Grandmaster Wang Pei Sheng

GM Wang

Grandmaster Wang Pei Sheng

(1919 - 2004)


Great Master Wang Peisheng, head of the Northern Wu Style Taiji Quan group, passed away at 8:40am on September 3rd, 2004 in Beijing of heart-related illness arising from the complications of an earlier stroke. He was 85 years of age.

Master Wang’s funeral was held on the morning of September 7th at Ba Bao Shan National Cemetery in Beijing. Among the hundreds of family members, friends, and students in attendance were older generation Taiji masters like Li Bingci and Feng Zhiqiang, as wells as representatives from all major martial art groups and associations within Beijing, and some from outside of Beijing.

Master Wang’s passing marked the end of an era. He was commonly regarded as the youngest of the last generation of masters belonging to martial arts last golden age. He was also a bridge between the old and the new. A voracious student in a wide range of subjects both eastern and western, traditional and modern, his knowledge was imposing in its scope and depth, and extraordinary in its subtlety and refinement. Assimilating knowledge from diverse fields such as philosophy, science, and medicine; synthesizing, and creating new methods and approaches, he dedicated his life to passing on traditional martial arts to the younger generation of people who grew up in a radically different world from which he was born.

The Path to Mastery - Early Childhood Training – Yin Style Bagua, Tantui, and Taiji Quan

Master Wang Peisheng was born on March 24, 1919 in Wu Qing County, Hebei Province. Peisheng is his zi, the unofficial first name used for casual situations. His official first name, or ming, is Liquan. Later on in life he would also be widely known by his religious name (fahao) of Yin Cheng. But in daily life, his students, and even many others outside the martial arts, simply referred to him as Wang xiansheng. Xiansheng means “master”, a traditional title reserved for classical scholars and teachers. When Master Wang was six, his family moved to Ganyu Alley in the eastern part of Beijing. He had a love for martial arts right from the beginning. As a child he liked to play traditional martial arts heroes. There was a family of circus performers in his neighborhood. The son of that family taught him some basics in martial arts and acrobatics. He learned fast and practiced hard. As a child, he accomplished the feat of being able to do more than thirty back flips in a row, all on a small tabletop. At age twelve, a chance encounter was to change the rest of his life. The common residential housing in the north at the time was the si he yuan. Master Wang’s family shared a si he yuan with several other families. Structurally the si he yuan is like the ranch style house we have in this country today, only having four wings surrounding a central courtyard. Three of the wings are for residence, with the fourth - the front of the compound, being the entrance. Usually there’s an outer wall and gate in front of the inner front gate. One day he was practicing the basic spear thrust in the narrow alley between the outer wall and the front gate, thrusting the spear away from the front entrance. At the end of the thrust, he would have to turn to pull back on the spear using full body power. He was standing a little too close to the front entrance, and engrossed in his training, he did not see until too late a small old man coming in during one of these turns. The end of the staff headed right for the old man’s throat. The old man neatly dodged the spear and took it away from Master Wang. He was very angry and started yelling at the child. A neighbor, a relative of the old man, heard the commotion and came out to try to calm things down. The neighbor explained that this boy loved martial arts, that he has been practicing these basics very hard everyday. “In fact”, he said, “you’re a great master, why don’t you teach him something?” The old man, calming down a little, asked Master Wang to show him his basic gongfu. Master Wang did his best and the old man was satisfied. He agreed to take Master Wang on as a disciple.

Great Master Wang Peisheng - Yin Cheng

Years later, Master Wang would remember it this way: “At that time, I did not know anything about the old man. I could only wonder about what kind of martial art he would teach me. But my neighbor was very excited. He said: 'You are a very lucky boy, tell your parents about this right away! Ask them to prepare a ceremony for your acceptance as a disciple of Master Ma Gui.' I still didn’t appreciate how important this was. But my father practiced a little bit of martial art, he knew about Ma Gui’s reputation. He was shocked, 'I can't believe it!' he said, and ran out to welcome Master Ma. When asked about the induction party, Master Ma said he did not want a big party. Ma said, ‘we can just make a Bai Shi ceremony right now.' So my father set up the incense table, and we performed the acceptance ritual at once. According to traditional way we burn incense and then I had kou tou to him.” So, in this way, the young Wang became a disciple of Ma Gui, and, importantly, started out with high level professional training from an early age, which helped pave the way for the greatness he eventually achieved. Of course, Ma Gui (1853-1940) was one of the most renowned martial arts masters of that time. He had many nicknames: (i) mu Ma, or “wooden Ma”, because he owned a wood factory; (ii) Ma cuo zi, “short Ma”, because he was small in stature; (iii) pang xie Ma, “crab Ma”, because he liked to draw crabs in traditional watercolor paintings; (iv) tie ge bei Ma, “iron arm Ma”, because of the famous technique he like to use in fighting called zhi bi wan da – “straight arm wrist strike”. Ma Gui studied with Yin Fu from an early age. He was very small in size, but he had natural talent and he practiced very diligently, so his skill grew very rapidly. Master Yin liked him and always brought him to meet with other masters and try out his skills. Dong Hai Chuan, Yin Fu's teacher and founder of Bagua Zhang, was also very fond of the Ma, the young prodigy. Ma Gui received direct training from Dong, and after Dong retired from his duty in the king’s palace, he moved into Ma’s house. Because of this Ma’s skill was widely respected as among the very highest in Bagua Zhang circles, even when compared to the many outstanding Bagua Zhang masters of his teacher’s generation. Ma was well-known for wearing 10 pound iron rings on each wrist during practice. By age 20 he was already a famed fighter. He always welcomed a good fight and he beat many other martial arts masters. When he worked for Duke Lan, the duke relied on him more than any one else. Later on he became instructor to the royal prince. After the Republic Revolution, he worked at the president’s office. Eight years after that, he became a martial arts coach in the National Police Academy. Master Ma was extremely conservative about imparting his knowledge of fighting skills. In his lifetime, he had many students, but most, including his own son, were taught only some basic, general skills. His standards were extraordinarily high. To him, high level skills should only be taught to a person with great character, talent, intelligence, and work ethic. Of his many students, some of whom were in fact quite talented, only Master Wang became famous. Today we can only guess why the apparent change in attitude with the young Wang, whom he met very late in life. Given Ma Gui’s awesome reputation in Bagua Zhang, he had not yet produced a worthy successor so far. Perhaps he saw hope and continuity in Wang, the young prodigy.

