Chen Zijun - on the need to synchronise the whole body...
(gio, 05 gen 2017)
In the following offering from Chen Zijun, taken from a short film released recently in China, he
gives some pointers on what are the most important things to be aware of in your Taijiquan training:
"There are numerous movements in Taijiquan. Many people say the kua is very important,
others that the waist (yao) is key. But really most important is considering the whole body. The crucial point is to train the unification of the external and internal aspects so that upper and
lower, left and right are synchronised so that the whole body functions as a single unit. In this way expressing your power into a single point. The whole body must be considered from head to
toe: head suspended, eyes looking to the six roads (that is, not just looking forward, but engaging your peripheral vision), listening behind because you cannot see what is behind you.
Maintaining a sense of calm and quiet during training. Not just training your body to be quiet, but also ensuring your brain remains quiet. Only then can your reactions be truly fast. In this way
you increase your ability to change, preparing you to meet any external disturbance. Maintaining yin-yang balance in every sense.
Chen Zijun - "The whole body synchronised and acting as a single unit"
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On Tour in the USA...
(lun, 19 dic 2016)
Taoist Sanctuary of San Diego
I just got home a few days ago after a couple of weeks teaching and enjoying some great hospitality across the pond in the USA.
The first stop was sunny California for a four day workshop at the Taoist Sanctuary of San Diego, Bill and Allison Helm's long established centre for traditional healing and martial
One of the items was a talk on Taijiquan's "six harmonies". During the session we spoke about the role of looseness and co-ordination in the harmonisation of both internal and external
Over the years we have had the opportunity to interview many high level Taijiquan teachers from Chenjiagou. To get things rolling one of the first question we usually ask is "what is the single
most important thing a person should pay attention to when training Taijiquan ?" Anyone who has trained for any length of time knows that there is no single simple answer, but it seems to work
in getting things started.
Faced with this question:
Chen Xiaowang answered: "maintaining the dantian as the body's centre" - The dantian acts as a co-ordinating point through which all the power of the body can be
focused and brought out to a single point.
Chen Xiaoxing answered: "timing is of the utmost importance" - Timing of different aspects
including the left and right sides, upper and lower body, and internal sensation co-ordinated with external movement.
Chen Ziqiang answered: "the most important thing is to always be aware of the feeling beneath your feet"
- Taijiquan's sequential and co-ordinated movement starts from the feet, goes through the legs, directed by the waist and expressed in the hands.
Wang Xian answered: "to rid one's body of all unnecessary tension" - He expanded that "In Taijiquan practice, holding even the slightest tension in your
body means that your whole body will be out of balance".
Early morning in Yosemite Valley
We took a few days off for a road trip to Yosemite National Park - a long time bucket list item since I bought an Ansel Adams print of the El Capitan rockface over thirty years ago! It was
fantastic to train at dawn in the Yosemite Valley, seeing deer coming down to drink in the river a few hundred metres in the distance. During Taijiquan practice we very much focus on the "small
dao" - looking at the inter-relationships of the body as an integrated system. In the evening I read about John Muir (1838-1914), one of
America's most famous and influential naturalist and conservationist. Muir has been given many titles over the years including
"The Father of our National Parks," "Wilderness Prophet," and "Citizen of the Universe." Reading some of Muir's quotes in his
favourite place reminded me of the "great dao" that Taiji philosophy draws from:
"When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
"There is not a fragment in all nature, for every relative fragment of one thing is a full harmonious unit in
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”
A Seattle Wall
Next to Seattle to Kim Ivy's Embrace the Moon School for Taijiquan and Qigong for three days of workshops. Carrying on the focus on incorporating correct principles in practice, working
on the Laojia Yilu routine. Kim's training centre is in the process of some renovation work and one of the walls due for covering with sound proofing insulation had become a temporary backdrop
for friends and students of "the moon" to post their thoughts. A few of my favourites from the 150 or so affirmations written on the wall:
"Often the best answer is practice"
"One more time"
"Just relax, and when you think you are relaxed, relax more!"
"The secret of Taiji? Very strong legs!"
Embrace the Moon Taijiquan and Qigong Centre
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Learn diligently and train bitterly...
(mar, 22 nov 2016)
A few weeks ago I visited a temple in Hangzhou province that honours one of China's most revered generals. Yue Fei
(1103-1142) lived in the Southern Song dynasty and his life is remembered as one of the country's greatest examples of filial piety and heroic patriotism. He has been credited as the creator of a number of martial arts including Fanziquan and Chuojiaoquan, but the two styles most associated with Yue Fei are Eagle Claw and Xingyiquan. One book states Yue Fei created Eagle Claw for his enlisted soldiers and Xingyiquan
for his officers.
Groomed from birth to be a warrior and to do great service for the country, his mother famously had the four characters "jin zhong bao guo" (serve the country loyally) tattooed on his
back as a constant reminder to never forget his duty.
The youthful Yue Fei learning the martial arts under the maxim - "Learn Diligently, Practice Bitterly"
A mural on one of the temple walls caught my eyes. The image depicts Yue Fei training his martial skills under the four character idiom, "learn diligently, train bitterly" (qin xue ku lian). This maxim is often used by people practising Chinese traditional arts whether it be music, calligraphy, martial arts etc...
The best learning process being the combination of knowledge and action.
At our recent camp with GM Chen Xiaoxing we trained alongside a quiet and serious person named Chen Hong. I first met him at last year's Chenjiagou Taijiquan School branch instructors'
course. He's one of the very first group of students to train full time in the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School when it opened in 1983. More than three decades later he trained alongside our
group and a new crop of Chinese students. Each time Chen Xiaoxing explained or demonstrated a movement, Chen Hong observed intently, and then took himself off to a quiet corner and worked on
whichever point had just been explained.
Lt-Rt Davidine Sim, Chen Hong, David Gaffney
Our training trip to Chenjiagou is for the purpose of deepening knowledge and embedding skill. The training curriculum invariably focuses on training the fundamentals (standing pole and
reeling silk exercises) and the gongfu form (Yilu) under the watchful eyes and guidance of one of the most highly skilled masters of taijiquan. Most experienced students find this training
to be demanding but invaluable, and make many return visits to do the same. The inexperienced and less discerning ones may view the training as repetitive and monotonous and become
impatient for more entertaining items. They have no insight into their own lack of skill and think that knowing movement patterns equals proficiency.
The maxim on Yue Fei's temple struck a chord - learn diligently and train bitterly! There are no short cuts in learning the
traditional art. First be clear of the correct training method. Then drill it into the body. What is required is serious, disciplined study alongside focused repetitive training.
At the tomb of legendary General Yue Fei
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Chen Xiaoxing - "When you know you know"!
(mar, 01 nov 2016)
Taking in Aberdeen Harbour Enter the Dragon Style
I'm writing this latest post at the end of this year's training camp in Chenjiagou with GM Chen Xiaoxing. Our group was sixteen strong, plus a group of Chen Xiaoxing's Chinese students
who trained alongside us.
Mixing it with some of the Ani-Com characters
Most of our group met in Hong Kong and enjoyed a day off to shake off some of the jet lag before flying on to Chenjiagou. With such a short time in Hong Kong,
we joined an organised tour and visited some of the "Fragrant Harbour's" iconic sites - several with links to martial arts culture: we took a sampan around Aberdeen Harbour, a location
for countless local films, usually centred around the ongoing battle between the
Hong Kong police force and the infamous triads. It has also been a standout location in a few international cinema classics - most notably and memorable being Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon
- where the various fighters boarded a junk bound for the mysterious Mr Han's Island; we also visited
the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) and the nearby Ani-Com Park. The HKCEC is a major landmark on the Hong Kong Island skyline instantly recognisable to Jackie Chan fans as the setting for the dramatic ending of New Police Story; Ani-Com Park opened earlier this year as Hong Kong's first selfie theme park and features life-sized statues based on 30 classic Hong Kong
animation and comic characters including Hero Wah, Andy Chan, Bruce Lee, Old Master Q etc...; Repulse Bay, located in the southern part of Hong Kong Island, and whose name comes from a 19th century
battle in which the British army repulsed attacking pirates that infested the area. A colourful Daoist temple flanked by the giant statues of Tin Hau (Goddess of the Sea) and Kwun Yum
(Goddess of Mercy). Westerners are always a bit perplexed at the seeming randomness of Daoist temples. Here we were met with colourful mosaic statues of folk deities including the God of Love , the Fish God and the God of Wealth, and creatures
like dragons, goldfish and rams.
The next day we flew into Chenjiagou. For the first time trained at Chen Ziqiang's new seven storey accommodation/training
facility. At first sight it would be easy to be misled by the facade and entrance - marble floored with four floors of comfortable accommodation. Above, though, hidden from the outside
world are three floors of cavernous, spartan training areas. On the few days when it rained and the latest batch of the school's recruits were put through their paces above us, the
building seemed to shake as their efforts echoed through the building.
Top James Lucas, Below Dana Gelatova and Biljana Dusic being corrected
For ten days we settled into a daily routine of two sessions of two and a half hours with GM Chen Xiaoxing. Each session started with jibengong (basic
training) consisting of zhan zhuang (standing pole) and chansigong (reeling silk). Then, a few moves at
a time, deepening of the Laojia Yilu routine
- referred to in Chenjiagou as the "mother form" or the "gongfu form".
There is a Confucian adage that says "a mirror doesn't lie, it simply tells the truth". It reflects exactly what is before
it. Basic training with Chen Xiaoxing is a gruelling and repetitive business. With standing, for instance, he corrects each student in turn,
adjusting and leading them into a better structural position - at the same time dramatically increasing the demands on the legs. The lack of adequate leg strength is one of the limiting
factors on the ability to "fang song" or loosen the body to the degree required by Chen Taijiquan. Over the course of each session every student would be corrected two or three times before
Chen Xiaoxing brought the standing to a close with a clap of his hands after thirty or forty minutes. That's being corrected approximately fifty times over the course of the ten days. Anyone
who didn't have a better idea of what to work on when they went home just wasn't paying attention! Reeling silk training involved another half an hour continuously drilling a single movement,
trying to remain completely level with the upper body compact and unbroken whilst going through the exercise. After one challenging session Chen Xiaoxing remarked that,
"the training my senior students "fear" the most are standing and reeling silk".
