About Us

Taoist Origins

The person traditionally regarded as the founder of Tai Chi Chuan is Chang San Feng.  It is recorded in Ming History that he was born at the end of the Southern Song Dynasty and lived through the entire Yuan Dynasty into the reign of Tian Shun (1459AD) of the Ming Dynasty, a period of more than two hundred years.  According to legend, Chang San Feng was reading when he heard a crane cry out.  On investigation he found a crane and snake engaged in a fight.  Each time the crane attacked, the snake would avoid the attack with the smallest movement eventually resulting in the crane being exhausted and giving up.  On reflection, Chang realised that the hard attack of the crane was avoided by the soft defence of the snake.  He then related these two forces to the principles of Yin and Yang and later used this knowledge in the formulation of the Tai Chi exercises.

Many people have been associated with the development of Tai Chi but two Taoists of note were Hsu Hsuan Ping and Li Tao Tsu, both of the Tang Dynasty and prior to Chang San Feng.  Hsu Hsuan Ping invented a form of exercise called ‘37 Forms’, which was similar to the Chen Style of Tai Chi.  Another martial artist, Li Tao Tsu, created a series of 37 forms similar to Tai Chi known as Xian Tian Quan, or ‘innate’ style (literally: pure of learnt habits), which reflects the Taoist principles of returning to the pure state of a baby: soft, flexible and unadulterated.

Shen Long Tai Chi Chuan 

Our school of Tai Chi is ‘pure Taoist Tai Chi Chuan’, emphasising mental training and developing chi, with the philosophical concepts of the Book of Changes (I Ching) as its root.

Traditional Shen Long Tai Chi Chuan mainly employs the philosophy of the Taoists Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu and is based on the idea of non-action.  It also contains the ‘middle-way’ principle of Confucianism, the Buddhist idea of self-cultivation through benevolence and forgiveness, and existential emptiness.  It is a melting pot of ideas from many schools of Chinese philosophy together with principles taken from Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Chinese classics, including the ‘Art of War’ by Sun Tzu.

The Tai Chi forms, push hands, da lu, swordplay and jin application are all based on principles described in the Tai Chi classics.  These include: the Tai Chi Chuan Jing attributed to the Wu Dang alchemist Chang San Feng; the Tai Chi Chuan Treatise by Wang Zong Yue of the Ming Dynasty; the Exposition of Insights into the 13 Postures; the Thirteen Postures Song; the Playing Hands Song; and the Song of Applications.

Since ancient times, Taoism, a school of supernatural thinking, has been renowned for its expertise in self-cultivation, health, fitness and self-defence.  Therefore, the Shen Long School of Tai Chi specialises in the study and practice of Taoist Tai Chi, as a kind of ‘saving money kung fu’.  Whether moving, still, sitting or lying down, one can still practise, develop, store, train and move the chi.  It is completely different from martial arts and sports that use up oxygen, energy and strength.  It is a school of culture, substance, depth and breadth through which one can gain an understanding of Tai Chi philosophy, human art and the Taoist traditional internal school of martial studies.

Our school of Tai Chi had been earlier known as ‘Simplified Tai Chi Chuan’, which most people took to mean that it was ‘simple’ and ‘easy to do’.  In fact, the meaning derives from the Book of Changes, which reflects the Taoist origins.  Shen Long Tai Chi Chuan seeks to change our post-natal mindset, movement and habits, such as fear of misfortune, fear of losing, using brute force, moving the hands, extending and contracting, striking and resisting etc.  And through practice, return to the original features of pre-natal Taoist Tai Chi Chuan.

Significant People

Yang Lu Chan
One of the most famous styles of Tai Chi Chuan was developed by Yang Lu Chan (1799-1872).  He worked in the Chen family household for some time before being accepted as a disciple and, as a consequence, being permitted to learn the family style martial art.  He originally studied the Chen family style of ‘Long Boxing’, which in later times became known as Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan, although it bears little resemblance to the ‘softer’ forms of the Yang Family Tai Chi we see today.

