Philosophy Master Class with Grand Master Eng Chor

After two terms of learning Tai Chi I was keen to attend the Philosophy Master Class held by Grand Master Eng Chor Khor in Eltham on Saturday, 7 May 2022. Tai Chi enthusiasts from various parts of Melbourne came along. After the talk, we were treated to a fine Tai Chi demonstration by the Master, followed by everyone joining in for a session.

GM Eng Chor talked to an attentive audience about the origins of Tai Chi, how it started many hundreds of years ago in a monastery in the Wudang Mountain, a district of China, where Taoist monks were taught a physical exercise system to improve their health. Their teaching was based on five different animal movements of the tiger, bear, deer, monkey and bird. These were later adapted into a marital art form, incorporating soft vs hard, stillness vs action and yielding vs resistance-type of movements of a fight, for example, between a crane and a snake which the monks had observed.

We learned about the difference between Qigong and Tai Chi. Grand Master explained that while Qigong uses exercises to improve the flow of energy in the body, mind and spirit, Tai Chi has the added dimension of being a form of martial art. We were told about the Eight Treasures Qigong, the exercises which focus on the meridians that carry energy through the body, the symbolism in the book of I Ching, The Book of Changes, which relates to Tai Chi and the opposing forces of Yin and Yang.

GM Eng Chor advised that it is best to do Tai Chi in the morning or perhaps in the afternoon, but not so much in the evening as the energy the practice generates is not conducive to sleeping soon after, and that Qigong is more suited for the evenings as a calming meditation, e.g. the Lotus Qigong. He reminded us that it is important to empty the mind of thoughts while focusing on the movements, to breathe through the nose, keep the movements gentle and flowing, to complete each movement before starting the next and always to ‘close’ at the end of each routine.

I was pleased to hear that Tai Chi can be practiced before or after a meal, unlike many other exercises, allowing for greater flexibility in the timing of such movements. Tai Chi, being a gentle exercise could be ideal for those who experience post-exercise fatigue after more strenuous exercises and it is suitable for any age, but particularly as one is ageing.

GM Eng Chor told us an ancient story of a boy entrusted to a Master to learn Tai Chi, and if I remember correctly, the only instruction being given to him was that of tearing up paper on a daily basis. Becoming disillusioned with this seemingly insignificant task of long duration, the boy was about to give up, when on his way home he came across a crowd of people encircling something he was unable to see. Eager to see what the people were so engrossed in, he made a beeline into the crowd, thrusting himself forward. Using his arms to clear a path for himself, bodies flew to the left and the right, with up until that moment an incognisant strength which he had been developing under the wise guidance of his teacher. We never found out what the crowd were looking at, but it was a good story!

I look forward to continue learning more of this disciplined, graceful and healthful exercise practice from which, I feel, I have already gained benefit.

Sally Ann Glenn, Student
Box Hill Evening Centre

“Be natural, be yourself”

Attending the Philosophy Master Class always brings new aspects of Tai Chi to light. Grand Master Eng Chor began the lesson by talking about the difference between Tai Chi and Qigong. The Qigong Chinese character has the elements of health and rice in it. Does that mean food for health? It’s something to ponder.

Wikipedia says Qigong “is a system of co-ordinated body posture and movement, breathing and meditation used for the purpose of health, spirituality and martial arts training”.
It seems this is pretty accurate according to our Grand Master who told us that Qigong improves one’s mental and physical health. There is internal and external Qigong; internal being the soft, gentle, subtle movements, imitating martial arts movements, and the external being a stronger form that is plain to see.

Examples of Qigong forms that the Celestial College practices are Lotus, Wild Goose, Lohan and Five Animals Qigong. The Shibashi forms are also Qigong routines that we mainly use for warming up in our classes. These forms are used to improve a person’s strength, agility and flexibility.

An interesting question arose in our lesson as to whether Five Animals Qigong had the same purpose as some of the movements in our Yang Form Levels 1 to 6, which have animal names such as ‘Repulse Monkey’ and ‘Snake Creeps Down’. In the instance of ‘Repulse Monkey’, it is applied as a grip and a strike. ‘Snake Creeps Down’ also has more focus on its application, going down, catching and attacking.

Eight Golden Treasures are a set of Qigong movements, not done in martial arts and its movements are seen as internal, gentle and subtle. The Shaolin monks developed a Yin Qigong which was a hard or external form, not intended just for health. This type of external Qigong is a supplement to martial arts. Standing Qigong is meditative and uses the mind to direct the flow of energy from one point to another, but for experiencing full benefits one needs guidance from highly trained masters.

This brings us to Tai Chi, described as a “series of movements that work the entire body in a flowing sequence”. These movements enhance the flow of Chi/Qi (or circulation of the life force: blood) through our body via meridians. There are four main forms of Tai Chi developed by four different Masters in China many centuries ago. There are smaller schools, but most come from these traditional four forms named after their initial Masters: Yang, Woo, Chen and Sun. Competitive Tai Chi consists of Beijing 24, Chen 56, Beijing 42 and Beijing 48, to name but a few. Based heavily on martial arts and with more advanced Tai Chi movements, some include Pushing Hands, Circle Hands, Free Hands Walking and others.

The Celestial College bases its teachings on the traditional forms of Tai Chi. Benefits include strengthening of basic health. All the Tai Chi forms possess the four basic movements of Block, Pull, Press and Push, known as ‘application movements’. Correct posture enables good Chi flow. A punch performed softly and gently allows Chi to flow. Breathing in and out smoothly through the nose is also recommended. “Movements control breathing throughout the sequence”, GM Eng Chor emphasises. There is strength within the movements; “gently, not purposefully, but softly”, advises GM Eng Chor; focus is also important — where we direct our energy flow.

During our discussions, a question arose regarding direction. Depending on the levels in our Yang Form, the directional component of the four corners enables us to cope with turning and focusing. In all forms of Tai Chi the starting spot is also the finishing spot if the routine is completed and all the movements are done both on the left and the right side of the body.
GM Eng Chor then advised us to always “finish” or "close” two to three times (lifting and lowering the hands to feed the Chi to the body), in our practice of Tai Chi, in order to give us time to calm down before going on to other things in our lives. Mention was made of how much and what sort of focus one should apply to one’s practice. In Grand Master’s words, “If there is too much on your mind during your practice, you have a confused purpose. There is no need to think about how it benefits your mind and body. Clear your mind. Have it open and relaxed. Do the movements in a disciplined way without focusing on their application; let them flow comfortably. The benefits come unconsciously. BE NATURAL. BE YOURSELF”.

GM Eng Chor then gave us a demonstration of Wild Goose Qigong and Yang Form 37. Very relaxing to watch and admire. Thank you for the interesting Philosophy Lesson, GM Eng Chor!

Amanda Cubit, Trainee Instructor
Hawthorn and Camberwell Centres

Quotes from Bundoora students

"I found it interesting and informative about the basics of the inner and outer Tai Chi, the history about the 4 different predominant styles and also the interactivity with the class members. Getting an explanation of the meridians was also interesting. I found the demonstration extremely interesting and it shows what we still have to learn to become better at Tai Chi." Jeff

"Before Grand Master Eng Chor's workshop I can't say I even understood truly what Qigong and Tai Chi meant or represent. It was great to learn they are two distinctly different things. Qigong is so much more than just movements one might do to warm up, it is rooted in Chinese belief of how everything around us and inside us flows and works." Jay

Updated: 17 June 2022