Growing up Chen.
I am the oldest child.
Dad and mom were married for a full 10 years before he could convince her to finally start having children.
And, if you haven’t read about how my parents met, you also don’t know that it would be 3 baby ducklings that triggered my mother’s biological clock.
Three little ducklings, brought home to be raised in NYC’s West Village.
A family of 5 In a studio apartment.
It wasn’t just the ducks, it was the experience of raising them and the bond mom built with her feathered babies.
One night they returned in from an evening out and one of her duck’s didn’t greet her at the door.
The poor duck was laying on floor, quacking, but very weakly.
Mom was in tears, she crushed up half an aspirin and wrapped her baby duck up and rocked him in a rocking chair.
The duck made a full recovery and dad somehow convinced mom that the apartment was not a healthy environment for their beloved feathered children.
Mom made a phone call to an uncle who had a farm and the 3 kids had a new home.
Then I was born.
Although mom thought she had gone into labor with me, she hadn’t.
The pains she had been experiencing where me, kicking her spine, because I had the umbilical chord wrapped around my neck and couldn’t drop.
Mom has told me I was a very active baby and that dad just used to sit watching her belly as I did my martial arts training Pre-Delivery.
Finally, after hours of mom screaming, I was born.
One of my favorite things to do is to look at the photos of when I was little, mom always had me dressed up like a little doll and I can see how much they adored me.
As a little girl, mom always dressed me up and always had some incredible ways of doing my hair.
For a long time my parents had a very distinct idea of how their daughter would be raised and how I would be this idea of a girl I never really knew quite how to be.
Do we really have any idea of how we’re supposed to be?
Although I do know me now, it took me a while to get here and I know I’m still not even there yet.
As long as I did things that girls did, things felt a kind of comfortable. For my parents and I guess, for me too.
I was a competitive figure skater for a long time, mom always had very lofty competitive aspirations for me in that area.
I seemed to fit an “ideal” kind of Chinese American Girl as a figure skater.
Kristi Yamaguchi, Midori Ito and Lu Chen would be the only 3 Asian Figure Skaters I had to look up to as Asian women who were infiltrating a sport predominately dominated by the Russians, Americans and Canadians.
Although I never saw the differences between races, I was always made aware of my physical attributes which always caused me to attract attention, not necessarily because I might be beautiful, it was my size, my size that was too big to really pursue figure skating in really serious way.
My size bothered me for a long, long time.
Relatives loved to go on about my height, but this bothered me, I felt like a weirdo, why couldn’t I be petite and beautiful like my mom?
I loved figure skating, but I loved it for the power.
I loved that I could train and train and train and then one day hit that jump that would catch an incredible amount of air, timed just right, with the speed I would accumulate just before I would launch.
I loved the feel of the power I could generate with ice.
I loved the way power and intensity changed when I would practice my spins.
Everything I loved about figure skating was that it was powerful and I could create that power.
The more power I learned to generate in different ways, the more graceful I could feel from the inside out.
The power is so addicting and I was obsessed with how Strong I could get my Power to look with the tricks I could execute and I was also obsessed with how Elegant that same Power could translate into other movements.
It was so much fun and it was something I could learn to get better at as long as I practiced more, just practice, that’s all you need to improve.
There was also something bizarre I loved about being able to overcome the injuries from this sport, they are brutal.
Imagine a sport where speed and power go hand in hand and to learn certain tricks, you just needed to rely on your ability to generate power with speed, before you had any of the skills to accurately perform the new technique you were trying to learn.
There is A LOT of crashing into the barriers and the ice itself.
On a fresh session, it would hurt, but wouldn’t be so bad, after the ice gets a bit choppy from wear, it’s like gliding over hundreds of jagged edges.
It was often a combination of bruises, cuts and sprains, but I loved it.
They were earned.
They were badges of honor to my athleticism which I was just learning to discover.
Because of Figure Skating I started Tai Chi, I wasn’t a fan of taking ballet at the time.
The class structure didn’t vibe with me, I’m a bit too scrappy for the very delicate dynamic of a ballet class.
The dainty girls and the soft music always made me feel uncomfortable and awkwardly masculine.
At least on the ice, I was comfortable with my masculine side that flowed seamless with my feminine side’s love for the feeling of fluid movement.
My photo from my figure skating days used to hang over the West Side Highway as an advertisement for my home rink Sky Rink? That same photo is still in the elevator that takes you up to the rink area.
I am basically a Boxing Ballerina, you wouldn’t believe how the two are so similar, in physical power, but also drastically different.
I’ve always been that kind of girl who needed to do things that comforted my Masculine Side’s need for expressing dynamic power while also allowing me to feel the intensity of energy flow of my Feminine Side.
Without the having the balance of the two powers, I feel uneasy, undefined and inauthentic.
I started Tai Chi…
I had no idea what on earth these slow looking movements were about.
I didn’t quite like it at first, well the form that is.
It would be a very long time before I would actually understand The Tai Chi form at all.
Just because I am the Grandmaster’s Daughter, does not mean I was born interested or with an understanding any of this Martial Arts stuff I was born in to.
The one thing all the students already had on me as far as Tai Chi, was that they were actually interested in this stuff.
I watched it my whole life, but as a child, my perspective was so different.
Especially as my father’s child it was so different.
I didn’t see Tai Chi as this thing my father taught.
I grew up understanding Tai Chi from a different perspective of this incredible respect that people who came to or school liked to give to my dad.
