Who Was Grandmaster Tchoung Ta-tchen?
Copyright H. Kurland 1999

Even though he prefers to stay to himself and not boast of his ability, Tchoung Ta-tchen was a well know figure in the tai-chi ch'uan world of Taipei, Taiwan, Seattle, WA and Vancouver, BC. When experts who really understand tai chi met him, there was no question that they knew they have met a true grandmaster of the art.

Grandmaster Tchoung Ta-tchen moved to Canada in 1972. In Canada he was welcomed by t'ai chi students who were of hungry for real knowledge of the real art of t'ai chi. Previous to moving to Vancouver, he taught in Africa and Taiwan. Tchoung was originally from Hunan and became a professional soldier. As an Officer in the Calvary, he fought with Chang Kai Shek against the Japanese. When Chang fled to Taiwan, Tchoung and many other notable masters went too. Tchoung became the head of the "T'ai Chi Ch'uan Health and Defense Institute of Taipei" and was a member of the Chinese T'ai Chi Ch'uan Association (Main Tai chi chuan Organization of Taiwan).

In Taiwan he had several notable friends and practice partners. A few of his friends were Cheng Man-ch'ing, Kuo Lien Ying , Liang T'ung Tsai, Wang Shu Chin, Wang Nien Yien, Yuan Tao, and others. Most of who were related in some way to Chang's government and fled Mao's China. Tchoung studied the pushing hands method of Cheng Man-ch'ing and worked out with Cheng and other masters. He was well known in Taiwan for his fa-jin and rooting ability. More recently he taught pushing hands in Mainland China to groups of Chinese students and masters in an attempt to bring the real t'ai chi ch'uan "Energy" back to China.

According to Sifu Laurens Lee when Tchoung was in Taiwan there was a statement in martial art circles that "Big Tchoung cannot be moved, little Tchoung cannot be pushed off balance." Little Tchoung was Tchoung Ta-tchen.

Tchoung was asked by the Chinese Tai Chi Chuan Association of Taiwan to be the personal tutor for President Bongo of Gabon. Tchoung taught president Bongo O'Mei ch'i kung (Emmei qi gong) and t'ai chi ch'uan then Tchoung moved to Johannesburg, South Africa, where he taught his unique style.

According to Master Martin Lee, who is The Chairman of the "Vancouver Tai Chi Chien Masters and Friends Club", "He (Tchoung) has extraordinary tai chi power. His pang-jing (peng-chin) is super-powerful… Whenever he pushes with anyone he always wins, he has never been defeated by anyone. Only one or two people can break even with him…When Master Tchoung pushed hands, both arms are soft like cotton; when you touch his arm, you feel nothing. He is truly reaching the level of "Invisibility". When he attacks, he moves like a speeding arrow, with great power. Lots of martial art Champions and tai chi followers respect Master Tchoung's methods." Tchoung has had a number of t'ai-chi champions come out of his school and several masters of kung-fu and ch'i kung have studied with him.

As a young man Tchoung studied his family style of t'ai chi ch'uan and tui-na. He also was a track athlete. He became a professional soldier and Army officer. He traveled in China seeking out the top masters. In 1943, he studied ch'i kung (qi gong) and t'ai chi ch'uan with the Senior Taoist, Abbott Hui Kung, at the O'mei (Emmei Shan) Mountain Monastery in Sichuan province.

Tchoung studied the Old Form of Yang Family Style based on the lineage of Tian Zhao Lin (Tian Shaolin) of Hangzhou. Tian (also spelled Tien by some) was a famous student of Yang Chien-hou, though some say he studied with Yang Shou-hou, or both. In 1959 Tchoung studied with Shi Tiao-mei, student of Tien and the head of the police academy.

