Recommended: The Professor: Tai Chi’s Journey West
Growing up in Taiwan, I heard of Grandmaster Cheng Man Ch’ing’s (1901-1975) name frequently from the media. Sometimes, Mom commented by saying, “He is talented but kind of eccentric. Just look at how he dresses.” Professor Cheng was unique. He wore a long beard and long sideburns. Different from the traditional long robes for Chinese men prior to 1930’s, Professor Cheng’s long coat was cut short and similar to a duster. When I became a columnist on Tai Chi (Taiji), I had opportunities to interview his disciples Grandmaster William C.C. Chen of New York, Grandmaster Hsu Yee-Chung of Taiwan, Sifu William Phillips of New York, and scores of students of his disciples, and met hundreds of practitioners of Cheng Tai Chi. I studied his books and learned to appreciate his philosophy and outstanding accomplishments in five distinct areas: Chinese poems, Chinese paintings, calligraphy, Tai Chi, and traditional Chinese medicine. Some of his writings revealed his knowledge exceed the domain of traditional Chinese culture. He was keen to the western thinking and information as well. He introduced the art of Tai Chi Chuan to the west and his influence still prevails in the Southeast Asia, the U.S., and Europe. I thought that I knew a lot about him until I watched the documentary The Professor: Tai Chi’s Journey West.
Co-produced by Barry Strugatz and Ken Van Sickle, it took 14 years to complete this movie. It was through the eyes and ears of Grandmaster Cheng’s students in New York, I learned a fascinating side of Cheng’s. He had the talent to blend the western culture with the Chinese philosophy. It was incredible that he attracted both hippies and martial art enthusiasts to the slow art of Tai Chi Chuan. More amazingly, he had them learn Chinese calligraphy with brush pens. He taught everyone without discrimination. In the film, I saw men and women practice Tai Chi side-by-side in the 70’s and racial diversity. He looked playful when he pushed hands with students. He was no longer just a big name that I paid great respect to. Instead he was a real person that I could have sat down to have a cup of tea with, chatted about my mundane life, and told each other jokes.
This movie was premiered in Los Angeles in May and got rave reviews. Its New York premiere was a sold-out and hosted by distinguished Warrington Hudlin recently at the Museum of the Moving Image. Its DVD/VOD release date was set on July 12, 2016. For more information, you can read my interview with Barry via the link here or visit its official website .