Talking Chen Taijiquan with David Gaffney

On push hands competitions... (ven, 07 lug 2017)
A common phenomenon at competitions is the sight of those on the sidelines shaking their heads and criticising the competitors.  These armchair experts quote Taijiquan ideals such as “using four ounces to uproot a thousand pounds” and “using softness to overcome hardness“, to pour scorn on the contestants, none of whom measure up to their standards of what Taijiquan should be.  The criticism is often unfair.  Firstly, most of the critics have never put themselves into the competitive arena and experienced for themselves the performance-sapping effects of nerves and pressure.   Secondly, the sayings represent a perfect model that all Taijiquan exponents aspire to.  For example, “giving up yourself to follow others” requires an individual to remain circular within their postural framework, sticking and following an opponent without losing contact.  At the same time maintaining agility and sensitivity throughout with the ability to assess the opponent’s attacks and determine the distance, direction, speed and power of any threat.  All the while maintaining the ability to assess and respond to minute changes.  Following the opponent’s posture and borrowing his strength rather than resisting reaching a stage of being able to react according to the situation.  To reach a stage where you can do this is no easy task, so perhaps it is a bit unfair to criticise the average competitor for not living up to these ultimate standards.  After all, no one would expect a club runner to keep up with Usain Bolt, so one should not be too surprised when an average competitor does not live up to the standard of the great masters.  It is important to make the distinction between modern push hands competitions and the hitting or connecting hands of the past.  Before techniques such as throwing, seizing and striking were used, not dissimilar from today’s sanda and sanshou.  Much of what Taijiquan uses for self defence is prohibited in tournament style competition, and whenever a fighter’s arsenal of techniques are restricted, inevitably what they can do is weakened and diluted.  For this reason competitions are viewed as sport rather than real combat.  Competitions are best viewed as a testing ground to see what does and does not work for an individual and then, with this feedback, to adjust their training accordingly.  If the competitors have trained hard and developed some degree of rooting, balance and neutralising skill then they should not be too worried about being taken or thrown by an opponent.  Without ever being tested many practitioners continue to walk around with a false sense of their true level of martial skill. That said, you shouldn’t put too much importance on sporting competition. At the end of the day push hands competitions take place in an arena with rules and referees and is not the same as real combat, and techniques that win a point may be less effective in the unforgiving real world.      1997 British Open Chinese Martial Arts Championships: -80Kgs Final    
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The spiritual dimension… (mar, 13 giu 2017)
Laozi image in the Chen Family Temple A prospective student phoned me recently informing me that he had studied martial arts for some years and was now ready to do "something spiritual"! It brought to mind a case in the news a little while ago about a yoga teacher who was told by the church where she taught that she would have to find a different room. Yoga teacher Naomi Hayama was outraged at the suggestion that she was doing a "spiritual" discipline: "They are trying to say it is a spiritual practise but my classes are not… I respect people who are religious but I am not. That's what attracted me to yoga”. I was tickled by the response of a friend of mine (who happens to be an Indian guy and a committed yoga practitioner) on Facebook who dryly commented that, "900 million Hindus might disagree". In one of the featured articles in the book Asian Martial Arts: Constructive Thoughts and Practical Applications, Michael Maliszewski Ph.D. revisited a ten year research project  he had previously completed dealing with meditative practices and indigenous healing traditions associated with many Asian martial arts. Some twenty years since his work was published he believed, “there had been a decline in the depth that has characterised the more traditional systems. The spiritual or meditative focus is more “generic” in the sense that any loose association with the ethereal is deemed spiritual”. Maliszewski concluded that, “in general martial arts study today, practitioners do not have the dedication to endure the long hours of training required to reach a level of authentic mastery in a tradition”. During one of our training trips to Chenjiagou someone asked about the “spiritual dimension” of Taijiquan. They were told that there are three reasons for training Taijiquan: first for training an individual’s strength, constitution and general health; second, on the basis of good physicality training for combat; finally, on the basis of the previous two aspects they could begin to talk about spiritual development.   Over a lifetime’s training the committed Taijiquan practitioner embarks on a process of nurturing and cultivating or “xiu yang”. In The Taoist Body Kristofer Schipper describes xiu yang as the: “means to arrange, to smooth down any roughness or irregularities by  repeating an action many times in harmony with the cosmic order, until perfection is achieved. The perfect and complete body is thereby nurtured, its energies strengthened; it thus becomes totally integrated into the natural and cosmic environment. From there, the way is led – by repeated, cyclical movements – to spontaneity, which is the essence of the Tao”.   Morning practice in the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School - ongoing daily effort, the real path...