Tchoung also studied Natural School (Nature School) Boxing, also called the "Natural Style" of kung-fu with a Hsiung Chien-yuan famous teacher of Nature School Boxing. Hsiung was called the "Great Old Man of Hangchow". Tchoung learned pa-kua chang (baguazhang) from his friend Wang Shu Chin and Hsin I Ch'uan (Xing-Yee quan) from his friend Yuan Tao. He studied the t'ai chi San Shou with the famous Hsiung Yang Ho, who was also a student of Yang Shao-hou. And he learned the unique knife style of his friend Wu Ta Nan. He passed these form on to his students.

Tchoung had a particular interest is studying the sword and stick forms. He learned several sword styles from the top masters of the day. The sword forms had names such as "Green Duckweed Sword", green bamboo sticks of the beggars style, Kun Lun (Kwin Lin) sword, Heaven and Earth sword, as well as the t'ai chi sword, double sword, as well as Yang and Wu t'ai-chi knife sets. He developed his own t'ai chi Tuan Kune or walking stick form which he taught to his students.

His philosophy was to teach his students everything he could. Not hold back, as many teachers did. That is the reason so many students left their previous schools to study with him. He tells his students from the beginning that he can teach them the method, but it is up to them as to what they do with it. That is if they do not train hard, they will not achieve their potential. He says there are no magical secret, just hard training and coaching. He saw that there was a decay in t'ai-chi ch'uan quality in China and the world. That is the art was becoming conceptually a calisthenics exercise or performance art, and the old martial value and traditional method was being lost.

He felt the previous generation's skill being lost or watered down was due to the concept of always holding a little back from the student (as well as intentional persecuting of the art and modernizing it on the mainland). So every generation lost a little more, so now even the top names were merely shells of the older art, very few had any real skill. He wanted to push his students so that the art would be elevated and that his students would even be more skilled than he was then if they taught their students would be better and so on. Then the long setback after Mao took over followed by a changing the form to a calisthenics added to the decline. Tchoung traveled to China where he taught pushing hands to masters there to improve their skill and raise the level of tai chi in China.

Tchoung believed due to differences in body type and nature that everyone will impart their own essence to the art. They express themselves just as they might in different writing or calligraphy styles. Even though you may learn the same method of writing as your classmates, you will write a little different than everyone else in the class. The same goes for t'ai chi, it is not the idea to clone the teacher, but rather to allow the unique energy of every individual to express itself. We are not looking to manufacture robots. He also allowed variations in technique depending on the student's abilities or limitations. For example once in our morning class, two advanced students asked him about the correct way to do a technique. Each student did a different variation of the same technique. Tchoung told them, "It depends on the use." He was more interested in correct principles, than mindless robots. He often said all t'ai-chi ch'uan styles were fine as long as the principles were correct.

He taught a unique style based on what is called the Old Yang Style. He teaches his dual form or symmetrical form where each technique is performed on the right and left sides. This is his version of the form. This way the body is balanced. It is a very "Soft" form with no tension allowed and the stances are relatively high. The back is straight and the body upright. It is similar to Cheng Man-ching's form in concept but much more elaborate. There are several versions of the techniques in the form and a few pa-kua chang ( bagua zhang) movements are also in the form. The fast form contains movements from Kuang Ping style and Nature Boxing style as well.

Tchoung's symmetrical long form is over 300 movements long and his short form, which shown in his book, is about 120 movements. He also does a shorter form for demonstrations which is similar to Cheng Man-ch'ing's form. The Tchoung system includes ch'i kung, long form, short form, san shou, a two person t'ai chi sparring form, a fast form, pushing hands, walking stick, sword and knife as well as pa-kua and hsin-I (which is another term for hsing-I). His focus is on principles and energies, rather than rote teaching.

He published his masterwork, a 328-page book, The Annotated Theoretical and Practical Tai Chi Chuan, in 1995. The book is written in English and Chinese and shows his "short" form, chi kung, san shou, and pushing hands. It also contains some t'ai chi ch'uan classics not usually seen in translation. In the USA Andrew Dale and Harvey Kurland are certified by Tchoung to Teach his system.

When Grandmaster Tchoung was in his late 80's he still practiced his art and worked with his advanced students. He is one of the lesser know greats of the t'ai chi world. Tchoung died in February 22, 2000.