Chen Xiaoxing is a great believer in developing a deep foundation through
this kind of simple basic training and have little patience for abstract speculation and talk. When one of the Chinese students, rubbing his painful legs after one session of zhan zhuang,
asked him, "how will I know when I find the right feeling?" His short, simple yet profound answer, "you know when you know. When you don't know, you don't know".
CTGB's 2016 Chenjiagou training group with GM Chen Xiaoxing at the Chen Family Temple
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Stillness in motion...
(sab, 08 ott 2016)
Taijiquan players often quote phrases from the classics, often with little
thought or understanding of what they mean in a practical sense. For example, the instruction to "seek stillness in movement, and movement in stillness". Asked to expand the stock answers are "the
mind is still while the body is moving"... or that it's "like meditation in movement". And then move on...
Look at the picture below of Chen Xiaoxing at his
recent camp at the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School. His dynamic explosive movement is combined with an expression of focused calmness. Laozi's Daoist classic the Daodejing succinctly states that:
"The heavy is the root of the light; the quiet is the master of motion". This is not the quietness of docility. Instead it is the supremely balanced place where a practitioner is not fixated on
any one thing, whether it be an opponent in front of you, an intended technique, or a preconceived idea of any incoming attack. Rather, in a neutral and balanced state, possessing the ability to
change instantly from one state to another. In Taijiquan parlance, "strong in eight directions".
Chen Xiaoxing - "stillness in motion"
To achieve this all the practitioner's
senses must be activated - feeling the sensations of lifting the head while sinking the body to be rooted and heavy; expanding the body, listening behind... In tuishou there is even a saying that
you "should try to smell your opponent". What is required is the use of all the senses to get a true reading of a situation.
Chen Xin writes: "Eyes level gazing
forward, shining into all four directions". This means that although the eyes are directed forward, one must be aware of one's surroundings. The spirit should be like that of a cat stalking a
mouse. The direction of the eyes is in accordance with the body's movements. The eyes act as the forerunner of the mind. Again to quote Chen Xin "Of a hundred boxing skills, the eye is the
vanguard". But behind the eyes it is the mind that maintains inner awareness. The mind, that gives the command to act. It is therefore important to keep the intention of the mind consistent with
We were in Slovenia last week teaching
workshops for the Slovenian Chenjiagou Taijiquan Association organised by Biljana Dusic and Dragan Lazaravic. Great to see the group progressing year by year!In 2015 Chenjiagou Taijiquan
GB, with the assistance of the Slovenian Chenjiagou Taijiquan Association, organised the First Chenjiagou Taijiquan School Advanced European Taijiquan Training Camp held at the
fantastic Olympic Training Centre in Planica. Grandmaster Chen Xiaoxing, assisted by his two sons Chen Ziqiang and Chen Zijun led a week of intensive training. It was an international event with
participants from the USA, Slovenia, Italy, Russia, Croatia, Germany, Hong Kong, and the largest group from our school in the UK. Grandmaster Chen Xiaoxing will be conducting another camp in
Planica in 2018.
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Sanshou training in Warsaw
(gio, 22 set 2016)
Marek Balinski and Chen Ziqiang
I've been in Poland training with Chen Ziqiang in a series of seminars organised by Marek Balinski, chief coach of the Warsaw Chen Taijiquan Academie. Chen
Ziqiang was assisted by Wang Yan, captain of the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School's fighting team. He was featured in my post a month or so ago leading the school to victory in their recent challenge
match with a team of Thai boxers from Thailand. These are some impressions from the week.
First up was two days of sanshou and tuishou training in the Polish Wushu Association's purposely fitted combat sports facility. Chen Ziqiang explained the four different types of tuishou: first, the five standard drills - single hand, double hand, forward and
backward stepping, big step and flexible step. These exercises teach many of the core skills necessary for combat in a fixed and controlled way. The standard drills are enough for students whose
main purpose in learning Taijiquan is for health and fitness; second, is what Chen Ziqiang described as "experimentation". Working from the preceding drills practitioners train the different
qinna and application potentials, again in a controlled way; third, the stand up grappling that he said is often mistaken for Taijiquan sanshou (free fighting). This type of push hands training
starts with both players being in contact with each other and from that position train mostly rooting, throwing and sweeping skills; the fourth type is sanshou, where two people stand apart from
each other and then bridge the gap. In sanshou every type of techniques can be used - striking, elbowing, kicking, throwing etc..
Over the two days Chen Ziqiang systematically moved between applications from standard push hands drills, to line drills that focused
on the footwork supporting techniques. Finally, training the same techniques on kick shields so that the group could practice applying with full power. Like all excellent coaches he managed
to get important concepts across while the sessions were in progress: keeping the shoulders loose in order for the arms to turn freely; sinking the elbows to guard the ribs; maintaining
awareness of correct timing and distance; how to change the fighting range; flexible footwork etc... ; even touching on the study and practical use of pressure points to support
There was a day to review the early part of the Laojia Yilu. When Chen Wangting created Taijiquan the idea was to develop an
effective martial system. Chen Ziqiang stressed that everything within the form has its function and purpose and that
no detail should be overlooked. From the starting position external aspects and internal energy are harmonised via the intention. Hands, eyes, body and footwork are coordinated. He
stressed the need to look beyond your hands when doing the movements, giving the simple example that if you were punching someone you would look at them and not at your own
Anyone who has trained with Chen Ziqiang will have experienced his physically challenging warm ups. During several of the sessions
over the course of the week he handed the warm ups over to Wang Yan. Anyone feeling relieved soon changed their minds. Chen Ziqiang remarked laconically after one particularly
strenuous session that "my student's warm ups are harder than mine".
L-R Davidine Sim, Chen Ziqiang, Wang Yan & David Gaffney
Our Polish visit concluded with three days of spear training. Chen Ziqiang places great emphasis upon exercises
to develop basic skills. Just as a knife, fork and spoon each has its own function and usage, every weapon has its own characteristics that must be manifested. He recalled how he had
trained the jibengong (foundation exercises) for weapons for several years before being allowed to train the forms. While this may not be practical for many students today, it does point
towards the need to pay more attention to training the core skills of each weapon rather than just running through the forms. Chen Taijiquan's spear form marries the qualities of both
spear and staff - the spear elements being straight and staff movements circular. "Spear" techniques emphasise thrusting (zha), blocking (lan) and intercepting (na). Staff
techniques are built around the ability to turn the weapon like two wheels on either side of the body and not done as if you were paddling a canoe - a mistake Chen Ziqiang said is made by
the majority of people training the spear.
Development in Taijiquan is a continuous process, realising the connections between all aspects of the system and putting them into practice on the training floor.
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Keys to success - consistency and perseverance…
(lun, 22 ago 2016)
An early picture of Chen Xiaowang - "No excuses, training every day without fail"
“What ultimately separates those who succeed from the rest is what goes on between their ears and in their heart and souls”. The
preceding quote from an unknown source points to the truth that to perform at a high level in any sport or physical discipline demands
sacrifices and discipline from participants, and the possession of qualities like doggedness, constancy and a long-term perspective. Without the right mindset it doesn’t matter how much natural ability you have, or which famous teachers you learn from.
In a recent interview Chen Xiaoxing highlighted the twin qualities of
consistency and perseverance as central to the development of a meaningful level of Taijiquan ability. I remember listening in some years ago during another interview when he was asked about
his personal training history. Chen Xiaoxing was visibly annoyed at the suggestion that it was somehow easier in the past. His reply at the time was that the problem facing the contemporary
practitioner was not a lack of time, but a lack of commitment and application - plain and simply, too many excuses and not enough training. He countered the distractions facing modern
Taijiquan players with the experience of hardship and starvation, political persecution and backbreaking work on the fields or in a brick factory. In spite of everything they managed to
develop their skills.
In an article published in forbes.com, Bruce Kasanoff examined “Three Essential
Elements of a Winning Mindset”. He cited the work of University of Pennsylvania Associate Professor Angela Duckworth and her study of grit, defined as “the tendency to sustain interest in and
effort toward very long-term goals”. Duckworth’s research found that individuals possessing “grit” can, through hard work, expand their capabilities beyond others with seemingly more
A young Chen Xiaowang - "the key to success is consistency"
“Grit predicts surviving the arduous first summer of training at West Point
and reaching the final rounds of the National Spelling Bee, retention in the U.S. Special Forces, retention and performance among novice teachers and sales agents, and graduation from Chicago
public high schools, over and beyond domain-relevant talent measures such as IQ, SAT or standardised achievement test scores, and physical fitness”.
Chen Xiaoxing: "You have to treat a year like a day and that is not easy. It's very easy to train ten times for one day, but to do it year after year..."
Chen Xiaoxing, in answer to the statement that “to achieve what you have
achieved must take a lot of time and effort”, answered “you have to work harder than most people can imagine”. He cited the example of his brother Chen Xiaowang’s unceasing practice: “When
Xiaowang was training as a professional [In 1980 he was selected by the Henan Sports Council to go to the Zhengzhou Sports Academy to train alongside elite participants from a variety of
sports], he was training thirty repetitions of the form a day – every day without fail. The key to success is consistency. You have to treat a year like a day and this is not easy. It’s
very easy to train ten times for one day, but to do it year after year… most people can train like this for a few days, but how many can do this for five years?”.
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Have confidence and walk the road ...
(lun, 08 ago 2016)
Wang Yan, captain of the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School fighting team getting ready for the Thai challenge.
Results have just reached me from the latest challenge match between instructors from the
Chenjiagou Taijiquan School and a team of Thai boxers from Thailand. The "Taijiquan PK Muay Thai King Competition" was the highlight of The Third China International Chenjiagou Chen Style Taijiquan Exchange
Competition which took place from the 1-5th August in Chenjiagou.
The challengers from Thailand
A close and hard fought contest
Closing the event was a bout between Wang Yan, captain of the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School fighting team, and a seasoned Thai
fighter. Wang Yan won a hard fought contest to seal a 4-1 victory for the Taijiquan boys. After the fight, a clearly exhausted Wang reflected on the hard training he and the team had done in
preparation for this challenge – “so much hard work for this one moment”.
