Taiwan, Teachers, & Training: An Interview with Yang Jwingming ~ Part 2
This interview was originally published by the Journal of Asian Martial Arts, Volume 12, Number 2, 2003
Now that you have provided us with some fascinating background details dealing with family, studies, and work, i'd like to focus on your martial art studies. What exactly got you interested in these arts? Please provide some details about your very first teacher. Do you remember your first meeting?
Since I was small, I had always been attracted by the street martial arts performances by those martial artists from Mainland China. In addition, martial arts movies had given me a strong youth dream of becoming a superman. Not only that, due to my poor family background, whenever someone would laugh at my clothes, I would fight them. I did not have shoes until high school. I always wore clothes which had been used by my older brother – patches and holes everywhere. However, the most influential power for my learning martial arts was to prove to myself that I need not be afraid or be a coward.
This situation was not different from American teens during the l960's. The Vietnam war was on and everyone was afraid of being drafted. This situation was worse in Taiwan during the 1960's. Due to the Vietnam war, the hope of counterattacking Mainland China by Jiang Kaishek was again raised. All teenagers were afraid to get into the war and, at the same time, they could not show that they were cowards. Under this kind of unbalanced psychological condition, learning martial arts can make one feel strong and more confident.
However, the problem was not only political, it was not easy to find a martial arts teacher to accept you as a student. Almost none of the martial artists taught students for income. There was no money relationship between a teacher and a student. A teacher would teach because he liked to teach and a student would like to study because he wanted to learn. For example, I learned from three masters without paying a penny. It was also because of this reason, a teacher would not accept a student easily. Teachers would only choose a committed and sincere student. If they didn't like you, they simply kicked you out without any question. Masters had the absolute authority to do so.
It is not the same today. Anyone can find a teacher as long as he or she is willing to pay. The training is for fun and it is a business. The relationship between a teacher and a student is very shallow. The martial moralities are not seriously emphasized. Students choose a teacher and a teacher begs a student to stay and practice. To me, this is very strange. The world has turned up side down. Because of this, the quality of teaching is down significantly. The heart for teaching and learning are not there. A student will learn just what they have paid for. Since it is a business, there are many unqualified teachers existing who have studied ten different styles in just three years. I can only laugh about this. I was so dumb that it took me more than 41 years to understand only three styles, and still I felt shallow.
I was introduced to my White Crane master by my junior high school classmate, Mr. Chen Nianxiong. I did not know he had practiced gongfu with this master for a couple of years. Since I liked to fight, one day he asked me if I would like to learn how to fight properly and study from a martial art master. Naturally, I was very happy and excited about this news.
That afternoon right after school he took me to Guqifeng, the mountain peak located next to my high school. When we arrived, my master was working in the rice field. We approached him carefully on the narrow path in the rice field. My heart was jumping fast. I was excited and worried. I worried that I would not be accepted. Mr. Chen introduced me, telling him of my request to be one of his students. He looked at me and smiled. He then told Chen: “Bring him to practice tonight.” — That was the happiest day of my life.
That evening I discovered I was number 19 of this group. Master Cheng had taught a couple groups before. I was the youngest one in this generation. Therefore, during practice sessions I had to serve the master and all my classmates towels and water. In the first six months all I learned was a few basic White Crane stances and drills. Occasionally one of the older classmates would come to make corrections, kicking you here and there. Junior students were so happy and appreciative that someone had paid attention to them.
Almost a year later, when I was practicing one night, my ulcer pain started to flair up. I had had this problem since I was nine-years-old. I sat down in the corner with my pale face. My master approached me, asked me questions, and then used his fingers to touch my wrist area. He told me I had a problem in the internal organs. I asked him how I could solve this old problem of mine. He said: “I heard practicing Taijiquan can help you relax the internal organs and heal this problem.” That meant he was suggesting that I look for a Taijiquan master and learn about it. That also meant he was giving me permission to study from another teacher. Students learning today should understand that, traditionally if you study from another master without your original master's consent, it is considered a betrayal.
