I’m sorry to disappoint anyone who might think that I started doing Tai Chi Chuan from the minute I was born, I didn’t.
Dad has always been the most practical non-traditional, traditionalist I have ever encountered. Actually, the world seems almost entirely amuck whenever I experience any of it and the amuckerie of it all always makes me reflect back to how my dad just keeps it all very humble, practical, sensible, simple and respectful.
When you’re raised a Non-Traditional/Traditional Chinese Woman, by one of the most incredibly grounded people in the world, you can’t help but be unbelievably confused about life and how to live it once you actually try to start figuring out where exactly you fit in. This would teach me one of my greatest lessons, we are not meant to fit in, we are created unique with the ability to adapt to our environments. Adaptability does not mean conformity, it is the ability to be empathetic, which is the true essence of strength, love and beauty.
Empathy is a Super Power that so few people possess and far too many operate outside of with the desire to demonstrate Power and Control in manners that go against nature and have bred an element, weak, manipulative and mean inside. Empathy has also created the painful parasite of the Narcissist. Without Empaths, Narcissist would have no prey, but us Empaths sometimes need the Black Heart of the Narcissist to learn how to establish boundaries and truly understand and appreciate our own actual value. As an Empath, we sometimes put everyone else before us and we need a reminder that we deserve someone who puts us before them, the way we put them before us. What we show outside is always a pure reflection of who we truly are inside. Everyone knows this, especially those who operate on the opposite side of empathy, which is why they often maneuver as Empaths until their mask falls off and then the claws come out, sometimes all at once and sometimes more painfully, one at a time. No matter how a person smiles at you, you can always see the truth of their mask, reflected through how their soul is revealed through their eyes.
Tai Chi Chuan is the study of life and being born into it has given me the opportunity to experience it in the most upfront and personal way and starting so young has also given me a unique insight into what the practice, study and love of this Ancient Chinese Art is all about.
This isn’t a love story, or maybe it is. In any case it is a kind of story and my stories, while they can run off on tangents every now and then, they come from a place of learning, discovery and experiences I am always thirsting to learn from.
My father is William C.C. Chen. He is the person I most admire and respect in my life. The love I have for my father is not just a kind of love a child has for a parent, it is a love born out of respect for how he has always been a man, father, friend, brother, son and husband of his word. He is quiet and very straight forward, the most honest human I have ever met, the most patient living organism alive, the most loving person, the most hard working person, the most beautiful person and you know how I know this? Not because of anything more than he is a rare being who lives his exact life according to the standards he teaches. He doesn’t preach, he shows. He doesn’t lecture, he lives. This is why it has taken me to almost 40 to understand how lucky I am to have had this man’s patience guide my life and development. Life lessons have to be learned while living life and you can’t learn the lessons without making mistakes. While I grew up in this very traditional Chinese environment, this is where the non-tradition kicked in, my parents raised me to never fear making mistakes, unlike most Chinese households, we were raised to live and learn through life experiences and I definitely took this on as a challenge and even shake my own head at what I willingly took on as enjoyment and feel such loving remorse for what some of my insanity must have put my parents through.
I always watched Tai Chi, my mother has photos of me as a peanut imitating dad with rollers in my hair, cause my mother always loved dressing me up like the little doll all little Chinese Girls are supposed to be. I was their doll who grew up into a fighter and that was true in the ring and outside of the ring.
As a very young child I do remember watching Tai Chi and always getting pulled into a kind of trance. I was never really watching dad though. What I remember looking at was this room of adults who all always felt like family to me, many of them I regard closer than most of my blood relatives to this day. When I looked at this group of people moving together I never felt like anyone was following anyone, it looked like everyone was just isync with each other, in this feeling way that felt so good to be around.
Growing up, my mother had me all activitied out. I experienced everything from gymnastics, baton, ballet, jazz, ballroom dancing, hula and finally I would fall in-love with figure skating and that is where my Tai Chi experience becomes hands on.
Dad never even considered having me start Tai Chi when I was born. Mom brought it up and dad, practical as ever said that forcing me to do Tai Chi at such a young age would make me hate it… Dad was right.