 
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Train beyond your normal limits... (lun, 22 mag 2017)
New learners don’t need to get bogged down with the Taijiquan’s high philosophy. Especially during the early stages of one’s training  journey where it is too profound and complex to be applied in any practical way.   Being able to recite the system’s advanced theories and repeat parrot-fashion whole verses from the Taijiquan classics means nothing if it is not supported by sustained training so that a person can physically manifest the principles of Taijiquan.    Wang Xian: "You must train past your body's normal limits". How intense should this training be? The following quote by Wang Xian makes his opinion quite clear: “Taiji training is very hard. You must train past your body’s normal limits – many times past these normal limits. Normal training just will not do. You need to push”. In a previous post I noted Chen Xiaoxing’s advice to one of his student’s in Chenjiagou “not to underestimate the importance of hard physical training”.   Tian Jingmiao: "It's all a matter of repetition". Some years ago we trained in Beijing’s Purple Bamboo Park with Tian Jingmiao, a disciple of the renowned Beijing based Chen Taijiquan teacher Lei Muni. She said that, “Practice is simply a matter of repetition, the more you do the better you get”. To incrementally increase the level of both intellectual understanding and physical skill we must work through the different stages of training in a logical manner. There is a saying that all practice must be done “according to the principles”. The principles start with the fundamental requirements. Then, on this foundation, learners advance in a step-by-step manner towards the higher levels of skill. To use a modern analogy: “learning Taijiquan is like installing a computer with hardware and software in order to improve its capability.  The hardware increases the physical capacity of the computer, making it stronger and more functional.  The software, on the other hand, performs the functions of the hardware and increases the number of functions.  In order for a computer to perform increasingly complex tasks, it is necessary to continually upgrade both the hardware and the software.  Taijiquan requires an exponent to possess a strong and useful body – the hardware, as well as trained skills – the software”.    Chen Zhaopi An article by Wang Xian recalled a favourite verse that Chen Zhaopi liked to sing:     “When I hear the rooster crow, I awake and practice Taiji. Right now I am old, but I can still stick to the floor. I want someone who can be my successor. Even with sweat pouring out everywhere, I am happy.”     A Essência do Taijiquan - Portuguese language edition now available on Amazon.com            
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"Moulding" the posture... (mer, 19 apr 2017)
 Carefully "fixing the frame": Chen Xiaoxing adjusting the posture of Chen Zijun Don't over-emphasise the fast and explosive movements! The following training advice was posted on the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School’s website:     “Chen Taijiquan practitioners often have a misunderstanding about their training.  Many think they have to be hard, vigorous and explosive to illustrate their martial abilities.  Under this mistaken perception many Chen Taijiquan practitioners over-emphasise fali (releasing power) - putting too much importance upon trying to punch and stamp powerfully.  Prolonged practice in this way is actually harmful to the body.     Now Chen Xiaoxing corrects the posture of Chen Ziqiang in the Chen Family Temple The principle of training should be based primarily on slowness. Training using the slow method cultivates the body, while fast training is ultimately detrimental both in terms of health and function. So the form should be trained until it is comfortable and natural, round and lively. Cultivate qi so that it sinks to and accumulates in the dantian where it can be distributed throughout the body. The highest level of Taijiquan is characterised by the phrase ‘circularity with one breath’. To achieve this train slowly and softly until the whole body moves in unison as an integrated whole”.        Even experienced practitioners can refine and improve the quality of their physical structure and movement patterns. The time honoured way of training is to continually “fix the frame”. Teachers carefully adjust or “mould” their student's posture to come ever closer to conforming to the strict guidelines passed down. Throughout the process students must be patient as every aspect of their body, movement and posture is systematically rearranged – sinking the elbow, relaxing the shoulder, rounding the crotch, suspending the top of the head etc etc. Chen Xiaowang corrects Chen Bing  
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Chen Bing speaks... (ven, 24 feb 2017)
