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Tai Chi Chuan - Boxing for the Gentle

Publication Date: January 01, 1963 |

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Cheng Man-ching is also a painter (File photo)

Robert Smith was beaten.
The short, thin Chinese in his late 60s had let Robert punch him in the chest, abdomen and even the kidneys as hard as he could.
The Chinese had only smiled and called for even harder blows, but Robert gave up.
He had hurt his knuckles in trying too hard.
The old man smiled broadly, as he had so many times before. Robert smiled ruefully. It was his first time to be beaten by a man who had done virtually nothing to win.

Robert was not a weak man.
In fact he was very strong.
Back home in the States, he was a boxing coach.
He learned judo in Japan, made the Third Order, Black Belt, and wrote a book about it.
He was schooled in the Pai-kua, Shao-lin and Chin-na systems—the hard school of Chinese boxing that specifies force and violence.
He weighed close to 200 pounds, mostly in bone and muscle.

But this old man was a Tai Chi Chuan practitioner who draws power and strength from deep abdominal breathing and bases his boxing skill on the principle of yielding.
He had proved that force and drive are no match for ease and flexibility.
Accent on relaxation has made Tai Chi Chuan more than an art of self defense. It has become known as an excellent exercise for achieving mental relaxation through physical movement.

The power of nature is found in grace and ease, the Tai Chi Chuan exponents say. In Chinese, Tai Chi means "The Ultimate," the reason for all beings and the epitome of life.
A principle so complicated and yet so simple is not easy to conceptualize.
It differs from what we are brought up to believe.
Health and strength are not found in bulging biceps and hard muscles.
A young lumberjack can be roundly defeated by an elderly scholar.
To make the first move may be to lose the margin of victory.

All this has to be seen to be believed.
Even then, it is easy to suspect that some malarky is involved.

On Taiwan today, the best man to disprove this is Prof. Cheng Man-ching, 61-year-old Chinese scholar who has been a master of Tai Chi Chuan for more then 30 years.
He is one of the top disciples of Yang Cheng-fu, the reigning authority of his time.

The name of Yang Cheng-fu may not mean anything to those knowing nothing of Chinese boxing.
But in the annals of the pugilism of China, he was among the most illustrious.
His fistic feats have become legends.
He was known to subdue his opponent even before he was even touched.

Chen Man-ching would not have learned the orthodox Tai Chi Chuan from Yang Cheng-fu had it not been for the revolution of 1911 that overthrew the Manchu Dynasty.
Yang had been instructor in the imperial court, a most honored post for any pugilist in those days.
His teaching was monopolized by princes and members of royal families.
Revolution made him jobless but it also gave him an opportunity to teach commoners.
His fame spread far and wide.

Cheng at that time was a weak young man who had distinguished himself only in Chinese herb medicine practice.
But he was suffering from T. B., which his herbs had failed to cure.
He spat blood and had fever in the afternoon.
Peptic disorders further enervated him.
He was so weak that he could not sleep at night if he had walked more than a hundred paces during the day.
He had almost given up his case as hopeless.

Yang Cheng-fu did not take a disciple easily.
As a well-known doctor, Cheng one day was invited to treat Mrs. Yang, who was seriously ill.
The diagnosis was brilliant and Mrs. Yang soon was well.
Out of gratitude and impressed with Cheng's talent, Yang Cheng-fu taught Cheng the secrets of Tai Chi Chuan.
It took seven years for Cheng to learn them all and go out on his own.

Cure Attested

In relating his past, Cheng never hesitates to reiterate his conviction that Tai Chi Chuan is a cure for T. B.
"My internal hemorrhages stopped and my temperature returned to normal within a few months of practice," he said.
"In less than a year, my coughing was gone.
But it took six or seven years to end headaches, loose teeth, dim eyesight and failure in concentration.

"I am now over 60 years old, and I can do everything anyone else is normally able to do.
My eyesight is better than it was 30 years ago and I read small letters without the aid of glasses.
My teeth are stronger than before."

Cheng's day is full of activities.
A many-talented man, he divides his time among poetry, calligraphy, and Chinese painting in addition to herb medicine and Tai Chi Chuan.
For years, he has been tutor of Chinese painting and calligraphy for Madame Chiang Kai-shek.

His is the story of rebirth.
His primary purpose in learning Tai Chi Chuan was to improve his health.
He said he never dreamed then that one day he would be able to beat nationally known pugilists.

Chinese pugilism is a tough and serious business.
No hold or blow is barred or overruled.
Boxers fight with fists, elbows, shoulders, knees, edges of the hands, fingers and feet — in ways designed to inflict different wounds on certain parts of the body.
A Chinese pugilist gives no quarter and gets none.

In his career as Tai Chi Chuan authority, Cheng has been challenged many times.
For years he was the director of the Pugilists' Association of Hunan Province.
Hunan was the mecca of Chinese pugilism.
It was there that he met the toughest opponents of his life.
Chinese boxers of all sorts came to test his mettle.
They left with glowing respect.

