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Foreword to Rennie Chong's and George Loo's
Taiji Quan: Body of Knowledge
by Prof. Hang Chang Chieh
I was first introduced to the traditional Yang Style 108-Step Taiji Quan when I was studying at the University of Singapore in 1969. But I stopped after one year when I left Singapore for my PhD studies in England. Subsequent work and family commitments, plus my active pursuits in badminton, squash and golf, kept me away from practising Taiji Quan for many years. About five years ago, I made a personal resolution to resume my interest in Taiji Quan. I was thus very fortunate and pleased to meet Master Rennie Chong who had been teaching the 37-Step Yang Style Taiji Quan modified by Grand Master Professor Cheng Man Ching. I liked this shortened version right away as it retains most of the key steps of the traditional Yang Style and yet is short enough to be learnt, remembered and practised by a busy person like me. As Master Chong was an excellent coach, I enjoyed the lessons immensely and I soon convinced my wife to join in. Taiji Quan has since become our common hobby. She has enjoyed it beyond the purpose of health and exercise, as it revives her childhood interest in dance and performing art. Taiji Quan and Taiji Sword when practised with suitable background music make beautiful performances.
Many friends and colleagues have asked me whether Taiji Quan is really beneficial to health. My answer is a definite yes. I have found that Taiji Quan has helped me to remain energetic. I had frequently come home exhausted from the pressures and extended hours of daily work. But Tai Ji has enabled me to quickly escape from the thoughts of work and recharge my energy source. It certainly helps me to relax and to improve my health. I am less troubled by colds and minor sicknesses since I became more regular in my Taiji Quan practice three years ago. Another surprise is that Taiji Quan practice has helped to strengthen my back which was injured during squash and golf games some ten years ago. I had given up squash but I had to live with the need for intermittent nursing of my injured back as I had not given up golf. I am very grateful that Taiji Quan has enabled me to continue my regular weekend golf game without too much concern about injuring my back again. I look forward to enjoying my retirement in due course knowing that this lifelong exercise will provide much insurance against physical and health problems encountered by many senior citizens.
As a scientist/engineer, I am also curious about qi, something which Master Rennie always refers to. Taiji Quan is a special type of Qigong which tries to build internal energy. It is not yet explainable by science, as in the case of Chinese acupuncture which has proven its effectiveness in practice. What can be more readily explained about Taiji Quan is that many of the movements, when applied to self-defence, follow the principle of Physics. Another observation is that although the Taiji Quan movements are slow and do not involve much force, ten minutes of serious practice with proper breathing rhythm would leave the practitioner soaked with sweat, and even the floor could become wet! Herein lies the wisdom of this great Chinese invention. All the movements have been ingeniously created to consume much physical energy as one maintains the various unique postures and changes from one posture to another. So one gains a lot of exercise and in the process strengthens the body, especially the legs and joints. For the younger ones who are interested in Taiji Quan as a form of sport or self-defence, Taiji Quan is also fascinating as it is a form of "soft" martial art. With Taiji Quan's admission into the Asian Games, further awareness and interest have now been generated in Asia and elsewhere.
With the above background, I naturally felt excited when George Loo and Master Chong first told me of their plans for this book. George should be praised as a diligent student as he kept detailed notes after lessons. The distillation and enhancement of his notes together with Master Chong have resulted in a book which is different from the more theoretical classical Taiji Quan books. It focuses on the many concerns and needs of a beginner in Taiji Quan. It is very effective as I, being a university lecturer for many years, know the great value of peer learning. Hence, in addition to learning from the Master in a large class, the reading of this book will fill the gap created by part-time learning and inadequate opportunity in learning and discussion with classmates on tricky topics. The explanations and insight provided by Master Chong are convincing and always interesting as he combines many years of teaching and practice, not only in Taiji Quan, but also in traditional Chinese Medicine.
This book is quite complete as an introductory text as it includes a full chapter on warming-up exercises and another full chapter on breathing exercises. These exercises are not found in most Taiji Quan books in English or Chinese. Beginners should be advised to pay due attention to the warming-up exercises as they not only tone up the muscles and build strength in the legs, but they also provide opportunities to practise the components of some of the more difficult steps which will be taught subsequently. I have also read several English books on the 37-Step Yang Style but have been rather disappointed as they deviated in several critical parts from the authentic style found in Grand Master Professor Cheng Man Ching's books. Professor Cheng was a scholar and his publications in Chinese were not easy to understand by beginners. I am very pleased to note that this book has managed to faithfully follow Professor Cheng's original development and yet has been written in layman's language and with clear explanations for the benefit of beginners.
As in the learning of any sport, it is not practical to learn Taiji Quan from any one book alone. One needs to find a good Taiji Quan master or instructor who will coach a group of part-time beginners. The personal attention of the instructor is seldom possible. This book thus helps to remind students of the various steps and helps them to find and correct mistakes. One or preferably two practice sessions at home in between the regular classes would be necessary. As each set of practice only takes ten to 12 minutes to complete, time is not the major issue; however, one needs self-discipline to do it! It usually takes about eight months to learn the complete set (at the pace of one new step per week). It is advisable to continue lessons with the instructor for at least another year as one needs to correct and refine his or her movements to achieve the proper execution of each step. Thereafter, one should strive to continue practising by oneself at least twice a week if one cannot do it as a daily routine exercise. For a more serious learner like myself, one may then embark on a lifelong journey to study Taiji Quan. For instance, "pushing hands" will be the next logical exercise to learn as it helps one to better understand the meaning and power of "yielding" and "deflecting", as well as the purpose of each physical step of Taiji Quan. It will help one to gradually reach the higher goal of "letting the will lead the body".
Professor Hang Chang Chieh, PhD