My White Crane master, Mr. Cheng Gingsao was born November 15, 1911 and passed away on May 5, 1976. He was the second male born in a family surnamed Chen. According to an agreement between his father and his grandmother, he was adopted into Cheng's family to carry the name of Cheng after he was born. Therefore, even though his father was an expert in Taizuquan and some other styles which were unknown to me, he never had a chance to learn from his father. You should know that in order to protect the secrecy of the style, usually a master would not pass the secret of the art to people other than his own family. Even though later he learned some of the Taizuquan from his brother, the depth was shallow, he said.
When Grandmaster Cheng was 15 years old, he found Grandmaster Jin Shaofeng living as a hermit in a deep mountain place. He was accepted as the ninth student at that time. Grandmaster Jin was from Mainland China. His major expertise was Southern White Crane. He also knew Five Ancestor Fist ( Wuzuquan ) which includes the styles of White Crane ( Baihequan ), Taizuquan , Dazunquan , Luohanquan , and Monkey Boxing ( Houquan ).
Song Taizu was the first emperor of the Song Dynasty (960-1279), who was credited as the creator of Taizuquan. Dazunquan and Luohanquan belong to the Buddhist martial arts originating from the Shaolin Temple, and Monkey Boxing was passed down and became popular in Fujian province. The creators of Dazunquan , Luohanquan , and Monkey Boxing are unknown. It is known today that Dazunquan and Luohanquan were passed down from Buddhist monasteries during the Chinese Tang Dynasty (618-907) while Monkey Boxing was created a long time ago. Many suspected that it was derived from medical qigong “Five Animal Sports.”
My master's high levels of expertise were Butterfly Palm (Hudiezhang ) and 18 Luohan Hands ( Shibaluohanshou ). These two internal/external styles of martial arts were the high level of training in Dazunquan and Luohanquan.
Dr. Yang and Grandmaster Cheng, 1965
Master Cheng practiced with Master Jin Shaofeng for 23 years. After his master passed away, he and three other classmates stayed around the tomb and protected it and kept it clean for three years, then separated. When I started my training with Master Cheng, he was already fifty years old (1950). I was one of the students in the third group he taught. Master Cheng was a hermit and was illiterate. However, his understanding of the meaning of life came from one of the brightest minds I have ever seen.
There are some stories about Master Cheng and myself. One after noon, I went to visit him and asked him why the same movement was applied differently by two of my classmates. He looked at me and asked: “Little Yang! How much is one plus one?” Without hesitation, I said: “Two.” He smiled and shook his head, and said: “No! Little Yang, it is not two.”
I was confused and thought he was joking. He continued: “Your father and your mother together are two. After their marriage, they have five children. Now, it is not two but seven. You can see one plus one is not two but seven. The arts are alive and creative. If you treat them as dead, it is two. But if you make them alive, they can be many. This is the philosophy of developing Chinese martial arts. Now, I am fifty; when you reach fifty, if your understanding about the martial arts is the same as mine today, then I will have failed you, and also you will have failed me.”
From this story you can see that the mentality of the arts is creative. If after he learned all the techniques from his teacher he never learned to create, the great musician Beethoven would not have become so great. It is the same with the great painter Picasso. If he did not know how to be creative, then after he learned all the painting techniques from his teacher, he would never have become such a noted genius. Therefore you can see that arts are alive and not dead. However, if you do not learn enough techniques and have not reached a deep level of understanding, then when you start to create, you will have lost the correct path and the arts will be flawed. It is said in Chinese martial arts society: “The teacher leads you into the door; cultivation depends on oneself.”
Furthermore, when you learn any art you should understand that the mentality of learning is to feel and to gain the essence of the art. Only if your heart can reach the essence of the arts, will you have gained the root. With this root, you will be able to grow and become creative.
Master Cheng also told me another story. Once upon a time a boy came to see an old man and asked him: “Honorable old man, I have heard that you are able to change a piece of rock into gold. Is that true?” “Yes, young man. Like others, do you want a piece of gold? Let me change one for you.” The boy replied: “Oh no! I do not want a piece of gold. What I would like is to learn the trick you use to change rocks into gold.”
What do you think about this short story? When you learn anything, if you do not gain the essence of the learning, you will remain on the surface, just holding the branches and flowers. However, if you are able to feel the arts deeply, then you will be able to create. Feeling deeply enables you to ponder and finally to understand the situation. Without this deep feeling, what you see will only be on the surface. This feeling is the key to understanding the theory of the art.
