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Yang Banhou

Yang Banhou – Best of the Yang Family Second Generation

Yang Banhou (楊班侯) or Yang Pan-hou (楊盤厚, 1837–1890) was a noted teacher of Yang family-style T'ai Chi Chuan (Traditional Chinese: 楊氏太极拳; pinyin: Yángshì tàijíquán) during the Manchu Qing Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 大清; pinyin: Dà qīng; Manchu: Daiqing gurun; 1636–1912). He was known among his contemporaries for his belligerent character and had few students.

Yang Banhou was born in Guangfu Town (廣府鎮) in Yongnian County/District (Xian), Guangping (Kuang-p'ing) Prefecture, Hebei Province (永年縣, 廣平府, 河北) in Northern China. He was the oldest son of Yang Luchan, the founder of Yang T'ai Chi Chuan, to survive to adulthood. He was commonly called "Second Son" (次子). Luchan had three sons, Yang Qi (楊琦), Yang Banhou, and Yang Jian (楊鑒, 1839–1917) also called Jian-hou (健侯).

Banhou was small in stature, agile, and quick tempered. He received his early education and learned basic t'ai chi chuan in the home Wu Yuxian (武禹襄, 1812–1880). Wu Yuxian was a scholar and came from a wealthy and influential family. He was also a friend and an early student of Luchan's. Wu co-founded Wu (Hao)-style t'ai chi chuan with his nephew Hao Wei-chen (郝為真, 1842–1920).

Banhou went on to practice intensively under his father Luchan. Both he and his younger brother, Jian-hou, were forced by Luchan to undergo difficult and rigorous t'ai chi chuan training through the cold of winter and the heat of summer. The two brothers were displeased with the training of Luchan, who was known to have been a demanding father and teacher. It was said that the brothers considered joining a Buddhist monastery to escape their training. They ran away on a number of occasions, but were brought back by their father each time.

Of the two brothers, Banhou's t'ai chi was considered to be the best. Though he hated his daily training, his natural aptitude helped him and his martial arts skill grew rapidly. Despite the progress he made, Luchan still chastised and whipped him. One day Banhou was challenged by a renowned and especially strong wrestler. When his opponent grabbed his wrist and kept his grip, Banhou used his jin (勁), his martial power which was a combination of li (力, muscular power) and qi or chi (氣, "life force"), to bounce the opponent away and beat him. Proud of his victory, he went home and told Luchan. Instead of praising him, his father laughed and mocked him because his sleeve was torn. "He should not have been able to even grab you, you must train harder," Luchan said. Afterwards, Banhou trained harder, and eventually became a superlative t'ai chi chuan martial artist.

Banhou's name and reputation became well known. Like his father, Banhou was retained to teach t'ai chi chuan to the elite Palace Battalion of the Imperial Guards by the Qing Imperial family. He also came to be called Yang Wudi (楊無敵) like Luchan, which had a few meanings like "Yang Unmatched," "Yang the Invincible," or "Unbeatable Yang."

One account tells of an occasion when a martial arts master called "Man with 10,000 Pounds of Strength" arrived in Beijing to challenge Luchan to a match. Luchan ignored the challenge. However, Banhou said to his father, "If our store has something to sell and people want to buy it, why don't we sell?"

Banhou was asking why not take up the challenge if his family was renowned for its true martial ability? Banhou took up the challenge himself.

Before the match commenced, the challenger removed his shirt and showed off his musculature to the crowd. Banhou with his skinny frame merely stood in place, waiting for his opponent to attack him.

When the challenger charged at Banhou, the latter avoided the attack, moving faster than the general crowd could see. The challenger next attacked Banhou's face with a steady stream of strikes. The crowd then heard a yell from Banhou, and the challenger went soaring several meters away through the air from Banhou. The crowd realized that Banhou used "Separate Heel Kick" to his opponent's groin. As the crowd cheered Banhou's skill, he returned quietly back to the Qing Imperial palace.

Banhou became renowned for his fighting techniques and beat many famous opponents. Unlike his father, though, he didn't refrain from killing some of his opponents. His favorite punching technique was bān lán chuí (搬攔捶, literal: "parry, block and punch").

In addition to being skilled at free sparring, Banhou was expert with the long staff, over three meters long and used as a spear. He favored staffs made from bai la gan (拜拉幹) wood that grows in Shandong Province (山東省). Staffs and spears made from this special wood are thick and flexible. If blocked, they can whip in an arc of up to three feet, which is sufficient to break an opponent's arm, leg, or head. If a spearhead is attached, its slicing action can inflict mortal wounds. Due to the flexibility of the wood, a spearhead can spin its tip faster than a snake can strike. Bai la gan wood can typically bend to the full force of a sword cut without being damaged.

