Translated by Linda Yeo (Nairobi), much thanks!
Photos not exactly in original order- sorry.
Time has flown. It has been 30 years since my late father left me. Opening the dust of memories past, the past is like the tide of the mind. I was born in Xuanwu district of Beijing in 1962. My mother is from Shandong. When I was 2 years old, my parents divorced and I was under the custody of my mother. When I turned 4 years old, I was sent to my grandmother’s home in rural Shandong province.
Every month my father sent me some money to live on. At that time, family life was hard. My grandma’s family depended on farming for a living. Due to the serious lack of nutrition, I got tracheitis, chondrosis and hyperthyroidism. In order to cure the thyroid disease, I needed to inject the swollen neck every day. Several adults had to hold me down hard, causing me to cry out in pain, that got cured after more than a year. When my bronchial tubes got inflamed, broke out, I would be severely out of breath. Especially when the weather was cold or hot or seasons were changing. During my bronchial attacks, if I were to squat down, i would be breathless trying to get up from the squat. Chondrosis was more serious, in a tug-of-war, as long as there was a bit of force, the arm would dislocate. Every time I did a handstand, my head would hit the ground because my arms were weak. Very weak. My health was weak from severe lack of nutrition. (My Note: The Great Leap Forward era caused a massive famine throughout China).
When I was about to start school at the age of seven, I returned to Beijing and was taken to the door of no. 25 Mutton Alley in Xuanwu district. I went alone. My father was teaching boxing, and was very happy to see me. My grandmother took me into her arms and tears fell down. This is the first time I was seeing my paternal grandmother and father in memory. I have lived with them ever since, and the three of us have lived together. Half a year later, my father began to teach me how to practice, and I began to learn boxing. My body grew stronger. When I was 10 years old (1972), my grandmother had uremia and left us. I stayed by her body for three days and three nights. My father and I were alone in the house. In order to make a living, my father often went everywhere to teach boxing. In 1972, uncle Chen Maosen came to Beijing and invited father to return to Chenjiagou to teach boxing. So in 1973, my father returned to Chenjiagou for the first time, and since I was going to school, he entrusted me to the care of my neighbors. I was the only one left at home. I had to take care of myself. Therefore, I have formed a strong ability of self-care in life. In my memory, my father was not only good at martial arts, but also good at literature and eloquence. Usually, whenever father was free, he would tell the adults and children of the hospital such classics as Journey to the West, the Water Margin and Romance of The Three Kingdoms. At that time, the people’s spiritual life was very poor and they were looking forward to my father reading books and telling stories every day. When it comes to the highlights, they all stare and gasp. Everyone glared at anyone who coughed. Listening to my father tell stories was the greatest enjoyment. But then the police from the police station came and said that my father was preaching superstition and that he had to stop the story-telling. In 1974, my father took me back to Chenjiagou. At that time, Chen Xiaowang, Chen Zhenglei, Zhu Tiancai , Wang Xi ‘an, Chen Dewang, Chen Suying, Chen Guizhen, Chen Chunai, etc. studied boxing with my father. After that, I went to Zhengzhou with my father where Zhang Zhijun, Zhang Qilin, Zhang Maozhen and Ma hong learned boxing from my father. Successively, we lived in the homes of Zhang Zhijun, Hai Yuqing, and Zhang Maozhen. We moved around four or five times that year. In 1975, my father and I went to Jiaozuo again to spread taiji boxing. When we arrived in Shanghai in 1976, we met Gu Liuxin. At that time, the following were studying boxing with my father: Wan Wende, Du Wencai, Zhang Caigen and so on. From 1974 to 1977, we visited Chenjiagou, Shijiazhuang, Shanghai, Zhengzhou, Kaifeng and Jiaozuo. We lived next to Yang luchan’s temple in CJG and also lived with Chen Lizhou’s family and Chen Zhenglei’s family. The brigade assigned Chen Lizhou’s father to cook for us. At that time, the winters were harsh and it was colder indoors than the outdoor, when sleeping at night, we had to wear clothes into the bed, and I darent take off my clothes until I was warm under the quilts. The conditions in the countryside were so difficult. In order to survive, I have done all kinds of work, such as hauling coal, bricks from kilns and manure dung. We live hand to mouth, travelled everywhere to eke out our living, the four seas was our home. In 1977, I began to work independently, mainly in Wen County, and my father was travelling as Quan instructor. From 1974 to 1981, he spent seven years travelling between Beijing and Henan. By 1981, my father was working in Jiaozuo and I was in Beijing. On May 5, I received a telegram saying that my father was in critical condition. I left for Jiaozuo People’s hospital overnight. As soon as I entered the ward, I saw my father lying on the bed. He was very weak. When my father saw me, he was in tears and could not speak. I held my father’s hand tightly with tears in my eyes and couldn’t let go. My father was my only relative, my one and only relative. When my father left, I was alone. How do I live? Before my father died, he looked at me with tears in his eyes, and I was forever frozen in my heart. I knew my father was worried and could not bear to leave me and my heart was bleeding. And so in this state you went, father! Leaving me alone in this world like this!