My White Crane master told me another story when I was seventeen years old. Once there was a bamboo that had just popped up out of the ground. It looked at the sky and smiled, and said to itself, “Someone told me that the sky is so high that it cannot be reached. I don't believe that's true.” The sprout was young and felt strong. It believed that if it kept on growing, one day it could reach the sky. So it kept growing and growing. Ten years passed; twenty years passed. Again it looked at the sky. The sky was still very high, and it was still far beyond its reach. Finally, it realized something, and started to bow down. The more it grew the lower it bowed. My teacher asked me to always remember that “The taller the bamboo grows, the lower it bows.”
Finally, there is another story which affected the thinking of my life greatly. One day I went to see Master Cheng after school. I saw him sitting in front of his house and played his huqin (a type of Chinese guitar), his favorite musical instrument. I approached him and asked him a question. I told him that I felt frustrated because my learning was so slow and my understanding was so shallow compared with my classmates. He looked at me with a kind face and said: “Why do you look around? If you like to plow it is because you want to plow. You don't care if other people look at you or not. You also don't care if you are faster than others or slower. It is the same for your learning martial arts. Simply bow your head and keep digging. Don't look around. If you look and see you are ahead, then you are proud of yourself and are satisfied. If you are behind, you are depressed. So simply bow and keep digging. One day when you are tired and take a break, you will see that you have dumped all others behind you so far away that you cannot even see them,” I did not completely understand and feel what he said until years later when I came to the USA.
From these few stories you can see what kind a person grandmaster Cheng was. Now, let us return to my learning history. A week after Master Cheng told me to learn Taijiquan, I found out there was an English/ Taiji teacher in the Provincial High School which was near my high school. I decided to go to see him and beg him to accept me as a student. One morning I woke up early and went to the meeting hall of his high school. I saw him teaching five students Taijiquan. I stood far away and watched for a while. When I saw there was a chance I approached Mr. Gao, bowing humbly. I told him that I had a problem with my internal organs and wished to learn Taijiquan to heal it.
Taijiquan Grandmaster Gao Tao (高濤), 2008
Mr. Gao Tao was 29 years old at that time. He had learned Taijiquan from his father since the time he was six years old. He had come to Taiwan with Jiang Kaishek. I did not know and did not ask about the origin of the style. I only knew that we were learning was a Yang style. I did not have any idea of the lineage. As matter of fact I did not even care since the main goal of my learning was to regain my health. And at that time, it was rude to ask a teacher about his background. All the teachers were very strict. This was especially true of Mr. Gao.
After he had looked at me for a while, he said: “You really want to learn Taijiquan?“
“Yes, master,” I replied.
“You have to be here every morning at half past six. Can't miss any day, otherwise, you are out.”
“Yes, master.” I answered.
He then asked me to stand still. He placed both of his palms on my chest and suddenly bounced me out about 15 feet away. He asked me approach to him again. He said: “You now know Taiji's power. Now, you obey.”
I began tough daily workouts with him. That I did not get too much from my White Crane master. Surprisingly, six months later my ulcer began to ease and in no time it was gone. The simple breathing techniques and spine movements solved the problem which had bothered me for nearly seven years.
I continued to practice with him until I was almost 19, when I had to move to Taipei for college. I studied with him for a total of two and half years. It was not until I came to the USA in 1974 that I started to realize that the reason I have a good martial arts foundation and profound understanding was because of training with Mr. Gao. What greatly surprised me was when I went to Taipei and compared Master Gao with other Taijiquan instructors, Master Gao emphasized a great deal of body movement and the martial applications, while others ignored all of these vital aspects even though these have often been discussed in the ancient Taijiquan classics.
