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Congratulations, Yan and Qin!

Bai Si Li, a Chinese tradition, has been a means of preserving and passing down the rich culture and profound knowledge of thousands of years of history. In modern China, Bai Si Li is mostly absent, except in the realm of traditional arts such as calligraphy, folk dancing, martial arts, culinary art, music, craft, sculpture, embroidery, and others.


(The above photos was taken after the recent discipleship ceremony. From left to right: Yan Xie, Master Li Peng, Violet Li, and Qin Zeng.)


The term "Bai" signifies worship or honoring, while "Si" refers to teachers or sifus, and "Li" denotes a ritual or ceremony. When someone is deeply committed to learning a specific skill from a teacher, they express their desire to become a disciple. The teacher holds the right to accept or decline the request. In ancient times, there were stories of individuals who pleaded for acceptance by kneeling outside a master's house or courtyard for days or even weeks until the teacher granted permission. The relationship between a sifu and a disciple is akin to that of a father and child. The disciple must honor the teacher by faithfully following their teachings, working diligently, showing utmost respect, and attending to the teacher's needs, including household chores. Similarly, the teacher should regard the disciple as their own offspring, motivating them to learn, and imparting all their knowledge and skills without reservation. Often, a student would either live with the teacher for several years to study or visit the teacher's home daily for learning and service. In the past, a teacher would only teach their disciples and no one else. A ceremony, known as Bai Si Li, marked the initiation of this significant teacher-disciple relationship. Due to its deeply personal nature, teachers generally had only a limited number of disciples except , except for sage-like figures such as the philosopher Confucius, who allegedly had 3,000 disciples.


In the 20th century, knowledge in all fields expanded rapidly. With advancements in transportation technology, human relationships underwent significant changes, partly due to increased mobility. Fewer individuals now choose a single career or trade for life, and few are willing to dedicate their lifetime to pursuing a single art. Many traditional arts have become hobbies, and commercialism has become dominant. The teaching model has become transactional, with students being treated as clients rather than disciples.



Tai Chi chuan, a healing and martial art, is taught in many sports colleges in China. However, traditional Tai Chi Chuan is still best taught by major Tai Chi families, such as Chen, Yang, Wu, Wu-Hao, Sun, and He. While Wudang teaches Tai Chi, it is not passed down through family bloodlines but through discipleship. It is widely acknowledged that the Chen family originated Tai Chi Chuan approximately four hundred years ago. Initially, it was only taught to family members and not to outsiders or female members of the Chen family. However, about 200 years ago, the 14th Grandmaster Chen Chang Xin accepted Yang Lu Chang as a disciple, who later created the Yang style of Tai Chi Chuan and openly accepted non-family members as disciples. It was not until the 1970s that discipleship took a back seat, and a commercialized teaching model was adopted to allow more people to learn and benefit from practicing Tai Chi. With the advent of instructional books, DVDs, videos, online libraries, Zoom classes, and new digital delivery systems, a direct in-person relationship between a teacher and a student can be absent.


Nevertheless, the tradition of discipleship has not waned; in fact, it is growing. As more and more people discover the profound nature of this art, they are eager to delve deeper into its practice. They make a personal commitment to become disciples, driven by the desire to learn and understand the art more thoroughly.


My teacher, Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei, is a descendant of the 19th generation of the Chen family and the 11th generation Chen Family Tai Chi Inheritor. He holds the 9th Duan, the highest level in Tai Chi Chuan, and has earned numerous honors from around the world. He has directly or indirectly taught at least 250,000 people, yet he only has a few hundred disciples. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from him directly and been accepted as his disciple in 2012. Earlier this year, I received permission to accept disciples, and my disciples will become the 13th Generation Chen Style Inheritors. I am deeply humbled by my teacher's trust.


I have taught Tai Chi to over 10,000 people worldwide, including a few thousands in person. One of my early students, Yan Xie, graduated from a prestigious medical school in China and worked as a physician for several years before becoming a visiting scholar at Washington University Medical School. Currently, she is a researcher in medicine. Yan began learning Tai Chi Chuan during her college years and has never stopped learning and practicing it. She is a certified Tai Chi instructor and teaches at various YMCA branches and the Chinese Language School of St. Louis (MO).


Another student of mine, Qin Zeng, earned a Ph.D. degree in plant molecular biology from Southern Illinois University and holds a certificate in data mining from Stanford University. She is currently a research scientist at Bayer. Qin embarked on her Tai Chi journey in 2008 and has been learning from me since 2010. She is exceptionally athletic and quickly masters Tai Chi forms. Qin has a deep interest in Tai Chi and has learned from several masters, including Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei. She, too, is a certified instructor and has taught the art at numerous gyms, senior centers, non-profit organizations, and other venues.


Apart from being proficient in the forms and theories of Tai Chi, another important requirement for becoming a disciple, as demanded by my teacher, is integrity and a willingness to share the art. Both Qin and Yan have taken time out of their busy work and family life to volunteer for years to promote Tai Chi without seeking any compensation. While their own forms are beautiful, they always step back and allow their peers or students to take the spotlight and shine. They also support other instructors and lend a helping hand whenever needed.


On Saturday, July 8, I held my first discipleship ceremony. With the assistance of Sifu and Simu (or my teacher’s wife), I was able to host a ceremony that fully adhered to the protocol, honoring the tradition and my students. As their Sifu, I want to congratulate Qin and Yan for their remarkable achievements.



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hollandellis
hollandellis
21 ก.ค. 2566

Congratulations all! So happy for all of you! Butch Wilcox 🙏❤️

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Thank you so much, Butch.

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