Grandmaster Ip's Interview

Master Yang Sau Chung's First Disciple and Fifth Generation Lineage


Given a moment to reminisce about Yang style Tai Chi Chuan, many powerful images of former great masters of the past can be conjured up. May it be the notable presence and great stature of Yang Cheng Fu or the majestic yet powerful Yang Sau Chung, this family has certainly devoted all of their lives to the study and development of Tai Chi Chuan. However, since the sad passing away of Yang Sau Chung in 1985, when provoked into contemplating about images of the current leading figure in the art, it may indeed become a little hazy. Tucked away amongst the hustling busy streets of Hong Kong Island resides an intellectual, yet humble Chinese gentleman, who keeps his profile low, and attends to his usual daily business like any other. Convention however, is not how one could describe the man that lies behind the face, for his diligent training in Tai Chi Chuan, and knowledge gained through it, has earned him the title of being the First Disciple (Son) of Grand Master Yang Sau Chung. His name, (Grandmaster) Ip Tai Tak, the new generation, of Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan. The haze has disappeared.........

Master Ip Tai Tak was born in Hong Kong. He took up external martial art as a young man due to his prevailing weak health. At the age of 21 years, he studied Yang style Tai Chi Chuan under Master Tung Yien Kit for 4 years. During this period his health improved, and with his consistent approach was also appointed as Instructor for Master Tung's school. In 1949, Master Yang Sau Chung left China during the communist revolution to settle in Yuen Long, New Territory, Hong Kong. Master Yang gave a public demonstration exhibiting the traditional Yang style Tai Chi Chuan in 1951.


Master Ip was so very impressed by Master Yang's demonstration and in the pursuit for greater understanding he left Master Tung, to study the Traditional Yang style under the Head of the Yang family style. After 4 years of study, he was formally accepted as the first inner disciple of Master Yang Sau Chung. He continued to study under Master Yang until he passed away in 1985. Now at the age of 69 years, he is still as devoted as ever to the study, practice and development of Tai Chi Chuan, only teaching a selective number of senior students.

As a leading authority on Traditional Yang style Tai Chi Chuan, he was only to happy to be interviewed by Master John Ding so that the teachings of Traditional Yang style can be shared with both advanced and beginners of Tai Chi Chuan.

( New Addition : In January 1998, Grandmaster Ip formally accepted Master Ding as his first accepted Master Ding as his first disciple, the sixth Generation of the Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan).


Master Ding : Where there differences in the Yang style Tai Chi form when you began to train under Master Yang?

Grandmaster Ip: Previous to learning under Master Yang it was very obvious that there were differences in my Yang style Tai Chi form. As a result of this I had to relearn the whole form. Master Yang's movements were simpler to the eye, yet had focused precision to match. Even though the movements seemed simplistic, the traditional form was more difficult to master as it involved many intricate subtleties needing only very small movements, which can hardly be noticeable by eye. When he was correcting me, Master Yang often told me that he was screwing my structure down. In other words he was reinforcing the structure so that it could enable the Chi(or Qi) power to be more concentrated and thus more projected. Practicing the corrected form brings quicker results.

Master Yang also expressed that if the form's postures and movements were not correct whatever time and energy is put into the practice, the effort is wasted. It can be likened to pouring water into a bucket full of holes. Water cannot be retained in the bucket, so therefore time and energy put into filling the bucket that can never yield the desired results. Practicing the correct form ensures that the time and effort put into the practice is not wasted. Each practice helps to concentrate and harness the power a little more i.e. the bucket without holes can retain water without loss each time it is filled a little.

Master Ding: What other differences are there?

Grandmaster Ip: The traditional Yang form has more meaning and enables me to cultivate more power quicker. The Chi energy is more focused and direct, hence more effective for self-defense application. The form uses numerous circular movements within various postures through the use of hip movements. The previous forms that I had learnt have no depth and meaning. Correct weighting is also very important. Practitioners should ensure that the weighting within forward postures should always be 70/30 (70% of the weighting on the front and 30% of the weighting on the back) and should never be double weighted i.e. 50/50.