It was not until the beginning of 1975 when Purdue University asked me to offer some credit Taijiquan classes for the Theater Department that I started to dig deeper into theory and search for the essence and the meaning of every movement. Only then did I start to realize that what I learned from Master Gao was a precious foundation that I could never find in other sources. In order to explain to my students more about theory, I started to collect the ancient Taijiquan documents, studied them, pondered them, and experimented with them. In just a few years, I started to touch the crucial essence of Taijiquan practice. In order to compile these ideas more thoroughly, I decided to compile my understanding into book form. It was amazing that after the book was completed, my understanding of Taijiquan reached to more profound level. The book title was Advanced Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan, Vol. 1 (current title: Tai Chi Theory and Martial Power). In order to understand what I learned from Master Gao and match the theory and practice, I wrote a book about Taijiquan applications. Therefore the second book was published as Advanced Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan, Vol. 2 (current title: Tai Chi Chuan Martial Applications). Beyond my expectations, these two books brought me popular recognition from western Taijiquan society. Since then I continue to research, study, teach, and practice, and hopefully my comprehension of Taijiquan is able to reach to a deeper level. This new challenge is especially exciting since my understanding of the theory of Chinese Qigong is getting deeper and more profound. As is known, Chinese Qigong is the internal foundation of all Chinese martial arts, especially the internal arts.
Dr. Yang and Grandmaster Li, Mao-Ching (李茂 清)
In the first year that I went to Taipei to study physics at Tamkang College , I met a new classmate, Mr. Nelson Tsou. In a couple of months, I discovered that he was learning Shaolin Long Fist from Master Li Maoching. Long Fist styles focus on long-range fighting skills and kicking applications were seriously emphasized. White Crane specializes in hand skills and also short-range fighting. When Mr. Tsou found out that I had learned Southern White Crane, we decided to give each other a test. Therefore we went into a classroom and pushed all the chairs aside so we could spar. After a few rounds I realized that it was very difficult to get close to him because he knew how to keep a safe long-range distance from me. However, he also discovered that once I got into the close-range, he had difficulty in defending against my attacks.
After a couple of fights, I asked him to teach me Long Fist. However, he suggested we found a Gongfu Club and invited Master Li to be our supervisor and teacher. In just a couple of months, the Tamkang Guoshu Club was established. Then I started to learn Long Fist from Master Li. I remember that when we practiced for the first time there were 105 students in our group. However, after a few times sparring for Master Li, this group shrunk to only about twenty within a few months. When I graduated four years later, there were only four of my group who survived the training.
A few years later I was accepted at National Taiwan University in Taipei to study for a Master's Degree in Physics. I continued to study with Master Li at Jianguo High School where he was teaching, and eventually became his assistant. In just a year, I was invited to teach martial arts at Banqiao High School located in a Taipei suburb. Three years later I obtained a Master's Degree and was drafted to teach physics in the Chinese Air Force Junior Academy. After serving for one year, I returned to Tamkang College to teach physics and continued my studies with Master Li until August 8 of 1974, the day I came to the USA for my doctoral study.
Master Li was born on July 5, 1926 in Qingdao City ( Shandong Province ), and grew up there. Later, when World War II began, he was drafted into the army. When he was in the army he started to learn Shaolin Long Fist ( Changquan ) from Han Qingtang , Praying Mantis ( Tanlangquan ) from Fu Jiabin , and Sun Bin Quan from Gao Fangxian. Grandmaster Han was the first generation of well-known teachers at the Nanking Central Guoshu Institute. When Jiang Kaishek's party retreated to Taiwan , he was invited to teach Chinese martial arts in the Central Police Academy. Grandmaster Han was also well-known because of his high skills in joint-locking techniques.
In addition to Shaolin White Crane, did you learn some of Taizuquan? This system is not so well known. Can you explain some thing about Taizuquan?
Grandmaster Cheng did not learn too much Taizuquan from his father. However, I believe that he learned some Taizuquan from Grandmaster Jin Shaofeng. Grandmaster Jin also knew Five Ancestors Fist ( Wuzuquan ) which, as mentioned earlier, was constructed with White Crane ( Baihe ), Taizuquan , Dazunquan , Luohanquan , and Monkey Boxing ( Houquan ). The reason that I conclude this is because Grandmaster Jin also knew Butterfly Palm ( Hu Die Zhang) and also Eighteen Luo Han Hands (Shi Ba Luo Han Shou ). These two practices belong to Dazunquan and also Luo Han Hands. Unfortunately, I did not reach that level of skill to learn and understand these two styles at that time. I also learned some Tiger Claw ( Huzhua ) from him. However, I don't know its source. In fact, Tiger Claw was a popular style commonly practiced in many southern styles.
