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Yang Shaohou

Yang Shaohou – Creator of Shaohou Small Frame Yang Style T'ai Chi Chuan

Yang Shao-hou or Yang Shaohou (1862–1930) (楊少侯) was a prominent teacher of Yang style T'ai Chi Chuan (楊氏太極拳). He was part of the third generation of the Yang T'ai Chi Chuan family along with his younger brother Yang Chengfu (1883–1936).

He was born as Yang Zhao-xiong (兆熊). His legal name was later changed to Meng-xiang (夢祥). Privately he went by Shaohou. He was commonly called "Mr. Oldest" (大先生).

Shaohou began learning t'ai chi chuan at the age of six. He studied with both his father Yang Jianhou (1839–1917) and his uncle Yang Banhou (1837–1890). He also learned from his grandfather Yang Luchan (1799–1872), who founded Yang family-style T'ai Chi Chuan, until the age of ten when Luchan passed away. He was possibly the only third generation Yang family member to be personally taught by Luchan. Shaohou was given to Banhou as a foster son; he mirrored both his uncle's combat skill and bellicose nature.

Shaohou was regarded as an expert in sparring and being very combat capable. He was known to have been unbeaten in challenges like his grandfather, uncle, father, and younger brother. His movements were fast and low yet supported with a rooted posture. He was also very good at utilizing the eight Jins (勁, energies) of t'ai chi chuan like his uncle Banhou.

The eight Jins are: Peng (掤 "Ward Off"), Lu (捋 "Roll Back"), Ji (挤 "Press"), An (按 "Push"), Cai (採"Pluck" or "Grasp"), Lie (挒 "Split"), Zhou (肘"Elbow Strike" or "Elbow Stroke"), Kao (靠 "Shoulder Strike" or "Shoulder Stroke"). In t'ai chi chuan and other nejia (内家 internal) martial arts styles, Jin refers to martial power which was a combination of li (力, muscular power) and qi or chi (氣, "life force"). Jin can also mean technique, a movement in a form, or a body skill that shares the same name. Every movement in a t'ai chi chuan form belongs to one of the eight Jins.

Shaohou's favorite technique was Lu. Lu is a redirection energy which leads an opponent's incoming force into emptiness, and causes them to step or lose their balance. One's body motion yields to an incoming force and the waist is used to divert the force to the side and pull the opponent off balance. The greater the force of an opponent's attack, the greater the loss of balance. Roll back is the second motion of the Stroke the Bird's Tail posture as well as part of the circular Cloud Hands movement of t'ai chi chuan. Shaohou was nicknamed "Fei-Lu Yang Shaohou" (飞捋楊少侯), which meant he defeated people with his Lu technique as if they were flies. He was regarded as having achieved the highest level of t'ai chi chuan accomplishment. Along with his brother Jianhou and associates like Wu Jianquan (1870–1942) (吳鑑泉) (founder of Wu T'ai Chi Chuan) and Sun Lutang (1860–1933) (孫錄堂) (founder of Sun T'ai Chi Chuan), Shaohou taught to the public at the Beijing Physical Culture Research Institute.

Shaohou shared the same prestige as his younger brother Jianhou, but wasn't as well known nor as popular. Like Banhou, Shaohou was a forceful and demanding teacher. He didn't pull his punches and attacked viciously while training with his students. He taught his students to strike quickly after coming into contact with an opponent. Shaohou wanted only disciples who could stand his tough training methods; consequently he had few students.

Sixth generation master Yang Jun (born 1968) (杨军) described Shaohou thusly: "The spirit from his eyes would shoot out in all directions, flashing like lightning. Combined with a sneer, a sinister laugh, and the sounds of "Heng!" and "Ha!", his imposing manner was quite threatening."

