Thursday, July 31, 2008

Master Chen invites Shihan Dan to be "inner door" student

Shihan Dan has received the great honour of being invited to become Master Chen Yun-Ching's "inner door" student or "bai shi". The ceremony will take place after 10 days of intensive training in Taiwan in January 2009 and will be conducted at a Buddhist temple in accordance with ancient tradition.

Becoming an inner door student is an invitation rarely extended in the Chinese martial tradition and acceptance is both an honour and a responsibility, since the "bai shi" must undertake to absorb all the teachings of the master for preservation and dissemination to future generations.

In this case Master Chen will be passing down to Shihan Dan the encyclopaedic knowledge of the late Chen Pan-Ling, one of the most highly revered martial arts teachers of the 20th century.

Chen Pan-Ling was the leading civil engineer in pre-war China, distinguishing himself as one of the most respected experts in hydraulics in that country. The fact that he was held in such high regard as a scientist and that he also had an impeccable pedigree in terms of his own martial background meant that he was the logical choice to be the Chairman of a committee formed in 1941 by the Chinese Nationalist government to record and preserve the myriad Chinese martial arts facing extinction in the face of the Japanese advance (and later the Communist takeover).

In his article “Chen Pan-Ling T’ai Chi Ch’uan”, Brian Bruning writes:

“Chen Pan-ling, born in 1891, was trained by his father, in the Shaolin arts, when he was young. Later some of the best martial artists of the day trained him in T’ai Chi Ch’uan, Pakua, and Hsing-i. His T’ai Chi Ch’uan teachers were Yang Shao-hou, Wu Chien-chuan, Hsu Yu-sheng, and Chi Tzu-hsiu. He also traveled to the Chen family village to study the Chen style in 1927- 28. He was vice-president (founder of Henan Province school) of the famous Central Martial Arts Academy of Nanking, and later Chung King. Master Chen was also one of the main coaches of the Chinese demonstration team at the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin.”

In fact, the respect for Chen Pan-Ling was such that he was granted access to many of the hitherto secretive systems of taijiquan, permitting him to make a thorough analysis of the 5 major systems of that art, namely Yang, Chen, the 2 Wu systems and Hao. Rather than preserve each of these systems separately , Chen Pan-Ling used his scientific and martial knowledge in tandem to deconstruct each form, extract the common and essential elements, reconcile the differences and reconstitute them into a synthetic form which the author Robert W Smith describes in his foreword to the 1998 English version of Chen Pan-ling’s T’ai Chi Ch’uan Textbook as “eclectic [but] grounded in the traditional forms and brimming with the ancient spirit.”

Mr Bruning’s article gives a description of the style and it’s essential features, including its preservation of the more “combat-oriented” pre-WW2 methodology of taijiquan. For the time being it will suffice to say that Chen Pan-Ling’s contribution is nothing short of astounding and the opportunity for his knowledge to be assimilated into the Academy is one not to be missed.

The Academy will shortly be conducting fundraising events such as chocolate sales to defray some of Shihan Dan's costs, and students are encouraged to assist in this endeavour as much as they can!