Cheng Man Ching: Yang Style Tai Chi And His 37 Forms

Jan 24, 2024
Cheng Man Ching: Yang Style Tai Chi And His 37 Forms

In a world grappling with the complexities of modern stress, the ancient art of Tai Chi offers a serene escape. Yet the vastness and intricacy of its forms can overwhelm beginners. Enter Cheng Man Ching, a revolutionary Tai Chi master who reshaped Yang Style Tai Chi with his 37 forms. His adaptation, focusing on accessibility and depth, bridges traditional martial arts with contemporary wellness needs. This approach not only preserves the essence of Tai Chi but also makes it more approachable for a global audience, offering a solution to those seeking both physical and mental balance.

Introduction to Cheng Man Ching

Early Life and Background

Cheng Man Ching, born in Yongjia, was a polymath in 20th-century Taiwan. Renowned as "Professor Cheng," he excelled in the five excellences, including calligraphy and martial arts. Early exposure to these disciplines shaped his multifaceted personality. His interest in Tai Chi began as a quest for health improvement, leading him to study under Yang family members, prominent figures in Yang style Tai Chi. This experience deeply influenced his later work in Tai Chi Chuan.

Path to Tai Chi Mastery

Cheng Man Ching's journey in Tai Chi Chuan was marked by rigorous practice and a deep understanding of its principles. He studied under Yang Chengfu, a master of the Yang style, absorbing the intricate postures and philosophy of this martial art. His dedication led to mastering and later simplifying the Yang form into a shorter version, making it more accessible. His approach combined martial arts expertise with a profound appreciation of Tai Chi's health benefits, reflecting his belief in balance and harmony.

Tai Chi Chuan and Its Origins

History of Tai Chi

Tai Chi Chuan, originating from ancient Chinese martial arts, has evolved over centuries. Initially developed for self-defense, it gradually incorporated philosophical and health elements, becoming a holistic practice. The Yang family significantly contributed to its popularization, with their style becoming synonymous with Tai Chi. Cheng Man Ching's encounter with Tai Chi in Taiwan added a new dimension to this rich history, as he blended traditional martial arts with his unique perspectives on health and well-being.

Yang Style: Foundations and Principles

  • Emphasis on softness and fluidity in movements.
  • Focus on achieving internal harmony and balance.
  • Integration of mind, body, and spirit in practice.
  • Prioritization of slow, deliberate movements for health benefits.
  • The principle of yielding in response to external forces.

These fundamental ideas define the Yang style, which Cheng Man Ching practices. His adaptation, known as the short form, retained these foundational elements while making the practice more accessible through a reduction in the number of postures.

Cheng Man Ching's 37 Forms: A Revolution in Tai Chi

  1. Opening Stance: A grounding posture, symbolizing the beginning of a meditative journey in Tai Chi.
  2. Grasping the Sparrow's Tail: Incorporates four basic movements, teaching balance and fluidity.
  3. Single Whip: Enhances coordination, focusing on precision and control.
  4. Lifting Hands: A gentle yet powerful movement, that improves upper body strength.
  5. White Crane Spreads Wings: Develops balance, symbolizing grace and alertness.
  6. Brush Knee Twist Step: Combines turning and stepping, fostering stability and leg strength.
  7. Playing the Lute: A calming pose, emphasizing patience and tranquility in practice.
  8. Repulse Monkey: Enhances backward stepping skills, promoting agility and coordination.
  9. Left Ward Off: A defensive stance, teaching protective and grounding techniques.
  10. Right Ward Off: Complements the left, focusing on energy flow and defense.
  11. Rollback: A circular movement, encouraging flexibility and fluidity.
  12. Press: Develops internal strength, emphasizing precision and focus.
  13. Push: Builds on the foundational principles of Tai Chi, fostering endurance.
  14. Single Whip with Squatting Down: A challenging posture, enhancing leg strength and balance.
  15. Golden Rooster Stands on One Leg: Improves concentration and single-leg stability.
  16. Separation of Right Foot: A dynamic kick promotes agility and flexibility.
  17. Separation of Left Foot: Balances the right, maintaining symmetry and coordination.
  18. Turn and Strike with Heel: A powerful movement combining turning with precision.
  19. Brush Knee Twist Step on Both Sides: Enhances bilateral coordination, reinforcing leg strength.
  20. Punch Under Elbow: A compact movement, teaching subtlety and control.
  21. Step Forward and Grasp Sparrow's Tail: Integrates multiple movements, fostering a sense of flow.
  22. Single Whip: Revisiting the posture, emphasizing mastery through repetition.
  23. Waving Hands Like Clouds: A serene movement, developing grace and fluidity.
  24. Single Whip with Squatting Down: A repeated posture deepens leg strength and stability.
  25. Step Forward and Punch Downward: This encourages precision and power in a downward strike.
  26. Turn and Chop with Fist: Combines turning with a swift chop, enhancing coordination.
  27. Step Forward and Punch: A direct movement, focusing on strength and precision.
  28. Apparent Close Up: A transition pose, symbolizing the preparation for closing.
  29. Cross Hands: A reflective posture, marking the nearing end of the form.
  30. Carry Tiger to Mountain: Emphasizes strength and control in carrying motion.
  31. Diagonal Single Whip: A variation of the Single Whip, teaching adaptability.
  32. Part Wild Horse's Mane on Both Sides: Encourages flowing movement, mirroring the grace of a wild horse.
  33. Fair Lady Works at Shuttles: A complex movement, symbolizing dexterity and elegance.
  34. Needle at Sea Bottom: Enhances focus and precision, diving downward with control.
  35. Fan Through Back: A sweeping movement, promoting flexibility and reach.
  36. Turn Body and White Snake Spits Out Tongue: A twist and strike motion, symbolizing alertness and speed.
  37. Closing Form: A gentle return to stillness, embodying the tranquility and harmony achieved through the practice.