At first, Shaohou taught the small (小架 xiǎo jià) and medium frames (中架 zhōng jià) of Yang T'ai Chi Chuan. He then developed his signature small frame style, which was also called "small circle" (小圓圈 xiao yuanquan). Yang T'ai Chi Chuan master Wu Tunan (1884–1989) (吳圖南) stated that Shaohou's small frame was also called the "usage frame" (用法架 yòngfǎ jià). It was characterized by high and low postures with small movements executed in a method that was sometimes slow and sometimes sudden. Likely influenced by techniques learned from Banhou and Luchan, it emphasized fighting application and is little known today.

Later in his life, Shaohou taught only advanced students who had mastered the small and medium frames. The "small frame" he taught to these students was different from the "small frame" Luchan and Banhou taught in the Imperial Court of the Manchu Qing Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 大清; pinyin: Dà qīng; Manchu: Daiqing gurun; 1636–1912). The small frame taught in the Qing Imperial court was adapted for combat while wearing the long Imperial Robes. Luchan and Banhou also didn't wish to reveal the true teachings of Yang T'ai Chi Chuan to the foreign Manchu nobility and had their closest students swear to avoid spreading their teachings until after the fall of the Qing Dynasty.

The small frame taught by Shaohou was done quickly but retained the qualities of relaxation, sinking, calmness, and continuity stressed as the large frame (大架 dà jià) Yang T'ai Chi Chuan taught by Chengfu. It consisted of 73 postures making up over 200 movements done within two or three minutes.

Shaohou's small frame employed advanced combat skills of stability, efficiency, unity of mind and body, agility, sensitivity, control of the opponent's center, positional advantage to overcome stronger force, and psychological attacks. Controlling the center is one of the key features of Yang T'ai Chi Chuan combat. Once you control an opponent's center, you control his body. It included the use of accupoints, bone locking and hitting, sinew splitting, blocking and controlling pressure points related to blood flow, fajin* (發勁) at high speed, and continuous motion with one technique flowing into another so there were no pauses to allow for counters. Psychological attacks played on the opponent's emotions and psyche. Banhou and Shaohou were noted for changing their facial expressions and emotions when doing forms and fighting in matches as well as shouting and roaring at opportune moments. These psychological attacks caused fear, shock, and indecision in opponents. Learning the basic skills was essential for mastering and applying the advanced skills.

*Fajin (literal: "release of energy") is the harnessing of energy in the lower dantian (下丹田) below the navel and manifesting it as an explosive powerful strike.

The postures are learned in a low, tiring manner at a speed faster than the large frame but not at the full speed of the small frame. The small frame is learned one posture at a time and in short sequences until the student's endurance and strength allowed him to link all the sequences into the whole form. When teaching the form, Shaohou often made his students practice under a high table to enforce the low tiring stance upon them.

The form frequently employs the Single Empty Stance, which has the legs together and the knees bent with the weight and root on one leg. The stance is used often as a quick closing of distance from an Empty Step or Bow Step. The form is done in an agile rooted manner while the upper body remains erect without weaving and bobbing. The power behind each technique is generated by the whole body working in coordination.

When Shaohou performed his small frame form, his eyes blazed as they looked in all directions. He often wore a grim small on his face and would shout or roar to distract an opponent during a match. His movements were relaxed, low, and continuous; his form was so swift he appeared to be darting about many points. Onlookers were in awe of him and aspired to learn his skill but few could withstand his harsh training.

Shaohou taught his small form to just a handful of students. Very few people know his form and practice it today. Additionally, due to the rapid spread of t'ai chi chuan in China during the early 20th century, only closed door disciples and early students were given the opportunity to learn it since the Yang T'ai Chi Chuan masters traveled often and spent a short time in the cities where they taught. The form is in danger of becoming extinct. The advanced skills are present in the form but understanding of the form is necessary before the skills can be gained.

Impoverished in his old age, Shaohou committed suicide. Shaohou was survived by his son Yang Zhen-sheng (振聲), who was part of the fourth generation of the Yang T'ai Chi Chuan family.

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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