As we lifted up and out of China, headed toward Seoul then LAX, I took the time to reflect on what may be my last trip to China. I have said this before – “I’m never going back” sometimes punctuated with several exclamation points. I have always returned, but this time the sentiment comes from a different place.
I’ve done this trip 6 times. I’ve had such rich experiences in this country. I was made a disciple on one trip, kowtowing in the ancestors’ temple in front of Chen Xiaowang. I have stayed in hotels, dorms, and hotels again. I did our second duan wei test in the village, while snow blew in the windows. I have practiced in the blazing sun, nearly fainting from the heat. And I have been during fall harvest time, wandering the village looking at the beautiful colors of the drying corn, and at the peanuts still on their vines, piled up as high as the roofs of the homes. And all of these trips have been for the sake of my taiji practice and because of my gratitude for the Chen family, especially my teachers Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing.
It’s been interesting to see the changes in the village. It’s very different from that first trip we took with Mark Wasson. The roads weren’t paved, there weren’t lots of foreigners, and training was serious. Now, it’s more like a tourist attraction, where people come to see the birthplace of taiji, take pictures, and tour the government temple grounds. Serious training can still be found, but it doesn’t seem to be the norm anymore. Training trips have to be quietly done, without the presence of Chen Xiaowang, and even then, the occasional tourist pops up with a camera to take pictures of these foreigners who come to train taiji.
I think I’m done with this experience. I’m glad I first went when I did, before all the changes, and when I was more inclined to tolerate the difficult conditions. I’m also glad to see that even with all the changes, the family stays committed to passing on their family art to the younger generations, and as it is with all arts passed down, their taiji will evolve into a reflection of them, hopefully keeping the qi of the generations past as a tangible force in their own iterations.
I will continue to eagerly anticipate the visits of Chen Xiaoxing and Chen Ziqiang, and look to them to guide my advancement in the art. I will also study from the established and emerging non-Chinese artists of the 20th generation – Jan Silberstorff, Stephan Berwick, Davidine Sim and David Gaffney. These teachers have the goods and are able and willing to share. I will take some trips to Europe for taiji training, and explore the beauty of that part of the world. And I will fondly remember my trips to Chenjiagou as the experiences that truly shaped my love and appreciation for this art, the art that has so strongly influenced the person I am.