Tuesday, 27 December 2011

The Five Levels of Taijiquan

In an earlier post I mentioned Chen Xiaoxing's statement on how to train and reach a high level - "You know the law...now follow the law"! Likewise, 16th Generation Chen Taijiquan theorist Chen Xin stated that all you have to do is to "follow the rules".

That's all very well if you are clear on what the rules actually are! The average Western student is faced with many difficulties in clearly understanding what is really required. Problems of language and culture, false assumptions and interpretation can lead even the dedicated student far off the correct path. A well known Taijiquan saying advises that, "If you don't diligently search for the meaning, you will only waste your effort and sigh (from disapointment). Where should you look then, if you want to avoid wasting your effort?

A good place to start might be Chen Xiaowang's  "The Five Levels of Taijiquan", to be released on February 15th. I've just finished reading a review copy and found it clear and helpful. Many people are familiar with Chen Xiaowang's interpretation of the different stages the Taiji student must go through to reach mastery. This book includes an extensive commentary on the  Five Levels by Jan Silberstorff. The book has been laid out so that every chapter begins with the original Chinese text and its direct translation. The detailed explanations in the commentary follow.
Precise and mindful practice is the key to genuine progress

As it states in the introduction, the five levels help us to know where we are now and what will follow. Secondly, they help in the understanding that learning too fast or skipping something may not be a shortcut - in fact the opposite is more likely to be true. With the knowledge of the systematic ladder that must be climbed,students of Taijiquan should have confidence that "...one vehicle is enough: one system with corresponding basic exercises, refinements and advanced levels on which to build". One for your Taijiquan library!! 

PS We've begun the process of uploading our archive of articles as pdfs onto the school website (below). This will be added to over the coming months, so check back regularly!!

WWW.CHENTAIJIGB.CO.UK 

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Taking Pleasure in Small Steps

What does it take to be a master of Taijiquan (or anything else for that matter!)? The ex-Soviet Union, in their Process of Achieving Sports Mastery, reserved the title of "master" for individuals (regardless of what disciple they were pursuing) who had either achieved a world record or won a world level championship. That is, individuals who had achieved an extraordinarily high level of performance. Compare this to the endless list of Taiji “masters” in any major city listing. Perhaps it is easy to master Taijiquan? Hardly!!

We live in a culture at odds with the proper understanding of mastery. Movies, commercials and popular culture, present life as an uninterrupted series of successful peaks, without little thought for the effort, pauses, and setbacks that all winning individuals inevitably encounter on the road to success.  Today individuals are programmed to expect a certain level of excitement and interest in any experience, or we become quickly bored. Students leave Taijiquan classes in droves when they do not match up to the effortless and fragrant images from coffee table magazines. Everywhere we are encouraged to adopt a quick-fix and bottom-line mentality. In our work life and even at home, we are told to set goals, to measure our advances, and to expect continuous progress towards our goals. And even happiness itself is defined in terms of reaching those goals - "Get a six pack in six easy weeks"...

George Leonard's classic book, "Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fullfillment", explains mastery ultimately as a person’s commitment to a process. In his words:


· "...mastery is not about perfection. It's about a process, a journey. The master is one who stays on the path day after day, year after year. The master is the one who is willing to try and fail, and try again, for as long as he or she lives" 

·"Almost without exception, those we know as masters are dedicated to the fundamentals of their calling. They are zealots of their practice, connoisseurs of the small incremental step...".
Leonard characterised the practice of these masters as "involving a certain steadfastness, an ability to take pleasure in the endless repetition of ordinary acts". 

The real road to mastery in Taijiquan (and anything else) is the path of patient, dedicated effort without attachment to immediate results. Great success in any physical endeavor, including Taijiquan is built upon consistency and patience. We must be prepared to pay the price both in time and energy. In the words of Chen Fake, one of Chen Taijiquan’s most celebrated practitioners, “beginners should practice slowly, so that the movements are correct. Practice makes perfect, so after a LONG TIME movements can naturally be fast and steady”. 