Wang Yan's arm raised in victory!
Skill and achievement comes with a price. Over the years I’ve seen Wang Yan and the rest of the
team develop from children in the school into powerful, confident martial artists. From the outside it may seem easy, but anyone who has been to the Chenjiagou school knows that these guys train
hard. I remember a student some years ago who was homesick and struggling with the gruelling daily training. Going to Chen Ziqiang for advice he was asked to: “Have confidence and walk the road. The uphill path might be difficult but continue to walk it”. Great advice for all of us!
Chen Ziqiang presenting the trophy to Wang Yan, who he has coached since childhood
That's Wang Yan in front of me with the spear some time in the early 2000s!
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On GB's Olympic boxers, Hemingway and a meeting with Wang Xian...
(dom, 31 lug 2016)
With Nicola Adams (World & Olympic gold medallist) and Joe Joyce one of the favourites to take gold at Rio 2016
I'm sitting in the lounge of Madrid airport with an eight hour wait until my flight back to the UK, so I'm taking the chance to write this
post. Just over a week ago I was in Heathrow airport where I bumped into some excited members of Britain's Olympic Boxing team waiting for the flight that would take them to Brazil and the
2016 Rio games. The fighters included Nicola Adams, already a world and Olympic champion, looking to retain the title she captured during the London games four years ago; the immense Joe Joyce,
one of the hot favourites to take gold in
British Olympian boxers Lawrence Okolie, Frazer Clarke & Josh Buatsi
the super heavyweight category. Also Lawrence Okolie who began boxing six years ago as an obese and bullied teenager who is now GB's
heavyweight representative, Frazier Clarke (super heavyweight) and Joshua Buatsi (light-heavyweight). It would be hard to find a friendlier group of guys and I have to admit that I felt like
getting on the plane with them to see how their Olympic adventure plays out. After shaking hands and wishing them luck in Rio I carried on with my own journey.
Wang Xian in Pamplona We arrived in Pamplona in northern Spain, famous for its annual bull running festival, part of the week-long San Fermín festival immortalised by
novelist Ernest Hemingway. We were in Spain to meet up again with GM Wang Xian taking part in his week long seminar and completing an interview we started several years ago on his take on
Taijiquan - part of the on-going research for our next book project.
Pamplona, Spain: David Gaffney, Wang Xian & Davidine Sim
The seminar was billed as Laojia Yilu, but Wang Xian is a traditional style teacher who very much follows his own inclinations
during the sessions. He would see something lacking and address it. For example, seeing that everybody's footwork was not as agile as he would like, he led the group up and down the sports hall in a
variety of stepping drills. The need for flexible footwork was emphasised in training the form with changes of tempo and the development of the ability to steal space from an opponent.
Another time, he asked everyone to gather round, sat down and gave a detailed talk about the role of Qi in Taijiquan and the importance of trying to feel the movements and not merely copying them
externally. Wang Xian constantly stressed the need to finish every movement carefully and exactly. The end of each movement represents the start position for the next move. "Starting from the
correct position ensures that the next movement can be done correctly".
Some of the advice Master Wang Xian gave during the seminar included:
"Practice slowly and self-correct all the time, especially during transitional movements. Because during transition movements you have to manage internal changes and manage postural
"Many people become satisfied after achieving some small improvements and stop actively looking to continue to develop their Taijiquan. The 3 stages of learning are: train until you are
completely familiar with the movements; understand the energy within each movement (dong jin); reach a stage where you have an instinctive intrinsic understanding (shen ming). This is a process
that takes time".
"You must be conscious that you're training a martial art (quan) when doing form or the form will be empty(kong). This can be in terms of understanding the potential functions of movements
or in the development of martial qualities such as rootedness, footwork and awareness. For example, you must know your body's boundary - the position of maximum strength and not go beyond it.
This can only be realised through slow practice".
"People often neglect the importance of the eyes during training. The eyes should not be allowed to look down or to stare ahead in a blank unfocused way. Your peripheral vision should
always be engaged and watching around you".
"In terms of health do your best to maintain your capabilities. Your range of movement, for eg.the ability to pick your knees up high etc. can be reduced or lost over time. This is
especially important as you get older".
Pushing in the down time with Paris based Chen Taijiquan teacher Rudolphe Pollet
I first became aware of and inspired by Wang Xian after watching a pirated vcd in China nearly 20 years ago. The disc had a picture of
Chen Zhenglei on the cover and stated that it was his vcd. Inside, though, it showcased the skills of Wang Xian and his students. The disc finished with a scene of him performing a powerful
Xinjia Yilu by the banks of the Yellow River, closing with the words "If you want to be better than everyone else, train more than anyone else".
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China returns to its traditional roots…
(mar, 31 mag 2016)
Taijiquan as part of the official school sports programme
In the last post I reported the formal induction of 13 renowned Taijiquan players
as "Professors of Taijiquan", an official recognition of their roles as educators. This is part of a wider movement in China as the country looks to reassert its
identity. Professor Guo Qiyong, dean of the School of Chinese Classics at Wuhan University said, "traditional culture offers China the ideological roots to develop and prosper as
a nation. Without it, the Chinese will lose their identity in the trend of globalisation".
Earlier this month 26 teams, made up of more than 2,500 teachers and students from Wen County,
Henan Province’s primary and secondary schools, participated in a collective display of the “Traditional Taijiquan Routine” as part of their sport education programme. Since 2001 Wen county,
whose environs include Chenjiagou, has been actively promoting Taijiquan in all its primary and secondary schools - at present more than 50,000 students and teachers practise
Wen County students demonstration
It’s hard to over-emphasise the transformation that has taken place in China over the last three
decades or so. Most readers will be familiar with the story of how practitioners of Taijiquan (and other traditional arts) were persecuted during the Cultural Revolution. The book
Essence of Taijiquan recounted how Taijiquan’s renaissance began in 1978 when Deng Xiaoping, in his position as Vice Chairman of the People’s Republic of China, wrote the
simple words “Taijiquan Hao” or “Taijiquan is good” for a group of visiting Japanese delegate: “An article published in Chinese Wushu magazine (2003) under the title of “Ten
Significant Events in Wushu” describes vividly the full impact of this statement: “Deng Xiaoping’s writing breathed new life into the development
of Taijiquan as well as other traditional Chinese martial arts. In the previous ten years all traditional arts had stagnated and were in danger of
extinction. With the new China (after the Cultural Revolution) all the treasures of China were awaiting their fate. Nobody was certain whether the wide variety of martial arts would ever be able to see light again”. Even though
the political climate had eased, traditional martial arts were not a priority for the new legislation and were in a state of limbo. People lacked the
confidence to practise openly and were waiting for a decision from higher up to revive it. “The very positive statement by Deng Xiaoping gave an
indication to the whole of China that after the storm of the last ten years Taijiquan was going to enter a new era of regrowth”.
In Wen County all primary and secondary school children and teachers train Taijiquan
Taiji Culture Schools
Back in September 2015 a ceremony was held marking the collaboration between the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School and the
Jiaozuo Taiji Specialised Secondary School. The Jiaozuo school is at the forefront of the national implementation of China’s first Taiji-centred education schools. The school was established
with the intention of preserving and propagating the country's ancient Taiji culture. Speaking at the event Chen Zijun explained that with the social development of Taijiquan it is
essential to raise the quality of the martial artists coming out of the school. In setting up a branch of The Jiaozuo Taiji School within the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School there are
obvious benefits to both sides: “This cooperation will allow us to comprehensively develop both the civil and military talents of students. To better carry forward the traditional martial arts
while recognising and understanding their heritage and culture”.
Chen Zijun: "Carrying forward traditional martial arts while recognising and understanding their heritage and culture".
The reassertion of China’s traditional culture has not been restricted to Taijiquan. In China,
towards the end of last year I came across an article in the China Daily newspaper which spoke of the increasing relevance of the ancient classics in modern classrooms. The article was
illustrated with a photo of a group of young children, dressed in the style of the Han Dynasty that ruled China 1,800 years ago, reciting the
Analects of Confucius. The article followed 6-year-old Chen Quanjin as he spent his summer vacation doing traditional Chinese studies at the Chenxiang Guoxue Institute in Guozijian: “Chen
Quanjin has mastered the Dizigui, a Chinese book dating back more than 300 years that lays out standards for being a good child and student. He says the three-character verses are
understandable and trip of the tongue - “Older siblings should befriend younger ones; younger siblings should respect and love older ones. Siblings who keep harmonious relationships among
themselves are being dutiful to their parents”.
Pupils in traditional Han costumes reciting the Analects of Confucius during a ceremony marking the 2,565th anniversary of the birth of the ancient philosopher
This resurgence of interest in traditional culture has backing from the highest places: "In April
2014, China's Ministry of Education issued a guideline for teaching traditional culture from primary school through college. It required more lessons on traditional culture to be included in
primary and middle school textbooks. President Xi Jinping echoed this view when he visited Beijing Normal University in September 2014. He voiced disapproval of [previous] decisions to
remove Chinese poems and essays from textbooks saying that: “China’s cultural genes should be planted in the minds of the young”. It appears that the reversal of the excesses of the
Cultural Revolution is well underway.
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Chenjiagou - Poems, Professors and Hollywood Style Handprints ...
(lun, 02 mag 2016)
On 22nd April representatives from the six major styles of Taijiquan (Chen, Yang, Wu, Wu (Hao),
Sun and He) came together for a series of events in Chenjiagou and the surrounding locale. Coming from all over China, the Chen stylists included both Chenjiagou players and students
of Chen Fake’s disciples. Officiating the events were Kang Gewu, President of the Chinese National Martial Arts Research Centre, Taijiquan professor Yu Gongbao and
various officials of Wenxian and Jiaozuo. The slogan for the grand and high profile gathering was “Meeting at Taiji’s holy ground! Harmonising Taijiquan!” The event included
a symposium with speakers presenting their take on Taijiquan and the direction the art is going, and demonstrations by the Taijiquan masters present.
