Roar of 'Four Tigers' heard around the world

Updated: 2015-11-12 07:49

By James Healy and Qi Xin(China Daily)

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It would be impossible to tell the story of Chenjiagou and the rise of Chen tai chi without mentioning the "Four Tigers of Chen Village" - the tai chi masters chiefly responsible for taking the family art beyond the village walls in the later part of the 20th century.

But for the efforts of these four - Chen Xiaowang, Chen Zhenglei, Wang Xi'an and Zhu Tiancai - and the visionary teachers who cultivated them, Chen Zhaopi and Chen Zhaokui, Chenjiagou might today be merely a sleepy, nondescript farming village tucked in among the trees just north of the Yellow River.

"If it was not for tai chi, my grandfather would still be a common farmer," said Lu Dongdong, grandson of Chen Zhenglei.

Instead, the original form of tai chi has taken root in more than 100 countries across the globe in just three decades, due to the tireless efforts of the "tigers" to promote the traditional art and educate millions, through workshops, books and DVDs, about its health benefits and martial qualities.

Leading Chen tai chi masters from two generations agreed that, going forward, education - long a pillar of Chenjiagou - will hold the key to anchoring the village's newfound prosperity.

To this end, village planners and visionaries, after years of discussions, are finally drawing up the plans for a tai chi university in or near the village where the martial art originated.

"This topic has been talked about for decades now," Chen Zhenglei, who is on the country's list of Top 10 contemporary Chinese martial artists, said in an exclusive interview with China Daily. "The leaders of our province, county and village are looking closely at it. The point is to train people of high ideological quality and a high level of cultural knowledge, and they also need to speak a foreign language.

"To train this kind of talent, we need to set up a college or university," Chen said.

"You will not be a good coach if you are not well-educated," he added. "Some people outside of our village think we are only warriors. People who are not well-educated are thought of as crude."

On the contrary, Chen and the three other "tigers" have long pursued the tradition of "the pen and the sword" - the notion that the best martial arts masters are both warrior and scholar.

His son, Chen Bin, who studied at university in the United Kingdom and speaks fluent English, said a broad education and knowledge of the world beyond China are crucial for the generations that will continue to spread tai chi.

"Most of my family, my (tai chi) brothers, are still similar to my father's generation. They concentrated only on tai chi training most of their lives" and did not focus enough on furthering their education, he said.

By contrast, he said, earlier generations of villagers - from Chen Wangting, who created tai chi in the 1600s, to Chen Xin, who wrote about the art in the early 20th century - "didn't just concentrate on tai chi training. They learned theory and philosophy as well. They were very knowledgeable men. You can tell from their poems and theories that they were deep."

Master Chen Bing, 44, said: "Learning is very important for this generation. We cannot just stand in one circle, the family, but must go out to the world."

Wang Haizhu contributed to this story.

Roar of 'Four Tigers' heard around the world

Roar of 'Four Tigers' heard around the world

Roar of 'Four Tigers' heard around the world

Roar of 'Four Tigers' heard around the world

(China Daily 11/12/2015 page6)