The Essence of Taijiquan (see the link above right) is now available for download on iPad & iPhone  

Friday, 4 November 2011

Notes on Wushu Exercises

I've just returned from Chenjiagou with a group of students from our school, who spent a couple of weeks training with Chen Xiaoxing. Anyone who has trained with him will be aware of his penchant for simple, repetitive and excrutiating emphasis upon basic training. There is no truck paid to entertaining students. He offers what works and then it is up to you whether you stick to it. In a previous blog I mentioned his statement - "you know the law, now follow the law"! Simple, but not easy. Our group trained for 5 hours a day, divided into 2 2.5 hour sessions. Every session was the same. First standing for half an hour in the challenging position he put everyone into. Then 30-40 minutes unbroken training on a single reeling silk exercise. For the rest of the session training a short section of the form. I was in Chenjiagou earlier in the year training alongside a small group of Chinese students of Chen Xiaoxing, the programme was the same. One of them was still in the school during our latest visit. He said he had been there for 4 years following this same routine everyday.

We have been travelling to train Chen Xiaoxing since 2003 and leave the programme to him to decide. A common mistake is to go to the teacher and then say I want to do this, this and this.  Who would go to their maths teacher and say I'd like to do some algebra for 3 days and then some calculus for 2 days?   I've got a week - I'd like to do sword, spear and the erlu!!!

On the flight back to the UK I read a book - Chinese Kungfu: Masters, Schools and Combat by Wang Guangxi who died in 2008 shortly before the book was published. Wang was an academic and lifelong Chinese martial arts enthusiast. Throughout the book his love for Chinese martial arts, in their many diverse forms, was obvious. At the end he included some advice or "notes on wushu exercises" regardless of style.
These included among others:

1. Take it step by step. Rome wasn't built in a day
2. Never tire of it. The more often you clean the net, the more fish you will get.
3. Concentrate on the martial arts of one school. Do not always look to the grass on the other side of the hill.
4. Be good at the basic techniques, especially footwork and waist techniques.
5. Great importance should be given to position training, but avoid excessive training at the beginning.
6. Equal attention should be given to simple movements...
7. Do not seek highly difficult or impossible moves right away.
8. Concentrate, focus and pay close attention to learning every detal during practice.
9. Do not argue with superiors
10. Stay modest at all times and do not despise anyone at any time.
11. Do not practice martial arts when exhausted and do not practice internal martial arts when the mood      cannot remain calm from great sorrow, rage or joy.
And finally -
12. Assure enough sleep, increase nutrition and use hot water to wash your feet!!! 

Monday, 10 October 2011

When East Meets West

I finally got to see Jon Braeley's interesting film about the Chen Village.

I was struck by two comments on the differences between Chinese and Western students - one I would completely agree with and one I strongly disagree with. First, Chen Xiaowang, who has spent many years teaching in the West, said that Western students pay more attention to technical details within the forms - the exact hand position, how far to turn the body etc. Chinese students, he went on, pay more attention to feeling and sensation. In a recent facebook debate about style differences one guy summed up what many Westerners believe when he declared that "Qi is crap"!

So have all those generations of Chen Village practitioners since Chen Wangting's day been deluding themselves? Bodyguards like Chen Changxing and fighters like Chen Fake. I don't think so! Chen Zhaopi, teacher of Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing, Wang Xian, Zhu Tiancai, Chen Zhenglei et al listed ten different classifications of Qi - but then what would he know? 

The second comment, which I would take issue with, was made by Chen Bing - after opening his new school in Chenjiagou  he quickly concluded that Western students are not able to and do not want to, train hard like their Chinese counterparts - "in the West people train for health ...or for fashion"! - so as a result, he said, he trains Western students differently then Chinese students. Where has this misconception come from? Look at all the other Asian martial arts practiced in the West - Thai boxing, Judo, Ju Jitsu, Taekwondo etc ... or the modern Western combat sports like boxing and wrestling ... these Western students seem capable of training hard!

Saturday, 27 August 2011

The Winning Mind!

