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The Professor: Tai Chi’s Journey West    cover photo

The Professor: Tai Chi’s Journey West 2016

Highly Recommended

Distributed by First Run Features, 630 Ninth Avenue, Suite 1213, New York, NY 10036; 212-243-0600
Produced by Ken Van Sickle and Barry Strugatz
Directed by Barry Strugatz
DVD, color, 88 min.

Middle School - General Adult
Tai Chi,Martial Arts, Spirituality, Taoism, Meditation

Date Entered: 11/30/2016

Reviewed by Barbara J. Walter, Longmont Public Library, Longmont, CO

Cheng Man-Ching is an overlooked transformational figure whose valuable lessons are important and of practical value for Westerners. From his modest studio in Manhattan’s Chinatown he promoted understanding and taught his students how to try to live ethically and joyfully, a universal message that brings people together in peace.
– Barry Strugatz, The Professor: Tai Chi’s Journey West Website

In his first foray into documentary filmmaking, award-winning screenwriter/director Barry Strugatz (Married to the Mob (1988), She-Devil (1989), From Other Worlds (2004)) paints a warm, engaging portrait of Tai Chi master Cheng Man-Ching through interviews with his students and footage of “the Professor” in his element. Strugatz studied Tai Chi with students of Professor Cheng, and as they aged, he “realized that an incredible legacy of timeless teachings was in danger of being lost.” He and cinematographer Ken Van Sickle—a senior student of Cheng’s who shot much of the archival footage featured in the film—then began a decade-plus-long collaboration to bring this portrait to light.

The Professor: Tai Chi’s Journey West explains how Tai Chi literally saved Cheng’s life as a young man, becoming his life’s focus and passion; how he modernized the martial art, streamlining a classical form he had mastered from 108 to 37 essential postures; how he then transformed that martial art into a spiritual discipline, an approach to life; how his school of Tai Chi, founded in the mid-1960s in New York City, seemed perfectly timed to impact a generation disaffected by war and frazzled by the pace of life; and how his unorthodox, even playful approach to teaching Tai Chi resonated with his American protégés.

Cheng’s students-- quite an extraordinary group that included hippies and classically-trained dancers, cops and martial artists—expound on what Tai Chi is, and the forms or postures Cheng taught them; “push hands”—a physical dialog, a listening through the hands that teaches participants to give back the energy their sparring partners send toward them; Cheng’s technique in sword training and his lessons in calligraphy; chi, or life-force; his emphasis on health through preventive medicine, and the philosophical underpinnings of his approach to life.

A fine choice for academic libraries supporting studies in the martial arts, American cultural history and Eastern philosophy, The Professor: Tai Chi’s Journey West is also suitable for public libraries and school media centers. Bonus features include silent footage of Cheng demonstrating his 37-movement form and an interview with Peter M. Wayne, PhD, on his research into the medical benefits of practicing Tai Chi. Chaptered, with optional subtitles in English.