Shéshān to Guăigùn: 91 year old Grandfather Dīng, "Dīng Yéye” and Snake Mountain Pavilion


First glimpse of Dīng Yéye - before LaoMa had met him.

First glimpse of Dīng Yéye - before LaoMa had met him.

Since entering the world of Chinese Martial Art in 1964 I had a strong, constantly reoccurring dream of studying with a venerable, long white bearded Chinese Master of the martial arts, on a mountain, in a Temple somewhere in China. That dream came true in 1985, came true as real as I’m sitting here fingers pounding a tablet keyboard. Came true so close to the dream of it that though unable to believe in miracles, I definitely am convinced that you can have influence on your dreams actually making it through the mental realm into the material world of us mortal beings. This journey actually began a decade earlier.

Three years after President Nixon’s 1972 “opening” to the West of Mao Tse-Tung’s Mainland China’s isolation post-independence, I was invited with 21 other minority Americans to visit China. We were guests of the Cultural Revolutionary Regime and were to visit Chinese Minorities Peoples (54 separate peoples at that time, compared to our 3 major minority groups) across this ancient land. This bookmark in my life was of huge importance to me as I was able for the first time to visit and tour the newly awakened Sleeping Dragon. So, and more important to me, only five years after I began active training in Tàijíquán (太 極 拳) in America I was traveling all over China and able to join ordinary people every morning in public parks, village squares, and larger open spaces, in their daily early morning, communal Martial Art exercises, especially group Tàijí (太 極), a collective ritual we had been viewing on TV since, and long after, Nixon’s visit.

1975 at Mao’s Birthplace

1975 at Mao’s Birthplace

After the impact of these unbelievable experiences, sponsored and made possible by Rick and Betsy Clemmons, my bosses in the Federal Drug Rehabilitation Program, Rubicon Door, where I worked, another quest was born: the dream to return to China, not to tour the country, but to live and work in one place, become part of a community, and train in the Wŭshù (武 術) of Tàijíquán. I could not conceive of how I would get back there, or what I would do for work if I could. But then...

A decade later in a serendipitous conversation with the brother of a Chinese friend I was given information and a referral to reach friends of his in Wŭhān, China , who would be able to help me realize my dream. And that’s how I was able to reach that quest and my “Dream Come True;” the real life altering experience that changed the course of the next 40 years of my life’s sojourn, and one small mosaic in that dream, the one leading directly to Lao Zhang and the Hooked Walking Stick Form.

Practice in front of Snake Mountain Pavilion

Practice in front of Snake Mountain Pavilion

Unbelievably to me, 3 days after arriving in Wŭchāng, one of three cities making up the mega-city of Wŭhān which straddles the Yangtse River, a chance meeting in the street with a young music student, Chen Danbu, I was brought to the martial art playground on Snake Mountain (Shéshān, 蛇 山) and accepted into the school of 91 year old Dīng Hóng Kuaí, Dīng YéYe, “Grandfather Dīng,” (丁 爺 爺) the lineage holder of Táng Pài (唐 派), and a “National Treasure” of the Peoples’ Republic of China, an important fact of his life I was completely unaware of until years later when a student of mine found this important information on him in perusing the internet! He taught in the Snake Mountain Pavilion for 60 years, through war and social upheaval. The Pavilion is part of a memorial, along with a 25-30 ft. obelisk commemorating the 1911 Republican Revolution overthrowing the Qīng Dynasty, a rebellion started nearby in an Imperial Army barracks. Although the large rectangular Snake Mt. Pavilion was the only roofed structure, it was surrounded by scores of cleared areas claimed by different teachers and was a veritable Wŭshù Playground. The most beautiful site to train in martial arts imaginable.