Often when students train with the great masters they are suddenly overwhelmed by the enormity of what it actually takes to reach a high level of Taijiquan skill. Different students deal with this in different ways -some just leave, others revise their expectations downwards and are happy just to be the student of a successful teacher, others look for a short cuts...  I've been reading The Winning Mind by Sebastion Coe, Olympic gold medallist and one of Britain's greatest ever athletes. The following two quotes, carrying on from our theme in the previous post, are motivational, realistic and equally applicable to Taijiquan players seriously trying to progress: 

"Throughout my athletics career, the overall goal was always to be a better athlete than I was at that moment - whether next week, next month or next year. The object was always to improve - gradually, steadily, sustainably - and in achievable stages. The improvement was the goal. The medal was simply the ultimate reward for achieving that goal.

"...steady progress results from maintaining a consistent approach, trial and error, going back to "first principles", hard graft, examining form and process and taking care to assess and correct any mistakes along the way".




Wednesday, 3 August 2011

You can't force the fruit to ripen!

A saying that is often repeated in Chenjiagou is that "you can't force the fruit to ripen". There are no shortcuts and wishful thinking is just that. The students I like the best are the ones who quietly show up week after week, year after year and just get on with it. No hurry, no impatiance to get on to the next thing. Just consistent honest effort... What we are trying to achieve in Taijiquan is much more than just learning a few sets of movements  or a few push hands tricks. Instead what is asked for is the development of complete physical and energetic coordination. But what does that mean in real terms? It means striving to follow a set of rules that have been passed down for many generations. Chen Zhaopi said that without striving for beauty in your Taijiquan you could never hope to achieve high skill. Today people often mistake this as a license for their own individuality. However, to those of Chen Zhaopi's generation beauty was synonymous with conforming to nature - to following the rules! 

L-R Jan Silberstorff, Davidine Sim, David Gaffney
All those instructions handed down in Taijiquan lead the seriously interested on a path back to their innate physical and psychological nature. This is achieved through consistency, not unsustainable short bursts of enthusiasm. In his excellent book Chen:  Living Taijiquan in the Classical Style, German Chen Taijiquan teacher Jan Silberstorff amusingly likens this to boiling an egg. "After I've heated the stove and placed a pot on it, brought the water to boil and added an egg, I still have to wait four or five minutes until the egg is boiled and ready. Just like the egg is being boiled slowly, the body and mind will slowly develop  by continuous training".  

A guy I met in Chenjiagou disputed the stories handed down about Chen Fake practicing an almost inhuman amount of repetitions per day. The truth [he said] was that Chen Fake did not miss a day's practice in over thirty years and it was this consistency and persistance that gave him his great skill!

Clive Howells & Tim Drummond: Two of the old-timers!
 I like the following parable by the Daoist  Chuang Tzu:  "Chi Hsing Tzu was a trainer of fighting cocks for King Hsuan.  He was training a fine bird.  The King kept asking him if the bird were ready for combat.  “Not yet”, said the trainer.  “He is full of fire.  He is ready to pick a fight with every other bird.  He is vain and confident of his own strength”.  After ten days, he answered again: “Not yet.  He flares up when he hears another bird crow”.  After ten more days: “Not yet.  He still gets that angry look and ruffles his feathers”.  Again ten days:  The trainer said, “Now he is nearly ready.  When another bird crows, his eye does not even flicker.  He stands immobile like a cock of wood.  He is a mature fighter.  Other birds will take one look at him and run”.
                                                                                                                                

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Don't set limits on yourself!

Training under the watchful eye of Chen Ziqiang
We just had Chen Ziqiang conduct a series of seminars at our school- the third consecutive year he has visited us in the UK. Anyone who has trained with him will know what a fantastically dynamic and athletic individual he is. People often approach these events as if they are spectators rather than participants. Happy to watch and marvel at the workshop leaders skills but full of reasons why they cannot do the same thing - too old, too many aches and pains, too busy etc etc... While the topics covered included basic training, broadsword, push hands and cannon fist, the central message put across by Chen Ziqiang was that people must not put limits upon themselves.

