The Myth of Chang San-Feng and the Myth of Cheng Man-Cheng


The word myth, these days, is usually and erroneously employed to mean falsehood or untruth. According to Mirriam Webster, a Myth is usually a traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon.

Chang San-feng is credited with developing the Chinese internal system known as Taijiquan. He was born in 960, 1247 and again in 1279 AD

A Native of I-Chou in Liao Tung Province. An external master and court official of the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), other sources state he was born later in the Sung dynasty (960-1279), who upon retirement retreated with disgust from the world to a Taoist monastery on Wu Tang Mountain, where he acquired his Taoist name of San Feng. He is said to have learned T'ai Chi Ch'uan in a dream, or after watching a bird and a snake fight. More likely, Chang applied the Taoist health principles and knowledge of energy circulation to his vast ability in external kung fu, thus creating something really different - a martial art that dos not use muscle power as a primary source of movement, but qi. Records available in the monastery on Wu Tang Mountain do indeed mention him. Descriptions picture him as being seven feet tall, with the bones of a crane and the posture of a pine tree, whiskers shaped like a spear, and in winter and summer wearing the same bamboo hat, carrying a horsehair duster and being able to cover 1000 Li in a day.

The crane - snake combat gave him the ideas that the coiled movement of the snake was like the Taijitu (the Yinyang symbol) and contained the principle of the soft overcoming the hard. Based upon the transformations of the Grand Ultimate, the Yin and Yang leading to the Bagua eight Trigrams, the Trigrams leading the 10.000 things (everything), and the Wuxing (Five movements or phases) being the basis of their interaction, he developed Taijiquan, to gather the Qi, cultivate it to Jing (essence), and hence transform it into Shen (spirit); all waxing and waning, movement and stillness, action and non-action embodied in the I-Jing.

There are many stories of exactly when Taijiquan was developed by Chang San-feng and no one today knows the accurate story. Some of the accepted facts, however, are that he was a very intelligent man, he studied Shao-Lin Chuan for about ten years and mastered it, and with the foundation in Shao-Lin Chuan he developed the original thirteen postures of Taijiquan.

For many centuries, the secrets of Taijiquan were passed down to a select few, who then passed the secrets down to their students. Grandmaster Cheng Man-Ching was one of the unique individuals that made Taijiquan available to Western students.

Professor Cheng Man-Ch'ing (1900-1975) stands out as a Yang style master of Taijiquan. Although he learned the long form (128 postures) in his mid twenties from Grandmaster Yang Chin-pu, the Professor shortened the form to 37 postures. In his foresight, the Professor thought that the Yang short form would be easier to learn and therefore more students would learn it. It proved to be very popular in the USA, when Professor Cheng came to the United States to teach taiji. Later, it gained great acceptance all over the world.

In addition to being one of the greatest taiji Grandmasters, Professor Cheng was an accomplished painter, poet, calligrapher, and Doctor of Classical Chinese Medicine.