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Grandmaster Zhu Tian Cai

Chen's Taiji's Quiet Keeper
by C.P.Ong

Zhu Tian Cai's Melons The one lesson that Zhu Tian Cai cherishes most from his master Chen Zhao Pi is that taiji quan (tai chi chuan) is lively ("ling huo"). If you are accustomed to the fast kungfu pace, you wonder what is "lively" about taiji. You have seen taiji presentations during the "Masters Demonstration" at many wushu championship meets or festivals. In contrast, the audience is always more delighted at the rapid-fire moves, the high-flying kicks and the low-to-the-ground stances of wushu, from the sound of its applause. Yet, you are aware that taiji quan enjoys a high regard in the Chinese martial arts world. So you hang on to the recitation of the taiji master's lineage and legacy preceding the demonstration, look forward to a revelation of something about art. More than what you see in parks.

The one lesson that Zhu Tian Cai cherishes most from his master Chen Zhao Pi is that taiji quan (tai chi chuan) is lively ("ling huo"). If you are accustomed to the fast kungfu pace, you wonder what is "lively" about taiji. You have seen taiji presentations during the "Masters Demonstration" at many wushu championship meets or festivals. In contrast, the audience is always more delighted at the rapid-fire moves, the high-flying kicks and the low-to-the-ground stances of wushu, from the sound of its applause. Yet, you are aware that taiji quan enjoys a high regard in the Chinese martial arts world. So you hang on to the recitation of the taiji master's lineage and legacy preceding the demonstration, look forward to a revelation of something about art. More than what you see in parks.

In front of the wushu curtain, the taiji master in a silk uniform looks impressive, in the slow motion flow of movements. Still, the audience soon shifts with a mild restlessness, and feels that it is long. Although you may not be more enlightened or convinced of the efficacy of the art, you join in the polite applause. However, the crowd appears a little more receptive to a Chen taiji demonstration. The pace quickens sometimes and the stances are more martial. Interspersed in the slow motion are some explosive movements and some foot-stamping to break the monotony. Is this the liveliness referred to here?

This is only the obvious aspect which is not surprising, as Chen taiji is not practiced slowly for the sake of slowness. The slow-motion practice is a means to an end, to discern and to experience the motion in detail, body and mind. This method of training "softens" the body so that it becomes sensitive. When the practice pace is slow, you must not be tense ("jiang"), and when it is fast, the movements must not be confused or scattered ("luan" or "san"). You can then execute movements fast like kungfu moves without tenseness but with a relaxed body and a clear, sharp mind. Chen taiji does recognize practice in speed and power. The "soft" practice is misleading, but is a way to build power (internal) or "hardness." The taiji movements appear soft, but they are not weak.

Ling Huo
The not so obvious aspect of this idea of liveliness is to be found in what resides in the taiji motion. The basis to Chen taiji motion is the "silk-reeling energy" ("chan si jin") that drives it. This energy is fundamental to Chen taiji practice, and it is behind the spiraling and coiling motion that defines the character of this taiji style. This energy expresses itself more and more as "qi" develops, when the practitioner rids the body of tension and works to calm the mind. The motion then is driven by qi which is stirred by the mind-intent ("yi"). In this way the coiling motion becomes lively, charged with silk-reeling energy. With this energy moving internally, Master Zhu's form exudes power with "peng jin" as he flows from posture to posture, like water running in a brook. Without this internal energy the form will look dull and wooden. Without silk-reeling energy there is no Chen Taiji. Without peng jin there is no taiji quan.

Hidden Aspect
The least obvious aspect of "ling huo" deals with taiji's application, and this is what makes taiji such an effective martial art. Because it is hidden from the naked eye, it is a source of mystery and wonderment. Can this slow motion taiji practice stack up against the quick and powerful kicks and punches?

This hidden aspect manifests in three ways. Firstly, the ling huo enables a sharp mind-intent ("yi") to command the obedience of the body and the internal energy ("nei jin"). The arduous taiji training tempers the body, like steel, so that it becomes malleable. The body will then move with no tenseness or stiffness. This soft and silky motion is achieved only when the body is full of "qi," inducing the motion. (This motion is not the same as that powered by the immediate muscles of the limbs.)