You were fortunate to be exposed to Shaolin White Crane, Yang style Taijiquan, and the Shaolin Long Fist systems. Looking back, how do you view them today? Do they smoothly blend in your own practice, or are there some dramatic differences in theory and practice?
Well, White Crane has given me a firm foundation of understanding of both the internal and external, soft and hard. This is because White Crane is a “Soft-Hard Style” which covers both theory and practice internal and external. As matter of fact, due to my White Crane background, I can understand the theory of Taijiquan clearly. This is simply because the Dao (theory) remains the same regardless of style. The only difference is the way of manifesting it. I really appreciate the background of my White Crane learning. Without this style, I would never have had enough understanding and experience to understand other styles.
Long Fist provides me a good concept, strategy, and fighting skills for long- range fighting. This is what is missing in White Crane. I believe that because of my Long Fist background, my understanding and practice have become more complete. As to the power's manifestation, I can easily apply the hard side of White Crane into Long Fist's theory and practice.
Also, because of my understanding of White Crane's soft side, I can also easily apply both theory and practice to my Taijiquan. In fact I have written a book about Taijiquan due out this year called Dr. Yang's Taijiquan Theory. The theoretical foundation found in this book is a mixture of my understanding and experience with White Crane and Taijiquan. When people read this book, they will soon understand that the Dao of martial arts remains the same.
It is sometimes said that individual martial art styles are like separate languages. If you start with one, it affects how you learn and practice another. If you do this in language, usually there is a tell-tale accent. This is certainly true in martial arts too. In the end, we embody what we've studied. In your own practice, which art do you feel is your core?
As I mentioned earlier, since I learned White Crane for thirteen years, which is longer than any of my other two styles, the core of my martial arts is White Crane. Now that I have started to apply the qigong theory I understand into Taijiquan more and more, I have realized that actually the core of my arts has been gradually shifting to Qigong.
What are your reasons for studying martial arts? Are you still learning on your own or with any other teachers?
My old reason for studying martial arts was explained earlier. Now the new reason or meaning of study is to comprehend the art itself. I started to understand what my White Crane master said: “ What you learn is not martial arts. What you learn is the way of life.” How true! This is my feeling now.
Occasionally I learn something from different masters just to have a taste and feeling of their styles. I do not intend to master another style. I prefer spending the rest of my life trying to achieve a deeper understanding of these arts and reach a better quality in my practice, especially in Taijiquan. The reason for this is my age (56 years old). It is not easy to act like young man any more. I continue my learning from studying ancient documents and also from teaching. Honestly, students are often my best teachers. From teaching I have learned much.
There is a big variety of techniques included in the systems you teach, including open-hand and the use of weapons. What aspect of these fighting arts do you find more enjoyable in actual practice? Why is it so enjoyable?
For barehand, I like Taijiquan because it provides me a peaceful and calm feeling and also because the essence of Taijiquan is so profound. It is more difficult and challenging to manifest Taijiquan theory into action.
For weapons, I like the sword and spear. The sword is considered the king of short weapons, while the spear is considered as the premier of long weapons. The reason for this belief is simply because, in order to master these two weapons, you must master many other weapons first. Without the experience of other weapons, what you can manifest in the sword and spear will be shallow. The theory in using these two weapons is very hard to understand and to manifest the spirit of these two weapons in action is even more difficult.
In your teaching, what aspects of practice do you feel are most important for a student to focus on in their studies?
The most important part of training should be the basic drills. These drills are the foundation of the all skills to be developed in the future. If one has a firm foundation in these basic drills, then the future manifestation of the arts will not be shallow. These drills establish good quality in the arts. The important drills are: rooting, body movement, power manifestation, and also the sense of an enemy's presence.
Next, many martial artists today focus too much on the forms and ignore the most important essence of the art: the meaning of each movement. Naturally this meaning is the entire essence of the style. In order to under stand these essences, a student must spend a great deal of time to understand the martial applications of each movement and also master the skills until they can be used in real combat. Without this, all of the only-forms performances will be empty and not have any meaning. Furthermore, without knowing the martial applications of the art, then the spirit or morale of demonstrating the art will also be missing. Therefore, a student should take time, learn slow, and focus on the quality and application of each movement. He must practice much until all the applications become natural reflexes, so they can be used without thinking.
