Professor Cheng Man Ching
Of all the modern Tai Chi masters, none have had the impact of the late Cheng Man Ching (also written Cheng Man-ch'ing or Zheng Manqing). As a child growing up in China, Cheng suffered from a chronic lung condition and a local doctor suggested that he take up Tai Chi to remediate his condition. Cheng proved so good a student that he not only learned Tai Chi, he also cured himself of his illness through his practice.
In many ways Cheng was a prodigy. He grew up to become renowned in his own country as a master of the "Five Excellences": painting, poetry, calligraphy, medicine and martial arts. When one considers the vast learning and diligent study it takes to master even one of these disciplines, Cheng's achievement becomes even more remarkable. His skill as a physician was said to be particularly uncanny and it is in this capacity that he was brought the the attention of Yang Ch'eng-Fu, the standard bearer and lineage heir to the great Yang Lu-Chan, founder of the Yang Family Style of Tai Chi. It seems that Yang's wife was extremely ill and the most prominent doctors had had little success trying to find a cure for her illness. Yang had heard of Cheng's reputation as a doctor and he agreed to examine her. Cheng was able to successfully restore Madame Yang to health and in gratitude, Mrs. Yang persuaded her husband to accept him as a Tai Chi student. Cheng studied daily with Master Yang for years, enduring many hardships to learn the art. Although he later rose to become a great master of Tai Chi himself, Cheng, in typical modesty, always denigrated his own skill with respect to his teacher's. "If Tai Chi was a human body," he was fond of saying, "all I possess is the thumb. My teacher (Master Yang) has the whole body!" No small praise from this highly accomplished individual.
After an illustrious career as a physician, senator and martial artist in Taiwan, Professor Cheng emigrated to the U.S. where he ran a large Tai Chi School in New York's Chinatown section. Much to the detriment of us all, the old master departed this life on March 26th 1975, but his legacy lives on through his poetry, his painting, those he healed and those he taught.