Sunday, December 2, 2007

Review: Cheng Hsin- The Principles Of Effortless Power

Peter Ralston of Cheng Hsin

Several months back, Dave from “Formosa Neijia” wrote about Peter Ralston, founder of the “Cheng Hsin” martial art system. Cheng Hsin refers to “The true nature of being”. The description was very interesting and I checked out Ralston’s website. Along with Ralston’s description of his martial philosophy, there were several clips of him performing various internal martial arts techniques. Ralston is no slouch, he has a varied background and has successfully competed internationally.
With that in mind, I ordered two of his books: “The Principles Of Effortless Power” and “Cheng Hsin T’ui Shou; The Art Of Effortless Power”.
“The Principles Of Effortless Power” is Ralston’s first book, so I started there. It begins with his martial history, and his journeys in spiritual awakening. These were steeped in the self-realization and encounter-group sessions of the 1970’s. These sessions branded Ralston’s first book with the stigma of new-age thought and explanation.
Ralston seems to be attempting to explain Internal Art principles without using any of the Chinese or Japanese terms and thought patterns. In some cases, he re-labels them. I am no stranger to alternative views and esoteric thinking, but in my opinion, Ralston is trying to re-invent the wheel. While westerners sometimes have difficulty with vague terms such as “Peng” in Tai Chi Chuan for example, there is no real need to eliminate the term or replace it.
I see where he is going with his philosophy, and understand much of it, but I have to say I find him explaining things in a circular fashion at times. For example, I book-marked this paragraph on page 90:
Ralston writes:
“ Since we already give BEING to the perception of what IS (in other words, we acknowledge it’s “beingness”), and to interpretation itself, it is necessary to move our cognition-attention and life force into a position of Being in which this can be recognized as already and actually the case. We can then give being to what is not at present occurring”.
--Whew!… this passage is not an isolated case, and I have to admit that twenty pages later I simply set the book down and moved on to his next one, which I’ve just started. That book, “Cheng Hsin T’iu Shou” shows a greater degree of maturity in his writing. While his sometimes-frustrating philosophy is present in the first part of the book, the second half is all applications that demonstrate what he has been prattling on about philosophically. While I have been on the search for concept books, Ralston’s first attempt is pretzel logic to me. I feel I will get much more out of his application book, which demonstrates many internal art principles. I came away from these books feeling that Ralston may be better as a Guru demonstrating direct transmission of knowledge to students in a Dojo format. His knowledge is deep and he is a skilled martial artist. I’ll be interested if anyone else has read his material, and any comments they have


Hand2Hand said...

I actually was a member of the Cheng-hsin school in Oakland, CA. in 1985.

You're right - Ralston is no slouch. I sparred with him once and his top people were also top-notch instructors.

That said, I have two issues with his school. First, they were very steeped in a very New Age Encounter Group atmosphere. The school tended to attract a lot of those types, too. It seemed pretty cultish to me.

Secondly, I thought his business model was rather deceptive. At the time I joined his school, I paid $40 a month (the going rate at local martial art schools in those days) to learn Tai Chi.

But it turns out, that $40 a month was really for a "Tai Chi Set Class" which taught a shortened version of a Yang Form.

If you wanted to spar or learn san shou, that was an extra $15 a month class.

If you wanted to learn push hands, that was a $115 course which lasted four months.

If you wanted to learn the underlying principles of the art or the applications, those were two additional classes called "Principles" and "Functions."

Those courses were about four or five months each and cost about $115 to $200.

To learn each of the weapons, guess what! It would cost you $115 for a four month course in any of the four weapons taught in the school.

There was also an apprenticeship program which cost an additional $15 a month.

You get the picture. When you combine the business model and the extreme hero worship in the school, it was almost like Scientology.

Like I said - Ralston and his top people knew their stuff. But you could find quality instruction for considerably less without the hidden charges, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Hand2Hand said...

P.S. to my last comment.

I started the first book and got bored.

I have the second book. I've referred to it many times. I like the application, but, like you, I'm a little leary of his pretzel logic.

Pretzel Logic was better as a Steely Dan album.

Dave said...

I was 21 and studying karate when I first came across the "Principles" book and it blew me away. I realized then that there was so much to MA that I didn't know. Ralston really opens your eyes.

Problem is, principles is the hardest book to start with, but perhaps the deepest. Go back to it later. You may find the material at the front of Chen Hsin TuiShuo to be impossible, though, if you didn't get the stuff in Principles.

His newer book "Zen Body-Being" is a MUCH better intro to his thought. It also has some newer stuff the other books don't have. I recommend people start there first.

But Chen Hsin Tuishuo is definitely my favorite. I love how he works everything in a push hands format. Even the aikido and bagua gets done that way. You can go really far with that book and I wish I had someone locally that would help me work through all of the material.

Don't give up on Ralston's stuff. I threw it down the first time, too. But I kept picking it up. His material grows as you grow. You can't say that about many MA books.

Formosa Neijia

Dojo Rat said...

Almost sounds like a business model that Koreans would use...

I'm sure I'll go back to the "Principles" book. I almost made it all the way through, but I just need to move on to the Tui Shou book for my sanity.

Sa Bum Nim Pieschala said...

I invoke the name Choronzon!

Crazy stuff on Floyd's blog no? And on that thread since you mention Pa Qua. I saw this on a link of a link of a link ..

That explains Alister Crowley's views on said art and I-Ching.

It's towards the end so you get to read some weird crap too ..

I paid attention because I bounced off Floyd's site and looked for Chicago.

Nah, there is no occult in the martial arts ;-).

Sa Bum Nim Pieschala said...

just google "The Order of the G.B.G.pdf" you'll find it.

Martial Development said...

I read the first book and concur with your opinion.

The mark of great writing is irreducible simplicity. This book ain't great.

Dojo Rat said...

That pdf is 75 pages long! Can you provide a brief summary on what Crowley thought of I Ching and Pa Qua?

Sa Bum Nim Pieschala said...

It's too creepy .. seriously.

The hand slaps the mat said...

nice review!

its a tough book, my take is that he is being honest. he doesnt hold anything back... who are we to complain that we want it easy! it took the man years to have the insights, and we want to just read them and get them now?
to be honest i dont read it often, i just seek what he sought.