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FIVE WINDS TAI CHI CHUAN

FORTY YEARS
OF TAI CHI
CHUAN
IAN CAMERON
CHAPTER 1

FORTY YEARS.

Come January 2011, it will be forty years since


I began my practice of Tai Chi Chuan. It has
been quite an adventure in one way or an-
other.
Section 1 FORTY YEARS.

Come January 2011, it will be forty years since I began my practice

1971-2011 of Tai Chi Chuan. It has been quite an adventure in one way or an-
other. Along side me through all the many trials and tribulations, has
been my wife Moira. She has supported me all the way, given the
amount of time spent training, it has not been easy. Thanks are due to
her and my son Craig.

I remember when I was around sixteen picking up a book by Alan


Watts called, The Spirit of Zen. Trying to read it at that time was diffi-
cult because, I didnt understand a word of it. Never the less, some-
thing about it has stayed with me ever since. My interest in Eastern
arts and philosophies grew from that time.

The first book on Chinese martial arts that I came across was Pa Gua
by R. W. Smith, I still have that book to this day. This stuff was a puz-
zle ,walking in circles doing extremely complex moves, was so far
from what I had, up to that point, been exposed to. There was no
way of pursuing this art at that time, or any other of the Chinese mar-
tial arts. Then I picked up another book, Tai Chi by the same author
and Cheng Man Ching. Chengs beautiful postures and his obvious
ability captured me immediately. Again impossible to follow up.

Up to this time I had practiced Judo, the only martial art around at
the time, boxing for a while, then Karate. I had a keen interest in mu-
sic too, and this led me eventually to joining the army as a musician.
I joined a regiment that was going to be stationed in HK. Right up my
street. At last, the opportunity to try and learn Tai Chi Chuan. I en-
quired at a sports shop if they knew where I could learn Tai Chi
Chuan (Tai Kik Kune). They could have sent me to anyone, but fortu-
nately they gave me Sifu Cheng Tin Hungs details, saying this guys

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the best and so off I went. His gym was situated in Argyle St in the vidually, then got together for partner work. Very different from the
district of Mongkok, just around the corner from the shop. lineup in the Karate classes. I was taught what might be called an in-
termediate form, although termed square, it had more flow than the
Going up in the lift to the 10th floor I was a bit apprehensive, not
teaching method used now, but harder to learn. A short example of
knowing what kind of reception to expect. Being a Sun-
this form can be seen in Cheng Tin
day there was no activity at the gym, but two gentlemen
Hungs intro to the movie Shadow
were sitting having tea.
Boxer.
Looking up, one said What do you want?
Once through this form I then pro-
I would like to learn Tai Chi gressed onto the round form , mean-
while I had been introduced to pushing
Why?
hands and some basic San Shou. I
Eh, I have always wanted to learn this art. couldnt get enough. My family were
with me in HK and had to put up with
I think they were both surprised that a westerner should
my absence from home. When not
want to
working, I would be up at the gym.
learn Tai Chi and that made them a little wary. This con- When I was working, I would squeeze
versation went on for a while until I finally convinced in practice before going home for tea,
them that I was genuinely interested in Tai Chi. then out to work. Moira and Craig
were always included in everything
At the time I didnt realize that one of the gentlemen was
that went on, such as Cheng Sam
Cheng Tin Hung, he looked nothing like Cheng Man
Fengs birthday celebration and got to
Ching. Slacks and a short sleeved shirt, not resembling
know many of Sifus students.
the archetypal Tai Chi master that I had in my head. We
eventually made arrangements that I would start the fol- Just a word about Cheng Tin Hung. It
lowing Saturday morning at 10 oclock. That was the be- would be wrong to think of him only in
ginning of my Tai Chi life. a fighting context. He was extremely well read and had broad knowl-
edge of the Chinese Classics and history. Although he had a broad
Training took place on the roof of Sifus house. Again, not the image
knowledge, he never felt the need to shower you just how much he
expected from a Tai Chi master, shorts, singlet and a pair of plastic
did know. This was an endearing quality. This is something we in the
sandals. The classes were quite informal, in the sense that we never
West could take note of.
lined up to go through the form, no, everyone practiced forms indi-