The Influence of Chinese Medicine on Cheng Man-Ch'ing Tai Chi

Cheng Man Ching's profound understanding of traditional Chinese medicine significantly shaped his Tai Chi Chuan practice. He seamlessly integrated the principles of Chinese medicine with martial arts, enhancing their health benefits. This fusion is evident in his unique 37 postures, which focus on holistic well-being and self-cultivation.

Key Characteristics of Cheng's Tai Chi Influenced by Chinese Medicine:

  • Emphasis on internal energy flow aligned with medicinal principles.
  • Focus on balance and harmony, reflecting traditional healing concepts.
  • Adaptation of movements to promote physical and mental health.

His approach to Tai Chi Chuan, deeply rooted in the wisdom of Chinese medicine, has been acknowledged by practitioners as a therapeutic form of exercise. Cheng’s method transcends mere physical movement, delving into the realm of healing and wellness.

Cheng Man-Ching Legacy in Taiwan and Beyond

Cheng Man Ching, often referred to as Professor Cheng, profoundly impacted Taiwan's martial arts scene by establishing a Tai Chi school. His teachings in Taiwan laid the groundwork for Tai Chi's journey west. Cheng's move to New York in the early 1970s marked a significant milestone in spreading Tai Chi to Westerners.

Key Principles Cheng Man Ching Taught in His Schools:

  • The concept of 'secrets' in Tai Chi was demystified for a broader understanding.
  • He emphasized the five excellences, including calligraphy and Chinese culture.
  • Cheng's focus was not just on martial arts but on holistic personal development.

His American students, like Ken Van Sickle and Maggie Newman, became torchbearers of his style, ensuring his legacy thrived across continents.

Cheng Man Ching's Impact on Martial Arts and Wellness

Cheng Man Ching's contribution to martial arts extends beyond his Tai Chi form. He was a student of Yang Cheng-Fu, a grandmaster in Yang-style Tai Chi, and he brought excellence and a new perspective to the practice. Cheng's influence is seen in the popularity of Yang-style Tai Chi, especially the long form, among Tai Chi practitioners worldwide.

Benefits of Cheng Man Ching’s Tai Chi for Wellness:

  • Promotes mental clarity and stress reduction, aligning with the principles of Chinese medicine.
  • Enhances physical balance and strength, vital for overall health.
  • Fosters a deeper connection between mind and body for holistic well-being.

Cheng Man Ching's approach to Tai Chi, deeply intertwined with Chinese medicine and wellness principles, continues to inspire and benefit martial arts enthusiasts globally.

Global Impact of Yang Style Tai Chi Through Cheng Man Ching's Teachings

Tai Chi, under the guidance of Master Yang and his prominent student Chengmanching, underwent significant evolution in the early 20th century. Yang Cheng-fu's teachings had a significant influence on Cheng, who created the 37 postures by combining traditional Chinese medicine principles and the core of Tai Chi's martial applications. This new form, taught extensively to Westerners in New York during the early 1970s, marked Tai Chi's journey west, attracting students like Maggie Newman and Ken Van Sickle. Cheng's approach emphasized the five excellences, including calligraphy and self-cultivation, reflecting his profound understanding of Chinese culture. His teachings, documented in works like "Thirteen Treatises on T’ai Chi Ch’uan," became a cornerstone for Tai Chi practitioners globally.

Notably, Cheng's ability to bridge the cultural gap by teaching thousands of students, both Chinese and Western, showcased his excellence and dedication. This led to a significant expansion in the understanding and practice of Tai Chi, blending martial arts with health and meditative aspects.


Cheng Man Ching's contribution to Tai Chi transcends mere technique; it's a blend of tradition, innovation, and accessibility. His 37 forms of Yang Style Tai Chi represent a harmonious balance between martial discipline and healing art. This legacy continues to inspire and guide practitioners worldwide, adapting an ancient practice for modern times. Cheng's vision of Tai Chi as a tool for self-cultivation and health has indeed created a global impact. As we reflect on his teachings, one can't help but wonder: How can we further apply the principles of Tai Chi in our daily lives to achieve balance and tranquility?


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