In May of 2011 I travelled to Daqingshan for the third time; my earlier visits took place in 2007 and 2009. The purpose of this trip was to receive further instruction from my Master, Chen Zhonghua, and to offer him my support by taking part in the First International Hong Junsheng Taijiquan Seminar and Competition. While commitments back in Canada meant that this trip was shorter than previous ones, I feel I learned a great deal from this visit.
The Daqingshan facilities have grown substantially since 2007 and this year saw the addition of a new hotel and conference center, the Wang Ting pavilion, where the competition was held and where most of the competitors stayed. The welcome was, as always, a warm one and the vast organic meals were delicious throughout.
At least 300 people turned up from various Taijiquan and Wushu schools around the country, most coming from the province of Shandong. Numerous master teachers came both to corner their students in the push-hands competitions, to judge and to offer seminars on the teachings of the late Hong Junsheng. I had the pleasure of seeing Masters Cai, Sun, Ni and Qi again and well as having the honour of meeting such influential teachers as Master Li Enjiu and Master Chen Jin Yuan.
While I’ve attended martial arts competitions in Canada and the USA, this was my first experience of such an event in China. The competition consisted of push-hands contests and Taiji Taolu or form presentation events. I took part in the latter.
Pushing-hands competitions are essentially standing grappling events with a rule set that espouses the ideals of Taijiquan. When competitors grapple, they are not permitted to hook the neck or the back for extended periods of time, nor are they allowed to attack the legs with the hands. While these robust exchanges seem a far cry from the elegant and flowing push-hands patterns (Tuishou Taolu) typically seen in North America, one gets a real sense of how skilled a competitor has to be to overcome the strength and momentum of a determined adversary. As the prize money offered at the competition was quite substantial, the bouts were contested with great enthusiasm. Several of Master Chen’s Canadian and American students participated in the push-hands; we showed good sportsmanship and pretty decent defensive skills, but succumbed to the experience and conditioning of the Chinese competitors.
Unlike the push-hands competitions, where there is a clear winner, final championships for each weight class and an overall grand champion bout without weight class constraints, forms competitors are not competing against each other but against a set series of external criteria. Forms competitors are evaluated on the depth and stability of their stances, their flow, the precision of kicks and punches and so on. The forms and push hands judges at the competition were Class 1 judges, licensed to evaluate at the international level. I participated in the forms competition, along with many of my classmates, presenting the Yi Lu or first routine of the Chen style Practical Method. I was surprised and pleased to receive a score of 8.6/10 for my efforts!
Following the competition, life on Daqingshan settled into a comfortable training routine. We would rise between 4:30am and 5:00am and have a quick cup of coffee with Master Chen before beginning to practice at 5:30am. Some days saw us at work early with Master Chen waiting for us on the training deck just before five. As usual, he does not seem to need sleep! Each morning Master Chen would set us some sort of movement problem to work on for the day. His hands-on instruction would last about an hour and then we’d break off to work on said problem, applying his directions to either our form practice or to push-hands and partner work. He would frequently interrupt our work throughout the day to refresh his point, to correct our form or to push-hands with us. A typical day would see students working from 5:30am-7:30am, from around 9:30am until 11:00am or even 11:30am on cooler days, from 3:00pm-5:30pm and then for an hour or two in the evening. Master Chen treats his students like adults, presenting the material and leaving the training up to them. He also encourages senior students to coach and assist junior ones, which creates a very positive learning environment. My ‘nephew’ Steve Chan taught me the rudiments of the Er Lu orform just before I left, for which I am most grateful.
For four days following the competition, Master Chen’s colleague and elder Taiji brother Master Chen Jin Yuan taught us the Spring and Autumn Glaive or Chun Qiu Guan Dao form from the Hunyuan Taijiquan system. Master Chen Sr. is a robust 76 and regularly exhausted us, leading full on acrobatic practice under the blazing sun. The only person more exacting than Master Chen Sr. was his wife, who would scold, correct and praise us from her seat. Having spent a lifetime watching her husband and daughter practice Taiji, she knew every detail by heart!
In the blink of an eye, my three weeks were over and it was time to pack up andback to Canada. I’d like to express my deep appreciation for my Master, Chen Zhonghua for all of his hard work on behalf of his disciples and students. I’d also like to thank all of the other participants on Daqingshan this year; its was great to see old friends again and an honour to make so many new ones.