10 Questions with Chen Huixian
The CombativeCorner is proud to introduce to you a 12th generation (direct line) successor of Chen Taijiquan. Born in Chenjiagou, the historical birthplace of Taijiquan, and having both her father (Chen Chunlei) and uncle (Chen Zhenglei), Chen Huixian acquired both tremendous skill and a deep passion for the martial art of Taijiquan. Master Chen Huixian lives with her husband and dog in Kansas City, Missouri. For more information on Master Chen, please click her image above.
What was life like when you were younger? Was there a lot of pressure on becoming a martial artist?
My parents did not put much pressure on me to learn Taiji when I was a child, but my father always made fighting fun for me. When I was young, I was taller and stronger than my classmates. When I would play with my (male) cousins we would always fight each other and I would always win. At that young age I was thinking, ‘if I do martial arts, maybe I can do a good job’. I thought, ‘if I do well enough, maybe I can be in our Chen family Taijiquan lineage like my dad’.
You are the niece and disciple of Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei. What’s the most important thing he’s been able to teach you?
I have learned a lot of about Tai ji Gong Fu and theory from my uncle. The most important thing I have learned from him is about Wude – martial ethics.
I remember I attended an international competition for Push-Hands in 2000. My mom asked my uncle, “Can you tell the judge to let Huixian win?” He just told my mom, “If Huixian has good enough skills, then she can win – if not, no one can help her”. Just because your name is ‘Chen’ does not excuse you from the hard work. If anything, it demands more.
What is your favorite aspect of teaching others Taijiquan?
My favorite aspect is letting people know more about Chen style Taijiquan. That it is not just for health, but that it is also an effective and realistic martial art. Many people in the west do not know what “Tai Chi” really is and where it came from. They don’t know it can be fun for people my age and younger and I like breaking those misconceptions. I also like watching my students’ leg muscles burn as they learn how to practice properly. Then they start to understand what gong fu is.
How has the art of Taijiquan changed your life?
Taiji has played a role in all the great changes in my life. I first left Chen Village to train with my gong fu brother. Now I have been to so many different places to teach Taijiquan. My Taiji even helped me get into college. And of course I met my husband through Taiji. I doubt I would be building a new life in the U.S. today if it was not for Taijiquan.
What would you have been doing if the martial arts had not been a part of your life?
It would be difficult to grow up in Chenjiagou without martial arts touching your life in some way. The majority of people in Chenjiagou are either farmers or martial artists. And most of the farmers still practice Taiji when they can. When I was young, my parents planted, maintained and harvested fields of corn, wheat, peanuts, cotton and other crops. It was a lot of hard work and long days, but as a child I did not spend much time working the field with my family. My family sold their land and opened a Taiji Shop by the time I was old enough to work in the field. So I imagine if I was not a martial artist I would be a simple farmer in Chen Village.
Several decades ago, Chen Style Taijiquan (along with many other martial arts) were kept within the family. Why do you think there has been such an openness these days in spreading its teachings?
Chen style Taijiquan can take several years of dedicated practice to master. If you only teach your own family, there is a greater chance that the art becomes lost. This almost happened once in Chenjiagou. When Chen Zhaopi returned to the village in 1958, he found not many were practicing and fewer were teaching. Even though he officially retired and already 65-years old, he still spent the rest of his life teaching the next generation and reviving Taiji in Chen Village. He was still teaching and taking on new students until his death. I think a lot of that dedication to carry on the flame of Chen Taijiquan has lived on in the 19th-generation, especially in Chen Zhaopi’s students. If Chen family people want to continue this great martial arts tradition, we have to teach more than just family. Speaking personally, I feel a strong responsibility to carry on the tradition by teaching, and there are also so many people in the west and around the world who are eager and excited to learn the deeper details of Chen style Taijiquan. I love sharing my family’s legacy with anyone willing to learn.
Besides your uncle, who would you say is your next source of inspiration and why?
My uncle has had a big impact on me and my life, but my biggest influence has always been my mother and father. They were both very strong people and lived through a very difficult period in Chinese and Chen Village history. They not only tended to the crops, and raised three children but they also found time to practice Taiji every day. Both my mother and father trained with Chen Zhaopi and continued that training very seriously after his death. My father, Chen Chunlei, made a choice early on to stay in Chen Village while so many of his cousins found fame and fortune teaching Taiji abroad. He was invited to teach many places, but he always chose to stay in Chenjiagou. Caring for his family and keeping the tradition of teaching Taijiquan in Chen Village alive were always his first priorities. He was much happier teaching in the Chen Village Taijiquan School than he would have been anywhere else. My father felt family and teaching Taiji were all you needed and he had no desire to be famous or wealthy. I’ve always tried to keep that in perspective too.
For many people, Taijiquan and the concept of Qi is still “mysterious.” How do you address your student’s questions regarding the energy in Taijiquan?
Taijiquan, and Chen style in particular requires balance, both internal and external, mind and body. If you only read books and use your mind to think too much about Qi without physically practicing, you can’t experience this “feeling” of Qi energy moving through your body. That’s not balanced and it’s not Taiji. Likewise, if you only practice your physical skills without using your mind, that’s not Taiji either. So when you practice, you have to balance your mental intent with you breathing and movements. Only then you can start to feel your Qi moving in your body. The more you practice, the stronger and more noticeable this feeling becomes. I always tell my students that Chen Taijiquan has no shortcuts. You need to practice correctly, practice often, and work hard. And don’t think too much about Qi. It will come it time. If you want to feel your Qi faster, practice more.
Teaching and martial arts aside, how does Chen Huixian have fun?
I love spending time with my husband and our dog. And I like to go on long walks with my dog. When I have time, I like watching T.V. and movies, especially martial arts films. I really like watching the UFC when I have time. They have some pretty good fighters. I think most people would be surprised how well Taijiquan would fit into the UFC. I see a lot of times in fights where Taijiquan skills would be useful. My husband laughs because I always yell at the T.V. telling the fighters what Taiji technique to use.
If they made Chen Huixian into a video game character, what would be her power and what weapon would she carry?
Hehe, I would carry double sticks (mace) and a small knife. And for a power, I think I would like to use my Qi to create fireballs that I could throw like they do in the movies. That would be fun!
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