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One of my favorite anecdotes was when he asked me do you know that it was an integral part of Tai Chi training immediately said yes.
who taught me all of this stuff. When I said no he gave me the an- This was hard work, but what a privilege to be taught and become an
swer that I suspected was coming. Me he said. And, he was right, it behind the curtain student with a great Sifu.
ultimately would be him, just as it
At one point during my training my weight went down to nine and a
will always come down to each
half stone, this was two stones lighter than normal. Not only was it
individual. To become your own
the training, but the heat and the humidity were, for a rather pale red
person. Tai Chi Chuan, as I have
headed Scot, quite a challenge. I remember when training indoors,
said often, is an exercise in self reli-
the internals were never done outside, putting newspaper under our
ance, no-one can do it for you.
feet to absorb the sweat that was running off us onto the floor, mak-
I had no thought at the time the ing it very slippery.
direction or how popular Tai Chi
We did a fair bit of sparring as part of the training, this opened my
would become. I was only inter-
eyes up to the practicalities of fighting (boxing came in handy at this
ested in practice and learning.
point). As much as we practiced forms and applications, the opportu-
Th a t h a s n t f u n d a m e n t a l l y
nities to put them into practice, and everything changes when some-
changed over the years. Anyhow,
one is trying to hit. It is the whole of the training that comes into play
the atmosphere at the class was
when in this type of situation, and it is the principle that adapts. That
relaxed, but dont get the idea that
is why it is so difficult to absorb the principle to the point that it can
it was easy or lax in any way. Sifu
be used in self defense and not take too literally specific postures.
was always around watching. I re-
One aspect of training was learning to take a punch. This required
member one evening when think-
you to bend over with hands on knees and face the ground. A part-
ing that I had completed the train-
ner then proceeded to punch you in the face, not too hard but
ing, getting a tap on the shoulder
enough to know he was there. At one point I used to ride the
and being informed that you
punches by moving my head, only to be told by Sifu to keep your
havent done the rolls ( a stamina
head still. Something else he used to get up to, was taking bets, with
building exercise). So getting
his mates, on how many punches, or rolls, a student could do in
changed back into soggy shorts and T-shirt I had to go and get a mat
three minutes. I think we won a few and lost a few. He has and al-
out to finish my evenings workout.
ways will be my only Tai Chi Chuan influence. I worked a lot with
Sifu, after getting to know me, asked me if I would like to lean the George Liew and Hong Kong Wo, two of Sifus senior students.
Internal Strength of Tai Chi. Not knowing what it was, but realizing

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George is now in California and is well known for his contributions Cheng Tin Hung has deepened, and I have always striven to keep as
on YouTube. close as possible to the spirit of it. I do believe that I dont own the
Tai Chi that I was taught, I believe it is something that I have a respon-
The time in HK went in very quickly but it was a period that would
sibility to pass on. To be truthful, far too often have I seen Tai Chi
shape my life. Over the years my appreciation of the teaching of Sifu
pulled and pushed around to suit what some call their interpreta-
tion when in fact it has just gotten out of shape. What is it that they
think missing, that they have to develop something new? It is too
easy for this to happen in Tai Chi, when the general public do not
know, they can be fooled into believing anything. Or, teacher train-
ing courses. Pay a lot of money and become a teacher. Bizarre. Teach-
ers emerge through practice and time spent, not the amount of
money spent. No amount of money can buy ability.

On arriving back from HK I spent another couple of years in England


practicing on my own. Even the applications were done solo for a
while, going up and down the gym which was close to where I was
living. There was an anxiety to not forget what I had been taught,
and that supplied the drive for me to practice.

