Yang Cheng Fu – The Story of a Cotton Thread

In the year 1932, Master Yang Cheng Fu and his disciple, Fu Zhong Wen, traveled south to the city of Guang Zhou in Guang Dong Province to teach the art of Taijiquan. One day, a martial arts teacher by the name of Liu and his disciples went to the residence of Master Yang. Upon observing the way in which Liu was dressed and the manner in which he held himself, Master Yang knew that this man’s talents in fighting were extraordinary. Upon meeting Yang Cheng Fu, Liu raised his hands, saluted Master Yang and said: “It is well known that your skills in Taiji are superior and for three generations your family has been without equals. I have especially come here to see your skills.” Master Yang realized Liu was challenging him to a duel and that the conflict would be unavoidable. Master Yang suddenly thought of an idea to prevent a fight but to maintain the code of the martial world (Wu Lin). He told his disciple, Fu Zhong Wen, to go and get out a one foot piece of cotton thread.

Young Fu was shocked when he heard this because the cotton thread was used as a training tool only among the indoor disciples of the Yang style. It was never before shown to outsiders.

Master Yang warmed up by performing “Grasp Sparrow’s Tail” and “Cloud Hands”; thereupon, he took the cotton thread between his thumb and index finger and asked: “Who has the strength of a thousand pounds to tear this piece of thread in half?” Upon hearing this, Liu sneered at Master Yang while sending one of his disciples out to take the challenge. The disciple grabbed the other end of the cotton thread and asked: “When shall we begin?” Master Yang replied by saying: “It is completely up to you.” Following, the disciple fiercely pulled at the thread. Master Yang adhered to his every move. Suddenly the disciple reversed the direction of motion, however, Master Yang, without hesitation, also moved in the same manner.

This went on for several rounds without the disciple being able to tear the thread in two. While the thread was being pulled it remained straight no matter which direction the force was being applied. Liu saw what was occurring and summoned his disciple to step back. After Liu performed several exercises to warm up, he jumped into the air and performed several tornado kicks. Immediately following this, he jumped towards Master Yang as agile as a rabbit and grabbed the other end of the thread. Master Yang was just as agile and moved in the same manner. Without hesitation, Liu jumped back in a retreating maneuover while trying to break the thread; in the same instance, Master Yang followed in Liu’s footsteps preventing the thread from being broken. Afterwards, Liu shot forward as fast as an arrow, then darted to the left and then to the right, moving in all directions. Within all of this motion, both Liu and Master Yang never made contact with each other. The way in which the two moved was similar to a dragon lantern moving in the night. Spectators witnessing the event were astonished by the skill of Yang Cheng Fu. The entire time this was occurring the thread was never broken nor was it even bent. The thread remained straight during the entire match. After a long period of trying to break the thread, Liu was completely out of breath and covered with sweat. Master Yang, on the other hand, was very calm and relaxed without any signs of exhaustion. When the match was over, Liu realized that the skill level of Master Yang was very extraordinary and therefore held a grand banquent in honor of Master Yang. From that day forth, both Liu and Master Yang became very good friends.

In the same way as Master Yang’s grandfather and father did before him, Yang Cheng Fu had developed his skills of understanding energy (Dong Jin) and listening to energy (Ting Jin) to an outstanding skill level. He was able to adhere and yield to every single move his opponent performed and did not expend any energy. Even to this day, the story of how a piece of thread can demonstrate martial skills is told in the martial arts community near the Guang Zhou region. Yang Lu Chan was able to build upon the basics of Chen style old frame Taijiquan and make it more compatible for the common person to learn no matter what his age. At that moment, people termed his style “Yang family Taijiquan”. The Yang style passed through reform and constant improvement during the first two generations of father and son. The formal standardization of the style finally occurred when it came into Yang Cheng Fu’s hands. The postures became wide and comfortable; the structure was strict and demanding; the body was upright and erect; and the movements were harmoniously flowing, light, agile, and rooted.

by Mei Ying Sheng Translated by Ted W. Knecht