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About Master T.T. Liang

The interview with Master T.T. Liang (1900–2002) was filmed when he was 93 years old. Master Liang was born during the 1st Moon, 23rd Day, and to celebrate his life and acknowledge his great influence, we recite his favorite text, the Tai Ji Quan Treatise, and chant the Great Compassion Mantra (Da Bei Zhou) in his honor, as well as offer incense and flowers.

Master Liang was Stuart Alve Olson’s teacher and great friend from 1982 to 2002. He is missed by the many thousands of lives he has inspired, and continues to effect, through his humor and teachings. We hope everyone takes a moment to remember him on his birthday.

Portions of the following biography on Master Liang’s life come from my book Steal My Art: The Life and Times of T’ai Chi Master T.T. Liang (North Atlantic Books, 2002), released two weeks before his passing.

Master Liang led a wonderful, full, and very interesting life. I can’t think of anyone among all the Taiji masters, living or deceased, who exemplified a better testament to the marvelous benefits of longterm Taiji practice. With his passing, the Taiji community has lost one of the greatest icons and contributors of Taiji practice and philosophy.

Master Liang was a disciple of two teachers, Taijiquan Master Prof. Cheng Manching and Taoist Master Liu Peizhong. Since Liang was not an ordained Taoist priest he never publicly made too much of his Taoist background, but anyone who studied with him was well aware of his Taoist behavior and internal alchemy skills. He was, as he liked to point out, a “blender” so as not to bring too much attention upon himself. (Laozi’s third treasure). Nevertheless, he was an avid student of the Tao Te Ching, calligrapher, and master of Taijiquan.

All of us who knew him, who read his book T’ai Chi Ch’uan for Health and Self-Defense (Vintage Press, 1974), or were fortunate enough to have studied with him miss him very much.

—Stuart Alve Olson

Biography

On the twenty-third day of the first moon in the year 1900, Liang Tungtsai was born in Ningpo, Hopei Province, which is a small town off the shores of the Yellow Sea in eastern China. Master Liang lived to the venerable age of 102, passing away on August 17, 2002.

Five-year-old Liang with his father and sister
Photo taken in 1905

Liang’s father was a merchant, selling primarily sundries, and according to Liang was an extremely hard worker and devoted father. His mother was a devout lay Buddhist, who spent all her free time lecturing on Buddhism to children and helping monks acquire funds to build temples.

Liang spent four years studying at Nankai University in Tianjin, where he received an M.A. in economics and then entered the British Maritime Customs Service at the age of 24. His rank increased quickly, and by the time he was 35 he held the highest position of any Chinese officer. Only one British officer was higher in rank than him. During his initial years with customs he spent a great deal of time in Amoy, which he remembers as being ideal in comparison to Shanghai, where he was sent after his promotion to the rank of Chief Tide Surveyor.

Liang in Maritime Customs Uniform

Liang served in many of the major cities along the eastern seaboard of China. When he was promoted to the rank of Chief Tide Surveyor he was in charge of all British controlled ports within their concession along China’s eastern seacoast, an enormous duty.

In 1945, Liang fell seriously ill and was hospitalized for over fifty days in a Shanghai hospital. Suffering from pneumonia, liver infection, and severe gonorrhea (acquired from years of drug, alcohol, and sexual abuse), his doctors had given him approximately two months to live. In order to save his life he took up the practice of Taiji and within six months had made great strides toward restoring his health. After he was fully recovered, he requested a transfer from the customs service, realizing that all his health problems were created from his wealth and position.

In 1948, he was sent to Taiwan, which he saw as a dishonor, but later considered a blessing because Mao’s communist regime overtook China a year later and he would certainly have been executed or imprisoned had he remained there. Unfortunately, his eldest son and daughter were still in China at the time and the communists had imprisoned, tortured, and interrogated them in order to locate Mr. Liang, events for which he was always extremely regretful. Mao had moved into Beijing so quickly that all his efforts to rescue them had failed.

