How to take a group picture of 2000 Tai Chi practitioners?

It was an exciting day. People woke up really early so they could attend the Opening Ceremony of the 3rd Annual Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei 陈正雷Tai Chi Symposium held on Oct. 1, 2016 in the Chen Family Temple to pay respect to the Tai Chi (Taiji) ancestors in Chenjiagou 陈家沟 (or Chen Village), Henan, China.

Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei (center) and Simu Lili Lu (behind) marched on the red carpet.

Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei (center) and Simu Lili Lu (behind) marched on the red carpet.

It was estimated that 2,000 people attended the Symposium. Due to the sheer number of attendees, the organizer had to reserve rooms in three hotels to accommodate them with double occupancy. In the morning of Oct. 1, several huge buses along with hundreds of cars and vans brought participants to the plaza in front of the Tai Chi Culture Center & Stadium. There were a few dozen 30-feet-long banners hanging from the edge of the International Tai Chi Chuan Culture Center & Stadium and other surrounding buildings and anchored down on the ground. Each banner represented a Chen Zhenglei Tai Chi school from a specific city. Everybody looked cheerful and energetic. Even though the temperature was chilly, I could feel the warmth emitted from everyone’s enthusiasm. A professional camera crew of 10 people was taking pictures and videos from the ground on foot, on a Segway, as well as from air using a drone.

The worship ceremony to the Chen family ancestors.

The worship ceremony to the Chen family ancestors.

Since participants came from 22 countries and a few dozen cities in China, it took a while to get people assembled and start an approximately mile-long march into the Tai Chi Gardens, which encompasses the Chen Family Ancestor Temple and the impressive sculpture of Tai Chi Creator General Chen Wangting 陈王庭,

the Tombstone Garden, Sculpture Garden of 13 Postures, Tai Chi Museum, Tai Chi Plaza, Tai Chi Exhibition Garden, Tai Chi Gates, and other facilities. Grandmaster Chen was leading the way followed by guests, Simu Lili Lu路麗麗, a couple hundred of disciples, and participants. From time to time, people would run to the front so they could snap a photo of Grandmaster Chen or shake hands with him.

The opening ceremony of the Elite Tai Chi Tournament.

The opening ceremony of the Elite Tai Chi Tournament.

The courtyard in front of the Chen Family Temple can accommodate a few hundred people but not two thousand. Therefore, Grandmaster Chen, guests, and his disciples attended the worship ceremony in the courtyard with the rest of people outside the Tai Chi Gardens. The ceremony was solemn with gratitude and rather quiet except for the camera shutter sounds and the soft humming noise of the drone.

The atmosphere turned celebratory once the worship ceremony was over when Grandmaster Chen led people walking around the temple and entering into another courtyard, which permeated with the fragrance of sweet olive blossoms. People rushed to take photos of a rare natural stone from afar representing Yin and Yang.

The Elite Tai Chi tournament.

The Elite Tai Chi tournament.

Passing an archway, Grandmaster Chen stepped into a long corridor adorned with several Tai Chi Gates. Each gate has statements engraved on each side reflecting the five stages of Tai Chi Chuan learning process outlined by Grandmaster Chen Xin陈鑫. On this special day, a long strip of a red carpet was laid over the corridor. Grandmaster Chen and the guests walked on the carpet and entered the Tai Chi Plaza, which is paved with fine marbles illuminating a huge Yin/Yang symbol in the middle. They did not stay in the Plaza for long before proceeding into the Tai Chi Museum. In the meantime, the disciples lined up on both sides of the carpet to welcome the event athletes. The parade lasted an hour 30 minutes. Once the attendees exited to the Plaza, they were instructed to stand on a five-tier metal stand behind a row of stools for Grandmaster, guests, seniors, and disciples. Young children were directed to sit on the ground in the first row. The metal stand consisted of ten segments and formed a large half circle at the outskirts of the Yin/Yang symbol. Once everybody got in the place, Grandmaster invited the guests to join the group photo shooting.

The head table of the opening ceremony of the Elite Tai Chi Tournament.

The head table of the opening ceremony of the Elite Tai Chi Tournament.

I took photos with my iPhone and Panasonic Lumix before the formation was complete just to figure out the best way to photo this huge crowd. I tried several options with different angles and realized it was a futile effort. There was absolutely no way I could take a decent picture with my mediocre equipment and the constant interferences of passers-by. Once the configuration was finished and every participant was in the place, the camera crew made an announcement to clear the ground; therefore staff, workers, relatives, friends, and news media had to back off to a safety zone so the camera crew could start taking pictures without any obtrusion. A cameraman stayed in the center of the Yin/Yang symbol with an announcer on the side. The announcer directed people on the far left to smile and then the cameraman depressed the shutter. The cameraman turned approximately 18 degrees to his right and took another shot after the announcement of “smile” came out. He continued with the same regimen and took ten shots in total. The team reviewed the results. But to be cautious, they repeated the process again. A few days later, the ten chosen shots were stitched together and cropped. Everyone got a copy of the photo, which is a long scroll. Not sure how they would have it framed.

Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei lectured disciples during the 3rd Annual Symposium.

Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei lectured disciples during the 3rd Annual Symposium.

The slogan of this year’s symposium was 盛世太極 “Sheng Shi Tai Chi”. Sheng Shi means an era of prosperity and dominance. “Sheng Shi Tai Chi” can be translated that they were practicing Tai Chi in an age of prosperity. According to the World Bank data, China’s per capita income was US$88.70 in 1960 and US$7,924.70 in 2015. It is undisputed that China has the fastest economic growth in recent decades among all nations and as well as the second largest economy in the world next to the U.S. Not only are Beijing and Shanghai full of skyscrapers and stores of luxurious merchandises, hundreds of the second tier cities are reborn with modern construction, technology, and ambiance. This year’s Singles’ Day sale in China on Nov. 11 was a jaw dropping US$17.8 billion, almost 25% growth of last year’s US$14.3 billion and totally dwarfed the U.S.’s $ 6.79 billion from the combined sales of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. With Donald Trump’s statement of pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), China is itching and being urged by her neighboring countries to take over the leadership role of the Pacific countries both economically and geo-politically. No doubt that China is in a period of prosperity and dominance.

Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei hosted a seminar on Tai Chi principles.

Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei hosted a seminar on Tai Chi principles.

Last year I was in China for training to participate in a national Tai Chi tournament. I was advised that due to the fierce competition it is important for an athlete to express his or her understanding of the art and not just do a routine perfectly. One way to express your interpretation of the art is the Tai Chi outfits that you wear to compete. This year’s symposium included the 7th International Elite Tai Chi Tournament. Aside from the superb skills that the athletes demonstrated, I was dazzled by the exquisite costumes.

The Symposium also consisted of Tai Chi training workshops, Tai Chi demonstrations by masters, seminars, a discipleship ceremony, and a gala. There were workshops for students of all levels and interests. The organizer commissioned a state-of-the-art stadium, a large gym hall, and several banquet halls for training.

The discipleship ceremony during the 3rd Annual Chen Zhenglei Tai Chi Symposium.

The discipleship ceremony during the 3rd Annual Chen Zhenglei Tai Chi Symposium.

I was in the advanced training camp for disciples. We had the privilege of training in the stadium with outstanding masters Zhang Tongwu 张东武, Kao Dongxiang 高东祥, Liu Yong 刘勇, Deng Ying 邓营 , and Zhang Shu Yong张书勇as assistant teachers. All of them were awesome. But when Grandmaster Chen demonstrated the foot stomping, I could hear the vibrational sound of the steel structure of the stadium.

With more than 50 years of experience and certified as the 9th Duan, or the highest level Tai Chi Grandmaster, Chen Zhenglei is one of the most respected Tai Chi masters in our time. He has taught millions in five continents and over 50 countries. He has 700 hundred disciples and hundreds waiting in line to be accepted. There are three levels of disciples: in-court, in-door, and in-chamber with in-chamber as the highest honor. This year there were 149 students to be initiated or promoted to a higher level. The Tai Chi Banquet Hall in the Wen County has a ceiling at least sixty-feet high and was set up elegantly with a chandelier of a Tai Chi symbol. There was a large platform placed in the front part of the banquet hall with a row of distinguished guests sitting on the left side and a row of witnesses and ceremony supervisors sitting on the right side. Ten most senior in-chamber disciples stood in the front and served as ceremonial guards according to the

The banquet hall during the 3rd Annual Chen Zhenglei Tai Chi Symposium.

The banquet hall during the 3rd Annual Chen Zhenglei Tai Chi Symposium.

tradition. Grandmaster Chen and his wife sat down next to an offering table – furbished with beautiful bouquets and fresh fruits — after kowtowing to a tablet representing the ancestors. Students were called upon one by one to ascend onto the platform. Each of them submitted his application form to Grandmaster. Once accepted, they kowtowed to Sifu and Simu and presented tea to them. There were sworn-in rituals, certification procedures, and words of expectations from Sifu and Simu. The camera crew was busy. A cameraman on a Segway was smoothly strolling through the crowd in addition to a couple of cameramen on foot. A videographer was controlling a camera fixated on an extended and adjustable arm and the other videographer was on the second floor.

A special alcohol was served at the Gala.

A special alcohol was served at the Gala.

The organizer invited three distinguished speakers to present various health related topics in lavish banquet halls. The closing ceremony and gala was held in a downtown Wen County hotel. The banquet hall had at least eight crystal chandeliers and each one was estimated five feet wide in diameter. The alcohol served at the tables was specially bottled in beautiful commemorative glass bottles for this event. As I was taking in all these information, I was contemplating whether this symposium should be named Sheng Shi Tai Chi (Tai Chi in an era of prosperity and dominance) or Tai Chi Sheng Shi (Tai Chi in its boom time). Either way, I am glad that I witnessed it.

(Edited by Doc Luecke.)

Disclosure: I am an In-door Disciple of Grandmaster Chen.

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