Over a decade ago I remember looking with bemusement at the plans for the future development of Chenjiagou. The model showed a six storey museum
set within a landscaped Taiji-themed park, stadium, hotels, large-scale apartments, shops etc -hard to picture at the time in such a quiet and timeless place. Year by year we’ve gone back and
seen all of these plans and more come to fruition. Looking at the rows of empty buildings and wide deserted streets, the next obvious question was, who was it for? The opening address of the
"Celebrating the Source of Taijiquan" event answered this - explaining that the main aim of the event was to join together to promote Taiji tourism to its birthplace Chenjiagou and to the
surrounding areas of Wenxian and Jiaozuo.
Taijiquan is cool and mainstream in China Today
Billionaire and Taijiquan enthusiast Guo Guangchang (Image China Daily)
It’s obvious that the Taijiquan scene in China is booming. Over the last few posts I’ve highlighted a number of large scale events
happening there and a quick glance at the mainstream Chinese media confirms this. With high profile individuals like AlI Baba internet entrepreneur Jack Ma and Guo Guangchang the billionaire behind Fosun, China’s biggest private conglomerate being avid Taijiquan practitioners, and a booming middle class looking
to reconnect with their own heritage. In short, today Taijiquan is cool and mainstream. It has not got the new age and slightly flaky reputation that
it has in the West.
Chen Xiaowang leading the group in paying respect to Chen Wangting
On the following day representatives from all the major styles gathered at the Chenjiagou Ancestor’s Hall to pay respects to their common
Taijiquan ancestor Chen Wangting. Chen Xiaowang represented the whole group for the ceremony burning incense and offering wine, as younger generation practitioners brought garlands of flowers to
Chen Wangting’s alter. Next, Zhu Tiancai read aloud a poem he had composed honouring Taijiquan's ancestors and telling the history of the source of Taijiquan. All present then solemnly bowed
to Chen Wangting pledging to work together+ for the spread and propagation of Taijiquan.
Zhu Tiancai reciting his poem
Professors of Taijiquan
Martial arts have never really enjoyed a high status in China. Many martial artists were severely persecuted during the dark days of the Cultural
Revolution, and the bad experiences of Taijiquan practitioners in Chenjiagou and many other places are well documented. The opening of
the China Taijiquan Professional Education Centre and nomination of the first 13 practitioners to be given official recognition as “Professors of Taijiquan” marked a symbolic recognition of the
importance of these ancient arts in the modern era. Little wonder that those receiving the awards looked so delighted. Chen Xiaowang, Chen Zhenglei, Wang Xian and Zhu Tiancai were recognised
alongside masters from the other styles of Taijiquan.
Newly recognised Professors of Taijiquan - Back row rt-Lt: Zhu Tiancai, Wang Xian, Chen Zhenglei and Chen Xiaowang.
Handprints Hollywood Style
Chen Xiaowang's handprint immortalised for the Taijiquan Masters Wall
Hollywood is a Mecca for movie lovers, and the must-visit shrine in Hollywood, to which every Tinseltown
pilgrim pays homage, is Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Visit the Chinese Theatre at any time and you'll find hordes of tourists staring down at
the footprints, handprints and autographs of Hollywood superstars past and present immortalised in the forecourt’s cement. Now a “Famous Taijiquan Masters Wall” has been
unveiled in Chenjiagou. Following a tradition immortalised by stars such as Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Clint Eastwood and Nicholas Cage – Taijiquan masters lined up to have
their hand prints taken. I guess that’s progress. It’s clear that Taijiquan has been recognised as a valuable product and attraction by Chinese officialdom. Personally, I can’t help
pining for the small rural village of the 1990s.
Hollywood's Chinese Theatre comes to Chenjiagou!
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Bruce Lee biopic - filming begins in Chenjiagou!
(mar, 12 apr 2016)
Wang Xian (Rt) in a scene from Birth of the Dragon
Shooting officially began on the new Bruce Lee biopic "Birth of the Dragon" on the 11th April in Chenjiagou. The film tells a fictional story of Lee's life before he became an international
movie star, culminating in his well-documented challenge against Kung Fu master Wong Jack Man in San Francisco in 1965.
Wang Xian and Philip Ng who plays Bruce Lee
As reported in an earlier post, the film is being directed by George Nolfi, whose past successes include The Bourne Ultimatum and The Adjustment Bureau. It tells the story of how
Lee was deeply influenced by Taiji culture and received instruction in Taijiquan enabling him to bring his martial arts understanding to a high point. In the movie Wang Xian plays the
part of Bruce Lee's Taijiquan master - in reality he learned the art from his father in Hong Kong.
Before shooting began, a number of trips were made to scout out the best locations for the early part of Lee's story - eventually deciding upon locations in Jiaozuo, Wenxian and in the scenic area of Yuntaishan. The cast was finalised, Hong Kong born American actor and
martial artist and action choreographer Philip Ng Wanlung playing Bruce Lee; Xia Yu plays Wong Jack Man and, as mentioned previously Wang Xian takes the role of Lee's Taijiquan master -
with students from his school acting as extras in the movie.
Director George Nolfi overseeing proceedings in the garden where Yang Luchan learned from Chen Changxin.
Wang Xian - movie star!
As well as promoting Chinese martial arts, Birth of the Dragon introduces the world to Taijiquan's birthplace Chenjiagou. The film is
expected to be released in 2017.
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Taijiquan - getting beyond the obvious...
(mar, 05 apr 2016)
A few days ago I watched a documentary about a young English guy's experience training karate in Okinawa and saw a number of parallels with the hurdles facing western students of Taijiquan. The
student in the film was in his early thirties - fit, strong and obviously committed, with a love for the art he was practising. In spite of this, his exasperated teacher berated him for not
"trying" hard enough. The teacher wasn't questioning the sweat and effort of his foreign student, but his lack of progress in understanding more than the face appearance of techniques he had
trained for several years. One of the things he was struggling with was the basic block or "uke".
Having trained karate for a decade from my mid teens, much of the time with Japanese instructors, I trained the same technique thousands of times confident that I understood it. All these years
later it was telling to see the Okinawan instructor explaining to the camera that Japanese was a subtle and highly nuanced language. While the word uke literally means to block, it also hints at
the qualities of receiving or accepting. He wanted his student to face his opponent and advance unhesitatingly, but at the same time to merge with the attack rather than just try to overpower the
D. Gaffney (Rt) UKKW Midlands Karate Championships in the mid 80s
Taijiquan asks its exponents to "welcome" an attack. Not to simply learn rote applications, but to train the ability to "listen" to, connect with and redirect an opponent's movements. In real
time, dealing with an attack, the speed and suddenness of an accomplished practitioner's finishing movement makes almost invisible the preceding connecting and neutralising phase.
Chen Xiaoxing: "Try to understand the multiple layers within a technique".
I remember Chen Xiaoxing telling a student not to underestimate the importance of hard physical training but also to try to understand the multiple layers contained within a technique.
Taijiquan is built upon a complex philosophy and methodology that is often misinterpreted and misunderstood. Chinese Whispers, a Facebook page posting ""Whispers" from the
Taijiquan/Internal Arts community in China. Interpretations. Reflections. Observations. Commentaries...", asked the question what is the most difficult aspect of Taijiquan? The article
answered with the following passage: "The best answer is in Lao Zi's Daodejing Chapter 41 - that explains that "contradiction is the dynamic expression of the law of nature". Taijiquan is a
typical example of contradictory dialectics: its fundamental principles exist in contradictions and paradoxes and if they are not viewed as a dialectical unity - if you insist that a circle is a
circle, a straight line is a straight line, that what are opposites can never be reconciled or that they cannot complement each other - then the theory of Taijiquan will not become clear".
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Henan's Military Police Learn Chen Taijiquan
(mer, 23 mar 2016)
China's official military police website recently highlighted the introduction of Chen Taijiquan into the training programme of its officers. The idea behind its introduction is to transmit
traditional culture, improve officers physical constitutions and to enrich their cultural awareness and life style when they are not on operational duty. In the time-honoured Chinese way, the
movement is encapsulated in a slogan: "Learn Taiji, strengthen the body and spirit, quieten the heart and nurture the body".
To get the project up and running, Henan province's military police approached Henan's Chen Style Taijiquan Association and invited Zheng Dongxia to teach them Taijiquan. Zheng
Dongxia is a disciple of Chenjiagou Taijiquan grandmaster Chen Zhenglei and daughter of Zheng Guorui one of his senior disciples from the early days. I visited Zheng Guorui's school
in Wenxian back in 1997 when his daughter was about sixteen years old and already a competent coach, barking commands at the young students under her charge. Fast forward a couple of decades
and it is now the military police being put through their paces.
1997 visiting Zheng Guorui's Henan Wenxian Taiji Shaolin Wushu School.
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Chen Shitong - Chenjiagou's "Taijiquan Hermit"
(gio, 17 mar 2016)
A young Chen Shitong at the entrance of the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School
Wang Juan, a reporter from Wenxian Zazhi magazine was inspired to write about Chen Shitong after meeting him at the recent Chenjiagou Taijiquan Exchange and Competition. Chen Shitong made an
appearance after being out of the public eye for many years. People may remember him pushing hands with Chen Xiaowang in an early and widely seen documentary about Chenjiagou Taijiquan. In the
film Chen Shitong presented a stocky and powerful figure, but over the last decade he had lived quietly in the village, facing the biggest battle of his life.
Under the heading "Taijiquan Hermit" Wang Juan documented Chen Shitong's courageous fight back from serious health problems. Born in Chenjiagou in 1947, like many youngsters in the village Chen
Shitong learned taijiquan from his father from an early age. The training was informal and ad hoc until Chen Zhaopi retired to Chenjiagou and began to develop the next generation in a systematic way.
Chen Shitong was ten years old at the time and trained alongside future luminaries of Chen Village Taijiquan such as Chen Xiaowang, Wang Xian, Zhu Tiancai and Chen Zhenglei.
At the time they studied within the small space of Chen Zhaopi's courtyard, his simple village house doubling up as an informal martial arts school. Sometimes there were between thirty and forty
students training there. Chen Shitong reminisced on how fortunate he was to have been able to learn from Chen Zhaopi. Not only was Chen Zhaopi an accomplished martial artist, he was also highly
literate and so was able to transmit the theoretical knowledge of Taiji as well as the movement system.