On arriving back in Edinburgh, I began to teach, on Cheng Tin


Hungs advice, only a couple of close friends, this carried on for
quite a long time. Eventually, word got round and a few more people
began to show an interest. In time the interest grew and I began to
teach on a more formal basis.

Since that time I have taught regularly in Edinburgh, and have in the
past taught in Spain, Manchester, London, Leeds, Bradford and in
Scotland. It was never really on the cards that I would teach Tai Chi
full time. This never had any appeal. The thought of running around
teaching umpteen classes a week, filled me with dread. I much pre-
ferred practicing a lot and teaching a little. I worked in the Post Of-

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fice for many years, this gave me the time to train and at the same ting back into some kind of practice, going to the park on a Sunday
time, I didnt have to rely on Tai Chi for a living. I could concentrate morning with a few friends to practice. When along comes this guy.
fully on Tai Chi training and not have the worry or thought about We talked and compared notes as it were, we did a little free push-
making it my job. ing, he was easy to deal with. He then said we use this to go into
other things proceeding to go behind me and put on a Nelson hold.
Practice has always been my raison detre, I firmly believe that why
Softly at first as we were just looking at different aspects of our train-
you do TC determines how you do it. I have never had to compro-
ing, or so I thought. Suddenly he put it on, I then swept his foot
mise my teaching to suit any kind of commercialism. Although TCC
throwing him backwards with me on top. Unfortunately my elbow
is enjoyable it is not entertainment, nor is it for me a commodity. My
hit the ground, dislocating my shoulder. It was a particularly mean
greatest joy is having good students that come along week after
spirited attack as he knew my situation at the time. A few years later,
week, and to see them practice and develop. That is reward in itself.
in HK for a competition, a couple of acquaintances of his asked me
Over the years some of my students have entered competitions. what really happened.
Something that has never been a priority for me. I have somehow al- His version when he
ways felt dissatisfied or uncomfortable watching competitions. Forms went back to Australia,
competitions in particular as they are far too subjective. Who judges apparently was that he
the judges? Pushing Hands too often descend into trails of strength. I beat up Cameron. Talk
remember during a seminar, there was a forum. When I said that Tai about investing in loss, a
Chi should look right (especially if you teach) there were murmurs valuable but painful les-
of it is not about appearance. They then proceeded to have two son. Never again have I
people demonstrate their forms and wanted the panel to say who taken anyone at face
was best. Crazy. The students that have gone in for competitions have value.
all done really well. I have always said to them just do what you do
I went back to HK and
in an ordinary class and you will be fine. They may train a little
stayed with Sifu Cheng
harder than normal, but that is all.
for a month. This was a
It is inevitable that over the years you will meet a great many charac- bit of a turning point for
ters. I remember Harvey Keitel in a movie saying to someone, just me. It gave me the oppor-
because you have character, doesnt mean you are one. One that tunity to see that what I
springs to mind, was an Australian/ Scott. At the time I was just recov- had been doing on my
ering from a slipped disc. Having been out for a year, I was just get- own or with a couple of

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friends was what I should be doing. To my delight I was not too far tioned taxi. I literally fell out of the taxi, looking well cooked.We
off the mark, and this gave me a great deal of confidence. Following were put up in the rather posh Delhi Hyatt. My room overlooked a
this visit, Sifu Cheng accepted an invitation to come and teach over house with no roof on it. It felt somewhat wrong to be living in a
here. Everybody loved to see him and he was always a joy to have luxurious hotel as a visitor, and looking at poverty just outside the
around. The first time he came he taught at a college in Edinburgh. window.
He demonstrated a little of the form for us. When he finished, every-
The competition went well and it was good to see teams from all
one just smiled. There was no show, just his form. He looked at us as
over the world. The demonstrations by the Chinese team were par-
if to saywell what did you expect. While we were practicing what
ticularly good. In the end we came away with first and second in the
he told us, he would take a walk through the corridors. It must have
been a strange sight, a Chinese, dressed in a traditional suit wander-
ing around, smiling and saying hello to everyone.

