Monday, 22 July 2013

Becoming a part of the Chen Village story...

Signed - CTGB the Official UK Branch of the Chen Village School
On July 1st 2013 Chen Ziqiang, Chief Instructor of the Chen Village Taijiquan School (Chen Taijiquan Xuexiao) and David Gaffney and Davidine Sim, founders of Chenjiagou Taijiquan GB (CTGB) signed an agreement making CTGB the official UK branch of the Chen Village Taijiquan School. This was a proud moment for the school and follows a relationship of nearly two decades.  

We first visited Chenjiagou in the mid 1990s. At that time it was a very different place than today. The two large roads that bisect the village had not yet been laid. The new family temple, the Taijiquan museum, the impressive fa├žade at the entrance of the school were not yet built. There were no western-style toilets or showers. I vividly remember a blisteringly hot July day on that first visit when we walked through the fields to be shown the memorial tablets of some of the most venerated ancestors  - Chen Bu, Chen Wangting, Chen Fake, Chen Zhaopi…  The reverence in which the tombs were approached made it obvious that these were important figures in the history of Chen Taijiquan. But on that first visit they all seemed to blur into each other.  Today they are all comfortably familiar names.  
2003 - The first British group to train intensively in the Chen Village School. Back (L-R): Tim Drummond, 
Meko Parkinson David Gaffney, Neill Baker.Front: Gynn Williams, Mary Shah, Davidine Sim, Dave Ashby. 


After several more visits on our own, in the winter of 2003 we were ready to take the first British group to train intensively in the Chen Village School with GM Chen Xiaoxing.   During our stay Chen Xiaoxing closely supervised the group’s training. Every day the routine was the same - five hours formal instruction and then self-practice to consolidate the keypoints we covered that day. For nineteen days GM Chen worked slowly through the Laojia Yilu routine.   Chenjiagou can be very cold at the end of November. It is situated on flat, open farmland, so there’s little protection from the cold northern winds that regularly blow in. That year it was so cold that the group weren’t interested in buying souvenirs when we got the chance to go into the nearby Wenxian, but all got excited to see some thermal underwear. The largest pair I could get were about two sizes too small and for the next few weeks it felt like training with a spring-loaded crotch!     

Chenjiagou Winter 2003 - it was as cold as it looks!
The first group was eight strong and was joined by two Chinese guys who were in the school at the time – a Xingyi guy who soon picked up the colourful nickname of “Handsome Horse” and a Sanda practitioner.

Since then we have returned to the village just about every year, often twice a year, to study and learn from Chen Xiaoxing’s personal brand of old-school training. To date most of the students from our advanced class have been to the Chen Village School to train with him - some many times. As I write the next group is chomping at the bit for this year's trip in October.


Over the years each trip has had different characters and has left different memories.  One year we were
Training in Chen Dehu's garden
disturbed a few times during training by the regular groups of Taiji tourists who came to look around the village (before getting back in their buses to go to the next place of interest). Chen Xiaoxing was clearly losing patience with the interruptions when he simply said “follow me" and marched off. We followed him out of the school, down the street and into the house that belonged in the past to Chen Dehu. We went through the building into the garden where Yang Luchan had famously learned from Chen Changxing.  In a traditional martial art like Chen Taijiquan its vital that you appreciate the system’s history and your own part as a link between past and future generations. Training that afternoon one could feel a palpable sense of this history. This is the place that Chen Changxing, the fourteenth generation gatekeeper and famous “biaoshi” or merchant guard, trained. Lying on the floor was a stone that he is said to have used to sharpen his weapons and another that was used for strength training. Perhaps it was here that he synthesised the Laojia routines we practise today from the original forms of Chen Wangting?!  In another corner is a well into which Chen Zhaopi had thrown himself, unable to bear the persecution he suffered during the dark days of the Cultural Revolution. Chen Zhaopi is credited with reviving Taijiquan in its birthplace after decades of poverty and natural disaster had seen it almost disappear. 

Chen Xiaoxing - UK 2012
Over time these and many other stories of Chenjiagou have become personal, no longer feeling like legends from someone else’s history. At some point a mental switch took place when we were no longer outsiders looking in, but a part of the Chen village school. Over the years we've watched young students in the school mature into dynamic instructors in their own right. Walking into the Chenjiagou school now is going back to be met by friends.

The story of Chen Village Taijiquan can be traced back to Chen Bu, the first generation ancestor who founded the village at the beginning of the Ming dynasty in the fourteenth century.  In the ensuing years many people played their parts in the Chen Village story: there's Chen Wangting who created Taijiquan; Chen Fake who took the family art from the Village to Beijing; Chen Xioawang in the current generation who took Chen Taijiquan out of China on a global scale.  Our school has played its own part in the Chen Village School story. CTGB brought both Chen Xiaoxing and Chen Ziqiang to the UK for the first time.  Exciting events as they happened,but both of them are now familiar figures to all the students in the school!  At this watershed moment in our school's history I'd like to publicly thank all the people who have helped in our journey so far -and all those that have quietly supported the regular classes and workshops, the seminars with the teachers from Chenjiagou, training trips to Chenjiagou...  
2013 UK seminar with Chen Ziqiang


4 comments:

  1. David this is fantastic news! It is amazing to read about your journey, and reaching this distinguished apex. I haven't *known* you for very long, however your body of work and contribution to Taijiquan is off the charts.

    And while all this was coming together over 20 years, you also had to train hard and teach. You would surely have to write a whole other book just to illustrate how arduously you've both trained as well.

    Congratulations on receiving such an honour, it seems like it was a long time coming! Thank you also for sharing the details of your illustrious journey. Wishing you much continued success!

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    1. Thanks Daniel, the time has sure gone quickly:-)

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  2. congratulations! On an amazing honor.

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