Friday, 24 February 2017

Chen Bing speaks...

Davidine Sim & Chen Bing
The following answers are part of an interview, conducted by China's World Martial Arts Union and translated by Davidine Sim. Chen Bing speaks openly about his early years in Taijiquan. Including: childhood perceptions of Taijiquan; the influence of his uncles Chen Xiaoxing and Chen Xiaowang; understanding what Taijiquan is; and the problems that come with widespread propagation.
  
Q:  Can you talk about your early learning history and experience?

Chen Bing:  There was no question of choice when I began practicing Taijiquan as it's a family heritage.  Particularly being a male and being the oldest, the family started teaching me from the age of five.  Like it or not, you had to learn.  At that time (in 1976) it was still the tail end of the Cultural Revolution and the country was still not promoting the practice of martial arts.  But, after some discussion, it was decided that my training should commence, even though it was not done openly.  It is embarrassing to admit, but as I was still quite young I did not understand Taijiquan or the fact that it is a family inheritance.  Also because the then society did not condone the practice, and the government policy was still quite restrictive, plus the fact that most youngsters are more concerned about playing, I really did not like it at all.  This dislike only changed more than ten years later.

Q:  What unforgettable training incidences can you remember from your childhood?"

CB:  At that time I did not like Taijiquan so I'd think of different ways of evading training.  Everyday my uncles (Chen Xiao Wang, Chen Xiao Xing) would ask me if I had trained and I would say I had.  Most times this was untrue.  In this way I would try to outwit the adults.  One day my uncle asked me if I had trained and I said I had.  He asked where and I told him at such and such a place.  At that time it was a predominantly agricultural village and there were no concreted ground.  My uncle brought me to the place I had pointed out and, seeing no footprints whatsoever, exposed my lie.  I had a beating from him that day and never dared lie to him again.
 
Chen Bing
The second memorable incident happened when I was ten years old and in my third year of primary school.  One morning my class teacher unexpectedly called me out and personally tied a red neckerchief round my neck. He told me that it was an important occasion and I was required to go and demonstrate Taijiquan. I didn't know what was going on and went out into the school ground where I saw that the whole place was full of people. There were even people on walls and trees.  A platform had been erected upon which sat my uncles and grandmother.  I didn't pay much attention to my family's history and origin before, but now I realised that my family has a secret that I didn't know.  That was the first visit by a Japanese Taijiquan organisation who had arrived during a "search the source and visit the ancestors" trip.  One of the items on the programme was a children's Taijiquan performance.  I was very nervous because I hadn’t trained properly and was not sure I could remember the middle section of the form.  I managed to somehow get through the Laojia Yilu.  But a strong message got through to me that day -   that I must practice hard as my whole family and clan are somehow closely linked to Taijiquan.  This occasion also stimulated a certain pride and sense of responsibility. 
   
Q: What influence did your uncles have on your learning?

CB: It was my aunt (Chen Ying) who taught me first.  My uncles were very busy and were often away from home.  On their return they would watch me train and check on me.  They were very strict and I was somewhat afraid of them, knowing that ultimately I needed to pass their approval. Later I heard that my uncles had achieved many first prizes.  There were few television sets then, but I heard on the radio the name Chen Xiao Wang, that he had won a gold medal in an inaugural National competition in Xian.  When I told the news to my grandmother she was very proud.  I had the idea that I would like to follow the same path. In my youth my two uncles were my role models.

Q:  What was the biggest difficulty you encountered in your training?

CB:  Before the age of seventeen, I didn't train very hard and did not commit heart and soul into Taijiquan, so I didn't sense any difficulty.  When I truly began to like Taijiquan and train seriously I realised that I needed a very good teacher.  By that time my two uncles had become sought after and often went abroad and it was not easy to have them
beside me.  Sometimes it was difficult to see them even a few times in the year.  In this period I encountered many problems and, because the opportunity to communicate with them in person was rare, I was overwhelmed by these questions and didn't know who I should ask.  When you have many questions that you cannot find answers for it does affect your positive progress.

I decided to write a letter to my second uncle.  In his reply he wrote: "It is inevitable that there would be so many questions and that these questions overwhelm you.  But this is how training quan is.  By continuing to practice there comes a moment when you suddenly understand, when the problem is solved. Even if you understand the theory now, but because your gongfu is not accomplished, your body is not able to understand so it's still a blank.  Therefore you need to practice without break and in the process of learning you will realise one day that all the questions have been answered.  That's because your body has completely understood".

