About Challenges

by Chen Zhonghua Taiji Academy on 2015/02/03

LaiQingwenWhat they are

is simple: challenges!  This information is for the few who don’t know.

The case of study used is the challenges that happened in Yishui, Shandong, China on Feb. 1, 2015. The two videos are included below for references. There are lots of comments at the youtube site where the videos are.

Chen Xu and Li Xiaohui, two instructors of the Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method system of the Daqingshan International Taijiquan Training Center, were in Yishui teaching a week-long workshop in Yishui, Shandong Province. They were there on the invitation of Mr. Lai Qingwen. Mr. Lai had been to Daqingshan and had decided to start learning the Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method system. There were 7 people at the day session and about 25 during morning and at night.

Chen Zhonghua with Ronnie Yee in 2004 陈中华和余永安As seen in the first video, a few outsiders came to “Observe”. They are not paid members of the class. They only came to observe and check the workshop out. In this area in China, this behavior is locally accepted, the excuse being that if they did not see for themselves how good the instruction was, they would not be able to decide whether to join or not. If this is not allowed, then the local taiji community will see the event and instructors very negatively. Rumors will start.

These people will normally watch a bit and then either issue a challenge or just leave. In this case, the head person decided to issue a challenge. A challenge is not formal like in the movies. The challenger will simply give a high praise to a move and ask the instructor to try it on him. This is highly unfair as the instructor has shown his move and the move is for showing the application of a move in the form. He is in this case, expected to demonstrate that move on the uncooperative challenger. He cannot use a different move, however. It would be considered cheating. So again it is very difficult for the instructor to respond but he cannot refuse.

During the fight, the challenger is free to do whatever but the defender has to use what he was teaching to defend himself. If the defender loses one move, the challenger will claim victory and the gang will immediately leave the scene. There are no second chances. If the challenger loses, he will simply continue. The defender cannot call a stop. Whoever calls a stop is seen as admittance of defeat. So normally the defender will quickly won one move to establish his dominance and then hold his position till the challenger stops the fight.

What is the criteria for winning or losing a move? Any retreat that is obviously caused by the other guy’s move is considered a loss. Any body part other than the feet touching the ground is considered a loss. Stop the fight for any reason is considered a loss.

Anywhere you teach is a CHANG. A challenge while you are teaching is called TI CHANG. In old times, if you lose the location became the challenger’s, including your own private school. Today, people are challenged for public locations in parks, etc.

So you can see that during a challenge fight, the defender has a lot at stake. So the fight is very REAL, although sometimes they talk, and laugh during the fight. Don’t be fooled!

Back to the case in question here. Chen Xu and Li Xiaohui were teaching for the first time in Yishui. They represented the Daqingshan International Taiji Training Center. If they lose to the challenger, the center would not be able to teach in Yishui in the future. Nobody will invite them again and the Center will be too humiliated to teach there.

The first fight was from a very reputable local teacher. He had some students with him. He sent his students to the workshop and then went by himself to WATCH! After watching and then discussing with his students what they felt, he believe he could win the fight. So issued a challenge. You can see that he lose clearly. He admitted loss and left.

The second fight was from a challenger hired by the first challenger. He was THE best local fighter and outweighed Li Xiaohui by quite a bit. There are no weighing during these fights so we can only judge visually. He is THE reason that this local area has no real formal taiji instruction. All previous visiting masters were defeated by him. In a way, he was the local bully. Defeating him would change the local taiji scene forever. Losing to him will ensure that the local taiji enthusiasts will have many more years without outside instruction or exchange.

Yes, these types of fights look very boring! Each side is very careful. Each has to watch out for himself. There are onlookers but no judges for referees. Under this normal wrestling type of appearance, each fighter is putting a lot of power into the fight. Usually a fight ends with total exhaustion on the part of one side. Just an idea of how powerful these fights are, during a challenge to me at the 2004 ceremony in Jinan, Shandong, China, the two fighters’ feet clashed and the shoes exploded. So powerful that one shoe was shattered and the explosion sounded like a grenade. The convention center security came, thinking there was an explosion.

