Master Hai Yang is an amazing martial artist and teacher from Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The CombativeCorner got to know of him through his videos on YouTube. What caught our eye was his strong, fluid and explosive Xingyi forms. Little did we know that he’s well-versed in Chen Taijiquan and Baquazhang as well! He has been running the Center for Wudang Internal in Montreal since 2001. To learn more about Master Yang and his school, visit his website at InternalStyle.Com. To view is YouTube Channel, simply click on the graphic above.
What was life like when you were younger? Did you always know you were going to be a martial artist?
I was born in 1968. When I was a child life was totally different compared to now in terms of lifestyle and living conditions. I was born in the city of Tianjin (beside Beijing), which had been a hot bed for development of internal martial arts, especially for Xingyi and Bagua. So, I had much more opportunities to experience direct teachings from some famous masters. Also I had the chance to learn some styles and practices which have begun to disappear.
China was very poor back then. We did not have many choices for entertainment. There was no Internet and no big screen TV (i.e. there was TV but only 2 channels). There were a lot of movies, but mostly communist revolution related. So in Tianjin, it was very popular to practice martial arts. I still remember clearly that during the summer time in my living area (Hedong district, many famous Xing Yi master lived there), you could see martial art demonstrations on the street every night, which is like summer music festival in North America.
In my family, there is a tradition in which each generation would have one person practice these arts in order to maintain the family practice. I was the only child who was chosen by my grandparents. So, I did not have any idea of why I had to practice and what I would do with this training in the future, because all I could do was follow what they told me to do.
With time, I found out that there’s so much fun in practicing. Therefore in my 20’s, I began to have the dream of having my own martial art school.
If martial arts and teaching hadn’t been such a big part of your life what would you probably have done for a career?
In China, I have obtained two degrees at two universities; one was in engineering and the other one was in Chinese medicine. Teaching martial arts was my hobby. I began teaching when I was 18 years old, but still, it remained as a hobby. After I moved to Canada, I realized that my life would be much more interesting if I had worked as a martial arts teacher. So instead of trying to find a job in IT or Chinese medicine, I just opened my own martial art school in Montreal.
So, what would I have done if I hadn’t devoted myself to teaching martial arts as a career? I think that I’d probably focus on Chinese medicine. I still am currently practicing Chinese medicine as part of my “hobby” here. I do not think we can separate these two practices totally because they are from the same fundamental root.
What is your favorite aspect of teaching others Xingyiquan, Taijiquan & Baguazhang?
I like the straightforwardness of Xingyi, the subtlety of Taijiquan and the fluidity of Baguazhang. More importantly, I like the diversity of each style and the common characteristics of them as a whole.
When I practiced in the beginning, I was told to maintain the distinctive characters of each style and I did exactly that. Lately, I realized that it is very beneficial and helpful to combine some basic principles of these 3 styles together. This idea is very useful during teaching. So, I always tell my students what the manifestation of the other styles are in order to realize the same result through the one they are learning.
So, simply speaking, I can say that I love all of these three styles equally. It is not because that I lost myself in front of the richness of these arts, I try instead to abstract the essence from these three styles and apply them into my teaching.
As a student of the martial arts, is there an area in which you feel you excel more? (and do you give equal attention/time to each style of your martial arts training?)
As I mentioned in question 3, I love them equally.
In chronological order, I started Xingyi training first, then as a teenager, I began my Baguazhang practice. Finally, in my late teenage years, my grandfather taught me Taijiquan (Yang style first, then switched to Chen style under my uncle’s tutelage). Right now, I mainly focus on the Chen style Taijiquan practice.
What do you think is important that other teachers know about teaching the internal arts?
-I have some students who teach martial arts in different cities and countries. I always feel very happy to share my experience and I would like to learn from their teaching experience as well. There are many important aspects to martial art teachers. I would like to talk about this based on my own experience.
-Learn how to teach. Teaching is an art. Some teachers are good at combat or demonstration, but they lack teaching experience. Teaching is not for showing how good he/she is, but also, the teacher should be able to make the learner master the content, which they are teaching. Sometimes, transferring knowledge is more difficult than gaining the knowledge alone.
-Combine physical practice and theoretical study together. Some teachers focus greatly on physical practice, but they do not put enough attention on the theory, the concepts and the principles. Teaching martial art involves physics, philosophy, psychology, history, culture, medical knowledge, strategy and so on.
-Focus on details. I always tell my students: there are only two type of teaching in the martial art field. One is good teaching and the other one is bad teaching. The difference between them lies on the depth of understanding the details of each movement. Our ancestors created these arts with detailed thinking, researching and testing. Focusing on details of each movements will help us to be able to follow their path of practice.
-Be open to other styles and arts. Any style’s existence offers an opportunity for us to learn from. Martial art teachers should not be restricted by their own style. Concentrating on our own style does not prohibit the martial artist from borrowing useful principles from other styles. Most of my students have a certain training background. I found that most of the time their former training experience can be helpful in learning internal styles.
How important is spirituality or meditation in martial arts you practice?
Theoretically, martial art practice should combine spirituality and meditation.
Technically, practitioner should know how to differentiate these practices to each other.
They are related to each other, but one cannot replace one for the other one.
Who in your life has had the most impact on your development as a martial artist/teacher and why?
I have the fortune to study from many prominent masters. Among them, I think my grandfather gave me the most impact on my development as a martial artist. He taught me not only the form, routine, application, but also he helped me understand how important and beneficial it is to practice these arts.
I had experienced some very hard times in my life, and my practice helped me overcome these difficult periods.
So, I appreciate him greatly from the bottom of my heart.
When a beginning student comes to your school, what is the most important thing for them to concentrate on?
Mastery of basic practice of the style.
Then, understanding the basic idea of timing, angle, speed, concentration and related topics.
Adapt a healthy life style and apply training concept in real life.
Teaching and martial arts aside, how does Master Hai Yang have fun?
I love painting, calligraphy, Beijing Opera, Chinese Poetry and technology.
All of them are related to martial arts if we talk about it from a broad level..
This month’s discussion is on goal-setting. Seeing as though it’s the New Year, do you find it important to make goals for yourself? What kind of changes or aspirations do you have for this year and/or years to come?
I totally understand that without a proper goal, we will lose our target in life.
I setup my personal goals at every New Year’s season. It has been my personal “tradition” for years.
In the Year of Rabbit, I have two goals. One of them is to polish my Taijiquan teaching, in order to help more and more students go master this style in a systematic way. The other goal will be more interesting. I will try to combine modern technology with traditional Kungfu training together, in order to more efficiently promote what I have learned.