Reflections on ‘Wisdom Of Taiji Masters: Insights into Cheng Man Ching’s Art’

The Book!

The Book!

Going back a few years to the Straight No Chaser HQ in London Fields I had a bagua circle marked out in the basement, would regularly receive shipments of vcds/dvds from Jarek Symanski’s China Online and elsewhere, along with the odd sword or spear. It was around that time that suddenly there was wealth of visual information coming out of post Cultural Revolution China to reinforce the somewhat sketchy information we had on some of the internal arts. For example, it was mind blowing to have access to the whole Chen village taijiquan curriculum or have comprehensive breakdowns of the baguazhang palms from the Cheng, Gao, Jiang, Sun and Yin systems.

Inevitably, I’ve always encouraged others to take up the internal arts but the only people at Chaser to venture into the world of taijiquan were our graphic designers – one of whom was living in Essex at the time and commuting into London. It therefore made sense for him to find a teacher near home.

Cheng Man 'Ch'ing: Single Whip

Cheng Man ‘Ch’ing: Single Whip

After a portion of research we came across a former Chief instructor of the Penang Taiji Association with more than 35 years experience. Scanning the curriculum it looked very thorough. Master Ch’ng Lay Seng taught Cheng Man Ch’ing /Yang taijiquan, push hands, Da Lu, San Sou, qigong and weapons. I’d spent several years practicing Cheng and Yang taiji and to me this looked very authentic. Fortunately, I was right, the teaching was of a high standard and my man – let’s call him ‘Monkey Boxer’ – became very proficient at push hands.

Nigel Sutton:

Nigel Sutton:

As I approached Nigel Sutton’s book Wisdom Of Taiji Masters- Insights Into Cheng Man Ching’s art I was reminded of the stories of training in Penang that my friend’s teacher had told him. It’s a long time since I’d done Cheng’s taiji short form – the form that brought taiji to the Western world – and maybe this book would reveal why I had eventually abandoned it for Chen family taijiquan.

Nigel Sutton lives in Malaysian and has been immersed in the world of taiji there training with all the local masters. As he points out there were dozens of martial arts schools in each city and competition was fierce – if you lost a challenge you lost your school! And so, there are people in this book who have proved beyond all doubt that their taijiquan was capable of standing up against the harder styles like Praying Mantis, Fujian White Crane or Eagle Claw.

The book is divided into 4 sections: The Younger Generation (Wu Chiang Hsing, Koh Ah Tee), The Senior Generation (Lau Kim Hong, Lee Bei LaiZhou Mu Tu, Ho Ah San), The Disciple (Tan Ting Ngee), The Theoretician (Dr Wong Fung Tong). Each master covers the full spectrum of their experience, their and we also get a genuine and unique insight into a community of martial artists who live their art and are dedicated to the teachings of Master Cheng Man Ch’ing.

Master Koh Ah Tee: Push Hands

Master Koh Ah Tee: Push Hands

Each master is given a brief profile by Nigel Sutton and he then allows them to speak with out interruption – there are no interjections in the text by the author, his questions or comments are simply edited out to allow each interview to flow. That said each chapter has a structure which deals with: Principles and secrets, Personal Training, Pushing Hands, Application and Competition, Physical Mental and Spiritual Development, Teaching, Weapons Training, Chen Man Ch’ing, and The Future. Wang Chiang Hsing, Koh Ah Tee and Lau Kim Hong get to deal with all subjects while others focus on less.

Master Tang Ching Ngee

Master Tang Ching Ngee

From the first interview I was completely gripped. This is a book that needs to be read by those practitioners who believe push hands to be a waste of time and not real preparation for fighting. In fact, it’s made me reconsider some of my own practice and I think I’ll be heading down to Regents Park on Saturday to join in with push hands posse who are there every week of the year.

There’s plenty of food for reflection in this book, not least of all the revelation that nei gong is crucial in developing applied power. We never learned any nei gong or qi gong when I practiced Yang taiji but it appears that within the Malaysian community, despite Master Cheng being quite secretive about who his teachers were, they have nei gong practices which are like “iron shirt” but not like “iron shirt”! It is, according to Koh Shifu, “spring like”. I’m definitely in the dark about the Zuo Lei Feng method that Dr Wong Fung Tong talks about and I would now like to read Shifu Wu Guo Zhong’s book on qi gong and taijiquan.

There is a lot information in this book on the many different kinds of power (jing) – jie jing (intercepting power), ting jing (listening power), peng jing (ward off/expanding power) etc. – and it’s all rooted in the practice of these extra-ordinary guys who look like like they’ve just stepped out of the office to do some practice with their mates.

If you train in Cheng Man Ch’ing’s taijiquan or Yang stlye you should be thrilled by this book as you’ll find plenty of information here that will definitely inform your own practice. Wisdom Of Taiji Masters- Insights Into Cheng Man Ch’ing’s Art does go some way to explaining why I abandoned the path of Yang taijiquan but I’d also say to anyone who trains in martial arts – internal or external – this easy to read book offers some deep insights into a unique martial arts community and their practice.

Grandmaster Cheng Man Ch'ing

Grandmaster Cheng Man Ch’ing


Wisdom Of Taiji Masters- Insights Into Cheng Man Ch’ing’s Art is published by http://www.TambuliMedia.com

PS: Mark Wiley’s Tambuli Media imprint have also just published ‘Chinese Gentle Art Complete: Bible Of Ngo Co Kun’ – a manual on Five Ancestors Kung Fu. For a deeper insight into this book than I can offer check out the excellent Kung Fu Teahttp://chinesemartialstudies.com/2015/01/31/the-chinese-gentle-art-complete-reviewing-the-bible-of-ngo-cho-kun-five-ancestors-boxing/

About Paul Brad

Freelance journalist / Publisher Editor - Straight No Chaser magazine & From Jazz Funk & Fusion to Acid Jazz: A History Of The UK Jazz dance Scene by Mark 'Snowboy' Cotgrove / Music Fan: Interplanetary Sounds: Ancient to Future / Cultural Event Consultant & Activist / Nei Jia practitioner
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