Davidine Sim & Chen Bing The following answers are part of an interview, conducted by China's World Martial Arts Union and translated by Davidine Sim. Chen Bing speaks openly about his early years in Taijiquan. Including: childhood perceptions of Taijiquan; the influence of his uncles Chen Xiaoxing and Chen Xiaowang; understanding what Taijiquan is; and the problems that come with widespread propagation.    Q:  Can you talk about your early learning history and experience? Chen Bing:  There was no question of choice when I began practicing Taijiquan as it's a family heritage.  Particularly being a male and being the oldest, the family started teaching me from the age of five.  Like it or not, you had to learn.  At that time (in 1976) it was still the tail end of the Cultural Revolution and the country was still not promoting the practice of martial arts.  But, after some discussion, it was decided that my training should commence, even though it was not done openly.  It is embarrassing to admit, but as I was still quite young I did not understand Taijiquan or the fact that it is a family inheritance.  Also because the then society did not condone the practice, and the government policy was still quite restrictive, plus the fact that most youngsters are more concerned about playing, I really did not like it at all.  This dislike only changed more than ten years later. Q:  What unforgettable training incidences can you remember from your childhood?" CB:  At that time I did not like Taijiquan so I'd think of different ways of evading training.  Everyday my uncles (Chen Xiao Wang, Chen Xiao Xing) would ask me if I had trained and I would say I had.  Most times this was untrue.  In this way I would try to outwit the adults.  One day my uncle asked me if I had trained and I said I had.  He asked where and I told him at such and such a place.  At that time it was a predominantly agricultural village and there were no concreted ground.  My uncle brought me to the place I had pointed out and, seeing no footprints whatsoever, exposed my lie.  I had a beating from him that day and never dared lie to him again.   Chen Bing The second memorable incident happened when I was ten years old and in my third year of primary school.  One morning my class teacher unexpectedly called me out and personally tied a red neckerchief round my neck. He told me that it was an important occasion and I was required to go and demonstrate Taijiquan. I didn't know what was going on and went out into the school ground where I saw that the whole place was full of people. There were even people on walls and trees.  A platform had been erected upon which sat my uncles and grandmother.  I didn't pay much attention to my family's history and origin before, but now I realised that my family has a secret that I didn't know.  That was the first visit by a Japanese Taijiquan organisation who had arrived during a "search the source and visit the ancestors" trip.  One of the items on the programme was a children's Taijiquan performance.  I was very nervous because I hadn’t trained properly and was not sure I could remember the middle section of the form.  I managed to somehow get through the Laojia Yilu.  But a strong message got through to me that day -   that I must practice hard as my whole family and clan are somehow closely linked to Taijiquan.  This occasion also stimulated a certain pride and sense of responsibility.      Q: What influence did your uncles have on your learning? CB: It was my aunt (Chen Ying) who taught me first.  My uncles were very busy and were often away from home.  On their return they would watch me train and check on me.  They were very strict and I was somewhat afraid of them, knowing that ultimately I needed to pass their approval. Later I heard that my uncles had achieved many first prizes.  There were few television sets then, but I heard on the radio the name Chen Xiao Wang, that he had won a gold medal in an inaugural National competition in Xian.  When I told the news to my grandmother she was very proud.  I had the idea that I would like to follow the same path. In my youth my two uncles were my role models. Q:  What was the biggest difficulty you encountered in your training? CB:  Before the age of seventeen, I didn't train very hard and did not commit heart and soul into Taijiquan, so I didn't sense any difficulty.  When I truly began to like Taijiquan and train seriously I realised that I needed a very good teacher.  By that time my two uncles had become sought after and often went abroad and it was not easy to have them beside me.  Sometimes it was difficult to see them even a few times in the year.  In this period I encountered many problems and, because the opportunity to communicate with them in person was rare, I was overwhelmed by these questions and didn't know who I should ask.  When you have many questions that you cannot find answers for it does affect your positive progress. I decided to write a letter to my second uncle.  In his reply he wrote: "It is inevitable that there would be so many questions and that these questions overwhelm you.  But this is how training quan is.  By continuing to practice there comes a moment when you suddenly understand, when the problem is solved. Even if you understand the theory now, but because your gongfu is not accomplished, your body is not able to understand so it's still a blank.  Therefore you need to practice without break and in the process of learning you will realise one day that all the questions have been answered.  That's because your body has completely understood". He taught me to "understand during the process; to realise a theory in practice, in order to own the thing.  When one day the chore of training translates into interest then it is evident that you have committed body and mind.  