Yang Cheng Fu.

The Yang style went through several changes during the Yang family generations and the common form practised today is attributed to the work of Yang Cheng Fu (1883-1936), who was of large frame and adapted his Tai Chi accordingly.  One of his most famous students was Cheng Man Ching, a man of intellect who acted as ghost writer for some of Yang's books.

Tso Lai Peng
A famous martial artist from Guandong Province, Tso Lai Peng, was nicknamed Guandong Tso Yi Dao, or Single Sabre Strike Tso of Guandong.  His sabre was over 81 catties in weight (about 40 kg).  One day when he was putting on a great display, he heard someone laughing among the usual applause.  It was a middle-aged Taoist priest who questioned whether Tso could possibly kill anyone with such a heavy sabre.  After further taunting he persuaded Tso to attack him and to Tso's astonishment the priest avoided the sabre and with one hand disarmed him.  As this nameless priest walked off, Tso left to follow him, his students looking on speechless.  For three months Tso followed the priest until eventually he consented to teach Tso these secret Taoist techniques of the internal energy methods. 

Chang Ching Lin
Another famous martial artist, Chang Ching Lin, also studied Tai Chi from the Yang family, mostly from Yang Cheng Fu.  His notoriety spread as a martial arts champion until he caught the attention of Tso Lai Peng, who sent one of his students to challenge Chang.  Although Chang was initially reluctant to accept the challenge, he eventually accepted.  He was defeated by this student and it was enough to persuade him to become one of Tso's disciples. 

Chang Ching Lin was several years senior to Cheng Man Ching.  As both were students of Yang Cheng Fu, their relationship developed.  At the time, Chang was still illiterate and one day Chang agreed to teach Cheng Man Ching the secrets of the Tso style in exchange for educating him to read and write. In this way Cheng Man Ching was later to adapt his Tai Chi to conform to the principles of the Tso internal energy methods.

Grandmaster Cheng Man Ching
Cheng Man Ching was born in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, China in 1901.  He later became known as ‘The Master of Five Excellences’ due to his mastery of Chinese medicine, poetry, painting, calligraphy and Tai Chi Chuan.  At the age of 19, he was already teaching painting at Yuwen University.
As a young boy he was fragile and prone to ill-health.  As a consequence, he was sent to learn Shaolin Boxing to strengthen his body.  When he was 27, he began to study Tai Chi Chuan with Yang Cheng Fu in Shanghai.  During this time, Yang's wife fell ill and was successfully treated by Cheng Man Ching.  In gratitude, Yang Cheng Fu taught Cheng some of the special techniques of Tai Chi, their application and also the Tai Chi sword forms.  He studied with Yang Chen Fu for seven years (1928-35).  As mentioned previously Grandmaster Cheng also learnt the skills of Jin, or internal energy, from Chang Ching Lin, who was his elder Tai Chi brother under Yang Cheng Fu.  After mastering these internal energy skills and the Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan, he developed what has become known as the 37 Forms, which reduced the number of forms from the original Yang Family style, but retained all of the subtlety and complexity of the longer Yang form.

When Grandmaster Cheng was 32 years old, he became the chief Tai Chi Chuan instructor of the Central Military Academy.  At 37 he was advisor to the Hunan Province Government as well as director of the Provincial Martial Arts School.  At 38 he changed to teaching at the Chongqing Military Training Group.

As his reputation for Tai Chi became known, he was invited to the British Embassy.  He was challenged by a top martial artist on a visit with the British Army, who had been undefeated in his travels throughout China.  The grandmaster had only agreed to go to the embassy on the understanding that someone was ill and needed medical attention.  He had no intention to take up the challenge and fight.  However, he was greeted by the martial artist displaying his prowess by breaking a tall column of bricks.  Unimpressed, Cheng extended his arm and asked him to try and break his arm. After seventeen attempts the opponent gave up, his hand throbbing with pain while Cheng was unmoved.  Subsequently, Cheng threw his opponent over several times with ease.  A similar experience also occurred during a banquet at the US Embassy.