Yin Bagua - Forward Piercing Fist
Yin Bagua - Forward Piercing Fist

Yin Bagua - Hold Up, Push Down, and Crouching Walk In their first three years, Master Ma gave Wang lessons at the Wang household first thing in the morning, afterwards having breakfast in Wang’s home, and then going on to his other teaching duties. Ma taught the young Wang Shaolin Luohan Quan, Yin (Fu) style Bagua, and weapons. Wang worked hard, thought a lot about the practice, and was able to receive answers to his many questions. At age 13, one year after meeting Master Ma, while continuing his Yin style Bagua Zhang practice, the young Wang also became disciple of two other famous martial artists, Master Zhang Yulian, from whom he began learning Jiaomen Tantui, and Master Yang Yuting, from whom he began learning Taiji Quan. At the time, both men were teaching martial arts at the Beiping (Beijing’s name of that time) Third Popular Education Institute near the Wang household. Zhang Yulian was the oldest of seven very famous martial arts blood brothers. His nickname was Gou Tang Zhang, because of his outstanding skill with the special Tantui weapons, gou and tang. In his younger days, he did security and police work, and he excelled at the practice of qing gong, the ability to scale high buildings very quickly and quietly. Zhang was a Muslim, and in the old days, Chinese Muslims always kept certain high level techniques secret. Tantui is an extensive style that includes many skills. There are two major styles within Tantui: Jiaomen (Muslim style) and Shaolin. But one famous saying goes: "From Nanjing to Beijing, the best Tantui comes from Muslim style." The style is extremely demanding, requiring very high level basic conditioning, so the training is rigorous. Student Wang joined Master Zhang's group with many other youngsters of the area. They practiced hard and performed frequently all over the city. The core teachings learned by student Wang consisted of ten section kick skills, six short forms, ten section Cha Quan forms, and the four special weapons of gou, je, tang, and dei. Yang Ruilin (1887-1982), more commonly known as Yang Yuting, was the leading disciple of Taiji Quan Master Wang Maozhai. Yang eventually succeeded his teacher as the leader of Northern Wu Style Taiji Quan. Yang’s entire teaching career spanned over seven decades, producing thousands of students. Master Wang Peisheng was part of his first group of indoor disciples. When they first met, Yang was also teaching at Beijing Taiji Quan Institute in Taimiao Temple. Taimiao was the great memorial hall where Ming and Qing Dynasty emperors came to worship their ancestors. Today it’s called the Working People's Cultural Palace. The headmaster at Taimiao was Master Wang Maozhai, a disciple of Wu Style Taiji Quan founder Quan You. Each morning more than one hundred people came to Taimiao to practice. Master Yang brought the young Master Wang there to practice. Wang proved to be such a quick learner that after just one year, he was assisting Master Yang with classes: “At that time I practiced very hard. Each morning, I woke up around four o'clock. First I practiced everything I learned, then I went to Taimiao Temple around six o'clock. There I would lead some students in form practice first, and then we practiced push hands. I had to push hands with thirty or forty people. Some of them were young and strong, some of them were old or weak, and some of them already had very good gong fu. This was very good training for me: different people had different styles and presented you with different problems. For the young and the strong, I must try to relax. For the older and weaker people, I must take care not to overdo it or injure them.” Grandmaster Wang Maozhai was the teacher of Yuan Liang, mayor of Beijing at the time. Many of the capital’s money and power elites flocked to Wang Maozhai’ s classes as well, in order to get closer to the mayor. For these people, some of whom led decadent lifestyles with associated bad habits, Master Wang had to make other special accommodations for their physical condition and status. “When they attacked, I can’t just lead their force to emptiness. Being suddenly unbalanced is a very unpleasant experience, these people would not like that. So I had to make them comfortable at all times. If they pushed in, I had to lean all the way back, further than I would have to in a normal situation. Not only do I have to support and balance my own weight, at the same time I had to do the same for theirs. So this whole experience was very good to develop my basic gongfu. For the people who already had good skills, it was like an intense competition, I must do my best to deal with them. Everyday like this for several hours, it went a long way in helping me develop my skills.”

