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Dr Chi Chiang Tao

by Richard Farmer

When Dr Chi died in 1994 I felt I would like to honour his passing by spending some time writing about him. This article has been taken from a newsletter of the RDTC School at that time. [Richard Farmer 1998]

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Dr Chi left mainland China when the communists took control. Being a Mandarin speaker and traditionalist and having fought in the mountains, he was at risk if he stayed, so he and his family moved to Taiwan. Up to this point in his life he had already been studying Tai Chi Chuan for over 25 years with several well respected masters and once in Taiwan he met Cheng Man Ching and continued to study for a further 15 years. When I say study, I mean he would take time before work and after work, to be with his teacher, 7 days a week, 52 weeks of the year, as is the Chinese tradition.

He was completely dedicated to Tai Chi Chuan, so much so that he was not only the Vice President of the Taiwan Tai Chi Chuan Association but one of its chief instructors. He was involved politically as well as physically. It is said that if it was not for his Tai Chi he would have died of the tuberculosis which he contracted whilst in the mountains fighting.

He was quite a tall man for a Chinese and the illness made him very thin and he always appeared skeletal, but his immense power came from elsewhere. The stages of physical/mental and energetic development in Tai Chi can be said to be divided into the five elements. The most solid is Wood and that's where most people are when they begin their journey. As the unification continues we change to Earth, still solid but finer. The next stage is a quantum leap into Water, fluid, one unit and relaxed. The next is Air, spacious and clear with the final element of Metal or Spirit very hard to define. Dr Chi said it was very rare for someone to reach this stage and that he was, he estimated, at the air stage.

His chi was very strong and because he was so weak it completely rested on his mind rather than his physical dynamism. He could throw me with but a whisper of a touch. He was completely dedicated to Yielding as he felt that it was this quality that allowed even the weakest person to be strong. Through yielding a weak person can meet the force of a strong person, you open before the oncoming force and let it pass you. It is said that once this has been mastered a slight pull will be sufficient to topple your partner.

Dr Chi tested this. There was one famous Chi Kung master, revered because of his enormous size and strength. He could be found regularly in the park each morning with his disciples going through the most rigorous 4hr Chi Kung exercises. As was the custom, anyone could challenge anyone. So once a year Dr Chi took to going up to this man mountain and asking if he would Push Hands with him. Each year he would agree and push Dr Chi with enormous power back 15 feet or more. Each time Dr Chi would bow and thank him and go away to practice yielding some more.

Each year he would come back and request again and each year the same thing would happen, except that each time he would be thrown less far. This went on for 15 years! Until one year the man mountain gave Dr Chi his annual push but this time his yield was equal to the power of the push and Dr Chi remained standing in the same place. Dr Chi bowed once more and continued with another year of practice and returned a year later. "This time" said Dr Chi, "When the Sifu push me, I yield and just gently pull sleeve. Sifu, he need take step! I very happy! You see, yield overcome force!"

His other power was his spiritual power and of course it is a lot harder to describe. I have resisted writing about this whilst he was alive but feel free to do so now he has passed on. The basis of his spirituality came from Taoism which he studied as part of his Tai Chi, and from his experience of Christianity. It was during a particularly bad bout of tuberculosis and the doctors had given up hope and told all his family that there was no more they could do. It is not appropriate in this forum to state what happened exactly, but he had a profound healing through this experience and in the light of this, his path with Tai Chi Chuan was changed forever.

In that moment, without knowing why, he knew what he had to do. He decided to follow this path and give up Tai Chi Chuan. Big loss big gain. The next morning he was completely recovered, much to the amazement of everyone. He stayed better and true to his word. He gave up anything to do with Tai Chi, completely disappearing from the Tai Chi scene concentrating on his profession as an acupuncturist and herbal doctor. He also became a deeply committed Christian.

Some years later my first teacher John Kells was in Taiwan and heard of this mysterious Dr Chi. John felt this was the teacher for him and set out to find him. He did and persuaded Dr Chi to pass on what he knew. The Tai Chi that he now passed on came through the profound experience that had changed his life. The Tai Chi that he taught rested on the ground of spirituality, not just from that experience, but also from his own prayers and contemplations since that time. He had to find a reconciliation between his Taoism and his Christianity. If you like, between Eastern and Western spiritual approaches.

This union and vision left Dr Chi spiritualised, and the Tai Chi tradition which came out of him, to John Kells and through him, to me and through me to you, also carries this unique blend. Each one has taken it and developed it so that the Tai Chi that we practice is not an end in itself. It is a doorway into life. What you practice for 10 minutes a day feeds the rest of your day. The chuan or form is in service to the Tai Chi. It is the Tai Chi which transforms you as you move through your day. It is how you are that matters.

When Dr Chi was asked to give up Tai Chi he was obsessed with the Chuan in all its aspects. What he discovered when he let it go was Tai Chi. What he taught after that was Tai Chi through the Chuan. Do you see? He never again taught big classes and was not easy to find. I had to get a letter of introduction to see him and even then he severely tested me before agreeing to teach me, and this was after I had traveled 10,000 miles to Vancouver where he eventually lived! He was the classical hidden master, nobody knew who he was or what he had become. Fame and fortune were not what he was interested in. He wanted to get close to God.

My own meeting with him was traumatic and profoundly shocking. He was a clear pool and mirrored everything back instantly which made him, for me, very uncomfortable to be around. In the most natural way he revealed me to myself. I was and continue to be profoundly changed by meeting him. I felt I had touched the essence of the path and met a human being who had reached the end of his road. He would be reading a bible when I arrived and would reach for it as I left. He was calm and still, like a deep pool and yet extraordinarily responsive and light in his interaction with anything. He did nothing and everything was done perfectly. I remember him going for the door before the bell rang.

He said, "Jesus say, Love everyone. This I try to do. You try also. Love everyone."


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