With the opening of the new Chenjiagou Taijiquan School in the 1980s Chen Shitong was appointed as one of the instructors tasked with developing the new blood of the village. Chen Shitong told
Wang Juan that he never considered himself either privately or publicly as a Taijiquan grandmaster, preferring to live a quiet life and stay "within the soil of his birthplace". While he is modest
about his achievements, Wang reported how Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang, one of the guests at the 1st Taiji Festival in Jiaozuo, commented after seeing him perform that, "It's not only the "Four Jingang"
in Chenjiagou, Chen Shitong's Taijiquan is also very good".
Centre row Chen Shitong - on his right is Chen Chunlei and on his left Chen Zhenglei and Chen Xiaoxing
2004 was a bad year for Chen Shitong. His father was seriously ill and Shitong looked after him day and night. The illness was protracted and many villagers came to visit. As a result
of the exhaustion and worry caused by caring for his father as well as the regular stream of visitors, one day Chen Shitong felt faint and dropped to ground. He was rushed to hospital where he
was found to have had a brain haemorrhage.
Chen Shitong with (L-R) his son, daughter and reporter Wan Juan
The doctors told him that it was unlikely that he would have survived his illness if it wasn't for his Taijiquan. He had helped a number of people recover from illnesses such as high blood
pressure or stroke and he knew that if he was to make a meaningful recovery he was going to have to work hard. His son and daughter were by then good enough to take over the teaching
and Shitong began the slow road back to health with the help of Taijiquan. He is certain that his recovery is largely down to Taijiquan. Everyday, very slowly at first, his body
gradually became stronger. Chen Shitong's practice was consistent, training outdoors everyday unless the weather was bad. At the interview he tapped his chest proudly and said, "I
train everyday. Taijiquan has saved my life! If it wasn't for Taijiquan I wouldn't have survived".
Today Chen Shitong has fully recovered except for some residual weakness that affects his movements. He had often thought about how Chen Zhaopi came back to Chenjiagou after retiring
to regenerate the Taijiquan practice in the village. He wondered what he could do to carry on this work. A few years ago he mentioned this to his children and some disciples and they
suggested that he set up a Chen Style Research Centre so as to pass on his lifetime of Taijiquan realisation. His mind was in a contented place - "my mind is very calm, like a pool of
calm water". He is convinced that his life has been saved by Taijiquan and whatever time he has left he wants as many people as possible to benefit in the same way.
Chen Shitong's does not want to be in the limelight, but he felt a responsibility to show himself and try to inspire the next generation of Chen Taijiquan practitioners for as long as he can: "If
there is a function anywhere I like to be present, to see how the younger people are progressing. Many of the older generation are coming to the notice of the public now as so many people are
travelling to the sacred ground of Taijiquan. It's not easy to live like a hermit now!"
Chen Taijiquan master Chen Shitong
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Launching the First World Taiji Culture Festival...
(lun, 07 mar 2016)
Thoughts on the future of Taijiquan...
On the 1st March, a roundtable
discussion and press conference was held to launch the First World Taiji Culture Festival due to take place from 8-12th April in Sanya’s
Nanshan on Hainan Island. The launch was attended by thirty or so Taijiquan experts including representatives of the major families, Taijiquan researchers, historians and people who have
dedicated themselves to the promotion of Taijiquan. During the discussion prominent figures in the Taijiquan world discussed some of the issues facing Taijiquan in today’s world and how they
could be addressed. Issues raised included: the preservation of the martial aspects of Taijiquan; engaging young people and working towards making Taijiquan be accepted as a “normal” activity
like jogging; the need for an elite platform for training and competition; the need to maybe lower standards to draw people into Taijiquan; if change is inevitable, then it must be change that
the ancestors could accept; the need for Taijiquan masters to lead from the front in terms of both behaviour and martial skill; how to reduce the complexities of Taijiquan without reducing the
quality; integrating the physical and mental – training the body and the mental processes.
Tian Chunyang – Wu Style Taijiquan
“The performance of Taijiquan can help to maintain health and fitness, but it is still a “quan” (martial art) and not practiced just for theatre,
or exclusively for its health benefits. As far as the quan side of Taijiquan is concerned, it should not lose its practical defensive and attacking skills – so people who practice Taijiquan
shouldn’t discard the martial arts element”.
Zhai Weizhuan – Wu (Hao) Style Taijiquan
“Wu style Taijiquan is a movement principle that requires simultaneous internal and external training. With a lot of elements that involve using qi
in combination with Chinese martial techniques to combine jing, qi and shen in order to get the best benefit. Our society is now open and it is our responsibility to let Taijiquan benefit the
Li Bing – Sun Style Taijiquan
“Today Taijiquan is very difficult to propagate especially among young people. We should make a success of this Taiji culture festival so that, in
China and around the world they know the attraction of Taijiquan. In this way Taijiquan can become a “normal lifestyle” [like jogging in the park or going to the gym].
Ma Guanglu – Chen Style Taijiquan
“Use this platform to have an elite high quality training and competition so that it can spread out. Also use it to emphasise the traditional cultural
essence of Taijiquan”.
Zhai Yue – Chief Editor of Wuhun (Martial Soul Magazine)
“The most urgent problem facing the ongoing development of Taijiquan is how to attract young people to take part. Also, how to allow the slow
method of Taijiquan to change the quick pace of our society….We need to allow the attraction of Taijiquan to be shown to the younger generation through either the web or other modern media. We
might even have to “lower the door frame” so people can come in”. To lower the door frame is a euphemism for lowering standards – Zhai’s message is a warning that if people keep clinging to lofty
ideals the art of Taijiquan itself may die off.
Cui Zhongsan – Yang Style Taijiquan
“All of us present have used many methods to propagate Taijiquan. Our reason for doing this is because we want to let a thing we love very much
survive. During this process we must not forget what our old ancestors have left. It is through us that it continues to survive. There might be changes, but the changes should be a good
Zhai Jinlu – Taijiquan Researcher
“This roundtable conference has assembled some of the world’s leading practitioners – all gathered in one room. So the First Taiji Culture Festival
should start from a very high standard in order to set the tone for its future development”.
Zhang Quanliang – Wu Style Taijiquan
“Taijiquan skill is very comprehensive, so we should not limit it to just its health and fitness benefits. But, we should work to excavate its
traditional cultural essence including its philosophy. As Taijiquan’s transmitters our main task is to educate the public and teach our disciples especially in the five virtues (de). In order to
do this job well you have to present yourself as an upright person, as well as a good martial artist”.
Chen Xiaowang – Chen Style Taijiquan
“Cultivating your body and your character – When we train, first on one side you are training your body. On the other we have to nurture and
cultivate our character. These are the two sides that have to be done simultaneously. If you just train the body and not the character then there is a lack of balance and sooner or later there
will be problems. Likewise, people with mental problems will inevitably find that their body will be affected. So if you can sort out this mental problem, it will have a good effect on the body.
So when training Taijiquan, you must have the dual aim of training the body and the mental processes (mind)”.
Liu Hongyao – Wudang (Contemporary Martial Arts Magazine)
“For Chinese Taijiquan to spread widely all over the world and be embraced by everyone, we have to find a way to be more scientific, standardised
– Yang Style Taijiquan
“To propagate the spread of martial Taijiquan, the most difficult thing is getting across
its complexity. The question is how do you reduce the complexities without affecting the overall quality? This is what we need to research and discuss”.
Peilin – Sun Style Taijiquan
“The World Taiji Culture Festival should lie beneath the umbrella of “big Taiji” [and not divide it into styles and families]. All the different
types of Taijiquan have different shapes and forms, but the principle is the same. It is like calligraphy. We should put all the commonalities together in order to attract the people into the
wider Taiji system”.
Gu Guangzhao – He Style Zhaobao Taijiquan
“The essence of Taijiquan is manifesting the source of your internal body through the external shapes and forms. When you reach a certain level of
training you can feel definite and unique changes in your body. These are more than the result of improved health. So don’t lose this essence in the pursuit of competitions and beautiful
postures. I believe that people in China, as well as around the world – what they truly want and admire is still the traditional thing that is contained in the internal essence of Taijiquan”.
Considering that this is just the preamble before the actual event takes place in April, the First Taiji Culture Festival promises to be a great
event. Can’t wait to see the all the papers and presentations from all the different teachers, researchers and historians.
Professor Yu Gongbao - chief editor world Taiji net. Taiji Researcher/ historian opened the proceedings and chaired the roundtable discussion
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Celebrating Chenjiagou’s Unique Inhabitants
(lun, 29 feb 2016)
I first visited Chenjiagou two decades ago and have been back close on twenty times now, the last time just a few months ago. Over that time the
transformation of the village has been nothing short of staggering. In the early years there was still a rural, raw and unregimented feel to the
place, now it is really like a small town. Two months ago I stood on the seventh floor of Chen Ziqiang’s new seven-storey building to take in the panorama of modern Chenjiagou with its own
stadium, high rise museum, modern supermarkets and wide roads. Some changes are welcome eg. well stocked pharmacies, good roads instead of mud tracks and internet access. Others are less positive
- where before you could walk across open fields to visit and train near to the memorials of past generations of Chen ancestors, today you have to pay and go through a turnstile where the
memorial stones are set inside a Taiji theme park and managed by the local tourist board. The event showcasing the Taijiquan skills of the people of Chenjiagou provided a timely reflection on
this change and the need to celebrate the uniqueness of the village and the villagers themselves.
Chen Bing declares the event open!
Last week Chen Bing’s Taijiquan Academy in Chenjiagou reported on a new event created to showcase the village’s own Taijiquan players with the
announcement that: “on the third day of Chinese New Year the inaugural Chenjiagou Taijiquan Exchange and Competition took place … the first meeting in several centuries of Chenjiagou’s Taijiquan
players”. The event was a celebration of Chen Village Taijiquan, rather than being a showcase for any one particular school or lineage.
Opening the first Chenjiagou Taijiquan Exchange and Competition
Spring Festival Reunion
92 year old Chen Quanzhong returning to Chenjiagou after more than seventy years
The Spring Festival is the most important festival for Chinese people and is by tradition the time when families come together for “family
reunion”. It dates back to the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC – 1100 BC) when people would sacrifice to gods and ancestors at the end of an old year and beginning of a new one. All people living away
from home do their utmost to go back to their families and, during this time China’s transportation system of planes, trains and automobiles groans under the stain of the largest annual migration
of people on the planet. Taking advantage of the many practitioners coming home to Chenjiagou, Chen Bing, organiser of the event, brought together a
dazzling array of Taiji talent. Over 300 people took part. Internationally feted masters demonstrated alongside practitioners who have stayed in the village quietly training away from the eyes of
the world. Spanning the generations, the oldest practitioner was close on 100 years old – the youngest four years old.
