Barry Strugatz on his Cheng Man-Ching film: “The Professor: Tai Chi’s journey west”

You have probably already heard about Cheng Man-Ching (郑曼青, also Zheng Manqing or Cheng Man’ching, 1902-1975). Many consider him one of the greatest Tai Chi masters in modern times. He moved to New York City in the 1960s and started bringing Tai Chi Chuan to the West.

And now, in 2016, a Cheng Man-Ching film is about to be released. I had the chance to do an interview with Barry Strugatz, the director:

Before we start talking about the Cheng Man-Ching film, please introduce yourself!

My name is Barry Strugatz.  I was born and raised in New York City.  I am a filmmaker, a writer and director.

Barry Strugatz director of the Cheng Man-Ching film "The Professor: Tai Chi's journey west"

Please share your own personal Taijiquan story!

About 25 years ago I was looking for a healthy physical exercise, a gentle martial art I could continue to practice as I got older. I started to study Tai Chi but soon realized that Tai Chi was something much more.  I studied with several teachers, all Cheng Man-Ching style: Robert Ante, Robert Goodwin, Ken Van Sickle and Maggie Newman.  I have also recently learned  the Traditional 88 Yang form taught by Sifu Meng.

How did you get into the idea of making a Cheng Man-Ching film?

About 15 years ago one of Cheng’s senior students Stanley Israel died.  I only knew him slightly but it made me realize we were in danger of losing important stories and lessons of Cheng Man-Ching.

I approached my teacher Ken Van Sickle who is also a great cinematographer and was the main photographer of Cheng’s New York school.  I proposed we do a documentary about Cheng through the words of his New York students and his children.  He agreed and we started shooting interviews. The people emotionally recall this exciting time, when East met West,  and the man who changed their lives and gave it meaning.

So what can we expect from the film?

I hope the film not only tells the story of Cheng Man-Ching bringing his Tai Chi to the West  I hope it can introduce people to the depth and value of Tai Chi as a martial art, as a very beneficial physical exercise and as a spiritual practice.

It also shows that Tai Chi is fun. I hope it can introduce curious people to Tai Chi but also deepen the understanding of those who already practice. And his students describe what an amazing positive person he was who embodied classical Chinese culture.  The film is filled with rare footage of Cheng and his world, helping preserve the history of the art.

I’ve had a look at the trailer and it really looks promising:

I am currently reading There are no secrets* – the book from Wolfe Lowenthal about his time with Cheng Manching. Did you use that book for reference? And which Cheng Man-Chings students did you talk to?

I did read Wolfe Lowenthal’s book, it’s excellent. His book vividly describes the wisdom of Cheng and the special atmosphere of the New York school. In our documentary we interviewed many of the students: Maggie Newman, Ed Young, Bill Phillips, Natasha Gorky, Rene Houtidres, Don Hauser, Don Ahn, Ken Van Sickle, Harold Naderman, Carol Yamasaki, Claire Hooton, Myles McVane, Genny Kapuler, Kwok Ming Hugh, Robert Morningstar, Lori Reinstein. We also filmed Cheng’s children: Katy, Patrick, Ellen & Wayne Cheng.

If you could enter a time machine and could have a private lesson with Cheng Man-Ching: what would you ask him?

I’d like it to be a long lesson because there is so much I could learn from him.  I’d ask him how to stand and move in the correct natural way.  How to push hands.  I’d like to feel one of his pushes, but not too hard.  And after fencing with him I’m sure he’d have many corrections to give me. All the students I spoke to said he was the most generous teacher, he wanted you to learn…

Well, the premiere of “The Professor: Tai Chi’s journey west” will be in Los Angeles on May 6th and in New York on June 9th, 2016. But I am here in Germany and my readers are all over the world, when could we be able to see it?

This summer the film will come out on DVD and online.  We hope to get it on iTunes, Amazon and Netflix.  It should be available internationally.

Oh, I am really looking forward to that! And thank you very much for the interview, Barry!

UPDATE: the film is now available on Amazon:

Now just a little fun fact.  I, Angelika, have a little confession to make: I am really excited about the Cheng Man-Ching film and this interview with Barry Strugatz. Because, when I started this blog in 2015 and later added my newsletter, Barry was actually MY VERY FIRST SUBSCRIBER! Isn’t that incredible?





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