Don't say that you cannot do the jumps or fajin or stretches. Some of the participants were in their seventies but were still encouraged to leap and punch - even if a little lower and slower than they may have done in their younger days. Lee Davis-Conchie, one of the instructors in our school, was another participant leading by example. Training Chen Ziqiang's short cannon fist form with a chest drain attached. The last workshop finished at 5pm on Sunday afternoon and the same evening he went back into hospital for his fourth round of chemotherapy for the leukemia that was diagnosed a few months ago.
Cannon Fist group -  participants ages ranged from people in their 20s to 70s
 So don't think too much about what you can't do. As Chen Ziqiang said "don't label yourself and don't let other people label you" - just throw yourself into your training and then you'll make a success of your practice!

   

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Just Follow the Rules!

Chen Xin

"Follow the rules in all respects, and a narrow beam of understanding will appear"          -   Chen Xin

Every discipline has its own rules that have to be mastered if you are going to progress to a higher level. In music you have to learn the scales, etc ... Why do so many people find this so hard to understand? You give a simple instruction - "lift your head up" and the response is "but what about my feet"? ..."in my Japanese martial arts class we do it like this and the teacher says its ok"... "but I feel more comfortable when I do it my way"... and on and on and on!


Chen Taijiquan has a clear and progresive syllabus that has been passed down and developed for more than 300 years. Everything in it is there for a reason. In his notes from the 1986 Taijiquan Theory  convention  in Chengdu, China Chen Xiaowang advised:  "Don't discard any aspect of it before you have full understanding!"

An early shot of Chen Xiaowang
He went on to say that "Chen Taijiquan's theory is the accumulation of many years and many generations of study and experimentation. What has been passed down is their "sweat and blood" in order for continuity in future generations. Sixteenth generation Chen Xin spent over a decade of hard work and toil to record the theory solely because he wanted Taijiquan to be transmitted to those who possess virtue and martial committment. Each generation of Chen family has produced excellent martial artists,this bears witness to the efficacy of this theory".

So all you have to do is to have confidence in your system (otherwise why are you doing it in the first place?) and follow the rules!






Friday, 10 June 2011

"Village Style" Taiji!

"Village Style" training in Chenjiagou with Chen Xioaxing

I've just finished reading a post in the newsletter of Kim Ivy's Embrace the Moon Taiji school which really struck a chord with me. She wrote of training "Village Style" with Chen Xiaoxing during his visit to her school. Village style she explained as being given one or two movements and then practicing them for an extended time. My own group have been going to Chenjiagou to train with him for nearly a decade now and this is the how he teaches. A few movements, and then you train and train and train with corrections from him. First time we took a group it was in the winter of 2003 where we spent 19 days on the Laojia Yilu routine.  A few years ago Stephan Berwick wrote a really nice article about Chen Xiaoxing and his training method entitled The Simple Wisdom of a Village Grandmaster. The following is a quote from the article: "Chenjiagou training is highly focused on the basics of boxing practice. At a recent U.S. east coast seminar, he pushed the students through 2 hours of practice on just 3 seemingly simple silk reeling exercises, which the students found excruciating, but deeply satisfying. Speaking no English, he did not have to rely on words to get his point across. The next day, the seminar participants completely understood the lessons in body structure and rootedness he imparted".

During Chen Xiaoxing's visit to our school last year - his first visit to Europe - he taught a group a weekend worshop on the Laojia Yilu. The group was an experienced one everybody knowing the form, many being teachers. So, he said that there was no point just running through the sequence and taught in his usual way. Everyone training, with him working through the group giving personal corrections. Most people loved it, but I was really surprised to get negative feedback from several people who thought he should be standing at the front leading the group. Is it a coincidence that one of those dissatisfied spent most of the time sitting at the side while everyone else was training? As Kim put it in her newsletter:   "I find my teachers respect their students when they feel they have the enthusiasm and tenacity for "the Village." Indeed, instructional generosity appears to be commensurate with how few moves one asks to be corrected and how deep one can plumb with only small & precise corrections in tow".
 

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Its Official - Now Taijiquan doesn't even qualify as light exercise!

