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Myths and Legends



and one of those rare people of whom they are true.
A Tribute to Grandmaster: Professor Yu Yong Nian

by Sifu Donald Kerr


I began my training in the Internal Arts in 1984, my interest and enthusiasm for the arts meant that I was eager to know as much about them as possible, particularly the lineage of my chosen Internal arts, which first introduced me to the name of Professor Yu Yong Nian. He was listed as one of a number of highly skilled teachers of Da Shu Di: Lam Kam Chuen, a skilled Internal Arts teacher who had come to Britain in 1975 and from whom my teacher learned. It is a testament to such a great lineage that my teacher is also very skilled and well educated in the Internal Arts.

Professor Yu Yong Nian was born in Beijing in 1920. A period of great change in China’s history, as the dust began to settle from the 1911 revolution. Academically Yu Yong Nian was a good student, who eventually went to medical school to study Dentistry. It was during his years of studying medicine (C.1944) that he felt he had become weak and sought out a martial arts instructor. He found Wang Xiang Zhai; a man who had become famous for his fighting prowess with his newly developed art of Yi Quan (I-Chuan) aka Da Cheng Chuan. Professor Yu has been quoted as saying that he was unsure of this training and of the teacher at first, for the teacher did not look like a tough martial artist and the training was difficult. He was not sure how standing still could help him but he persevered.

Yu Yong Nian saw for himself how other students with health problems sought out Wang Xiang Zhai and where once they had needed assistance, even to get to classes, after a few weeks of training were able to get there and train without assistance. This sparked him to use Zhan Zhuang training to help the chronically sick in the hospital where he worked and a new department called “The Exercise Department” was opened as part of the Physiotherapy Department.

Professor Yu Yong Nian collected huge amounts of data and research to prove the beneficial effects of this kind of training. He often spoke at conferences around China. Due to his efforts hospitals and sanatoriums developed similar departments for their own patients with great success.

I had read a number of articles on Professor Yu Yong Nian throughout my years of training. I had listened to anecdotes from my teacher, that had been passed down from his teacher, and I had already begun training in Zhan Zhuang - long before I had the opportunity to go to China, while studying for my degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine with Middlesex University. So on hearing that Professor Yu Yong Nian was in Beijing, near where we were due to be studying, I made it my mission to find him and see if I could train with him.

On arrival in Beijing, and from the first days working in a hospital, I began my enquiries; with the help of a fellow student, Jeremy Layton-Henry. Jeremy’s linguistic skills proved invaluable at the time. It didn’t take too long to find people who knew of Professor Yu Yong Nian and within a short time we were arranging a visit, over the phone, to drop in some small gifts and pay our respects.

Professor Yu Yong Nian, seated, with Sifu Donald Kerr - click for larger image At this initial meeting, and during our consequent conversation, I showed Professor Yu Yong Nian the letter of introduction that I had received from my teacher when I had reached a certain level of training. He read this with polite interest and asked me about my training and if I would like to do some, there and then, as he was going to have lunch. I readily agreed and, as I took up a standing posture, he nodded to me and set off to have his lunch. He was gone for about an hour and a half all told. Popping back from time to time to see how I was getting on. Not asking anything; just watching and then going back to finish his lunch. Eventually he returned, sat down and invited us to sit and drink tea, which was much appreciated. We sat and talked for easily another hour and he asked if I would like to come and train with him regularly. I was humbled and honoured by his generous offer and I jumped at the opportunity.

Over the coming months training was constant, difficult and challenging but always rewarding. I listened intently to professor Yu's stories of his own training with Wang Xiang Zhai and to those of some of the students who trained under him. It seemed incredible to me that the student who had trained with him the longest, and of whom he spoke fondly, was in his mid sixties, at the time that I was there, and was still training regularly.

Yu Yong Nian arranged for students to come and train with me and the exchange always proved interesting and educational. It has given me a good few stories to tell of my own and I have no shame in telling those anecdotes, which include me being almost pushed through a wall by an 85 year old man who had hardly made an effort to do so.

In our discussions Professor Yu was always open and generous with information. In my training he was a hard taskmaster but gentle in his words and deeds and it is a great testament to the man that when he spoke his students listened immediately, in the traditional manner, with great respect. I never heard him raise his voice nor did he ever try to prove how good he was by hurting, bullying or pushing a student around. In fact I have never heard a bad word about this gentle giant of the Internal Martial Arts world.

I had the pleasure of meeting, and training with, a number of his students and met with his Grandson who was visiting China at the time. It will always be a time that is strong in my heart; it was an enormous honour and pleasure to train with such a great teacher. I corresponded with him for a while and often received messages regarding him and Zhan Zhuang training.

I know that, for one of my students, (Matthew Calvert) who trained with professor Yu a year or so after me, it was also a great honour and that his thoughts and memories reflect my own. Professor Yu Yong Nian was a true legend.

Grandmaster Professor Yu Yong Nian: 31st March 1920 - 7th October 2013
Rest In Peace

The immediate lineage of Grand Master, Professor Yu Yong Nian:
Guo Yun Shen - Wang Xiang Zhai - Yu Yong Nian

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