In 1949, Grandmaster Cheng travelled to Taiwan with the retreating Nationalist forces, where he established the Shi Zhong School of Tai Chi Chuan.  In 1964, he went to New York where he formed the Tai Chi Chuan Institute and accepted foreign students.
After this time, he began to divide his time between the USA and Taiwan, gradually spending more time in Taiwan. Although he wrote several books on Tai Chi and other aspects of Chinese culture, he never directly explained the Tso Family internal energy methods.  However, his forms were a synthesis of both styles and he was always making improvements.  Just before his death, he was preparing to film the newest version of his Tai Chi, only to be delayed by the weather.  Regrettably, he passed away at midnight on March 26th, 1975, before filming could be rescheduled.

His legacy is a system of Tai Chi that has gained enormous popularity around the world and has become known as Cheng Style Tai Chi or the 37 Forms.  Cheng himself never referred to his Tai Chi other than as a shortened version Yang style.   Also, he never explained why his Tai Chi only contained 37 Forms.  It has been postulated that his interest in the I Ching and Taoist philosophy may have provided a source for the number ‘37’.  However, according to his student, Master Wu Kuo Chung, he would often talk of the importance of returning Tai Chi to its Taoist roots and the contribution of Li Tao Tsu and his 37 Forms of Tai Chi.
Cheng Man Ching summarised the essence of his Tai Chi Chuan as:

Swallow the Chi of the Heavens,
Borrow the force of the Earth,
Relax, be calm and live longer.

Master Wu Kuo Chung
Our teacher and mentor is Master Wu Kuo Chung, who has faithfully continued the teaching principles of Grandmaster Cheng.  Master Wu Kuo Chung founded the Shen Long Tai Chi Association of Taiwan and the International Shen Long Tai Chi Association.  Through his lifelong martial arts experience and knowledge gained from practising Tai Chi Chuan, he has endeavoured to return the historical and traditional value to Taoist Traditional Tai Chi Chuan, the jewel of Chinese culture, in accordance with the wishes of the grandmaster.

The Early Days
Master Wu Kuo Chung was born in 1931 in the Pingyang district of Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province of China.  He came from a family with three generations of martial artists in an area of China noted for martial arts.  He started to learn from his father at the age of nine.  At the age of 16, Master Wu joined the army and, in 1949, followed the nationalist forces to Taiwan.  There he became captain of a commando group, and went on numerous missions to mainland China during which not one of his men was lost.  He was decorated for courage for capturing three enemy frogmen and bringing them back to Taiwan.

Master Wu owes his survival during these times to his martial arts prowess and he was never defeated when challenged by others, either in the military or elsewhere.  His ultimate goal was to develop the art of defeating an opponent with a single blow.  After retiring from the army, he worked for the Transport Ministry but continued to practise his martial arts.  It was during this time that he frequently met some of Grandmaster Cheng Man Ching's students, who were keen to try their skills against Master Wu.  Needless to say, they were always defeated.  From Master Wu's point of view, Tai Chi was just ‘Tofu (bean curd) Boxing’ and completely useless in application.

This view changed completely when he met Grandmaster Cheng Man Ching, who flung him against the wall several times, leaving him dazed and speechless, no matter which technique he tried to use. From this point on, he followed Cheng for five years until Cheng's death in 1975.  During this time, Cheng insisted he was not permitted to use any of his skills in combat and instructed him to absorb himself in reading the Tai Chi classics and several philosophical works.  Master Wu mentions how Cheng used to lecture for hours if he was in a good mood, but sometimes he would be silent.  He liked to use stories and jokes to impart ideas about Tai Chi Chaun.  Both Master Wu and Grandmaster Cheng came from a similar region in China and shared the same dialect, which was an added advantage for Master Wu, as other students were sometimes prone to misinterpret what Grandmaster Cheng said.
Master Wu devoted himself to his study of Tai Chi and one day, after he had successfully managed to ‘fajin’ one of the other students who weighed over 200lbs, Grandmaster Cheng admitted him as a closed- door student of the Yang Family Tai Chi, and later the Tso Family internal energy methods. Unfortunately, this led to long-term resentment among many of Cheng's earlier students who never learnt these techniques.