Zhu Tian Cai posed To demonstrate this yi, Master Zhu throws a "fajin" punch and the fist flies out like the crack of whip. He does more to show how he summons his body into action, by doing one fajin after another, with his elbows, shoulders and hands. Each is as stunningly powerful as the last. Devastating though the power is, it is more important to note that this explosive release of collected internal energy from the body can be called upon in any situation as needed in a martial application.

The premise of taiji quan's application is that whatever the intended use of a form or posture may be, it is ling huo; that is, it is not restricted or "dead." The coiling "jin" has two orientations and three degrees of motion in space. Take the simplest point affecting a martial use - the distance between yourself and the opponent. The common upper roll-back movement in the form, where the arms move in an upper arc, is intended to intercept an opponent's attacking arm, deflecting and throwing him/her off. At a closer range, this intended use may not apply, but the internal energy can be directed to the elbow to strike out, or closer still, to the shoulder for a shoulder-fajin to damage. There is yet another category besides fajin. There are many small subtle movements that require a short hidden burst of force, or "an jin" to execute in martial use. The liveliness of nei jin is at play here too.

Master Zhu stands five-eight, and weighs 180, average for a northern Chinese. You have pushed and lifted furniture a lot bigger and heavier than that. However, push at him as hard as you like, it will be to no avail. His body's "peng jin" simply directs your force to the feet, so that you are pushing against the ground. On the outside, his stance is stationary but internally, it is very lively. This hidden aspect of ling huo is manifested thus in what is often referred to as "rooting."

Mysterious Flying Students
In Dec 1999, Master Zhu was in Los Angeles teaching a class, and arrived at the move called "Xiao Qin Da" (Small Grapple Counter), which is a combination of movements. Lao Chen, a student, asked him about the use of the move. This move has small and subtle movements that are not apparent. The master detailed the motions. Firstly, the small rotation of the wrist frees an attacker's grappling hold ("qinna") on the arm. The attacker senses that he is losing his hold, and notices the defender's advancing foot coming in to step on his shin. So he retreats. The defender follows, and steps into the opponent's domain, with the arms pushing him off. He resists the push, but the move allows for this with an upper roll-back and a counter offensive thrust. Thus Master Zhu expounded as he showed the intricacies of the movements. He then gestured to Lao Chen to assist in a demonstration. Lao Chen grabbed and held the master's wrist. He was bigger and his grip was strong. Master Zhu proceeded to free the hold by a screw-like motion with the wrist, as he had done many times before. But instead of the sequence of advancing steps, as seen and explained earlier, the class was surprised to see Lao Chen flying off, knocking down a fellow student ten feet away.

Chen Taiji push hands The class was stunned and awed at the same time. The students wanted to know what mysterious hidden power the master used. He replied that it was Lao Chen's own force that threw himself off. As he uttered those words, he was hearing almost the same words spoken by his own master in chiding a fellow student in the early training years in Chenjiagou (the Chen Village).

Zhu Tian Cai was practicing push-hands with this student who was five years older than the average teenagers then, and so was bigger and stronger. Young Zhu had learned not to be intimidated by size and strength. His master had taught them to keep working on "peng, lu, ji, an," and that they were not to be discouraged if a physically stronger and bigger person prevailed, as it did not mean that the latter had better skill. The young students, heeding the Master's words, would usually yield by backing away when this older student pushed hard at them. So it appeared that he was chasing the lanky kids around during the push-hand sessions.

One day, this older student pushed hard at Zhu, as he always did before. Zhu found his ground this time. So instead of backing away, he stayed and absorbed the incoming force by a large roll-back. Unfortunately, the charging student's index finger was caught in Zhu's hand and broke like a brittle twig. The pain was excruciating and the next day the finger swelled. He complained to the master that Zhu used force on him to break his finger. The master said it was his own physical force that caused it, and not little Zhu's.

As Master Zhu attempted to free his wrist from Lao Chen's powerful grip, the latter pressed harder still. Master Zhu relaxed and reversed his coiling motion. His hand could "hear" that Lao Chen slipped, and instantly, he let out a shoulder fajin striking him and sent him flying. The body's sensitivity to "listen" to the opponent's force, and to respond accordingly to the changes, is the third manifestation of the hidden liveliness inherent in the body's peng jin. This hidden element of ling huo is paramount in the martial application of taiji quan. This very element is also the cause of amazement that continues to astound fans and wushu aficionados alike, and feeds into the mystery of the art.

