A TAI CHI LEGEND.
Chen Zheng Lei, 59, moves like he's under water. But his breathing is just fine. He's practicing tai chi, as are the 30 students behind him in the Lane Community College gym.
You probably weren't aware of this, but the Michael Jordan, the Tiger Woods, the Michael Phelps of the ancient Chinese martial art is in town this week. Chen was born in the birthplace of tai chi, the village named centuries ago for his family, Chenjiagou Village in Henan Province. His family's legend dates back at least half a millennium, Chen said, and he is the 19th generation to lead his family's tai chi dynasty.
He is considered one of the top 10 martial artists in China, said David Leung, the Eugene martial arts and tai chi expert who has invited Chen here six times now in as many years to lead local sessions.
Chen teaches tai chi, the soft-style martial art known for its slow, gentle movements, all over the world and has visited about 30 nations and 20 U.S. states since the late 1980s. But Eugene is the smallest city in America that he visits. He comes here because of his friendship with Leung and his respect for his teaching, said Chen, who has been leading two sessions a day at LCC since Wednesday. The $65 daily sessions continue today and last through Sunday.
"It's an incredible privilege and honor," said Viola Brumbaugh of Grants Pass, a former Eugene resident who spent five years training at Leung's studio, who came this week for Chen's sessions with her husband, Rusel DeMaria. "It's remarkable to see someone of his quality, the best tai chi practitioner in the world. To be able to train with him personally is phenomenal."
Brumbaugh and DeMaria have even visited Chen at his home in Zhengzhou, a city of about 2 million in China, as has Leung.
Tai chi is a "cultural treasure and a world treasure," Chen said through an interpreter, Poh Kheng Loi, a part-time instructor in Leung's studio and the director of histology in the University of Oregon's neuroscience department.
Leung and Chen have been good friends since meeting at a tai chi workshop in Washington, D.C., in 1996. "I think it brings the excitement of the art to Eugene," Leung said of Chen's annual visits.
Students followed Chen's every move Thursday in the LCC gym during an afternoon session. Dressed in his yellow silk suit, Chen demonstrated tai chi postures such as the hidden hand punch, the two-handed push and "riding the dragon backward." There were heel kicks and double kicks and single whips.
Tai chi is a martial art that's not just about defending yourself, said Byron Hartman, 30, of Seattle, a follower of Chen's for five years who trains and teaches in the Chen style. "It really cultivates your ability to move efficiently. It also nourishes your mind and spirit. It sharpens your skills and your ability to see something and understand it, and that's translated into everyday life."
Chen was born in China in 1949, the same year Leung was born in Hong Kong. That was the year China's Communist Party established the People's Republic of China. Chen said his father died in the nation's ensuing social revolution when he was just a year old. Asked how, Chen said he's not sure. Possibly killed, maybe an accident.
Raised by his mother, Chen said his childhood was filled with much strife. His uncles taught him tai chi.
"I've been through a lot of hardships," Chen said. "Tai chi has given me peace and satisfaction. Through tai chi training my character and will are strengthened. Now I am very happy, and my heart knows only tai chi."
He travels the world to promote the art form that China now considers an "intellectual property" because "I want to make sure everyone benefits from it," he said. "I want to spread tai chi to the world. I am trying to contribute to the health of the world.
"Now my burden is very heavy because I have to make sure tai chi continues."
tai chi with grandmaster chen
Chinese grandmaster Chen Zheng Lei's sessions at Lane Community College continue today, Saturday and Sunday. Sessions are $65 and are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Anyone interested may show up at the school's gymnasium.
ON THE WEB
Go to registerguard.com/video to see grandmaster Chen Zheng Lei in action.
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|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Aug 29, 2008|
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