My family has practised martial arts and taught boxing for generations. When I recall my father, I can’t do without martial arts and boxing. When I was seven years old, I began to learn martial arts. At the beginning, my father not only taught me the basic skills (jibengong) of my family lineage but also required me to practice five times a day. My father is famous for teaching boxing strictly. When he saw me practicing boxing, he not only required me to be accurate in my movements, but also required them to arrive in a proper position (到位）and keep my stance low. The number of times per day was fixed and not even reduced by one! One thing I remember vividly is that one day I failed to remember the new movements he taught me. When I went home to practice my fist, my father wanted to check it, so I was very nervous and stood frozen unable to begin. My father was very angry and reprimanded me severely, and asked me to practice all over again in front of all the disciples. From then, as long as my father was lecturing, I quickly sat up on the bed and listened (because there were only 15 meters in the house and there were many disciples, so every time I sat on the bed and watched). I was afraid that my father would scold me again. Even after the day’s practice, my father would still remain always serious after the others left. Regardless of the tiredness of the day, he would mould my frame all over again one by one, till I am trembling in my legs, breaking out in big sweats and finally, I could not hold on any longer and would shout, “Aiya! I can’t stand it anymore!” Then I would stand up or fall flat on the floor. I knew not how many times he had moulded my frame like this. Once, my father asked me to make a stance and hold it while he went out for a cigarette. He completely forgot about me and when he finally came in through the door, I fell onto my butt, exhausted from the massive effort.
My father paid unusually great attention to my practice of single form. Every time he checked, I could not move until my father told me to stop. For my father said, “We cannot comprehend the secret of our family’s lineage unless we have practiced many times and eat great bitterness (吃大苦）. Practice the quan a thousand times, to attain the natural shenfa in the body movement. Practice the quan tens of thousand times, to discern the mystery of its internal workings. Practice the quan a hundred thousand times, to attain its spiritual realm.” Father was very strict with me in practicing boxing. Sometimes, one of my movements was persistently not good, the technique not correct, the shenfa not correct, the appearance not correct, father would get so upset that he would hit me hard on my limbs till my fingers bled. I couldn’t stand my father’s sternness and ran away from home. Hiding not far from home, unwilling to return home, I got so hungry at midnight that i could not help myself and returned home again. Father said, “You are my son. You have a heavy responsibility on your shoulders. You have to remember, if you want to be remembered like our ancestors, at the back of it all is hard work. You’ll have to work even harder!” Now, at last, I understood my father’s good intentions.