Well-known Taijiquan players present included the 92-year-old Chen Quanzhong returning to Chenjiagou for the new year for the first time in
more than seventy years. He was publicly thanked by Chen Bing for travelling from Xian to support the event. Chen Quanzhong was joined by a who’s who
of Chenjiagou talent - Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing, Zhu Tiancai, Chen Lifa, Chen Shitong, Chen Shuying, Chen Shuzheng, Chen Zhaosheng, Chen Changliu, Chen Junling, Zhu Laohu, Chen Peilin and Chen Peiju ...
Chen Xia - Laojia Yilu
Also attending were Chen Xia and Chen Zhiqiang (not to be confused with Chen Ziqiang), both of whom I first encountered way back in 1997 during our first
visit to Chenjiagou. On that sweltering July day instructors of the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School treated us to a series of demonstrations in the main hall of the school. Chen Xia demonstrated
Laojia Yilu and her performance still sticks in my mind as one of the best demos I have seen by a female practitioner. After the various
performances of forms and weapons had finished it was announced that there would be a demo of push hands. I’d had some success in British push hands competitions and was put forward as one of
three people to try push hands Chenjiagou style against Chen Zhiqiang. He was intense and powerful
and gave us a reality check on what competitive push hands was really about! Afterwards we found out he was the reigning China National 75kgs champion. I’ve heard little of Chen Xia and Chen Zhiqiang in the intervening years - in China there are many accomplished practitioners that we don’t hear about in the West. The Chenjiagou Taijiquan Exchange and Competition is planned to be an annual New Year event to showcase the continuity of
taijiquan in the village.
Carrying on a tradition - one of the youngest performers
“Taiji Families” Event
The event itself consisted of the expected forms, weapons and push hands divisions, but the highlight was a “Taiji Families Team” category. This
novel category encouraged Taiji families comprising of a minimum of five people, or alternatively teams spanning three generations, to come out and perform together. Seasoned veterans performing
alongside their children and grandchildren - a celebration of participation with widely varying levels of skill, but a shared enjoyment of just doing it. Chen Quanzhong and Chen Bing were among those leading their respective families. In today’s celebrity worshipping
culture people tend to focus exclusively on a few elite Taijiquan performers and forget about the contribution and participation of countless grass-roots participants who may never become
acclaimed masters but draw a lifetime’s fulfilment pursuing Taijiquan.
Chen families playing Taijiquan:
Chen Quanzhong's family
Chen Bing's family
Chen Shitong's family
Chen Lifa's family
>> leggi di più
Taijiquan's Form Training – Storehouse for Combat Skills
(dom, 03 gen 2016)
I was inspired to write this post after listening to a podcast by Iain Abernethy of the World Combat Association. The subject of said podcast was the nature of Karate’s kata and the
misunderstanding of many modern practitioners as to their role in traditional training. “Jumping off point” was the following quote from Gichin Funakoshi, founding father of Shotokan
“Like textbooks to a student or tactical exercises to a soldier, kata are the most important element of karate”.
Sensei Abernethy concluded that kata serve the dual functions of acting as a repository of knowledge passed down from past masters and as
a tactical training exercise. While Taijiquan forms differ in many respects to Karate kata the above conclusion could also be applied. The quote contains two clear analogies pointing to the real
nature of forms training within the various forms of traditional Asian martial arts. To liken forms to a textbook is to understand them as a bank of knowledge preserved in a way that can be
passed on to future generations. Where a book may contain the perspective and knowledge of its author, Chen Taijiquan forms represent the accumulated and hard-won knowledge of many generations of
adepts. Just as owning a text book gives no guarantee of success in an examination, forms must be brought to life by careful study, understanding and eventually application of its
CTGB's Craig Watterson examining the Chen Taijiquan form
Form training is fighting training!
A common misrepresentation in vogue among many current practitioners sees form training as one thing and fighting as something else
altogether. Only in recent times have people taken to assessing an exponent’s level of skill by giving marks out of ten for a form performance. In the past a person was deemed skilful if they
could apply the form in a real situation against a live opponent. In many, if not most cases, form competitions are more a demonstration of aesthetics than of functional capabilities. In his
article Training for Sparring, Chen Zhaokui explicitly cautioned against mistaking the flamboyant for the effective: “The goal of training must be clearly defined. We must not be like
Beijing opera stars who present a spear dance. Flashy displays like that are for show, but are useless in function”. Looking back at the renowned practitioners through the generations
it’s clear that they are remembered first and foremost for their real combat skills. Even today, it is no coincidence that the Taijiquan practitioners with the best fighting skills
invariably place great emphasis on strict and exact form training.
Chen Yu - Combat skills and strict exact form training - no coincidence!
Forms are not a series of fixed applications!
Another common misunderstanding of forms is to think of them as a series of fixed applications. To paraphrase Abernethy, “forms are not
solo re-enactments of an imaginary confrontation! Instead, they represent a repository of knowledge that, when correctly approached, can be freely and flexibly applied in the ever-changing world
of conflict”. What Taijiquan’s forms do contain is the core syllabus of Taijiquan and clear examples of the combative principles and methods underpinning the application of that syllabus.
Approached in the correct way they help to train the ability to be able to adapt and vary one’s actions according to the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.
Having emphasised the important role of form training, let’s be clear, merely possessing knowledge of the sequence of a form is useless in
terms of practical application. What is needed is more than just knowledge of the external form, but knowledge of how it should be applied. Forms record methods of striking, locking,
throwing, kicking, sweeping etc. At the heart of any study of the functional use of the Taijiquan form is the study of eight essential capabilities (or the “eight energies”): Peng (Ward Off); Lu
(Divert); Ji (Squeeze); An (Press); Cai (Pluck); Lie (Split); Zhou (Elbow); and Kao (Bump). Every movement needs to be analysed and examined to understand the possibilities within. Without
intense single movement training a practitioner will develop little real gongfu.
Form training needs to be systematic!
GM Chen Xiaowang adjusting Davidine Sim's form
Form training, therefore, needs to be systematic if we are to get the maximum benefit from it. I wrote an article some time ago
about the distinct stages that one must go through. Other teachers or lineages may describe the process a little differently but essentially most traditional schools go through something
similar. The six stages are: xue jiazi (learning the frame); lien xi jiazi (practising the frame); nie jiazi (correcting the frame); shun jiazi (smoothening out the frame); pan jiazi (examining
the frame) and cai jiazi (dismantling the frame). Anyone interested in reading the whole article can find it at this link: Chen Taijiquan's Six Stages of Learning.
At the end of the day, it is impossible to know the exact detail of a combat situation ahead of time. Logically, the movements
within the form can never be the same as a real confrontation. Disciplined form training, however, can help to build a set of skills based upon an intuitive and habitual understanding that makes
a positive outcome more likely.
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Bourne director travels to China to find out more about Bruce Lee and the Taiji Connection!
(dom, 01 nov 2015) I came across an interesting article on China’s “World Taijiquan” website a couple of months ago that discussed a set of photos
taken at Long Beach, California in 1964 showing Bruce Lee training Taijiquan. Famous for films such as Enter the Dragon, Fists of Fury and The Big Boss, the article asked why it was that
while everyone knew about the influence of Wing Chun master Ip Man on Lee’s martial arts, the importance of Taijiquan on his development had been so overlooked.
Lee’s earliest introduction to Chinese martial arts was through Taijiquan, his first teacher being his father Li Haiquan. Lee
senior was a famous Cantonese opera artist who had studied Taijiquan for many decades and by all accounts had a decent level of skill. The general narrative goes that Lee junior stopped doing
Taijiquan when he was twelve or thirteen years old and moved on to other things. The article on the other hand stated that “Li Xiaolong (Bruce Lee) studied from his father from a young age, and
without break for the next twenty years”…and that “Taijiquan’s gongfu and philosophy played a huge part in his martial arts development”. At the time these photos were taken Lee would have been
somewhere in his twenties. Some forty years after his death, it seems that the role of Taijiquan in Lee’s formative years is about to get the full Hollywood treatment.
Hollywood Director George Nolfi Meets Chen Taiji Grandmaster Wang Xian
An intriguing piece of news just released on China’s Qiling Film Industry’s website Entertainment News links famous Hollywood director George
Nolfi, Chen Taijiquan grandmaster Wang Xian and the little dragon himself, Bruce Lee!
Nolfi is director of blockbuster movies including The Bourne Ultimatum, The Adjustment Bureau, Ocean’s Twelve and The Sentinel. His latest film
project titled Birth of the Dragon tells the story of Bruce Lee’s rise to international superstardom. While researching the movie
Nolfi, was intrigued at how Taiji principles seemed to underpin much of the philosophy within Lee’s own Jeet Kune Do system. In the eyes of the American movie maker Taijiquan was a soft
dance-like exercise of little practical use as a fighting art, yet Lee repeatedly exhorted and promoted the principles of Taiji through concepts such as “using stillness to overcome movement”,
“the coexistence of hard and soft” and “the cultivation of internal as well as external”… Nolfi puzzled over this link to Taiji which, to his way of thinking, seemed completely at odds with the dynamic portrayal of Lee on the silver screen.
Hollywood meets Taijiquan- George Nolfi and Wang Xian
To satisfy his curiosity he decided to do some firsthand research into Taijiquan in China. Entertainment News reported: “On 29th Oct
in preparation for the upcoming American-China collaboration, Birth of the Dragon, Hollywood director George Nolfi flew into Shanghai and accompanied by the CEO of the Qilin Film Industry
travelled to Hangzhou to visit 19thgeneration Chen style Taijiquan inheritor Wang Xian in order to fully understand the essence of Taijiquan culture in preparation for the
Chen Taijiquan's short power
The famous one inch punch...
