The Water of Chenjiagou

By now most of the students at the Moon know Richard Allgaier, myself and Kathy Albret from Portland are heading to Chenjiagou (The Chen Village) this Saturday.  We are nic-named the USA3. We will meet the Manchester4: David Gaffney, Davidine Sim, Yvonne Hall and “Ninja Dave,” as well as the Reading2: Viki Lloyd and Robert. For all of us the trip takes 2 days. It includes Planes, Trains and Automobiles and for the USA3, 15 hours of time change. It’s a brutal trip in that regard on the one hand, but as with all pilgrimages, a sacrifice must be made. Jet lag is a small price to pay to spend 10 days in Birthplace of Taiijquan. 

The training with our teacher Chen Xiao Xing is rigorous. For the first day it is as though you are practicing in your sleep. Except when that alarm bell in your thighs wakes you straight up! The experience is intimate: we practice with our small group and perhaps another group of his local Chinese students. Our training is 5+ hours a day of Standing Meditation, Silk Reeling and form. There is deep instruction, lots of repetition and a great deal of hands on correction. Anyone who has trained with Grandmaster Chen knows his hands-on corrections are magnificent. Here in the Village this experience is amplified. Those corrections are a truth serum for my hungry, curious soul.

The food is simple, the beds are hard. Eat, sleep, train. That’s it. And because that’s it, within that first day the world one leaves behind dissolves in a way I’ve never quite experienced before. When people say, “Oh! How lucky!” Yes, it is true. How very lucky I am. It is a lot of fun in a strange way. It is also hard, training in the Village like this, living there for 10 days so far away. Life is instantly pared down, to sweat and breath. To muscle and bone. After the first few trips I used to say, that was good; I’ll never go back. My analytical mind would say, “it’s such process! The transportation! Arranging the school! My house. My body. My psyche!” And yet, it is said once you drink the water from Chenjiagou you will always thirst for it. And so, I always do go back.

This is my eighth trip to the Village, the last time I was there was in 2016. Each year I return to dynamic and dramatic changes. Taijiquan is quite popular now, in the culture of China, in the world. It has rightly returned to its regal place after the dark hidden years of the Cultural Revolution. Because this place is the foundation place of this magnificent art, lots of money has been spent to spruce up The “Gou.” Dirt paths on the outskirts of the Village are now zippy highways. What used to take 45 minutes now takes 15. Muddy strips along the road are greened with grass and trees. Failing houses have been renovated and tout shiny red doors. There is Stadium. There is a 5-star hotel. There is a big grocery store. Many lament the “old days” but the new is not all bad. There is an ease that was not there before.

On this side of the world a great deal has happened in my life too, since I was in the Village a little over two years ago. My mother died. I turned 60. I closed my studio. I stood mouth agape in front of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. I travelled 2 days through two typhoons to get to Japan and hike the sacred Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage.  I turned 61. I opened my studio anew in a shared space. The zippy highways of my body have become a bit more like the Village’s long ago dirt roads, slower and more meandering. It’s not all bad either. There is an ease that was not there before. Through all these changes, the Gou’s and my own, I remain grateful my thirst for the water of the Village is still strong and that I am called to the well again.

Soon we meet again soon, Chenjiagou. To Eat. To Sleep. To Train. One can never predict what conversations of body, breath and spirit we will have in this wellspring of history and knowledge. Its best to keep those expectations at bay. It is best to simply pack light and go. After all, the only thing that is really needed is a good pair of training shoes and an empty cup for the drinking. 

Here we will be:

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