Taiji Push Hands For

five years, Master Wang had a single-minded focus on martial arts. “I probably was a little crazy back then”, he remembered, “everyday, every waking moment, my mind was on martial art. When I walked down the street, I imagined myself as the xia ke (knight-errant) of old, walking alone in a big mountain. Anyone who came toward me, I would imagine from his posture the various ways he could attack me at any given time, and what I would do in response.” “To really reach high level”, he would later say, “you probably need to go through something like this, to have this level of intensity.” Master Wang also realized from very early on that achieving high level skills required more than hard work and dedication, you must also exercise your mind as hard as you are exercising your body. So he paid attention to everything in his practice, reflected on his practice deeply, and asked many questions to his masters and to himself. To me it all boiled down to one puzzle he wanted to solve, and he would not stop until he had it all figured out: having been exposed to all the great feats his various masters, he wanted to know: “… we all have two arms and legs, what makes it so that in a fight, this one person can remain standing and the other one ends up flat on the ground?” Student Wang fought many times, even at his young age, and by age fifteen he had already beaten many people, even a few famous masters. One of the early stories about him was in regards to a saying: “Don’t let your big mouth get you in trouble with the young boy.” One day, while walking around Tian An Men Square, he saw a large group of people watching some masters practicing martial arts. So he stopped to watch as well. One of the masters said that no one can move his feet even one inch. No one else present challenged that, since they knew from experience that this was true. But the young Wang never let a chance go by to try out his techniques. Many in the audience laughed because they did not believe this young boy could do anything. But he surprised everyone by throwing the older master back three times. From that point on, in this area, people began to say: “Be careful, never have a big mouth, or you may run into a certain young boy.” Student Wang’s fighting ability soon captured the attention of Wang Maozhai. One day a challenger came to Taimiao. After defeating several students, he came into Yang Yuting’s office and asked to push with Yang. Young Wang was in the office with Yang Yuting at the time. Yang Yuting’s personality was very different from that of Master Wang. He was a very nice, even-tempered person who never carried things too far. He always stop short once he thought the point had been made, careful to spare his opponent of any injury or humiliation. When he was pushing with this challenger, as soon as he sensed his opponent was beginning to lose balance and control, he stopped and did not complete his throw. But the challenger, not even realizing he was losing, and seeing Yang Yuting backing off, took advantage and managed to move Yang Yuting a step backwards. Young Wang understood what had happened and was furious. He immediately asked to take Master Yang’s place. He took no chances in showing restraint, he threw and bounced the challenger off of a wall like a ball seven times in quick succession before Master Yang yelled at him to stop. The challenger came back again a few days later. He said this time he just wanted to fight with young Wang. He could not make sense of what happened the previous day and want to try again. This time they fought outside in the yard. Young Wang threw the challenger down so hard the challenger passed out. On this day Wang Maozhai just happened to come by and witnessed everything. He was delighted. He thought the young boy had the potential to be a great master. So when he went to lunch with Yang Yuting that day, he asked young Wang to come along. During the meal he asked young Wang many questions. At the end of the lunch he told young Wang: “From now on you can come to my house to practice every evening.” Upon hearing this, young Wang was ecstatic. According to tradition, grandmasters usually do not want to appear to be interfering in their student’s affairs by teaching grandstudents too much. So this was a very big deal. From that day forward young Wang would go to Wang Maozhai's home almost every night until the grandmaster passed away in 1942. Wang Maozhai (1863-1942) studied Taiji Quan with Quan You, one of Yang Luchan’s most outstanding students and Yang Banhou’s disciple. Although he trained very hard from youth, Wang Maozhai did not reach true understanding of Taiji Quan until he was 52 years old. That year he went back to his home village for vacation; and while taking a casual stroll around the village, he stopped to observe the masons working. When you pound on stones all day, you develop technique, a certain kind of looseness, a springiness that is required in your motion, otherwise your hands quickly become numb from the hard impacts. Watching these men work, Wang Maozhai was suddenly enlightened. When he returned to Beijing people were shocked by the change, he was invincible. He became the most revered master in the capital city. Today, most traditional Taiji masters in Beijing and Northern China are from his lineage. When his gong fu brother Wu Jianquan moved to Shanghai, people referred to them respectfully as “Southern Wu and Northern Wang.” At that time Wang Maozhai had a profitable business in building materials (bricks and tiles). In his store, in between the sales counter and the da kang (traditional brick bed), the floor was made up of two large slabs of stone. Wang Maozhai often practiced while standing behind the counter. Over time his feet polished the stones to be as slippery as ice, and as smooth as mirror. This is the area where Wang Maozhai would stand pushing with grandstudent Wang. In later years, Master Wang recalled, “Even standing still on these stones required a lot of effort. In the beginning, I could not understand my grandmaster's skills, I just remembered being thrown down repeated to two places, either under the sales counter or up the da kang." If Master Wang Maozhai's had any weakness as a teacher, it was that he could not verbalize the principles very well. But he obviously understood it intuitively at a physical level. So when he taught, he just threw students again and again and let them get the feeling by themselves. This approach was worked very well for some students, not so well for others. Later in life, Master Wang, being one of the former group, would say “I was really lucky. From this training I really understood what Taiji Quan is.” Eight years of hands-on contact with the high level master made him realize what high level skill should be like, and honed his own sensitivity to a very high level. He studied every movement in detail and thought about them deeply. At the same time, he also began studying traditional Taiji principles and philosophical theories under Master Guo Fen, another disciple of Quan You. Master Guo was a high level traditional scholar with formal classical training, so he could articulate Daoist Taiji principles very well. Like others he was astounded by young Master Wang’s ability, and was happy to help further his understanding. With such dedicated efforts, student Wang’s skills grew very quickly, and by age 18, Grandmaster Wang Maozhai had judged him qualified to teach. Yang Yuting had many other outside teaching duties at the time, and so he gave some of them to his star disciple, and thereafter, student Wang became one of the youngest taijiquan masters in China.