Snake Mountain Pavilion

Snake Mountain Pavilion

Along with the established teachers in these Folk Schools (Peoples’ Schools, not of the more visible Government “Wŭshù” Schools, though all are accountable to the government’s Physical Culture Institute), itinerant teachers would periodically sweep through the folk schools and teach Forms for a period of time before moving on to other playgrounds throughout the tri-cities of Wŭhān. One such teacher who appeared one day was 76 year old Lao Zhang who began teaching this exotic weapon: Guăigùn (枴 棍), the Hooked Walking Stick Form!

GLOSSARY OF Chinese Characters Used in the Text

Tàijíquán (太 極 拳). Great Ultimate Extremes Fist. Refers to Internal Martial Art

Tàijí (太 極). Great Ultimate Extremes. Refers to many endeavors other than Martial Art

Wŭshù (武 術). Chinese Martial Art (In Taiwan, the term used is Kuoshù)

Grandfather Dīng,” (丁 爺 爺)

Táng Pài (唐 派). Táng System of Martial Art, developed by the first Táng Emperor’s third son, Tangbi

Guăigùn (枴 棍). Hooked Walking Cane

Shéshān (蛇 山). Snake Mountain. Shān can refer to different sized mountains. We might not call the one in Wŭchāng a mountain but a hill, but in China they are all “shān”

Guăi (枴). Walking cane with hook

Gùn (棍). Stick or cudgel

Gùn zi (棍 子). Rod or stick

Guăi zhang (枴 杖). Walking stick

Jiàn (劍). Sword

Dāo (刀). Broadsword

Qínná (擒 拿). A twisting, grappling form of defense involving the capture and manipulation of the joints

Qì (氣). Vital energy, breath energy

Gōngbù (弓 步). Bow stance, the #1 stance of Tàijíquán

Máobĭ (毛 筆). Writing brush

Jīnshān (金 山). Gold Mountain (America). Mĕi Guó is the official name for America (“Beautiful Country”). Jīnshān is what many Chinese people call the U.S., perhaps traced to the California Gold Rush and/or building the Trans Continental Rail Road through the Rockies from the West Coast. Both events drew Chinese workers in large numbers to the U.S.


Taijiquan group.PNG

My 53 year odyssey, thus far, with this fascinating and magnificent art form, began in an other worldly encounter with William C.C. Chen in his New York City school back in 1964.  My actual training did not begin then, mainly due to lack of schools and teachers, but six years later in 1970 when a friend and college classmate, Larry Mann, began teaching it in his Norfolk, Virginia, KungFu School.  By 1975 when I took my first trip to China, I had joined Larry and classmate Billy Hook in the founding of the Tidewater T'ai Chi Center, and soon after established my own school in Norfolk, the Tidewater T'ai Chi Club.

taichi Dao.JPG

In 1985 I fell into the most magical period of my life when I was able once again to not only journey to China, but to live, work and train there -- a vastly different China than the one I experienced a decade before, and a completely different world than that of today, some three decades later.

When I embarked on the 1985 trip, I left the Tidewater Club in the good hands of dedicated senior students who tried their best to keep it functioning during my absence.  I was recently given these photos by Kam Hitchcock-Mort, the senior-in-charge, the other two students are Warren Pretlow and Chris Walters. Many of the students in the group portrait joined the class while I was away and are unknown to me.  One Lady in particular though, Anita Adams, between Warren and T.T. Liang’s calligraphy on Taijiquan, is healthy and in her 90’s and we are still in contact! In the picture of Warren and Kam with the double broadswords I can tell, with her bowed head and the smile crinkling around Warren’s eyes, that a mistake just took place infeatured the two-person, shuang dao set.

Taiji Dao.JPG

I completely lost contact with Chris over the years since returning from Wuhan’s Snake Mountain, but Warren, after graduating from an Oriental Healing School in California, established a thriving, dynamic and successful Taijiquan/Qigong/Acupuncture School in Anchorage, Alaska where I have had the honor of being “visiting pubah” several times.  Kam retired from librarian work in California and Texas and lives with her retinue of exotic dogs and cats in coastal Virginia.  The three of us reunited finally during my 60th year (Confucius’ milestone, ‘Year of Obedient Ears!’) in both Alaska and Texas (Alaska is the magical land north of the Lower 48, and ya don’t mess with Texas!).


