This article is based on Hong Yimian, a formidable practitioner of Internal Kung Fu. He was one of the original 10 students of Kung Fu Master Zhang Zhun Feng.
Interviews conducted with Hong Yimian were in September 1992 and March 1993, as well as interviews with Hong Yixiang and his sons Hong Zehan and Hong Zepei in March 1993. Thanks to Bill Tucker for his invaluable assistance in translating these interviews.
The original article was first published in Pakua Chang Journal, Vol.3, No.5
Among the numerous students of Zhang Junfeng, two stand out prominently – Hong Yimian and Hong Yixiang, both hailing from the esteemed Hong family. Their recognition in martial arts circles can be attributed to the coverage they received in various media and their unique status as two of Zhang’s original ten students in Taiwan. They dedicated extensive time to learning under Zhang, achieving remarkable proficiency in their martial arts skills, which they later passed on to others.
The Hong family, once prosperous due to their involvement in candle making, had expanded their business to include incense, oils, and fireworks. Fearing theft, they enlisted the services of a Shaolin master from the mainland to teach martial arts to the family members to safeguard their wealth. The eldest son and their father initially embarked on this martial arts journey. Still, the three middle brothers – Hong Yiwen, Hong Yimian, and Hong Yixiang – delved deeply into the martial arts under Zhang’s tutelage.
Hong Yimian, currently 73 years old, was conscripted into the Japanese Army during World War II, an experience that introduced him to combat training through bayonet drills. Despite this training occurring over half a century ago, Hong Yimian’s enthusiasm for demonstrating his bayonet skills remained undiminished. He displayed impressive agility and defensive moves when demonstrating these techniques.
During the war, Hong Yimian fought against American forces in the Philippines and was taken prisoner when their ship, initially disguised as a hospital ship, was intercepted. After several months in captivity in Australia, he returned to Taiwan in 1945 at 26.
Upon his return to Taiwan, Hong Yimian began practising martial arts more seriously. Zhang Junfeng noticed him during one of his morning exercises and introduced him to Xingyi Quan. Hong’s interest was piqued, and his brothers, Hong Yixiang and Hong Yiwen, soon followed suit. The Hong family welcomed Zhang into their home, providing him with accommodation and support to teach their sons regularly. Some of Zhang’s classes took place in the Hong family residence.
Xingyi Quan was the first art Zhang imparted to the Hongs. Training sessions were rigorous, involving prolonged stance-holding and relentless demands for lower stances. Hong emphasized that this training was not merely physical but also aimed at refining intention, calming the heart, and maintaining a steady, unwavering gaze. Hong often complained about the pain, to which Zhang’s response was straightforward: “If you can’t endure the pain, leave and don’t practice.” Hong says true kung fu mastery requires strenuous practice and enduring pain.
Hong Yimian believed that Xingyi’s five elements were a fundamental introduction to internal martial arts, helping students understand the principles of body movement in these styles. He considered Xingyi a direct expression of internal principles, facilitating the relatively rapid development of internal skills. Hong recommended learning Xingyi’s five elements before delving into Bagua Zhang; a method passed down from Zhang himself.
Following their mastery of Xingyi, Zhang introduced the Hong brothers to Bagua Zhang, including the Xiantian and Houtian Bagua forms. He also taught them other developmental exercises, such as the Tiangan (Heavenly Stem) exercises and techniques for striking bags and other objects to develop their physical conditioning. Hong Yimian dedicated a decade to learning Zhang’s Bagua Zhang, eight years to Xingyi Quan, and approximately three years to martial arts injury treatment.
Hong Yimian did not explicitly mention studying Zhang’s, Taiji Quan. Still, he did assert that Xingyi Quan was akin to middle school, Bagua Zhang to high school, and Taiji Quan to college regarding martial arts progression. However, he noted the scarcity of proficient Taiji fighters and emphasized that mastering Taiji was challenging.
Regarding weapons, Hong Yimian believed that after learning the principles and movements of Xingyi and Bagua, a practitioner could effectively wield any weapon or even use everyday objects as weapons. To illustrate this point, he demonstrated using a stool as a weapon while performing Bagua Zhang’s movements.
While Hong Yimian taught martial arts as a hobby, his brother Hong Yixiang pursued a career as a professional martial arts instructor. Hong Yimian, now retired from teaching, expressed his reluctance to promote himself and preferred to let professionals handle that aspect.
Although Hong Yimian did not openly discuss his abilities, many in Taiwan regarded him as Zhang Junfeng’s top Bagua Zhang student. He was known for his exceptional speed and agility, qualities honed through evading his teacher’s powerful strikes during training. Despite his small stature, Hong Yimian was considered a fearless fighter, partly due to his combat experiences in World War II.
When discussing Bagua Zhang principles, Hong Yimian emphasized awareness, sensitivity, agility, and adaptability. He stressed the importance of developing “ting jing” or listening skills, enabling practitioners to respond immediately to opponents’ movements. There are no fixed techniques in martial arts, and adaptability is paramount. Hong highlighted the need for a keen sense of sight, touch, movement, and overall awareness.
Hong underscored the significance of sparring, advocating practical experience over theoretical discussions. He encouraged students to engage in sparring to gain the ability to adapt and transition seamlessly between techniques in real combat scenarios.
In sparring, Hong emphasized the importance of partnering with those who genuinely aimed to help each other improve. Safety was paramount; he advised using light gloves and not striking excessively. Sparring was a means to learn adaptability, not a competition to determine superiority.
Hong also advised smaller practitioners to focus on agility and strategic movements, exploiting an opponent’s weaknesses, such as attacking the eyes, throat, groin, or nose. He stressed the need for cleverness and using one’s head to overcome size disadvantages.
While Hong Yimian retired from teaching and reduced his practice, he remained energetic and healthy. His commitment to martial arts peaked when he practised regularly between 31 and 40. He cautioned that skill deteriorates rapidly without consistent practice.