Zhu Tian Cai's Journey
Over a century and a half ago, Yang Lu Chan (1799-1872) amazed martial artists of his time with taiji quan, defeating all his challengers, and came to known as "Yang the Invincible." He was the first person not of the Chen village stock to learn the art from the 14th generation standard bearer, Chen Chang Xing (1771-1853). When Yang left the village he took the art outside for the first time. While his descendants and disciples spread the art outside, spawning the different schools of taiji, at Chenjiagou the Chen masters maintained the tradition of the taiji system of martial art and passed it down from one generation to the next, to the present 19th generation successors, who include Zhu Tian Cai.

Zhu Tian Cai, born July 25, 1944 in Xian, Shanxi, at the age of six went with his mother, a Chen, when she returned to the Chen Village to stay with her father. His mother, like her nephews, Chen Xiao Wang and Chen Zheng Lei, descends from the illustrious Chen Chang Xing. Chen Xiao Wang's grandfather is the famed 17th generation standard bearer, Chen Fa-Ke (1887-1957), and Chen Zheng Lei's uncle is the revered 18th generation grandmaster, Chen Zhao Pi (1893-1972) who trained the present crop of famous 19th generation masters, including the "Four Great Warrior-Guardians" ("Si Da Jin Gang").

With blue taiji blood running in the veins of these youngsters, naturally taiji education was part of growing up. Formal training began in 1958 when Chen Zhao Pi returned to the village and undertook the task to nurture a new group of practitioners for the next generation. Besides Zhu Tian Cai, Chen Xiao Wang, Chen Zheng Lei and Wang Xian, there were Chang Guan Cai, Chen Xia Sung, Chen Chun Lei and others. Chen Qing Zhou who lived in a nearby village, also joined the group whenever he came to Chenjiagou.

Those were wonderful years, where life centered on taiji. Weekends and daily right after school, they would gather in the Master's house to practice or hang-out. They lived in neighboring houses in the south side of the village. Sharing chores in communal living, the mothers were particularly close to one another. At about seven, they would call out for dinner. The meals were furnished from a large pot of maize, kaolian or potatoes, and mantou. The more refined grain of wheat would only be enjoyed in the three months harvest, and that too was mixed. The meals were always quick and they would be back again at the Master's home. The Master would teach them new things and review their progress. They would practice more, staying into the nights, literally burning the midnight oil lamps. Sometimes visitors would come, and the Master would regale them with wonderful and inspirational taiji stories. So if they were not at school or at home sleeping or eating, they were doing taiji at the Master's home. Occasionally, after finishing at night, they would hear a distant sound of an outdoor movie playing in a nearby village. That would send them scrambling to catch the movie. They would always get there just in time to see the movie end. That was the extent of their memorable distraction.

Instilled by the affinity to taiji legacy and inspired by their Master, they trained and trained and trained. They completed a comprehensive range of taiji bare-hand and weapon sets: the basic "old frame 1st routine," "old frame 2nd routine" (also known as "the cannon fist routine"), single and double sword forms, single & double broadsword forms, spear, taiji "eight-staff," double mace routines, and the Spring & Autumn staff-broadsword set. In addition, the Master taught them push-hands and taiji's martial application and theory. In all, he passed down the tradition of the taiji system of boxing to them, as it was passed down to him, thus preserving the art in Chenjiagou.

Cultural Revolution, Bruce Lee
Red Guard The happy days of growing-up and training came to an abrupt halt in 1966. As remote and insignificant as Chenjiagou was as a political or economic entity, it did not escape the scourge of the onslaught of the Red Guards. Master Chen Zhao Pi, as one who was held in esteem and respect in the community, was pilloried, paraded in a dunce cap and humiliated with the unmitigated fervor of misguided youth. The village temple which was the only edifice of note, was torn down to the ground. In the chaos, there was no debate as to whether taiji quan had some, or lacked, Marxist hue. It was denounced as a decadent practice of the past. Thus taiji ceased in the place of its birth. The village lost its soul.