Prof. Cheng doesn't close his doors to curious visitors, even now.
Among them was a man called Liang, champion of the Shao-lin school.
Liang was a strapping man with, over-sized hands.
He was ambitious.
He had beaten too many to be modest.
And now he must challenge Cheng Man-ching to prove himself.

Through a common friend, Liang invited the old master to dinner.
After a few drinks, he dropped his gauntlet.
But Cheng Man-ching smiled and said it was not his custom to show his boxing skills at a restaurant.
Nevertheless, he would welcome Liang to have a "friendly bout" at his house.

The Challenger

At his unpretentious home, the master waited.
Liang turned up on the second day.
He was aggressive and refused to call it a day after he had lost in some minor contests.
This taxed the patience of the master.

"Attack me any way you want," Prof. Cheng said.
"If I am seen moving my hands in defense, call me a man without a family name."
To lose one's family name is worse than death to an honorable Chinese.
The witnesses were momentarily worried.

The Shao-lin pugilist used the most deadly fist-and-leg onslaught.
But at the point of contact, he bounced off as if he had been electrified.
He crashed through a door yards away.
No one on the scene saw Prof. Cheng move his hands.

The fall was not all.
That night, Liang's head was swollen like a watermelon.
As a boxer, he knew it was an inner wound and that no one except the man responsible could do anything about it.
So he went back with humbled heart and Prof. Cheng gave him treatment.
Liang wound up becoming a Tai Chi Chuan convert and began to take lessons from Prof. Cheng.

Eliminates Fear

It is inconceivable to the uninitiated how a Tai Chi Chuan boxer trained only in physical and mental relaxation can fight a man of muscle.
Relaxation is, in fact, the secret, and the degree of accomplishment is measured by one's ability to relax.
The most advanced achieve a mental calm that is a great force in itself.

Prof. Cheng often says that Tai Chi Chuan is a mental process that eliminates fear, which is man's biggest enemy.
Fear makes a man rigid, deprives him of flexibility and paralyzes both body and mind.
When a student practices Tai Chi movements, he is taught to deal with an imaginary enemy who is strong and fierce.
But when he is actually facing an opponent, he must imagine there is no one in front of him.

The appearance of Prof. Cheng as Tai Chi Chuan master is deceptive.
He wears sideburns and whiskers.
Chinese long gown and cloth-soled shoes are his everyday attire.
On occasions, he puts on the gown-like dress he designed himself.
He is more than unobtrusive; he looks sluggish.

That was the way he looked to me when I called upon him one autumn evening three years ago.
He came to answer the door himself.
His speech was relaxed and relaxing and he moved slowly.
I wondered if I had made a mistake.

It was not until I had known Tai Chi Chuan for a year that I understood why the master walked the way he did.
He was not walking, really.
He was moving in the unhurried, continuous and relaxed way of Tai Chi Chuan, which had become a part of his living.

Footwork is of paramount importance to a Tai Chi Chuan practitioner.
It is to his feet, or rather to his soles, that his weight and strength must go.
From his soles spring his power and momentum.
His push is designed to "uproot" his Opponent or to unbalance him so that he loses his mental equilibrium.
But such "pushes" cannot be administered unless they come straight from the soles.

To be "pushed" by Prof. Cheng is unforgettable.
I first had the experience in a friend's house where four Americans were also present.
By way of explanation, Prof. Cheng asked me to stand about a foot and a half from the wall and place my hands on his arms to push him.
I was no novice in Chinese boxing.
I had devoted years in my school days to learning "crane boxing," and I had been pushed by strong men many times before in my life.
But before I could exert pressure on his arms, I bounced off and hit the wall with a thud.
It was a horrifying loss of balance.
Failing to steady myself, I lurched to the right and smashed into a glass door three feet away.
That was one of his gentlest pushes.

Now that I have studied Tai Chi Chuan for three years, I know it was not merely his strength that gave me such a strong push.
It was my own force reflected on his sensitive hands.
It was the desire to win and to muscle in quickly that undid me.

Ideal Exercise

Many Chinese learn Tai Chi Chuan for its health giving aspects.
It is an exercise for all, young or old, male or female.
Because of its complete emphasis on relaxation, it is almost effortless.
Progress calls for more relaxation and concentration.
Advanced Tai Chi pugilists learn to fill their "Tan Tien," the spot a little below the navel, with abdominal breathing.
Prof. Chen says "Tan Tien" is the reservoir of vigor and vitality.

For one in search of an exercise that takes the minimum physical exertion but produces maximum effect, Tai Chi Chuan is ideal.
I have watched men and women in their 60s take up the exercise with excellent results.
After some time, they even managed to do such difficult movements as "the Snake Slips Downward", which calls for sitting on one foot in a squatting position while stretching out the other leg.

All Tai Chi Chuan movements have descriptive names.
You have "Brush the Tail of Sparrow", "Golden Cock Stands on One Leg", "Embrace the Tiger to Return to the Mountain", "The Crane Spreads Its Wings" and many others.
The set Cheng Man-ching learned from Yang Cheng-fu consisted of 128 movements.
Prof. Cheng believed many of the repetitive movements could be cut out, so he spent years in shortening the set to 37 movements.
His simplified version takes less than 10 minutes.
To go through the movements both in the morning and before going to bed is more than enough to keep one fit and healthy.

