Taiwan's martial-arts breakdancer turns from fights to dance

09/14/2021 05:47 PM
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Photo courtesy of the General Association of Chinese Culture
Photo courtesy of the General Association of Chinese Culture

Taipei, Sept. 14 (CNA) From ritual performer to gang member, Taiwanese breakdancer Chen Bo-jin (陳柏均) has defied the odds over the years, turning from a life of fighting to dancing, and he has now been named as one of five winners of the 11th Presidential Culture Awards in Taiwan.

For Chen, who is also known as Bboy Bojin, the prestigious Presidential award that is given to some of the best on Taiwan's cultural scene is the culmination of a long journey to turn around his life.

"This is big recognition for me," the 39-year-old Chen said. "While there are a lot of people involved in the art of breakdancing, we are still not the mainstream."

Before becoming an influential figure on Taiwan's breakdancing stage, he was a ritualistic "Ba-Jia-Jiang" folk performer for temple activities and a gang member.

Ba Jia Jiang (Eight Generals) dancers, known for their colorful costumes and intricately painted faces, depict local temple and deity guardians who offer mystical protection, during religious ceremonies and events.

Born in Yilan, Chen was heavily inspired as a youth to learn martial arts, as he liked to watch films featuring the late action movie star Bruce Lee (李小龍) and read Japanese manga such as "Dragon Ball." The agile movements performed by Lee had arguably called to the already nimble Chen.

Around the age of 10, Chen made his foray into breakdancing when he was exposed to L.A. Boyz, Taiwan's first hip hop group.

The cool attitude displayed by the now disbanded trio in their performances introduced the young Chen to street athletics and urban clothing, and he was soon motivated to start practicing breakdancing and skateboarding.

Soon after discovering breakdancing, Bboy Bojin took his first steps into the world of throw downs. At that time, the endless hours of practice made Chen feel alive, doing what he felt born to do.

Unfortunately, bullying ended his passion for the art form. Browbeating from older kids who did not understand breakdancing snuffed out his passion, and for a while, Bboy Bojin ceased to exist, Chen recalled.

The emotional and physical torment he endured then led him to seek out violence in his teens, when he believed that "power meant everything."

Soon, a life of fighting and troublemaking followed, and Chen often found himself in and out of police stations, as he had joined a gang when he was in junior high school, he said.

Following some years fighting and wreaking havoc, Chen went on to enroll in Taipei Municipal Heping High School. He was still an angry youth, believing that his fists should do the talking for him. It was not until one day when he joined an urban dance club at the school that he found his anchor in life.

He was saved from a life of crime thanks to the friends he made in the dance club, Chen said.

When Chen's reignited his passion for dance, he vowed never to stop dancing, but that decision was not supported by his family.

"To practice my headspin, I had to hide a helmet in my schoolbag," he recalled. "One day, my dad saw the helmet, and he grabbed it and beat me with it. When I came to, I was in a hospital bed."

The lack of support from his family, however, did not stop the determined Chen, who persevered and later went on to develop his signature dance style, which incorporates breaking and his Chinese martial arts skills.

In 2006, Bboy Bojin represented Taiwan at BOTY (Battle of the Year), the world's most renowned annual competition in breakdancing. The sheer strength of his performance finally garnered him recognition in breakdancing, when he was crowned as the 9th best dancer in the world at BOTY 2006, and 3rd best at BOTY 2011.

Chen eventually took home his first gold in 2016, after leading a Taiwanese troupe to win the Battle in Shanghai (B.I.S.), another renowned international breakdancing competition.

Having harvested countless accolades over the years, his achievements landed him a consultancy and judgeship at the World DanceSport Federation.

Since then, Chen has been dedicated to promoting and fostering a new generation of Taiwanese breakdancers, using his years of knowledge and experience to pass the baton.

Chen has also helped boost Taiwan's international visibility by advocating for the inclusion of breakdancing in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

Now, one year before turning 40, Chen understands that Bboy Bojin can no longer dominate the stage. Instead, he has been giving small performances and coaching young dancers.

In recent years, Chen has also regained his passion for martial arts and has been learning Muay Thai and Jujutsu. Presently, he is an active mixed martial arts fighter, moving his impressive physique from the stage to the cage.

On Sept. 10, Chen was named as one of the five recipients of the 2021 Presidential Culture Awards for Creativity and Innovation, in recognition of his contribution to breakdancing and his efforts to nurture young Taiwanese talent.

On hearing the news of the award, Chen said he would like to encourage the youth of Taiwan to keep chasing their dreams. "As long as you have great determination, you can accomplish your wildest of dreams," he said.

(By Lung Po-an and James Lo)

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