What they are
is simple: challenges! This information is for the few who don't know.
The case of study used is the challenges that happened in Yishui, Shandong, China on Feb. 1, 2015. The two videos are included below for references. There are lots of comments at the youtube site where the videos are.
Chen Xu and Li Xiaohui, two instructors of the Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method system of the Daqingshan International Taijiquan Training Center, were in Yishui teaching a week-long workshop in Yishui, Shandong Province. They were there on the invitation of Mr. Lai Qingwen. Mr. Lai had been to Daqingshan and had decided to start learning the Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method system. There were 7 people at the day session and about 25 during morning and at night.
As seen in the first video, a few outsiders came to "Observe". They are not paid members of the class. They only came to observe and check the workshop out. In this area in China, this behavior is locally accepted, the excuse being that if they did not see for themselves how good the instruction was, they would not be able to decide whether to join or not. If this is not allowed, then the local taiji community will see the event and instructors very negatively. Rumors will start.
These people will normally watch a bit and then either issue a challenge or just leave. In this case, the head person decided to issue a challenge. A challenge is not formal like in the movies. The challenger will simply give a high praise to a move and ask the instructor to try it on him. This is highly unfair as the instructor has shown his move and the move is for showing the application of a move in the form. He is in this case, expected to demonstrate that move on the uncooperative challenger. He cannot use a different move, however. It would be considered cheating. So again it is very difficult for the instructor to respond but he cannot refuse.
During the fight, the challenger is free to do whatever but the defender has to use what he was teaching to defend himself. If the defender loses one move, the challenger will claim victory and the gang will immediately leave the scene. There are no second chances. If the challenger loses, he will simply continue. The defender cannot call a stop. Whoever calls a stop is seen as admittance of defeat. So normally the defender will quickly won one move to establish his dominance and then hold his position till the challenger stops the fight.
What is the criteria for winning or losing a move? Any retreat that is obviously caused by the other guy's move is considered a loss. Any body part other than the feet touching the ground is considered a loss. Stop the fight for any reason is considered a loss.
Anywhere you teach is a CHANG. A challenge while you are teaching is called TI CHANG. In old times, if you lose the location became the challenger's, including your own private school. Today, people are challenged for public locations in parks, etc.
So you can see that during a challenge fight, the defender has a lot at stake. So the fight is very REAL, although sometimes they talk, and laugh during the fight. Don't be fooled!
Back to the case in question here. Chen Xu and Li Xiaohui were teaching for the first time in Yishui. They represented the Daqingshan International Taiji Training Center. If they lose to the challenger, the center would not be able to teach in Yishui in the future. Nobody will invite them again and the Center will be too humiliated to teach there.
The first fight was from a very reputable local teacher. He had some students with him. He sent his students to the workshop and then went by himself to WATCH! After watching and then discussing with his students what they felt, he believe he could win the fight. So issued a challenge. You can see that he lose clearly. He admitted loss and left.
The second fight was from a challenger hired by the first challenger. He was THE best local fighter and outweighed Li Xiaohui by quite a bit. There are no weighing during these fights so we can only judge visually. He is THE reason that this local area has no real formal taiji instruction. All previous visiting masters were defeated by him. In a way, he was the local bully. Defeating him would change the local taiji scene forever. Losing to him will ensure that the local taiji enthusiasts will have many more years without outside instruction or exchange.
Yes, these types of fights look very boring! Each side is very careful. Each has to watch out for himself. There are onlookers but no judges for referees. Under this normal wrestling type of appearance, each fighter is putting a lot of power into the fight. Usually a fight ends with total exhaustion on the part of one side. Just an idea of how powerful these fights are, during a challenge to me at the 2004 ceremony in Jinan, Shandong, China, the two fighters' feet clashed and the shoes exploded. So powerful that one shoe was shattered and the explosion sounded like a grenade. The convention center security came, thinking there was an explosion.
A master teaching in Shandong has to worry about injuries, losing, lies, and all sorts. So in the past, anybody who could teach for a long time in one location and managed to keep it was formidable. In those times, a reputation was not establish by wining a number of fights or competitions. A claim that the master has been teaching for a number of years, undefeated is the indication of reputation. Thus we hear stories about Yang Yuchan, the invincible; Chen Fake, the one and only, etc.
there are few who continue with this tradition, even in Shandong, China.