After my father died, it hit me that I have a real burden on my shoulders to carry on the family lineage and let it flourish. I could not let what my forefathers forged by sweat and blood be lost under my hands. When I saw the portraits of my grandfather (Chen Fake) and my father looking at me with serious and deep eyes, I thought to myself, now who can I rely on for improving the quan? On your own! In order to discern the boxing principles, I had to be ruthless, have no contact with anyone, cut off all contact with the outside world. I closed off myself for 3 whole years and concentrated my whole body and mind to practice boxing. After my father’s death, I remembered his words and practiced hard for three years. Only you yourself know your own joys and sorrows. On the first day, after dozens of times of practice I wanted to give up the very next day. But then what could I then do for a living? I had quit my job, and so the second day I practiced again and again, I wanted to give up the next day. But I returned to practice on the third day. I don’t know if you have thought about it, one can practice five or six times a day. But can you stand it when you keep practicing all day long and all night long? Easier said than done. After a day of endless boxing, I couldn’t stand the pain. It the worst of times economically too, I would eat my last meal and then not know when my next meal would be. Because I had quit my job, it became a problem to put food on the table. Even in such a difficult situation, I practiced every move carefully and did not dare to slack off. At that time, I practiced all over with fever and my body temperature was scalding hot. I would pour a bowl of cold water on my body and the water would immediately dry off. Heat evaporating off my body. Whole body felt sticky and my sweat were white like a paste and later turned red. It was really 拉筋开骨，换气换血，易筋易髓 (tendons pulling off the bone, changing of Qi and blood, ????) my whole body burnt, I couldn’t sit nor lay down. I had to lift both legs physically and put them on the bed. But I had experienced what was described in classics, to a certain extent, “two kidneys boil like soup, and the bladder burns like fire. The nose is surging and the wind is blowing behind the ears. Sometimes in the lineage internal practice of sitting Zhuang, i experienced a great sense of stillness. The sensation of light gathered at the center of the brow, shining brightly. It’s real kung fu. No pains, no gains. That’s when I realized why my father had practised meditation for so long.
After my father’s death, I practiced hard for three years. My whole body ached and I couldn’t bear any touch on my hands. The pain only subsided when I trained till my whole body was hot all over. The next day the pain would return but after warming up, the pain subsides and then continue to exercise. Training till I could no longer walk with straight legs. When I got up at night to relieve myself I held my hands against the wall to navigate to the toilet. At that time, there was only one belief in my mind: since grandpa and dad could survive in this way, I must not be a coward. For the sake of my ancestors, I can’t let my family lineage due out I must pass on my skills! The father said, “A thousand words cannot do the trick. In fact, two words can be summarized. ‘open and close’ (开 and 合 ”kaihe”） is all there is to it. Many disciples asked my father to explain the word “kaihe”? My father just smiled and said, “Practise to a certain level, you will experience it with your body. To find it from the body, from the spirit, the most important thing is to fold the chest and waist. 胸腰折叠. xiongyaozhedie. In fact, many people can not do it, we must not read the text, although everyone knows the word, but its connotation should be explained in detail. 太极八法：掤、捋、挤、按、採、挒、肘、靠，选自陈瑜老师撰写的《太极人生》一书中陈照奎宗师的手稿中。 The eight methods of tai chi: peng, lu, chi, lie, an, cai, zhou, kao are selected from the manuscript of master Chen zhaokui in the book tai chi life written by teacher Chen yu.
My father took special attention on me in boxing education, teaching me according to my aptitude. When I was a child, my father allowed me to keep a cat and a dog. Let me observe their flexibility and see how they attack and defend themselves. I especially like the flexibility of cats. While I was stroking the cat’s head, a mouse ran by, and the cat rushed out of my hands and held the mouse down. The speed and flexibility of his body are beyond the reach of man. In addition, my father told me to hold on to the cat’s four paws, raise them up, and then let go of them to see how it landed. In an instant of release, his waist was turned over with a great deal of force, and he was always down on all fours, firmly grounded and unable to fall. My father said to me, “the key is the waist jin (腰劲儿）.” It is often said that a man grows old by his legs. In fact, it is from the kidneys, once the waist loses strength (no 腰劲儿） the legs can not lift up. At Chenjiagou Chen Dewang’s house, my father told me to watch the rabbit go after the bird. I raise rabbits, I chase rabbits, and I see how it responds when it turns around and kicks me. That’s the purpose of my rabbit. A rabbit is kicking me, biting and kicking me. It was like an adult kicking me with his foot. The same is true for my dog. It was my father who used my playful nature to guide me in boxing by observing and studying the fighting characteristics of animals. I now watch TV every day and enjoy watching animal world and martial arts movies. On the one hand, observe the struggle between animals. On the other hand, I studied the martial arts fragments in the martial arts films, stimulated my mental system, practiced my body’s chest and waist folding, and stimulated my inner reaction. Only in this way can we develop the natural reaction, stimulate the potential and make the Qi submerge. I want to find this feeling, which is the most training in martial arts fighting instinct response. I remember my father’s instructions, to practice and to make it a life practice.