He was accompanied by Tong Chi Kin and Dan Docherty. Kin and
Dan were a very good competition fighters, and one of my younger
students was asked to go a couple of rounds with Kin. Kin threw so
many punches that the student said it was if the room was filled
with leather. Kin now lives and teaches in Guatemala, South Amer-
ica. Dan now teaches in London and travels widely teaching semi-
nars.

In 1991 a team from Edinburgh went to HK for a competition, it was


an opportunity for my students who hadnt seen Sifu Cheng to meet
him. On the way to HK our plane had engine failure and we had to
land in Delhi. We spent a day and a night there. We asked if we
could hire a taxi to see some of the sights. Will it be air condi-
tioned? we asked, of course came the assurance. Air conditioning
meant the windows would be open. Off we went, to every relation of
the drivers who had a business, trying to sell us all sorts, from trinkets
to works of art. When all we wanted was to buy some leather bags,
we never quite managed to find any shop with leather bags. We did
however, see some interesting sights driving around in our air condi-

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open weight category. Arrangements had been made for us all to go much as the Heavenly Palace is at the centre of all the surrounding
up to China and visit Sifus house, aptly named Tai Chi Heights. On buildings. The only disappointment was that my Tai Chi did not im-
arrival we were met by greeted by an official of the town who wel- prove one little bit. I always was under the impression that it would
comed us as honored guests, and we were treated to the best ban- get better when I got my visa. The Ive been to China scenario, al-
quet I have ever had. This gentleman was one of the most self con- ways impresses, as if that in itself actually meant anything. Sounds
tained men that I have ever met. You got the impression that nothing good though.
would phase him. While we were all tucking in to the wonderful
Tai Chi Chuan has grown immensely over these forty years, and I al-
food, he sat calmly just watching with a little smile, happy that we
ways said that if it got to be really too big, that I would back away
were having a good time. A very impressive man.
and concentrate purely on my regular classes. This is essentially what
We spent a few days at Tai Chi Heights relaxing and enjoying the I have done. I felt that with greater popularity came a dilution of the
company. Tai Chi Heights is a beautiful place, with the main house, art. Although things are getting better, at least one hopes so, there is
extensive gardens, a swimming pool which is supplied by a natural still a great deal of work to be done regarding what Tai Chi really is.
spring and a tower which is dedicated to Chang San Feng. On the Is it a martial art, a philosophy, a health exercise, a meditation
top story there is a room with a large portrait of the founder and high etc?Or, is it all of the above? I firmly believe that everything you need
on the walls there are portraits of all the teachers that trained under will be in a complete system of Tai Chi Chuan. If practiced diligently
Cheng Tin Hung. After this visit everyone had to leave and return for a long time, many other aspects will become apparent , such as,
home having had a lovely experience. I remained for a few days and not only a deeper understanding of the art, but of ourselves. That
stayed with Tong Chi Kin at his apartment which was up in Shatin what is important, is not the ability to knock someone over, but ab-
about an hour by bus from HK. It was quite funny,as Kin had just fit- sorbing the Tai Chi principle into our everyday lives. Making our-
ted a new air conditioning system. His brother was visiting too, so I selves one with it, then self defense simply becomes another aspect
had the bedroom and they slept in the sitting room. The air condition- of the whole art.
ing was so effective that in the morning when I went through, both
It is my hope that Tai Chi Chuan will become a part of peoples lives,
were shivering with the cold .His brother said it was so cold I
just something they do. It may take a long time for this to happen
thought it would snow.
as it is still seen as somewhat exotic. I do think that sometimes
In 2000 six of us visited Wudang Mountain. As a Tai Chi enthusiast it there is far too much expectations and assumptions, attached to Tai
was an ambition fulfilled. We visited many of the monasteries that Chi. That somehow you will be endowed with some sort of special
are dotted all over the mountain. Wudang mountain is actually in the ability if you practice this art. The magic of Chi will work wonders,
middle of a range of seventy two peaks ,and is not just a single moun- no stress and that everything will be cool. Wont happen. To get
tain. The Imperial Palace in Beijing is said to resemble Wudang, in as anything from Tai Chi, and it is a fair deal, you get out what you put

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in. It took me many years to feel that I had a little understanding of I try and teach straight ahead Tai Chi Chuan, with no frills attached.
the art. What keeps me going is, not how much I know, or
do right, but how little I do know, and how much I get
wrong.

