Overview

Master Jou, Tsung Hwa

Master Jou, Tsung Hwa is our Shigong, our teacher-grandfather. His example and teachings underlie every aspect of our practice at Peaceful Wolf T'ai Chi Ch'uan. He remains our guide and inspiration to achieve continued growth in our Taiji (T'ai Chi) practice.

David Shaver had the good fortune to study with Master Jou during the last four years of his life. Master Jou's impact on David was enormous. After years of searching here was a true master teacher of Taijiquan (T'ai Chi Ch'uan). We are fortunate that now we continue learning Master Jou's philosophy and training of Taijiquan through the teaching of Dr. Jay Dunbar who studied with Master Jou for twenty-five years. Dr. Jay is the director of our sister school, Magic Tortoise Taijiquan in Chapel Hill, NC.

Biography

The year was 1917. In China history was being made. Five years prior, the nationalist revolution had resulted in the abdication of a 6-year-old emperor that brought to an end the 267-year reign of the Manchu dynasty and, with it, a 2,000-year-old imperial system. Three years later, Japan presented its "twenty-one demands" for special privileges in a move to subjugate the nation. Finally, in August of 1917, the Beijing government joined the Allies and declared war on Germany. It was thus with little fanfare that Jou, Tsung Hwa was ushered into the world July 13th, 1917, the youngest of several siblings and a mild surprise to his mother who was well into her 40's when she gave birth. Born in the small town of Zhuji, in the province of Zhejiang, the infant Jou began life weak and frail yet survived to grow into a slight lad with a keen intellect.

With his father an official of the local government, Jou received an education as befitted a member of the upper class. He was educated in the finest schools where he capitalized on his talent for mathematics. After graduation he married and began a family. With the approach of World War II, however, life in China rapidly deteriorated and the ensuing danger and strife forced Jou to flee with his immediate family to Taiwan.

In Taiwan, Jou prospered. As a professor of mathematics he wrote more than thirty textbooks and his notoriety among the academic community spread. With his good fortune Jou's social circles grew as well. His talent with numbers led to a fondness for occasional gambling. He began to maintain late hours, working and playing equally hard. His sleep habits became irregular and unhealthy. His eating habits became poor and he smoked heavily. For years Jou pursued this abusive lifestyle until the odds caught up with him. At the age of 47, he was diagnosed with an enlarged heart and prolapsed stomach.

Jou visited several of the finest doctors available. The prognosis was always the same. Medication could stop further heart damage with no hope of repair. Surgery could provide minor support for his stomach but provide no cure. Over time he grew despondent. His illness began to overtake him. Then, a friend intervened.

Louzifeng had been a long time practitioner of taijiquan. He managed to convince Jou to try taiji and soon introduced him to his teacher, Master Yuandao. With their first meeting, Jou was highly impressed with Yuandao who, well into his sixties, displayed a health and vitality well beyond Jou's at age forty-seven. It was a turning point in his life. He quit smoking and worked to improve his eating and sleeping habits even as he began a regime of daily taiji practice.

Within two weeks, Jou began to feel changes occur as his body began to signal improvement. Within three years tests revealed that his stomach had healed, returning to a normal position. Within five years his heart had shrunk to normal, the damage apparently gone. With taiji providing cures that medical science could not, Jou became enamored with the art and continued his practice. With practice, his health and vitality continued to grow as he gained more energy with every passing day. Interest turned to passion and passion to devotion as Jou worked to master this seemingly limitless art.

Life continued. In 1971 Jou's academic pursuits led him to Rutgers University where he began studying for an American graduate degree in mathematics. While there he openly practiced taiji, which prompted inquiries from his fellow students. Inquires led to informal classes, which led to an offer by Rutgers to teach taiji as an accredited course. Jou continued to teach taiji at Rutgers until 1975 when the school canceled the program. Rutgers' stated position was that they had concluded, "Taiji was not a subject worthy of college credit as it was 'merely an exercise'." Afterwards, Jou continued to teach his students informally until Rutgers rescinded the use of practice space on campus.

The cancellation of his classes and the reasoning behind it disturbed Jou. The decision had been based on a review of the books on taijiquan available at that time. These books focused primarily on the superficial aspects of the art, lacking any in-depth examination of its long history, complex philosophy and classic principles. Jou the scholar understood their assessment. Jou the taiji teacher mourned their decision. Jou the author decided to do something about it. The dream had just begun.

