American Terrorism Foil – Tai chi master aims to expand teachings

Original published on >HOUSTON CHRONICLE?newspaper section “This Week?on Oct.25, 2001


Tai chi master Jincai Cheng appreciates the scores of medallions his followers took home from two recent international martial arts tournaments.

But he refuses to become complacent, looking instead to greater challenges.

At the 2001 International Wushu-Kungfu Festival and Championships sponsored by American Wushu Foundation in Orlando, Fla. in August, eight of his top-notch students snatched eight gold, 10 silver and seven bronze medals in contests.

In June, a dozen of his followers harvested 25 gold, 13 silver, and 10 bronze medals in The Taiji Legacy International Martial Arts Championships organized by USA Chin Woo Federation in Dallas.

However, Cheng sees the honor bestowed on his group as a reminder of a greater undertaking he is poised to embark on.

And never before does Cheng feel as strong a sense of mission to spread the art of tai chi as after the recent terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. He is planning several projects to reach out to a larger community.

At lunch at a popular eatery in Alief two weeks ago, diners who knew Cheng and his accomplishments speculated that the lethal force of tai chi might have disarmed the airline hijackers.

Shaken by the Sept. 11 attack, Cheng said he couldn’t agree more.

“That’s no exaggeration,” said Cheng , recalling how one of his students recently subdued a robber in downtown Houston. “My students did a marvelous job in the competitions, but still there are many more who don’t know about this wonderful martial art,” Cheng said. “I want to see more people armed with the skills.”

With existing training programs well in place in his center in Alief, several new plans are under way to make Cheng ‘s vision a reality.

Following his release of two volumes of taped demonstration of some of the basic Chen-style tai chi routines, Cheng is working on his magnum work – a 20-volume video series accompanied by books – to thoroughly espouse the philosophy and structured techniques of the martial art.

Meanwhile, more beginner classes will be available to children and adults.

A more ambitious undertaking being mulled is to eventually build a multi-functional new center that includes a tai chi academy and a training facility open to academy members and non-members.

Cheng envisions it to be an international center for tai chi – a resource center and a hub for exchanges among world enthusiasts of Chen-style and other styles of tai chi.

“This is a colossal mission,” Cheng said. “But I’m aiming at five years as the timeline for its completion.”

Cheng currently is forming two new groups, Taijiquan Federation of America, which encompasses all tai chi styles, and Chen Style Taijiquan Federation of America, which is devoted to spreading Chen’s teachings.

The groups will join the nation’s elite tai chi practitioners to promote the martial art.

“The idea is to promote the cultural, philosophical and technical aspects of the martial art, athleticism of the sport and fraternity among practitioners,” said Blue Siytangco, a Cheng follower who is helping with the organizing.

Inspired by the honors some students received from the recent competitions and prompted by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, followers say they are now more enthusiastic in practicing tai chi, which they say benefits them in many ways.

Cheng said tai chi teaches the skills of bare-handed self-defense when weapons are unavailable to confront an attacker.

“If crew members were trained in tai chi, air marshals would probably be unnecessary,” said Cheng .

Besides its combat value, he said tai chi, an ancient Chinese martial art form that blends fighting skills with internal energy cultivation, helps cope with psychological effects of the terrorist attacks.

“The breathing and energy-cultivating techniques are effective in dissolving anger, fear, stress and anxiety and empowering one with calm and confidence,” he said.

“There is the scare of a biochemical warfare like a pending doom,” Siytangco said. “There is a lot of stress among people. Tai chi practice is an excellent way of finding a little oasis for yourself. Each time after class, I stepped out of the door and felt like I was leaving all the problems behind.”

Tai chi is rooted in the Chinese indigenous religion of Taoism and Chinese traditional medicine. It is based on the theory that the universe is made of opposing but complementary forces, which can be balanced and reconciled to the benefit of life.

Cheng was born and raised in the village of Chen Jia Gou, the birthplace of Chen-style tai chi, in China’s northern province of Henan.

As a prominent form of tai chi, Chen-style tai chi was said to be developed during the late 1600s by Chen Wangting, a military commander during the Ming Dynasty.

The art passed down from one generation to another, only to male offsprings of the Chen family. Beginning the 14th generation, Chen-style tai chi also was taught to people outside the family who were highly respected in the community.

Cheng , suffering year-round dizziness and headaches as a child, decided to learn tai chi from his brother. Later, his fast progress prompted him to seek tutelage from Chen-style standard bearers, including 18th-generation grand master Chen Zhaokui and 19th-generation grand master Wang Xi’an.

For his mastery, Cheng was listed as one of the only 10, 20th-generation grand masters in the lineage. He currently is the only grand master in North America.

Tai chi cured Cheng of his headaches for good soon after he began his lessons, he recalled.

After relocating to Houston in 1994, Cheng established his center at 9730 Town Park to spread the art and later created a second studio at 6732 Texas 6 South.

Since then, Cheng has trained hundreds of tai chi practitioners who have repeatedly won accolades in national and international competitions. His devotees come from different ethnicities, range in age from 6 to 73 and come from Houston and other parts of Texas and even Louisiana.

According to Chinese traditional medicine, illness is the result of the clogging of energy flow in the body. Tai chi proponents say the practice help eliminate the clogging.

They believe tai chi enhances the immune system and has positive effects on ailments such as high blood pressure, asthma, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, digestive problems and even impotence.

Students also say the discipline, though filled with lethal potential, helps practitioners realize their personal one-ness and one-ness with the universe. It teaches the mind-set of harmony, as espoused in the ancient I Ching, known as the Taoist fundamental Book of Change.

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