Mr Andrew Barry Sifu has been practicing CMC (Cheng Man Ching) style Tai Chi Chuan in Australia, formally from 1985. Mr Barry;s love of learning and study of CMC Tai Chi Chuan has lead Mr, Barry to the U.S.A. and Taiwan, where he has studied and practiced with high level disciples of the late Professor Cheng Man Ching and their student. Mr, Barry has been teaching for eleven years and is currently holding classes at the Yoga and Tai Chi centre, Middle Park, Melbourne Australia..
J.H. Mr, Barry Sifu, firstly thank you for consenting to do this interview.
A.B. Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts, I am honored to be asked but I am at a relatively low level so please have appropriate amounts of salt ready.
J.H.How did you become interested in Tai Chi Chuan
A.B. My first introduction to Tai Chi was during the martial arts activities in the middle seventies and I came across the Tai Chi book by Professor Cheng Man Ching and Robert Smith. As soon as I read this inspirational book, I knew there was only one form for me, because it appealed on so many levels. The lineage seemed to be directly connected to highly skilled practitioners. The health aspect suggested a gentle mind-body synthesis and the martial aspect, as I understood it, was an indirect bonus to all the other benefits. It was not until I found my first teacher in 1985 that I really began to learn the form but the belief was already there.
J.H. When, where, from whom and what did you learn, can you tell something of your teachers.
A.B. As a very limited sketch of my teachers, Jim Fizdale who was a student of Martin Inn in San Francisco, was my first teacher here in Melbourne. Not only did Jim teach me the form and introduced me to push hands, he taught it in a way that was very much suited to the western mind. Jim also taught me much of how to teach and I feel lucky to have had him as my first teacher. Since learning the form from him I went to the U.S in 1989 and studied with both Martin Inn and Ben Lo, a senior disciple of Professor Cheng Man Ching. Martin and Ben have such great skill in my view, that I cannot do real justice to them in a limited space. Their precise detail and obvious incorporation of the principles are wonderful to see and experience first hand. I would encourage anyone to put their face/ego on hold for a while to experience their skill. In the early 90’s Bill Law, a student of Master Hsu Yee Chung , another disciple of the Professors’, came to Melbourne to live and Bill gave me new insights about both the form and push hands ( Re Previous Article .T.C.A.A. NewsletterDec.2000). I have also spent a little time in Taiwan with a both Masters’ Hsu and Ju Hong Bin in the mid 90’s.
J.H.What are the characteristics of CMC (Cheng) style
A.B.There are five main principles that we hold to in seeking this; relax, body upright and comfortable, separate Yin and Yang , turn the waist and beautiful lady’s hands. We also have a strong adherence to the classics writings of tai chi which also talk about generating ‘soong’. To me ‘soong’ is mindfulness, alignment, co-ordination, relaxation and root.
In push hands the concepts of listening, neutralizing and following with 4 oz of effort are vital in maintaining the principles as we practice, and all these important points should be the same in both form and push hands. We really try to stay with the saying " use mind not force" ! Tai Chi improves sensitivity, listening and community which, is a good thing.
J.H.What is the curriculum in your school
A.B. In my classes, I have a fairly simple approach, besides a few warm ups, I teach the form which takes about 6 to 7 months, then I introduce push hands. There are occasional sword classes and some Da lu. The senior classes are mainly form correction and push hands but I encourage discussion of philosophy, personal interpretation and incorporation of principles into the body mechanics of our form.The spiritual/psychological issues are more a personal journey than my dictates but I do like to laugh and have some fun in class as well.
JH. Beautiful Lady's hand is a feature often raised when talking of Professor Cheng's Tai Chi Chuan, Can you share with us the function of this concept as you see it?
A.B. Beautiful lady’s hands is a great gift from Professor Cheng Man Ching. Although on the surface beautiful lady’s hands appears to be style rather than substance, it might arguably be seen a microcosm of the nature of tai chi itself, and may be overlooked or rejected because of the perception that rigidity equals effectiveness. Even as a simple exercise, bending the wrist creates some tension and force, the effect of this must be transmitted up the arm to shoulders and chest and this is easily detected in push hands’.
