Oregon Tai Chi was founded by husband and wife duo Karin and JianFeng Chen nearly nine years ago in November of 2012. The studio sits in an unassuming building in Bend tucked next to a gas station and a used car lot—not a place many people might expect to find a traditional Chinese martial arts studio, especially one led by a master with nearly forty years of experience.
JianFeng, or Master Chen, as his students refer to him, has been practicing tai chi since he was just 3 years old. “I remember waking up early with my dad and walking down to the river to practice different forms,” Master Chen said. Originally from Zhangzhou, China, Master Chen was 8 years old when he was recruited to live in the sports facility of the Zhangzhou Youth Athlete School and train in tai chi. “He was selected out of 300 plus students to move away from his parents to live and train in the sports facility that housed not only tai chi and wushu, but weight lifting, swimming, gymnastics and more,” Karin said.
At 8, he was training to represent his hometown, Zhangzhou, in tournaments. When he was just 11, he was training to represent the entire Fujian province in China in national tai chi competitions. This martial arts background would eventually land him a role in a few Chinese movies and television shows. “My experience in these films showed me that I was constantly drawn to teaching and sharing Chinese martial arts,” Master Chen said.
Master Chen moved to the United States from China in 2009. One of his old teachers was teaching tai chi in Portland and invited him to become an instructor at his studio. He met his wife, Karin, in Portland. After that, it wasn’t long before they took a trip down to Central Oregon and fell in love with the area. About ten years ago, the couple found the current space that holds Oregon Tai Chi, and they’ve been part of the community ever since.
Through tai chi, we can teach kids about non-instant gratification. Tai chi is not something that can be done in a rush, and it takes time to see the labors of your hard work.
At the studio, Master Chen teaches all levels and forms of tai chi, from the commonly thought of slow and focused movements that we imagine seniors doing in a park, to the fast-paced, competitive form of wushu. Master Chen, who teaches all ages, believes that there are benefits to having children train in slower forms of tai chi.
“Through tai chi, we can teach kids about non-instant gratification. Tai chi is not something that can be done in a rush, and it takes time to see the labors of your hard work. A lot of things in kids’ lives now are so instant, and it can help to train in something that slows you down and calms you, like tai chi,” Master Chen said.
Elizabeth Collings and her husband Gerry Thomas are both retired dentists from Portland who have been practicing tai chi for about twenty years. They have been practicing with Master Chen at Oregon Tai Chi for seven years now, since they moved to Bend to retire.
“Master Chen’s studio is a welcoming and fun place to learn tai chi. He has a great sense of humor and uses gentle, enthusiastic and masterful ways of guiding students at all levels. The classes allow a sense of community, and engender support and respect for fellow classmates. Through the classes, we have made life-long friends both young and old,” said Collings. “Tai chi has helped Gerry rehabilitate following knee surgery and allows me to manage a neurological movement disorder, especially with the use of intentional movement inherent in all tai chi forms. We always leave class with an uplifting feeling of accomplishment.”
Tim Cash, a Bend filmmaker with seventeen years of experience, has created several short films on Master Chen and Oregon Tai Chi. “My motivation for making the films was really to pay
homage to Master Chen and his lineage of teachers, and to share the philosophy behind this 1000-year-old art form,” Cash said.
While his friendly, lighthearted teaching style might stand in contrast to the teachers of his youth in China, Master Chen sees his teaching style as something that is adaptable to the different perspectives of his students. “As he would say, it’s all about balance, ebb and flow, and yin and yang,” Cash said. Master Chen can be soft when he needs to, and rigid when it’s necessary. It all depends on the perspective of the student.
The idea of perspective is an important one to Master Chen. When you walk into his studio, you will find a clock on the wall. Upon further inspection, that clock actually turns backwards. When viewed through one of the studio’s large mirrors, it flips again. Master Chen uses this as an example of perspective. He believes that it is important to consider what other people have experienced and how that is affecting their words and actions, much like it is important to understand your own experiences and how they are affecting your point of view.
Graciously, Master Chen extends this attitude to some of the racist incidents he has experienced in the past. Despite a few negative experiences in Bend, he still holds fast to the belief that people are born good, and it is ignorance that drives hate. As a bridge between cultures, he sees himself as someone who can help fight ignorance, and help us all become a closer community.
Tai chi can be seen in the community during flashy wushu performances, peaceful classes in the park and combat-sport competitions. Annually, Oregon Tai Chi can be seen during the Asian New Year. What was originally a fundraising event for a nonprofit organization in China has turned into a fundraising event for the Bend High life skills program. You can check out the event online at asiannewyearbend.com.