A master teaching in Shandong has to worry about injuries, losing, lies, and all sorts. So in the past, anybody who could teach for a long time in one location and managed to keep it was formidable. In those times, a reputation was not establish by wining a number of fights or competitions. A claim that the master has been teaching for a number of years, undefeated is the indication of reputation. Thus we hear stories about Yang Yuchan, the invincible; Chen Fake, the one and only, etc.


there are few who continue with this tradition, even in Shandong, China.

IMG_0599Just like the rich-poor great divide in their society, there is great disparity in the martial art also. What is described above is for normal people who try to establish themselves. On the contrary, the established masters have it easy. People pay thousands of dollars just to be accepted into their discipleship and take photos with the established few. People somehow, do not challenge the famous masters.

To establish ourselves as legitimate teachers of Chen Style Taijiquan, we had to take challenges on the mountain since 2008. During the teaching months in the summer, there had been numerous challenges and some are real fights with sticks and machetes. During one challenge in the summer of 2014, four instructors on the mountain had to face 10 huge bouncers from a neighboring town of Rizhao. In the end, they had to call friends to pick them up.

This is just background information on how these things are in this area in China. Please do not judge whether this is good or bad, whether this is taiji or not. Just plain facts that the local taiji masters have to deal with and live with.

In my own case

which covers more than China, I started teaching in 1983 in Jinan, Shandong, China. Over the years I have taught almost all over the world. All my dedicated students and disciples prior to 2008 became so after either a challenge or a test. Each occasion is different and there is no need for more details. In recent years, the testing has become more of a nature that they want to “feel” instead of trying to see if they can defeat me. Obviously the change of attitude of my students is due to my own age.

Challenge vs competition

The real difference is the mind set. When you go into a competition, you are willingly entering into a public arena. The expectations and rules of the arena are pre-set and you have mentally adjusted yourself to adhere to them. You have subjected yourself to being judged and have already made up your mind that you would abide by the judgement.

For the audience, the same thing happens. They are at a competition to watch and to accept the final verdict of the judges. They are not trying to exert their own “belief” onto the competition.

In a challenge situation, both the challenger and the people with him are of the mind set that they are right. Whatever the outcome, they are not mentally prepared to accept. However, they will accept defeat if the outcome is totally, beyond any doubt, clear and there is no room for interpretation. That’s why virtually there have been no challenges whose outcome were clear.

In the past, when there was the spirit of martial art, when challenges were noble, the outcome was clear for both the challenger and the defender. Again, the reason was because of the mind set, not because of the method or criteria.


Yishui first challenge in Feb. 2015.

Then the first challenger asked somebody better to issue a second challenge. Yishui, Feb. 2, 2015.

During the first Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method intramural competition in Nov. 2014 on Daqingshan, two people from Linyi came to challenge. They were not taiji people but have been devoted martial artists all their lives. Li Xiaohui of Daqingshan took the challenge. After the first person was done, the second person seen in the video in the background next to the pillar, claimed injuries in his leg and backed out. They both stayed overnight on Daqingshan and after the challenge they are now both starting Practical Method.

Chen Xu accepted a challenge at the 2013 Opening Ceremony of the Junsheng Taiji Square on Daqingshan, Shandong, China. You can see from the podium set up how many invited masters were present. After the official speeches, there was a short demonstration put on by students of Daqingshan. Conspicuously all the masters found excuses to leave the site immediately. Then the big guy in white t-shirt came to the hall and stopped the push hands demonstration. He wanted himself to be used for the demonstration of taiji push hands skills. Obviously it was a challenge. There were over a hundred taiji people from all over in the audience. Not accepting this “suggestion” would be a disgrace to Daqingshan so Chen Xu (the smaller person) took the challenge. At about 0:20 he immediately used locking technique to hurt Chen Xu’s arm. This is an illegal move in competitions but during such an occasion you cannot say anything. Chen Xu was injured. He quickly realized that this person is here to shame Daqingshan. Chen Xu’s fight was purely that of the honor for Daqingshan. After the fight, the challenger got into a car and sped off, all the masters returned and had a pleasant visit, as if nothing ever happened.

