Zhu Dongsheng’s Search for a Taiji Teacher

by Zhu Dongsheng on 2011/08/03

(translated by Michael Koh of Singapore)
TaiJi Quan is a special and unique martial art from China. Similar to Chinese calligraphy, classics culture and Traditional Chinese Medicine, she is both profound and captivating. Causes many practitioners to train night and day, laboriously and diligently. However, the number of people who has mastered this art is like stars at dawn, far and few. My story of my Taiji journey is divided to before and after I come to know Master Chen Zhong Hua. This is my brief testimony as a show of gratitude (to Master Chen).


I started learning TaiJi Quan in early 2005 because of health. I wanted to pick up a exercise regime and finally selected Tai Ji Quan because of the beautiful and flowing movements. A sense of carefreeness. I was deeply captivated by this art and I read up a lot of books on TaiJi Quan, thinking I can learn the essence of this art from books. In 2006, May, I was training at 临沂羲 garden, I saw a monk practicing TaiJi Quan. The form was smooth and seemed natural. After his practice, I moved forward to make an acquaintance. From the conversation, I found out he was a disciple of Chen Village 陈万亿.He was practicing Chen Style Small Stance (小架). This was from the lineage of 陈清平、陈垚 and陈鑫. After watching for a few days and gotten to know the monk, I asked to learn from him. There was a temple 普照禅寺 where this teacher was staying. He agreed and I was very delighted and excited, thinking my skills would now follow the right path and if I trained hard, I would be famous. Thus I followed this self-proclaimed high level martial art and authentic TaiJi Quan master for a very long time. A Chinese saying, “A Master and Disciple is like a Father and Son”. I treated him like a senior family member. A month later, he had conflicts with the other monks in the temple and left the temple to stay on a mountain. I followed him and took care of his daily needs. Meanwhile, people came to learn from him. For convenience of conducting classes, we moved back to 临沂. I brought him to my home. Later we used the tuition fee for livelihood. Whenever this teacher taught, he would keep and not disclose everything. It seemed pretty mysterious. Initially, I thought it was because he was being careful with this precious skill and his life as a monk would caution him against being too trusting. I was persistent and had faith that my sincerity will move him. But after stayed with him for a long time, my faith was shakened. What I have learned was not any different from those that I have seen displayed by the old and young practicing in the square. I believe he made it mysterious to make more money. We all had the same feeling. And we did not witness any improvement after long and hard training, we began to lose faith and perseverance. I stopped learning from him and invited his junior martial art brother to teach. And treated the teacher’s junior brother the same manner as I have treated the former. However, what I have learned from the latter was not much better. I asked the teacher’s junior brother about my former teacher. He said, my teacher did learn from 陈万亿, but because of my teacher’s bad conduct, 陈万亿had stopped teaching him. The junior brother also know 九华山慧禅 high monk in 2008 and came to know that this teacher was a disciple of the high monk. And also was unpopular for his bad conduct. I was very disappointed and stopped training for half a year. I did not resign to myself and later came to befriend and learn from 赵某. He is very honest and upright. He had practice TaiJi Quan for 15 years with passion. However, he does not have a good teacher and not able to fully master the art. Without progress, I stopped training for another 6 months.
All this happened before I came to know Master Chen.


The passion did not extinguish and due to fate, and in one morning, 2010, May, I made an acquaintance with 吴绍志 at the 临沂 People’s Square. I have heard from good friends that 吴 is a student of Hong Jun Sheng’s school and 吴 has real skills. I was excited after hearing this and went forward to ask 吴. 吴 talked about the Tai Ji Quan basic foundation and it is entirely different from what I had learned before. I realized this is the real knowledge. I told 吴 of my yearn to learn this art. 吴 was very helpful and brought me Master Chen’s instructional video and wanted me to learn the whole form from the video. From then, I trained hard and learned the entire form in a month’s time. 2010 June, Master Chen came back from Canada and with the help of 吴, I went to DaQingShan to meet Master Chen. Before I left for the mountain, my wife said, “If Master Chen is anything like your previous teacher, don’t waste your effort”. I agreed.


June, 20th. I met Master Chen at DaQingShan for the first time. Master Chen was modest and gentle. Carries a flair of Confucianism. That night, Master Chen talked to me till midnight. I told Master Chen of my past experience. Master Chen said, “Your wife is afraid of preparing meals for other people, tell her not to worry, I have chefs on the mountain.” Master Sun was also with us and I showed my form to both Masters and received Master Chen’s encouragement.