Your level will improve and mature very rapidly at this juncture".  At the time those words were imprinted in my brain. Q:  You have now trained for quite a long time.  What is your understanding of Taijiquan? CB:   When I was young I regarded Taijiquan as a combat art, to be used for fighting.  Because of my young age I wanted to be stronger than my peers. Now, from being a sports person to being an instructor then on to teaching all over the world, I realise that Taijiquan has multiple functions.  As an example when we're teaching abroad, it is not only a fitness discipline but also a representation of Chinese culture.  Through Taijiquan people abroad are able to become better acquainted with Chinese culture as well as China.  It enables deeper understanding and communication between the East and West.  From a personal point of view Taijiquan offers a means of growing into a more wholesome person. An individual's training experience, hard practice, relentless perseverance and consistence cultivates the spirit and tempers the will.  The reward of acquiring gongfu and enlightenment through the sacrifice of toil, that "heaven rewards the diligent".  The quan theories also teaches me the laws of nature and the universe. It enables me to better understand society, the world, the natural world, the universe, thus it enlightens and augments my mind and improves my wisdom.  Q:  You have students all over the world now.  What do you think is the most important aspect they should learn? CB:  Perhaps the most important aspect is their understanding of Taijiquan.  If they know the cultural essence of Taijiquan then they have a basis from which to train.  Otherwise it poses too many questions.  For example, What is Taijiquan? If people know what Taijiquan really is then the often asked question of why the " Four Jinggang" are not practising the same way will no longer be a question.  They often ask which of them is right (or wrong) or even who is better (or worse).  But if they understand Taijiquan this will not be a question.  And they will know that if the four of them have identical forms, then that would be abnormal.    Q:  By that you mean that everyone has a different understanding of Taijiquan? CB:  Taiji means Yin-Yang changes.  Most people understand Yin-Yang, but forget its most important aspect - "changes".  Its inevitable aspect is change, and it does not remain the same.  The time is different, the person is different, the environment is different, constantly evolving and changing.  Taijiquan is the same.  Everyone's practice is different and this is normal.  But there are aspects that remain unchanged and constant.  We must view change from the viewpoint of mutual transformation of Yin and Yang, change that occurs within transformation and development.  The results of practice have assimilated the person's personality, realisation, temperament, character etc. It becomes the person, and is expressed through the physical movements.  If you are exactly like your teacher, then you're stuck at the stage of imitating your teacher and have not moved to the stage of realising yourself.  If we are clear about the ideology of Taijiquan then we will be rid of many of Taijiquan's misperceptions. Q:  What challenges do you face in the drive to promote and popularise Taijiquan?  How do we let the general public correctly understand Taijiquan?  In mass propagation how do we express the core essence of Taijiquan? CB:  From the viewpoint of a teacher what I can do is teach not only movements but also the theories.  As long as the principle is followed the outward expression is not crucial.   Sometimes an external shape can be very standard and is an exact duplication of the teacher's, but your execution does not exhibit Qi sunk into the dantian, therefore your frame is an "empty frame".  You have not demonstrated the key element.  The Internal martial system does not look at the degree of accuracy in the external shape.  The underpinning principle is the criteria.  In the absence of this, the external manifestation is not important.  Let the students grasp this and they will not be entangled about external movements.  Instead they will be seeking the internal feeling. Q:  What have you gained from your work publicising and propagating Taijiquan? CB:   Firstly, when I started teaching I was worried that teaching will affect my training.  I said to my uncle that "as I have to explain, demonstrate and transmit, my internal feeling is reduced and will affect my own development".  My uncle said to me that you need to first find yourself, then maintain yourself.  During teaching continue to maintain yourself and don't lose your stance - "teach and train, train and teach".  It forged my interest in teaching as I embraced the concept that teaching is training and to train whilst teaching.  In the process of teaching I'm also upping my own skill. The second aspect is the sense of achievement when I see students improve.  To witness the benefits and the transformation that Taijiquan has given them, either in physical health or mental well-being. Thirdly, from a personal point of view.  With the gradual insight gleaned from Taijiquan I'm able to slowly change and adjust my mood and my interaction and conduct with the wider society.  I'm in fact a rather hot-tempered person.  