The Path of Mastery - Broadening the Horizon and Making Friends through Martial Arts

Young Wang continued learning more and more about martial arts. From age 15, while continuing his studies of Yin Style Bagua, Taiji, and Tantui, he also began learning Cheng Style and Liu Style Bagua with Gao Kexing. At that time, Master Gao was a famous professor in the Martial Arts School of Hebei Province. Yang Yuting had studied with Gao previously, then he brought along the young Wang. Young Wang also received training in Ruyi Tongbei Quan with Liang Junpo, in Baji Quan with Wu Xiufeng, in Xingyi with Zhao Ruenting, an in both Xingyi and Bagua with Han Muxia. He also learned Shuai Jiao (Chinese wrestling), qigong, and Chinese medicine as well. At the same time Master Wang pursued his studies in traditional Chinese culture. He studied Ru Xue (Confucianism) with masters Jin Hu and Xu Zhenkuen, Daoism with famous scholars Shen Xinchan and Wu Jinyong, and Buddhism with priest Liao Yi and Miao Chan. At age 13, he received ju shi jie from his Buddhist master. A ju shi is someone who joins the group but can remain a layman instead of becoming a monk living in the temple. Jie means monastic discipline. It was from this he received his fa hao Yin

Cheng. Cheng Bagua - Turn Body Back Palm Change

Master Wang had a gentle temperament, but he really enjoyed a good fight. However, this was never just fighting for the sake of fighting. Although in his lifetime he defeated many famous masters, he never thought any of that was important. What was important is the art - the skill itself. As he liked to say: "I just like to research these skills, and for me fighting is just the testing part of that research." So despite his great skills, Master Wang remained modest and humble. If he found any skill or capability that was good, anything worthwhile, he wanted to study it, even if it came from someone whom he had defeated. Liu Style Bagua Cheng Style Bagua Xingyi Quan

Cheng Style Bagua
Xingyi Quan
Xingyi Quan
Bagua Chun Yong Jian

A good example of this was his encounter with Wang Daoyi. Wang Daoyi is a Wudang Mountain priest who had traveled widely to test his own martial arts skills. He defeated many masters when he arrived in Beijing. When he came to challenge Yang Yuting, he had to fight the young student Wang first before he could fight with Yang directly. It never went further than that. However, both admired each other’s skill. Wang Daoyi ended up staying at the Wang household for two weeks. Every day they practiced together. Before Wang Daoyi left Beijing, he gave the young Wang a gift to thank him for all his help and friendship. It was the famous, but rare, Wudang Jiang form. Master Wang loved this form and practiced it very well. This was a very valuable gift since so many people wanted to learn it. In the old days, high level masters of big schools were not as conservative and jealous of each other as some people think today. Perhaps some of the elder masters were conservative in regards to teaching students but they did not reject learning high level skills from others. These people loved martial arts more than life, if they saw anything good, no matter where it came from, they wanted to learn it. They didn’t have the arrogant attitude,“…my group is the best, if it didn’t come my group, I’m not interested”. You can see that in the close relationship between members of Xingyi, Bagua, and Taiji groups. People were blood brothers, and among blood brothers, as it should be between real brothers, there were no secrets. So if you were a high level martial artist, and you had some really valuable skill, you could use it to trade for many other skills from other masters in return, even if you were not an indoor disciple. Master Wang received much valuable training this way with masters like Chen Fake of Chen Style Taiji, Wang Wenfang of San Huang Pao Chui (three emperor cannon fist), Sun Xikuen of Bagua, Mo Wanda of Ying Zhao Li (eagle claw force), Song Shutang (Song Changrong's nephew) of Song Style Bagua, and Wu Zhizhen of Shaolin. Bagua Chun Yong Jian When Master Wang did push hands or fought, he felt that everything should be done precisely. Sometimes this meant he beat people very hard, and created the misconception that he was a mean person. But fighting is something to be taken with utmost seriousness. Most traditional martial artists understood this. Nevertheless, through his encounters, Master Wang often made many friends. They would study from each other and researched skills together. Some of them even became Master Wang’s blood brothers, like Zhang Litang, Gao Ruizhou, and Ma Yilin. Master Zhang Litang was born to an extremely prominent and wealthy family. His grandfather Zhang Zhiwan and granduncle Zhang Zhidong were scholar warriors, both of them served as high level military advisors (equivalent of joint chiefs) of the Qing Dynasty. But Zhang Litang only had his mind on martial arts, he was not interested in any book learning. To this day it is a mystery how, given his family background, Zhang Litang was able to avoid his classics studies. In any case, his family hired a very famous Baji Quan master to instruct him at home. That master was Li Shuwen. Master Li Shuwen was one of the most renowned fighters of his generation. His skill with the spear bordered on the miraculous, hence the nickname Shen Qiang Li; shen meaning god- like, magical, divine, and qiang meaning spear. On top of his terrifying skill with a spear was his totally merciless attitude. Li was famous for having killed several challengers, and severely injuring others. So it was under his stern tutelage that Zhang Litang trained as a youth. Zhang Litang would later remember that there was little pleasing Li Shuwen, no matter how hard your trained. By Li Shuwen’s standard no amount of effort was enough. The rest of the world would soon find out just how good Zhang Litang’s spear skill was. At age 13, for fun Zhang and his uncle, who was only 17, decided to rob a wagon that was protected by professional armed escorts. They handily beat the four masters protecting the wagon, who ran away in defeat. After he grew up, a friend got him a job as an instructor for the army. When he joined there were about 20 instructors already, none of them thought anything of Zhang. Like his teacher, Zhang was small in stature. In very short time he beat them all and won their respect. Master Wang Peisheng first met Master Zhang in a park, where they talked and fought. Master Wang won the encounter but he admired Master Zhang's skills, especially his spear technique. So they became very good friends and began practicing together often. Later on they met Master Gao Ruizhou. Master Gao was from a martial arts family. His father Gao Fenglin was a famous martial arts master and Chinese medical doctor who taught his son since his early youth. Later on, Gao became Li Ruidong's disciple, from whom he learned Cuo Jiao, Fan Zi, Taiji Wuxing Chui (Taiji Five Star Fist), among other things. Master Li Ruidong's nickname was Bizi Li (Nose Li), after his deformed nose. His skill earned him the position of supervisor of the guards for the Forbidden City. Through Li Ruidong, the art of Taiji Wuxing Chui, a mix of Taiji and other skills, became famous. When Master Wang and Zhang Litang met Master Gao, they all became good friends and decided to start a school together, but not without trouble. One day, while teaching in the park, a young man came to challenge Master Gao. Gao defeated the challenger, but he also said something that made the challenger very angry. So the next day the challenger brought a man to fight with Gao. This man defeated Gao and said: "I hear you and your friends want to start a martial art school, so I will see you on that day." This meant that he wanted a public challenge. According to tradition, if you lose on that day, then the school cannot open. So Gao went to Wang and Zhang right away. They had to settle the situation before they started the school. A few days later, they saw the challenger in the park. As the challenger shook hands with Master Wang, he suddenly used a technique called “dragon stirs tail” to attack Master Wang, but Master Wang immediately countered with "dragon coils around the jade pole", which enabled him to keep his balance, and at same time destroy the challenger's balance. The challenger was very surprised at being bested. They began to talk about martial arts and each of them tried out other techniques. The challenger knew Xingyi Quan very well, so he tried beng quan to beat Master Wang, but Master Wang used pi quan in return to throw the challenger out. The process continued until the attitude of the challenger changed and he became friends with Master Wang. The challenger now asked to join the group in building the school. This challenger turned out to be none other than Ma Yilin, disciple and son-in-law to the famous master, Han Muxia. Han Muxia, born 1872 in Tianjing, had studied martial arts from a very early age. He had nine acknowledged masters as teachers. The last of them was Xingyi and Bagua master Zhang Zhankui, also known as Zhang Zhaodong. Zhang’s nickname was Shan Dian Shou, or lightning hand. Zhang was the supervisor of the president’s guards. Later he taught martial arts in Tianjing. Zhang had studied Xingyi with Liu Qilan, and Bagua with Dong Haichuan. Han Muxia was Zhang Zhaodong’s best disciple. Many actually thought Han Muxia’s gungfu was better than Zhang Zhaodong’s. Han had excellent fighting skills and defeated many famous masters. Han’s school, the National Martial Arts Academy, was very famous. Han’s only daughter was married to his best student Ma Yilin. Through Ma, Master Wang had the opportunity to learn Xingyi and Bagua with Han Muxia. By this point, Master Wang had a firm grasp of the basics, and so had the added opportunity to talk more with Han about many higher level concepts, things like the famous “200 baffling questions in martial arts”, which Han explained to Master Wang in detail. So with Zhang, Gao, and Ma, Master Wang founded the Huitong Martial Arts School in the northwestern part of Beijing in 1947. Master Wang was the director of the school. Eventually they all became blood brothers. In 1957, the four brothers founded a second school, People’s Martial Arts Club, in southern part of Beijing. Master Wang was the chairman of that school.