That year, Master Chen stayed on the mountain for 3 months. I came for instructions 3 times. I listened to the teaching and benefitted much. Master Chen’s teaching is strict and detail. Especially the basic foundations like “fetch the water”, “circles” etc. Foot positions, body positions, hand positions, angles, directions, precise methods. He explained in detail the theory of Quan. Before I was arrogant, always feel that TaiJi Quan is not difficult to master. All you need is a good teacher. With a correct guide, and training, successful will follow. After hearing from Master Chen, I realized that although the theory is easy to learn, but to master will require a lot of hard work. Master Chen always uses his body in his lessons. After each explanation, he will always let us experiment on him. Thus, this allows the students to experience Master Chen’s TaiJi FaJin wonders. Foreign students are bigger built and Master Chen is of smaller size, but when Master Chen execute his force, we do not see large movement from him, yet can see a 200 pound student bounced up from the floor. It surprised the audience and seems magical. Brother 孙健, when he first went to the mountain, was not impressed with Master Chen’s petite size. He uses huge force on Master Chen’s body and was surprised that he was pushed back 7 to 8 meters away without knowing! Although with lot of witnesses present, no one actually saw how Master Chen did it. Master Chen always said, TaiJi is like a sharp weapon. When you mastered it, your body is like a sword, don’t have to fear of anyone. The first trip to the mountain, I asked Master Chen how to apply “High Pat Horse”. Master Chen used 2 fingers to tap on my forearm. It seemed not much force was used but resulted in great pain as if it was broken.


2010, September the 15th. Master Chen returned to Canada. On the 13th, together with 胡笑明, we visited Master Chen on DaQingShan. That day, there was a storm prevented us from training. Master Chen led us to his room and explained TaiJi’s Ying Yang theory. He used 2 cups for illustrations and explained in detail how yin yang movement is shown in TaiJi Quan. No-movement in the centre, opposites of movement and non-movement and their reciprocal and relationships. This lesson went on for 1 hour and during the important points, he showed us the moves.


Whenever Master Chen teaches, he will make sure you understand. He will repeatedly explain and demonstrate and let the students try it out on his body. He never mystifies anything. He uses body mechanics and physics to explain and analyze. Every example he uses are from daily activities and commonly seen things. When talk about centre and the relationship among other body parts, he uses car and its wheels connection via engine blocks to gears. When talk about during push hand, where you close the gap, the situation is likened to during fishing when you caught a fish, the relationship between the fishing line and the fishing reel. The special path of learning Taiji: Before you master the Taiji Quan Art, it cannot be used, just like an unripe fruit. Not palatable. Once mastered, you will have great power, it does not matter the size of your opponent. Therefore you must endure loneliness during training, train hard, be patient and wait for maturity.


Master Chen not only corrects errors in the form, he also corrects wrong concepts. Most who went to the mountain to learn from Master Chen have already been training in Taiji Quan for many years. I can imagine they have many questions, like me. One day, I asked many questions and Master Chen answered all of them. He said to me, “TaiJi Quan requires more training. At different stage, you will have different problems. And you need to resolve the problems at each stage. Do not assume. With the right method, will strengthen training. Slow is fast.(Master Chen is gentle in admonishment)


Learners of TaiJi always talk about “intelligence”. Many are arrogant with knowledge. Master Chen talked to me seriously: There is much knowledge in the world, once decided on the direction, you can self-experiment and progress. But in learning TaiJi Quan, this method is not workable. For this TaiJi Quan, you have to “learn” and “practice”. “Learn”, is to be faithful to the teacher’s teaching. When you are taught to do “one”, you have to remember only “one”. Do not add or change. “Practice”, must remember this “one” and repeatedly train on this “one”. If one can master by himself, why do we need teachers? Master’s word had shaken me. After some thinking, I gained deep understanding. Taiji Quan is from all the generations of hard learning and training, resulting in crystallized essence. Faithful in learning and training and perseverance, you might have a chance of success. If you are arrogant and add on you own, you would not gain more than general low level skill. Example, if you want to take a train to BeiJing, the simplest method is to purchase a train ticket. Do you have to learn how the train is built before you can make the trip? Isn’t this adding your own wisdom and bringing your own failure?