In my mind, the eye of being his child and a child who adores her father as he does her, I just saw the students as an extension of me.
All these people who look to my father with such love and respect and treat him so nice and me so nice, because I am his daughter.
Growing up Tai Chi, I was very aware of my father’s presence, because it was something that also was so comforting and safe to me.
I knew not matter what I was loved and cared for and I felt and saw it everyday when I would go to work with my parents.
The school was family and I had a very big family that extended all over the world, because everyone loves my dad.
It was also this strange sense of identifying through the world from the reputation and respect earned by my father that created a strange sense of unidentifiable, identity within me.
Everywhere we went, cause we were always traveling with dad who was either teaching or making appearances people would ask me “Are you CC Chen’s daughter?” and it made me so happy and proud to always say “Yes”.
What could better than being the daughter of such an incredible man?
This is how it felt while I was still a child.
I taught at the school and I would begin competing too.
Both were interesting Universities for me.
Teaching, this is not easy, but dad makes it look as though it’s a kind of playtime, but isn’t Tai Chi supposed to be serious?
Dad’s ability to combine the fun was so Mary Poppins and Einstein at the same time.
How could learning be fun? Getting up and going to school was torture for me, I associated learning, with torture, because of my experiences, which would also become the most valuable learning tool for me as teacher now.
Competition, also not easy, but dad again, took all of the seriousness out of what we place on ourselves, so I had a very unorthodox approach to Competing from the start.
Competition wasn’t about “Me” the way you see most people think about it being all about them.
Even though, as a fighter you get into that ring against one other opponent it is not only about you and you are not the only one in there.
The people who do not understand this, you find will never become successful fighters. This is a necessary formula for the successful athlete to understand.
Competition is also incredibly liberating on so many levels too.
To me, because of how I trained and was raised, competition was also about everyone who gave their precious time to help me train for my moments in the ring.
If these incredible people that I believed in so much, to help get me ready for my fights, would take time out of their schedules and their lives to give it to me, they must believe in me as much as I believed in them and dad always reminded me about how people don’t waste their time for what they don’t believe in.
This is a way of thinking that I would great strength from throughout my competitive years.
What was great about this way of thinking was that I would already felt I won from the first day of training camp, having the best people by my side, training long and hard with me, pushing me when I could no longer push myself. With this, there’s no way you loose.
I never had the feel of the pressure that so many others seemed to suffer from, I just understood that making it through the process with talented people who committed their lives to me for the period before my fights was priceless.
All of the people and their time devoted to my goal, this was always my gold medal.
When I began competing in Chinese Martial Arts and Full Contact there weren’t very many females involved.
You couldn’t find gear for women, you wore what was available and finding protective gear for lady parts, required some detective work.
I never wore much gear though, never felt much the need for my body type, which isn’t particularly feminine, I don’t suffer from an anatomy of female proportions.
I also felt a strange sense of independence from being born female, but becoming a Martial Arts Full Contact Athlete, I was genderless and ageless, because no matter what, I wasn’t lumped in with the girls and had all these martial arts brothers to train with.
I was ageless, because there were so few women that no matter what, being female and a fighter, you were always this new exciting thing to walk in the room that was met with such enthusiasm.
I was also just William CC Chen’s daughter, so I didn’t suffer from this need to identify myself or hide myself. It felt comfortable to be recognized, because I was also anonymous.
Training with men, they did take a special care of me most of the time and while some of them would try to be a little more gentle, hoping I wouldn’t notice, it was always fun for me to show them that they didn’t need to be gentle with me. The reward, getting the to hit a bit harder and throw bit rougher. But they all were always so good to me and took very special care never to hurt me, too much. A little bit of blood from the lip or nose, never too much more than that.
I’m scrappy and I like to brawl. This was the life that was meant for me.
Fighting would become a kind of independence for me.
There’s an internal strength and power you develop and learn from living the lifestyle of a competitive fighter and it gives a unique sense of confidence.
Confidence in your own human form and your own self.
Literally, if you train hard, you hit harder. That’s what it comes down to.
It’s such a simple formula that would impact so much of my growth and development, finally reaching a point where I have an established solid sense of self, I know I’m different and that is my Super Power, that is everyone’s Super Power.
There is no lying in fighting.
If you don’t train with Honesty, Integrity and Dignity, you end up nowhere fast.
You develop character in such an authentic way, because whatever character you lack is what defeats you in the ring.
You learn the value of true lessons are the lessons that make you humble.
The value I found in always feeling so genderless was that I could explore both, my feminine and masculine sides without feeling like I was supposed to be one or the other.
I could be both and depending on what I am feeling at the moment I could be either one or the other… It’s such a free feeling to feel this way and its a sense of confidence to feel a comfort in being both.
Feeling ageless comes with living a life where you are constantly being challenged in so many ways and looking to discover how to handle all these challenges which always spurs growth.
Teaching keeps me ageless, just thinking about it now makes me smile, because I have never seen my father so young, vibrant and enthusiastically excited all the time.
Being a teacher is a lifetime commitment to your inner child which always keeps you young.
Teaching is the truest love of learning and the lifetime commitment to always earning the role of student.
There’s nothing more defining than never feeling you have to be defined and there’s nothing more exhilarating than living a life of discovery.
I’ve always felt anonymous, but that was because I am always rediscovering who I am meant to be in all the incredible chapters of my life.
The one thing that I am happy will can change and that I am happiest will always always stay the same, is that, I am The Grandmaster’s Daughter and that only gets better with time.