Englishman falls in love with Chinese martial arts

ENGLISHMAN Daniel Nichols has something of a dual role here in China. For the past two years, he has split his time between teaching English at a university and studying tai chi. His time as a student of the art began 10 years ago when he took up Yang-style tai chi at a small tai chi school near Aston University in Birmingham.

“I was not serious about tai chi at that time, but it did raise my interest in Chinese culture,” said Nichols.

In 2010, Nichols traveled to Taiwan to learn Chinese for two years and worked in the field of international trade for another three years. It was then that he became fascinated by what is known as mantis boxing, another form of Chinese kung fu.

“Chinese kung fu is so interesting. Many of the moves involve vivid mimicry of animals. It is quite an eye-opener,” he says.

He became so engrossed with kung fu that he changed his name to Chen Zidan, a name similar to Donnie Yen, or Zhen Zidan, a famous action star.

Three years ago, one of Nichols’ colleagues was injured while playing football and he began to practice tai chi as a form of exercise. That’s where Daniel’s own tai chi story picked up again.

A voyage of discovery

“He said tai chi could make his body more coordinated and more flexible so I practiced with him,” Nichols says. “Then he told me that Chenjiagou in central China’s Henan Province is the birthplace of tai chi, so I quit my job and went there in May 2015.”

Chenjiagou has been branded as the “birthplace of taiji” by the Chinese Wushu Association. Despite the village’s small size, it includes more than 20 family kung fu schools. Every summer, many people from outside China come to Chenjiagou to learn tai chi.

He first practiced tai chi with Chen Xiaoxing, the younger brother of tai chi master Chen Xiaowang, and after four days decided to stay to focused on learning it. To make ends meet, Daniel found a job at the Zhengzhou University, which is about 80 kilometers from Chenjiagou. He teaches English at the university three days a week and practices tai chi in Chenjiagou for the rest of the week.

“It is not so easy to practice tai chi. It has been two years since I practiced it, I still feel that I am a beginner,” says Nichols. “There’s a form of philosophy in tai chi. I read the ‘Tao Te Ching’ before I came to China and I’m still reading. It’s so interesting.

“I am not so sure about the future. Maybe I will stay in China for a few more years. Maybe I will return to Britain. But (in future) I plan to come back to China to practice tai chi.”

Nichols is used to his life now in China. He has organized a bilingual football training class where he teaches English as well as football. He also believes China is full of business opportunities.

“My life is connected to China. If that were not so, it would have been a waste of time for me to learn Chinese so well,” Nichols says.