I have also observed that a number of Yang style forms are often too relaxed and flowery. Traditional Yang style postures are simple and contain various subtleties incorporated within them. Practitioners should always seek out Masters who can demonstrate and show such levels of teachings. Without it, people often get stuck at their levels and are unable to progress any further in Tai Chi Chuan training. It is common to find these people giving up Tai Chi or use external martial arts to explain the principles of Tai Chi Chuan. The latter approach leads the practitioner further and further away from gaining insight and understanding of the true meaning of INTERNAL MARTIAL ARTS.




Master Ding: What was the training like under Master Yang?

Grandmaster Ip: Master Yang was a traditionalist. He taught on an individual basis and expected high standards from all his students. The training was very tough indeed. I often remember having to change T-shirts during my training session for they were always waterlogged with sweat. Master Yang would sometimes tell me that people nowadays generally do not train very hard when compared with his own or previous generations' training. For instance, Master Yang's father, Yang Cheng Fu often woke him early in the mornings (even in the very cold winter) insistent that he should train in the courtyard. Without training Master Yang was not allowed back into the house. During bitter cold winters in China, to survive, young Master Yang had to train in the courtyard in fear of freezing to death. He would practice his form over and over again just to keep himself warm. Only after diligent practice was he allowed into the house to have breakfast. Master Yang often said that his father would practice intensively in a cycle until he was completely exhausted. After an intensive session his father slept only by lying on a thin board rested at an angle on the wall, by doing this, should he sleep too comfortably, and roll over, he would fall off the board (thereby waking himself), wash his face with cold water and resume training again. This cycle was continuous so that he trained intensively 24hrs a day.

Master Ding: What are the essential points when practicing Tai Chi Chuan?

Grandmaster Ip: There are three important aspects of training that one has to take into consideration to improve one's Tai Chi Chuan.

a) Correct practice of the form - this will enable one to circulate the energy and also gain better understanding of its practicability.

b) " Chum Choong " or Chi Kung training. This form of training not only helps practitioners to focus and harness CHI but also strengthens one's stability and balance.

c) Pushing hands. This enables one to develop ones sensitivity and "listening" skills for self-defense applications.

If individuals carry out all these three approaches in training, their Tai Chi Chuan will progress much more quickly to a higher level.




Master Ding: What advice would you give to individuals who want to be good in Tai Chi Chuan?

Grandmaster Ip: The individual should seek out a reputable, skilled and knowledgeable Master. The attitude and approach of the student is also important. In ancient times, before and individual is accepted to undertake training, his character is also assessed throughout his training from initial to advanced stages. Failing such tests meant that the student would no longer be allowed to study the art any further. Constant and regular practice is vital. Results in one’s training are measured in ten year periods. To be good in Tai Chi Chuan you have to be committed and able to endure hard training. Correct postures are important. These are building blocks for strong foundation. Bad postures gives rise to poor foundation and further training will yield little gain.
Master Ding: Often I hear people say that if they are intelligent they could learn the form quicker and are able to achieve high levels in Tai Chi Chuan more easily. What is your view about this?

Grandmaster Ip : The training in Tai Chi Chuan is quite different from ordinary academic studies. The individual will still need to practice to gain better understanding of the form. In Chinese, we often use the millstone to explain the concept of correct form practice. For example, wheat grains are put in the mill to be turned into flour which can then be used for numerous purposes. Form practicing is similar in that over a period of time of continued practice you will begin to appreciate better understanding and insight into different aspects and application of CHI, within the form. Some intelligent people often ask the Master to teach more postures at each sessions as they can memorise more moves. However, each correct posture needs to be practiced regularly before learning new moves otherwise the full essence of the postures is not grasped. Time spent learning a few postures correctly at each session is more valuable and important than learning many postures incorrectly.

Master Ding: Some practitioners often try to learn from different Masters who are conducting various workshops or seminars. Will they be able to learn much Tai Chi to improve their levels?

