RUNNING ON EMPTY
Peter, a beginner, posted a video on the Practical Tai Chi Chuan Practitioners Facebook Group page. It featured Cheng Wing-kwong, my sifu's uncle, performing the long form. Peter assumed that this was the form Cheng Tin-hung practiced and that my sifu's other master, Qi Minxuan taught him only spear form and applications.
I was one of Cheng tin-hung’s students from 1975 onwards. I am featured doing applications in all his books from 1976 onward.
From 1975-1984 when I served as a Senior Inspector in the Royal Hong Kong Police Force, I visited him almost daily and ate with him or slept at his studio. He often asked me to give Tui shou, Sanshou and Neikung demos.
In 1984 we went on a 3 week trip to his home village of Sanxiang and thence to Beijing, Wudang Mountain, Northern Shaolin Temple, Chen Village and Wuhan.
Ian Cameron and I brought him to UK in 1981, 1986 & 1987 and I was his translator. I was his assistant on 2 long teaching trips to Australia in 1988 & 1999 I visited him regularly in China and Honk Kong more than a dozen times from 1988 till his death.
The purpose of this litany is to show that I knew Cheng Tin-hung rather well and had plenty of opportunities to clarify technical, personal and historical matters with him.
What follows is a background history to the TCC learned practiced and taught by Cheng Tin-hungCheng Tin-hung told me the following:
1. His grandfather, who taught him Nanquan, advised him to go to Hong Kong and to train in Tai Chi under his uncle, Cheng Wing-kwong, so that he could teach rich and important people and become a success in the world.
2. Cheng Wing-kwong, trained with the Wu family in TCC after health problems. He was one of their top three disciples in Hong Kong. He seems to have practiced small to medium frame hand form – neat and understated.
3. Cheng Wing-kwong taught his nephew all he knew. However, because they were blood relations, Cheng Tin-hung didn’t go through a Nei Kung ceremony of disciple –ship with his uncle.
4. Cheng Wing-kwong also trained with other masters. He was interested in other versions of sabre and pushing hands. He also learned a number of Qigong systems from a wandering Taoist. Of the Qigong, Cheng Tin-hung only learned the Xianjia Baduanjin, Immortal Family 8 Pieces of Brocade.
5. Cheng Wing-kwong only learned 20 of the 24 Yin Yang Nei Kung exercises from the Wu family.
6. Cheng Wing-kwong heard about how skilled Qi Minxuan was and invited Qi to Hong Kong to teach his sons and his nephew, Cheng Tin-hung. Qi arrived in midsummer 1946. The sons complained about Qi’s severity as a teacher to their mother who told them they need not continue. Qi expected students to pay close attention when practicing; if they made the same mistake twice, he would hit them. Qi and
Cheng Tin-hung walked and talked and trained on a daily basis on the hills around Hong Kong until Qi felt he had to return to China to see what had become of his home and family in Wen County, Henan Province during the first month of winter, 1948.
7. Cheng Wing-kwong’s wife sent Cheng Tin-hung a wreath after he defeated the 3 time middleweight champion of Taiwan
8. Cheng Wing-kwong deliberately taught things wrongly to some students – I have seen the result in certain versions of Nei Kung and Running Thunder Hand. In a visit to Malaysia in 1981 I corrected the Running Thunder Hand.
9. Cheng Wing-kwong deliberately added Bagua and other non TCC techniques to his form - e.g. Guan Gong Strokes his Beard.
10. Cheng Wing-kwong was shown some Qi Minxuan techniques by Cheng Tin-hung. Cheng Tin-hung felt he was being taken advantage of, so he stopped showing techniques to his uncle.
11. Cheng Wing-kwong called Cheng Tin-hung to come and meet the challenge of William Cheung of Wing Chun. Cheng Tin-hung threw him to the ground.
12. Cheng Wing-kwong never took Cheng tin-hung with him on his Tai Chi teaching trips round SE Asia.
13. Cheng Wing-kwong and his students never produced any successful Chinese full contact fighters. Cheng Tin-hung produced SE Asian Chinese full contact champions.
14. Cheng Wing-kwong had a good relationship with the Wu family. Cheng Tin-hung went to visit Wu Kung-yi after Qi Minxuan left for China in 1949. He tried out Wu Gongyi at pushing hands and swept him to the ground. Wu Gongyi swore at him and Cheng Tin-hung told him his Kung Fu was in his words not in his hands.
15. Qi Minxuan never claimed to Cheng that what he taught was Wu lineage / Wu family TCC.
16. Qi Minxuan’s father, Qi Kesan, trained under Wu Quanyou, the father of Wu Jianquan.
17. Qi Minxuan trained under his father, Qi Kesan, and his Chan [Zen] master Qing Yi [The Pure One].
18. Qi Minxuan had visited Chen Family Village before the Japanese invasion of China in 1931 and told Cheng Tin-hung that he found it impossible to believe that an art as subtle as Tai Chi Chuan could have originated in this rural backwater.
19. Qi Minxuan told Cheng that he was teaching him ‘Wudang Tai Chi Chuan’.
20. Qi Minxuan taught Cheng the complete Tai Chi Chuan syllabus. In Cheng Tin-hung’s Hong Kong studio there was a full list of all aspects of the TCC curriculum under the heading, ‘Wudang Tai Chi Chuan’. This name and this syllabus he got from Qi Minxuan. Xianjia Baduanjin Qigong is not listed in Cheng Tin-hung’s ‘Wudang Tai hi Chuan’ syllabus, as it was not TCC and because Cheng Tin-hung only taught it to 3 people, including me. Hong Kong martial arts journalists called Cheng’s art ‘Practical Tai Chi Chuan’; I adopted this name.
21. Qi Minxuan was so highly skilled and his technique so subtle, that sometimes when practicing forms, Cheng Tin-hung couldn’t follow him.
22. Qi Minxuan didn’t practice or teach square form, but did teach mirror and reverse form. Square form came from Cheng Wing-kwong, who learned it from Wu Jianquan. Cheng Tin-hung modified it.
23. Qi Minxuan was the source of all the conditioning exercises and drills such as Flying Flower Palm.
24. Qi Minxuan taught Cheng Tin-hung the Tai Chi Chuan Classics and made him chant them while practicing Nei Kung.
25. Qi Minxuan essentially taught Xuan Xuan Dao [Mysterious Sabre] and Qian Kun Jian [Heaven and Earth Sword], but just called the forms Tai Chi Sabre and Tai Chi Sword. There are quite a few differences in names and sequence with the Wu family versions.
26. Qi Minxuan showed applications for spear, sabre and sword using tree branches and sticks.
27. Qi Minxuan seems to have practiced medium to large frame Tai Chi, judging by Cheng Tin-hung’s forms.
28. I have seen the old footage of Cheng Wing-kwong doing hand form on Youtube. It only shows how, at a certain time and place, he demonstrated the hand form in a certain way. That way tallies with the fotos in Cheng Wing-kwong’s book and is a mixture of square and round form He strolls through the techniques and there is little focus or intent and many Inner Form techniques such as ‘Break Arm Style’, ‘Using Zhou to Break the Door’ and others found in his nephew’s hand form are conspicuous by their absence.
29. I have seen the old footage of Cheng Wing-kwong doing sword form on Youtube. It is a bit of a mess, there are breaks in sequence; it is far from convincing. His nephew was always convincing until his kung fu was ravaged by diabetes.
There is no doubt that Cheng Tin-hung’s Tai Chi was influenced by his uncle. There is also no doubt that they practiced different versions of Tai Chi Chuan. I practice and teach mainly the Qi Minxuan version.