Through practising Taijiquan I'm continually correcting and changing myself. World Martial Arts Union interview with Chen Bing   Q:  Some people still think Taijiquan is a health exercise for middle/old age people.  What do you think is the best way to engage the younger people? CB:  I think this is a misapprehension.  They don't comprehensively know the root of Taijiquan.  It has been overtaken by one aspect of its expressions.  But it shouldn't be viewed in a negative way because it has been accepted in that section of the populace and it's health benefits have been acknowledged.  I consider it a success in its mass propagation on a national scale.  To engage and recruit younger peoples we must consider 1. that young people haven't as much free time as the older retired people.  Taijiquan cannot be too time consuming and at the same time need to show results more quickly.  Therefore we need to have a concise method that is suitable for young people - concise training that brings out the essence.  2. that it needs to be modern and trendy in order to attract them in the first place.  Yoga has been successful in imaging itself as body beautiful with graceful movements that are comfortable and flexible.  It is an attractive pursuit.  Taijiquan perhaps can learn from this.  For example Taijiquan instructors need to present a certain image, its movements require some adaptations, its practice environment need some appropriate arrangements etc. in order to match the younger person's tendencies towards trend and modernity. Q:  There is a voice today that says that Taijiquan is a health exercise and not a combative system.  What is your view? CB:  Its health benefits and health enhancing qualities are undisputed and widely acknowledged.  Not only in terms of physical but also mental health.  The main question is Taijiquan's effectiveness as an actual combat skill.  I think we need to consider this from different angles.  Firstly, we live in a time that is very different from the time of its inception.  When Taijiquan was created its chief function was for the purpose of bare-hand attacks and defence.  If the then existing model of Taijiquan is transferred to the modern era it may have become obsolete and extinct.  The fact that it has survived to this day is because it's main function has undergone a Yin-Yang change.  The creation of Taijiquan with its health-preserving and mental processes was to counteract the harm and injuries that resulted from martial practices. Today if the combat side had remained the main focus it will not have been assimilated by the mass and promoted by the government. Taijiquan is flourishing apace today because its health-enhancing and fitness-promoting aspect is now the focus.  However the combative side is now under-emphasised. There should be no question to its effectiveness.  It's a matter of which aspect of it you're focusing. We adapt to our bigger environment…  From a young age we trained, firstly for Taolu competitions and later to Tuishou contests.  Gradually even the Tuishou contests became curtailed.  Our platforms become lesser and the paths that lead from them become narrower.  Extremely high level Taijiquan combat exponents have limited outlets. As a result, many abandon this route and decide to follow the crowd and the ever-expanding demand for the health and fitness aspects.  However as the art develops there are now a section of the Taijiquan practitioners who are again examining and developing the martial side. Q:  What role does Taijiquan play in our nation's promotion of Chinese Culture and our future so-called China Dream? CB:  China is not strong if it grows only in economic strength.  Economy without being sustained by cultural values will be short-lived.  I believe that to realise the China Dream there's the need to invest robustly in China's traditional cultural values.   China is currently facing the scenario of having a very strong economy and quite a strong military.  However we're look-down-upon by even countries much smaller than ours.  This is because we're not strong in our cultural values and we need to attach great importance to this and actively promote it.  In cultural exchanges in the strong civilised nations we're facing many issues that are not accepted by the West.  I think Taiji culture with its underpinning philosophy of balance, inclusivity, etc. is a good entry point to promote our culture, that will be accepted by other nations.  My hope is that it can be promoted from a governmental/national level.  Q:  What is the biggest dilemma that you have faced? CB:   Society today has presented us with many dilemmas.  Do we change our culture in order to adapt to the market trend, or stand firm and preserve the culture?  In response to the present societal conditions do we change or not?  Under what circumstances do we need to stand firm and under what circumstances do we need to evolve and change?  These are not easy issues.  To do them simultaneously may result in both being done badly.  Chen Bing, born in 1971, is the 20th generation direct descendant of the Chen Taijiquan Family.  He was raised by his uncle Chen Xiao Xing and began his Taijiquan training from the age of 5.  In 2007 he established the Chenjiagou International Taijiquan Academy in Chenjiagou.  He teaches all over China and Internationally.      