The Celebration Ceremony of the Founding of "People's Martial Arts Club" in Beijing, 1957 (from the left of the first row: second - Gao Ruizhou, third - Zhang Litang, fourth - Ma Yilin, and Fifth - Wang Peisheng)

During this period, Master Wang became increasingly famous for his fighting skills. He defeated many masters, some very famous, but he did not often mention these encounters. To him, fighting was about researching, and about proving your ideas about martial arts, not for elevating one’s own reputation at the cost of another’s reputation. His reputation grew nonetheless such that Dacheng Quan founder, Wang Xiangzhai, confided to him once: “Peisheng, I always keep your name on the cuff of my sleeve.” This is a saying from the Tale of Three Kingdoms. According to the story, King of Wei Cao Cao, upon hearing from General Guan Yu that his younger brother Zhang Fei, was the better fighter, immediately tell all his generals to write down the name on their sleeves, so that if they were to run into Zhang Fei later, they would remember to exercise extreme caution.

Early Days of People’s Republic of China – Contributions

The early 50’s marked the end of more than one hundred years of fighting for China, both civil and foreign. The country and its people finally had a chance to rest. The social climate was once again great for martial arts training. Master Wang was very busy teaching martial arts, at his two schools and at many other places, especially in colleges and universities. He started to play a very active role in the national martial arts scene as well. This was in the early days of national martial arts competitions, before the advent of modern Wu Shu, so it was not uncommon for competitors who thought they lost unfairly in forms competitions to want to settle the issue with a real fight, with the other competitor, or even with the judge! So judges were needed who could keep this type of thing under control. Master Wang did a lot of judging during this period. He also joined in many martial arts research conferences. As a result he started to become famous on a national level. In 1953, he finished a great work, the Wu Style Thirty-Seven Posture Form. At that time, he was teaching at the Beijing Industrial College. Some faculty and students complained to him that the traditional form took too long. At over 40 minutes, many of the busy college faculty and students often did not have time to finish one repetition of the form. So Master Wang had the idea for a short form. The first thing he did was to remove all the repetitive movements, so that trimmed down the form to just 37 postures. Then he edited and rearranged these postures to create a new form. The logic he used was to put some of the simple and easy movements in the beginning of the form, with some complex and difficult movements in the middle, and finally some quiet and relaxing movements in the end. He kept experimenting with the new form as he started teaching it to people. He thought it can be make even more efficient, using even fewer postures. He analyzed the form in detail. Recalling his own learning experience, he realized the traditional approach relied on countless repetitions to finally drill into the student what the correct feelings should be, teachers really didn’t explain much in detail. Using this approach, it is only those who are naturally more sensitive and intuitive who finally acquired the skills. For many others the skills and concepts remained very difficult to grasp, even after decades of practice. So Master Wang took the next step of breaking apart the 37 non-repeating postures in Taiji Quan form into their 178 individual movements. For the first time in history, for each of these movements, he standardized them: First, he provided detailed and exacting guidelines on just how each movement should be performed, the direction, angle, and many other aspects. Second, he told people what the correct feeling for each movement should be. Third, he used the idea of Liu He Ba Fa (six integration and eight basic methods) to explain each movement. Fourth, he explained how to practice shen, ii, and qi in that movement. And five, he told you how to link all these detailed movements, from internal to external, so that energy is transferred smoothly between each link. After many years of modifications and enhancements, he made his new form public. Today, we can safely say, after observing the experiences of all the people who have practiced this form in the last half century, that this new form is more efficient as a training tool than the traditional long form. Everything is very clean, straightforward, and easy to understand by comparison. It was an instant success. Years later he was to published book and video of this form.