I especially admire my father’s ultimate skills in boxing. His first killer blow was to “fan slap”. I saw my father hit a local ruffian to the ground. He fan slapped him on the chin with such force it turned the ruffian 360 in the air and he landed in the original place where he had stood. And yet the opponent wasn’t injured but was scared to death. The second best is to hit the opponent with a downwards strike and yet the opponent jumps up in the air. The father’s third best thing was that as long as the opponent grabbed his arm, the father seemed not to move and yet the opponent was shot out. As soon as the father folded his arms in, the opponent would be knelt down. Our family lived in a flat house at the earliest days, except for a table that was complete and not damaged, the rest of the house furniture had broken arms and legs, and even the walls were smashed. I remember one year when the weightlifter Xiao Fang and my father pushed hands. When Xiao Fang issued his force, father seemed to tremble and Xiao Fang shot through the air. Xiao Fang weighed more than two hundred kilos. He fell on the bed, broke the bed board and bed legs. I was sitting in the corner of the bed, and I tumbled off with the violent force. Father lunged up and picked me up.
People often say: “teaching boxing for a living, a lifetime of wandering, blood on the blade.” This was absolutely true. Father’s life was full of ups and downs.
Father not only taught boxing, he also had to maintain the family’s livelihood, and also train hard. Especially the inner cultivation practice could not be stopped for a day. In 1969, I returned to Beijing and went to the first and second grade of primary school. One day I got up in the middle of the night and had a big fright to see my father sitting on the sofa. From then on, I knew that there was an internal meditation practice in our family’s kung fu. When my father lost his job and returned from Shanghai, the stress caused his high blood pressure and we had no money to cure the disease. During these hard times, father seemed to have a premonition and was afraid that the family kung fu lineage would’ve lost. In 1971, my father often took me from Orchard Lane (street in Beijing) to Chongwen district of central Beijing to practice Taijiquan by the railroad track. My father took me on a bike and it was very hard against the wind in winter. I remember once in 1972, when my father had to leave the house to teach Taijiquan one morning, he told me to clean the table at home and sweep the floor and then leave the house to join them in the Taijiquan training. I fell asleep because maybe I was too tired to practice. I missed that morning training session and was severely beaten by my father upon his return. Life wasn’t easy for Father. Once during his practice, his toenail was injured and half of it torn in an opened sore which afterwards became festerous. He used bicycle wheel to press his foot hard, and with his bare hand tore the remaining toenail out, and slapped on the antiseptic purple potion. In those time, due to financial difficulties, the family could not afford to spend money on medical treatment, and had to treat ourselves by local methods. As father grew old, he was haggard and often destitute. Once he got off the train at Beijing station after travelling back from giving Taijiquan training in another province, he was far away from home, but as he had not a penny to buy a bus ticket, he had to walk home. It is true that a great hero will not be fazed by times of destitution.