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Chen Village Taijiquan not just for uncles and grandpas! (mer, 15 feb 2017)
 The idea of traditional Gongfu permeates Hong Kong's popular culture. But those committed to actually training the arts in the old way are a shrinking and ageing group. A New York Times article posted last year by journalist Charlotte Yang spoke of the demise of Hong Kong's traditional martial arts scene. A combination of rising rental costs, ageing students and lack of interest from the youngsters who in the past would have filled the training halls, meant that few schools are left. Those that are left aren't  flourishing. Now, the report suggested, those same youngsters are more interested in their iPads than in the dusty art of gongfu.     In Yang's words: "With a shift in martial arts preferences, the rise of video games — more teenagers play Pokémon Go in parks here than practice a roundhouse kick — and a perception among young people that kung fu just isn’t cool, longtime martial artists worry that kung fu’s future is bleak." Or in the dismissive words of one young interviewee: “Kung fu is more for retired uncles and grandpas". Some of the many Taiji schools in Chenjiagou Interestingly, at the same time, there has been a renaissance of Taijiquan schools in Chenjiagou. Several of the large schools in Chenjiagou are internationally known, like the schools of Chen Xiaoxing, Wang Xian, Zhu Tiancai etc. But talk a short walk through the back streets of the village and it's easy to find evidence of many smaller and less famous training halls.  The images above and to the right show just a few of the many advertising banners in the backstreets of the village.   The scale of change in Chenjiagou in the years since I first visited has been almost unbelievable. Many of the changes don't sit well with me and there are clear parallels with the commercialisation of the Shaolin Temple. That said, everywhere you look there are young people training and images of the cool face of Taijiquan.    Not just for uncles and grandpas! Chenjiagou Taijiquan instructor Zheng Xiao Fei  

 
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Want skilful push hands? Don’t neglect your form training! (ven, 27 gen 2017)
Chen Xiaoxing and Chen Xiaowang pushing hands in the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School To use Taijiquan as a combat art, both form training and push hands must be seen as complementary and vital. Training the form without doing push hands, while giving some exercise benefits, will not equip an individual for combat and self defence. Conversely, if an individual just does push hands without the foundation of form training, while they may develop certain techniques, they will not be able to use these to their full potential. Therefore, the experienced practitioner should train form and push hands concurrently, without favouring one over the other. While the less experienced practitioner must accept that form training is the basis and foundation upon which any future push hands success is based.   "Tuishou and form training are inseparable"  In the words of Chen Xiaowang:“Tuishou and form training are inseparable.  Whatever defect a person has in the form will be revealed during push hands as a weakness that can be taken advantage of by an opponent.  That is why Taijiquan requires one to have the whole body working in unison.  One must practise tuishou frequently.  Tuishou is a practical application and is the only way of accurately testing the form.  Learning Taijiquan and its postural requirements is like manufacturing the different parts of an item of machinery.  Tuishou is like its assembly.  If all the different components of the machinery are made to requirement, then it is easy to assemble the machinery.  However, if the parts are wrongly built and are either too big or too small, or if they are simply the wrong parts - it will be impossible to build the machine”. (Source: The Essence of Taijiquan)
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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 arts.    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 aspects. 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 itself" "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)
 Yue Fei 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 every action. Slovenian Workshop 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 Pad work 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 qinna. 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 fist.  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. Warsaw 2016
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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 ability:  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 deviations."  "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 Taijiquan! 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)
 Zhu Tiancai 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. Wang Xian 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 other person.   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)
Tian Chunyang 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 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 population”.    Li Bing     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”. Ma Guanglu   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   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 change”.    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   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 and structured”.   Fu Qingquan   Fu Qingquan – 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”.                                     Huo Pelin     Huo 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               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)
Chenjiagou today 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  
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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 Karate:    “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 principles. 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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