Early Days of People’s Republic of China – Political Problems and Exile

As the People’s Republic of China emerged, more and more of the lives of Chinese citizens was being tightly controlled by centralized authority. And given this type of the government, the quality of an individual’s like depended on the person immediately in charge. If he liked you, life was easy. If not, then everything was difficult. Some, whose “agility of the tongue” was far better than their martial skill, became very famous throughout the country, mainly because their ability to cozy up to certain authority figures. Others, like Master Wang, who had far superior skills, suffered because of their traditional ways. Master Wang actually had the opportunity to befriend a key government official in the martial arts establishment early on, but Master Wang’s penchant for traditional ways made the official a lifelong enemy instead. This young official, who practiced Xingyi Quan, went to visit Master Wang at Huitong Martial Art School in early 1950s. He thought of himself highly, and wanted to talk about real fighting skills with Master Wang. Out of respect for his official position, Master Wang held back at first, only defending himself, and not attacking in return. This made the official very frustrated, since he expected it to be real. So Master Wang became serious, and did not hold back, throwing the official three times, once even out of the classroom. Then they went to Master Gao's home, and there, Master Wang beat him a few more times. It was all too humiliating. From that point on, for the next thirty years Master Wang could not get anything published, and his name and picture never appeared in any newspapers or magazines. This official carried a grudge all the way to the end, and even upon his retirement, he told his successor, “that Wang Peisheng is a very bad man. You keep an eye on him!” But this was nothing compared to the troubles that were to come. The communist government was a populist government and got wide support in the beginning. Things were great for a while. But by the early 1960’s, signs of trouble appeared. The economy started to go downhill, and there was mass starvation. People for the first time started to question and criticize the government. There were even those who thought the communists should be replaced as leaders of the government. One of Master Wang’s students shared this sentiment, and confided his thoughts to a friend. Such thoughts were considered so subversive and dangerous that his friends became very afraid, so it was reported it to the police. When the police came and searched the student’s house, they found his diary. Among the entries were his detailed, wild fantasies of what an ideal, post-communist government should look like, which included installing Master Wang as a high level officer in his fantasies government. Master Wang of course had no idea about any of this. But it didn’t matter, Master Wang, along with Masters Zhang, Gao, and several others mentioned in the diary were arrested and found guilty of being anti-revolutionaries. This was one of the most serious crimes in China at that time. Master Wang was sentenced to a 5 year prison sentence, but he ended up serving more than 17 years. Master Wang and the others were sent to a prison in northeast China where the living conditions were horrible, and the weather was very cold. They had to work very hard and the food was scarce and of poor quality. After several years, both Master Zhang and Master Gao passed away in what should have been the prime of their lives, but Master Wang, even in deteriorating health, managed to survive. Master Wang survived mainly because he had naturally robust heath and he secretly kept up his qigong practice. Obviously he could not practice any martial arts in prison, but most qigong practices did not require obvious, external movements. In addition, since the prison was located in a very poor area, there was only a small hospital that was very far away that did not carry sufficient medicines, so if you got sick, it was a serious matter. Master Wang, with his vast knowledge of traditional Chinese medicine, used it to cure people, including several prison officials, security guards, and their family members, becoming rather famous in the process. People respected him like a doctor. The prison officials and staff thereafter gave him preferential treatment. As Master Wang remembered: “My traditional medicine skills really saved my life. The hardest work was to cut down trees on a big mountain far away. We had to walk a long distance. We had no machines, just used axes and saws. The conditions were so bad, especially in the winter, that many people got hurt or sick. And because the officers of the prison needed me, they didn’t want me to go far, so they gave me easy tasks. First I worked in the boiler room, later I worked in the sugar factory in the town. So my life was much easier than most other people.” The walls of prison separated the world into two parts. Inside, time passed slowly, but outside, it was fast. In 1979, Master Wang was officially released and he returned to Beijing and reunion with his family. Yes, he lost many things during those years, but he was still alive and his gungfu was still in his body. He found that many things had changed. Many friends were dead or had left. Young people had no idea who he was. And with his name forever on the anti-revolutionaries list, his troubles were still not over. But his mind he was stronger, and he understood life and everything else much better. So he steadfastly set out to use his skill to rebuild his reputation. He was 60 years old at the time.