I admire my father’s noble character. My father’s pragmstic attitude towards traditional chinese culture has guided me in my lifelong quest in Taijiquan boxing and life. He has never changed my grandfather’s boxing skills. He often said to me, “What we have in our family lineage is the result of the blood and sweat of generations, the crystallization of the wisdom of generations, and the unbroken continuation of thousands of years of traditional culture. It’s hard even for us to continue this unbroken lineage ourselves, if we cannot practice to a certain level, how can we even understand let alone change the practice? In the practice of martial arts, today’s kungfu can not be compared with the past, how dare we make comments and judge the kungfu of the historical creation of the martial arts, it is wrong to indulge in that! Your grandfather’s kung fu is much better than mine. We only have to learn it well. We should keep a respectful attitude towards the things before us, and we should not tamper with them. If we don’t understand some of these skills, we will pass them on to future generations. When science is developed in the future, we will naturally be able to solve the mystery and make contributions to future generations. Little Fatty, remember, you can’t change a thing, when I’m gone.” So now I teach Taijiquan mainly by recalling how my father taught boxing, and I would never dare to “create”. When I was learning taijiquan, my father would beat me for every mistake. Sometimes my fingers were bleeding from my father’s stick. It was too hard and my father was too strict. I wanted to kill myself and didn’t want to live. I once thought of running away and never coming back, but where would I run to and what could I do to run out at that young age? I had no choice but to return and stayed to practice.
My father was only 162cm tall, yet I could not reach his level of kung fu. He could throw men of two hundred pounds as if throwing a ball in his hands, a slap and they were thrown out. Even as I understand the inner workings, yet I find it incredibly amazing and indescribable because there’s a huge distance between the knowing and doing. My father has always been realistic about martial arts, neither exaggerating nor downsizing. It is said that he can do qing gong (轻功）. He said, “I have learned qing gong, but training qing gong is no mystery as some people make it out to be. It is possible to tie iron tiles on legs, dig a ditch and jump up from the ditch with legs tied, or run plank on the wall, climb the eaves of houses, roll the crotch over the wall. But running a hundred steps to grasp something without contact is a training impossibility. To hang a painting on a wall, it’s frame needs a nook, a painting cannot be hung on a flat plane. Without physical contact, it is impossible to hit someone even with an intention.” When he taught boxing in Shanghai, there were other lineages of tai chi masters who challenged my father with their various qing gong jin, yet none could move my father an inch.
My note : Each Jin character has a description below them. (Needs accurate translation)
Growing up, my father and I only had each other to rely on. After practicing tai chi with my father, my body grew stronger and stronger. It was tai chi that gave me a second life. After my grandmother died, the responsibility of taking care of my father fell to me when I was young. In order to take good care of my father, I went to my aunt Chen Yuxia’s house and learned how to cook with my uncle. (at that time, my aunt’s house was only a road away from my home.) I washed my father’s clothes. In winter, the water was freezing, my little hands were frozen. My father had a suitcase filled with books on novels and tai chi. Wherever he went to teach boxing, he took it with him. The last time I saw the box was after my father died, but it was empty and all the books were gone. My father and I have lived together for more than ten years. Although we are poor, our spiritual life was very rich. The main content of our conversation centered on Taijiquan principles. I remember talking about it with my father, almost all of it.
After my father’s death, I practiced hard in my seclusion for three years. Near the end of the confinement, I dreamed that my father was back. My father said to me, “why are you staring at me? Do you mean to say I’m dead? I tell you, I’m not dead. I watch you practice every day. You can’t. Can I go? How do you tell your grandfather? You can just keep practicing like this. Don’t change it. That’s the way our house stands. You remember it for me, don’t go out of your way, remember! I said, “Dad, you come and eat.” The father did not eat, and said, “I will come back to see you.” But he never came back. Father, where are you? How much I want to hear you tell me stories and hear you tell me your boxing theory. I want you to hit me again, to feel the body in the air, to understand the magic of our family lore. When thinking of you, I looked at grandpa and your portrait and sat alone until the morning. Are you and grandpa working on boxing there, when can you come back and teach me? Your boxing skill, there are still some mystery I have not yet fully understood, much hope to get your guidance. But you never reappear again in my dreams. I cry to heaven, father, where are you? I call to the earth, father, where are you? Father — you are my eternal memory.