My Taichi Journey after David
by Joanne Chang
When my late husband David Chen first invited his friends and students to join him to practice tai chi chuan in the park, he had no idea how popular this weekly event would eventually become. Every Saturday for the last twelve years students have gathered in Cabin John Park, just outside the nation's capitol, to practice their tai chi skills and discuss tai chi theory. Although David passed away suddenly two years ago at the young age of fifty, his students have managed to keep the Tai Chi club active and growing.
David loved teaching tai chi and his influence on the greater tai chi community continues today. Losing him was a terrible blow to everyone in this scattered but close-knit community. After David's passing, it was a few weeks before we could resume our practice. I remember arriving very early to our class and standing in the corner of the gym in my usual spot. Scenes of the past were flying through my mind. I felt like I could still see David teaching in this room. He would joyfully bow to his students to start the class. He would correct the studentsí postures, look up at the sky before answering a question and laugh freely when something delighted him. He was a joy to be with. But now, everything that was so familiar to me from so many years now seemed strange without David at the front of the class. As the students filed in everyone remained silent, not knowing what to say. The very air seemed frozen in the stillness of the moment. I realized I did not know how to start the class or how to end it. The only thought in my mind was that David had shown such a great commitment and love for teaching tai chi and that I should somehow continue what he had started. His students felt the same way and despite everyone's great sadness the classes continued. Making our way through the form, holding postures and sword practice, we were finally both weary and energized as usual, but the old joy was gone.
It was a couple of months later, when I received a letter from one of David's students. He told me it was David's great happiness that attracted him to tai chi, despite having to drive a long distance to make each class. He wanted to know how tai chi could make a person so joyful, so loving and caring. The letter woke me up and made me realize that this joy was a cornerstone of David's legacy. Without it I was missing something of David's vision. At the next class I arrived with a big smile on my face. I had thought that would be beyond me, but now I understood that this was a part of his gift, and the laughter and joy soon returned to our class.
David described himself not as a tai chi master but as an 'experienced tai chi tour guide.' It was difficult to follow in the steps of such a humble and generous teacher. Fortunately David set a good example for us all. Throughout his years of teaching, he was always open, and encouraged his students to search and refine their own understanding of tai chi. He encouraged discussion and the sharing of ideas in class. He told us "Tai chi is not 'The Way' but a means to help people realize their own way." Thinking independently but working together, classmates can help each other understand this beautiful martial art. Everyone becomes a teacher and a student in turn, and each in the class benefits in their own personal way.
David often said to us "I teach you tai chi chuan not so that you can become my students, but for you to become students of tai chi chuan." His greatest aspiration was not to be recognized as a famous tai chi master, but to one-day re-learn tai chi in one of his student's classes. He would be proud to see that his students were leading the classes following the Tao of tai chi chuan. David's life itself was a great inspiration and continues to provide encouragement to all of us. Although saddened by our short time together, from him we have learned to see beauty, truth, and goodness in others. We hope that his teachings, passion, and dreams for tai chi continue in the hearts of his friends and students.
• • •
After David's passing many felt we should establish a memorial fund to help honor David, perpetuate his vision and contributions to the greater tai chi community. In 2006 we established the David Chen Memorial Fund.
Our first project was to publish David's beautifully illustrated tai chi book "When Yin Meets Yang," which he had been working on for a while and had nearly completed. It combines two of David's greatest passions: his witty illustrative art and his musings on tai chi philosophy. His drawings capture the thoughts and insights David harvested during his own private tai chi journey. With humility and humor he reveals to us the depth of his understanding. His enthusiasm, in the book as in his classes, is contagious. The text is in both English and Mandarin. The profits from the book sales have provided significant contributions to the Memorial Fund.
We are making slow but steady progress in growing the memorial fund. There have been many ideas for how to best use the money to serve the community. We waded through many alternatives before the idea of a publicly accessible tai chi practice area came to us- a Tai Chi court. Traditionally, a Tai Chi Court is large paved area, modeled on the tai chi symbol, which captures the harmonizing principles of yin and yang that lie at the heart of tai chi practice. It would be open to all, and offer an enduring monument to David and the tai chi principles he revered. We found enthusiastic partners for this project in the Parks Commission of Montgomery County in Maryland, who offered us a space in Cabin John Regional Park, where we have practiced with David every Saturday for over a decade. A distinguished Washington architect and long time friend of the tai chi community has volunteered to design the tai chi court and supervise its construction. We hope to begin construction in the 2009. We are in the process trying to raise the needed funds. We hope this project will become a cultural focal point for the community and encourage interest in tai chi chuan and the culture that gave it birth.
In the meantime, we have continued to carry on the work that David began. The Wu Wei Tai Chi School's classes continue, with significant participation from David's senior students. The school is doing well and has been blessed with a growing number of new students. The Wu Wei Tai Chi web site continues to be a community resource, and we have begun recently to expand on the strong base that David established. Our monthly "Tai Chi Events E-Bulletin" continues to provide tai chi information for the community, with more than 500 subscribers, nationwide. "The Greater Washington DC Sensing Hands Gatherings" are still held quarterly, maintaining a twelve-year tradition. They are always well attended, offering a great opportunity to share new ideas and make new friends. The proceeds from these events along with sales of T-shirts David designed and sales of his book are all helping to grow the Memorial Fund. With the construction of the court we will represent in stone the harmony David Chen felt in his heart, and honor this tireless advocate of the soft and gentle art of tai chi chuan.
• • •