Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
The Professor: How Cheng Man-ching Brought Tai Chi to New York
Chi is not just a way to get the circulation flowing in the morning. It is also
a martial arts discipline and a framework for living an examined spiritual
life. Prof. Cheng Man-ching was in touch with all aspects of Tai Chi broadly
defined (including calligraphy and Chinese medicine) and he had a knack for
imparting what his students needed most. Barry Strugatz (a student of Cheng’s
senior students) chronicles the master’s years teaching in America and his lasting
impact on his apprentices in The
Professor: Tai Chi’s Journey West (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in Los Angeles.
really was a professor in Taiwan. He was also a member of the National Assembly
with close links to Chiang Kai-shek. However, he always thought his holistic
and streamlined approach to Tai Chi would be his legacy. He came to New York in
1964 and immediately declared his independence from the expatriate
establishment. Not only did he live outside of Chinatown, he readily agreed to
teach goofy white American hippies and hardnosed prison guards. Perhaps most scandalously,
he even accepted a Japanese-American student.
it is rather cool to hear how Cheng related to his diverse classes and how
unperturbed he was by the disapproving old guard. You could almost say he was
Zen-like except Cheng’s teachings incorporated Confucian and Taoist concepts
rather than Buddhism. Regardless, he had the look and the supremely cool
demeanor of a master.
is also rather refreshing how down-to-earth Prof. Cheng’s students sound when
they talk about him in their contemporary interviews segments, even though many
of them were counter-culturally inclined in the 1960s and 1970s. It seems like his
teachings helped give them clarity of thought. At least they avoid most of the
shopworn New Age clichés.
If you are seeking some kind of something, you
will do far better with Cheng’s books and recorded lessons than any self-help
charlatan currently peddling seminars on daytime television. Strugatz and
co-producer-cinematographer Ken Van Sickle (a former student of Cheng himself)
are quite level-headed in their treatment, avoiding hagiographic hyperbole. It
is a nice film on a worthy subject that should sit well with a broad-based
mainstream audience. Recommended for students of Taoism and martial arts fans receptive
to something a little more meditative, The
Professor opens this Friday (5/6) in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Music Hall.
Labels: Cheng Man-ching, Documentary