Original Article by by Sun Zhonghua
English Translation by Shang Lee
People train in the martial arts for a variety of reasons, but if there is someone who is in love with martial arts to the point of addiction, this must be caused by a rare gene in his DNA. The evolution of this gene would most likely come from hunting and the battles that the previous generations have to fight, where those instincts are then secretly passed on to these “martial art addicts”. History has shown that even with the ban on martial arts or the downplay of martial arts to give way to a more “civilized” way of learning, all did not manage to suppress this rare gene from being passed down through the generations.
There are plenty of different martial arts, and Tai Ji Quan is one of them. It has a rich content, focusing both on health and self-defense. All you need to train in Tai Ji is a bit of space. There are no special requirements on how tall you are or how heavy you are. Because of this lack of special requirements, there are now plenty of people choosing this over other forms of martial art, one estimate of practitioners numbering 200 million people.
Now that the benefits of health and general well-being is being recognized in Tai Ji, the application and self-defense part of Tai Ji is largely neglected. There is nothing wrong with this being a personal choice, but do not think that your personal choice of ignoring Tai Ji applications makes what you are learning is Tai Ji. By removing applications from Tai Ji, Tai Ji becomes fake Tai Ji, it losses its intrinsic nature. Just like how you would say that a dance is not a dance because it doesn’t look like dancing. Moreover, if you don’t understand the application, the external movements will be wrong. This can only lead to one conclusion – we are not inheriting and passing on Tai Ji as a complete cultural artifact, instead we are stripping the spirit of Tai Ji from the art, mutating it, and allowing it to be passed on only in name. I’m not trying to be an alarmist, but this inevitable outcome has given me sleepless nights. Whenever I am giving a talk, I always urge my audiences, “To pass on and expand on the real Tai Ji, anyone who is interested and has the necessary conditions to learn the martial aspects of Tai Ji, please devote as much time and effort into it as you can.”
Whenever I am giving a talk, I always urge my audiences, “To pass on and expand on the real Tai Ji, anyone who is interested and has the necessary conditions to learn the martial aspect of Tai Ji, please spare some time and effort into it.”
However, this leads to another problem. Regardless of how many passionate people learning the martial aspects of Tai Ji, only very few actually “get it”. Millions of Tai Ji student had to stop their pursuit of Tai Ji, causing them to regret the journey they have taken to get them this far. Another group of Tai Ji practitioners may have been “winning” when they use Tai Ji as martial art. This group of people is then acknowledged to have some degree of skill, but they are actually only showing the pros and cons of their mistakes. To put it in a different way, the latter group has not awakened from their dream state yet. It is hard to say which group among these 2 are the worse off…
Millions of people have spent and invested a great amount of time, money, effort and emotions, only to have the real Tai Ji elude them for life. Some will never have the chance to see and experience what real Tai Ji is. The real Tai Ji, as passed down by our ancestors, are facing a slow and painful death. The cost of this death is too high, the reality too cruel. This is just too depressing…
So, what’s going on here? Does real Tai Ji actually exist? If so, where is it?
I am also one of those people who possess that rare gene in my DNA. I am fairly accomplished in a lot of other kind of sports, but having spent 40 years searching for the real Tai Ji, I do not dare to stop my pursuit of the real deal. Just like many fans of Tai Ji, I have been through the long and arduous route of training and learning, sometimes feeling lost, depressed and sheer and utter disappointment. I remember telling my friends, “I haven’t really failed at anything I chose to do, but I failed in Tai Ji.”
Eventually, I chanced upon the real Tai Ji, and that is through logic and practical experimentation, based on my years of experience that built up my sensitivity towards differentiating the right from the wrong. It was a moment of tremendous joy and simultaneously a moment of tremendous sorrow. I was happy that I have finally found the real Tai Ji, but was sad that I am now an old man. I am too old now to learn the real Tai Ji. My thoughts drifted to some of the sayings from the sages,
“Since you have found the true path, just follow the path as it is laid before you”.
“Just take one step at a time, understand one bit at a time. There is no fame. There is no obvious sign. Just follow the purity of the true path, while enjoying the journey and the process.”
With these wise sayings, I started to feel relieved and a deep sense of gratitude.
To be a top Taiji master, you need to have the following five conditions.
- Love the art
- Have the time
- Have moral and ethics
- Able to learn and comprehend
- Have a good teacher
I won’t go into further details about 1 to 4, as the majority of us will find that we cannot fulfill condition number 5, i.e. it is difficult to look for a good teacher.
