Friday, March 25, 2011

A Visit from West Point

Cheng giving a demonstration
(source unidentified).
In December of 1967, Cheng Man-ch'ing welcomed guests from West Point, the United States Military Academy located in upstate New York. Led by John Kress, instructor of unarmed combat, a group of officers and cadets visited the New York Tai Chi Association studio on Canal Street in Chinatown. Kress and his group exchanged ideas and demonstrations with Cheng and his students. Many years earlier, Cheng himself had taught tai chi at the Whampoa Military Academy, China's "West Point."
As Tam Gibbs, Cheng's assistant and translator later recorded, "Mr. Kress demonstrated some Army field fighting techniques. All were helpless against him. Strong as a bear and as fierce as a tiger, he crouched in a stable posture, quick and light on his feet. Cooly concentrated and never initiating an attack, he took advantage of the slightest opening. Each of those to face him was sent staggering; no one could penetrate his long arms, which seemed like flagpoles with the hugest hands at the ends of them that I have ever seen on a man."
The tai chi students also gave demonstrations, and to everyone's delight, Kress and Cheng Indian wrestled. Cheng, a half-foot shorter and much lighter, bested Kress, but was worried, as he could sense Kress' high skill. The two men came away with a great appreciation of each other.