A study into the role of exercise for heart failure patients conducted by the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre and Harvard Medical School concluded of Taijiquan that: "While it has little physical benefit, patients who do it are more likely to try light exercise". So there you have it, according to these illustrious institutions and reported in a British national newspaper, Taijiquan is now considered to be nothing more than confidence building for those too unwell to do even the lightest exercise. An easy option... Not even really exercise at all!

 Funny that. I've just got back from a week of training in Warsaw with Chen Ziqiang and it sure felt like exercise to me. Applications and push hands contest training with those big-boned Polish guys, as well as dynamic form and sword training - in the words of one of the young students -"every bit of me feels stretched and worked". How can Taijiquan reassert itself as a serious martial art against the misperceptions that surround it. Even in China this is now a cause of concern. Last month in Chenjiagou I listened to a couple of seasoned Chen Taijiquan players debating how to get young people to take up the art with its negative image as being suitable only for weak or elderly people. They asked the question, should Taijiquan training be modified to make it more exciting and the training fast tracked to compete with the more obviously exciting external arts, in the process losing the essence of the system? Or should they continue teaching in the traditional way and see less and less young and fit people taking up the art.
Seems like exercise to me!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Journal of Asian Martial Arts book review


Thanks to the Journal of Asian Martial Arts for the follwing review of The Essence of Taijiquan. The journal is a great resource for anyone interested in the traditional arts of the orient. Check it out at: www.goviamedia.com/

The Essence of Taijiquan:
Essential Guide to Chen Taiji

by David Gaffney & Davidine Siaw-Voon Sim

blurb.com 280 pp., paperback •
Review by Noah Nunberg, J.D.
New York Law School

The Chen style of taiji is generally accepted to be the source of all modern taiji styles. The serious taiji student who wishes to understand the origins and fundamental principles of this martial art is well advised to read The Essence of Taijiquan, by David Gaffney and Davidine Siaw-Voon Sim. In this book the authors thoroughly explain the history of the Chen village and its masters, the philosophy of the style, its martial essence and the modern day curriculum studied in the village of the source of this style. Additionally, the authors provide insightful interviews with contemporary Chen-lineage masters who share their knowledge gleaned from decades of practice and centuries of family tradition. As explained in the book, this style of taijiquan was created by the Chen clan in the 17th century in China’s Henan Province in the village known as Chenjiagou by the military officer Chen Wangting.

Chen boxers guarding a merchant caravan - Chen Familty Temple
Originally Chen Wangting, under the influence of the military strategist Qi Jiguang, created the original five forms of the style that over the centuries were distilled into two forms. Central tenets of these masters were “not meeting strength with strength” and “leading an opponent into emptiness.” The fundamental principles were used not only by the individual combatant but also as successful strategies for armies in warfare. Chen Wangting built upon these principles in creating the Chen style that he passed down through his descendants. The fact that these methods have survived to modernity over tumultuous centuries in which weaknesses in martial arts styles meant physical extinction proves the effectiveness of the Chen style. The authors explain how the Chen style was only taught to Chen clan members and kept secret until the 19th century, when it was first taught to an outsider, Yang Luchan(1799–1871), by Chen Changxing. This revolutionary break with the secretive traditions of the martial arts ultimately led to the proliferation of many styles of taiji that are freely and widely taught to the public today.

The authors trace the history of the Chen village through times when the great Chen boxers were wellknown guardians of mercantile caravans, in the 19th century, to the times of famine in the early 20th century which forced skilled practitioners such as Chen Fake to move to Beijing to earn a living by teaching this art. There Chen Fake developed and taught the New Frame forms of the Chen style from the traditional Old Frame forms that are still taught in the Chen Village. To avoid the extinction of the clan in the Chen Village, Chen Zhaopi, at the age of 65 returned in 1958 to teach the style at its birthplace. Chen Zhaopi endured the persecution of the Cultural Revolution but died shortly before it ended. He was succeeded by such masters as Chen Xiaowang, Zhu Tiancai, Wang Xian, Chen Zhenglei, Chen Dewang, and Chen Lizhou, among others. With the new Chinese regime that arose after Mao’s death, traditional martial arts once again began to flourish, and the Chen Village and its traditional methods of teaching its ancestral style of taijiquan were reborn. Today students from around the world pilgrimage there to learn this style.