Just like the rich-poor great divide in their society, there is great disparity in the martial art also. What is described above is for normal people who try to establish themselves. On the contrary, the established masters have it easy. People pay thousands of dollars just to be accepted into their discipleship and take photos with the established few. People somehow, do not challenge the famous masters.
To establish ourselves as legitimate teachers of Chen Style Taijiquan, we had to take challenges on the mountain since 2008. During the teaching months in the summer, there had been numerous challenges and some are real fights with sticks and machetes. During one challenge in the summer of 2014, four instructors on the mountain had to face 10 huge bouncers from a neighboring town of Rizhao. In the end, they had to call friends to pick them up.
This is just background information on how these things are in this area in China. Please do not judge whether this is good or bad, whether this is taiji or not. Just plain facts that the local taiji masters have to deal with and live with.
In my own case
which covers more than China, I started teaching in 1983 in Jinan, Shandong, China. Over the years I have taught almost all over the world. All my dedicated students and disciples prior to 2008 became so after either a challenge or a test. Each occasion is different and there is no need for more details. In recent years, the testing has become more of a nature that they want to "feel" instead of trying to see if they can defeat me. Obviously the change of attitude of my students is due to my own age.
Challenge vs competition
The real difference is the mind set. When you go into a competition, you are willingly entering into a public arena. The expectations and rules of the arena are pre-set and you have mentally adjusted yourself to adhere to them. You have subjected yourself to being judged and have already made up your mind that you would abide by the judgement.
For the audience, the same thing happens. They are at a competition to watch and to accept the final verdict of the judges. They are not trying to exert their own "belief" onto the competition.
In a challenge situation, both the challenger and the people with him are of the mind set that they are right. Whatever the outcome, they are not mentally prepared to accept. However, they will accept defeat if the outcome is totally, beyond any doubt, clear and there is no room for interpretation. That's why virtually there have been no challenges whose outcome were clear.
In the past, when there was the spirit of martial art, when challenges were noble, the outcome was clear for both the challenger and the defender. Again, the reason was because of the mind set, not because of the method or criteria.
Yishui first challenge in Feb. 2015.
Then the first challenger asked somebody better to issue a second challenge. Yishui, Feb. 2, 2015.
During the first Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method intramural competition in Nov. 2014 on Daqingshan, two people from Linyi came to challenge. They were not taiji people but have been devoted martial artists all their lives. Li Xiaohui of Daqingshan took the challenge. After the first person was done, the second person seen in the video in the background next to the pillar, claimed injuries in his leg and backed out. They both stayed overnight on Daqingshan and after the challenge they are now both starting Practical Method.
Chen Xu accepted a challenge at the 2013 Opening Ceremony of the Junsheng Taiji Square on Daqingshan, Shandong, China. You can see from the podium set up how many invited masters were present. After the official speeches, there was a short demonstration put on by students of Daqingshan. Conspicuously all the masters found excuses to leave the site immediately. Then the big guy in white t-shirt came to the hall and stopped the push hands demonstration. He wanted himself to be used for the demonstration of taiji push hands skills. Obviously it was a challenge. There were over a hundred taiji people from all over in the audience. Not accepting this "suggestion" would be a disgrace to Daqingshan so Chen Xu (the smaller person) took the challenge. At about 0:20 he immediately used locking technique to hurt Chen Xu's arm. This is an illegal move in competitions but during such an occasion you cannot say anything. Chen Xu was injured. He quickly realized that this person is here to shame Daqingshan. Chen Xu's fight was purely that of the honor for Daqingshan. After the fight, the challenger got into a car and sped off, all the masters returned and had a pleasant visit, as if nothing ever happened.
A challenge (person in red) to Daqingshan in May 2014. This person is from Xi An in North west China. He claimed that he had challenged many masters in China and had never lost. He came to the mountain telling the instructors that they were not doing Taiji right. He first fight was with Han Rui. He stopped, claiming that he did not want to bother fighting Han because Han had low level skill. Then he demonstrated how taiji should be done. After that he challenged Chen Xu. Every time he fell, he said Chen Xu was wrong. In the end, he left believing that he had won and the Daqingshan instructors were beaten by him.
Something good came out of this fight. I was not present at the event. A month after, the challenger wrote to me and had some serious discussions with me online. He expressed that believed there was no reason for him to lose. He honestly believed his lineage was more superior, he worked very hard, he was bigger, he had five more years of training than Chen Xu, etc. Upon further reflection, he decided to give the Practical Method is try and see if he could improve. So all is not bad.
Let the Principles Do the Talking or The Floor Becomes the Teacher