Just as abruptly, 1972 ushered in a new era for wushu in China. An unprecedented surge of interest in Chinese martial arts sparked its revival and a search for old masters in China. This was in large part due to Bruce Lee. His martial skills and acting abilities, fortified by his charisma, formed a potent mix that brought the old themes of Chinese heroism fighting oppression with kungfu skills into a new level of "real" action fighting.

The Chinese government did not fail to see the impact of this potential and initiated to organize the wushu sport at every level. Master Chen Zhao Pi was rehabilitated to train a group of Chenjiagou students for the upcoming September, 1972 Henan Provincial Wushu Meet in Deng Feng (the seat of the Shaolin Temple) with Zhu Tian Cai assisting. The group was honored with a certificate of merit, a recognition of outstanding performance at that time, as there were no competitive placements. Master Chen Zhao Pi was happy to be able to dedicate himself to taiji again. But it lasted only briefly, as he passed away in December of that year. However, he did live to see his labor come to fruition in the group he brought up, and knew that he had done his duty to preserve the art.

Chen Zhao Kui...And Other Chen Masters
Chen Zhao Kui, the second and surviving son of the famed 17th generation standard bearer, Chen Fa-Ke (1887-1957), returned to Chenjiagou to further elevate the taiji skills of the practitioners there. Chen Fa-Ke had left the village in 1928 to teach taiji in Beijing. He followed in the heels of Chen Zhao Pi, who was actually the first Chen master to leave Chenjiagou in the same year to teach outside of the village. It was Chen Zhao Pi who requested for Chen Fa-Ke to fill his place in Beijing when he went to Nanjing to take up a municipal wushu position there, as a taiji master. Chen Fa-Ke, in his later years, changed some movements of the "old frame routines" and also added some new ones. These innovations add more liveliness to the practice, and also help bring out the effectiveness of the art better.

Chen Zhao Kui Chen Zhao Kui taught what he learned from his father to the Chenjiagou practitioners. In the mornings, he taught an open class daily, and in the evenings he gave private instructions to a group of six to seven. Included in this special group were Zhu Tian Cai, Chen Xiao Wang, Chen Zheng Lei and Wang Xi An. To distinguish the new routines by Chen Zhao Kui, from the "old frame" routines, they came to be known as the "new frame routines." In addition, Chen Zhao Kui also imparted to them a wealth of taiji "qinna" techniques which he was famous for, plus many other taiji application ideas, and push-hand skill. Zhu Tian Cai recalls well the swollen knuckles from practicing qinna with fellow students.

Once in explaining the power of push-hands, Chen Zhao Kui mentioned that brother Feng (Feng Zhi Qiang, a fellow student of his father) could, with the strike of his palm, fell ten persons. Years later, Feng came to visit the Village, to share his knowledge of taiji. When the subject came to "qinna," he related with admiration that Chen Zhao Kui's qinna was without peers. Tian Xiu Chen was another student of Chen Fa-Ke. Feng was already a veteran martial artist skilled in "xingyi" and other martial arts when he met Tian. In a friendly play, he struck out at Tian, who with the taiji skill of "yin jin luo kong," neutralized Feng's force. He was amazed and, through Tian, became a student of Chen Fa-Ke. In Beijing, taiji aficionados often talk of Chen Zhao Kui's "na fa" (grappling skills), Feng Zhi Qiang's "da fa" (striking skills) and Tian Xiu Chen's "hua fa" (neutralizing skills).

Taiji, a Martial Art
ZTC swords At first Zhu Tian Cai was always puzzled when people outside asked if taiji could still be used for fighting, as if taiji's martial skill was something of a distant past. He did not know that taiji in the outside world had transformed into different styles, and that many had taken up the art as a form of health exercise. To him, taiji quan has always been, first and foremost, a system of martial art. He practices taiji for only one purpose, as a martial skill. In the old days, the villagers needed the martial skills to defend themselves against marauders or bandits, or to fight as conscripted soldiers. The tradition of taiji quan as a martial art has not changed in Chenjiagou right to the present day. Indeed, every generation since the time of Chen Wang Ting (1600-1680) boasts its standard bearer and masters and their incredible skills.

