Tai Chi History and Background
In China, public parks often contain groups of people performing slow, graceful and ballet like movements in unison. Visitors to these parks view these events and often ask themselves, “What are they doing?” They are performing the movements of Tai Chi, more commonly known as Tai Chi Chuan. Tai Chi Chuan is an ancient art of moving meditation originated in China, during the Sung Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.). According to the legend a Taoist monk, Cheung Sam Fung, looked for a suitable martial art for his Taoist Sanctuary. He often observed animals such as cranes and turtles. One night he had a dream about a snake and a crane engaged in a dance-like fight, thus he created Tai Chi Chuan based on their movements.
Three main styles of Tai Chi have been passed down from generation to generation: Chen, Yang and Wu. Chen tends to have large explosive movements and can be quick or slow, while Yang has large and slow movements, wide stance and arm movements. Wu is a “middle stance” having mid-paced, compact movements. Wu is precisely balanced with a stance and motion that is somewhere between Yang and Chen.
Traditionally, masters of these Tai Chi forms passed some, but not all, of their skills to regular students. Selected students would receive more advanced training (indoor students), while only one or two students in a master’s lifetime would be chosen to learn all that the master could teach, and to receive the title “Master of Honor”. Then the cycle began again. Henry Cheng is one of the “Masters of Honor”.
Tai Chi in the U.S.
The prevalent Tai Chi forms in the U.S. today are descendent from regular students most likely, as there are few indoor students in the U.S., and authentic masters even rarer. Usually the forms are taught in a “follow or copy me” way with little or no explanation of what the move is about or what makes it beneficial.
These forms look correct, but they do not represent the true Tai Chi as the masters envisioned it. First, they are merely a slow motion exercise that combines a set of postures in a stop-and-go manner rather than a fluid movement in which all postures are connected as one. Second, postures in these forms show improper body alignment most of the time. As a consequence, the chi flow is disrupted. Third, in recent years Tai Chi has been promoted as a sport in competitions and not a mean for people to reach selflessness.
Master Cheng’s Method
To the contrary of the common teaching way mentioned above, Master Cheng’s method is to demonstrate precise alignment, exact placement of the feet and hands; and to explain the benefits for moving or not moving in a certain way. As a result, a person who learns the form and practices it correctly will find a net gain in energy and a feeling of well being at the conclusion of the form sequence.
To foster a supportive environment, Master Cheng also encourages students to ask him questions; and to learn from and share with classmates.
Master Cheng believes that “Through the harmony of mind, body and spirit come great happiness and good health.”