Chen Zhonghua, was born in the winter of the third year of the “Three Bitter Years” (1961), during a period of great famine, drought and floods that left millions of people in China dead. When his mother was pregnant with him, she and the rest of the family suffered from starvation. Master Chen recounts stories his parents told him that the landscape of China was completely devoid of plants and food. Anything that moved or grew was consumed. Out of necessity people had taken to eating shoes (leather hide of cows and thus protein!) and the bark from trees. These conditions made it that Chen Zhonghua was born small and weak with severe health problems including damaged lungs. He was not expected to live into adulthood and his mother had laid his body out in the field after birth. When his father returned home and heard what happened, he went on found Chen Zhonghua to return him back home.
At the age of one and a half Chen Zhonghua developed acute asthma. His poor health kept him at home and indoors for the first nine years of his life. From Grade 1 to Grade 5, he went to school for only half of the year while chronic bronchitis kept him from attending school at all during the winter months. During this time, the main illness was with his heart, liver and lungs. As a thirteen year old, he suffered from scarlet fever, and this left him suffering from rheumatism and arthritis.
These desperate circumstances lead him to pursue martial arts as a way of strengthening himself and alleviating some of his chronic health issues. Also, being very small in stature, he was on the receiving end of harassment from larger friends so learning martial arts was also a form of self preservation. Driven by the strong motivation and determination to get his health back, he began studying martial arts, starting with a hand copied manual of army combat training techniques borrowed from a school friend. As his strength improved, he began to study with more experienced people. This lead him to learn Sitongchui (Four-Open-Fist) from a local master in Weifang; Bajiquan (or “Rake Fist” where fists are held loosely and slightly opened, striking downwards in a rake like manner) and Taizu from a neighbour.
In 1979, at the age of 18, Chen Zhonghua’s desire to improve his lot won him the highest mark in English out of 76million students in his district. Somewhat reluctantly he attended the Shandong University in the eastern suburbs of Jinan (he would have preferred a spot at the Beijing University). This resulted in him gaining access to a four year degree in English literature and linguistics at the Department of Foreign Languages, Shandong University. Continuing his martial arts, he became a member of the Shandong University Martial Arts Association, and learned Chaquan (“Long fist”, a system that has 6 weapons – staff, sabre, spear, kwandao and hookswords) from Master Li Dunyun, and Wu Shao Zhi Shaolin boxing from physics students at the university.
One day one of his martial arts brothers tells Joseph about this old man at Black Tiger Springs Park. This old man has no opponents in Jinan or even the sector. At university he heard stories about the amazing skills of an elderly man, Hong Junsheng, teaching taiji in Black Tiger Springs Park in the mornings.
His first visit to the Black Tiger Springs Park was on a Sunday. Arriving at about 9 o’clock in the morning, people were leaving the park already and there was only a small crowd on the raised platform part above the Black Tiger Springs fountains. When he approached the crowd, he found a group of Japanese visitors. They were watching a demonstration by a rather stout and dark looking young man. Fast and intense with his form, his eyes were a beam of light on his hands. His hands were both of a purplish color. He pounded the floor loudly. This was great! Joseph was immediately impressed. Power, that’ s what he wanted! (later on he learned that this young man was Jiang Jia Jun).
One of the Japanese visitors went up to an old man with white hair, and through an interpreter expressed his wish to experience the old man’s martial arts skills. He said it would be a great loss if he went back to Japan without experiencing the old man’s great skills.
The old man was standing with his legs quite close to each other. It was not a martial art pose at all. He was smoking a big pipe with his left hand. His right hand was free. He was facing the Japanese visitor with his right side of the body. Through the interpreter, he told the visitor to try whatever he wished. He would not fight back. He would only defend himself. Seeing that the old man was not preparing for battle, it took a lot more interpreting and discussion before the visitor was convinced that it would be safe to attack him.
He threw a punch at the old man’s face. The old man turned his body a bit, meeting the fist with his right shoulder. On impact, the visitor flew up and backward away from the old man. He was at least 10 feet away when he landed. He stepped up to the old man again, obviously uninjured. “I did not know what happened,” he said. “Could I try the same move on you again?” Again, he flew back and landed on the same spot.
Frustrated but would not give up, he tried for a third time and ended up on the same spot. His face showed total perplexity. Joseph Chen, standing among the watching crowd, was deeply impressed and puzzled. He was determined to find out the kung fu that was behind this.
As he would later find out, Hong Junsheng was an 18th generation Grand Master of Chen Style Taijiquan. For the next 6 years, Joseph Chen became a frequent visitor to the Black Tiger Springs Park, arriving there at about 4:30 every morning, rain or shine.
With persistence, he started out as a spectator but soon became a student among a large morning group. In a few years, he was learning from Grand Master Hong in the morning and from Hong’s senior disciples in the evenings. He then was eventually accepted as a disciple of Hong.