The report went on to say that Nolfi came to China with lots of questions about Taijiquan. He was introduced to Wang Xian by billionaire entrepreneur Jack Ma of Alibaba.com and kung fu stars Jet
Li and Wu Jing all of whom are disciples of Grandmaster Wang. Without further ado Nolfi was shown the effectiveness of traditional Chen Taijiquan. First up Wang Xian’s disciple Wang JIngchen
demonstrated Taijiquan’s short power or cun jin by smashing a pile of tiles. Cun jin can be translated literally
as “inch power” - it might surprise filmgoers familiar with Lee’s “one inch punch” to know that this has been trained in Chen Taijiquan for centuries now. Nolfi expressed surprise that Taijiquan
could generate force like this. Next up he asked if he could try a little with Wang Xian. Making contact with the seventy year old Wang, Nolfi was instantly tossed to the floor. Afterwards he was
reported to have said that it is the first time he has experienced what Taijiquan gongfu is and he wants to put it on the screen. It’s even been whispered that Wang Xian might play a cameo in the
Nolfi just about to experience Chen Taijiquan gongfu
Nolfi at the Chenjiagou Taijiquan Museuem
Carrying on his desire to understand Taijiquan’s roots and place in the pantheon of Chinese martial arts, Nolfi visited Chenjiagou, where he was given a tour of the Chen Family Temple and the Chenjiagou Taijiquan Museum and watched demonstrations of Chen
Taijiquan forms. And the final word to Nolfi – “Through the ages Bruce Lee is the most famous representative of the Chinese people. In the West he is not just the first person to popularise
Chinese Kung Fu, but so many years after his death interest in him has not diminished. This time coming to China I want to more closely understand Chinese culture, Chinese martial arts and also
the background of Bruce Lee’s life”.
I can’t wait for this movie!
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An Eventful Chenjiagou Trip...
(ven, 09 ott 2015)
I'm writing this blog post in transit from Chenjiagou to Borneo via Shanghai. During the flights and the down time in between I had a chance to reflect on an eventful and thought-provoking
visit to China. I won't apologise for rambling on a bit, but this trip brought back many memories as the confluence of several large events in the village saw us meeting lots of old friends
from the past.
The first few days in Chenjiagou were quiet. Training with Chen Xiaoxing in the small room he likes to use just a few doors away from his living quarters. Every morning at about 8am he leaves
his room and walks the few metres to the training room. This is an unchanging routine and it is expected that those who are training with him will have begun standing before he arrives. After
adjusting each student's posture he leaves everyone to try to maintain the position and feeling for another 30 or 40 minutes. This is followed by a short break and then half an hour or so
doing a single reeling silk exercise. Another short break to ease the legs and then everyone trains individually on whatever it was they are working on while the teacher wanders about
informally correcting any mistakes he sees. The kind of person who needs to be entertained and spoon fed does not tend to enjoy or last long with this kind of training.
Branch instructors of the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School
Quickly people began to arrive from all over China for the main purpose of our visit, Chen Xiaoxing's six day training course for the branch instructors of the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School.
The course was intended as an opportunity to meet and upgrade their standard together. Chen Ziqiang addressed the group during a meeting one evening saying that while the school has
branches all over China as well as a number of international branches, it is not often that they can come together to share expertise and support each other. He spoke animatedly about the
importance of coaches of the school knowing the history and theory of their system and not just repeat what they hear someone else say. As part of the coaches education programme certain
language needed to be standardised to avoid confusion. For example the confusion between whether to refer to the current generation as eleventh (tracing back to Chen Wangting) or nineteenth
(tracing back to Chen Bu) generation. Chen Ziqiang said that within the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School his father's generation are nineteenth generation and his students twentieth. On another
evening Chen Xiaowang took time away from his own event to talk to the group for an hour or so about the principles of Taijiquan and how to apply them in your practice.
Words of advice from GM ChenXiaowang
The main aspect covered during the course was the Xinjia Erlu or New Frame Second Routine, the dynamic form created by Chen Fake, with additional sessions on the fundamentals - zhan zhuang
and chansigong. At the beginning of each session Chen Xiaoxing would climb onto the stage in the front of the main training hall and demonstrate a short series of movements, explain the finer
details, and then go through each move slowly and then explosively as they're supposed to be done in the second form.
GM Chen Xiaoxing supervising his son Chen Ziqiang
Students were then divided into two groups, one group to train inside the training hall under the supervision of his son Chen Zijun and the other group to train outside with his older son
Chen Ziqiang. Both sons would go over the movements their father had just shown, get adjusted and corrected by him, before leading their respective groups. Chen Xiaoxing is emphatic
in his belief that teachers should not be too proud to be corrected in front of their students. He recounted one particular Taijiquan instructor in China who trained several times
in Chenjiagou with him and who invited Chen Xiaoxing to his school to teach. During the sessions Chen Xiaoxing noticed
that the instructor seemed agitated each time his posture was being adjusted. On asking what the matter was, he got the whispered reply, "would it be ok to correct me
afterwards?" Chen Xiaoxing said that this kind of ego makes him angry and that he never again treated the instructor as a serious person worth teaching.
Xiaoxing can be very humorous. One student asked earnestly how you could tell if your buttocks were sticking out too much? His tongue-in-cheek answer was - "if your trousers fit
comfortably when you're standing up, but you feel them stretching as you turn your hand (he was referring to the single hand front reeling silk exercise), then your buttocks
are sticking out too much". In between teaching Chen Xiaoxing would often bark at the constant stream of tourists wandering into the training room, shouting at them to get out of the room
if they were not supposed to be there. But, as anyone who has trained in Chenjiagou knows, some of these guys are really thick skinned and within a few minutes they would try to sneak
Going through the finer points
At the end of the course Chen Xiaoxing led detailed sessions on Zhan Zhuang and Chansigong- explaining and demonstrating the underlying theories and then correcting the group. He spoke of
the absolute need to be natural and the use of intention rather than trying to force things. Many of the requirements of Taijiquan are very subtle, for example you must have
the intention or feeling as
if the collar bones are lightly drawn towards each other. But if this closing
can be seen externally then it is too much. He advised everyone to follow their own body condition. He gave the example of someone with a curvature of the spine. Trying to straighten the
spine cannot bring a good result, rather the person must use feeling and sensation to reach the optimum place for themselves.
Chen Xiaowang's 70th birthday celebrations took place over three days at the same time as Chen Xiaoxing's training camp. We only managed to attend his birthday banquet held one
afternoon in a plush hotel in Wenxian. After the morning session was over we joined Chen Ziqiang and his father to travel the short distance to Wenxian to join the festivities just as
they were starting. On the head table with Chen Xiaowang were representatives from the other four main Taijiquan styles. A sea of tables filled a vast room and I heard one guy
estimating that there were close to 1,000 people attending. It was great to meet up with Taiji friends we've not seen for some time. Especially a big shout out to Singapore-based Chen
Taijiquan veteran Foo Shang Wee who we first met back in 2000 when we trained with Zhu Tiancai in the Lion city. Foo took us around the city and photocopied and bound some of his
large collection of Taijiquan articles and notes which were invaluable when we wrote our first book.
During the bash we shared an interesting table with Chen Jingyuan the Chenjiagou Village Head, Chen Bing, Zhao Zhifang who we first encountered at Chen Zhenglei's First
International Taijiquan Training Camp in Handan, Hebei province way back in 1999. How time flies, he was an exuberant young instructor then and was in Chenjiagou ready for Chen
Zhenglei's large camp that started during the last few days of our stay. Zhao was accompanied by his wife and children. His wife is an old friend of ours who happens to be a
disciple of Chen Xiaoxing. So their's must be an interesting household when talking Taijiquan!
At Chen Xiaowang's birthday bash L-R David Gaffney, Chen Jun, Chen Bing, Chen Yingjun, Davidine Sim
The village continues to grow year by year bearing little resemblance to the place I first visited almost two decades ago. This time we stayed at Chen Ziqiang's new training
centre five minutes walk from the main school. The centre is seven stories high with the fifth and sixth floors serving as training areas, four floors of modern accommodation and
a viewing platform on the top floor from which you can see the the extent of the changes. Eventually he plans to add another two stories.
On the penultimate night of the camp a stage was erected in the Main Street in front of the school for a series of demonstrations and fun auctions to raise money for the needy
of the village. Before proceedings got underway an old character from the village got up on the stage and in a powerful voice told all the people who were sitting on the seats
reserved for the performers to get up, shouting, "if you're impersonating a famous person, stop it"! There were many demonstrations of hand and weapon routines, groups and
individuals including a powerful young man doing the swordform who turned out to be Chen Shitong's grandson. The last Taijiquan performance of the evening was by Chen
Xiaoxing. With the time getting late he did a short section of the New Frame First Form before casually leaving the stage. The show was closed by two young women doing a
Chinese version of the can-can. What this had to do with the rest of the evenings entertainment I have no idea, but hey this is China.
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Chen Taijiquan in Slovenia's elite Planica Olympic Centre
(mar, 01 set 2015)
The Planica Olympic Training Centre
I returned last week from the Planica Olympic Training Centre in Slovenia where we took part in the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School’s First
Advanced European Chen Taijiquan Camp. The chance to train with three senior instructors from the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School drawing participants from as far as Russia, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia,
USA, Germany and a large contingent from our school in the UK. The event was organised in conjunction with our affiliated branches in Slovenia to continue to make available high quality
traditional training available in Europe. For the six day camp GM Chen Xiaoxing led the training assisted by his two sons Chen Ziqiang and Chen Zijun.
UK group and affiliated instructors
The Planica centre is a state of the art facility that draws elite athletes from around the world from many disciples but especially
winter sports. Without a doubt the most striking feature of the venue are five progressively larger ski jumps situated by the entrance. Here many world records have been set including: the first
100m ski jump in 1935; the first 200m jump in 1994 by the legendary Toni Niemenen; and the current world record of 239 metres set in 2005. It was fun watching a transfixed Chen Xiaoxing
marvelling at the flying ski jumpers of the Slovenian national team in the break after breakfast and before the mornings session got underway.
