Thursday, May 14, 2020

Book Review: In the Presence of Cheng Man-Ch'ing


In the Presence of Cheng Man-Ch'ing: 
My Life and Lessons with the Master of Five Excellences
by William C. Phillips
Hardcover, 236 pages
Floating World Press, 2020, $24.95
ISBN: 978-0648283126

 Professor Cheng Man-ch'ing (Zheng Manqing, 1902–1975) was a noted painter, writer, herbal doctor, and taijiquan teacher. His last decade was spent in New York City. This brought him into contact with numerous young American martial artists, such as Bill Phillips, the author of this delightful memoir. Phillips, now the head of Patience T'ai Chi, describes the setting of the mid-to-late 1960s, during which numbers of skilled karate, judo, aikido, and taekwondo practitioners, after hearing about Cheng, came to study with him. Even skeptics left impressed.

In this book, we sit at Philips' side listening to Cheng's spontaneous insights about taiji. We hear the formal lectures on Laozi, Confucianism, health, morals, and art. We witness the public and the private encounters, the snapshots of Chinatown of fifty years ago. While much of the book is about Cheng Man-ch'ing and the ideas he imparted, it is told through Phillips' own life course: growing as a martial artist, seeking out a master teacher, maturing and attaining insight with age, and, following Cheng's model of sharing knowledge, becoming a teacher.

Phillips' book joins the ranks of memoirs written by direct students of Professor Cheng Man-ch'ing; in particular Wolfe Lowenthal and Robert W. Smith. All of these paint a picture of a skillful practitioner, revered by many, yet very human.

Bill Phillips does not spare himself in this look back. One year, he willingly took on the task of driving Cheng and his assistants to class, even though it was far out of his way. On one trip to the studio, Cheng and assistant conversed in Chinese, and Phillips heard his name and the word "kung fu" (gongfu) mentioned.

Naturally, I got excited. Was he preparing to tell me a secret of kungfu? Was that to be my reward for driving him? Did I know something about kung fu that he was praising? So I quickly and impolitely interrupted and asked. I was told that [Professor Cheng] had said that I should use more discipline in my driving. What about the words kung fu that I had heard, I eagerly wondered out loud. The answer was: it means discipline, as when American martial artists say, "He studies the art," and we know they are referring to a martial art, when Chinese refer to "discipline," they are referring sometimes to a specific discipline—martial art. However, in this case Professor was not. He was referring to the lack of self-discipline in my driving. I was hitting far too many potholes as I drove. My chest fell, my ego deflated.... It was the first time, but not the last time that I embarrassed myself in front of the Professor.
Those who studied with Cheng often point out that Cheng did not keep secrets. Phillips explains,
I think that many of those people [who doubted Cheng] were too stiff and strong to get a lot of what he was trying to explain. Of course, those who could not seem to get it with their first effort, rather than redouble their effort, chose to think there must be a secret he was not sharing.
Taiji people from all styles will enjoy this view of one of the leading taiji figures of the late twentieth century. Those of Cheng's direct lineage will gain more insight into his teachings and the great impact he had on a wide variety of students.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Great River T'ai Chi Celebrates 40 Years!

Great River T’ai Chi Celebrates Forty Years

T’ai chi, the multifaceted Chinese exercise, has become quite mainstream in the forty years since Great River T’ai Chi began offering classes in Minneapolis. Great River T’ai Chi has offered classes at all levels in the Twin Cities since 1979, sharing it with thousands of students.

To celebrate their 40th anniversary, Great River T’ai Chi is holding a free Open House, Sunday, September 8, from 6:00–8:00 p.m. at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, 4557 Colfax Ave South, in Minneapolis, near Lake Harriet. The evening will feature a performance of traditional Chinese guzheng music by Jarrelle Barton, a recipient of the Minnesota Emerging Composer Award and an Anderson Center residency. This will be followed by t’ai chi demonstrations, refreshments, and movies.

Study after study has shown T'ai Chi's health benefits for balance, walking, posture, and relaxation. “T’ai chi is the perfect antidote for modern life. It’s an intriguing practice that is part wellness exercise, part mindfulness, and part martial art,” explained founder and director Barbara Davis. “We like to focus on how to use its principles of relaxation and alignment in daily life.”

“T’ai chi has taken us around the world,” Davis explained. Both teachers studied with a master in Taiwan, as well as in Colorado and New York City with followers of the famous artist and t’ai chi master Cheng Man-ch’ing (1902–1975). Davis went on to study Chinese language and history, authoring two books on t’ai chi ch’uan (also known as taijiquan) and editing the quarterly Taijiquan Journal.

Davis and her associate Cheryl Powers have also taught at the University of Minnesota, Macalester College, Minnesota State University in Mankato, the Minnesota College of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (now part of Northwestern Health Sciences University), Tasks Unlimited, Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Honeywell, Target, Minnesota Nursing Association, and YWCAs of Duluth, Minneapolis, and Mankato.

For more information, visit

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

"Tai chi fights stress, getting popular with Millennials"

Millennials are taking up tai chi to reduce stress and become more "grounded."

"Computer tech people, they love tai chi. It's a good destresser for them: sitting hours behind a keyboard, hunched over doing programming," Dunn said. "A lot of these people are more introverted. They like that gentle nature of tai chi that doesn't have sparring and hitting bags."

....At the end of the tai chi class on Long Beach's Signal Hill, York says he brings his practice with him everywhere he goes.
"If I'm feeling agitated, it's a good lesson for me to remember to slow down and tune in with my breath. I do tai chi to get back into myself and to my center, because throughout the week, the world will pull us in different directions," York said. "I think tai chi is great for younger people because it forces you to disconnect from the world around you." Hoover agrees. "We all need a practice, whether it's tai chi or something else, that allows us to slow down." 
Read the whole article at CNN.

