Anyone who knows even a little about Chen Style TaiChi will
probably have heard of the "Four Tigers." Since the 1980s
this title has been popularly applied to four world-leading
Chen stylists. These international "Chen TaiChi Ambassadors"
come from from the ancient Chen Village of Henan province,
China, the birthplace of TaiChi.
Master Zhu Tian Cai
Outstanding exponents of the Chen TaiChi tradition they learnt
their art under the tutelage and scrutiny of two special relatives
(Chen Zhao Kui and Chen Zhao Pei) who were direct disciples
and relatives of the legendary Chen Fake.
So it was with great enthusiasm (and some nervousness) that
we received confirmation that Master Zhu Tian Cai had accepted
our invitation to come to Auckland to give a three week workshop.
Each of these Chen Village "Standard Bearers" (Chen Xiao
Wang, Chen Zen Lei, Wang Xian, Zhu TianCai) have their own
special talents. We had heard that Master Zhu, while not the
most well known, had a reputation for being a superb teacher.
It was said that he could make the most complicated of steps
accessible to a novice and easily cut through esoteric teachings
and made them understandable to a beginner. His execution
of the form was reported to be of great beauty.
This is not the first time that one of the "Four Great
Jingangs" (Diamonds), as they are also known, has been
to NZ. We recently heard that Chen Xiao Wang (now based in
Australia) made a couple of short visits here in the 1990s
that don't appear to have been widely publicised.
Opening Night Audience
So it was, with some trepidation, that we prepared for the
Opening Night Demo and Talk. We had no real idea at all how
many people would attend because attendees preferred last
minute door sales to pre-paid tickets. In any case our fears
were without foundation as an eager audience swelled the capacity
of the hall well beyond the 120 we had prepared for.
That night we were privilaged to have Master Tu-ky Lam as
interpreter for the proceedings. Tu-ky is a Chen stylist who
teaches in Wellington (www.geocities.com/tukylam) and is a
frequent contributor to "The International TaiChi Magazine."
We were also grateful for the services of Mr Peter Yu (Chairman
NZ ChingWoo Society) who was MC for the evening. As people
crowded in an infectious feeling of expectation grew amongst
Events kicked off with Chenshi Taichicise Centre demonstrating
Old Frame One (students), Broad Sword (Kelvin Sim)and New
Frame Two (Malisa Ng). Tu-ky Lam followed - also with New
Frame Two. This proved a very interesting comparison because
their forms were obviously different in many places and reflected
the personal influences that even two generations of evolution
can have on the outward form. Both Malisa and Tu-ky are 20th
generation Chen stylists and both have a common GrandMaster
in Chen Zhao Kui: but Tu-ky learnt from MaHong while Malisa
learnt from Zhu Tian Cai.
Zhu Tian Cai proved to be a seasoned campaigner by talking
first - leaving his open-hand/applications demos until later
in the evening. His talk was simple and based around six or
seven topics which he outlined at the start. He rightly assumed
that some in the audience would know only a little about Chen
style. Even though his talk was at times quite deep he still
maintained simplicity of description.
His humour and no nonsense explanations maintained a lively
interest from the packed audience. A good third of the 160
or so persons attending were obviously Chinese listeners -
as was indicated by the bursts of laughter and applause that
spontaneously erupted. Of course much is always lost in translation
yet Tu-ky's enthusiastic interpreting easily gave us the gist
of what Master Zhu was communicating. At times even Tu-ky
was hard put to keep up with our guest's lively repartee.
The talk included a brief history of Chen style (its origins
and belated popularisation in recent times). Of particular
interest was his observation that Chen style is the least
known of the five styles of TaiChi - despite the fact that
it is the precursor and Parent form (which still strongly
maintains its martial vigour). He had an interesting saying,
"TaiChi comes from Chen style but is spread by Yang style."