This was a time of convergence in Jou's life. His experience at Rutgers had opened his eyes and he began to recognize a vacuum in the taiji world. Beyond the poor choice of books on the subject, he suffered a growing dissatisfaction with the quality of instruction that he had been receiving over recent years by the scattering of masters and teachers he had studied with during his frequent trips to Taiwan and China. A pattern began to emerge. The books and the people began to sound the same. It was then that he realized that few, if any, truly understood, let alone embodied, the classic principles of taijiquan. It was then that he walked away from all formal instruction. It was then that he adopted the voice of the classics as his one true teacher. It was then that he began to learn taiji for the first time. It was then he took his first step on the road to true mastery.

He began authoring a new textbook, the definitive book on the art of taijiquan. At the same time he cast aside the superficial trappings of the taiji world, refusing to continue practicing or teaching weapons forms or applications. He returned to the roots of the art, focusing on the Chen Form as the foundation of understanding and urged others to do the same. He became a maverick, a Master without a teacher whose theories and teachings raised more than a few eyebrows. In 1977 he hosted the first annual Zhang San Feng Festival in Chinatown, New York City, a gathering designed to commemorate the legendary founder of taiji. It drew nearly 200 people that year. It was small but it was a start. More time passed.

The year was 1984. By now Grandmaster Jou had founded a nonprofit foundation, the "Tai Chi Foundation." Through it, partly financed by the proceeds from his completed textbook, The Dao of Taijiquan he purchased a 103 acre farm nestled in the picturesque town of Warwick NY along Rt. 94 in Orange County. Taking up residence in a small cottage on the property, he converted an old carriage house near the road to his school. Thus the "Tai Chi Farm" was born. Lake at T'ai Chi Farm.

Grandmaster Jou taught taiji in weekly classes, $5.00 a class or for barter. Over time, he made the Farm available to other teachers for workshops and classes. It was through this practice, and his own affable nature, that Grandmaster Jou gained a reputation as a facilitator of sharing and openness, welcoming all schools, all thoughts and ideas, all practices equally. This philosophy was extended to the Zhang San Feng Festival which, with the purchase of the Farm, had found a permanent home. The first week of every June, visitors to the festival were treated to a wide array of disciplines and practices as masters and teachers from all over the country came to give lectures and demonstrations.

Many changes came to Grandmaster Jou in the last decade of his life. Weekly attendance to his classes dwindled as many of his students became disenchanted with Grandmaster Jou's "back to basics" teachings. Others were simply not willing to put in the hard work required to make progress. Sadly, these students left never realizing the opportunity they missed to be a part of Grandmaster Jou's most fruitful and progressive years, a period when breakthroughs came on nearly a daily basis.

Grandmaster Jou's development began to reach levels unseen in modern times. Many young athletes and martial artists from other disciplines came to him for training only to complain that they couldn't keep up with him. Moreover, word spread of his martial abilities. Using only pure taiji principles he became a force to be reckoned with on the sparring floor. He was in his seventies and none could beat him. With these accomplishments, his fame spread. Eventually martial artists from Taiwan and China came to the states to study under him. Masters and teachers from many disciplines came to him for private training and advice. From a number of these encounters close personal friendships developed and all came to love and respect Grandmaster Jou who was always willing to share his wisdom.

For example, during Grandmaster Jou's many travels he observed that none of today's taiji masters are able to effectively spar with taiji alone. In fact, even those who said they could were not actually using pure taiji principles but rather mixing techniques from other arts, such as gongfu, to bolster their sparring. From this observation he believed that he had discovered an almost universal mistake made by contemporaries and students alike. This discovery, in turn, led to one his most controversial breakthroughs. The purpose of practicing the forms, he realized, wasn't for fighting but rather to be used as a template to become one with the taiji principles. In fact, he eventually became convinced that use of form application would forever lock a practitioner into a level from which no progress would ever be made. This theory did not sit well with people who'd spent their whole lives practicing and teaching application. Yet proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

When sparring, Grandmaster Jou became a showcase for the unpredictable. Attack him and he was behind you. Grab him and he was no longer in your grasp. Push hands became "push air" then suddenly back to push hands and you'd lost. Chin na was useless against him. Hard styles couldn't compensate for his unpredictable moves. As one former sparring partner put it, "When you sparred with 'Grandmaster' Jou you typically ended up 'upside down against a pole without remembering how you got there.'" Not for a moment did he "pollute" his taiji with any other martial art. Years of infusing taiji movement into his very being paid dividends -- for when this 81 year old man sparred, he did so with taiji principles alone and could not be beaten.

