The first time I met Chen Xiao Wang was back in 2002. I had already been practising Yang style Taiji for about 4 years when one of my fellow students invited me to go with him up to Reading for a Chen style Taiji workshop with Master Chen. I jumped at the chance because I had read and heard lots of good things about Master Chen’s skills and I was very curious to find out more about the Chen style which I knew to be reputed as the mother source of all other forms of Taiji.
The workshop was an excellent experience. First of all Master Chen talked a little about Taiji principles and in a clear and down to earth way explained how we must learn to move in a balanced and relaxed way with the Dantien or centre as the organiser and commander behind the integrated, whole-body movement that comprises all Taiji movement. As he demonstrated some of the basic silk-reeling exercises his calm presence and exceptionally fluid and stable movement made for wonderful viewing. When it came round to us working through the exercises ourselves his regular corrections allowed me to realise that I hardly knew my own body at all despite my previous training and beliefs to the contrary. It was very much a case of going back to the drawing board for by the end of the workshop it was apparent that pretty much everything I thought I knew about Taiji and movement in general was in fact quite inaccurate. But the best was yet to come. As things drew to a close Master Chen said he would provide us with a demonstration and so we all sat down around the edge of the hall and waited with baited breath. Time seemed to slow down and as he stood in the centre preparing himself eyes closed, Master Chen appeared calm, motionless and perfectly balanced. Slowly and smoothly he began. The first few moves of his form looked different to what I was used to but never before had I seen Taiji done so well or indeed any kind of movement performed at such a high level. He seemed to combine incredible smoothness and fluidity with deep, solid stances that exuded stability and balance. Everything about him just looked ‘right’ somehow.
I was already deeply impressed when after about one minute into the demonstration everything changed. Suddenly Master Chen jumped high in the air and landed unwavering with a loud bang that reverberated through the floor only to emit a flurry of lightening fast punches. It was like a bomb had gone off. For the next couple of minutes I was in shock as Master Chen proceeded to let rip indefatigably. But as quickly as it had started it was all over and Master Chen was back in the centre of the hall quiet, calm and motionless once more. The hall exploded with applause.
My mind was completely blown as the simplified Yang style Taiji I had previously learned paled in comparison; this was like a whole other world. I didn’t even know that there were any fast movements in Taiji let alone jumps, spins, kicks and punches! I could see now that the softness and slowness was one side of the Taiji coin that facilitated this new exciting other. All I wanted to do now was learn Chen style Taiji and the rest they say is history!
So each year in early June when Master Chen comes to Reading, expertly hosted by my teachers Karel and Eva, I am very happy. I get to learn loads of cool stuff and inevitably end up going away being hugely inspired all over again. This year it was just as wonderful as the first and I swear that Master Chen gets better each time I see him. As I slowly improve in my own training I increasingly appreciate his outstanding high level of achievement. Out of everything we trained with him this year I particularly enjoyed our pushing-hands workshop for when he demonstrates a technique on you it is quite an experience. Despite being twice my age he combines tremendous dexterity with formidable, fluid power and although he takes it very easy on us I find it daunting to say the least!
Like last year I took the opportunity to take a certification examination with Master Chen, this time in Xinjia Yilu, my personal favourite practise along with standing meditation. My good friend Phil joined me along with Mark from Bristol and Estevam who had come all the way from Brazil. Fortunately, we all passed the exam successfully and afterwards Master Chen treated us to a insightful lecture about his family history and successful Taiji training. As usual it all ended with smiling faces and bids that we would all practise much more diligently this year. Happy days and once again many thanks to Master Chen Xiao Wang. Now there is lots of practise to do – roll on next year!