I began my study and practice of the martial arts with Yudo (Japanese=Judo) while living in Gongju, Korea (충청남도, 공주). The local teacher was going to Malaysia to teach and we traded English lessons for yudo lessons. After about a year I was injured and was in a brace until I moved to Seoul. Back in Philadelphia I practiced Shotokan karate with Teruyuki Okazaki at the Philadelphia Athletic Club. I also practiced, Aikido with Tsuyoshi Ohnishi (see yellow box on archived t’ai-chi page), a researcher at Hahnemann Medical College where I was working. We bought mats and at lunch time would clear a classroom and, with a couple of his technicians, would practice, very informal. When I found employment at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland Mr. Okazaki referred me to a Shotokan club under his supervision at the Georgetown Boy’s Club in Washington, and also asked me to work with the Midshipman Karate Club. The “mids” would compete with Shotokan clubs from other colleges but practiced a style akin to taekwondo. They needed a coach for the Shotokan kata they needed to perform. I trained in Washington and with the “mids” for a time but the commute to Washington was a problem.
It was in practicing aikido with Dr. Ohnishi that I was introduced to Buddhist meditation, and it was in aikido that I became aware of a reality beyond the immediately sensible through directing and using ki (c’hi, qi; see also Dr. Ohnishi’s “Philosophy, Psychology, Physics and Practice of Ki“), my first step in moving away from a strict materialism (my father-in-law used acupuncture in his medical practice in Korea, but I hadn’t connected the ‘ki’ controlled in acupuncture with the ‘ki’ described in martial arts texts). It was with Bob that my study and practice of Buddhism was further encouraged. Later, when I became a Quaker, he recommended the Philokalia to help me transition to Christian meditation and prayer .
After a couple years in Annapolis the trip to Washington and the demands of being a father caused me to drop Shotokan as only a brown belt. I switched to UichiRyu karate-do with Robert Galeone. UichiRyu was derived from the Chinese Pangainoon system and retains much of the style of Chinese kung fu.His group practiced in the gym at St. John’s College, and later in his basement. As I progressed he had me lead his evening class. It was around the time I got my black belt that I became a Quaker.
The Chinese martial arts, wu shu, are often divided into two groups, the southern, hard, external, style, which according to tradition was developed at the Shaolin Temple (少林寺) in Henan Province 河南 by Bodhidharma, the Buddhist monk from India who is also credited with bringing Zen meditation to China. Shaolin kungfu has given rise to many schools, and to Japanese karate.
Tradition tells us the northern, soft, internal style, started in the Taoist temples of Wudang Mountains. The best known of the northern systems is t’ai-chi chuan (pinyin=taijiquan). Bob encouraged me to study t’ai-chi chuan (Pinyin=taijiquan) to learn softness (he considered my karate style to be too hard). It was in the mid 1980s, while still in Annapolis, that I began my study of Cheng Man Ch’ing‘s (Zheng Manqing) 37 posture Yang style short form with Jeff Herrod (a student of Bob Smith; see also a list of postures, woman’s champion or asso culture chinoise, or by Mike Pekor), Yang style is one of the several family traditions in t’ai-chi chuan, and Professor Cheng’s short form is a modification of the original 108 posture form. I began studying I then began to attend Bob Smith‘s Friday evening (and sometimes Saturday morning) class. Since leaving Annapolis I have often been without a teacher, or would work with one for only a few months. One excellent sifu was at Villanova, visiting from Peking for a semester, He taught the 24 posture national form (two other videos: Dr. Paul Lam, Dr. Pauline Bao). Except for him, all my teachers have been in the Ch’eng-Man Ch’eng linage. My most recent teacher is Peter Herman. who taught the William C.C. Chen 60 posture form, an augmented version of Professor Cheng’s short form, and it is through him that t’ai-chi ch’uan has taught me Taoism. Dr. Herman would say “Tai-chi is based on the philosophy of Taoism, which suggests movement in harmony with nature, seeking the balance of opposites.” (he would also often say “invest in loss”).
T’ai-chi means “great ultimate,” literally the great ridge pole (in Chinese philosophy, the mother of yin and yang) and relates to the guiding principle of the universe. T’ai-chi ch’uan means great ultimate fist, and in my usage t’ai-chi (without the ch’uan) is study of the form for health and meditation without consideration of the martial applications. I find an understanding of the martial applications very helpful in the proper performance of the form, so even as a Quaker I continue to think of myself as practicing t’ai-chi ch’uan. An earlier page devoted to t’ai-chi and Chinese philosophy, which I recently moved from my archives to Google Sites, is more extensive. The t’ai chi t’u circle (right) represents the interaction of yin and yang, yin in black being the passive, female principle; and yang in white being the active, male principle. As yang expands (i.e. when the circle rotates), yin recedes until a point is reached at which yang is all, but within yang is the seed of yin (the circle within) and at that point yin begins its increase and yang decreases, as described in the I Ching or Book of Changes, a book which predates by centuries both Lao-tzu (Lao Zi, 6th century BC) and Confucius (Kong Zi, 551-479 BC) who wrote commentaries for it. In t’ai chi chuan we move between yang and yin as we move our weight between legs, as we go from “asleep” to “awake” and insubstantial to substantial, and as the mind moves the chi (氣 in pinyin qi, ki in Korean and Japanese).
T’ai-chi ch’uan is counter intuitive, relying on inner energy, chi, rather than physical strength. As Wesley Chu puts it (in The Lives of Tao, a science fiction novel) “Learning it requires unlearning everything about body movement.” It puts into practice the philosophy of the I Ching and of the Tao Te Ching. The group of short works known collectively as the T’ai-chi Classics reflects this dependence on Taoism. To wit, the thirteen basic postures of t’ai-chi are identified with the five elements (or directions) and eight triagrams of the I-Ching (diagram to the left). I recommend Lee Scheele’s “Online T’ai Chi Ch’uan Notebook” (last updated 2011) for his rendering of the classics, and for its many other useful links. Other translations of the classics include:
- Chang Sen Feng: Treatise on Tai Chi translated by Stuart Alve Olsen.
- Wang Tsung Yueh: Taiquiquan Classic.
- Yang Chang Fu: Ten Important Points by Cheng Man Ching’s teacher
T’aichi is often practiced for its health benefits. I have also identified several sites which discuss this aspect of the practice:
- NIH; National center for Complementary and Integrative Health
- NIH: National Library of Medicine “A Comprehensive Review of Health Benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi”
- Harvard Health Publications
- Mayo Clinic
I also list two schools that emphasize the health benefits:
- The Secret of the Golden Flower (Cleary translation) is a classic exposition of Taoist meditation.
- Yellow Dragon Fist Kung Fu school in London.