The authors next review the philosophical foundations of Chen style. In a succinct but thorough chapter, the authors review the philosophical and practical theories of yin and yang energies, the paradigm of the eight trigrams, and the interrelationships of the five elements. They next reveal how these concepts relate to taiji’s thirteen main movements. The authors further explain how the complexities of the traditional Chinese medicine meridian theories were incorporated into the study and practice of Chen style. Fundamental to the development of qi in the body and directing qi to the extremities so that internal energy is harnessed into powerful and explosive physical techniques is the practice of silk reeling exercises (chansijin). The upper, middle, and lower sections of the body, namely the hands, waist, and feet areas, are synchronized so that the internal and external energies developed in the body combine into each integrated technique. As explained in the book, the development of such energy requires years of daily and diligent practice. The authors also generally review the breathing methods incorporated in this system of taiji.

The book has an important chapter on the martial aspects of Chen taiji. Prolonged practice of the taiji forms is deemed essential to the development of the techniques, and out of this practice, practical applications used in fighting emerge. Yet ultimately the highest level of taijiquan is said to be formless: that is, one must instantly react to the innumerable and unpredictable conditions encountered when facing an opponent. Prolonged practice of the techniques in the forms develops this skill.

In the next chapter the authors explain the syllabus used in the Chen training system. From seated to standing meditation one goes next to silk-reeling exercises that are explained in the book. Next, two main practice routines are studied, which are followed by partners training in push hands (tuishou). The Chen-style masters also train their students in weapons, including the taiji sword, the broadsword, the halberd (guandao), and the spear. The book provides auseful glossary in English and Chinese of the numerous techniques associated with each of these weapons. The book ends with interviews of, and articles by, one female and five male masters of the style. These masters provide candid remarks about what inspired them to practice diligently, what aspects of training they emphasize in their own development, and their deep insights regarding training in Chen style. I highly recommend this book to students and teachers of any taiji style, given the fact that Chen style is the wellspring of taiji. The Essence of Taijiquan not only makes a complex system easier to understand for the novice, it also provides a wealth of knowledge to the seasoned practitioner. In The Essence of Taijiquan, David Gaffney and Davidine Siaw-Voon Sim provide a storehouse of intellectual tools to permit any serious taiji student to penetrate the complexities of the Chen style.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

When you drink the water, remember the person who dug the well!

My Shaolin gongfu teacher in the early 1990s always emphasised the importance of having a sense of history - of understanding your place as a link in a chain joining past and future generations. The first time I visited Chenjiagou was in 1997, we were shown around all the significant sites: the graves of Chen Fake, Chen Zhaopi, Chen Zhaokui etc... caught up in the reverance offered to these past luminaries, but with no idea of their real significance; walking through the ditch after which the village was named and seeing just a ditch. After many visits to Chenjiagou in the years since, the stories of the exploits of the people from this unique place have become comfortably familiar. Two weeks ago I was on a stage set up in the main street of Chenjiagou performing Taijiquan in front of what seemed like the whole village (in the picture above before the demo: Jan Silberstorff, David Gaffney, dignitary, Chen Yu, Chen Xiaoxing, Chen Xiaowang, Xingyiquan Master Shi Zhaowen, and 2 other officials). Now a part of the community that once seemed so alien.    Demonstrating at the birthplace of Taijiquan!

Friday, 11 March 2011

Are we breeding a generation of "taiji bums"?

Just finished reading an excellent article called Mastering Taijiquan by Yang stylist Sam Masich, where he writes of "a generation of taiji bums; enthusiasts seeking out patchwork solutions as they study odds and sods from various sources to gain some semblance of a full curriculum".
 
