• Steve Gray / Starjumper 7

Masters of the Way - Tchoung Ta Tchen

Updated: Jun 5

I met Tchoung Ta Tchen through Andy Dale, who was my main tai chi teacher. Andy and some of his students went as a group to visit Tchoung up in Vacouver, Canada on some weekends. Tchoung was a grandmaster of Tai Chi, and his main claim to fame was how far he could push people through the air before they “touched down.” He was so advanced there was only one other Tai Chi person on the North American Continent that was good enough to play the game of “push hands” with him, and that was master Cheng Man Ching of New York, who was a Yang style master who was well known and loved on the East Coast.

Here’s a little something you probably didn’t know about Cheng Man Ching. He felt none of his students ‘got it’ and that he had been a failure as a teacher, so he stopped teaching, went back to China, and drank himself to death within six months.

Tchoung was a real serious dude. He was a general in the Chinese army, and definitely one of the old school. What made him different is that he really wanted his students to 'get' it. He really did.

He first started teaching in Seattle, in Chinatown, and since he never did learn to speak English, he had a Chinese translator there to help out. The class had been active for a few months, at which point Tchoung had taken a minute or more to explain a particular move. The translator said, "He basically said to relax.” Another student there, a white guy, immediately said; "He didn't say that". Tchoung got a quizzical look on his face, then went over to talk to that guy. After that, the new guy became the translator, and that is when the teaching really started.

The lesson here is that even though the master wanted his Western students to learn well, the typical Chinese dude did not


When Tchoung Ta Tchen was a Lieutenant in the Chinese army he was stationed for a while on Mt. Omei.

One cold winter day he went out to a clearing on the mountainside to practice some Tai Chi. Since it was freezing out, he was heavily bundled up. After doing Tai Chi for a while he noticed a skinny little old man sitting there watching him. Despite the freezing cold, the old man was wearing nothing but a loincloth.

When he saw him, the old man taunted him, saying: "You're Tai Chi stiiiinks, bet you can't catch me, neeneer neener!” So Tchoung chased him, but the old man was very nimble and was able to scoot over all the rocks and tree roots so fast that Tchoung couldn’t catch him. So he gave up, and went back to the clearing to continue his practice.

The old man soon returned. This time he came over to Tchoung and said, "Hit me."

Tchoung: "No, I don't want to.”

Old man: "Hit me."

Tchoung: “No."

So the old fellow started calling Tchoung and his ancestors all kinds of mean and nasty names. The outcome was predicatable.

Tchoung punched him in the stomach so hard the old man went flying back about eight feet and crashed on some big rocks. He immediately sprang up, came over, and said, 'Hit me again.” So, POW, the old man went crashing onto the rocks again.

Then he came over, unhurt, and introduced himself. He was the abbott of the local mountaintop monastery, and he invited Tchoung up to practice some Chi Kung.

This was a rather common way for Taoist masters to meet in the olden days … they would trade punches to the stomach in order to see how the other handled it.

In that way Tchoung learned Mt. Omei Chi Kung, which he taught to Andy. Andy then taught it to me.

Andy once learned a different Tai Chi form, which took him a couple of months. , I can't recall which form it was, something obscure. Anyway, he showed it to Tchoung Ta Tchen. He showed it to him only one time.

After a month or so Tchoung performed the new form for Andy. He did the whole form, but he did it better, employing more of the principles of Tai Chi. So he was able to learn and incorporate the whole form, after seeing it only one time.

Going to see Tchoung was my first experience with a real live grandmaster of the internal arts. One thing he would do sometimes is have some of his better students line up in a row with their backs six feet from the wall. There were thick pads on the wall. Then he would go down the row, and one by one, he would do a little push hands with the student. The student would try to push him and he would yield out of it, and then push them. Trying to push him was like trying to catch a cloud. Getting pushed by him was like meeting the irresistible force. One of the senior students told me you couldn’t really feel the push, it was like you got seduced into flying through the air, which indicates the addition of energy pushing. They would still be traveling upwards when they slammed against the pads on the wall.

Tchoung was a big old portly guy with a big belly. So I assumed it was soft pudge. Maybe he was reading my mind because one time he came over and told me to press with my thumb against his belly. Let me tell you, I can press real hard with my thumb when I brace it with my fingers. His belly was not soft at all, it was like pressing on a piece of wood. It wasn’t pudge. His whole waist was surrounded by about six inches of rock hard muscle. Can you say core strength? Good internal training develops great core strength and it’s what you need to be able to push people really far through the air before they touch down.

Tchoung Ta Tchen was in his upper eighties when he had quadruple bypass surgery, and as is common with such things, he didn’t live so long after that.

From the book - A Lineage of Dragons -

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