In 1989 I transferred what was left in a storage locker of the Tidewater Tai Chi Club to Dr. Jay’s Magic Tortoise Taijiquan School here in the Triangle Area of Central North Carolina.  After 26 marvelous years with him and Teacher Kathleen Cusick, I am now at the Black Bamboo Pavilion School, with Violet Anderson in charge, which has become my final Taiji Jia!

Last Lesson with Jou Tsung Hwa: GO BACK FUNDAMENTALS!

Part 1:  My Introduction to MrJou

I first met the incomparable Taijiquan teacher Jou Tseng Hwa in 1981, 17 years after first being introduced to Taiji, and last saw him 18 years later, 4 months before his untimely death on August 3, 1998.  This post is a short preface to the story of our last lesson on April 5, 1998.

LaoMa and DrJay beginning work on MrJou’s dream, building a Tai Chi College.  We were digging the corner stone hole to lay the time capsule.

LaoMa and DrJay beginning work on MrJou’s dream, building a Tai Chi College.  We were digging the corner stone hole to lay the time capsule.

I will explain my use of the form of address, ‘MrJou,’ here at the outset just so you’ll understand the inclusion of deep respect and great love it conveys in my usage.  MrJou never cared for titles such as Master, Grand Master or any of the misleading alternatives for the Chinese term Shifu (teacher/coach/Master, depending on the Chinese character used).  He said on more than one occasion”…if you want, you can call me Master, I have a Master’s Degree in Mathematics!”  Mr. (or Xiansheng in Chinese) carries great import, it is not disrespectful to use.  Ninety-one year old Ding Hongkui, the greatest teacher I was ever privileged to study and train with was referred to simply as, Ding YeYe ---  Grandfather Ding!  Students prefer to call their teachers by grand titles, grand teachers that I have had the privilege to study with do not.

MrJou looking down at students’ landscaping

MrJou looking down at students’ landscaping

I first heard about MrJou thru Brother Jay Dunbar about 36 years ago.  Jay had recently opened his school here in the Triangle called Carroboro Tai Chi Center.  We were introduced to each other by a couple of his students who relocated to the Norfolk, Va. area where I had a school, Tidewater T’ai Chi Club.  He and I became acquainted through letter exchanges until meeting for the first time at a festival he held outside his school in an empty field in Carrboro where the Weaver Street Market now stands.  I brought a few carloads of my students down to a Zhang Sanfeng Festival he organized and hosted, where we first met in person and where, at the same time, I first met Jou Tsung Hwa, (and obtained a treasured autographed First Edition copy of his book, The Tao of Tai Chi Chuan:  Way to Rejuvenation, the tome we use as a textbook!)

MrJou’s Ancentor Altar in Tai Chi Farm’s Zhang Hall; DrJay lecturing

MrJou’s Ancentor Altar in Tai Chi Farm’s Zhang Hall; DrJay lecturing

For the next four years I did train with MrJou at his school in New Jersey, and with much help from his senior instructor, Marsha Rosa, learned his version of the Yang Family Sanshou (I had already learned Mr T.T. Liang’s version of this 2-person set from his disciple, Paul Gallagher) and the Chansijin Exercise.  When I returned from my China sojourn, 1985-88, and joined DrJay’s Magic Tortoise School as Senior Teacher, my relationship and training with MrJou grew at a much more rapid and regular rate as we hosted his 2 to 3 annual workshops and helped him establish his Tai Chi College on the grounds of the 100 acre Tai Chi Farm in New Jersey.  MrJou’s last workshop, “Master Key,” in our yearly Magic Tortoise workshop series, the weekend of April 4-5, 1998, is the setting for this story of “The Last Lesson” which will be my next posting…