Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Path to Enlightenment in Tai Chi

Professor Lin Yun, who was both my Feng Shiu and Buddhism teacher, once told me “The path to enlightenment can be explained in a few sentences. It is not worth more than a few cents. I have ten thousand pound of gold in my pocket that will magically remain the same no matter how I spend it. What I will do is to help the people whom I met at the cross-road to attend enlightenment.”

I think most people tend to believe everything has to be extremely complicated to be valuable or good. When professor Cheng Man-Ching was alive, he kept telling his students the most important thing in learning Tai Chi was to be “sung.” Most of his American students thought the meaning of “sung” were simply relaxation due to poor translation at the time. What professor was trying to say was just to let go and to loosen your body and mind.

A number of instructors from different lineage of Tai Chi have been highly criticizing of professor’s interpretation of “sung” and softness. Some even mentioned that there was nothing new in professor’s teachings. However, “sung” is the basis for everything in all styles of Tai Chi that we tended to forgot. We always want to learn increasingly complicated technique, breathing method, meditation, and Chi training (Nei Kung) without a good grasp of the basics. This is also true in other sports. In basketball, for instance, Michael Jordan mentioned how important it was for him to master the basis when he was still in college. According to him, he was already very good when he was a sophomore. However, if it was not his coach to force him to master all the basics at that time, he would just relied on the cheap shots he had learned to win and he would not be the Michael Jordan we all know of today. In our Tai Chi world, we all see the fascinating demonstration of the great teachers, but forgot that all great teachers from the Chen, Yang, Wu, and other families were all master of the basics. Even their interpretation of hardness may be different, the interpretation of “sung” and softness were all the same.

According to professor Cheng, and my personal experience, a number of Tai Chi people mistakenly believed that they have already achieved the highest levels of Chi development. The main reason was that they were not “sung” enough to let the Chi flow through the meridians and completing both small heaven and great heaven cycles naturally and at will. Instead, they tried to force their chi through the meridians when their chi was not cultivated. If you believe professor Cheng is a scholar of his time, then you should believe what he was telling us – only a handful of people in his years of practice of Tai Chi had achieved very high level of chi cultivation.

So, before your next Tai Chi practice, just be honest to yourself once, and ponder on whether you are “sung” enough. If you think you are, the chance that you are wrong is very high. Let me tell you an untold story about Ben Lo – a senior student of professor Cheng Man Ching who is famous for his basics and fighting skills. In early 90s, even Wolfe Lowenthal told me that Ben Lo has the best “Kung Fu” of all the Professor students alive. However, most people do not know was that he lost in a match to his former student and classmate – the great Huang of Malaysia, during his trip to Malaysia with William C.C. Chen and his students. After the match, he asked Mr. Huang how did he achieve his level of tai chi fighting skills. If you are still with me, I think you should be able to guess the answer from master Huang. His answer was that Professor told him to be “sung,” and Ben was not “sung” enough.