"The Arts Must be Preserved"
Interview with Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming About His 10-Year Retreatby Almut Schmitz, December 29, 2008
This year Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming commenced his long-planned 10-year retreat with five students in a new center in California. In an interview with Taijiquan & Qigong Journal, he recounts how this project was conceived and what conditions the participants need to fulfill. He hopes that this intensive training programme, which follows the teaching methods for martial arts and Qigong as applied in earlier times, will preserve his full knowledge and his abilities for future generations.
"Dr. Yang, originally you studied physics. How did it come that you became occupied with teaching Chinese martial arts?
"Well, to tell the truth, I had never been interested in studying Physics. The only reason why I got so far as to receive my Ph.D. as a mechanical engineer was to prove to myself that I could learn to deal with things I didn’t enjoy doing, even with the constant pressure from society and relatives around me. To receive a Ph.D. in either Physics or Engineering seemed to be the right choice at that time, even though I knew that deeply in my heart, my real interests were Chinese martial arts and Qigong.
After I received my award as a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University, I felt lost and saddened for a few months. However, the pressure of having a family with children forced me to find a secure job to support our living. I worked as an engineer for six years before I woke up and realized that I was not happy with my life. I felt like there was no meaning to my existence. I began to search deeply within my heart and came to the realization that teaching Chinese martial arts and Qigong was what I wanted to pursue. I quit my engineering career in January 1984 and began to create my future.
How did you get the idea of the ten-year retreat?
I began teaching martial arts in Western society in 1975, one year after my arrival in the United States, at Purdue University. I taught in their martial arts club, as well as within the Theatre Department. Afterwards, I began teaching off to the side, as a hobby, to earn some extra income for my family. It wasn’t until I quit my engineering job that I began to concentrate all my efforts in propagating Chinese martial arts and Qigong.
When I was fifty years old (62 now), after nearly 22 years of teaching in Western society, I realized that it was almost impossible to preserve the art to the same depth as it was kept in ancient times. I began to see that in order to preserve the arts to the same level as in ancient times I would have to create an environment similar to those times. To do this, I realized that I would have to take a group of dedicated students to a remote mountain area for 10 years of serious training. So, 12 years ago, I began to search for a land to support my pursuit of preserving of the arts.
Which are the main differences compared to the teaching you give in your other schools?
A student in the Center will be able to concentrate his time and effort to feel and grasp the essence of the art instead of just learning the forms. The arts were created from feeling and today’s arts are shallow since the feeling is not as deep and profound as that of ancient times.
Most students training in other schools are more for hobby and interest. The students at the Center will be aiming to become professionals and their mission is to preserve the arts to the same standards as ancient times.
Do you already have “indoor students”, for example your sons?
For me, there is no such thing as indoor or outdoor students. I treat my sons and my daughter the same as any other student. As long as anyone is qualified to advance to the next level, I will not hesitate to teach him or her.
You had planned to accept 15 students for the retreat, now there are only five. Were the other applicants not qualified or did they back out when they realized what they were facing?
Actually, there were at least 15 students selected among 145 interviewed. However, due to lack of funding, I could only afford to take five. If I am able to earn more money from next year’s California seminars, I will recruit another five. From the income of this summer’s seminars and some sponsorships from outside, I believe I will have enough funding to pay the expenses for five more students this coming year. It is a nonprofit organization, and our goal is to simply break even, while supporting the education of these students. The number of students also depends on how many sponsorships I can find.
Hopefully, articles such as this one can help those who are capable of sponsoring a student to become aware of this project. The expenses for a student’s entire year are roughly $10,000. Also, 2009 will be the final recruiting year. The reason for this is that I don’t want to have too many groups at different levels. In addition, I am not a young man anymore. I have only 10 years of energy in pursuing this.
Did any women apply?
Yes. A few.
Why didn`t you accept them?
I wanted to see if I could handle males first. However, now I believe that I already have too much of a headache just managing 5 - 10 young men. If you have children, you should know each child has his/her personality and problem. As parents, you must learn and understand each one of them and direct them to the right path. This requires a lot of patience and time. Now, I have five students who I don’t know very much. I must learn to know them and take care of them, teaching them, and live with them.
Having any female students in this group will enhance more problems especially living together for 10 years in this remote mountain area. Furthermore, there is not enough facility so I can provide service for males and females separately. For example, most of the boys sleep on the same floor in the cabin. I don’t think it is a good idea to put a girl there. There is no separate room for girls.
However, we have had both male and female guests join in the training with the disciples already on a short-term basis. Guests are welcome.
Which requirements did they have to meet?
Well, all I am looking for are: 1. Young, 2. Willing to suffer, 3. Dare to accept challenge, 4. Sincere commitment, 5. Can endure both mental and physical pain, 6. Are able to separate from laymen society for at least nine months per year, 7. Humble and will listen and accept the teaching, 8. Willing to establish a high level of self-discipline.
Will these five learn everything about Gongfu, Taijiquan, and Qigong that you learned yourself?
Yes. I hope they are able to learn everything I know within 5 to 6 years. After that, I would like to invite other traditional teachers to come and teach them what I don’t know. I will decide on who the other teachers might be when the time comes. Naturally, these invitations would also depend on how much funding we will have in the future.
How much time will you spend with your students?
For now, I spend almost every day with them. I will have to be there most of the time for the next two years. Once they have learned how to be independent in their learning and practice, I will be able to travel and offer seminars again. Remember, it takes only one day of learning but one year of practice. This is true in becoming proficient in any art. It takes only 10% of learning, but 90% of practice.