Master’s words has brought me great understanding. In the past, I used to think that learning quan requires cleverness and intelligence. Many quan practitioners always talk about “intelligence”. I now know this is a fault. TaiJi Quan is a practical knowledge. Even after long training and being faithful does not guarantee success. If you change or add, how can you master this art? From that day, I made a resolution to follow teacher’s instructions and train diligently. This mindset, I have talked about a lot to my friends using the novel, “Condor’s Heroes”, hero named Guo Jing (郭靖). Is Guo Jing intelligent? (he is a very slow learner) If he is your friend, you will probably always make fun of him. But he became a great Martial Art Master. Why? One, he had many accomplished great teachers. Good teacher is the right method. Two, he was faithful to learning and training. Three, diligence. Four, persevere. All these conditions you must have. Especially the first condition. Without the right method, no matter how good are the other conditions, there cannot be success. How can you go north to reach your destination in the south? The author, Mr Louis Cha (金庸先生) created the character Guo Jing with a deep meaning. The purpose is to tell us all knowledge requires unfailing faith, hard work, diligent. Do not be arrogant and add your own intelligent, impatient, otherwise you will not achieve anything.


I always hear this in the past, the number of people learning is like the amount of hair on a ox. The number of people who can master is like the number of horns on the ox’s head. I do not understand this till now after I found a good teacher. From history, we learned 陈长兴,陈清萍、陈发科、洪均生, why do they have famous skilled students? It is because their teachers are great masters of TaiJi. Walk the right path, then you have a chance of success.
When I think of the TaiJi experience before know Master Chen, it was like walking in the dark. Lost. Having a good teacher is like a light penetrating the dark night. Lighting up your way back home.


Of course, it is not easy to find a good teacher. In the martial art world, plenty of people wearing “Masters” hat to cheat and trick. These people are very experienced with the art of cheating. Once you are tricked, you cannot tell right from wrong, and very difficult to witness a real taiji quan art. Therefore, when you choose a teacher, you have to be able to discern. But to a person without any knowledge of TaiJi, this condition is not possible. Like asking for road directions from a blind. Especially to those who think that they are smart, they will believe the fake and not believe the real. The saying “The way is not far from man, it is the man who is far from the way.” Actually, the way is simple and not mysterious. It is your heart that mystifies everything and this mindset stops your progress and allow you to be cheated. A friend told me of his search for teacher. One day,in BeiJing, he met 陈照奎’s son, 陈俞. (Chen Fake’s son and grandson) and asked to learn from him. 陈俞 knew he was from 临沂 and was surprised and asked him “Chen Zhong Hua is your close neighbor, why do you give up the near to seek the far? People always think that grass is always greener on the other side.


All the above is my true experience, the objective is to highlight the importance of seeking the right teacher.
To share with you.
Zhu Dong Sheng.

 

About Zhu Dongsheng

Zhu Dongsheng started learning taiji in 2005. He started with Yang style. From 2006 to 2009 he followed monk Shi Guozhuang to learn Chen Style Small frame. From 2009 to 2010 he studied Chen Style Old Frame yilu from friend Zhao Yanan. He started Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method in June 2010. By August 2011, he became Master Chen Zhonghua's disciple in Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method.| 2005年开始学习太极拳。初,自学杨式太极拳。2006年——2009年,跟随出家人释果庄学习陈氏小架太极拳。2009年——2010年,随友人赵言恩学习陈式太极拳老架一路。 2010年5月,开始学习陈式太极拳实用拳法。2010年6月开始跟随陈中华先生学习陈式太极拳实用拳法。2011年8月拜陈中华先生为师,学习陈式太极拳实用拳法。

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Ron August 4, 2011 at 3:48 am

Is it possible to get an English translation

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michaelkoh August 4, 2011 at 10:03 pm

I really enjoyed reading his story. If no one, I will attempt to translate this for our english speaking audience. Just give me a couple of days.

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michaelkoh August 5, 2011 at 7:41 am

Dear Mr Admin, please put back the original chinese text as well. The original chinese text was very well written and I believe for those who can read chinese would want the “original flavor”. The translated English is only for the non-chinese reader.

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Admin August 5, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Please switch back and forth between English and Chinese by clicking on the language button at the left top corner below the menu bar.

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RonaldNor August 5, 2011 at 9:00 am

Thanks Michael -an interesting read

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Gerry Gebhart August 5, 2011 at 10:03 am

Thanks to the author and translator. It is a very interesting read. Master Chen is not my first teacher either. Now, I find it difficult or perhaps a little painful to watch other teachers and their students. Ping Wei has said he tells people interested in learning that he does not teach “New Age” Tai Chi. That seems to be what most Americans are looking for, and indeed that was really the start for me. However, with luck, I have been presented the opportunity to learn from Master Chen. I hope I can someday do justice to the art

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Hugo Ramiro September 6, 2013 at 8:50 am

What a great article. Thank you Xiao Zhu and Michael!!

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