A challenge (person in red) to Daqingshan in May 2014. This person is from Xi An in North west China. He claimed that he had challenged many masters in China and had never lost. He came to the mountain telling the instructors that they were not doing Taiji right. He first fight was with Han Rui. He stopped, claiming that he did not want to bother fighting Han because Han had low level skill. Then he demonstrated how taiji should be done. After that he challenged Chen Xu. Every time he fell, he said Chen Xu was wrong. In the end, he left believing that he had won and the Daqingshan instructors were beaten by him.
Something good came out of this fight. I was not present at the event. A month after, the challenger wrote to me and had some serious discussions with me online. He expressed that believed there was no reason for him to lose. He honestly believed his lineage was more superior, he worked very hard, he was bigger, he had five more years of training than Chen Xu, etc. Upon further reflection, he decided to give the Practical Method is try and see if he could improve. So all is not bad.



Let the Principles Do the Talking or The Floor Becomes the Teacher

About Chen Zhonghua Taiji Academy

Chen Style Taijiquan 19th generation disciple. International Standard Bearer of the Practical Method system of Hong Junsheng. Second generation master of Hunyuan Taiji. Been teaching internationally since 1985. Educated in the West with a Master's Degree in Education. Highly accomplished through the lineage of two great masters. Disciplined, precise and powerful. He teaches a complete system of taiji based on the principle of yin yang separation; indirect power as a core concept; movement and tranquility as the source of action. In both theory and practice, his taijiquan deals with the problems of double-heavy. He is a real treasure of the heritage of taijiquan.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Allan Belsheim February 3, 2015 at 5:16 pm

These two challenges are exceptionally well handled especially as there was so much at stake- one loss and no more invitations or teaching from Practical Method would be allowed in this area and our school disgraced. These were real fights with high stakes and Li Xiaohui is to be highly commended for his exceptional defence.

So far the Practical Method and the Daqingshan instructors and students have shown great promise in developing true martial Taiji skills almost lost as Taiji became more of an exercise.

Grandmaster Chen Zhonghua continues to be able to show and train students in the true nature of what he developed from studying with Grandmaster Hong Junsheng and Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang, both who received instruction from Chen Fake.

The great Taiji tradition will continue with this level of teaching – interested students should train diligently and stay with the rules as outlined by Grandmaster Chen Zhonghua.


James Tam February 3, 2015 at 5:30 pm

Thank you for a good explanation of the background behind these challenges which on the surface look like friendly encounters on video. Little is it known that there are lots at stake. I admire your bravery and persistence in openly spreading the knowledge and tradition of the Practical Method Taijiquan and overcoming all hurdles. Your ability to find time to hone and improve your own skills, to help and teach students all over the world with no “secrets” held back, and to continually research and improve upon the theoretical framework of the Practical Method is commendable.


Hugo Ramiro February 4, 2015 at 1:44 pm

I’ve got to say ditto to what you wrote, James. He must not sleep very much.


Gary Readore February 3, 2015 at 6:25 pm

Thanks for that excellent explanation!


Douglas Nakamoto February 4, 2015 at 9:10 am

Thank you for sharing this.

The background information is very enlightening and really lets one understand both what is at stake and the difficulties of meeting such a challenge. I’m quite impressed with Li Xiaohui’s performance under such difficult circumstances and this increases my already considerable respect for the Practical Method and Master Chen Zhonghua’s teaching.

I’m considering if attending full-time training in the Daqingshan International Taijiquan Training Center is something I should do and this makes me even more interested.


Hugo Ramiro February 4, 2015 at 1:45 pm

Douglas, based on my wonderful experiences on the mountain, I urge you to follow your instinct in this regard. 🙂


Firicel Gheorghe February 4, 2015 at 10:49 am

The rules are not fair and cannot be applied in real fight. But somehow is demanded a high level for the taiji teacher. And this I can understand. Also a real hierarchy is established. This is good. Old rules are clean.


Rene Ooteman February 4, 2015 at 11:28 am

Considering the cultural significance of challenges and what is at stake one cannot comment on the the fairness or otherwise only to say those are the rules and one must abide by them. Beware the foolhardy venturing into another territory without realizing the consequences of their deeds.


