WORKSHOP 2004: Opening Demo Night

Master Zhu with Tu-Ky Lam, Malisa Ng and Club Students

Anyone who knows even a little about Chen Style TaiChi will probably have heard of the "Four Tigers." Since the 1980s this title has been popularly applied to four world-leading Chen stylists. These international "Chen TaiChi Ambassadors" come from from the ancient Chen Village of Henan province, China, the birthplace of TaiChi.

Master Zhu Tian Cai

Outstanding exponents of the Chen TaiChi tradition they learnt their art under the tutelage and scrutiny of two special relatives (Chen Zhao Kui and Chen Zhao Pei) who were direct disciples and relatives of the legendary Chen Fake.

So it was with great enthusiasm (and some nervousness) that we received confirmation that Master Zhu Tian Cai had accepted our invitation to come to Auckland to give a three week workshop.

Each of these Chen Village "Standard Bearers" (Chen Xiao Wang, Chen Zen Lei, Wang Xian, Zhu TianCai) have their own special talents. We had heard that Master Zhu, while not the most well known, had a reputation for being a superb teacher. It was said that he could make the most complicated of steps accessible to a novice and easily cut through esoteric teachings and made them understandable to a beginner. His execution of the form was reported to be of great beauty.

This is not the first time that one of the "Four Great Jingangs" (Diamonds), as they are also known, has been to NZ. We recently heard that Chen Xiao Wang (now based in Australia) made a couple of short visits here in the 1990s that don't appear to have been widely publicised.

Opening Night Audience

So it was, with some trepidation, that we prepared for the Opening Night Demo and Talk. We had no real idea at all how many people would attend because attendees preferred last minute door sales to pre-paid tickets. In any case our fears were without foundation as an eager audience swelled the capacity of the hall well beyond the 120 we had prepared for.

That night we were privilaged to have Master Tu-ky Lam as interpreter for the proceedings. Tu-ky is a Chen stylist who teaches in Wellington ( and is a frequent contributor to "The International TaiChi Magazine." We were also grateful for the services of Mr Peter Yu (Chairman NZ ChingWoo Society) who was MC for the evening. As people crowded in an infectious feeling of expectation grew amongst the audience.

Chenshi Students

Events kicked off with Chenshi Taichicise Centre demonstrating Old Frame One (students), Broad Sword (Kelvin Sim)and New Frame Two (Malisa Ng). Tu-ky Lam followed - also with New Frame Two. This proved a very interesting comparison because their forms were obviously different in many places and reflected the personal influences that even two generations of evolution can have on the outward form. Both Malisa and Tu-ky are 20th generation Chen stylists and both have a common GrandMaster in Chen Zhao Kui: but Tu-ky learnt from MaHong while Malisa learnt from Zhu Tian Cai.

Zhu Tian Cai proved to be a seasoned campaigner by talking first - leaving his open-hand/applications demos until later in the evening. His talk was simple and based around six or seven topics which he outlined at the start. He rightly assumed that some in the audience would know only a little about Chen style. Even though his talk was at times quite deep he still maintained simplicity of description.

Tu-Ky Lam

His humour and no nonsense explanations maintained a lively interest from the packed audience. A good third of the 160 or so persons attending were obviously Chinese listeners - as was indicated by the bursts of laughter and applause that spontaneously erupted. Of course much is always lost in translation yet Tu-ky's enthusiastic interpreting easily gave us the gist of what Master Zhu was communicating. At times even Tu-ky was hard put to keep up with our guest's lively repartee.

The talk included a brief history of Chen style (its origins and belated popularisation in recent times). Of particular interest was his observation that Chen style is the least known of the five styles of TaiChi - despite the fact that it is the precursor and Parent form (which still strongly maintains its martial vigour). He had an interesting saying, "TaiChi comes from Chen style but is spread by Yang style."

Malisa Ng

His explanation for this contradiction started with the usual reason: Yang Luchan, a very talented "visitor" to Chen village in the mid 1800s, learnt this hidden teaching and his disciples taught a modernised adaptation openly throughout China. However Tian Cai also added a couple of other reasons. Only in the late 1920s, with the famed Chen Fake (from Chen Village), did the traditional Chen Form become publicly known and "a hit" in Bejing City. He was the first to start teaching unmodified Chen style outside of Chen Village.

Zhu also maintains that Chen style is very hard to learn properly and requires a lot of practice and dedication so is not easily or quickly passed on. Political revolutions in China may also have been a further hindrance to the growth of all martial arts at the time. Thus this "newly discovered" Chen Style spread little outside of Bejing while well known Yang style was spread overseas by emmigrants.

(Chen Style's spread beyond China into the West probably only began "big time" when the Four Tigers started their international teaching circuits in the late 1970s. TianCai soon based himself in Singapore and was influential in the establishment of public Chen TaiChi instruction both there and in Malaysia - which is where Malisa discovered Chen style. In NZ we only know of publicly advertised chen style teaching from the mid 1980s (eg Tuky in Wellington) and even today comprehensive, specialist instruction is still hard to find).

Attentive audience

Another interesting topic concerned "what is the point of learning TaiChi?" TianCai emphasised that the real reason for learning traditional Chen Style used to be to aquire the art of cultivating "internal energy" primarily for martial purposes. This was the original purpose of TaiChi in Chen Village - those who mastered this difficult martial art form (based on internal energy) were extremely formidable (and healthy) fighters in the protection of their village.

Only with the invention and widespread use of the gun did TaiChi fall from its pre-eminent martial status in China (i.e. The Boxer Rebellion) and become more the health/exercise/hobby option by which we tend to regard TaiChi today.

Master Zhu

Health benefits do aquire from the "empty" practice of the "outward" forms/exercise of TaiChi (i.e. without teaching the internal energy skills). However Master Zhu maintained that the greatest health benefits only derive from the cultivation of this "internal energy" as originally discovered and used by Chen Village for self-defence.

One startling description of these health benefits was interpreted by Tu-ky "TaiChi is like a washing-machine for your body." By this we were meant to understand the health benefits that accrue to internal organs and deep body tissue by the gentle massage of the "inner form."

Master Zhu's presentation finished with an explanation of how Chen style is taught through the Old, New and Small Frames along with the ancillary exercises (standing, breathing, silk-reeling). Demonstrations of each of the above forms followed and were keenly received. When he slammed his foot on the wooden floor, as is normal in the Pao Choi (Old Frame Two), an older gentleman sitting next to me smiled and said, "that was good, I felt the shock wave through the air rather than the floor!"

Qinna (joint locks) Techniques

The Master finished with questions/answers and "Qinna" (grappling applications). Two rather large guys attempted, at his invitation, to basically try and rip his arm off but he proved too flexible and within seconds the situation was reversed and they were themselves cringing on the floor at rather awkward and vulnerable angles.

As the evening progressed the audience became more and more keen and the night ended with very loud and appreciative applause. It was indeed a thoroughly enjoyable evening and a great time was had by all.

Master Zhu concluded by revealing some of his planned future events. These include an International Chen Style TaiChi Convention in Singapore (a first time event there) which he is organising for late 2005. He has already reserved time in 2006 for a return visit to Auckland - to Christchurch as well if numbers permit.

Interested in Learning Chen Style?
If you are keen to learn energetic Chen style but live outside of Auckland do phone/email us your expressions of interest. Regular Chen style instruction could quickly become a reality in your area if we receive the level of interest needed to make this possible.


Chenshi Club Members with friends
2nd Row Centre: Tu-ky Lam, Malisa Ng, Master Zhu
2nd Row End: ChinWoo Council (Peter Yu (Pres), Jack Chan, Dr. Sam Chou)