Reflections on Tai Chi Chuan: Four Years On
by Kym Ching
Four years since the first day I stepped into class to learn Cheng Man Ching Style 37-steps Tai Chi Chuen, it dawned on me that the more I learn, the more I realized, the less I know. I am now able to practice all 37 steps but it was only the recent months when I progressed to join the senior class where Shi-fu frequently refined our poses and movements that I realized there were so much more subtleties to perfect.
Here are some oral instructions to understanding and appreciating the Classics of Tai Chi Chuan (郑子太极拳十三篇) in guiding us to the right practices :
To speed up the learning process, I have quadrupled my practice classes from one to four times a week. Mondays and Saturdays are for learning and refining. Thursdays and Sundays are for my instructor apprenticeship. The general belief that as you teach, the more you'll learn holds true. To explain to my "students", I had to focus on each minute steps and reflect my own learning. Sometimes I had questions which I never thought of myself. So learning for me is not just from Shi-fu alone but also from my peers and the newcomers.
Tai Chi Chuen holds no age barrier. Shi-fu's classes are made up of students from all walks of life. From students to housewives to professionals and retirees, there's a whole kaleidoscope of background. Some brought with them knowledge of taekwondo, Chinese Dance and other forms of Tai Chi Chuen and Martial Arts, but most like myself, are really new to the martial arts form. The class is run like an egalitarian micro system. Everyone comes in as equals. Ultimately, it is really up to the individual's personal capacity to do well. If you are diligent or has some natural talent and affinity to martial art movements, chances are you'll progress faster. There's no pressure to pleasing others but oneself.
My journey in learning Tai Chi Chuen, like any journeys, is never smooth. Heavy with my professional responsibilities and travels, it took me four years to learn the 37-step Cheng Tze style Tai Chi Chuen. So what's next apart from the repetitive practices to further movement refinements? My first trip with my Shi-fu and Tai Chi Chuen friends opened up new frontiers on opportunities. The Tai Chi Chuen competition in DaQingShan in Shandong showcased Pushing Hands Competition and so many schools of Tai Chi Chuen. I'm inspired by the Dalian vs Canadian Lady's Pushing Hands Competition. It reminded me of Cheng Man-Ching's advice in his books to "invest in losing". Pushing Hands is not about using brutal force to fall your opponent. It is about the emptiness and nothingness one feels in response to his opponent wrath. Zheng Zhong Hwa said it's like seeing the trees in the forest and not the tree itself. It's about focusing internally on your own mind and feeling nothingness to your surroundings. No fear, no anger. Just emptiness. When the opponent comes for you, you simply neutralize him by using his force on you against him. The trick is to cause the weight of the opponent's center of gravity to be off balance. That's why it's call using "four ounces to deflect a thousand pounds".
The Tai Chi Chuen steps we learn incorporate all these neutralizing movements. So far, we've memorized these steps in sequences but to apply them calls for a different set of skills and knowledge.
To harness the health benefits from Tai Chi Chuen, one not only has to practice frequently but also practice right. The breathing, the roundedness of arms, flow and sequence of movement in coordination, the power that must come from the "kwa" (not quite the waist but the groin [A1] as I found out only recently!) altogether in synchonity will steer me to better health. To get all these right simultaneously involves painstaking efforts and most of all, dogged persistence. Practicing Tai Chi Chuen will be a life-time investment for me.
Tending to our health is like gardening. We need a good balance of Sleep, Exercise and Right Food to maintain a good healthy body. Simple as it may seem, it is difficult to practice daily due to our busy lifestyles. Likewise, Tai Chi Chuen is a simple philosophy of yin and yang balance. To be able to achieve this balance, one needs a massive amount of conscious effort. The Traditional Chinese Medicine has basis on the yin and yang philosophy and complements Tai Chi Chuen very well in managing strong and healthy bodily functions.
The very fact that both Tai Chi Chuen and Traditional Chinese Medicine transpired across 3000 years and reached beyond geographical borders to the whole world, is in itself a testament of their true intrinsic value. Tai Chi Chuen teaches self-cultivation. It shows us how to harness the chi to maintain one's good health. The philosophy of balance makes one treasure how thin a line is between falling ill and keeping good health. On this account, Tai Chi Chuen is indeed a great art and science of health management.
 Cheng Man Ching, Cheng Tzu's Thirteen Treaties on Tai Chi Chuan. Translated by Benjamin Pang Jeng Lo and Martin Inn