Tai Ji is a martial art that places great emphasis on both theory and practice. It is difficult enough for an accomplished teacher to perform a proper excution of Tai Ji as martial art, it will be more difficult without a teacher. A teacher will determine the success or failure of a student, hence the strong emphasis on finding a good teacher. A good teacher needs to fulfill a lot of criteria. What the previous masters find most important is only 2: The teacher has to “have the goods” and “can teach”.
Have the goods
“Having the goods” means having the real thing (even better if the teacher expanded on what he learnt). You can’t listen to whoever who brands himself well, or have a large student following. You can’t even say that the person has the goods just because he is famous. To know whether a person has the goods, you need to understand the person from various sources and consciously observe the teacher. You first have to look at the lineage of teachers before him, but again, just because he’s on some famous lineage does not mean he has the goods. You still have to consciously observe. As choosing the right teacher is that important, you cannot take this exercise lightly. If not, you might end up learning all the wrong things again.
“Can teach” means the teacher is able to pass on his knowledge effectively to the students. This is a bit more than willing to teach, although willing to teach is a key criteria. Some who has the goods are unwilling to teach, hence misleading his students, and concurrently destroying his name and lineage. There are others who doesn’t have the goods, and yet imitate the masters as though he has the goods. He doesn’t even have the fake goods…
Having said all these, you must be wondering, where are all these teachers who “have the goods” and “can teach”?
Yes, these teachers do not come by often, but I manage to chance upon one. His name is Chen Zhong Hua. He is the student of 2 teachers, Hong Jun Sheng and Feng Zhi Qiang, both are 18th generation master of Chen Style Tai Ji. Chen Zhong Hua (CZH) is now the international standard bearer of the Chen Style Practical Method Tai Ji. People who witness his skills are just astounded.
A little story
Before I compare the different Tai Ji systems to understand CZH and his practical method better, let me tell you a little story.
In 2001, at Canada Edmonton’s Huan Yuan Tai Ji academy, a car drove by and parked by the roadside. A man walked straight into the main hall of the academy and asked the first person he saw “Excuse me, I would like to meet Mr Chen”.
“That’s me. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“I am Trevor Jelic. My friend Wei Ping, who’s also a teacher, insisted that I should come and meet you.” And while Trevor was speaking, he was already checking out CZH, trying to hide his curiosity and his feeling of superiority.
“I know Wei Ping, why do you want to meet me?” CZH feels that Trevor has a sharp eye, a good physique, a strong stance and a general strong aura, expecting him to be a martial artist.
Trevor said “Mr Wei Ping thinks highly of your Tai Ji, and emphasized that I should experience it myself.”
CZH understood and just said “I’m happy to be able to practise with you. What kind of martial art do you train in?”
Trevor happily tells him “I trained with Mr Chen for 3 years, Mr Xu for 5 years, and Mr Zhang for 1 year.” These are all famous teachers.
“Do we begin now?” asked CZH.
Trevor replied “That would be best.”, and stepped forward.
As their hands meet, Trevor used both his hands to control CZH’s wrist and elbow, while using the contact on these joints to push CZH. He must have figured that CZH is but 1.6m tall and can’t be more than 60kg. With his strength and skill, his force must be able to push him far right?
Trevor did not expect his hands to be twisted into a spiraling motion and redirected back to his own throat, yet he could not exert any strength in both his hands. But this is not Trevor’s first fight, so he knows immediately that he had to change his tactic. CZH is just one step ahead of him. He sunk his hands and we just hear 2 thuds – Trevor was on his knees.
CZH just said “I’m sorry. My bad.” And immediately lent his hand to pick him up. The people around him is already used to this sight, so no one actually said anything and made any gestures.
Trevor however remained kneeled. CZH wasn’t sure what’s going on, just to see that this large man was suddenly crying. CZH was going to tell him that winning or losing is just normal in life, but Trevor was half choking while muttering “have I just wasted 9 years of my life?”
More to follow . . .
This is a translation and my interpretation of the text written by Sun Zhonghua. He is the 19th generation master of Chen Style Taijiquan and a 2nd generation master of Hunyuan Tai Ji. I hope my translation I does it justice, and didn’t lose the spirit he is trying to convey.
© 2011, IMOS Journal. All rights reserved. Please contact the author directly for permission to re-use this material in any other medium or location.