Master Zhu has many stories to tell from the Chen annals of famous taiji masters. Here is one which tells the story of the 12th generation legend, Chen Jing Bai, and is remembered by the refrain known to children of Chenjiagou, "Da Si Hei Li Hu, Lei Si Chen Jing Bai." (The blow that killed Hei Li Hu so exhausted Chen Jing Bai that he passed away.) On the 25th of March of each year, the annual "Temple Bazaar" takes place in Chenjiagou. On this festive occasion, vendors of all sorts come, attracting visitors from far and near.

It was on such an event that a Shandong herbal medicine vendor, by the nickname of Hei Li Hu, came to Chenjiagou to sell his cures. He displayed his wares and beat his gong. A crowd quickly encircled him. He talked of the power and wonder of his medicine, and of his martial skills. He brandished broadswords with both his hands in grand fashion, and loudly proclaimed that nothing could get through the double swirling swords covering his head and body, not even rain or wind. He had traveled up and down both banks of the Yellow River and had not met an equal in double-broadsword skill. Thus he pranced and put on a most impressive display, while talking of his prowess.

Chen Jing Bai, in his seventies, was returning from clearing the drainage in the farm fields, and had joined the crowd. He had his rake over his shoulder, and was wearing a straw hat. The bragging was getting to annoy him. While the medicine man, brandishing the swords in circles, was close to him, in a flash he slipped in and placed his straw hat on Hei Li Hu's head. Shocked and humiliated, Hei Li Hu packed his wares and left, and promised Chen Jing Bai that they would have another encounter.

Ten years later, Hei Li Hu, who had trained with one sole objective to seek his revenge, returned to Chenjiagou. He could not find Chen Jing Bai in the village. But he traced him to the Yu Huang Temple in Wenxian, a close-by town. Hei Li Hu found him in the entrance ground of the temple. Chen Jing Bai had not recognized Hei. But Hei reminded him of the humiliation he suffered in the Chenjiagou Temple Bazaar. He told him he had trained and returned to challenge him as he promised. He then closed the entrance door and placed a huge memorial tablet to block it. Chen Jing Bai did not want to fight but his adversary, half his age, gave him no choice.

So Chen Jing Bai asked, "Since you must have this fight, what manner do you want to fight me? Do you want to fight fixed-rule ("wen da") or free-form ("wu da")?" Hei Li Hu gulped in an air of satisfaction, that he was now going to have his day, and asked Chen to explain the rules. In "wen da" each would have three blows at the front of the other, backed against the wall. Whoever survived the blows would be the winner. Hei had trained the "iron-fist" and crushed bricks and walls. He looked at Chen's frail old body and thought he could without a doubt dispose of it. With the "iron shirt" he had developed, he had taken a thousand punches without getting hurt. Old Chen's weak limbs surely could not do him damage. So without hesitation he opted for "wen da" and asked who should go first. The elderly Chen replied simply, "Just go ahead, you start first."

Old Chen's back was against the memorial tablet. Hei threw a powerful punch at his chest that surely would devastate the body. But the punch struck a bit to the left, and old Chen's soft taiji body cushioned the blow with his body's peng jin, and turning slightly to the left, the blow brushed closely against the body's tautness, and was guided away. Hei threw his second punch, equally as powerful, and struck old Chen slightly to the right. Using the same taiji peng jin and turning his body slightly to the right, he deflected the blow. Down to his last punch, Hei summoned all his power, and aimed straight at Chen's lower abdomen. Old Chen jumped up and the punch went through below his groin, between his legs, and struck the memorial tablet, and broke it in half.

It was old Chen's turn to hit Hei. Hei was ready, and his body looked so formidable that a heavy ram would not hurt him. Old Chen threw a quick punch. Hei saw it coming and his body was ready for it. It landed with no effect on Hei. But then just as Hei took in a breath, old Chen summoned all his energy and issued a short burst of fajin punch. Hei fell to the ground, blood flowing from his mouth, and died.