An account of Banhou's prowess with a spear tells of a day in Yongnian District, where a fire was carelessly started inside the stalls at the East Gate. Water surrounded the entire Yongnian District. The season was late fall, after the harvest, and numerous bundles of reeds were stored in the stalls. If any of the stalls caught fire, an inferno would ignite. Banhou rushed to a stable wielding a spear. He lifted and threw fiery bundles of reeds into the nearby water surrounding the distric, preventing the conflagration from spreading and extinguishing it. Word of Banhou's deed spread quickly through the district and he was acclaimed.

Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, Banhou didn't like to teach very much and had few students, so his art did not disseminate widely after his death. Banhou was extremely unpopular with his students. He emulated Luchan, demanding much from his students and was violent in his teaching methods. He often beat his students severely and occasionally broke their bones. He believed heavy contact and realism in training were key to cultivating fighting ability. Very few students stayed with him. He was also wary as a matter of course and did not like displaying his skill for others to see. Fortunately, he was unsuccessful in persuading his father to refrain from teaching high-level techniques to dedicated students over the years.

The following account illustrates Banhou's powerful martial ability and ruthlessness.

One day Banhou was walking with his son Yang Shao-p'eng (楊少鵬) (1875–1938) when they were attacked by a martial arts master of another style. Banhou countered with a fierce series of fajin (發勁) dim mak (點脈) attacks to the challenger's neck and throat. The challenger dropped dead. Banhou continued walking with his son and maintained an even manner as if nothing had happened. Banhou's only comment was, "The last sound he (the attacker) made was like a swallow singing."

Fa Jin (literal: "release of energy") is the harnessing of energy by a practitioner in the lower dantian (下丹田) below the navel and discharging it as an explosively powerful strike. Dim mak (literal: "press artery") is a secret technique of seemingly using less than lethal force on specific targets pressure points and meridians (qi flows) of the body to disable or sometimes cause immediate or delayed death to an opponent.

Stories are also told in which Banhou accidentally killed his only daughter in a sparring match. Some accounts say he killed her with a spear. Afterwards, his students were afraid to push hands with him. Banhou was said to have changed after the incident.

Though Banhou was the best of the second generation of the Yang family, he did not stand out among his contemporaries the way his father did with his peers. In the Yang T'ai Chi Chuan community, several of Luchan's students were the equal of Banhou if not superior. Banhou was known for being mean, arrogant, and jealous of other people with a similar level of skill to his.

Banhou was also incautious at times. An account of his first meeting with a young Ma Gui (马贵( 1847/1851–1941), future master of the internal style of Baguazhang, illustrates this. Gui was then 19 years old and working as a carpenter. One day Gui delivered some wood to the palace of Prince Duan of the Second Rank (端郡王, 1856–1923). Duan was a Manchu prince who patronized Luchan and other famous martial arts masters of the time. The prince would also become known as a leader of the Boxer Rebellion of 1899–1901 against encroaching Western foreigners. Banhou was practicing pushing hands with the prince. Being young and immature, Gui laughed impolitely.

The prince asked Gui, "Do you understand this? Do you practice?"

Gui said, "No, I practice something else…"

The prince said, "Do you want to try with my teacher then?"

Gui answered that he was afraid to damage any part of the prince's palace or cause injury to Banhou. The prince then pardoned him for any possible damage.

Banhou held the small, thin Gui to be of little account, so he was a little careless. From their first touch, Gui charged with a burst of blinding speed and got inside of Banhou's guard, and struck Banhou with what would become his famous wrist strike. The impact knocked Banhou back several steps to the ground, destroying a man-sized garden vase in the process. The vase was a gift from Emperor Tongzi (同治皇帝, r. 1861–1875), so its breaking was a grave offense that could call for Gui's death.

The prince yelled at Gui, remonstrating him.

Gui replied with a childlike manner, "But you promised there'd be no trouble and you'd forgive me no matter what…"

Hearing this, the prince laughed and let the matter drop. Additionally, he made Gui teacher to his son Puzhuan (溥儁; 1875–1920).

Banhou learned from Luchan Guang Ping Yang T'ai Chi Chuan, which is known as the "lost" Yang-style t'ai chi chuan form. Guang Ping has all the positive traits of Yang t'ai chi with stances that are lower and wider, but not so as Chen style t'ai chi chuan. Guang Ping stances have as little as a 51%/49% weight difference between front and rear foot in certain postures. A stronger, more balanced root gives a practitioner more power and flexibility. Guang Ping Yang T'ai Chi Chuan also merges Baguazhang and Xingyiquan energies, which are seen in Guang Ping's projecting and spiral force energy principles.

