INDOMASTER TAI CHI
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Fighting Skills of Cheng Man Ching Tai Chi Chuan
As a doctor of Chinese medicine and a practitioner of the Zuo Lai Feng internal strength method, Cheng was constantly applying his expertise to his boxing method.
The films made at different stages of his life which show Cheng performing his 37 posture form reveal changes in outward appearance.
The movements became softer and the postures became more 'sunk' (i.e. the centre of gravity became slower and more emphasised) as he aged.
While critics might argue that this was the inevitable result of the aging process, others contend that any changes were due to a process of improvement and refinement.
The nature of tai chi chuan ensures that it may be practiced, with a continuing improvement of standard, throughout one's life.
Some critics decry the Cheng Man Ching style, and suggest that Professor Cheng never had any real fighting skill.
This is simply not the case.
I personally know of one well-known master of external boxing, Ong Zi Oman, whose nickname during his youth in mainland China was 'The Iron Man of Shandong'.
He regularly fought Cheng Man Ching, as he totally disbelieved in talcs of his tai chi chuan prowess.
On every occasion he was beaten, and each time Master Cheng would invite him to become his disciple, but each time Maaer Ong refused.
He believed the fault to be in his own training methods.
So after a few months of intensive training he would again return to challenge Cheng Man Ching.
Finally, convinced, he submitted and became Cheng's disciple.
It was this same Master Ong who inquired of one of his students what was the purpose of learning martial arts.
When his student gave stock answers, such as to improve health or to prevent illness, Master Ong vigorously replied that the main purpose was to learn how to fight.
He told his chastened student how, in his youth in Shandong, he had not felt comfortable unless he had taken part in at least one fight a day.
Another frequently heard criticism of Cheng Man Ching is that his books contain few explanations about the fighting applications of the art.
There are a number of reasons for this.
Firstly, Cheng Man Ching regarded himself, and indeed had a high reputation as, a scholar and a gentleman.
He had no wish to be connected with, what he considered, ill-educated hooligans of the boxing fraternity.
In keeping with his background as a doctor, he also wished to emphasise the positive aspects of the art which could be enjoyed by all, for not everybody has either the inclination or the temperament to be a fighter.
Finally, and perhaps most obviously, one should bear in mind that no teacher of martial arts dares indiscriminately to expose the secrets of his art lest it be used against him.
Looking again at Cheng Man Ching's background and training history, it is not easy to see from where exactly his martial prowess came.
The most likely explanation seems to be that it was a combination of his 'never say die' attitude, with his Zuo Lai Feng internal skills.
As well as this, his ability to explore, research and innovate produced a relaxed, straightforward system which could be easily used.
Indeed, the system which Cheng Man Ching has passed down to his disciples consists of fewer elements than arc found in the traditional Yang system.
He taught the M posture form.
Si Zhen Shou pushing hands.
Da Lu, Tai Chi Jian (straight sword) and sword sparring.
In addition, he taught some of his American students spear sticking exercises.
He did not teach the Tai Chi Chuan San Shou (free hands) Duai Da (two-person form), which was traditionally supposed to contain the fighting secrets of the Yang family art, because he claimed that all of these 'secrets' could be gleaned from diligent pushing hands practice.
Neither did he teach the broadsword.
It seems that the emphasis in Cheng Man Ching's training system was constantly to simplify and cut down the art to its bare essentials.
This attitude is also held by many of his disciples and in a large number of cases martial artists who have learned a vast repertoire of skills are content to leave them all behind, solely to practice the '57 posture form of Cheng-style tai chi chuan.