Post-Cultural Revolution – Restoration

Liu Bagua applications

After the Cultural Revolution, traditional culture began to make a comeback. Many people started to practice martial arts again, especially young people. But when Master Wang was introduced to younger practitioners, many of them doubted his skill. They did not really believe this old man could do real martial arts. But very soon they found that Master Wang could beat everyone very easily. His knowledge of martial arts was like that of an ocean, wide, deep, and unfathomable . At the start, Master Wang just did seminars for his prior students. He needed to restore his reputation within his own group first. Later, he did several public seminars and demonstrations. In 1981, he won a gold medal in Beijing martial arts championships for his performance of Taiji Dao (broadsword). Then he made a nationally televised class about Taiji principles and real fighting skills. Each of these activities garnered public attention. He was invited to teach martial arts in many places. The government eventually invited him to join the martial arts conference again as the lead judge in national martial arts competitions. In 1982, during the all-country martial arts competition and demonstration championships in Shanyang, an incident occurred that drew international attention and resulted in a resurgence of his fame. From very ancient times Chinese culture has heavily influenced Japanese society, this included martial arts. One Japanese martial arts group that has particularly close ties to China today is the Nippon Shorinji Kempo group, or Japanese Shaolin Martial Arts Association. Within Japan, although the total numbers of kendo, judo, and karate practitioners are larger, they are splintered among many styles, so Shorinji Kempo is actually the single largest martial arts organization. At that time in China, not just Shaolin style, but martial arts in general, was going through one of its low periods. Seeing this, and comparing to their own popularity in Japan, there was the sentiment among Shorinji Kempo members that they were now the standard bearers of Chinese martial arts. When they made their 8th trip to China during the 1982 National Martial Arts Championships, they demonstrated their techniques, and afterwards, as they have done in previous times, challenged the Chinese to a real fight. The last time they did that, when there was no response, they said: “Today physically the Shaolin Temple may still be in China, but the real Shaolin martial art is only in Japan.” This made Chinese government officials very angry and ashamed. The government desperately needed a Chinese master to defeat the Japanese. In this case, failure is not an option, either you don’t answer the challenge, or you win. There is no other way. But thanks to the policies in recent decades, there was no one in the younger generation who could meet the challenge, and most of the older generation masters were either too old or unwilling to do it. The Japanese delegation were at their prime. Their realistic embu (fighting demonstration) were a marked contrast to the modern Wu Shu performances. It looked hard. It looked real. It was extremely intimidating. But this time, the Japanese found their calls answered. Earlier, Mao Behou, an official in charge of the martial arts affairs, knowing Master Wang’s ability, had asked him if he would be willing to accept the challenge. Master Wang said simply: “I can do it.” The event took place in a regular meeting room. There were more than ten Japanese masters in attendance. Master Wang was accompanied by Ma Jinlong, his student and now head of the Li Style Taiji Quan group. First a translator introduced each master. He then told the Japanese masters that Master Wang is a Taiji master. The Japanese masters looked at each other in disappointment because they wanted to meet someone who could really fight, and in their minds Taiji was for the old and the weak. “We hear about Taiji,” the leader of the delegation said, “in Japan, many people practice it, and it is just for health.” Then there was awkward silence, for a while nobody said a word, it looked like they didn’t even want to talk any more. This made Master Wang unhappy, but he kept his composure. He said: “From what this gentleman just said, we know he does not understand Taiji Quan. If someone does not understand Taiji Quan, he does not really understand martial art. Yes, Taiji is good for health, but it’s also for fighting. Furthermore, it actually represents the highest level principle for fighting.” Then Master Wang explained some Taiji principles. Standing up from his chair, he continued smoothly, “I can say means I can do. I know your guys do not believe I can fight. So please choose the best fighter from your group, and use his best skill to fight with me. We will test this right now.” On the Japanese side, Yamazaki sensei, headquarter co- chief instructor, stood up, and the fight began. First he grabbed Master Wang’s wrist with one hand, attempted to twist it, and chop the outside of the arm right above the elbow with the other hand. His movements were so fast that many in the room did not even realize the fight had already begun. But Master Wang was calm and poised, upon initial contact he unbalanced Yamazaki with just one subtle movement, and then, in a continuous, fluid motion, twisted and chopped Yamazaki’s arm. Yamazaki hit the ground with both his head and his knees. Master Wang did not let go, he continued to control Yamazaki and kept him down. At this point just about everyone saw what happened, but they couldn’t understand what was going on. Liu Bagua applications Master Wang just smiled and said this was simple. He let Yamazaki up. Yamazaki tried it again, and was defeated the same way again. After that Master Wang threw Yamazaki 6 more times. One time Yamazaki’s flew uncontrollably toward the corner of an end table, and Ma Jinlong pushed him out of harm’s way. Another time he was thrown clear out of the room. As it should be with high level Taiji Quan skill, the Master Wang’s movements were extremely subtle, sometimes it looked like he was just waving his hands or only moving a finger or two. The Japanese delegation was in shock. They didn’t understand what just transpired, but their attitude changed immediately. “This is our 8th trip to China. And this time we learned the most.” After they went back to Japan, they wrote an article about this fight and Master Wang's life that was published in a Japanese martial arts magazine. The article opened with the line “Those slender fingers, they inspire such fear!” Also they listed Master Wang as one of the ten greatest Chinese martial artists.

Post-Cultural Revolution – Later Contributions

From this Master Wang became very famous again, both in and out of the country. He taught in the United States and Japan. For decades his skills were that of an international level master, only now, after decades of enforced hardship and anonymity, his fame was beginning to equal his skill. Everyday many people visited him at his small house. In 1983, he published “Wu Style Taiji Quan” and it was translated into in English. In 1984, he published “Wu Style Taiji Quan Short Form (thirty seven postures)” that had been written thirty years previously. In January of 1984, the Beijing Wu Style Taiji Quan Association was established, and Master Wang was named vice president and shortly after became president.

Great Master Wang Peisheng (third from the left of the first row) and well-known Taiji Quan masters of China in the conference in July 1982, Shanghai. In first row: Yang Zhenduo (second from the left), Ma Yueliang (forth from the left), Sun Jianyun (fifth from the left). In the second row: Chen Xiaowang (second from left), Gu Liuxin (fifth from right), Feng Zhiqiang (forth from the right). In the last row: Fu Zhongwen (fifth from the left), Hong Junsheng (seventh from the left).
Great Master Wang Peisheng (second from the left of the first row) and well-known Bagua masters of China during re-build Dong Haihuan's grave event in Summer 1981, Beijing. In first row: Wang WenKuai (first from the right), Liu Xinghan (second from the right), Gao Ziying (third from the right). In the second row: Han Wu(first from the right), Li Ziming (third from the right). In the last row: Wang Rongtang.