Guang Ping was practiced by Luchan before he and his family were "drafted" as instructors for the Manchu Imperial Court. Refusal to teach would have meant death by beheading for the entire Yang family. Even so, Luchan and Banhou, who were native Han Chinese, did not want to teach the family's true art to the Manchus, who had conquered China in the 17th century. Also, the Manchu aristocrats who presented themselves as students were aristocrats and they were averse to the more demanding exercises. Banhou adapted Luchan's Guang Ping form to be softer and taught the Manchu aristocrats an elegant Yang-style t'ai chi chuan middle-to-small frame form that came to be called the Beijing Yang-style. Banhou secretly taught Luchan's Guang Ping form only to a select few students who were not Yang family members, who taught it only to a few of their students. The Guang Ping form was consequently lost to the Yang family.

Banhou's lineage disciple was Wang Jiao Yu (王矯宇, 1836–1939), a Han Chinese stable boy for the Manchu Imperial family. Banhou taught nightly t'ai chi chuan sessions for the Royal Family behind tall brick garden walls and sealed high wooden gates.

Legend says that one day Banhou heard a noise over the fence and saw the young stable boy Jiao Yu practicing the Guang Ping form. Banhou confronted the boy, who admitted to spying on Banhou practicing the Guang Ping form during the early hours of 3:00 to 5:00 AM.

Banhou learned that Jiao Yu was Han Chinese and that they both came from Guangping Prefecture. Banhou asked the boy if he wanted to learn t'ai chi chuan from him. Jiao Yu answered yes and dropped to his knees to show respect and appreciation. He bowed to Banhou one hundred times, hitting his forehead against the hard stone pavement they stood on. When Jiao Yu finished bowing, his forehead was bruised and bloodied.

Banhou said to the boy, "If you really want to learn real t'ai chi chuan from me, you hand to bend down to touch your chin to toe within 100 days." Jiao Yu practiced daily and succeeded in touching his chin to his toes before the 100 days deadline elapsed. He became one of three disciples of Banhou's to learn the Guang Ping form. All swore to secrecy, promising not to reveal the Guang Ping form while the Manchu ruled China. If it were learned that Banhou was not teaching the true Yang art at court, it would have meant death to Banhou and the Yang family. Jiao Yu, who lived to 112 years, went on to teach Guang Ping Yang T'ai Chin Chuan much later in his life following the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912.

Another notable student of Banhou's was Wu Quanyou or Wu Ch'uan-yu (吴全佑) (1834–1902). Wu was a hereditary cavalry officer of the Manchu Yellow Banner military camp in the Forbidden City palace complex in Beijing as well as the Qing Dynasty's Imperial Guards Brigade. Wu became a student of Banhou because he was a middle grade officer and Luchan was designated to teach Manchu nobility and high grade officers. In 1870, Wu became Banhou's senior student.

When Wu retired from the Qing military, he established a school in Beijing. Wu co-founded Wu style T'ai Chi Chuan with his son Wu Chien-ch'uan or Wu Jianquan (吴鉴泉) (1870–1942), who was also a hereditary cavalry officer of the Yellow Banner cavalry and the Imperial Guards Brigade. Wu and his later became supporters of Sun Yat-sen (孫中山 / 孫逸仙) (1866 – 1925), who established the Chinese Republic in 1912.

Banhou also taught his nephews Yang Shaohou or Yang Shao-hou (楊少侯) (1862–1930) and Yang Cheng Fu (杨澄甫) (1883–1936), sons of his younger brother Jianhou. Shaohou and Cheng Fu were part of the third generation of Yang T'ai Chi Chuan.

Banhou's son, Yang Shao-p'eng, went on to become a t'ai chi teacher as well. He studied with Cheng Fu before opening a school in Guangxi (广西) in South China, bordering Vietnam. There he spent his final years.

Banhou and Jianhou revised Luchan's system into the "Small Frame" (xiao jia; 小架) and "Medium Frame" (zhong jia; 中架) of Yang taijiquan.

Banhou is the likely author of "The Nine Secrets of Tai Chi Chuan" and a contributor to "Yang Family Forty Chapters," which included oral sayings attributed to the legendary Chang San-Feng. In "Yang Family Secrets," fifty-one theses were written on the Yang Family secrets. Forty-nine were written by Banhou.

Men and women students can learn the martial applications as well as enjoy the health benefits of Yang T'ai Chi Chuan in martial arts classes held by the Michigan Shaolin Wugong Temple.


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