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(Jul 01, 2009)
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In China it is known simply as Taiji village. It s real name is Chenjiagou. When you first arrive at Chen village, you are struck by how unremarkable it is. Set in the remote countryside of central Henan, it appears to offer very little. That is until you check one fact. 3,000 people live in Chen Village. 2,500 practice Tai Chi Chuan. Like most of rural China, Chen village suffered badly during the cultural revolution and today, it is still a poor village populated mostly by farmworkers. Yet as the birthplace of Tai Chi Chuan it is one of the most significant locations in Martial Arts. Ive been here a long time now and Ive met people from all over the world in this little village in the middle of Hunan, China says Joseph, a student from the UK... and they ve all got something in common, they re all interested in Tai Chi. The Chen family, standard bearers of Chen style for 400 years, continue to teach Tai Chi Chuan at the school in the center of the village. Chen style was at an all time low until fairly recently and although most of the villagers practice, outside China, the Chen style was not popular. Chen Xiaoxing who heads the Chen school says Nothing worked well until the school was trensferred to me privately ... we may not be as big as Shaolin temple but we average 200 students every day. Outside China, Chen Tai chi has spread rapidly due to the elder brother Chen Xiaowang, 19th generation lineage holder of Chen Taijiquan. Today, Chen Xiaowang teaches at Chen Tai Chi at schools all over the world and returns to Chen Village only for seminars and induction of new disciples. Chen Xiaoxing prefers to stay in Chen village and run the school. He famously stated I really have no need to leave Chenjiagou. Everything I need is here. In the village more schools have now opened due to Chen s rise in popularity, the largest is run by Chen Bing. In teaching in America and Europe and talking to students who wanted to stay in Chen Village, says Bing, I know they needed a school with better facilities. Adds Chen Xiaowang, The conditions in our day were very bad and life was unstable but now the conditions are much better. In this intimate journey to Chen village we discover how the present generations of the family have rescued the Chen style from obscurity and why every year thousands of Tai chi students from all over the world make the long pilgrimage to a small village in rural China. Hear the stories from the students own words of living and training in the village and although they are not expected to farm or work in the fields, they are expected to live like anyone else does in rural China ... very hard and very tough! Training here improves your Tai Chi so much says student Daryl from Seattle... it s like going to the source, back to the well where the water is sweeter. Joseph adds Just by being here you imbibe a lot of knowledge of Tai Chi because of the environment. All the while the documentary it is set to a backdrop of the school Tai Chi classes taught by Chen Xiaoxing and Chen Xiaowang with Chen Ziqiang, the school coach. As we approach our dramatic ending with an induction of new disciples, John a teacher from the UK says It was the most important day of my life. Chen Xiaowang told me you are now part of the family, if you lose balance come back here and we will take care of you. As our journey unfolds, you will realize just how remarkable Chen village and its people really are. Featuring Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing, Chen Ziqiang, Chen Bing, Chen Lidong and more. [Chen Xiaowang is the standard bearer and 19th generation lineage holder of Chen style Taijiquan. His grandfather was the famous Taijiquan grandmaster Chen Fake. Chen Xiaowang began his study of Chen Style Taijiquan at the age of seven under his father, Chen Zhaoxu, and late
Taijiquan. The word itself conjures up many images, from imperial bodyguards to octogenar- ians cultivating long life amid trees in parks. The art has affected millions of people during the past century and all owe Chen Village a dept of gratitude for preserving this national treasure. As the birthplace of taijiquan, scholars have a strong interest in Chen Village. Practitioners think about it as an inspirational local where spiritual, medical, and martial traditions were blended into a unique art named after the pro- found philosophical idea of taiji and associated with the Chen family name. Many will never have the opportunity to visit Chen Village and can only guess of its physical layout, social atmosphere, and to what degree taiji is practiced there. Jon Braeley pro- duced and directed this film about the village, providing us with an experience second only to being there ourselves. A camera close-up shows two young men engaged face-to-face in a two-person practice. They hold a ball between them that s designed with the yin-yang symbol. While delicately holding the sphere, their hands turn, roll, and flow in unison. The camera slowly backs away, showing the shifting of weight from leg to leg, with waists turning to direct their movements. There is no commentary. The director lets you watch as if you were there to see for yourself how taiji is actually practiced. The camera backs further away and you can now see there are at least six pairs of practition- ers in uniforms designed with white fronts and black backs. However, the flair does not distract from the fact that they are mutually moving, shifting, and stepping atop posts at a height roughly three feet off the ground. They are developing skills. The main instructors of the village are introduced individually and then they can be seen together visiting large tombs housing Chen Family ancestors. Perhaps this is Tomb Sweeping Day, a national holiday where family members pay respects to their deceased relatives. Offerings are made of fruit, drink, spirit money made for the ritual, and incense. These gestures express gratitude for what all the ancestors have done to benefit their offspring. In this case, part of the heritage is taijiquan. You