The bent wrist seems to represent to some, the only effective way to discharge and I feel this is a carry over from the external schools ie "only hard at the point of contact is effective". This may also lead to the mind using the arms independent of the body.
For me, feeling the arm from fingertips to elbow as one piece, keeping the wrist flat and relaxed, helps to ensure the arms are moved by, the waist and legs. The result of this feel is a more ‘whole body moves as one’ connection during the form. The more relaxed and connected via the arms, the more you can listen and follow the changes. Force and collapse are both wrong and are used because timing and position are incorrect, this is why the 4oz aspect is vital, because it gives us a method and weight of connected transmission. When I have been pushed well, the hands are the last thing I feel, if at all.
J.H. What relevance do you feel Tai Chi Chuan has in Australian Society.
A.B. I can’t speak for the whole community but a great Yoga teacher said that we do yoga for clarity and your own culture must be part of the process. This is excellent advice and I think the same applies to Tai Chi. If the principles of Tai Chi can be taken into other aspects of Australian life, this is great. For example, recognizing the beginnings of tension in sport, work and daily life and then applying whole body relaxation – this would be a great thing.
I am not advocating the converse, however. You cannot make Tai Chi a dance or add associated alternative therapies etc. to it into a new age synthesis - this clouds the tai chi message greatly.
Tai chi is about personal cultivation and general universal principles, not about being Chinese or being dependent on a particular culture or religious beliefs. If Tai Chi becomes more visual in Australian public life this will help the process of it being seen as a valuable adjunct to any Australian’s healthy lifestyle.
J.H. Mr, Barry,as a practitioner of Cheng Style Tai Chi Chuan do you feel it has a practical function as a martial art?
A.B My understanding is that, if the martial aspect is improved because the principles are followed, then this is another benefit of doing the form correctly. It is a difficult question because how can we predict what we will do when confronted? I do not pick fights to practice the martial aspects and I don’t fight the air when I do my form. I also can’t recall any stories of more martial styles of tai chi running off to pick fights to gauge effectiveness. Who really wants to be in such a toxic space physically and mentally every day? Short of this, the martial practicality and effectiveness of Tai Chi is really theoretical and perhaps an act of faith – though I do have some proficiency in hearing and neutralising force in push hands. The attitude of,’ I do Tai Chi to be a good fighter ‘is probably not in line with the underlying Taoist philosophy. If you want to fight well by next week and create imaginary enemies, do something else.
J.H. Do you have any suggestions for people beginning Tai Chi Chuan.
A.B. As far as advice to beginners is concerned, before you decide on a teacher, and the first one you come to may not be your last, I think it important to do some reading and research first. There are lots of good exercises to do and to ask one discipline to be a panacea for all ills is a mistake. As far as I am concerned there is an enormous depth involved in following the correct approach but there are not many paths to good Tai Chi, just many people trying to find the right one. It is very easy to be lead by someone’s genuine expression of their efforts, or be impressed by feats of gymnastic and aerobic exercises purporting to teach some personal synthesis called Tai Chi. The core of the art is via the correct principles to provide a gentle, healthy discipline and hopefully your teacher demonstrates a generosity of spirit in sharing and teaching.
JH.Mr Barry Sifu, I would again like to thank you for sharing your time and experience in giving this interview, Is there any thing you would like to add.
A.B.There is not too much to add without giving a lecture, if I have not done so already but I love teaching . I must have taught ward off left to thousands of people but I still enjoy finding a way to get the student to appreciate tai chi. As far as getting towards mastery, which I feel I do not have yet, it must include mindfulness and small circles. Thank you and ……. DO THE FORM !!!!!!!
Mr, Sifu Andrew Barry is currently offering classes and can be contacted at the:
Yoga and Tai Chi Centre Middle Park Melbourne
Ph.+613 9690 2238
This interview was conducted by John Hartley of, Australian Tai Chi Chuan Li Chi Hsiang School of Health and Self Defence - Dec.2000.