I finally started doing Tai Chi Chuan at 14, to improve my figure skating. I didn’t get private classes, dad just said that if I wanted to learn I had to show up to his beginners class. So I did, even though I didn’t want to. This was “mom pressure” now and little did I know, even though she still will never admit it to this day, mom had a plan and her plan could now take shape, now that I was old enough to willingly participate in classes. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy the actual Tai Chi that much at this point, but if I wanted to do my figure skating, I had to go to class, this was another little factoid that Momma Chen created to get me to my Tai Chi classes. Mom never let me do anything without making sure she had me satisfy her condition(s), I do have to say that this tactic made me resent Tai Chi at the beginning a bit, but also taught me how much I also love and appreciate my father in every way he is so different from her. I do love my mother as much as my father, but the relationship with dad is built from an internal strength and true place of power which is nurtured through a method rooted in Action over Words. Dad doesn’t hold anything over anyones head and never uses aggression or force, to get you do anything his way, because his way stems from the purest kind of love and that is about nurturing you to be who you are meant to be while teaching you through his actions how true love and respect is about empowerment through the flawlessness of flow.
I’m 14, taking my father’s classes just wanting to get to figure skating practice. I had no idea what on earth I was doing. I knew what it all looked like, but that’s from the external observation, at 14 I had no clue what internal was, I just knew that I enjoyed the the feeling of being on the ice and learning that feeling through movement, accompanied with music and the freedom of just being able to do what I did on frozen water without being nagged, overly criticized, not to be confused with critiquing or watched to closely. The figure skating rink was my own personal little world where I experienced the true essence of power to be, letting go. You have no ability to generate power for anything without the mechanism for release. Holding on is weak. Letting go is Powerful… This lesson would re-teach itself to me in a plethora of ways as I maneuver through this thing called life.
At the age of 16 I had begun Push Hands practice and few months in my parents enter me in my first competition, I had no choice, which I was given the freedom to dispute. One really unique aspect of our household, especially a traditionally Chinese household run under the Iron Fist of my mother who at times can come off as a Communist, but a loving one, was the Gift of Speaking my Mind. As a Chinese American my mother disliked how Chinese never seem to have a voice or know how to speak up. Speaking up, respectfully with tact and elegance is a skill I learned in my household from the beginning of time and I am always working to refine. My father, in the craziest of ways also encourages speaking up, challenging him and questions, because he didn’t think the traditional manner of learning he came from to be fair to the students. He really wants people to understand and believe because they have been given the sturdy foundation of true education. Dad always says everyone is right and everyone is wrong, it just depends on how you look at things most of the time and who you want to be right and what side you are on. Choosing who you want to be right and whose side you are on requires the ability to LEARN and true learning can only happen in an environment where students do not fear asking the teacher questions. He has said that sometimes “Respect” goes overboard and that is not good for the student and it is also not good for the teacher. Like the student a teacher always has to grow, without questions, curiosity a wonder, you have no growth.
I did dispute my parents entering me into competition. Plain and simple, I was scared, I didn’t think I was good enough and with all the attention our family always gets at Martial Arts Events, where I was just the girl who was the daughter of this very well respected guy, I didn’t want to have attention on me now, where I was going to be judged for my skill. Dad simply said, this is just part of the learning process, in the school its too safe for you and people are polite because you are my daughter, so, you seem strong and you seem good, but how good do you really know you are if you don’t have people who want to kill you? Yes, my dad really said “kill you”, but he means it in the manner of a competitors mind, not actual death, or maybe he did mean it in a sense where the old you has to die, to become the newer stronger you? He followed it by saying, you need to have your weaknesses exposed by people who don’t care about whose daughter you are. In one of my most genius moments I decide to tell my father…
“Ok, I understand, but don’t tell anyone I’m competing and I’m not gonna walk around with you until after I’m finished competing. This way maybe people won’t notice I’m your daughter when I am competing”
Dad just kind of laughs and says, “ok”
For the record, people have come to the skill wanting to destroy me and even our own students have gone full blast at me, there was no love because of whose daughter I am, I realized, at this point I had stepped into my own in a kind of way and oddly enough, the challenges as they do in life, make life more fun, but only if you are kind who enjoys self improvement.