Finally, for those students who wish to become a proficient martial artist or a teacher, they must spend a lot of time studying the art's theory. The theory is just like a map of a city. With this map, a person is able to guide himself to the goal. Without this map, he will be a student forever. Therefore, be humble and keep a good learning attitude. My White Crane master said: “The taller the bamboo grows, the lower it bows.” If the study and practice of an art has a limit, then it is not a forever art.
After the many years you have been teaching, including seminars around the world, what observations have you made in regards to students' character? How do you handle the variety of students?
Generally speaking, students living in poor countries, such as countries in Eastern Europe, practice harder and their spirit is also higher than in the richer countries. Therefore, it is relatively easier to find a committed student in such countries. However, the situation is changing rapidly since they have more freedom and more access to modern Western lifestyles.
Next, students who live in countries which have a deeper and longer history seem to last longer in their training. I believe that this is due to the traditional discipline in their cultural development.
However, the most important thing of all is the learning and practicing environment. If a school has a good, hard training teacher, usually the student will be the same. A teacher is the example for the students. Not only that, if a teacher is humble and continues to learn from different sources, usually the students are also open minded and willing to accept new knowledge.
Is there any particular advice you would like to offer that you wish you would have received when you first started studying at age 15, or for a more seasoned practitioner?
Yes, first is learning slower and emphasize more in quality instead of quantity. Second, if anyone wishes to understand and reach a profound level in the martial arts, he must treat the art as a way of life. If the motivation is due to a desire to show off or participation in tournaments, then the art will be shallow. Though the outward appearance can be good, the deep feeling of the art is missing. Third, do not rush to learn whenever you find a teacher. A good teacher can lead you to a correct path in the future and a bad teacher will make you build up a lot of bad habits and lead you away from the correct path of training. In China , there is a saying: “A student will spend three years to search for a qualified teacher and a teacher will spend three years to test a student.”
Dr. Yang's years of teaching at his own studios and elsewhere around the world have left a profound impact on the study and appreciation of Chinese martial arts. Another major influence, which is still growing, is his publishing activities. It has been interesting to see how his work has evolved in this professional capacity and we discussed this part of his work as much as we discussed his involvement as a martial art practitioner.
How and why did you start the YMAA Publication Center?
My first four books were published by Unique Publications. Before my books were accepted, I had tried many other publishers. Most of them demanded changes both in the structure and content of my books. The reason for this was simply that they wanted to publish books from the marketing point of view. However, many of my books are profound and deep, thus, the market is relatively smaller. To me, promoting the art is more important than making money. Naturally, I understand their point of view.
In part, YMAA was created to publish my books, which have a relatively deeper and profound theoretical discussion than most mass-market martial art books. Because of the small market for these books, YMAA has lost more than $700,000 since 1984 when it was established. In order to survive we started to publish some books which have a wider market. We began to understand that, in order to survive, you must publish some books which have more of a market and in order to promote and preserve the arts, we must also publish those higher quality books.
The reasons that I started the YMAA Publication Center are:
To preserve the essence of the martial traditions;
To agitate and promote the quality of the entire martial arts and Qigong industry;
To lead the study and practice of martial arts into a more respectable field in order to received better treatment from society, like golf, tennis, basket ball, etc. So far, most people still believe that martial arts are just for fighting. As a matter of fact, the discipline in martial arts is higher than in any other sports;
To translate and make commentaries of existing ancient documents. Most of these documents are written in Chinese. Without translating these documents, the only source of understanding is from a teacher. With these documents, a student will be able to grasp the essence of the arts which his or her teacher may not have.
When did you decide to branch out to publish works by other people?
Actually, right from the start YMAA intended to publish other authors' books, as long as their quality was good and there was a market. However, during the first few years when the YMAA name was unknown, only very few manuscripts were submitted to us for consideration. Now it is much easier since YMAA has established its name and reputation in the whole world.
Please discuss the general start-up of your business and what that entailed? What were some of the pains and pleasures involved?