Power of Passivity

The origin of Tai Chi Chuan dates to the time of Huang Ti, one of the earliest emperors of recorded Chinese history.
It then was blended with the philosophy of Laotze, who believed in the power of passivity.
The movements of Tai Chi Chuan were not organized until toward the end of Sung Dynasty, some 800 years ago, when a Taoist leader named Chang San-feng devised the whole set.

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The power is mercurial yet explosive (File photo)

The Taoists in those days spent most of their waking hours in contemplative sitting.
Chang realized that lack of physical exercise might be harmful to health.
Once he watched a snake fight a bird.
The bird was jumping around and crying excitedly while the snake waited silently, its head poised for attack.
The snake struck swiftly and surely and killed the bird instantly.
Inspired by the ease of the snake's attack, Chang established the fundamental principle of Tai Chi Chuan that softness overcomes hardness.

Chang's disciples formed the school of Wutan Mountain.
Temple feuds were common in those days and pugilism became an important institution among the monks.
These were men without mundane cares who could afford to devote years to hard training and spartan living to become good boxers.
Rivaling the Wutan boxers of that time were the Buddhists at the Shaolin Temple, the seat of worshippers of brute force and physical impact.
They were trained to split a stack of bricks with one blow of the hand and to send a man flying with a kick of the foot.
A Shaolin trainee "graduated" by fighting his way through a tunnel equipped with boxing automatons.

Despite all the training of brawn, the Shaolin pugilists proved no match for the Wutan Tai Chi boxers.
The vendetta has been a source of innumerable stories for China's writers on pugilism.

Like other arts and feats, Tai Chi Chuan has different sects.
The school to which Prof. Cheng belongs is called Yang, the name of its founder.
Yang Lu-shan was a rich farmer in Hupei province in the middle of the Ching Dynasty, the last before the 1911 revolution.
A man of good nature, he was constantly mauled and mistreated by local bullies.
So he sought to defend himself by learning Tai Chi Chuan.
He proved to be a genius and soon became the scourge of the bullies.

As the years passed, his fame spread.
It reached such a peak that the court of the Ching Dynasty offered him the post of boxing dean at the royal palace.
It meant he would be teaching members of the royal family exclusively, and so would be his sons and grandsons.
The secrets were not to be handed down to daughters, in the tradition of the times, because they would not remain in the family.

Many Stories

The pugilistic feats of Yang Lu-shan made incredible stories but are alleged to have been true.
Prince Dwan was skeptical.
So in Yang's first evening at the imperial court, the young prince set loose two ferocious hounds.
The dogs came at his legs but suddenly howled in retreat.
Yang walked on as if nothing had happened.
Next morning the dogs were found in their kennels, refusing to eat.

Other boxers at the court found their lucrative posts in jeopardy because of Yang's presence.
They ganged up against him.
One evening as Yang passed a deserted alley outside the court, more than a hundred embittered boxers attacked him with rods, stones and bricks.
Yang squatted and covered his head with his hood, making no attempt to defend himself.
To everyone present, he was beaten to a pulp.
But he wasn't.
The next morning he went about his business at the court as usual while those who beat him groaned in bed, their bodies bruised and painful.

Fantastic as the stories may seem, they aver the cardinal principle of Tai Chi Chuan: that force and violence used to hurt another hurts only the attacker.
Tai Chi Chuan practitioners are so wary of the backfiring nature of force that they develop a touch so light and tentative it seems to come from a hand without bones.

All the movements of Tai Chi Chuan train the pupil to be as supple as a child.
The hands of an accomplished Tai Chi boxer are usually fair-skinned and smooth.
It is the "chi" that does it, Prof. Cheng would say.
His hands are as fair as those of a maiden.

"Chi" is hard to explain.
It is breath but it is not.
It is blood circulation but not quite.
It is mental concentration, perhaps.
It could be an inner power moved by will.
Nobody knows for sure.
I am certain of only one thing.
The more I know about Tai Chi Chuan, the less I care to subject it to scientific analysis.

No scientist himself, Prof. Cheng still has used physics to prove his points.
He believes Tai Chi Chuan is one of China's greatest inventions and should be introduced to the West.
During World War II, he staged two impressive demonstrations at the British Embassy and the American military mission in Chungking.
In both cases, sturdy stalwarts experienced in Western boxing were selected to disprove his strength.
None of their blows even landed.
Instead of hitting him, they were sent lurching many feet away.

One towering giant of some 230 pounds tried twice.
He was obviously perplexed by the inexplicable power of the small Chinese.
Frustrated in the first attempt, he attacked even more violently.
But force again undid him.
He was tottering perilously toward a serious fall and the spectators were watching with apprehension.
Before anyone knew what was happening Prof. Cheng had darted to his side to steady him with a soft hand on the elbow.

None would believe it as easily as Robert Smith.
After studying Tai Chi Chuan under Prof. Cheng for almost two years, he still needs that tender and kindly hand to check his fall.
AUTHOR :taiwan today
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