Masich's article passionately calls for practitioners to return to the discipline of "full curriculum" training.  While this will inevitably vary within different schools and disciplines, within Chen Taijiquan it would typically include:

- Zhan Zhuang (Standing Post)
- Chansigong (Silk-Reeling Exercises)
- Taolu (Handforms)
- Wuqi (Weapons -divided into long and short weapons)
- Tuishou (Push Hands)
- Applications


 Each element of the curriculum shares a unifying set of movement and structural principles. Practised in its entirity the syllabus produces fully rounded martial artists - strong and fluid, rooted and agile, calm and at the same time alert.  By the time a student works through all the handforms, long and short weapons, push hands drills etc he posseses an extensive body of material. Perhaps there is too much information available today as students flit from style to style, missing the traditional idea of immersion within a chosen discipline. Or perhaps it signals a lack of confidence or belief in the system one is training in. Within Chenjiagou Taijiquan who are the most admired practitioners - Chen Xiaowang, Wang Xian, Chen Xiaoxing, Zhu Tiancai, Chen Zhenglei, Chen Zhiqiang, Chen Bing etc etc etc... - each the product of confidently and exclusively following the traditional syllabus.

Monday, 7 February 2011

The Four Essential Elements of Martial Skill




During a seminar in Poland last year Chen Xiaoxing told one of the participants not to underestimate the importance of external physical training.  Many modern Taiji players think only in terms of internal energy, qi, quietness etc.  Vital as these are, they are just part of the equation.  In an article entitled Taiji: Ancient Methods and Modern Science, Chen Ziqiang, spoke of the four key attributes that must be cultivated if an individual is to be successful in combat:

  • gongfu
  • jishu (knowledge of technique)
  • shuzhi (body constitution)
  • li liang (physical strength)

It is not possible to fast-track gongfu or fluency with a broad range of techniques.  These aspects are only possible with time and experience.  However, physical strength and body conditioning can be greatly increased in a relatively short time.  Strength training is not a new phenomenon in Taijiquan – just think of the many auxiliary training exercises – pole shaking, heavy weapons training, stance holding etc.  Look at the top masters and ask yourself, as well as being relaxed, calm, balanced etc, are they physically strong or not? If we claim to practice Taijiquan as a martial art then all these aspects must be addressed in our training.  This is no easy feat.  In the words of Chen Ziqiang: 
“It is very rare to find someone who has achieved excellence in all four aspects of gongfu, technique, constitution and strength. In my family, for example, since Taijiquan was created it is said that only Chen Wangting, Chen Changxin and Chen Fake have achieved this.    The rest of us are striving to be as close as we can to this perfection”.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Taiji – Lost in a digital world


Everywhere we are continually bombarded with messages -  twitter, facebook, texts… all of which of course have to be attended to immediately.  In a recent post internet guru Seth Godin highlighted Allison Miller, aged 14 who sends or receives an astonishing 27,000 text messages a month. Broken down that’s about about sixty an hour, every hour she's awake.  In Godin’s own words: “Some say that the problem of our age is that continuous partial attention, this never ending non-stop distraction, addles the brain and prevents us from being productive. Not quite. The danger is not distraction; the danger is the ability to hide”.

Chen Xiaoxing: "Train everyday - if you really want it!"
What has this got to do with Taiji? People today often comfort themselves that the busy pace of life today makes it impossible to train like the teachers trained when they were young in China.  Of course they would like to train more but life is just so busy…  Someone put this to Chen Xiaoxing when we were training in Chenjiagou and he was clearly irritated at the suggestion that things were easier in his time, dismissing the idea out of hand.  He spoke of the back-breaking work they had to do when all farm work had to be done by hand and laughed that even when machinery became available, they were to poor to afford it.  Then came the Cultural Revolution where he toiled in a brick factory. But they still found time to train.  As he put it, most people today work about 8 hours a day.  Beyond that the individual has the choice to do what they want with the time.  Chen Zhaopi, teacher of the “Four Buddha’s Warriors” of Chenjiagou put it very simply saying that: “Besides having the direction of a good teacher, the main criterion is whether the person himself is willing to put in the hard work”.  

Developing skill in the traditional way takes time, patience and perseverance. So turn off your laptop, switch off your mobile phone, log out from your facebook account, stop stalling and get on with the real work!