The death of Grandmaster Jou was especially difficult for those who studied beneath him, for they knew better than any what the world had truly lost. Yet perhaps before leaving us, Grandmaster Jou had already given us the secret to taiji mastery, which, like so many secrets, remains in plain sight. "Go back to the basics and practice." With that simple fact we come to realize that understanding is the easy part. It's the mastery that takes a lifetime. Zhang San Feng Festival From the air.

By June of 1998 the Zhang San Feng Festival had reached a peak attendance of over 700 people. Having become a town event, for three days each year it filled the local hotels, motels, restaurants and diners to capacity. People from across the country were now attending, most to see the remarkable Grandmaster who they'd heard so much about. Some were disappointed to discover that he was neither 10 feet tall nor able to spit qi from his eyes. But for those that saw him spar, it was not hard to believe that he was approaching a level of skill not seen since the masters of old -- those men in whose hands taiji truly was the "grand ultimate."

His stated goal was to was live to 100 or more, making progress every step of the way. At some point, too, he wanted to travel to Chen Village where he would inspire its inhabitants by demonstrating what taiji once was and could be again. He also had plans to build Taiji University, a school where the old teachings would flourish once more. All these things he planned to do, to ignite a new renaissance in taiji study. As life and luck would have it, however, he never had a chance. On August 3rd, 1998, while returning from the local supermarket, Grandmaster Jou Tsung Hwa's vehicle was struck by an oncoming van as he pulled out into an intersection. His injuries were fatal. His passing was quick. His leaving was a loss to the entire world.

Grandmaster Jou stood for many things throughout his life. First and foremost, he was a living testament to the power of classical taiji. While not everyone agreed with his theories and teachings, none could argue with the results. More than that, he was an example of what one person can achieve when willing to work ceaselessly towards a goal. We who knew him can only speculate how far his dreams would have taken him even as many of us gladly followed. Lastly, and most importantly, Grandmaster Jou showed us all that neither ego nor hubris is necessary to excel in the martial arts. His heart and his mind were open. He will be sorely missed.

Principles

As Grandmaster Jou himself freely admitted, it wasn't until the last decade of his life, especially in the last few years, that he began to make real progress in taiji. Ever the scholar, he took up the classics as his primary source of learning. In fact, he would often say that his teacher was Zhang San Feng, a reference to the legendary founder of taiji. In addition to the classics, Grandmaster Jou spent considerable time in studying any ancient text, originals or reproductions, written about taiji, qigong, meditation or Daoist energy practices. He revived forgotten systems of practice and borrowed exercises from other martial disciplines, vesting them with internal attributes until they became just one more internal arts exercise. He developed new and unique practice systems, all intended to lead to further progress in taiji. Many of these systems he openly shared with all his students. Some of the more advanced practices he reserved, not as an act of secrecy but simply because they required a minimum level of progress that few attained. Even then he freely shared a vast scope of knowledge and gave anyone who understood them, the tools to master the art of taiji.

His theories were simple though sometimes controversial. The practice of taiji should follow the evolution of the art. Chen Form(s) should always be studied first, its principles understood and mastered. Only then should the Yang Form be studied, for only by mastering Chen could Yang be truly understood. The final stage of evolution was expressed in the Wu/Hao Form, which internalized the principles to its subtlest nuances. Beyond that was pure mind method. These, the "four classic forms," as he considered them, comprised the heart of his taiji study and teachings. At the same time he made no secret of how he felt about the forms outside of these four. The Wujianquan Form was a less advanced derivative of the Yang Form. The Sun Form was a redundant hodgepodge of the three internal arts. Weapons forms were often learned too early in a student's taiji education -- a waste of time that could be better spent in practice and understanding of the principles. All other variants were simply a distraction from the originals.

Grandmaster Jou approached the study and teaching of taiji holistically, that is, he taught all its aspects: as a martial art, as a spiritual practice, as a philosophy, etc. He disapproved of those who taught the art in a fragmented fashion. Taught properly, he believed that all benefits became an effective byproduct of diligent taiji practice. Taught in fragmented fashion the benefits are equally fragmented. He understood that not everyone was the same. As such he taught people to begin their study by tailoring their practice to their body's limits. He encouraged everyone, however, to extend those limits to their utmost. Lastly, it saddened him that so many teachers neglected to teach (and often didn't even know) the taiji principles and Daoist energy practices which comprise the heart of taiji.

