Yale New Haven T’ai Chi Study Group Charter
T’ai Chi: Clearing up Misconceptions
The name T’ai Chi Chuan is composed of two parts: “T’ai Chi” and “Chuan.” The first part, “T’ai Chi,” refers to the familiar Yin-Yang symbol which has become so popular of late. This symbol graphically expresses numerous principles including the relationship and mutual dependence between opposites. The second part, “Chuan” or “Chuan Fa” refers to the fist or to the art of boxing and identifies this part of T’ai Chi practice as a weaponless art. In later stages of study, the core T’ai Chi principles are applied in T’ai Chi Jian (T’ai Chi Sword) or other appropriate weapons arts such as the lance. The whole phrase, “T’ai Chi Chuan” refers to the traditional Chinese practice with its roots in martial art, traditional Chinese medicine and Taoist teachings. T’ai Chi practice has three aspects: Kung-fu, Chi-Gung, and Wushu.
Kung-Fu (Skilled Strength) is related to specific techniques of combat such as punching, kicking, joint locking, throwing, strangulation, and psychophysical skills such as distraction, feints, distance control and maintaining an undisturbed internal state.
Chi-Gung (Vitality Strength) is the study of the vitality of the body-mind. Chi-Gung study is aimed at removing the muscular, postural and other psychophysical states that reduce vitality, and practicing movement and postures (both mentally and physically) that increase vitality.
Wushu (War Art) is the artistic or gymnastic performance of movements related to combat. Wushu is performed for entertainment, exercise, or judged competition.
The nature of T’ai Chi is found in the relationship between Kung-fu and Chi-Gung. The vitality that characterizes those who survive to old age has qualities in common with the vitality of those who survive the battlefield. It was the observation of Chinese sages that these qualities, including softness, mental composure, and appropriate action, could be learned, practiced and developed.
Although many schools stress only one of the three aspects from above, our school stresses the Chi-Gung Kung-Fu relationship as a means to prevent the Chi-Gung practice from degenerating into ineffectiveness. The Wushu aspect of the art has little or no significance in our practice. For us, the work in T’ai Chi is internal; externally it looks (to the untrained eye) to be nothing special, without effort, and of little practical value. Furthermore, since T’ai Chi is effective as Kung-Fu because of its rigorous Chi-Gung, and since T’ai Chi is effective Chi-Gung because of its fundamental Kung-Fu nature, we believe all students must to some extent appreciate and study both aspects.
The nature of T’ai Chi practice and its seemingly unlimited layers of understanding and accomplishment become apparent to a student as he/she progresses. No single practice, no physical or mental discipline provides the unique rewards of T’ai Chi. It resists categorization. This has made it difficult to understand for many whose world view was born in the “Western Tradition.” Evaluation of T’ai Chi schools is, therefore, difficult for most people. Our study group works to maintain the effectiveness and authenticity of its practice by the same means used for millennia in China. We practice a single lineage of T’ai Chi which has living students-of-great-accomplishment (sometimes referred to as “Masters”), rather than taking a “do what works” or “a little from this family, a little from that family” approach. At the center of our lineage are Cheng Man-Ching and his teacher, Yang Cheng-Fu.
The Cheng Man-Ching Family: Lineage and History
There are five public families, or styles, of T’ai Chi Chuan, and numerous private, or secret, ones. All of them share the same fundamental principles. Ostensibly, however, these families differ in their realizations of the principles. Our school traces its lineage back through Professor Cheng Man-Ching, a master of five excellencies (T’ai Chi Chuan, Chinese Medicine, Calligraphy, Poetry, and Painting) and student of Yang Cheng Fu (a well-respected master in the Yang family of T’ai Chi Chuan). Consequently, we are technically part of the Yang family of T’ai Chi Chuan, but often identify ourselves using Professor Cheng’s name in reverence and acknowledgement of his changes to the Yang family pedagogies.
It would be impossible to give an adequate account of our full-lineage complete with biographies of important figures that have shaped our school like Yang Lu Chan, Yang Cheng Fu, Professor Cheng, Benjamin Lo, Liu Hsi-Heng, Maggie Newman, Ed Young, and others. Instead we provide a sketch of the history of our own club, and we hope students will spend the time to fill in the gaps over their course of their study.
The group began under the direction of Ed Young, a senior student at Prof. Cheng’s Shr Jung School. In 1975 Stanley Rosenberg, Director of the Yale School of Drama, invited Ed to give a lecture on T’ai Chi. Professor Mel Cohen of the neurophysiology department was in attendance and was immediately fascinated. He recruited Ed to teach a weekly class in New Haven and together with Ed, geology professor Jonathan Swinchat, and his wife Nancy, founded Yale New Haven T’ai Chi Study Group. Ed taught weekly classes for the next few years. When his success as a children’s book author grew, he began alternating with Wolfe Lowenthal, another of Professor Cheng’s students.
