The Taijiquan of Departed Master Li Jingwu

While there are many Taijiquan Grand Masters who are well known in the West … there are also many of the greatest adepts of this internal martial art who are almost completely obscured. Even masters from more recent years, of whom there is plenty of video & photographic evidence demonstrating their skill, are often totally unknown to English speaking Western Taijiquan practitioners.

Li Jingwu TaijiquanTaijiquan Li Jingwu

The departed Great Grandmaster Li Jingwu (1912-1997) is one such example. Master Li was an expert at both Wu style taijiquan as well as Chen style taijiquan … and studied with some of the most preeminent masters in these styles of his day.

Born in Shandong province, and raised in Harbin (of Heilongjiang province), it was not until he moved to Beijing in the early 1930′s (in his teens) that Li was initially exposed to Taijiquan. In Beijing, Jingwu was always on the lookout for exceptional martial arts masters with whom to study … and his diligence & persistence certainly paid off!

Li Jingwu’s Push Hands & Fajin (aka “Fajing”)

(scroll down for several more videos of Great Grandmaster Li Jingwu)

Li Jingwu’s Wu Style Taijiquan

Thanks to a recommendation from a friend, Li was first accepted by Wu style teacher Zhao Tie-An, a disciple of legendary Wu style Grandmasters Yang Yuting & Wu Jianquan (also spelled Wu Chien-ch’uan … son of Wu style founder Wu Quanyu). Master Li was fortunate enough to study as a student of Master Zhao for several decades, eventually becoming an “inner door” disciple.

As his skill progressed, and his reputation spread, Li eventually became known as one of the Northern Wu Style’s “Fiver Tiger Generals” (wǔ hǔ shàng jiàng or 五虎上将) – an auspicious title borrowed from the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. This title originally referred to legendary Chinese mytho-historical figures Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, Zhao Yun, Ma Chao, and Huang Zhong … quite the company for a great master like Li Jingwu. Among his peers in the “Five Tiger Generals” group were other Wu Style masters such as Wang Peisheng and their mutual lineage forebear, Yang Yuting.

Tai Chi Movements of “Northern” Wu Style (by Yang Yuting)

(Unfortunately I could not find any videos of Master Li Jingwu’s form … so these videos are from his lineage forebear Yang Yuting)

Li Jingwu’s Chen Style Taijiquan

Li Jingwu was not only one of the great Northern Wu Masters of his day, studying with some of the top Wu Style instructors to ever live … he was also fortunate (and dedicated) enough to study with the most respected modern Chen Style Master Chen Fake (pronounced Fah-Keh). Master Chen was the creator of the modern variation of Chen style, known as the “New Frame” (xīn jià or 新架), as well as the preeminent Chen stylist in Beijing who gave the world some of the most skilled Chen stylists of the modern era.

A few of Li Jingwu’s contemporaries, who are also some of Chen Fake’s most illustrious students, include: the recently departed Feng Zhiqiang, Hong Junsheng, Lei Muni, Gu Liuxin, Tian Xiuchen, and Fake’s son, Chen Zhaokui. If you have any familiarity with the modern Chen Style of Taijiquan, this list reads like a “who’s who” of today’s Chen lineage. Chen Fake’s impact is one of the greatest in modern Tai Chi, especially so if you practice the Chen style … and Master Li Jingwu was one of Chen’s top students.

Tai Chi Movements of Fake’s “New Frame” Chen Style Taijiquan

(demonstrated above by Chen’s disciple Lei Muni)

The Taijiquan Legacy of Master Li Jingwu

(another video of Master Li Jingwu pushing hands & demonstrating fajin)

Master Li is one of the few modern Taijiquan masters who was adept at multiple styles (“Northern” Wu as well as Chen taijiquan) … and who also had a working knowledge of both Sun & Yang styles as well. His lifelong dedication to tai chi certainly is apparent in his videos, as well as in the stories passed down to us from his students.

It was not until 10 years after China’s “liberation” … during 1959, a year characterized by great famine and hardship in the Chinese mainland … that Master Li’s life was to change forever. For, it was in that year that Li was to move away from Beijing and accept a post teaching taijiquan full-time at the Beidaihe Qigong Rehabilitation Hospital in the relative backwater of the Qinhuangdao municipality of China’s northeastern Hebei province.

Jingwu spent the rest of his life teaching & continuing his practice of Taijiquan in Beidaihe. It was there that he trained his several disciples who carry on his art today, including Lu Dehe, Wang Dayong, Zuo Zhiqiang, as well as his son Li Shujun and grandson Li Hongshun (all of whom – to my knowledge – are still alive and teaching).

The Taiji Neigong Connection

One of the most enticing reasons I am writing this article today is that, aside from Li’s great contributions to the internal martial arts … he also wrote a book in which he passed down his own set of unique neigong exercises … titled :: wait for it :: Taiji Neigong! … which is the name of this blog in case you didn’t notice. It is for this reason I feel a particular affinity to this master (in spite of the fact that I never met him and have not studied with any students on his lineage).

Thanks to a great article presented by the Wu Lin Ming Shi blog, I am able to share this translated quote from the book “Hidden Tao [大道显隐]” regarding Master Li’s neigong skill (even apparent in his old age):

Li’s neigong was incredibly developed. One time he got me to feel his stomach – it felt as though there was a half-inch wide hard band around his stomach. He was smiling while I did this, he definitely wasn’t holding his breath or anything. Once, during a course of lectures on taiji, whilst explaining the phrase ‘don’t let qi mix with qi’, he said: ‘this is the ancients showing us that there are two kinds of qi: one is breath, and the other is the ‘inner qi’ of the dantian. The meaning of this phrase is not to confuse breath and inner qi. When M Li taught me neigong, he said: ‘it’s a gradual, stepwise regimen that produces gudang qi [surging qi] – it is surging qi that can be used in push hands and fighting.

When Master Li pushed hands and launched people, you could see his dantian rotating, the spirit flowing up the back [神通于背], and there would occasionally be ‘heng – ha’ sounds. Even in his old age, M Li could still launch people more than a zhang [3 metres] away, a feat made possible by his deep neigong.

-Hidden Tao [大道显隐]
by Mei Mosheng

In the end, I feel very fortunate to have learned of this great master, and to have had the opportunity to study and share these videos preserving his great skill in the art of Taijiquan. I hope to one day find a copy of his book, Taiji Neigong, to provide a translation (or at least to translate it to satisfy my own curiosity).

Thank you for reading, and please allow me to include with a few more videos of this excellent departed master of Tai Chi Ch’uan.

Push Hands & Teaching Videos of Master Li Jingwu

(a video with over 45 minutes of Master Li casually teaching tai chi at his home)

(an excellent video of Master Li demonstrating taijiquan push hands applications)

(one last video showcasing Master Li’s push hands & fajin {aka “fajing”} skills)

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