Liang married twice, and his first marriage was arranged in 1928, but she died not long after their youngest son was born in 1933. She bore him three children—first son, Teh Yin, born in 1929; second daughter, Teh Chin, born in 1930; and third son, Jen Yin, born in 1933. He married his second wife in 1943 in Tientsin (Hopei province). They had one daughter together, An Li, who was born in 1950. Mrs. Liang (Shu Wen) died in Los Angeles in 1993.

Cheng Man Ch’ing and Liang performing Ta Lu, a T’ai Chi sparring exercise.

Liang moved from mainland China in 1948 to Taipei, Taiwan, and then to the United States in 1962. For six years he served as translator for Prof. Cheng Manch’ing (his primary Taiji teacher) at the United Nations in New York. Since that time he had lived in various places throughout the United States, such as Boston; St. Cloud, Minnesota; Tampa; Los Angeles; and finally New Jersey.

He taught Taiji at such prestigious universities as Tufts, MIT, Harvard, Smith, and Amherst. While living in St. Cloud, he and I taught at St John’s University and its sister school, St. Benedict’s.

While serving in the customs service in Shanghai, Liang took up serious study of ballroom dancing, becoming a championship dancer there. His expertise in dancing later affected his approach to Taiji, as he felt that performing Taiji to music provided the same relaxation that dancing did. His system of dissecting Taiji postures into beats provided a very consistent and rhythmic manner in which to perform Taiji. All his forms soon had the name “dance” attached to them. Interestingly, his inclusion of dance and music has had a profound effect on many present day Taiji practicers, as many have incorporated music into their forms.

Liang and dance partner celebrating
winning a competition.

Liang studied martial art and Taiji with more than fifteen teachers. He was fortunate to have been in Taiwan in the 1950s because it was like a “golden era” for the internal arts, as many of the great teachers from China managed to escape to Taiwan during Mao’s takeover. Liang was wealthy and he maintained a very high position within the government of Chiang Kaishek. His wealth afforded him the ability to have so many teachers, and because his rank was so high teachers sought him out, as it would be considered a boost to both their career and school to have him as a member.

Throughout his career, Liang had appeared on numerous television and radio shows and been featured in many magazine and newspaper articles. In Minnesota in 1985 he was voted as one of five senior citizens who contributed in excellence to the betterment of youth. All five were honored with a week-long celebration at the Minnesota Science Museum in St. Paul, Minnesota. He also became a citizen of the United States in 1985.

Newspaper articles in China proclaimed him as one of the great living testaments to Taiji practice. Without question Liang became one of just a handful of men to achieve world recognition for his Taiji skills and knowledge. He truly was one of the last great living masters coming out of the internal arts golden era of Taiwan.

Liang’s T’ai Chi for Health and Self-Defense (Vintage Press, 1974) and his translation work, T’ai Chi: The Supreme Ultimate Exercise for Health, Sport, and Self-Defense by Cheng Man Ch’ing and Robert W. Smith (Tuttle, 1967), have become standard authoritative works in English on Taiji. 

Liang not only worked as the translator for Cheng’s book, but he also appears in the Pushing-Hands section.

Taoist Lineages of Master Liang

Master Liu Peizhong (1880–1974)

This image of Master Liu Peizhong is used for altars within the Kunlun Sect. Normally each Taoist sect and subsect honors its teacher (Zu Fu, Master/Father) with such an image, and places it in front of the main temple deity. In the case of the Kunlun Sect, Master Liu’s image would be placed in front of Shang Qing (Foremost Purity), who is considered the Master of All Patriarchs.