As Grandmaster Jou's understanding evolved so did his teachings. He had no illusions about his own abilities and never let ego get in the way of progress. For example, for years he taught his students to perform prebirth, or reverse, breathing during the practice of the form. However, he had also spent much time pondering a phrase which had cropped up in a number of ancient texts relating to qigong. The phrase was "wuxi zhixi," roughly translated, "breathing without breathing." Through much meditation and experimentation, Grandmaster Jou came to understand the phrase and, after years of teaching breathing the old way, he took up the practice of "breathing without breathing," passing the knowledge on to his students (for more information see The Dao of Taijiquan).

As Grandmaster Jou's understanding of taiji continued to progress he focused more and more on the "simpler is better" approach. He continued to refuse teaching weapons forms and warned his students that if they were to make any serious progress, they had to give up everything they'd learned and go back to the basics, focusing on the pure principles of taijiquan. He focused heavily on basic exercise drills, study of the classics, and the Chen Form. Many of his students abandoned him during this period, instead choosing to pursue easier avenues with quicker gratification. Still Grandmaster Jou would not relent. The dongjing, the "knowing energy" was upon him. He knew he was right and persevered. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he was a purist and refused to mix any other martial arts techniques into his practice of taiji. This, he claimed, was what led to his breakthroughs in the Art.

For example, during Grandmaster Jou's many travels he observed that none of today's taiji masters are able to effectively spar with taiji alone. In fact, even those who said they could were not actually using pure taiji principles but rather mixing techniques from other arts, such as gongfu, to bolster their sparring. From this observation he believed that he had discovered an almost universal mistake made by contemporaries and students alike. This discovery, in turn, led to one his most controversial breakthroughs. The purpose of practicing the forms, he realized, wasn't for fighting but rather to be used as a template to become one with the taiji principles. In fact, he eventually became convinced that use of form application would forever lock a practitioner into a level from which no progress would ever be made. This theory did not sit well with people who'd spent their whole lives practicing and teaching application. Yet proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

When sparring, Grandmaster Jou became a showcase for the unpredictable. Attack him and he was behind you. Grab him and he was no longer in your grasp. Push hands became "push air" then suddenly back to push hands and you'd lost. Chin na was useless against him. Hard styles couldn't compensate for his unpredictable moves. As one former sparring partner put it, "When you sparred with 'Grandmaster' Jou you typically ended up 'upside down against a pole without remembering how you got there.'" Not for a moment did he "pollute" his taiji with any other martial art. Years of infusing taiji movement into his very being paid dividends -- for when this 81 year old man sparred, he did so with taiji principles alone and could not be beaten.

The death of Grandmaster Jou was especially difficult for those who studied beneath him, for they knew better than any what the world had truly lost. Yet perhaps before leaving us, Grandmaster Jou had already given us the secret to taiji mastery, which, like so many secrets, remains in plain sight. "Go back to the basics and practice." With that simple fact we come to realize that understanding is the easy part. It's the mastery that takes a lifetime.

A Letter from David Shaver

It has taken me some time since Master Jou's death to write this letter. At first, I experienced the most unbelievable sense of loss. How could it be that I could not again ask him a question or be inspired by his words and actions? Attending his funeral helped but I still felt lost.

And yet as time has passed I have found that my memories of him become sharper than ever and the words of his books more meaningful. Indeed, he is still answering my questions and still teaching by word and action.

Over and over I have remembered his advice to be one's own teacher - to not depend solely on someone else. And so I do try to be my own teacher, for now, with his continued guidance. I find myself examining, questioning and practicing with more diligence and, indeed, "making a little progress each day."

Because of distance I was not able to be a weekly student, however, over the past four years I came to the Farm as often as I could - almost always to take a workshop or class with Master Jou. The results were dramatic changes in every aspect of my T'ai Chi practice. He could be demanding, encouraging and enlightening almost in the same breath. I remember the day he came up to me, lifted my chin and said, "Do not keep looking down, you will shorten your life!" Needless to say I focused on that for quite a while. This year at the Zhang San Feng Festival he greeted me with a hug which I still treasure.

Master Jou's example of how to live a T'ai Chi life was always inspiring, but the depth and constant growth of his art was astonishing. Master Jou constantly amazed and yet did so with humility. He was and is a beautiful example for all T'ai Chi Ch'uan Players.

It is my sincere hope that his crowning achievement, The T'ai Chi Farm, will continue to grow and flourish. He brought us all together in a loving, non-competitive environment where we could share our knowledge and skills openly with each other. Perhaps those of us in this community of people so profoundly affected by Master Jou can, in some way, help this to happen. At least let those at The Farm know of our support.

Certainly Master Jou's passing is a heartfelt loss but more importantly we knew him and he enriched all of our lives with his guidance and example. And he does still answer questions - Practice and listen.

Sincerely, David