I was extremely fortunate to find what I had been looking for


forty years ago. I have always been grateful for that, and that
is why, keeping the art true has been an important part of
my practice and teaching. We all develop in our own ways
that is inevitable and right. However, we must be careful
and be conscious not to damage the art, with wrong ideas
or interpretations. Humility is something we should keep
close.

My own way is to learn from TCC and not think that I have
something to teach the art. That is the reason that I have
never felt the need to practice any other art. Had a look at
Pa Kua and found it interesting, but again felt that all I would
ever need is in TCC.It is always interesting to look at and ap-
preciate other arts, but no one can practice them all, better
to try and do justice to one.

I find myself looking back and thinking that what a wonder-


ful time I have had. Even with the ups and downs, and a few
strong disagreements along the way, there is nothing (well, a
couple of things) much I would do differently. Looking at
things that happen as the rough and tumble of life lets them
bounce off you. Even when you disagree with others, it is With none of the phony mystique around it. Saying that, Tai Chi is
just another part of this process. What I have learned over the past a mystery. Who can truly understand the vastness of the Tao? All we
few years, is, what is and isnt important. Things that appeared to can do is practice/study and carry on down the path that is Tai Chi
have meaning, when really looked at, have in fact, very little. Chuan. Sifu Cheng Tin Hung had only two teachers. He never felt he

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had to do the running around that seems to be the fashion nowadays. rity, to the best of your ability and take nothing for granted. Teachers
Perhaps, because he practiced and developed what he had, was the are in a position of trust and my belief is, that they are there to help
reason he became the master that he was. students reach their potential, and have a duty to pass on TCC to the
next generation.
I have had only one influence, and that was Cheng Tin Hung. Many
of my other influences have not been martial artists. There are those I have been fortunate to have had students that have become friends.
whom I greatly respect, martial artists like Hamish Adam, Karate 8th This is the most rewarding aspect, in a sense we grow together over
Dan, and Rick Young, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Escrima, Kali etc, who are the years. We dont always agree, like any family, but we are one.
amongst the best in their respective arts. I find most of my inspiration
Nowadays,thanks to my son Craig and my daughter- in- law Lisa, I
comes from outside the martial field, from artists, authors, poets, mu-
now have two wonderful grandchildren, Emma and Lewis who bring
sicians and old Zen masters. Individuals who have stuck with a prac-
joy, energy, life and love, even if they do make me feel old. They add
tice and not tried to influence others but just got on with what they
another dimension to all our lives. It is a bit of a cliche these days,
do. I find a real depth within that kind of approach that appeals to
but I am truly blessed to have such a family around me.
me. Keeping on the same path no matter what. That for me, is where
the point of any practice lies. Ian Cameron

Someone, recently said to me you must have done everything you


have wanted to do in Tai Chi. For the life of me, I have no idea what
this means. How can you ever do everything within an art that is al-
ways evolving? How can you ever even think that you have done eve-
rything.? People do say the dumbest things. As long as you are prac-
ticing, it is always opening up. As I said before, you must remain
humble and scratch along, as Chuangtzu said, dragging my tail in
the mud.

Im older now, maybe not any the wiser, but Tai Chi has led me to
the point where I am happy to just be practicing and teaching. It
really is as simple as that. I have never had any interest in reputation.
My only interest has been Tai Chi Chuan and that standards be main-
tained and that the art is passed on in the best way possible. You do
what you do and leave it at that. As long as you do it to with integ-

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