Floating Cloud T'ai Chi

 
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T'ai Chi Ch'uan: Martial Arts, Our Path, and a New Beginning

What are the Martial Arts?

Martial arts conjure up images for nearly everyone and everyone’s images are based on their own preconceptions. To the uninitiated, martial arts are often thought of as being all about self defense; though it’s an arguable debate, for the vast majority of people living under normal circumstances (which excludes the military and police officers), self defense training is, hopefully, an excellent solution to a non-existent problem.

From a totally different perspective, martial arts have been practiced throughout Asia in temples and monasteries for thousands of years as a method to focus the mind while on a journey toward a spiritual goal. In the human psyche, few things on earth (except possibly skydiving) have the potential to bring the reality of here and now into such sharp focus as the perception of an implied physical threat from an opponent; whether in a street altercation or in a ritualistic setting during the study of a traditional martial art. Martial arts provide that merged together mental/physical stimulus in a controlled way in greater or lesser degrees according to the style of martial arts one studies. Some are more obviously martial, or warlike, in intent and promote frequent sparring and some, like Tai Chi or Aikido, are much more subtle in approach. They lean more toward a holistic approach of supplying the practitioner an environment in which to mold his or her own harmony of mind and body. This, in time, brings revelations about this mind/body unity and it’s place in this cosmos in which we find ourselves.

Interaction with fellow students and practitioners in martial arts leads one to a position of examining the human ego in all its manifestations of its strengths and its weaknesses, both in oneself, and others. This is true whether the art is inherently martial or more subtle in approach. So, ideally, it can become a method of self-realization—being schooled in the art of life, leading, hopefully, to a more harmonious interaction with society.

Our Path

With this in mind, our approach at Floating Cloud Tai Chi is subtle. Physically Tai Chi is primarily internal—a lot going on inside that’s not so obvious on the outside. Our approach is also cerebral; we contemplate the foundation of the Tai Chi Classics and Taoist philosophies and concepts upon which Tai Chi is based. Our approach is also meditative: After the form has been mastered we aspire to learn how to empty the mind of thought during form practice, in order to approach a Zen state of mind, embracing the reality of here, now. That noted, Tai Chi Chuan in essence should remain a functional martial art. To totally ignore application intent erodes away the physical integrity of the postures and proper alignment of the joints. To divorce the martial functionality hidden within the postures is to essentially “throw out the baby with the bath water” and eliminate it’s amazing efficiency to use the laws of physics, for example, gravity, momentum, inertia, leverage. and centrifugal force, to advantage. To study how the laws of physics apply to our form is to begin to comprehend this beautiful miracle of three dimensionality in which we find ourselves swimming. If we would only take time to notice. So, in time, our art should also be functional as well as soft and harmonious, though many practitioners usually prefer not to emphasize the martial side of Tai Chi.

When considering our mission, what instantly comes to mind is the translation of Professor Cheng’s remarkable poem, Hall Of Happiness, that hung in his Shr Jung school in New York City. Please take a few moments to read the poem and ponder the elevated mindset of the Master Of Five Excellences that enabled him to write such a profound, insightful piece. What could be more appropriate as a mission for each and every one of us than to seek to emulate the ideals of the Grandmaster himself? This would be the way, I believe, to truly embrace his teaching.

A Humbling Journey

I am often reminded of the humility expressed by Grandmaster Ben Lo when discussing Tai Chi. He said, “The well is deep and my rope is short.” In my mind at least, that rare sort of humility in one who has reached such a high level of expertise is a refreshing breath of fresh air in a world where the dollar appears to be most peoples' god and where glory, gain and self-interest often seem to rule the day.

I was somewhat hesitant to begin teaching Tai Chi to the public. As is often true of people who have been practicing for decades, it seemed to me that the more I began to understand about Tai Chi, the more about Tai Chi I realized that I did not know. Or, if I finally understood something conceptually from an intellectual standpoint, I was not personally able to manifest that understanding in my body. In other words, it seems the deeper you go into Tai Chi the more depth you find that you haven’t yet reached.

And so I felt my level was still not high enough to teach. However it seemed that I had a dilemma that was impossible to resolve. Well over 60 years old, retired and living in rural Orange County, subsisting on social security with very little extra funds to travel to distant places to high level teachers, I still had a powerful yearning to practice Tai Chi with like minded people. By teaching I could continue to improve my own skill and understanding and share my limited knowledge in the process.

The answer became increasingly more obvious: Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. This was the conception—Floating Cloud Tai Chi in Orange County, Virginia was the birth.

I can only hope that our small, rural Tai Chi group will flourish, so that, in time, more people can have the opportunity to experience the joys of Tai Chi. There’s a poignant, old story in China that illustrates a Taoist concept:

There was a fisherman who was always seen sitting by the river, fishing pole in hand, with the hook held high above the water. Passersby often laughed; but occasionally one had the curiosity to ask, “Why do you hold the hook above the water where it’s so difficult for the fish to bite?” In these cases his answer was always the same, “If they really want it, they will grab it!”

In the words of Lao Tzu, “A journey of 1000 miles begins with the first step.”

Professor Cheng

Cheng Man Ching (1901 –1975) studied T'ai Chi under Yang Ch'eng-fu and afterward developed a 37-posture simplified form

 

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