Old Chen quietly went home, and in a few days, fell ill and passed away. So they say of old Chen in Chenjiagou. "Da si Hei Li Hu, Lei si Chen Jing Bai."
The story of Chen Zhao Xu is related here for two reasons. The first is that the personage is not of the distant past. Rather, he is Chen Xiao Wang's father, and the incident is still recounted by living contemporaneous eyewitnesses. The second reason is that this story serves as a testimony that for every legend recorded, there are many unsung accomplished taiji masters. Chen Zhao Xu's taiji skill might not have been divulged, if not for Chen Li Zi's prank on his little ninth uncle.

Taiji Pranks
Chen Li Zi, although older in age than Chen Zhao Xu, was born of a younger generation. So he called Chen Zhao Xu "little ninth uncle." Chen Zhao Xu had mastered taiji from his father, Chen Fa-Ke, the 17th generation standard bearer of the art. Although his taiji skills were known to be considerable, only a few students in Chenjiagou had studied with Chen Zhao Xu, and fewer still actually witnessed his taiji prowess.

Chen Zhao Xu was paying Chen Li Zi's home a visit. The older nephew happened to be trailing behind him, as they entered the main entrance to the house. Chen Li Zi knew that his "little ninth uncle" was an extremely good taiji practitioner. He was stronger in build and bigger in size. From behind, he locked Chen Zhao Xu's right arm, by placing his left hand on the latter's right shoulder, and at the same time gripping the hand in his own right hand. He pressed down on the shoulder and twisted the wrist, and playfully teased, "Ae! Little ninth uncle, if someone held you with this lock, what would you do?"

Before Chen Li Zi finished his sentence, Chen Bai Xian, a witness standing by, saw Chen Li Zi's body flying over Chen Zhao Xu's head, and crashing down in front. There was no injury as Chen Zhao Xu held on to the prankster's hand to break his fall as he landed on his front knee in the bow stance. Helping his old nephew up, Chen Zhao Xu rebuked him, "Are you looking to kill yourself?"

Relating the incident to others, Chen Bai Xian marveled at the skill of Chen Zhao Xu. He was expecting to see the usual technique of him wriggling out of the hold, followed with a counter-hold or some other familiar counter-offensive. He was awed by a hidden fajin that flipped the body over completely. To this day when Chen Bai Xian or Chen Li Zi, who now lives in Xian, recounts the incident, they still are as perplexed as ever as to how Chen Zhao Xu executed the move that flipped the body over from behind. So it is said in Chenjiagou, if not for Chen Li Zi's prank on his little ninth uncle, we might not have been able to tell the story of Chen Zhao Xu's taiji skill.

Difficult Taiji Lives
Times had not been kind to the 18th generation Chen taiji masters. Chen Zhao Xu left the village in 1955, and died outside in 1960, a victim of the tumultuous political climate. His taiji skills were already well regarded in the village since his youth. His contemporaries marveled at his incredibly crisp fajin which exploded like thunderclaps. It can be seen where his son, Chen Xiao Wang, draws his inspiration from in his own fajin. But Chen Zhao Xu did not have a chance to pursue his endowment. His younger brother, Chen Zhao Kui, was more fortunate. Though his livelihood was difficult, he managed to teach in between mundane jobs, and leave behind a legacy in his students. Chen Zhao Pi, although of the 18th generation, was only six years younger than Chen Fa-Ke, and so was more of the latter's contemporary. He was able to live a fuller taiji life.

The life of the young 19th generation Chen successors in the village was just as difficult as their parents'. After a hiatus of six years, taiji sprang back to life in Chenjiagou in 1972, with the staging of the Henan Wushu Festival in Deng Feng in July of that year. Since then, Zhu Tian Cai and the other Chenjiagou practitioners have participated yearly in just about every wushu activity at every level. Although Zhu had become increasingly involved in taiji, teaching and representing the sport officially at the village, county or provincial level, he maintained his teaching position at the village school, a job he had held since 1966.

