Cheng Man Ching – “Self Cultivation”

One of the more interesting choices of words is in “Master Cheng’s New Method of Self-Cultivation.” I have recently been exploring this particular way of presenting the practice of tai chi chuan, and I rather like “self-cultivation” as a concept.

This isn’t to say that practice, martial training, meditation, etc. aren’t all a part of it. What is implied here is that it’s about “personal growth.” This can take many forms, and I would say that the final performance of any style of tai chi form is actually the presentation of the practitioner’s own growth. That suggests that there is no “right” performance, but that some are grown for beauty, some for a specific purpose, and some a myriad of other reasons.

Consider if a lumber producer was judging trees. Certainly, they’d be looking for the biggest and strongest trees. They would want one that served their purpose, to make good boards. A bonsai, though, would be a terrible choice for such a purpose. This does not mean that it is a ‘bad’ tree, but that it simply wasn’t cultivated with such a use in mind.

Many of our own practices likely are similar. It isn’t that there is a wrong way, but that it may be wrong for our purposes. It is possible to grow a human in a way that isn’t good for their own purpose. What’s worse is to fall into the trap of over-analyzing a practice that is serving our purpose well. If our yoga works to calm our mind, the opinion of someone who does it for a fitness routine will not be particularly useful. If our tai chi works to help our relaxation, hearing from someone who is studying primarily for push-hands practice may have value, but it will not be from the same place of cultivation.

In my own practice, Zhan Zhuang and Silk Reeling are where most of my focus is. To observe my practice might lead someone to believe that I do not support full forms. That would be a great misunderstanding. I have been a long-term practitioner of the large frame yang form, CMC37, and Chen forms. At this point, in my own life and growth, I derive many corrective benefits from my own practice. This does not make it the only path, the only practice, or even proper for where someone else may be in their own growth.

It’s always good to remind ourselves that our practice is our practice, our path is OUR path, and that if we can map the path, it is likely not the eternal path.

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