can imagine the feeling of entering Chen Village for the first time. The film shows its rural setting as the road bypasses fields on flat land and the first buildings at the village s edge. About 2,500 of the 3,000 inhabitants practice taiji. Most are surnamed Chen. About 200 are masters. What role does taiji play in the lives of the residents and the visitors who have come here specifically to study? Only so much can be seen from strolling down the streets. Producer Braeley goes beyond the superficial by interviewing leading masters, plus Chinese and foreign students. In addition, he provides many film sequences of taiji prac- tice. All age groups are shown practicing, usually in groups of similar age range. The interviews provide insights of what it is like for foreigners to live and study in Chen Village. Small, rural, farming villages in China are usually quite poor and lack modern conven- iences. Foreigners often choose to stay in large hotels outside Chen village, and only come to the village to study. Village life is not exciting, but those who stay in the village can find it very peaceful compared with big city living. The simple lifestyle is conducive to introspection. It also lets one stay focused on daily taiji practice, which leads to rapid development in knowledge and abilities. Chen Village provides a unique location for meeting like-minded people from around the world. Foreigners meet other foreigners, locals, and also others from all parts of China. Many are knowledgeable about taijiquan s history and practice. Interviews with leading masters give an overview of the art. They say that Chen Wangting --Journal of Asian Martial Arts Magazine
The new documentary by Jon Braeley, Chen Village, is a beautiful and fascinating journey inside the birthplace of Tai Chi. I bought the DVD and eagerly watched it a few nights ago when it arrived. Shot in high definition, the documentary includes interviews with westerners who have traveled to Chen Village to study, and it shows a disciple ceremony in which Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang accepts new disciples. Chen Village (Chenjiagou) is located in Henan Province. It s a very poor village with 3,000 residents. It s estimated that 2,500 of them practice tai chi, and 85% of them have the Chen surname. You see parts of the village here that you havent seen before. When you think of the birthplace of Tai Chi, you might think of beautiful Chinese buildings, and there are a few that meet the description, but Chenjiagou is a dirt-poor farming community. It just happens that they are the best in the world at their art. The documentary features Chen Xiaowang, his brother and head of the Chenjiagou tai chi school Chen Xiaoxing, Chen Ziqiang (son of Xiaoxing) and Chen Bing (a nephew of Xiaowang and Xiaoxing). It s exciting to watch, considering I have met and trained with three of the four, and Chen Xiaoxing stayed in our home for a week back in 2006. Its also fascinating to see the Chen Xiaoxing s school since I received a certificate in 2005 as a recognized instructor connected to the Chen family school. I didn t know until seeing this DVD that Chen Bing now runs his own school, and he has built it with foreign students in mind. Some students have been reluctant in the past to travel to Chen Village because living conditions are not very good compared with our standards. Chen Bing decided to build a school that is more welcoming to Westerners. I was disappointed but not surprised to hear Chen Bing say that foreign students are usually trained differently than the Chinese not as tough because they can t take it, and most of them, he says, are interested in the health aspects more than the martial aspects. Are you listening, people? They don t consider us to be very serious because we focus on the wrong things. Real tai chi is not about health or meditation it s about fighting, and it requires a lot of blood, sweat and tears to become proficient. If you re not sweating, you re not practicing right. Chen Ziqiang is interviewed, talking about how only one in a hundred students even those from the Chen Village are able to persist long enough to become really good at tai chi. I ve been teaching now for a dozen years and that is something that becomes clear very quickly when you teach the fact that for every 100 people that come through the door, only one has the determination and passion to achieve their goals. The interviews with the western students are very interesting. They find themselves in a very simple environment when they stay at the Chen Village a much slower and far less technological lifestyle. A few of the comments go a little over-the-top, as you can imagine from people who are dedicated enough to spend a year or two living there. One student actually breaks down and cries when he speaks about his devotion to Chen Xiaowang. I understand the devotion, but I tend to look at these masters as people who are the best at what they do like Tiger Woods, Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan, all worthy of tremendous respect. I don t look at them as gods. My wife watched the documentary with me and strongly objected to the disciple ceremony where the disciples were kneeling and bowing in worship before Grandmaster Chen. I didn t react as strongly because I understand why they re doing it, but it was fascinating to see a ceremony like this after hearing about it. When you become a disciple it s a very serious relationship, supposedly like being admitted to the family, and yet there --Internal Fighting Arts Magazine
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Top customer reviews
The film also seems too suggest a bit too much of a spiritual aura, and the opening scene of paying respects to the ancestors and the family induction scenes later on play into that, as do the many of the comments of the foreigners studying at Chen Xiaowang's school. Of course, there is nothing wrong with all that, but I felt there was an image being created rather than a story being told.
Nevertheless, it is a great and very well made video that gives a great glimpse into life in Chen Village and tai chi there.