He taught me to "understand during the process; to realise a theory in practice, in order to own the thing.  When one day the chore of training translates into interest then it is evident that you have committed body and mind.  Your level will improve and mature very rapidly at this juncture".  At the time those words were imprinted in my brain.

Q:  You have now trained for quite a long time.  What is your understanding of Taijiquan?

CB:   When I was young I regarded Taijiquan as a combat art, to be used for fighting.  Because of my young age I wanted to be stronger than my peers. Now, from being a sports person to being an instructor then on to teaching all over the world, I realise that Taijiquan has multiple functions.  As an example when we're teaching abroad, it is not only a fitness discipline but also a representation of Chinese culture.  Through Taijiquan people abroad are able to become better acquainted with Chinese culture as well as China.  It enables deeper understanding and communication between the East and West.  From a personal point of view Taijiquan offers a means of growing into a more wholesome person. An individual's training experience, hard practice, relentless perseverance and consistence cultivates the spirit and tempers the will.  The reward of acquiring gongfu and enlightenment through the sacrifice of toil, that "heaven rewards the diligent".  The quan theories also teaches me the laws of nature and the universe. It enables me to better understand society, the world, the natural world, the universe, thus it enlightens and augments my mind and improves my wisdom. 

Q:  You have students all over the world now.  What do you think is the most important aspect they should learn?

CB:  Perhaps the most important aspect is their understanding of Taijiquan.  If they know the cultural essence of Taijiquan then they have a basis from which to train.  Otherwise it poses too many questions.  For example, What is Taijiquan? If people know what Taijiquan really is then the often asked question of why the " Four Jinggang" are not practising the same way will no longer be a question.  They often ask which of them is right (or wrong) or even who is better (or worse).  But if they understand Taijiquan this will not be a question.  And they will know that if the four of them have identical forms, then that would be abnormal.
  
Q:  By that you mean that everyone has a different understanding of Taijiquan?

CB:  Taiji means Yin-Yang changes.  Most people understand Yin-Yang, but forget its most important aspect - "changes".  Its inevitable aspect is change, and it does not remain the same.  The time is different, the person is different, the environment is different, constantly evolving and changing.  Taijiquan is the same.  Everyone's practice is different and this is normal.  But there are aspects that remain unchanged and constant.  We must view change from the viewpoint of mutual transformation of Yin and Yang, change that occurs within transformation and development.  The results of practice have assimilated the person's personality, realisation, temperament, character etc. It becomes the person, and is expressed through the physical movements.  If you are exactly like your teacher, then you're stuck at the stage of imitating your teacher and have not moved to the stage of realising yourself.  If we are clear about the ideology of Taijiquan then we will be rid of many of Taijiquan's misperceptions.

Q:  What challenges do you face in the drive to promote and popularise Taijiquan?  How do we let the general public correctly understand Taijiquan?  In mass propagation how do we express the core essence of Taijiquan?

CB:  From the viewpoint of a teacher what I can do is teach not only movements but also the theories.  As long as the principle is followed the outward expression is not crucial.   Sometimes an external shape can be very standard and is an exact duplication of the teacher's, but your execution does not exhibit Qi sunk into the dantian, therefore your frame is an "empty frame".  You have not demonstrated the key element.  The Internal martial system does not look at the degree of accuracy in the external shape.  The underpinning principle is the criteria.  In the absence of this, the external manifestation is not important.  Let the students grasp this and they will not be entangled about external movements.  Instead they will be seeking the internal feeling.

Q:  What have you gained from your work publicising and propagating Taijiquan?

CB:   Firstly, when I started teaching I was worried that teaching will affect my training.  I said to my uncle that "as I have to explain, demonstrate and transmit, my internal feeling is reduced and will affect my own development".  My uncle said to me that you need to first find yourself, then maintain yourself.  During teaching continue to maintain yourself and don't lose your stance - "teach and train, train and teach".  It forged my interest in teaching as I embraced the concept that teaching is training and to train whilst teaching.  In the process of teaching I'm also upping my own skill. The second aspect is the sense of achievement when I see students improve.  To witness the benefits and the transformation that Taijiquan has given them, either in physical health or mental well-being. Thirdly, from a personal point of view.  With the gradual insight gleaned from Taijiquan I'm able to slowly change and adjust my mood and my interaction and conduct with the wider society.  I'm in fact a rather hot-tempered person.  Through practising Taijiquan I'm continually correcting and changing myself.

World Martial Arts Union interview with Chen Bing
 
Q:  Some people still think Taijiquan is a health exercise for middle/old age people.  What do you think is the best way to engage the younger people?

