Chen Man Ching was one of the first notable people to bring Tai Chi to America. He was born in 1902, studied some Tai Chi before meeting and becoming a student of Yang Chengfu, historically known as the most famous early teacher of Yang Tai Chi. Chen studied with Yang Chengfu for six years.
By 1946, Chen Man Ching had developed his own short version (37 movements) of Yang Chengfu's long Tai Chi form. He performs it in the video below.
He moved to New York City in 1964, no doubt causing quite a stir since Tai Chi was mysterious at the time. In 1967, he teamed with Robert W. Smith and T.T. Liang to write a book about Tai Chi. He died in 1975, but by that time, as Tai Chi teachers are bound to do, he became a legend.
I am grateful that he was a pioneer who helped to bring the internal arts to America. When I watch video of him performing, or one of his more famous students, William C.C. Chen, I am always disappointed. I see a version of Tai Chi that is much more appropriate for older people than for martial art purposes. However, considering the lack of Tai Chi instructors in the U.S. in 1964, he was considered to be the best in America at the time.
Perhaps this is a reason why, after studying Yang Tai Chi for over a decade (and winning a gold medal in the 1990 AAU Kung Fu Nationals doing the Yang 24 Form), I switched to Chen style within an hour of meeting my first Chen style teachers. It was more alive and the relaxed body mechanics could deliver power. From being involved in sports, and now experiencing the body mechanics of Chen Tai Chi, I knew that what I had been studying was empty.
But we all know how students can inflate a legend. Before I studied with my first teacher, Sin The of Lexington, Kentucky, I heard stories from his students who said he could jump up and kick a basketball goal (pretty impressive in Wildcat country) and he could cut himself and control his bleeding. None of it was true (not even his Shaolin background).
In Tai Chi and other martial arts, the truths of marketing are true just as in any industry. You don't have to be the best as long as you are the first in the market. That's why, when you ask people if they know about Tai Chi, those who do will usually say, "That's a slow motion health exercise for the elderly."
Coke was the first major soft drink. In parts of the country, when you walk into a store, whether they serve Coke or Pepsi, you say, "Give me a Coke." That's why Pepsi started demanding that their restaurants and fast food joints say, "Is Pepsi okay?" Decades after Pepsi beat Coke in taste tests (people think Pepsi tastes better) Coke still beats Pepsi in sales.
It is better to be first than it is to be best, even in Tai Chi. Here is a video of Chen Man Ching performing his 37-movement form. We owe him a tip of the hat for making Tai Chi well known in the United States. But we know more about Taijiquan than we did in the Sixties and early Seventies. We have moved deeper than the health level and have seen the martial art. And it is a good one.
If you practice Yang style and would like to see 108 self-defense applications that are hidden in the Yang 24 Form, this Kindle ebook shows you all of them and explains them in detail. Read more about it on Amazon. If you are not in the U.S. and reading this, visit your own country's Amazon Kindle Store.