His explanation for this contradiction started with the usual
reason: Yang Luchan, a very talented "visitor" to Chen village
in the mid 1800s, learnt this hidden teaching and his disciples
taught a modernised adaptation openly throughout China. However
Tian Cai also added a couple of other reasons. Only in the
late 1920s, with the famed Chen Fake (from Chen Village),
did the traditional Chen Form become publicly known and "a
hit" in Bejing City. He was the first to start teaching unmodified
Chen style outside of Chen Village.
Zhu also maintains that Chen style is very hard to learn
properly and requires a lot of practice and dedication so
is not easily or quickly passed on. Political revolutions
in China may also have been a further hindrance to the growth
of all martial arts at the time. Thus this "newly discovered"
Chen Style spread little outside of Bejing while well known
Yang style was spread overseas by emmigrants.
(Chen Style's spread beyond China into the West probably
only began "big time" when the Four Tigers started their international
teaching circuits in the late 1970s. TianCai soon based himself
in Singapore and was influential in the establishment of public
Chen TaiChi instruction both there and in Malaysia - which
is where Malisa discovered Chen style. In NZ we only know
of publicly advertised chen style teaching from the mid 1980s
(eg Tuky in Wellington) and even today comprehensive, specialist
instruction is still hard to find).
Another interesting topic concerned "what is the point of
learning TaiChi?" TianCai emphasised that the real reason
for learning traditional Chen Style used to be to aquire the
art of cultivating "internal energy" primarily for martial
purposes. This was the original purpose of TaiChi in Chen
Village - those who mastered this difficult martial art form
(based on internal energy) were extremely formidable (and
healthy) fighters in the protection of their village.
Only with the invention and widespread use of the gun did
TaiChi fall from its pre-eminent martial status in China (i.e.
The Boxer Rebellion) and become more the health/exercise/hobby
option by which we tend to regard TaiChi today.
Health benefits do aquire from the "empty" practice of the
"outward" forms/exercise of TaiChi (i.e. without teaching
the internal energy skills). However Master Zhu maintained
that the greatest health benefits only derive from the cultivation
of this "internal energy" as originally discovered and used
by Chen Village for self-defence.
One startling description of these health benefits was interpreted
by Tu-ky …"TaiChi is like a washing-machine for your body."
By this we were meant to understand the health benefits that
accrue to internal organs and deep body tissue by the gentle
massage of the "inner form."
Master Zhu's presentation finished with an explanation of
how Chen style is taught through the Old, New and Small Frames
along with the ancillary exercises (standing, breathing, silk-reeling).
Demonstrations of each of the above forms followed and were
keenly received. When he slammed his foot on the wooden floor,
as is normal in the Pao Choi (Old Frame Two), an older gentleman
sitting next to me smiled and said, "that was good, I felt
the shock wave through the air rather than the floor!"
Qinna (joint locks)
The Master finished with questions/answers and "Qinna" (grappling
applications). Two rather large guys attempted, at his invitation,
to basically try and rip his arm off but he proved too flexible
and within seconds the situation was reversed and they were
themselves cringing on the floor at rather awkward and vulnerable
As the evening progressed the audience became more and more
keen and the night ended with very loud and appreciative applause.
It was indeed a thoroughly enjoyable evening and a great time
was had by all.
Master Zhu concluded by revealing some of his planned future
events. These include an International Chen Style TaiChi Convention
in Singapore (a first time event there) which he is organising
for late 2005. He has already reserved time in 2006 for a
return visit to Auckland - to Christchurch as well if numbers
Interested in Learning Chen Style?
If you are keen to learn energetic Chen style but live
outside of Auckland do phone/email us your expressions of
interest. Regular Chen style instruction could quickly become
a reality in your area if we receive the level of interest
needed to make this possible.
Chenshi Club Members with friends
2nd Row Centre: Tu-ky Lam, Malisa Ng, Master
2nd Row End: ChinWoo Council (Peter Yu (Pres), Jack
Chan, Dr. Sam Chou)