Monday, June 10, 2019

New Ed Young Book!

Voices of the Heart by Ed Young Now Out


Ed Young, a frequent Great River Tai Chi workshop teacher, has a new children's book out!

“In this deeply personal book, artist and author Ed Young explores twenty-six Chinese characters, each describing a feeling or emotion, and each containing somewhere the symbol for the heart. He combines visual symbols of the West in the same manner the ancient Chinese used in composing their characters, focusing on characters that contain the heart symbol. The seal style of Chinese calligraphy that he employs is approximately 2,500 years old. Here it serves as a bridge between our contemporary selves and the most ancient Chinese pictures and symbols. Through stunning collage art that interprets the visual elements within each character, Young uncovers layers of emotional meaning for words such as joy and sorrow, respect and rudeness. He invites children to probe the full range of their own emotions, and gives parents, librarians, and older readers a context for discussing ethics and for examining the similarities and differences between old and new, East and West.”
This is a reissuing of the book that first came out in 1997 from Scholastic Books. Now available from Seven Stories Press.
“Ed Young was born in Tientsin, China, and learned to read and write Chinese as a child. But it wasn’t until he came to the United States and studied Chinese philosophy that he began to rediscover the symbolism and meanings of Chinese characters. The inspiration for Voices of the Heart comes from a Boston Globe Horn Book award acceptance speech he gave in 1990 titled “Eight Matters of the Heart,” which was subsequently made into a picture for the Scholastic book clubs in the same year. Ed Young’s illustrious career as a picture book maker reflects a commitment to balancing the relationship between words and pictures. Through its visual interpretation of the words that define our emotions, Voices of the Heart offers a window into ourselves.”
Ed received the Caldecoot Award for Lon Po Po a Chinese "Red Riding Hood" story, and two Caldecott Honors, among many other awards, including Children's Choice Award for Nighttime Ninja.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Maggie Newman Videos

If you've never had the privilege of studying with Maggie Newman, this two-disk video compilation will give you a good taste of what it is like. Maggie, as she's known to her students, is one of Professor Cheng Man-ch'ing's most well-known students, having taught in New York City, Philadelphia, Rochester, and Washington, D.C. for many decades. Maggie, who has now retired from active teaching, had a professional background in modern dance before becoming involved with aikido, zen meditation, and then t'ai chi. Among her talents have also been performing kabuki dance and brush painting.

Maggie's students have put together a two-disk compendium of her material including demonstrations, teaching, and an extensive interview. On the first disk, "Following the Ch'i," Maggie performs the solo T'ai Chi form and the sword form. She introduces each section with her philosophy intercut with portions of an interview with Joel Sucher. The second disk, "Nourishing the Spirit," includes the full interview with Joel Sucher, rare footage of Maggie teaching, highlights from her New York push hands meet, photographs and reflections from one of her many students.
While these disks are but a sampling of Maggie Newman's teachings, there are so many valuable insights to be gleaned that you may want to watch just a few minutes at a time before pressing "pause" to take time to contemplate her words. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Tai Chi for Brain Function Outperforms Other Exercises

tai chi 

Important news about tai chi and brain function. The Harvard Medical School reports that analysis of twenty studies shows that "tai chi appears to improve executive function—the ability to multitask, manage time, and make decisions—in people without any cognitive decline. In those with mild cognitive impairment, tai chi slowed the progression to dementia more than other types of exercise and improved their cognitive function in a comparable fashion to other types of exercise or cognitive training.
In one study, researchers had nearly 400 Chinese men and women with some cognitive impairment perform either tai chi or a stretching and toning program three times a week. After a year, the tai chi group showed greater improvements, and only 2% of that group progressed to dementia, while 11% from the traditional exercise group did. In another study, tai chi outperformed walking. Following 40 weeks of either tai chi, walking, social interaction, or no intervention, researchers compared MRI images and discovered that brain volume increased the most in the tai chi group. In addition, that group also performed better on cognitive tests."

Read the article here and "To learn more about tai chi, its health benefits and how to learn its movements, read Introduction to Tai Chi, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School."

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Tai Chi for PTSD

gulfwar_illness_Post-Traumatic Stress 
Taiji can be used to deal with symptoms related to combat stress.

".... It was during my first admission to Combat Stress that I was introduced to the gentle art of Tai Chi and Qigong. I always remember seeing an advert on the activities notice board displaying a Tai Chi & Qigong session. I had no idea what it was about but I wanted to give it a try. The session was led by Lesley Roberts ( Lifestyle Tai Chi) taking us through a warm up and then teaching us the first moves of the 18 movement Shibashi Qigong and finishing off with some seated meditation. I had no idea what was going on and just followed the exercises, but I distinctly remember afterwards being so relaxed inside that I fell asleep in my room. It was my first experience of abdominal breathing which I felt a calming effect and to add to this I noticed tension and pressure which I felt in my head had reduced quite a bit.  I carried this on during my stay and took part in these sessions on future visits. It became clear that I felt an improvement both mentally and physically from taking part in these sessions...."

Read the complete article at Taiji Forum.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Exercise, Move!

In an extensive article, the Guardian talks about the history of excercise, why we need it, lifestyle change, technology and more:

Our relationship with exercise is complicated. Reports from the UK and the US show it is something we persistently struggle with. As the new year rolls around, we anticipate having the drive to behave differently and become regular exercisers, even in the knowledge that we will probably fail to do so. Why do we want to exercise? What do we expect it to do for us? We all know we are supposed to be exercising, but hundreds of millions of us can’t face actually doing it. It is just possible the problem lies at the heart of the idea of exercise itself.