Tai chi master Jincai Cheng calls fall the season of harvest

Original published on HOUSTON CHRONICLE newspaper section this Week on OCT.25, 2002


He was all smiles returning from a trip to China with a group of his devotees who brought home more than two dozen medallions from a recent international tai chi competition in Jiaozuo, a town in China’s central province of Henan.

A reception in Alief two weeks ago celebrated more than just 27 awards — including seven first-place prizes — from the second annual International Tai Chi Conference, which drew 1,370 contestants from 24 countries — garnered by Cheng’s group of 23 followers.

The occasion also marked the release of Cheng’s book, Classical Annotation of Chen-style Tai Chi, a work eight years in the making.

The illustrated, 300-page volume discusses the origin, tradition, evolution, philosophy, theories and practical methods of the martial art. It also offers a glimpse into Cheng’s childhood and the path to his eventual martial art standing as one of the 10, 20th-generation grand masters in the lineage of Chen-style tai chi.

“My students’ achievements and the completion of this book are a highlight in my life in Houston,” said Cheng, who heads the Alief-based International Chen-style Tai Chi Development Center, 9730 Town Park. “But it’s just a stop in a long journey for the mission.”

Cheng said his and his students’ effort is part of that mission to promulgate tai chi — an ancient martial art rooted in the Chinese indigenous philosophy of Taoism and traditional medicine — to the world.

“It really brings me satisfaction to see that goal is being shared by my students and many others who have supported us,” he said.

Cheng’s followers were no less jubilant.

“I haven’t come across any literature that gives you as complete information on the subject as the master’s book does,” said Al-Asr Cordes, who heads Cheng’s second studio, 6732 Texas 6 South. “It’s rare to have someone from your own (martial art) system give you such clear and detailed pictures of each posture and the transition from one posture to another.”

Students described their China experience as “life-changing” and said they were surprised at how tai chi is embraced by the Chinese. In Jiaozuo, where Chen-style tai chi originated, the martial art is its cultural signature, they said.

“I didn’t expect that the people we were competing against had grown up in tai chi whereas most of us from the United States have practiced for only two or three years. But as a team we did very well.” said Robin Shouldis, a beer brewer with Anheuser-Busch who has practiced with Cheng for 3 1/2 years and won three medals at the competition.

“Our group did exceptionally well,” said Cheng, who was born and raised in the village of Chen Jia Gou near Jiaozuo. “They were not just disadvantaged facing those from the hometown of tai chi who have tai chi in their blood, but also had to overcome their fatigue from the trip and climate.”

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 in the 14th generation, Chen-style tai chi also was taught to people outside the family who were highly respected in the community.

Cheng moved to Houston in 1994 and established his center on Town Park to spread the art. Later he created his second studio on Texas 6.