Under the tutelage of Hong, Chen would drastically change his learning style. He would concentrate on perfecting the essentials before moving on to other forms. He would practice the 2 circles for 2 hours in the morning and then the Yilu form 20 times in the evening. He would lose desire to learn more forms and only continue to work on the few fundamental exercises day in and day out. He would shake his 10 feet white wax pole till he was sweating in a thin shirt in minus 20 weather.
Chen Zhonghua was offered the opportunity to join the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, one of Hong students made a big impact on him. This student, later to become his wife, was a Canadian national of Chinese descent that studied at the Shandong University. By the time that Chen Zhonghua left for Canada in March 1985, he had learned the entire Chen style Taijiquan system from Grandmaster Hong.Making a living as an emigrant in Canada was a difficult start. However, overcoming difficulties ensured the accumulation of experience. Eventually, Joseph became a director of the Canada-China Chamber of Commerce, Member of the Harbin Friendship Association (Edmonton is the sister city of Harbin, Shenyang province), and vice president of the Edmonton-Shenyang Friendship Association. He studied and graduated with a Masters in Education (Linguistics) at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan in 1991, and soon after started teaching English in Edmonton, Alberta with the Edmonton Public School Board at Victoria Composite High School. Chen Zhonghua got a job at a local elementary school as an assistant, and later-on became a high school teacher, teaching English. Apart from teaching English, Chen Zhonghua prepared the Chinese curriculum for Alberta, and served as a Chinese examiner for the state of Alberta, is a certified Chinese-English translator for the Secretary of States (Government of Canada), and was a member of the Saskatchewan Translators’ Association (1996-98). He is a member of the Regina Taijiquan Association, Director of the Taoist Martial Arts Association of Saskatchewan, director of the Canadian United Guoshu Federation and a member of the Canadian Taijiquan Federation.
Each year he returned to Jinan to practice with Hong and attended his birthdays.
In 1994, Grandmaster Hong Junsheng issued a certificate to him to honour the master-discipleship relationship.
In 1996, Grandmaster Hong Junsheng passed away at the age of 90. Started learning the Hunyuan system of grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang (disciple of Chen Fake).
In 1997, wrote the book “Way of Hunyuan” (Hunyuantaiji press)
In 1998, through the introduction of Mr. Liu He and Professor Feng Xiufang, he became a disciple of grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang. 18th generation master of Chen Style Taijiquan and founder of the Hunyuan Taiji system.
All these activities did not stop him practicing and teaching Taiji daily.Soon he established the Canadian Hunyuantaiji Academy. His students were competing in China, Canada and the United States to earn top honour medals.
In 2002, Chen Zhonghua began teaching Taiji as a full-time occupation, and started instructing the three month “Full Time” Intensive Courses (in Canada).
And since 2002, has been running workshops in various cities in Canada, United States, Ireland, Holland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tsech Republic, Romania, Finland, Puerto Rico, and more.
In 2004, Chen Zhonghua was elected as the International Standard Bearer of the Hong Junsheng’s Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method system by members of the Hong family and senior disciples of Grand-master Hong Junsheng.
In 2005, Chen Zhonghua visited Wulian County, Shandong province, to develop his idea for an International Taijiquan Training facility.
In 2006, Chen Zhonghua was able to secure a lease on a property (Daqingshan or Big green mountain) in the mountains near Wulian. With the help from Canadian students he designed and built the 25 room “Magnolia” hotel and several villas to establish an International Taijiquan Training facility. Every year since 2006, Master Chen Zhonghua has been holding full-time training camps for Taiji enthusiast. All participants have to do is “Eat, Sleep and Practice Taiji” (there are the occasional outings to Qufu, home town of Confucius, Jinan, Mount Taian (one of the five holy mountains of China), Qingdao, Rizhao, and Weifang. Daqingshan has seen students from Canada Australia, Italy, Ireland, Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore, United States, Tsech Republic, Romania, as well as Chinese students.
In 2007, translated grand-master Feng Zhiqiang’s “Hunyuan Qigong” and “The Way of Hun Yuan” books into English.
In 2010, during the Three-Month Full time training camp, Chen Zhonghua organised a conference with the surviving Disciples of grand-master Hong Junsheng. This conference results in the first International Conference on the Chen Style Practical Method at Daqingshan in May 2011.
The Daqingshan competition keeps growing in size year by year, with challengers from Chinese and overseas schools attending.
Master Chen Zhonghua has an extensive collection of Taiji training videos that can be accessed and purchased on his websites:
On the English website you find trailer videos for the Chen style Taijiquan, and student comments on videos and on training practices.
More than 100 videos are free for viewing on his Youtube channel
The Chinese site is geared towards the Chinese students who want to learn more about the Practical method. There are also videos available on www.56.com.