Patriarch Liu Peizhong was one of Taiwan’s most distinguished Taoists . In 1940 Liu Peizhung came to Taiwan from Shandong province, China. Master Liu brought the Kunlun Mountain sect of Taoism to Taiwan. The Kunlun Sect is primarily a Taoist body of internal alchemy and meditation practices. Master Liu was an expert in astrology, topography, kungfu, Taoist magic, Chinese medicine, and a special method of I Ching (Book of Changes) divination. Master Liu had a reputation for being very compassionate and helped people whether they were rich or poor. But, as Master Liang commented, he could be very harsh in the training of his disciples.

Master Liang became a disciple of Master Liu during the late 1950s and cultivated Taoist meditation at Liu’s temple just outside Taipei. Liang was very impressed with Master Liu and recounted many stories of his experiences with him.

Taoist Master Yang (1891–?)

Taoist Yang claimed he was a Zhengyi Taoist priest, ordained on Lunghu Shan (Dragon-Tiger Mountain) in Kiangsi province and later moved north to reside on Tai Shan (Mount Tai). It was here that he learned of the great skills of Taiji master Yang Luchan and set out for Kuang Ping in neighboring Hopei province to learn Taijiquan from him, and as Master Liang reported he learned very well and he considered him the most skilled Taiji adept, especially in regards to internal skills.

Taoist Master Yang lived in a small personal hermitage with one disciple outside of Kaohsiung in Taiwan. There is very little available information about Taoist Master Yang. Liang himself never knew his full name nor did Yang discuss his past (a typical Taoist posturing). All that can be recorded about him are the stories Liang told me [Stuart Olson] of his tutelage with him.

Master Liang studied with him for nearly half a year, but after moving to the United States Liang lost contact with him. In 1988, I also tried to locate Taoist Yang in Taiwan but was unsuccessful. There are no known images or photographs of Taoist Master Yang, but Master Liang described him as being 5 1/2 feet tall, slender build, very long white beard, rosy skin, and rarely showed any emotion on his face. Depending on the day, Yang would have his hair in a typical Taoist topknot or just leave it hanging down his back. He never seemed to change clothes, always wearing a dark blue robe and white leggings. His hut was small, just one large room, with a bed for his disciple on one side and his on the other. Both were concealed by dingy blankets hung from the ceiling. A poorly built rock fireplace sat in the middle of the room and above it on a mantle was a scroll with the image of Lu Dongbin and a poem about his Yellow Millet Dream. Beneath the scroll was a small clay image of Laozi in a seated meditation posture with an incense burner in front of it.

The hermitage plot maintained a small vegetable garden, well, and a chicken roost. Taoist Master Yang was not purely vegetarian and liked his pipe and some concoction of an herbal rice wine, of which he would imbibe a small cup every night before bed.

Taoist Master Yang was married, but he and his wife lived separately. He preferred staying in his hermitage and his wife living in the city of Kaohsuing.

Yang Sen (1887–1983)

General Yang Sen
(February 20, 1884,
to May 15, 1977)
In 1927, General Yang Sen brought Li Qingyun to Wanxian.
The above photo was taken when Yang Sen was eighty-four years old.

Yang Sen was a disciple of the famous master Li Qingyun (Chingyun), who reportedly lived to the incredible age of 250. Yang Sen was responsible for convincing Li to visit Wanxian, China, in 1927 to teach, give lectures, and grant audiences with people. Considering that Li was a longtime “cloud wandering” Taoist this was an incredible accomplishment and event. Thousands of people came to Wanxian just to get a look at him. As Master Liang put it, “for Yang Sen to be able to convince Li Qingyun to travel to a busttling city was in itself a great testament of his incredible merit and virtue.”

Yang Sen was a warlord who went to Taiwan with Chiang Kaishek when Mao took over China. It was in Taiwan where Master Liang met and learned from him. Liang reported that Yang Sen was extremely humble, polite, and a very kind teacher, and had learned a great deal from Li Qingyun about Taoist internal alchemy and meditation, as is evidenced in Yang Sen’s book about him.