You have been teaching not only in the US but also abroad; will you have time to continue with that or do those that want to study with you have to come to Boston or California now?
As I mentioned earlier, I might travel again after two years. Also, I believe that it is time to pass on the responsibility to the next generation. Now, my son, Nicholas Yang has taken over the YMAA organization. I have full confidence in him and that he will handle it nicely.
Naturally, interested practitioners are always welcome to participate my seminars both in Boston and in CA Retreat Center. If anyone is interested in participating in the training with those 10 years program students in regular time, he is also welcome.
The five shall learn a lot about Chinese culture, do they also have to learn the Chinese language?
Naturally. The Chinese language will be the first aspect for them to learn about the Chinese culture. I hope that in 10 years, they will be able to read Chinese ancient documents.
In another interview you said that an important point for you is to teach them "Wu De“, the moral aspects of martial arts. Which are your most important points in that?
Wude includes two aspects: the morality of deed and the morality of mind. Morality of deed includes: Humility, Respect, Righteousness, Trust, and Loyalty. Morality of mind consists of: Will, Endurance, Perseverance, Patience, and Courage.
What is the daily program in the retreat?
Currently, it is
6-7 AM, Meditation (Jingzuo, Taixi)
7-8 AM, Qigong Basic Training (Qigong Ji Ben Lian Xi)
8-9 AM, Breakfast
9-11 AM, Taijiquan and Applications
11 AM – 12 PM, Chinese Language
12-2:30 PM, Lunch and Rest
2:30-4:10 PM, Running Mountains
4:10-7 PM, Miscellaneous Body Conditioning
(this includes running mountains with weight for the legs’ strength and endurance; climbing ropes for arms’ strength and endurance; Taiji Ball Qigong for torso’s endurance and strength; Jumping with weight to develop tendons, etc.)
Furthermore the first semester’s training includes Jumping over the stick (Tiao Gan) and over the Wall (Tiao Qiang), Wrist Conditioning (Lian Wan), Rooting Training (Lian Gen), Balance Training (Lian Ping Heng), Reaction (Fan Ying Xun Lian), and Speed Training (Lian Su).
This schedule will change every three to six months depending on progress.
Will they be qualified to transfer all your knowledge?
I don’t know yet. This is only their first commitment. It will take a long time of testing and experiencing to find out. However, I believe that as long as someone has a strong will and commitment, he will be able to reach any goal.
Apart from the training do the students also work in the camp?
No. However, everyone must help to clean the center on Saturday afternoon. In addition, they must cook and wash laundry by themselves. The only times we eat together are Saturday and Sunday dinners.
The type of training you offer in the retreat for people of a fairly young age reminds us of entering a monastery. Is it your expectation that the students will dedicate their whole lives to martial arts and keep away from the everyday life of other people?
I hope they continue to build up their interest and also understand their obligation in passing the arts down to next generation. They will make their own decision. It does not matter what are their decisions, after 10 years, they should have already had enough knowledge and skills to pass the knowledge to the next generation. For those who want to return to laymen society, then they should use their knowledge and skills to develop and propagate the arts. They should continue to spread the arts to the next generation. For those who want to stay at the center, they may continue their practice and hopefully receive some financial support from society and accept more students for next generation.
As far as my concern, I don’t expect anything. My obligation is to pass down the knowledge and skills. I will not know what will happen after 10 years.
How many do you think might quit?
I believe at least 60% will endure the 10 years of training.
The retreat camp is quite an ambitious project, how do you get it financed over ten years? Do you have any sponsors? In what other ways will the camp be used during this time?
So far, we have two and half sponsorships that are able to cover two and half student’s expenses. I also offer seminars in summertime at this Retreat Center. Most of that income will be used towards this program. We had just completed the first season of seminars here, from July to August. It has given us good financial support towards the program. I hope more people will step in to support this program financially in the future. We run fundraising drives regularly.
After the ten years will the students have finished learning?
Of course not. Learning is a lifelong project. If you stop learning, you have lost the meaning of life.
Will you stop teaching then or might there be another ten years retreat?
It depends on if we have enough funds for the future. I hope that we will have enough financial support so the students of this generation will be able to pass the arts to the next generation and also to every corner of the world.
Do you expect your students to open schools and invite you as their master for seminars then?
I will be too old for anything after 10 years. I am 62 now and will be 72 when the program is completed. This is a one time shot for me and is the most precious moment and mission for me.
The project is fascinating and in this form, probably unique. Do you expect other martial arts masters to follow your example to preserve their knowledge for future generations?
I surely hope so. Remember, my knowledge is limited compared to the wide-scale contents of Chinese martial arts and Qigong. I hope that through my efforts, I am able to inspire other masters to do the same as I am doing. The arts must be saved and preserved before it is too late."
Thank you very much, Dr. Yang."
Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming was born in 1946 in Xinzhu Xian in Taiwan. At the age of 15 he began to learn White Crane Gongfu from Cheng Gin-Gsao and at the age of 16 Yang-Style Taijiquan with Kao Tao. 1974 Yang Jwing-Ming moved to the USA and began to teach there in 1975. 1982 he founded the “Yang’s Martial Arts Association” (YMAA) in Boston, to preserve traditional Chinese Gonfu and Qigong. Besides his classes in many countries he published more than 30 books and 50 videos and DVDs, which have been translated into many languages.
For information about the further progress of the ten-year retreat, seminars, and tax-deductible donations, visit the website: www.ymaa-retreatcenter.org