The centre itself is decorated with many motivational images of successful Slovenian athletes. Interestingly the definition of success here is
not just the winning an Olympic medal – and there were plenty of those, but of athletes who had reached their own personal potential. One of the first images I noticed showed four young 4 x 100m
metre relay runners joyfully celebrating after the Sydney Olympics. I googled their event to see that the four guys had been eliminated after the first heat. Their achievement was making the
Olympic Games. What a healthy attitude – celebrating real genuine effort and not decrying the efforts just because it doesn’t match the powerhouse nations in the event. We could learn from
this in the world of Taijiquan.
Chen Zijun leading the 24 Spear sessions
On to the camp, training began each day at dawn and finished at dusk. Zhan zhuang and xinjia yilu with Chen Xiaoxing. 24 Spear on the first
three evenings with Chen Zijun, an instructors lecture on the fourth evening then Double Mace with Chen Ziqiang on the final two evenings. There was lots of information and lots of effort: Chen
Xiaoxing on the need for western people to have more confidence in feeling and less need to verbalise everything; Chen Zijun’s powerful performance interspersed with regular quiet instruction as
people began to get flustered or try too hard, stand quietly, fang song (loosen up) and an jing or "be peaceful and tranquil", before beginning again; Chen Ziqiang’s insistence on understanding
the function of each action with the weapon etc.
Standing every day at dawn
UK's Rob Sidwell posture correction
All in all, it was a fantastic weeks training in an inspiring venue that left us all with lots of material to work on until the next time. The
atmosphere and history within Planica is one of an enduring pursuit for excellence. One of the great things of this camp was practicing Taijiquan in a setting alongside highly motivated athletes
from other countries and disciplines: sitting in the food hall with young ski jumpers who had funded themselves to come here; watching a team of Italian winter sportsmen being put through
challenging leg power drills watched intently Chen Ziqiang, no doubt getting new ideas of how to condition his young charges in Chenjiagou. While the centre has been used by many other martial
arts bodies over the years ours was the first Taijiquan group. As we were leaving 60 Taekwondo athletes were arriving from eight countries including Japan and Canada.
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Precision, precision, precision...
(mer, 29 lug 2015)
Eyes level, chin drawn in...
Many, maybe most, people approach Taijiquan training, or any other discipline for that matter, in a
pretty haphazard way. It’s not that there’s not lots of hard work and sweat, there’s just too much “blindly chugging away in the weight room” – grinding out the reps without paying attention to
all those little details.
The accompanying photos of a group of young Chinese soldiers being trained to hold themselves to the rigorous standards
expected of the PLA remind me of the endless hours in Chenjiagou. It doesn’t matter how many times you do the foundation exercises or forms, they can always be embedded more deeply and
accurately. Relax the collar bones and draw the chin in so they are connected, lightly lift the top of your head, step out carefully “like gliding on ice” – ready to withdraw your foot at any
Stepping with control, ready to withdraw at any time...
Asked about the rationale behind these exercises, an army training officer explained that “repeated precision movement”
was the best way to make sure that an optimal response would come out when needed. For precise we could substitute accurate, careful, meticulous, exact, correct…
It’s almost heretical in today’s instant and on-demand world to say that the most effective way might not be the quickest
way. But training build upon a meticulous attention to detail is the only way to truly establish Taijiquan’s rules within your body. The reward is optimal movement patterns that will greatly
Chen Xiaoxing - meticulous attention to detail
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Are you ready to train applications?
(mer, 08 apr 2015)
An old saying advises Taijiquan practitioners “not to leave the door for 10 years”. The saying is not meant to be taken literally, but it does recognise the fact that Taijiquan is a complex,
multi-dimensional discipline with distinct stages of training: learning, correcting, adjusting the form etc. Done in the traditional way, the form settles into a coherent whole, integrating
knowledge gained in previous levels. Training slowly through the different stages demands strict discipline and regularisation, a point by point harmonising. This process is known as xiu lian,
which literally means “to put in order and nurture”. In the Taoist Body Thomas Schiffer likens this to the tuning of a harp with ten thousand strings.
Contrast this approach to the modern rush which sees students desperate to get to the advanced levels of Taijiquan in the shortest possible time. Desperate to learn applications and to show how
strong their fajin is, when they’ve not even understood many of the basic requirements of Taijiquan. There is a pitfall of sacrificing higher level long-term benefits in favour of short-term
gains. For instance, once you start relying on the use of force, it’s a hard habit to break. Sadly this impatience is not unique to Taijiquan. In classes now we often see the phenomenon of the
two year Karate or Taekwondo black belt. They’ve “mastered” the external arts and are now ready to tackle a more “spiritual” art.
Chen Xiaowang explaining the step by step journey from beginner to advanced practitioner.
The traditional way is to first put the building blocks in place – a strong unmovable base, co-ordinated movement, agile footwork; develop the correct energetic qualities – heavy at the bottom,
light at the top, expanding from inside to out and fullness in the dantian. With this basis develop an understanding of Taijiquan’s different types of jin or trained power – peng, lu, ji, an etc.
Training push hands in the same way – first looking to develop the skill of listening to and following the movements of an opponent. Then eliminating the mistakes of disconnecting from your
opponent, leaning and resisting with force against force…
When you reach the point where your movement is smooth and coordinated, and you have understood the idea of following an opponent’s movement, then you can begin to examine the application
possibilities within the form. Not simply collecting set responses for each movement.
Many students would argue that they have done 10, 15, 20… years training so surely they must be ready to do applications. But if that time was made up of a couple of days a year at a crowded
seminar with a teacher from China, and a few hours a week training with teachers who themselves haven’t had enough contact time with a teacher who understands the progressive method of Taijiquan
- then the truth may be they are not ready.
The opinions of the grandmasters of Chen Taijiquan are quite clear and consistent on this point. I remember Chen Zhenglei emphasising this point during a training camp in China: “Instead of
training individual applications you should train the whole body to work as a system”. Chen Xiaowang was even more direct when answering a question about the application for one of the movements
in the form:– “Even if you learn 10,000 applications, if they’re not based on correct principles, they won’t work”.
Chen Xiaowang: "Even if you learn 10,000 applications, if they are not based on correct principles, they will not work"!
At the end of the day what we are trying to achieve in Chen Taijiquan is the ability to respond to an opponent in a natural unforced and spontaneous way. To do this we cannot cut out any of the
progressive steps. Like all other martial arts the level you achieve depends on the quality of your foundation.
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Mastering Taijiquan – A Journey not a Destination
(mar, 13 gen 2015)
Art historian Sarah Lewis: mastery - a constant pursuit
Killing time on a flight
back from the USA a couple of weeks ago I browsed through the inflight entertainment guide. Picking through a series of TED lectures, I listened to a fascinating talk by art historian
Sarah Lewis, who considered the role of “the near win” in the quest for mastery. Lewis made the point that:
"masters are not experts because they take a subject to its conceptual end, they're masters because they realise there isn't one". Almost all high level practitioners speak in terms of
process and refinement rather than ultimate arrival.
several characteristics for master artists that I feel also apply to the likelihood of achieving a high level of Taijiquan skill. These high achievers, she found, are the kind of people
- Thrive not when they
have done it all, but when they still have more to do.
- Thrive when they stay
at their own leading edge
- Can never do
- Give themselves over
to a voracious unfinished path that always requires more.
- They build out of the
unfinished idea, even if the idea is their former self.
Completion may be a goal
in your Taijiquan pursuit, but it may never be achieved. In Lewis’ words, “This is the dynamic of mastery. Coming close to what you thought you wanted, to help you attain more
than you ever thought possible”.
So how do we move from success to mastery? It has more to do with focusing not on outcomes or goals, but
on a constant pursuit. Lewis illustrated her point with the example of an archery practice she had witnessed at Columbia University. Hour after hour the archers aimed at the bullseye which, from
where they were shooting, “looked as small as a matchstick…I was witnessing what’s so rare to glimpse — the pursuit of excellence.” says Lewis. “Success is hitting that 10 ring. But mastery is
knowing it means nothing if you can’t hit it again and again.”
Award winning photographer Li Yingjie's representation of Taijiquan
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Looseness... is it really that important?
(lun, 01 dic 2014)
First time I went to China was in the mid-1990s. Each teacher I met I pestered with questions about how I could improve my Taijiquan to get the same level of
explosiveness I was seeing from the teachers and their students. Invariably I was met with the same answer - "fangsong" or "loosen-up".
The explosive fajin of Chen Xiaowang
A year later I was back in China, again marvelling at the explosive fajin of many of the guys over
there. Once more I was full of questions about how to get the same result. At the time we were training with Chen Zhenglei, but in the free time we spent quite some time with a young instructor
whose name escapes me now. After listening to my umpteenth question about fajin, he asked me if I was really serious about this? After I replied "YES"! He said that "if you're really serious,
then for the next year you should do NO FAJIN WHATSOEVER"! He put it bluntly, "Taiji power comes from looseness and pliancy and unless you understand and get this looseness, you won't fajin
in the correct way". This was absolutely the last thing I wanted to hear. Before coming to Taijiquan I had trained external martial arts for fifteen years and - at the time - thought I knew a
thing or two. The message that came across load and clear was that it didn't matter what you've done before - if you want the same end product you have to follow the correct method.
Training in Zhengzhou in the mid 90s
All styles of Taijiquan are built upon the qualities of "song", "rou" and "man",
that is looseness, pliancy and slowness. In a quick brainstorming session after class we came up with the following non-exhaustive list of benefits we can expect to gain if we achieve Taijiquan's
brand of looseness:
1. Allows the body to be in a resting state
2. Whole body allowed to be loose and free
3. Diaphragm is unrestricted - so Qi is not stuck in the chest
4. Joints are flexible
5. Movements become expanded and comfortable
6. Allows roundness and circularity
7. Decreases stiffness, inflexibility and brute force
8. Increases speed and power
9. Enables Qi to sinkdown
10. Makes legs stronger
11. Stabilises the centre
12. Increases usability
13. Xiapan (lower plane) becomes strong
14. Increases blood circulation
15. Increases stability so that the form doesn't float
Looking for looseness, pliancy and correct structure
16. Improves Qi circulation
17. Increases sensitivity of the skin and flesh
18. Enables sectional movement
Working stiffness and incorrect movement patterns out of the body is a long term job. Getting back to the UK, I took the advice on board and did no
fajin for the next year...
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