Taoist Immortal Li Qingyun
(1678–1933)

In regards to Yang Sen’s Taoist cultivation, Master Liang reported that he was extremely proficient in Eight Brocades Taoist Yoga, and walking. Reportedly, Yang Sen would frequently take his students (all younger than him) to hike up mountains. Always Yang Sen would get to the top first and sit smiling awaiting the arrival of his students. Liang engaged in some of these walks and noticed that Yang Sen never panted or was out of breath during these uphill climbs.

Master Liang once asked Yang Sen what he thought was the most important element of cultivation and Yang answered, “For purposes of longevity, sweating is most important.” Sweating, he claimed, “cleared the body of toxins, reinvigorated and increased blood circulation, revitalized the brain, and increased the marrow in the bones.” Liang said he then added, “But in regards to immortality, stillness is the key element. When you still the body, the mind will gain clarity. Once there is clarity you can have a mind of Tao.”

For more information and translations on Li Qingyun from Yang Sen’s Chinese book, see The Immortal by Stuart Alve Olson.

Martial Art Lineages

Master Liang actually started his martial art career in high school in Tientsin. Between the ages of fifteen and sixteen his high school physical education teacher was the famous kung fu teacher Huang Han Hsun, who was a master of Praying Mantis Boxing (Tang Lang Quan).

In 1933, while undergoing a seminar for his customs training in Beijing, he studied Tui-Shou (Pushing-Hands) with Yang Cheng Fu, but was only able to do so for a week and therefore never felt it proper to list him as one of his teachers.

After his illness in Shanghai in 1946, Liang began studying Taijiquan with various students of Cheng Manch’ing, and began formal training with Prof. Cheng in 1947. In 1949 in Taipei, Liang became Cheng’s Ta Shih Hsiung (Number One Chief Disciple).

From 1950 on Liang began studying with as many good teachers as he could find. The names of some of these teachers, as well as what he primarily studied with them, can be seen on the Galleries page.

For those readers who may not be familiar with the contemporary history of Taiji and what was surely the golden age of the internal martial arts in Taiwan during the 1950s, Liang’s resume of teachers reads like a Who’s Who of Taiji.

No photos are available for Chang Ch’ingling (Disciple of Yang Panhou), with whom Liang studied Taijiquan and T’ui Shou (Pushing-Hands), and for Li Jinfei, with whom he studied Shaolin Damo Sword with tassel.

There were a few other teachers with whom Liang studied Baguazhang and Xingyiquan (such as Yuan Dao), but he didn’t much like these styles of training and so did not pursue them for long.

Da Liu (1906 to 2000)

Master Da Liu

Master Liang was not a student or disciple of Master Da Liu, rather they were colleagues and friends, and for a while Liang lived with Da Liu in New York City. When Liang first came to the United States, Da Liu invited him to stay in his home until he could get settled. Both men shared knowledge with each other, and Liang commented many times to me how much he learned from Liu, especially in their discussions about Li Qingyun and Yang Sen.

Da Liu was an expert in Taijiquan, Taoist health exercises, Taoist meditation, philosophy, and the I Ching (Book of Changes). As I have stated previously in other works I feel that Da Liu never received the credit he deserves for helping to bring Taoist teachings to the West.

Da Liu started his Taoist training at age 18 by first learning Taijiquan from Sun Lutang in Kiangsu province. When the Japanese invaded China he went to the Taoist sacred mountain of Ch’ing Cheng in Szechwan province and learned from the Taoist monks there. It was during this time that he met and learned from the famous Taoist immortal Li Qingyun. From there he went to Shanghai and learned from Taoist master Li Lichou. It was in Shanghai that Da Liu met Prof. Cheng Manch’ing. They both went to Taiwan shortly after Mao’s takeover of China. It was there that he became friends with Master Liang in Taipei.

Master Liang had nothing but kind words to say about Da Liu and he had a great deal of respect for his skills as a teacher and writer. Da Liu wrote seven books on Taoism and Taijiquan.

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