chi ch’uan students, and their students, changed his form, so there are several versions of his art being taught today, some bearing little resemblance technically or energetically to what Kuo taught.
Kuo taught, as did Tchoung, that standing meditation was very important. Kuo emphasized the “Universal Post” standing meditation posture while Tchoung stressed the “Press down on Mt. Tai”. We teach that and over a dozen other standing meditation methods in our classes which were taught to us by Tchoung Ta-tchen. Our “Level One” exercises include the ch’i kung/warm-up exercises that came directly from Kuo. There are also techniques similar to Kuang Ping techniques in Form “Section Nine”. Some of our kicking drills came from Kuo, as well as Tchoung. Tchoung and Kuo had many similar training methods, which I guess is to be expected from old training buddies with similar histories.
The Kuo’s warm-ups and t’ai-chi ch’uan form can be done either as calisthenics, or as a ch’i kung (qigong) i.e. a mind-body exercise, depending on the emphasis of the student. The exercises bring ch’i to parts of the body and allow it to move naturally. The most important of the exercises is the standing meditation practice which helps to work the mind-body connection, strengthen the body and sink the ch’i. The Universal Post is the most famous of Kuo’s standing meditation postures, though he taught other postures as well. Standing meditation is both a ch’i kung and a physical training method.
We teach a variety of these standing exercises as part of our system. These ch’i kung are said to clean and balance the energy field (aura). You should feel serene during and after practice. Some people are drawn to one version and others to different versions, there are literally thousands of varieties of ch’i kung routines. The t’ai chi ch’uan is also a ch’i kung if done properly. Only if they are performed correctly are the exercises ch’i kung, if not they are merely calisthenics. Many of these Kuang Ping exercises are also classified as traditional therapeutic or healing exercises and are used as physical therapy in China. Some are even included in the modern “Liangong Shibafa” therapeutic exercises. Some are also similar to some of the exercises in the “Soaring Crane Ch’i Kung” form.
Kuo wrote two books: one in Chinese, and the other had photos and was translated into English by his student Master T.R. Chung. Kuo’s book, T’AI-CHI-CH’UAN In Theory And Practice, has pictures of Kuo doing his form, the only book I know of with a significant number of pictures of Kuo actually doing his form. It is a good reminder as to how Kuo really did the form, now that so many teachers have changed it. At one of the UCR Tournaments I brought the book in case there was any argument about how the form should be done in the “Kuang Ping Form Category”.
The University of California T’ai Chi Ch’uan Championships was the First in the Country to feature a “Kuang Ping Form” category for Kuo’s form, as a separate category. We were also the first to feature a Tchoung form category and one of the first to feature a Cheng Man-ch’ing form and Ch’en form category as well. We did that because the forms were to be performed correctly to reflect the flavor or energy of those forms, rather than elaborated on to gain points as is often done in certain tournaments. Later other tournaments followed that example. (See Tournament information)
T.R. Chung was a long time student of Kuo from Taiwan and taught t’ai chi ch’uan, Shaolin ch’uan, Pa-kua chang, calligraphy, I Ching and Tao Te Ching in San Francisco in 1968 and later in Berkeley in the 1970’s. I worked out with him briefly in Berkeley. Chung wrote his book, with a similar title to Kuo’s, called Tai Chi Chuan in Theory and Practice, (Berkeley 1974) which showed Chung’s version of Kuo’s form as well as Wu style and Yang style. Soon after, another book was written by Kou’s students, Tom Brayne and Cecile Cutler, called Wave Hands Like Clouds, in 1975. Recently several new books have come out. One is part of Kuo’s Chinese book translated into English, another is by Kuo’s wife, (Simu) Simone Kuo, who came out with her book and her version of his style. There are probably others as well.
Kuo died at the age of 96 back at his home in Inner Mongolia. I was indeed fortunate to have studied with and experienced the Chinese National Treasure, Grandmaster Kuo Lien Ying. He is one of the last generation of irreplaceable “Real” t’ai chi ch’uan masters.
San Francisco Chronicle Feb 22, 1972
Kurland, H., Asian Mind-Body Techniques Revealed.
Kurland, H, “In matters of Taste there is no dispute,” Internal Wushu Arts Newsletter, November/December 1998, p 5-6.
Kurland, H., “Kuang Ping Style T’ai Chi Ch’uan,” City News, October 8, 1998. P 5
Tchoung, T.T., Theoretical and Practical Tai Chi Chuan, p 287
C Harvey Kurland 2010
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