In the early 1980s the three current senior students, Max Tucker, Luz Shosie, and Pamela LaRegina, began their study with YNHTCSG. In 1991 Ed gave Max, Luz, and Pamela permission to teach and lead the group. Their instruction was supplemented by Ed’s senior students George Chen and Jim DePeyster, by Sarah Wells, a student of Maggie Newman, and by Liam Comerford, a student of Prof. Cheng. Currently, Liam is instructing most Friday nights.
Ed Young remains a preeminent figure in our family and one of our important links to the Cheng Man-Ching lineage. Although he no longer teaches at YNHTCSG, we as a club still recognize his role as a consultant to our club.
The Club: Learning Environment and Community
It is important that new and continuing students of any discipline assess the learning environment and personality of their school. Understanding this personality helps a student decide whether a given school really is “a good fit,” and if so, helps them make the most of the teaching and community available to them.
We model our practices and our study on Professor Cheng’s Shr Jung School that was in turn shaped by the way T’ai Chi was transmitted historically.
Until very recently, T’ai Chi was taught within a family. The eldest and most respected member of the family guided and advised practice while senior students taught class and led instruction. The complete art was only taught to one’s immediate relatives. Obligations that stemmed from these familial relationships carried over to the classroom setting. For example, one never attempted to harm, injure, or subdue one’s fellow students, since they were family. There was no need to obtain “victory” when training with siblings, since the only victory to be sought was the mutual advancement and refinement of everyone’s skills. One did not try to teach other students because one acknowledged the greater penetration of the art that the family’s head had achieved and realized that inferior teaching often serves to mislead one’s brethren.
We at Yale New Haven T’ai Chi Study Group embrace these ideals and try to incorporate them into our school. It is our hope that in this way one can begin a study of T’ai Chi which will continue to develop over a lifetime. We do not advocate moving from method to method trying to “take the best each has to offer” because such superficial study never reaches the best any method has to offer. We choose not to “spar” because it teaches foolish restraint, risks injury or death, and tends to re-enforce habit rather than educate the body and mind to a higher standard. This school and this family value classical skill over violent athleticism and see classical methods of study as the means to the highest achievements.
It is the aim of this club to create a community of T’ai Chi practitioners who can nurture each other’s development in a way not unlike T’ai Chi families did historically. Ideally, this community will integrate with and extend the existing lineage of the Cheng Man-Ching family. T’ai Chi, as with so many other opportunities, gives returns in proportion to the effort put into it. Intense T’ai Chi study is incredibly difficult and, even at lower intensity, offers growth over a lifetime of study. We believe that it is possible to lay solid foundations with a few years of study for a lifetime of fruitful practice. Finally, although members of Professor Cheng’s lineage may be found all over the world, it is our hope that the foundations given by study in this club will enable students to continue their study even after leaving the group and to recognize teachers of substance, regardless of the name of their T’ai Chi family.
To further illustrate these ideas, we recommend that you read an English translation of the text of Cheng Man-Ching’s “Hall of Happiness” scroll, which, we hope, will convey some of the spirit and “personality” of our own school.
It is available at: http://www.centerstatestaichi.com/ChengMan-ching.htm
Disclaimers and Miscellaneous Information:
Yale New Haven T’ai Chi Study Group makes no claims as to health benefits. We ask students to take responsibility for recognizing, and acknowledging the limitations of their body and/or emotions. It is the student’s responsibility to inform instructors of any health conditions that may interfere with a safe and enjoyable practice and to protect oneself from injury by taking those limitations into account in one’s own practice. T’ai Chi has, as one of its fundamental aspects, the study of martial art, and is a physical practice among a community of people. It should be understood that this practice is an assumed risk. Please consult a physician before, or during, practice as necessary. We ask that all students both maintain a safe learning environment and also engage only in activities that they deem safe for themselves. It is entirely acceptable to excuse oneself from any practice in the school that causes discomfort or apprehension.
Professor Cheng followed strict Confucian ideals. These include the importance of humanity and the value of sharing knowledge with everyone willing to learn. We find this orientation to be admirable and consistent with our own values. These values are expressed in many ways including the fact that we do not discriminate by race, gender, religion, creed, sexual orientation or financial ability.
Club dues are $40 a month. There is a sliding scale – please pay what you can afford. We use this money primarily to rent our room and to compensate outside instructors.
Our formal beginners’ class is on Friday evenings from 5:30 to 6:30 in the Dwight Hall Common Room. Continuing students meet from 6:30 to 8 p.m. There is open practice for all levels Monday and Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in Dwight Hall.
For more information visit our web site: www.yaletaichi.org
Or call Luz: 458-7402 or Pamela: 488-8836