Taipei Report
By David Chen, 2000

My three weeks in Taipei was similar feeling as meeting with my college girlfriend-- everything was so familiar, yet so strange. My daily Taichi practice was arranged around tight family social commitments. I attended Mr. Liu Shih-Hungís classes every Monday and Thursday, both morning and evening sessions; during the mornings on Tuesday and Friday I went to Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Park; on Thursday and Saturday I was at Taipei New Park, while on Sunday I joined Shr-Jung School class. This was my first visit it 6 years. It took me a while to make new friends and get used to different styles of practicing. Luckily, every groups I have contacted with were from CMC lineage. In fact, the majority of the Taichi community in Taiwan was based on the CMC heritage.

Mr. Liu Shih-Hung is a tiny, bony, 85 year-old man, often escorted by his senior students when crossing the streets between his apartment and class. But as soon as class begins, he'd lead the exercises and hold postures with us, and he can hold it much longer than I do. Then he plays push hands with everyone in class in rotation. It is hard to imagine how vigorous this old man was. I have heard several compliments about him before the trip, but until I actually pushed hands with him, my description of him was nothing that ecstatic. There was absolutely no resistance when I touched him, yet every attempt resulted in me uprooted and slammed to the wall. It felt like pushing an empty jacket on a coat hanger. One time I made an idiotic mistake by locking his arm and aimed at his center, next thing I knew was, his arm came off his body and shoulder-stroked(touched) my chest, I was like a bowling ball sailing across the room, landed on two innocent students. Mr. Liuís eyes have an irresistibly soft spirit that took away any desire and motivation to challenge him. I learned quickly to enjoy the feather touches and the rides of waves. His morning classes were mostly Westerners; they are English tutors, computer consultants, exchanged students, and a few short term visitors. Most of them have followed Mr. Liu for long time and were able to communicate with him in Chinese, but Mike is the one who usually translating the dialect back to Lao-Shr. There is a 20 year old young man from Arizona who studied with Mr. Liu for 10 months, he is one of the very few students who I felt pure quality in pushing hands. The evening class has about 30 students, mostly local Chinese, none of them is close to Mr. Liuís skill and quality. Mr. Liuís teaching repeatedly emphasizing on rooting and erect of the spine. He answered my question on ward-off energy in connection with the back foot(root). He said that ward-off is an adhering energy, not a resistant energy, we should not rely on the fixed rooting to against the pressure; the correct rooting should be alive, sensitive and flexible. He also told me that imagine my skin is covered with pure gold powder, you donít want anyone to take advantage of touching it.

Well, if Mr. Liuís body is made of gold, then my body is more like mud.

This was my first visit to Taipei New Park. For many generations, this park has been well known for push hands, free play, and a showcase of various martial arts. There are many small groups of practitioners at every corner of the park, in the woods, or behind bushes. The most reputable one was led by Mr. Zheng Shyan-Chi, a senior student of Grand Master Huang Sheng-Shyan. He came to the site every morning, rain or shine for a number of years. There are about 20-30 players in the group who meet regularly; their practice is mostly for the preparation of push hand tournaments in Taiwan. Under the governmentís support, there are Tai Chi events almost every month around the island, with the winners being awarded with top money, such encouragement motivated this group of practitioners to train their push hands around the rules of the competition. Many young players were attracted by their seasonal Push Hand camps, coached by several ex-champs. Their philosophy is to compete while they are young, and save the solo form for later years. They have also been "tested" by many other groups in the park, as well as by many visitors from different counties with different forms of martial arts. One year, a member of Gracieís family from Brazil visited the park. Respect was exchanged between the two parties and the agreement on the rules were made. After three short rounds of free style pushing, Gracie went home with dirt on his back.

There were at least 5 top players in the group hanging around every weekend. The older brother was Mr. Hsu at late 60's. He was light, nimble, and the touches were very sensitive, nothing I have learnt would work on him, yet he made me feel very comfortable. ( unlike sensing with Mr.Liu, I was playing for real with those guys) The "doc" is an acupuncture doctor at 50's, short and bold, very polite and low key, but he has the most powerful internal jing in the group; plus he has the deepest root I have ever encountered; his root is always underneath mine no matter how low I went down to get him, yet he was standing there casually.

Mr. Chen is an ex-champ of many tournaments. With a fairly relaxed body and a solid root, he is very experienced in the competition rules, he is currently learning the CMC form. Wu is the best player within the pack. He has been winning top tournaments since 1990; he was very polite and humble when playing with me, his touches were pin-pointed to my weakness and let me fell over on my own. He was the one who took Gracie. There were a few Americans training with them full time--7:30am to 11am, and 7:30pm to 10pm--5 days a week, and all of them can speak Chinese well. The New Park group is a contrasting style from Mr. Liuís: one is in the form of a warrior, the other is in the form of a sage.

The Taipei Shr-Jung School is headed by Mr. Hsu I-Chung, an 82 year-old veteran. Shr-Jung offering various senior teachers at different sessions. Since each teacher has his own interpretation of the art, students have to adapt the styles from one teacher to another. The teaching standards were based on Professor ís books and theories. Their pushing hand style is somewhere between the New Park and Mr. Liuís.

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Park has the most variety of styles of exercise. They have all kinds of Chi Kung groups, dance groups, Tai Chi, Shao-Lin, Chinese Opera, as well as other Martial Arts. Most of Tai Chi individuals in this park have no clear lineage. I met a small Wu Kuo-Chung style group, and they only practice Peng, Lu, Ji, An--4 hands, so I was meditating myself while sensing their touches. A nice group. Otherwise, the park was much like an exercise supermarket with hundreds of choices to choose from.

During my first week in Taipei, the temperature dropped to 45 degrees--the coldest week in 10 years.( no heat!) The second week was a beautiful 65~70 degrees and the third week was back to normal at around 80 degrees. Due to my tight schedule with my family, I had to cancel my flight to Kaoshiung, a southern city of Taiwan where Mr. Jue Hun-Beng is leading the strongest push-hand competition team in Taiwan. I'm saving that for my next trip.

Taiwan is a small island, about the size of Illinois, but it has a dense population of CMC practitioners, and makes very little room for other styles of TaiChi; the good side of that is the CMC community sets a high standard for teaching & practicing and creates a strong bond for students. The negative side is that makes very little room for different voices and sources for students to compare with, and they don't have a Tai-Chi-Talk-Site like us for all opinions to express. We in the States, to the contrary, have too many sources and too much free talks that most times made us even more confused. Most of senior students in Taipei surprised that we have THAT much to discuss about CMC's study on the internet, they said they don't have the environment to exchange discussions so they practice hard instead.

Americans are way ahead of those Chinese in research, but are 10 years behind their practice. That's my finding from this trip.