CB:  I think this is a misapprehension.  They don't comprehensively know the root of Taijiquan.  It has been overtaken by one aspect of its expressions.  But it shouldn't be viewed in a negative way because it has been accepted in that section of the populace and it's health benefits have been acknowledged.  I consider it a success in its mass propagation on a national scale. 

To engage and recruit younger peoples we must consider 1. that young people haven't as much free time as the older retired people.  Taijiquan cannot be too time consuming and at the same time need to show results more quickly.  Therefore we need to have a concise method that is suitable for young people - concise training that brings out the essence.  2. that it needs to be modern and trendy in order to attract them in the first place.  Yoga has been successful in imaging itself as body beautiful with graceful movements that are comfortable and flexible.  It is an attractive pursuit.  Taijiquan perhaps can learn from this.  For example Taijiquan instructors need to present a certain image, its movements require some adaptations, its practice environment need some appropriate arrangements etc. in order to match the younger person's tendencies towards trend and modernity.

Q:  There is a voice today that says that Taijiquan is a health exercise and not a combative system.  What is your view?

CB:  Its health benefits and health enhancing qualities are undisputed and widely acknowledged.  Not only in terms of physical but also mental health.  The main question is Taijiquan's effectiveness as an actual combat skill.  I think we need to consider this from different angles.  Firstly, we live in a time that is very different from the time of its inception.  When Taijiquan was created its chief function was for the purpose of bare-hand attacks and defence.  If the then existing model of Taijiquan is transferred to the modern era it may have become obsolete and extinct.  The fact that it has survived to this day is because it's main function has undergone a Yin-Yang change.  The creation of Taijiquan with its health-preserving and mental processes was to counteract the harm and injuries that resulted from martial practices. Today if the combat side had remained the main focus it will not have been assimilated by the mass and promoted by the government. Taijiquan is flourishing apace today because its health-enhancing and fitness-promoting aspect is now the focus.  However the combative side is now under-emphasised. There should be no question to its effectiveness.  It's a matter of which aspect of it you're focusing. We adapt to our bigger environment…  From a young age we trained, firstly for Taolu competitions and later to Tuishou contests.  Gradually even the Tuishou contests became curtailed.  Our platforms become lesser and the paths that lead from them become narrower.  Extremely high level Taijiquan combat exponents have limited outlets. As a result, many abandon this route and decide to follow the crowd and the ever-expanding demand for the health and fitness aspects.  However as the art develops there are now a section of the Taijiquan practitioners who are again examining and developing the martial side.

Q:  What role does Taijiquan play in our nation's promotion of Chinese Culture and our future so-called China Dream?

CB:  China is not strong if it grows only in economic strength.  Economy without being sustained by cultural values will be short-lived.  I believe that to realise the China Dream there's the need to invest robustly in China's traditional cultural values.   China is currently facing the scenario of having a very strong economy and quite a strong military.  However we're look-down-upon by even countries much smaller than ours.  This is because we're not strong in our cultural values and we need to attach great importance to this and actively promote it.  In cultural exchanges in the strong civilised nations we're facing many issues that are not accepted by the West.  I think Taiji culture with its underpinning philosophy of balance, inclusivity, etc. is a good entry point to promote our culture, that will be accepted by other nations.  My hope is that it can be promoted from a governmental/national level. 

Q:  What is the biggest dilemma that you have faced?

CB:   Society today has presented us with many dilemmas.  Do we change our culture in order to adapt to the market trend, or stand firm and preserve the culture?  In response to the present societal conditions do we change or not?  Under what circumstances do we need to stand firm and under what circumstances do we need to evolve and change?  These are not easy issues.  To do them simultaneously may result in both being done badly. 



Chen Bing, born in 1971, is the 20th generation direct descendant of the Chen Taijiquan Family.  He was raised by his uncle Chen Xiao Xing and began his Taijiquan training from the age of 5.  In 2007 he established the Chenjiagou International Taijiquan Academy in Chenjiagou.  He teaches all over China and Internationally.


 

 

 

5 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing. Chen Bing is a great international ambassador as well as an excellent teacher of Taiji.

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  2. Thank you so much for the interview!

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  3. We are starting the first Chen Taijiquan academy in East africa with a master who trained in Chenjiagou. Please contact us if any Chen taijiquan practitioner is planning to visit Kenya this year! Our Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/taijinairobi/

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  4. Thank you very much for your translation and publication. I am glad to inform you that we have just published the translation of this interview in italian language, on our site:
    https://www.taiji-to.org/chenbing-intervista/
    and on our fb page:
    https://www.facebook.com/notes/taiji-to/intervista-a-chen-bing/10155412815899961/

    ReplyDelete