From the 1980s onward, Master Wang was: (i) President of Beijing Wu style Taiji Quan Association, (ii) Director of Physical Science Research Center of BITI, (iii) Expert of China Human Body Science Institute, (iv) Professor of Chinese Qigong Institute for Advanced Studies, (v) Consultant for Martial Arts and Qigong associations in many cities and provinces, (vi) Instructor of Sport Teachers Training Camp of Whole Country Colleges and Universities In time past, Master Wang was also: (i) President of Oriental Martial Arts School, (ii) President of Peisheng Martial Arts School, (iii) Chairman of People’s Martial Arts Club, (iv) Director of Huitong Martial Arts School, and (v) Professor and Martial Arts Coach at Beijing Normal College, Beijing Foreign Language University, Beijing Language Institute, Beijing Industrial Collage, Beijing Polytechnic University, Beijing Agriculture Mechanization Collage, North Traffic University, China Science Institute, Tianjing Medical Collage, Beijing Medical Collage, Beijing Workers Sanatorium, Beijing Modern Management Collage, China Qigong Institute, Beijing Library, China Daily Publish, National Education Committee, Beijing Dancing College, and Beijing Taimiao Taiji Quan Association.

Taiji Push Hands

Before he passed away, Yang Yuting appointed Master Wang as his successor to lead the Northern Wu Style Taiji Quan group. Master Wang taught martial arts for over seven decades. Most of the time was spent teaching Taiji Quan. For this reason, many thought he was only a Taiji master. For a very long time, that was the only part of his skill he showed in public. He taught Xingyi, Bagua, and qigong to a few disciples, but from time to time he would astonish people with his other skills. For example, once, in 1983, he was invited to a seminar in Nanning, Guangxi province. There is a big martial arts group in this city practicing Baji Quan. They liked real fighting and always did things very hard, as was according to the Baji traditional idea. When they knew Master Wang was in the city, they went to challenge him. Master Wang accepted and said: “You people practice Baji, so if I use other techniques, maybe you are not interested, so today I’ll just use Baji skills.” Then he proceeded to beat everyone using just Baji skills. This made all the group members admire him. The whole group decided to study Baji and Taiji with him. Besides teaching martial arts and writing the standard book on Northern Wu Style Taiji Quan, Master Wang also published Qian Kun Wu Ji Kung in 1986. In this gongfu, he mixed several of the best techniques he learned, from fighting skills to qigong practice. In 1990, he published the other short Taiji form, the sixteen postures form, for people to learn high level Taiji Quan easier. He has also published books on weapons and qigong. In 1994, he published a series of Taiji and qigong videotapes. Master Wang had a wonderful family. According to Chinese tradition, he married Ms. Li Shuzhen when he was eighteen. Like every young couple, they did not really know each other before they were married. Everything was taken care of by both parents. Ms. Li (in China woman does not change her last name after marriage) was a wonderful woman. She took care of everything for Master Wang so he could concentrate on martial arts.

Qian Kun Wu Ji Gong

Each day, people visited Master Wang at his home and Ms. Li, on top of all her housework, would take care of the visitors, by making tea, and even preparing lunch or dinner. When Ms. Li passed away in 1997, it had a very negative impact on Master Wang’s life. Suddenly the normal rhyme of his life was disrupted. He was lost without her, seemingly not knowing what he should do. Soon he had his first stroke, after that he became quiet, and his health declined quickly. Master Wang was truly a great master whose knowledge is based on a lifetime of solid, real- world fighting experience. Some of these fights were not about the friendly exchange of ideas or proof of skills, but rather life and death. For example, during the Japanese occupation of WWWII, one day Master Wang and others were practicing in a park when a group of four Japanese soldiers came. After watching for a while, they made their intentions clear. They wanted a fight. Furthermore, taking out their bayonets from the holsters, they said: "Who can defend against us with no weapons?" This was an incredibly dangerous situation. Beijing was under occupation, a Japanese soldier could injure or kill Chinese civilians without any consequences, but a Chinese could not hurt a Japanese. Master Wang, displaying his usual confidence and courage, simply said: “Let me try.” Then the fight took place. In a series of lighting fast moves he disarmed all of them. Shocked and ashamed, the four Japanese soldiers ran away from the scene.During his whole life, Master Wang never rejected any challenge, even up to when he was nearly eighty years old. He was utterly serious about martial arts. He worked hard and he could not forgive mistakes or deviations from the principles of the martial arts. For this reason some people think he was too hard, or even mean. But once you knew him, you would find that he was a very kind person. He treated young students like his own children. He loved to help people. He was fair. He was modest. He was honest. He did not smoke or drink. In his mind martial arts was more important than the any other thing. And he cared for his good name more than his life. In remembering that remarkable life, Master Wang said “I am a lucky man because I met and studied with so many great martial arts masters in my life. But many years ago, when those unfair things happened to me and there seemed to be no hope, I really thought I would take all of those valuable skills to the grave with me.

But today I think that rich knowledge came from the countless masters of all previous generations, something they labored for, accumulated little by little through generations of experience. If I do not pass it onto the next generation carefully, I will let the older generations down. So I will do my best and hope that some young people can work hard to inherit these valuable skills from me.” This is what he said he wanted to do, and that was exactly what he did.

* The editional version of the article written by Zhang Yun is published in Oct and Dec issues of Tai Chi magazine in 2004.