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Yang Jianhou

Yang Jianhou – The Kinder Master of the Yang Family Second Generation

Yang Jianhou (杨健侯, Wade–Giles: Yang Chien-hou; 1839–1917) or Yang Jian (楊鑒) was of the Yang Family second generation along with his older brother Yang Banhou (1837–1890). He was a prominent teacher of Yang family-style T'ai Chi Chuan (Traditional Chinese: 楊氏太极拳; pinyin: Yángshì tàijíquán) during the late Manchu Qing Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 大清; pinyin: Dà qīng; Manchu: Daiqing gurun; 1636–1912).

Jianhou was the third and youngest son of Yang Luchan (1799–1872), the founder of Yang T'ai Chi Chuan. His brothers were Yang Qi (楊琦) and Banhou. The eldest son was a farmer and never studied martial arts before passing away at a young age. Jianhou was called "Third Son" (三子) until his elder years when he was referred to as "venerable man" (老人).

Though he didn't like martial arts, Jianhou began learning Yang T'ai Chi Chuan at the insistence of Luchan. Jianhou studied with Banhou under the tutelage of Luchan, who was a demanding and difficult father and teacher. The two brothers hated their training and were said to have considered joining a Buddhist monastery to escape their lessons. They ran away a number of times, but were brought back home by Luchan on every occasion.

Jianhou's t'ai chi was not considered to be as good as that of Banhou's, but he made considerable progress under Luchan and was considered to be a master. Jianhou was noted as being a kinder person than his quick-tempered older brother Banhou; so he had many students unlike Banhou and helped Luchan to spread Yang T'ai Chi Chuan. When he trained and competed with other practitioners, though, he didn't view them light-heartedly; so he went undefeated in his matches.

Jianhou worked with Banhou to revise their father's system into the small (小架 xiǎo jià) and medium frames (中架 zhōng jià) of Yang T'ai Chi Chuan. He taught the small and medium frames of Yang T'ai Chi Chuan, though he specialized in the medium. Jianhou's tai chi skills were a well-balanced blend of hard and soft power.

Jianhou was considered a master of the saber, spear, sword, and other weapons. When sparring with his students who were expert at sword and saber, he wielded only a dust brush. Whenever his brush touched a student's wrist, the student couldn't counter and was bounced away. When Jianhou wielded a staff or spear and touched his long weapon with an opponent's, the opponent couldn't approach him and was bounced away. Jianhou was able to push opponents away without contact by emitting jìn (勁), or "energy," at the moment of uttering the "ha" sound.

Jianhou was also noted for being able to hurl small metal balls or pellets. He could hold three to four pellets at once and throw them simultaneously at a flock of passing birds, striking a different bird repeatedly. He was renowned for not wasting pellets when hurling them.

Jianhou's most skillful demonstration was placing a sparrow in his hand and preventing it from flying away. When lifting off, a bird must push down first and utilize the resulting reaction force to send itself airborne. Jianhou sensed the bird's attempt to generate the necessary lift power and neutralized it, preventing the bird from alighting into the air. The demonstration showed highly developed listening jìn and neutralizing jìn.

Jianhou passed away without illness five years after the end of the Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of China. Legend says that he had several premonitory dreams of his death before his passing. He called to himself his family and students and had final conversations with all of them. When the time approached, Jianhou bathed and dressed himself elegantly, and smiled gracefully upon his final breath.

Jianhou had three sons: Yang Zhao-xiong (1862–1930) (兆熊) or Yang Shaohou (楊少侯; private first name), Yang Zhao-yuan (兆元), and Yang Zhao-qing (1883–1936) (兆清) or Yang Chengfu (杨澄甫; private first name). The second son, Zhao-yuan died at an early age. The eldest son Shaohou trained with both Jianhou and his uncle Banhou. He also learned from his grandfather Luchan until the age of ten when Luchan passed away. Shaohou was a forceful and demanding teacher who was known for not pulling his punches while practicing with his students. Chengfu "smoothed" out the more vigorous practice regime he learned from his father and developed large frame (大架 dà jià) Yang T'ai Chi Chuan. Shaohou, Chengfu, and some of Jianhou's other students became famous T'ai Chi Chuan teachers following their time with him.

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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