When I started the YMAA school on October 1 of 1982 I did not have any money to invest. When I started YMAA Publications on January 1 of 1984, I also did not have much money to play around with. I borrowed money to publish the first couple of books. Later, when the school income grew bigger, income was often transferred to YMAA Publication for its survival and growth. Thus far, YMAA Publications carries a lot of debt. However, it has gradually grown independent in the last few years. Now we are looking for the profit growth.
The most serious pain was looking for money to keep YMAA Publications from folding. The most painful things were when two distributors claimed bankruptcy and a total of nearly $120,000 was lost due to these sudden incidents. Cash flow was stagnant. The second headache was searching for the right person to handle the business aspects. Naturally, lack of money for marketing has always been the biggest trouble.
On the other hand, the most enjoyable thing is receiving countless appreciation letters, e-mails, and calls, which often inspires me with great courage to continue. Another enjoyable thing is whenever there is a good book introduced to the market, you have a great joy of being successful. Naturally, learning so much from writing is my personal inner enjoyment.
Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming
Also, as a result of my publications I have been invited to offers seminars around the world. YMAA Publications have been translated into more than ten different languages. The YMAA schools continue to grow from only a couple to today's 56 schools, which have spread to 16 different countries. These joys are beyond words.
What are some of the major problems you've faced as a publisher of books and videotapes? For example, dealing with romanization of terms, editing, and distribution?
At the beginning, including Chinese in the text was always a big headache. There were no Chinese fonts available. I had to write them by Chinese brush and then take a photo of them. Afterwards, I had to cut and paste the characters where needed. Which Romanization should be used? The traditional way or new Pinyin system? Now these problems are solved. However, distribution is still the biggest challenge since we don't have too much capital to invest in marketing. I could only hope that more sales would be generated by word-of-mouth. In fact, the good reputation of YMAA products has always been the biggest advertisement.
When you look at your earlier books versus the newer titles, what goes through your mind when you see the end products side-by-side, especially from aspects of editing and design?
Naturally, there is completely a different feeling for each. Everything is more professional now. Before 1992 I did everything myself, from cover design, to cut-and-paste work, contacts with the printer, and distribution. I paid an editor to correct my “ Cinglish ” of course! However, all those products were done by a non-professional person—me. Now everything is different. We have professional designers to design the cover, professional editors to edit the books, a reviewer to assess the manuscripts submitted, and a good distributor (National Book Network) to distribute our books. The subjects covered now range from my own to those of other authors.
What would you hope can be accomplished in the next ten years with YMAA publications?
First is to keep it alive. Then, continue to grow from publishing eight books per year to thirty books per year. Not only that, but to step into DVD production and continue to introduce good Oriental arts to the general public. Also, I'd like to continue to improve the quality of the products, not just the design and editing, but also the contents.
Here ends the second of a two-part interview with Dr. Yang Jwingming concerning his martial arts study and practice, and publishing career. I would like to personally thank Dr. Yang for sharing so much information and for letting us publish many photographs which have never been seen before in any publication. It is hoped that the content of this interview will add to the general understanding of Chinese martial traditions as well as offer insights into the life of an exceptional man who has dedicated so much to this field. His work reflects the concept of “the civil and martial” (wen wu), symbolized by the Journal of Asian Martial Arts logo.
A special thanks to YMAA representatives David Ripianzi and Carol Shearer-Best for their kind help in the interview process, particularly with their communications and assistance in editing and illustrative materials.
Dr. Yang's biography is presented with a photo slideshow in the YMAA 25-Year Anniversary Two-DVD Set. Click for preview.
Michael A. DeMarco, M.A., is the founder of the Journal of Asian Martial Arts and received his M.A. degree from Seton Hall University Department of Asian Studies. He has studied and worked in India, the People’s Republic of China, Japan, and Taiwan. In 1964, he began his martial arts study in Indonesian kuntao; and since 1973, he has focused on Taijiquan. Mr. DeMarco studied under Yang Qingyu (d. 2002) in Taiwan, in the Yang style lineage of Xiong Yonghe (d. 1986), yang Jianhou, and his son, Yang Shaohou. DeMarco also studied Chen style in Taiwan under Tu Zongren and Du Yuze (1886-1990), in the lineage of Chen Yanxi.