Li Yaxuan, 李雅轩, (1894-1976) , born in the Jiaohe County of Hebei province of China, was an influential teacher of Yang style T'ai Chi Ch'uan. Li became a disciple of Yang Ch'eng-fu (楊澄甫, 1883-1936) in 1914. He followed his teacher for over ten years and became one of his most accomplished students. Yang Chengfu once spoke of Li to the other students: “Yaxuan’s natural talent for T'ai Chi Ch'uan is unattainable by the rest of you. His spirit of hard work and endurance, and his intensity and passion for study are something the rest of you cannot match.” Li Yaxuan later moved to the Sichuan province of China where he became one of the leading proponents of Yang style T'ai Chi Ch'uan there.
Li Yaxuan was born in 1894 in Jiaohe County in the Hebei province of China. Martial arts were very popular in the area where young Li grew up and he himself also became an ardent enthusiast. Initially he studied Shaolin-style, but in 1914 he had a humbling encounter with Bo Haitian (傅海田) a T’ai Chi Ch’uan practitioner and student of Yang Ch’eng-fu. One night when Bo was a dinner guest at the Li household, a skeptical young Li urged him to demonstrate the “soft” fighting skills of T’ai Chi Ch’uan in a friendly sparring match. No matter how hard Li tried, Bo flowed with each attack so that Li felt as though he were chasing the wind and grasping at shadows. After he was brought to the ground repeatedly, Li finally asked Bo to take him on as a student. Over the course of the next several months, Bo taught Li the principles of T’ai Chi Ch’uan, but when his student’s enthusiasm and talent became apparent, he suggested that Li study directly under his teacher Yang Ch’eng-fu, and sent him to Beijing with a letter of recommendation.
Disciple of Yang Ch'eng-fu
In 1914, Li Yaxuan prostrated himself before Yang Ch’eng-fu to become a disciple, and henceforth threw himself wholeheartedly into the practice of T’ai Chi Ch’uan. Yang had high regards for this exceptional young man, and held great hopes for him. Their relationship was very intimate, like father and son. With regards to T’ai Chi Ch’uan training, Yang made very high demands on Li. Li’s intuition was very quick, and his gongfu (skill) improved daily. He practiced each movement a hundred times, a thousand times, whatever it took to reach the point where Yang was pleased. When Yang taught push hands, his arms were extremely heavy, like iron wrapped in cotton. Other students felt unbearable pain in both arms and both legs after only a couple minutes. But Li Yaxuan was able to endure for ten minutes each time. Even though his clothes were soaked with sweat, he would not stop until Yang told him to. Day and night, while eating, walking and even sleeping, he emulated his teacher’s T’ai Chi Ch’uan movements. Often he got up in the middle of the night to practice a sudden insight, not stopping until he had grasped it fully. The other students all said “Yaxuan practices T’ai Chi Ch’uan as if possessed by a demon!”
With typical modesty, Li once remarked of his study with Yang Ch’eng-fu: “I followed Master Yang for more than a decade, without leaving his side. I stayed with him all day long, learning T’ai Chi Ch’uan from him. Yet my achievement is only 30 to 40 percent of Master Yang’s.”
From 1929 to 1934, Li Yaxuan served as a chief teacher at the Wushu Gymnasium in Hangzhou in the Zhejiang Province. In 1934, a T’ai Chi Ch’uan society was established in Nanjing and Li was chosen to be the director. In 1935, Li held the position of wushu instructor in the Nanjing Sports School. He served there until the outbreak of the war of resistance against Japan in 1937, when the Japanese bombed Nanjing. That year, Mr. Li arrived in Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan Province. It was at this time that he brought the art of T’ai Chi Ch’uan to Sichuan, China’s most populous province, located in the southwest.
Li taught T’ai Chi Ch’uan in Chengdu up until his death in 1976. He also won honors at many martial arts competitions across China.
In 1992, Chen Longxiang (陈龙骧, b.1948), Li Yaxuan’s son-in-law and foremost disciple, and Li Mindi, (李敏第, b.1951), Li’s daughter, compiled and edited a collection of writings on T’ai Chi Ch’uan by Li Yaxuan, which they published as Yang Style T’ai Chi Ch’uan Essential Explanation (杨氏太极拳法精解). Chen and Li are also co-directors of the Li Yaxuan T’ai Chi Ch’uan Wushuguan in Chengdu where they continue to train a new generation of students in the Yang-style tradition as transmitted by Li Yaxuan.
- Li Yaxuan Wushuguan Website
- Video of Li Yaxuan's disciple Chen Longxiang performing the Li Yaxuan Yang-Style 43-Movement T'ai Chi Chuan Short Form