Grandmaster Ip : People attending these workshops or seminars do gain some understanding of the different approaches of Tai Chi Chuan as demonstrated by these Masters. People generally learn numerous forms, pushing hands, weapons etc. These are merely movements and often taught at levels. To achieve high levels in Tai Chi Chuan, you should seek out the best and continue to study with that Master. Higher levels or skills are normally only taught to people who have stayed with the Master for long periods of time. The time factor is not the only determinate. Your character and personality are also taken into account because the Master needs to feel that the individual is worthy of the true transmission. Hence, you can see why Masters teaching thousands of students may only have a handful of disciples. The late Master Yang Sau Chung had only accepted three disciples, myself, Master Chu Gin Soon and Master Chu King Hung.

Master Ding: Practitioners often get asked what family style of Tai Chi Chuan they practiced and whether they are big or small circle ? Could you explain what they mean?

Grandmaster Ip: Big or small circle often means that form is practiced with larger or smaller circular movements (for example Wu style is said to be small circle). However, other than this framework, the Yang style can also be classified into three types i.e. the stork, tiger and snake.

Stork - the postures in the form tend to be much higher and are ideal for weaker or older people to practice.

Tiger - the postures are of medium height and should be the aim of all practitioners.

Snake - the postures are very low and are the most difficult form to master. Only the inner disciples are taught this higher level. This form is not suitable for everybody to practice. We hear stories of different generations of Yang Masters develop such flexibility and dexterity that they are able to practice the form under table tops and even pick up coins from the ground with their mouth while in the Snake Creeps Down posture.
Warning: Practitioners should not attempt to practice this snake form without the supervision and instruction of a knowledgeable and experienced Tai Chi Master.




Master Ding: We often hear stories of the Yang Masters power and applications for self-defence. What was training under Master Yang Sau Chung like, in this aspect?

Grandmaster Ip: My Master often stated that to understand CHI energy and its self-defence application, one needs to experience being attacked or hit by the Master. He often stressed that if he did not hit or attack the student they would not understand nor learn the true internal concept of self-defence. In Chinese (Cantonese) this process is called "BUT TA BUT GAU" - 'Not to hit, is not to teach' For instance, to cook a dish, you first need to know the ingredients. To taste such dish, one needs to use the different senses for example, smell, taste and feel, to really appreciate the true flavour of the dish. Therefore the only way to understand is to experience. In the past, when these Yang Masters taught their students, they had to endure the harsh and tough training. Some of these students often got injured or gave up studying Tai Chi altogether as they can not endure such training.

I have personally undergone 24 years of this type of training. Initially, when I practiced the advanced pushing hands with my Master, as soon as I touched him, I was thrown to the wall. Often when pushed to the wall, I would bounce off the wall like a ball bouncing off the floor. During the earlier stages of my training, I often saw "stars "and got very breathless. Over a period of time, through such regular practice, I became stronger and depending on intensity of CHI energy applied by my Master was able to cope with the force to some degree by feeling and reacting to it - something that can only be learnt by experience. Master Yang could often use any part of his body to apply his CHI energy for example in FA GENG.

In my training session, I was usually exhausted and drenched in sweat after practicing advanced pushing hands with Master Yang. However, he still appears as fresh as when he first started. Not even a drop of sweat! He was always able to control the CHI with such precision and focus at all times, using minimal or no movement at all. His power is indescribable and needs to be felt to be appreciated.
Master Ding : What other aspect of training would you give to Tai Chi Chuan practitioners to help them improve their standards?

Grandmaster Ip : There are another three principles that people need to be aware of:

a. Yuen (Circular) - Tai Chi movements are usually circular. However within this circular nature, the shape could change for instance, smaller and large circles, oblong shaped, etc.

b. Wan(smooth/flow) - Movements practiced need to be smooth and in a flowing momentum. There should not be a break from the beginning to the end i.e. like the Yin-Yang symbol, one flowing into the other.

c. Tuen( united ) - Here the movements practiced should be coordinated and balanced.
Master Ding: I would like to thank you for this rare interview and I am sure that I have gained a more expansive view of Tai Chi Chuan. Readers would undoubtedly gain a valuable insight in Tai Chi Chuan. In addition, I would also like to thank Master Chu Gin Soon for arranging our meeting and making this interview possible .
Grandmaster Ip: I do hope your readers find this interview beneficial. I would also like to inform your readers that the late Master Yang's daughter, Yang Ma-Lee teaches the traditional Yang style Tai Chi Chuan in Hong Kong.

Thank you.