Master Wu Takes up the Baton
Following Grandmaster Cheng's death, some people began to criticise Cheng's Tai Chi abilities.  This so incensed Master Wu, that he decided to give up his job and devote himself to follow in Cheng's footsteps in promoting traditional Taoist Tai Chi.  He fervently studied every word Grandmaster Cheng had left him and, using his experience as a martial artist, further interpreted the secrets of Tai Chi. 

In 1979, Frank DeMaria, New York State Police martial arts instructor, and two other colleagues, visited Taiwan and were sent flying into the air by Master Wu.  Afterwards, DeMaria was unable to stand steadily, even with a stick.  Consequently, all three had to follow tradition and go through a martial arts ceremony to pay respect to Master Wu.

A more spectacular event happened later that same year which increased Master Wu’s profile and popularity in Taiwan.  He was invited to Japan to demonstrate to more than one hundred martial arts experts at the Toyama Self Defence Forces base.  He first performed a set of Cheng Man Ching's Tai Chi Chuan, which did not seem to impress the audience.  Initially, a commander called Ogawa who was third in the National Japanese martial arts championships and only 26 years old, challenged him.  Master Wu extended his arm and allowed Ogawa to use a karate chop three times which resulted in Ogawa's hand throbbing with pain.  They then began to fight, Ogawa attacking several times with beautiful techniques only to be sent flying by one palm strike from Master Wu, leaving him unable to stand up again.

Most of the audience were unexpectedly impressed but an expert in Judo and Jiujitsu called Saitou then challenged Master Wu and was promptly lifted off the ground and onto an armchair.  Finally a top Kendo expert challenged Master Wu to a sword duel.  Using only one hand and a flick of his sword, Master Wu disarmed his opponent.  Dismayed by this the Kendo expert's teacher then made a challenge only to have Master Wu's sword stop inches from his throat.  These events were later published in the local Taiwan newspapers and for a time Master Wu was overwhelmed with people wanting to learn Tai Chi.
In the eighties, Master Wu travelled to the USA and spent two years teaching Tai Chi in Chicago.  Following that, he went to Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Sarawak starting classes and Tai Chi centres.  Master Wu later migrated to Australia but travelled frequently back to Taiwan and Malaysia.  Since then the Shen Long Tai Chi Association has expanded into New Zealand, Canada, Brunei, China and United Kingdom.

The Founding of the International Shen Long Tai Chi Association

The International Shen Long Tai Chi Association was founded by Master Wu Kuo Chung with its headquarters in Taiwan and schools in several parts of the world, including the USA, Canada, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, New Zealand, United Kingdom and Australia.
The International Shen Long Tai Chi Chuan Association seeks to promote the true art of Traditional Tai Chi around the world, as a jewel of Chinese culture and philosophy, for improved health, as a martial art, for spiritual enlightenment and application of its principles in everyday life.

Since 2002, the Association has been located in the mountains of central Taiwan.  Every year members from all over the world gather there for the annual Shen Long Conference, which is an opportunity to meet and make new friends, and partake in intensive Tai Chi practice over the course of a week.  The climax of the week is a banquet of Chinese cuisine and performances by participants, and usually some time is allocated to sightseeing.

[Edited version from Shen Long Tai Chi Association (UK) and published with permission); ©Copyright 2010 Shen Long Tai Chi Association (UK)].