Biography of Master Rennie Chong
Sifu Chong is one of the most experienced tai chi masters living in Singapore today. He was born in 1939 and has been teaching since he was 19 when he began helping his father to teach and later took over the classes. He is very strict and traditional, passionate and exacting. He introduces students to tai chi gently at first, as one would expect from the stereotypical image of tai chi, and slowly he works on building up their strength so that they can perform vigorous martial arts drills and movements. The most serious and diligent of the students are given advanced martial arts training so that they can perform difficult and agile poses, and explosive jumps and kicks.
Sifu Chong is more concerned with personal development in tai chi rather than grading and certification, although the Singapore Sports Council does offer certification through his courses. Certification is given when Master Chong deems a student as competent to a certain level. He teaches in the traditional manner involving martial art drills specific to the tai chi form, the simplified and long form of Yang tai chi, Chen tai chi (the oldest form involving jumps, fast and slow movements), sparring unarmed and armed, acupressure and qi gong. He trains students from the very young (seven years and upwards) to those over 70. Classes are usually divided by age groups and ability. His students have won martial arts competitions and have become authors and well-known instructors. Sifu Chong is also a doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine, an acupuncturist and accupressurist.
Master Chong was born in Indonesia and moved to Singapore after the war in 1946. He was a thin and sickly teenager suffering from tuberculosis, growing up at a time when food was scarce and Singapore was dirty and undeveloped. He lived in the rough gangster-filled neighbourhood of Geylang and this did not make him feel very confident.
His father was a tai chi master, but refused to teach the young Master Chong for fear that he would get into fights and join gangs, but Master Chong was very curious and interested to learn, so he would creep by when he knew his father was teaching, and spy on the class. Then he would go home and hide in the bathroom, read his father’s martial arts manuals on tai chi, and practice imitating the movements he had seen in his bathroom mirror. Slowly but surely, he managed to acquire the knowledge and in the end, taught himself all 108 movements of Yang Tai Chi.
When he was ready, he showed his father what he had learnt, and when his father demanded to know where he had learnt it, he told his father that he had learnt it from stolen peeks of his father’s classes. From then on, his father took him on as a student and Master Chong gained health and confidence, because a strong body helps to fight off illnesses and disease.
Then in 1957 when Tai Chi Master Hwang Shien Xian and Grandmaster Cheng Man Ching came to Singapore to conduct classes at the YMCA, Master Chong’s father took him to join the classes. When he was in secondary school, he would go to Master Hwang’s home in Geylang after classes to be taught for two and a half hours with Master Hwang’s daughter.
In 1983, when the Master Chu Tian Chye (Zhu Tian Cai) from China came to Singapore, Master Chong went for lessons with him. Then in 1992, Master Chong went to Zhengzhou, China, with a group of Chen Tai Chi associates to participate in the Chinese Zhengzhou International Shaolin Wushu Festival, where he received a Certificate of Merit for Exhibition Excellence.
Master Chong and his friends used to travel to China together to look for the best tai chi masters to learn from. Today, the culture is very different, and Master Chong dedicates his time to looking for good students to train to black belt or instructor level. He aims to teach these to become the ultimate tai chi masters, to learn tai chi beyond his own capacity to perform and understand tai chi form and philosophy. He believes it is the only way to ensure that it does not become a dying art form, and predicts that with dwindling interest in the original forms of tai chi form and philosophy in the Far East, future masters will come from America and the West where there is growing interest, and willingness to learn and persevere, for real martial tai chi is harder to master than the hard forms of martial arts like karate. It is one of those rare art forms where age and experience can only bring improvement. The stereotypical tai chi is merely tai chi for health and is very unexacting in its movements.
At over 65 years of age, Sifu Chong is still fully active and mobile and has a full schedule, including teaching intensive three week workshops, and the occasional TV interview in Europe. In Singapore where he resides, he gives speeches and demonstrations about what tai chi is and its benefits, on radio and at the Sports for Life Centre for the Singapore Sports Council. Currently, he is corroborating with students on ideas for an instructional video, book and web site
By Kerry-Anne Chan, 2003
Moved to Singapore
Studied Yang Tai Chi 108 steps with Master Chong Senior
Studied with Master Hwang Shien Xian and met his Sifu, Grandmaster Cheng Man Ching (CMC 37 Postures)
Studied with Chen Tai Chi Master Chu Tian Chye (Zhu Tian Cai)
Chinese Zhengzhou International Shaolin Wushu Festival, received Certificate of Merit for Exhibition Excellence
Published with George Loo the book Taiji
Quan: Body of Knowledge