In 1978 China organized a first national training program for wushu coaches restricted to one participant per province, and Zhu was selected to attend the three-month program at the Sichuan Physical Education Institute, in Chengdu, Sichuan. Upon return, he worked as a full-time taiji coach stationed at Wenxian, under the Henan Sports Authority. Through the mid-eighties he continued to compete or lead teams to wushu meets, winning gold medals for himself or for the team. In this period, four taiji practitioners emerged to be the most outstanding, dominating the taiji sport. Soon, they came to be affectionately referred to as the four great "Jin Gang," a term referring to a fearsome bronze statue guarding Buddha or a deity in a temple, and borrowed from the name of the first move, "Jin Gang Dao Dui." These "Four Great Warrior-Guardians" or "Si Da Jin Gang" are Zhu Tian Cai, Chen Xiao Wang, Chen Zheng Lei and Wang Xi An, all from the original batch groomed by Master Chen Zhao Pi and later by Master Chen Zhao Kui.

In 1982, the Chen Village built its first modern building, an architectural aberration, to house the Chenjiagou Taiji School. In June of that year, the school received its first batch of students from within China. Zhu Tian Cai was the principal coach. As the sport of wushu took shape, the wushu profession also was getting organized, with proper accreditation for instructors and judges. Zhu was recognized as a wushu specialist in taiji, and rose in the ranks of the sport, as a judge and professional coach. In 1989, China established positions to support the country's artists of all fields with wushu included. The highest rank of these positions is "Gao Ji Jiao Lian" ("Senior National Coach"). The award was initially restricted to a maximum of two per province. The first awards in Henan Province went to Chen Xiao Wang in taiji, and the other to a Shaolin master in Deng Feng. In 1991, Zhu Tian Cai was also awarded the position of "Senior National Coach," entitling him to a relatively comfortable stipend, to teach and promote taiji.

Zhu Tian Cai

Taiji Revival
The revival of wushu in China focuses new attention on taiji and its roots. Although there are varying accounts of the origins of taiji, few have historical basis. However, except for details, it is a historical fact that the different styles of taiji flow from Yang Lu Chan. Yang was the first outsider to learn the art from Chen Chang Xing in Chenjiagou, and he took it outside with him when he left the village, beginning the propagation of the art. The Chen Village records trace the art back to Chen Wang Ting, a 9th generation patriarch. Chenjiagou thus has a claim to fame as the home of taiji. When you think that the direct descendants of Chen Chang Xing (and Chen Wang Ting) are still practicing the art there, the pull to the place becomes irresistible.

The Japanese were the first to come in April of 1980. Although the group proper numbered only nineteen, an army descended on Chenjiagou. The deluge included the Japanese TV crew, as well as the local Henan TV. The event was a momentous historic first. Ready or not, Chenjiagou was thrown into the international spotlight. Soon groups from Southeast Asian countries came. The Europeans and the Americans followed. The Japanese returned. They all came to learn and to sightsee.

The Japanese were also the first to invite the Chenjiagou masters to visit abroad. On July of 1983 they visited Japan, and toured seven cities. In November of the same year, Singapore requested a Chen Taiji master, and Zhu Tian Cai was sent. He stayed for seven months to teach there. He is recognized as a pioneer of Chen Taiji in Singapore and Malaysia. His contribution was so well regarded by the country that in 1996 he was granted a residency in Singapore. Since then, the masters travel annually abroad to conduct taiji seminars. Chen Xiao Wang was the first to come to the U.S. in 1988. Chen Zheng Lei came in 1996, and Zhu Tian Cai in 1998. In June of 2000, Wang Xian also visited the U.S. Through a series of coincidences, three of them gathered for the first after many years, in Potomac, Maryland, for a barbecue dinner in July 26, 2000.

The present times are more hospitable to the 19th generation Chen Taiji masters. Just as the political turmoil and uncertainties of China affected adversely the welfare of the art and the 18th generation masters, the ascendancy of the Asian Economic Tigers in the eighties helped to bring the art out internationally. It certainly helped when anything denominated in the RMB was a bargain.

Zhu Tian Cai and Chen Xiao Wang found some quiet moments together in the patio at the author's home. They reminisced as they sipped tea. They started kindergarten together. During the growing-up school days, there was not a day that they were not together. Their lives were so simple and living conditions utterly basic. They practice taiji because it is simply there, just as fish swim in a river. Soaking in the balmy summer breeze in the shade, Zhu said that even in his wildest dreams he could not imagine how far Chen Taiji had taken them. The author nudged him with a strong jab to assure him that it was not a dream.