It's been a year since Grandmaster Chen Xiaoxing stayed in our home for a week. He came to Moline partially as a favor, because I sponsored his visa to visit the U.S. and teach seminars around the country. He held a 2-day seminar on Laojia Yilu at our school and I received some good private training in my basement. It was fascinating to host a man like this and to see a true master up close and personal.
Grandmaster Chen is in charge of all tai chi training in the Chen village. He has trained some talented young masters. We're about the same age. He's the younger brother of Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang. He's the uncle of Chen Bing.
It was difficult for us to communicate, since he doesn't speak English, but when he trains, no words need to be said. One day we did push hands in my basement for a while. Each time I tried to attack him, he relaxed and suddenly, I found myself on the floor. We were both laughing--I was laughing because it was amazing to feel what he was doing but still be unable to defend against it. He was probably laughing because he enjoyed watching me fall. :)
I learned to see my basement carpet in a whole new way.
Until you feel someone really do it, it's difficult to grasp the concept of relaxing when force comes at you. Our natural tendency is to tense up. A lot of martial artists who have studied other styles--even becoming black belts--have come into my school to study, and the one thing that I have to continually remind them to do is to relax. When force comes in, you relax and neutralize it, deflect it, re-direct it, let it pass, and then counter, often by using the opponent's sudden lack of balance against him (he's off-balance because you didn't stop his force).
One of the best memories I have of the week Grandmaster Chen stayed in my home is the sight of him laughing while playing magnetic darts in my basement. He loved the game, and was very good. He kicked my butt. Then, as he was preparing to leave, I rolled the magnetic dart board up and handed it to him, along with the darts, as a gift to take back to the Chen village. He giggled like a little boy as he went over to his suitcase to pack his new toy. He's probably the grandmaster of magnetic darts in the Chen village now.
Grandmasters like this are amazingly talented. They're like olympic athletes. They've trained in this one thing all their lives. Naturally, when we are with them, we look like schmucks because we are Americans and haven't practiced tai chi for 8 hours a day since we were very young. It's silly to expect to take on Michael Jordan in a one-on-one basketball game, and it's silly to think of entering a homerun contest with Roger Maris. We shouldn't feel bad because we aren't as good in martial arts as people from the Chen village. The chance to practice, study, and improve slowly is something to be enjoyed and savored.
Another important realization is that like any athlete, Grandmaster Chen Xiaoxing is also just a man. A simple man with a narrow view of the world. He's interested in tai chi and he wants to be in the Chen village, and that's about it. Having him in our home for a week was a great reminder not to hold these guys up on too high a pedestal. They may be internal arts masters, but their training shoes stink as badly as ours, and they step outside for a cigarette just like the smokers at work. There's nothing mystical or deep about them. They've just developed great skill at tai chi.
This type of training was impossible until the past 15 to 20 years, and until very recently, you had to travel to Chen village to meet and train with Chen Xiaoxing. His brother, Chen Xiaowang, urged him to go to America to help spread the art. If you have a chance to train with him or other Chen masters, don't pass up the opportunity.