|A young Chen Shitong at the entrance of the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School|
Wang Juan, a reporter from Wenxian Zazhi magazine was inspired to write about Chen Shitong after meeting him at the recent Chenjiagou Taijiquan Exchange and Competition. Chen Shitong made an appearance after being out of the public eye for many years. People may remember him pushing hands with Chen Xiaowang in an early and widely seen documentary about Chenjiagou Taijiquan. In the film Chen Shitong presented a stocky and powerful figure, but over the last decade he had lived quietly in the village, facing the biggest battle of his life.
Under the heading "Taijiquan Hermit" Wang Juan documented Chen Shitong's courageous fight back from serious health problems. Born in Chenjiagou in 1947, like many youngsters in the village Chen Shitong learned taijiquan from his father from an early age. The training was informal and ad hoc until Chen Zhaopi retired to Chenjiagou and began to develop the next generation in a systematic way. Chen Shitong was ten years old at the time and trained alongside future luminaries of Chen Village Taijiquan such as Chen Xiaowang, Wang Xian, Zhu Tiancai and Chen Zhenglei.
At the time they studied within the small space of Chen Zhaopi's courtyard, his simple village house doubling up as an informal martial arts school. Sometimes there were between thirty and forty students training there. Chen Shitong reminisced on how fortunate he was to have been able to learn from Chen Zhaopi. Not only was Chen Zhaopi an accomplished martial artist, he was also highly literate and so was able to transmit the theoretical knowledge of Taiji as well as the movement system.
With the opening of the new Chenjiagou Taijiquan School in the 1980s Chen Shitong was appointed as one of the instructors tasked with developing the new blood of the village. Chen Shitong told Wang Juan that he never considered himself either privately or publicly as a Taijiquan grandmaster, preferring to live a quiet life and stay "within the soil of his birthplace". While he is modest about his achievements, Wang reported how Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang, one of the guests at the 1st Taiji Festival in Jiaozuo, commented after seeing him perform that, "It's not only the "Four Jingang" in Chenjiagou, Chen Shitong's Taijiquan is also very good".
|Centre row Chen Shitong - on his right is Chen Chunlei and on his left Chen Zhenglei and Chen Xiaoxing|
2004 was a bad year for Chen Shitong. His father was seriously ill and Shitong looked after him day and night. The illness was protracted and many villagers came to visit. As a result of the exhaustion and worry caused by caring for his father as well as the regular stream of visitors, one day Chen Shitong felt faint and dropped to ground. He was rushed to hospital where he was found to have had a brain haemorrhage.
|Chen Shitong with (L-R) his son, daughter and reporter Wan Juan|
The doctors told him that it was unlikely that he would have survived his illness if it wasn't for his Taijiquan. He had helped a number of people recover from illnesses such as high blood pressure or stroke and he knew that if he was to make a meaningful recovery he was going to have to work hard. His son and daughter were by then good enough to take over the teaching and Shitong began the slow road back to health with the help of Taijiquan. He is certain that his recovery is largely down to Taijiquan. Everyday, very slowly at first, his body gradually became stronger. Chen Shitong's practice was consistent, training outdoors everyday unless the weather was bad. At the interview he tapped his chest proudly and said, "I train everyday. Taijiquan has saved my life! If it wasn't for Taijiquan I wouldn't have survived".
Today Chen Shitong has fully recovered except for some residual weakness that affects his movements. He had often thought about how Chen Zhaopi came back to Chenjiagou after retiring to regenerate the Taijiquan practice in the village. He wondered what he could do to carry on this work. A few years ago he mentioned this to his children and some disciples and they suggested that he set up a Chen Style Research Centre so as to pass on his lifetime of Taijiquan realisation. His mind was in a contented place - "my mind is very calm, like a pool of calm water". He is convinced that his life has been saved by Taijiquan and whatever time he has left he wants as many people as possible to benefit in the same way.
Chen Shitong's does not want to be in the limelight, but he felt a responsibility to show himself and try to inspire the next generation of Chen Taijiquan practitioners for as long as he can: "If there is a function anywhere I like to be present, to see how the younger people are progressing. Many of the older generation are coming to the notice of the public now as so many people are travelling to the sacred ground of Taijiquan. It's not easy to live like a hermit now!"
|Chen Taijiquan master Chen Shitong|