Yang Lu-ch'an (1799-1873)
Yang Lu-ch'an originally born in Yongnian, Henan, was really poor as a youth. He worked at anything, finally as an apprentice to a pharmacist, who was also the house teacher to Chen Chang-hsing's sons. Young Yang was then sent as a house servant to Chen's household, or he just befriended the two sons. Either way, he saw Chen Boxing and was probably bested in a friendly fight. But it was impossible for an outsider to be allowed to learn the family style. So Yang Lu-ch'an watched in secret, absorbing the nightly secret practice sessions of the Chen family. He soon became quite proficient at this acquired secret; once then when he saw the public lessons given by Chen Chang-hsing, he could not hold himself back and remarked upon the poor quality of the boxing. Obviously he was put to the test, where he bested Chen's pupils and his sons. He confessed to having watched and practised alone, and having mastered all of it. Much impressed, Chen Chang-hsing allowed him to become a pupil, and even later Yang came back to even learn more and was taught more secrets, after which he became known as Yang Wu Di, Yang the Unbeatable. Yang was said to be so flexible he could pick up a coin from the floor with his mouth while doing the posture Snake Creeps Down, or he could do the whole form under a table. He was so fast his opponents didn't know what hit them, let alone which technique. He also once knocked a young challenger 30 feet across the room by simply expelling his breath with a laugh when the boxer punched his stomach. He could concentrate his Chi into a very small area as quickly as lightning, a feat only duplicated by his sons and grandsons. Another astounding ability seems to have been something akin to levitation, and of course the unsurpassable act of sticking Chi, where the opponent, once touched, simply cannot get away, no matter what he does. Yang Lu-ch'an did not like to make enemies, so he always tried to make his opponents' defeats look as least humiliating as possible; one should be at least three times as good as the opponent for this. He needed this ability a lot when he became the official instructor to the imperial family and guards. He became a target for challenges, and of course he had to fight (there is even a reported duel with Tung Hai-chuan, Pa Kua´s founder, which he made appear like a draw, so as not to anger the powerful eunuch).
One day a monk arrived unannounced at Yang Lu-ch'an's doorstep in Peking. He was powerfully built and over six feet tall. The monk saluted and expressed his great admiration. But during Master Yang's reply, the monk suddenly shot at him like a cannonball with clenched fists. Master Yang evaded with his chest and lightly patted the attackers fist with his own soft palm, and – as if struck by a bolt of lightning – the monk flew back to land behind a wall screen. He took a long time to get up and said very solemnly, "I've been extremely rude, please forgive me." Master Yang still invited the monk in for a chat. His name was Ching-te, a Shaolin boxer. The Monk asked "Why was I surprised and unable to display my prowess?" Master Yang replied, "This is because I´m always on my guard." The Monk asked, "How were you able to respond so quickly?" Master Yang said "It is called issuing energy like shooting an arrow (Fa Jing)." The Monk said, "I've roamed many provinces and met many masters, but I've never met your equal, Sir. Please teach me." Master Yang did not reply at once, but saw a sparrow fly in through the window. He quickly caught the bird and said to the monk, "I'm going to play a bit with this bird." He removed his left hand after stroking the bird to assure it he would not hurt it, and let it sit freely on his right hand. When the bird tried to take off , it could not, for Master Yang listened to its ever so slight energy when it straightened its legs to push off, and lowered his hand accordingly, making it impossible for the sparrow to take off – even as its wings were beating. After the bird tried this three times, the Monk exclaimed, "Master Yang your art is truly miraculous." To which Master Yang replied, "There is nothing to be called miraculous; if one practises T'ai Chi Ch'uan correctly for a long time, the entire body becomes so light and sensitive that not even the weight of a feather can be added without setting the whole body in motion, and not even a fly can set off. This is all there is to it." - The monk stayed for three days, then quietly departed.
Master Yang often said about Fa Jing: The Energy is released, but the mental continuity (Yi) is maintained, like the lotus root is broken but the fibres are still intact.
Master Yang once walked several blocks to a friends home, just after a heavy rain. When he arrived there, his friend noticed there was no trace of mud on Master Yang's shoes... .
There was an old wealthy man living west of Peking named Chang, who had a giant estate which people called Chang's little prefecture. He was enthralled with martial arts and kept a lot of boxers as bodyguards. He heard about master Yang Lu-ch'an and asked a friend named Wu Lu-ching to arrange an invitation for Yang Lu-ch'an. When Yang arrived Chang saw a little man of no special strength, no imposing muscles and quiet demeanour, who wore plain clothes. Chang ordered only a small dinner in the guests honour with little ceremony; Master Yang understood this, and drank by himself, quietly laughing to himself. Displeased with this, Chang said to him, "I've often heard my boxers speak of you in awe; but can this soft art called cotton fist or T'ai Chi Ch'uan really be used to defeat strong boxers?" To which Master Yang replied, "there are three kinds of men that are difficult to beat, namely those made of iron, bronze and wood (meaning a Chinese wordplay suggesting cast statues), but all others are no problem at all." Chang said, "I have 30 Boxing Masters, and Sifu Liu is the best of them. He can lift 500 pounds. How about if You cross hands with him?" Master Yang agreed and Liu attacked at once with fists whizzing through the air. Master Yang used his right to deflect, and with his left lightly patted Liu's chest causing him to fly backwards three yards. Chang immediately ordered a big banquet for Master Yang who said, "Clearly, you now see it is not pure muscle that prevails" Chang then considered himself to be Yang's pupil.
When Master Yang Lu-ch'an was in Peking, a Master of Dim Hsueh (pressure point grappling) came to test his skills. He charged, trying to grab Master Yang's arm, who simply intercepted the attack, and used a grip on the other's wrist utilising the sinew grabbing technique, at the same time he swept the other to the ground, then using Needle at he Bottom of the Sea to attack a point on the chest, which caused the Dim Hsueh master to lose. As he was unable to extend his fingers or to get up he acceded defeat, without being injured. Master Yang said to him, "Don't be ashamed; remember your many years of practise, for without them you would certainly have been seriously injured. But would please you not teach me more of your art of pressure points?"
At some time, when he was not yet famous, Yang worked as a dock hand. Once he was ambushed by around 20 men because he did not want to join the local dock gang. As there was a great number of opponents at the same time, Master Yang would have had to heavily injure at least some of them; so he decided just to wrap his cloak around himself, roll into a ball and let them beat him. The next day when he was at work as usual without a trace of injury all of his attackers were not at work – they were sick in arm, limb and body.
When Master Yang was still in Yongnian, just having returned from Chen village, a famous boxing master wanted to test skills with him. This boxer suggested they sit both on stools, pitting their right fists against each other. A short time later the boxing master was sweating and shaking profusely, his chair creaking and nearly coming apart - whereas Master Yang still sat there as if nothing was happening in a relaxed position, drinking tea with his left hand. After the boxer had given up Master Yang said, "This masters skill is superb. Only his chair is not as well made as mine."