Sasuke Rourke February 4, 2015 at 11:31 am

I remember Chen Zhonghua explaining this to you and myself some years ago.
It is testimony to Practical Methods abilities that Li was able to overcome and indeed dominate the challengers.
For my own personal curiosity, I wouldn’t mind going a few rounds with the challengers just for fun, though it seems to be more of a cultural scenario between the Chinese.


Andre February 7, 2015 at 5:40 am

Thanks for the great explanation, its these tidbits of information, this type of posture, that differentiates Practical Method’s teaching, through master Chen, from everything else.


pingwei February 7, 2015 at 7:09 am

When we promote Practical Method, ie, when we talk about the effectiveness, when we demonstrate “don’t move,” any demonstration or test is a kind of challenge. This kind of challenges, most of the time, are different from what Master Chen described above in nature. But they are challenges, no matter how friendly they are. Are we ready to take on? We all need to train harder, for ourselves and for our system.


charlie wishon February 9, 2015 at 11:40 am

I agree Ping…


Gene Burnett May 31, 2015 at 12:41 am

That last guy in red had terrible knee alignment in his solo form. Twisting all over the place. It’s no wonder he lost and no wonder that he insisted that he won. His denial runs deep. I hope he’s coming to his senses and learning better posture.


Weaver July 2, 2015 at 11:54 am

Well, this is mainly “push hands” challenges rather than “fighting” challenges where both challenger/defender trade punches and kicks. If there are no punches/kicks traded, can this still be called true martial skills ? For example, someone like Master Wang ShuJin really did fight with challengers, he knocked out them into the floor, not merely pushing them. Also, challengers aren’t really good. Beating a professional kickboxing fighter (not in a ring) would be far more credible than a local low level challenger. I don’t know if you know Kimbo Slice, check his street fighting videos, well to me this is what real challenges should be. Best of luck.


Admin July 3, 2015 at 12:02 pm

Thanks very much for your input. It’s not about your style, your teacher, and what you believe fighting is, unfortunately.


Weaver July 3, 2015 at 3:03 pm

Well, I am training in the SunLuTang system for this purpose. In a self-defense situation, only pushing won’t do it, you have to trade punches or kicks. Just one question, let’s say an amateur MMA fighter want to challenge you during a seminar, but he wants to trade hits, not just pushing, will you face the challenge or refuse ?


Kelvin Ho July 3, 2015 at 5:16 pm

When you issue a challenge that you consider real, you will get the real answer.


Allan Belsheim July 3, 2015 at 5:23 pm

To restrict fighting to kicking and hitting is rather a ridiculous limitation as is not understanding what Taiji Push Hands actually does. Admittedly, it is much easier to learn to hit and kick than to change your body to be able to do Taiji applications with effect.

I have seen punches or kicks handled by Practical Method Taiji so that the force of the punch or hit never lands and the person attacking winds up disabled on the ground.

Taiji was designed for attack or defense and is able to kill or break bones if needed- indeed that is the last resort in fighting and the need for rules to try the applications safely against an opponent.

Learn what real Martial Arts is and get more information before criticizing what you don’t understand.


Rickygene July 6, 2015 at 3:37 pm

I agree with Allan. I fought amature MMA in Nashville TN in my late 20’s till 32, long before they where a sanctioned state. I was injured do to my own fault, and did not try going forward. I stopped competing and felt I was finished do to the injury. But I can say out of the few sport style mma fights I trained for and took, no opponent I fought had the root core skill levels of a high level practical method student. I do not yet possess these skills, and I am starting to see I am stronger and faster than back in those days, simply from practicing lots of Yilu and basics. I have been the challenger on the mountain, and as a trained striker, I can say, I wouldn’t want to go to that level with many of master Chen’s long time students. Besides, push hands is a core ability of taiji, a safer way of testing ability, San shou is the end result.


Julian February 10, 2018 at 2:00 pm

Que mierda es eso,Eso no es Taichi ,cualquiera de jiujitsu te gana.


Vincent February 10, 2018 at 4:06 pm

Well, Julian, can ou keep it English cause I guess what you mean, but I don’t like what I read. If you start insulting like this(correct me if I am wrong), you better delete your comment.


Nicholas Fung馮嘉傑(香港) February 11, 2018 at 8:02 pm

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