Well, being nervous about competing I clung to my parents, especially dad when we got to the venue and dad, being human and a proud poppa told everyone that came up to shake his hand that his daughter was competing for the first time. If that didn’t cause enough of a stir, the only person I had to warm me up before I competed was my father. This was kind of cool though. I’m pretty good at tuning people out, growing up in NYC, you’re always surrounded by people, at the school and our industry, we are always surrounded by people, you learn at an early age to tune out whatever makes you uncomfortable, kinda works the same as tuning out your mother constantly reminding you to make your bed, lol. I tuned everything out. I think all competitive athletes do this, you have to. Your gaze turns inwards and you literally can hear the sound of your own heart beating and you become aware of your own breath, how it feels and the timing of it changing with the beat of your heart. This would actually be the first moment I started to really learn Tai Chi Chuan, dad was so right.
Dad started warming me up and I went back into my “safe place”, this is how I felt at the school. We worked until he felt I had done enough and I turn to go take a quiet seat in a corner somewhere and it looked as though the entire audience of the competition hall were were in had moved to film and observe dad working with me. This felt normal though, people always flock to watch dad and I love how they would look at my father in admiration.
Dad was right, competing would be the teacher he couldn’t be for me and I loved it. Here’s something unique about how I began competing. Dad never mentioned that competition was about anything more than figuring our where you were at and exposing your weaknesses, so I never felt the pressure to “win” in the traditional sense of what competition has become only about, it’s so much more.
Let me just touch on something I saw in this past Olympics. Nathan Chen went from 17th to 5th place. The lessons he learned from the strength and the power it took to let go of being in 17th after a very disastrous performance to come back and land a historical 6 quads that would bring him into 5th place is a greater accomplishment and lesson than if he had just dominated and been in the top 3 the whole time. You don’t need that gold medal to prove you’re a winner. Growth is what makes you a winner and the Power Nathan Chen has over everyone who followed him through this Olympics comes from everything he GAVE. So many people, especially Asians and Asian Parents think Power is something you possess with an Iron Hand and that you can “give” Power to those you think deserve it. Power exist only when you give and people willingly give to you, their respect, their love, their admiration, it is a mutual appreciation that nobody owns. The most Powerful people I have ever met in my life are only givers and in a society so self absorbed and obsessed with “Control”, the Power of the Generous is an Intoxicating solution to the Weak and Self Obsessed.
I discovered I really liked learning about how to become stronger through competition and this new found confidence would now bring me to my first time teaching, not as a choice, because, again, I felt like I didn’t know anything and to make matters worse, how the hell can I teach something my father is a genius at. I felt embarrassed and unworthy, but mom teaches differently from dad and I didn’t want to loose time at the ice rink training, so I knew I had to just listen to her and teach. I do wish I had a video tape of what I was like, it would be so interesting to see what I only know from a memory that is a bit blank because I was terrified the whole entire time.
It took full-contact fighting in my 20’s before I actually developed a relationship with Tai Chi Chuan and now in my 40’s I see it in everything. It’s really amazing.
Tai Chi Chuan is really the one form of fitness that everyone of all ages can do and all physical abilities are capable of learning. It is 100% injury free, because it literally forces you to into yourself so that you only move according to the level of your own body mechanics. This is the one form of fitness that you can’t look better than someone else doing, so it eliminates the injuries from overly pretzeling yourself to look better than someone else. This the one practice that opens the mind by connecting you to your own self, it creates an internal coordination, it makes you friends with yourself.
I think the biggest problem with not just fitness today is that people do not know themselves, they move through life as though it is some crazy, constant competition. People act nasty to try and prove they are better than others. People pick on other people to draw attention to themselves. People behave ignorantly dominate and tough to try and assert a control to others that they do not even have over themselves. People are manipulative so that they can pretend they aren’t doing wrong when manipulation was intended because they know they are doing wrong and these types can never own up to anything, even when they are caught red handed and use anger and aggression to try and thwart those who have figured them out.
Competition is a fallacy it doesn’t make anyone better than anyone else. Only you can make yourself better than who you were. You were created an individual because you are unique. Work to improve who you are and who you are will be reflected in the life you live. If you aren’t happy with the life you are living, it’s up to you to make the change.
People don’t change, but we can change the people who are around us.
Be the kind of person you want to be around and surround yourself with those who exemplify who you want to become.
These are all lessons I am so grateful to have learned under the tutelage of Momma and Poppa Chen.