video of a seminar given by William CC Chen. Master Chen was a senior student of Cheng Man Ching and has been teaching in New York for many decades.
Below is an excerpt from an interview with Master Chen which appeared at Taiji Forum. The full post may be read here.
In the year 2000 Tai Chi Grandmaster William C.C. Chen was
teaching at Tai Chi Caledonia in Scotland, when event organiser and
Editor of Tai Chi Chuan magazine (UK), Ronnie Robinson took the
opportunity to conduct this interview.
At that time Grandmaster Chen has studied Tai Chi Chuan for over
50 years, having been a close student of Professor Cheng Man-ching and
is world-renowned for his achievements in applying Tai Chi Chuan as an
effective martial art.
During his time at Caledonia Grandmaster Chen taught in an open,
friendly manner and spent much time informally pushing hands with
students of all levels. During our respective busy schedules he was
extremely willing to take time out to allow these conversations to take
place over lunch at a quiet, country hostelry.
Can you please tell me a little about your introduction to Tai Chi and how you came into contact with Professor Cheng Man-ching?
Professor Chen was a friend of my father, and they were born in the
same village, and spoke the same dialect. When he spoke his dialect was
very strong and often people, like those he worked with in Taiwan, had
difficulty understanding him. Because of his connection with my father I
lived and trained in house and also acted as translator.
How did you happen to have a clearer accent?
I was younger and able to adapt. Acting as his translator, and
helping to deal with the many questions in a class, meant that a lot of
information also came through me.
Why did you go to his class in the first place?
I think that you should look at the book as the story is a little long and I don’t want to get into that.
Can you tell me something about the structure of the classes; what was taught, how often you attended etc.?
When I first started I attended once a week for around one hour. He
taught mainly the hand form and talked about the theories and principles
of Tai Chi Chuan. After a few months I learned the form and became an
assistant, teaching newcomers.
After those first few months of attending his class, some of us
started to meet regularly on Sundays at his house. Wang Ying-Nien was
one of those who also attended. On those Sundays we worked regularly on
push hands with Professor Cheng giving instruction.
So in the regular class, at the early stages, there wasn’t much teaching of push hands?
No. It was mainly the hand form.
How was push hands taught? Did you start off with single hand and progress or what?
No, it was mostly just free pushing. Sometimes it got pretty rough and doors got broken, dishes got broken……
You say that things got rough. Our perception is that push
hands should be soft and sensitive, in what way were these sessions
Well things were soft but when you really push you need speed and, in
practicing in this way, people were thrown around the room.
We know that in the early stages of learning push hands often
students have little awareness of sensitivity, they can be hard and
tense with little idea of the concept of ‘softness’, how would you teach
them to overcome this? For example, did you start off getting them to
feel the lightness and softness or did you work with their hardness and
tensions and try to encourage them to gradually take it away?
When you start learning push hands you should begin by being a little
soft and then you should keep that softness as much as you can. When
people push you just have to neutralise. You had a question regarding
sensitivity. To me sensitivity really means reflexes. People often think
that the sensitivity can come through learning the form and by
continually practicing the form you will become more sensitive. Actually
what is happening is that through regular practice of push hands your
reflexes increase and you become more relaxed, which in turn leads to
It also depends on what you are dealing with when you practice the
form. If you are dealing with the idea of the wind blowing through your
hands, then what comes through can be different. This morning I woke up
at around 5.30 am and was practicing outside in the wind, which I felt
blowing through my fingers. However if you are dealing with push hands
the feeling of sensitivity is different from this feeling and if you are
dealing with fighting the sensitivity is really down to speed and
Often people lose this reflex and sensitivity because they are
nervous and they tighten up. So how can they overcome this? The
Professor always said that when you do push hands, you should invest in
loss. I think I am the only that worked in his house, where people
pushed over these two years, that never pushed back. One of my
classmates said that this was the starting point. During these two years
when I was pushing constantly, I was getting pretty good results so it
was suggested that we should follow this method. It didn’t really come
about because I was smarter than anybody it was probably because, being
the youngest, with no social position, I didn’t have to prove anything
to anyone. I was happy to be pushed and happy to learn a little about
neutralising and ultimately I learned how to survive a vicious push.