Wednesday 13 March 2013

The traditional way- harder to learn, but worth the effort!!!

The decline of traditional Chinese martial arts in China (including Taijiquan) was reported in a recent edition of the Economist magazine of all places. Not the usual place you would expect to find a critique of  the state of play in the motherland. An article titled "Ain't that a Kick in the Head" spoke of the rapid rise of modern forms of  martial arts like Brazilian Jujitsu and of the popularity of recently introduced MMA events and their effect upon the home-grown systems. The article stated that:

"Traditional kung fu, incorporating different styles such as Wing Chun, Shaolin and Tai Chi, though still popular, has been in decline for decades, because of a one-two to the head, first from Maoism and now from commercialism. Youths with smart phones and short attention spans have no time for breathing exercises and meditation". The article concluded that: "Many Chinese people still have a soft spot for the history and discipline of traditional kung fu. But, as in many areas of modern China, the new, the brash and the million-yuan cheque pack a bigger punch".

An 8 year old Chu En Sian (2nd from right) pictured about 1935
 I had an interesting conversation in Singapore a few weeks ago with 86 year old Chu En Sian who trained in traditional Chinese wushu at an early age. She was disappointed with the simplification of the old ways of training and was quite clear in her opinion (and I completely agree!):  "The traditional way is harder to learn, but it is worth learning. Everything in the traditional method is there for a reason and you can't get the full benefit by simplifiation and discarding pieces from it"!

People often justify this simplification with reasons like - "the more people who know about it the better",, "students are not able to do the traditional way", "in today's busy world people just don't have the time", "once they start doing the simple way they will realise how good it is and then get serious", etc etc. But honestly, how many people who are only prepared to do Taijiquan if it is simple ever go on to do the "real" thing - not many (IF ANY)!

As Mdm Chu said, every aspect of the traditional arts is there for a reason - following the rigorous traditional method a firm foundation is first laid down. When I first travelled to China in the 1990s to train with the Chenjiagou teachers I asked many of them what I needed to do to make the best progress. Invariably the teachers said "practice Yilu". That was what they and generations before them had done. With the establishment of a firm foundation the scope for improvement in all aspects of Taijiquan is unlimited. Done in the time-honoured way Taijiquan maximises the potential of the human body, increasing both the health and martial capabilities of those who really dedicate themselves to it.
Chen Zhenglei's 1st International Training Camp Hebei 1999 - 10 days of intensive training of Yilu and Tuishou                  L-R David Gaffney, Liu Yong, Gou Kongjie, Chen Zhenglei, Davidine Sim, Fang Xiangdong

Look at the sayings passed down for generations:

"Drink the water of Chenjiagou your legs will surely shake"
"You must be prepared to eat bitterness"
"One day's chill doesn't result in three feet of ice"
"One day of practice, one day's skill"
"Three years, small achievement;  five years medium achievement; ten years, great achievement"
"Don't go outside the door for ten years"...

So, no it is not easy! It is complicated, physically challenging and to get real benefits it needs long-term committment! But, for the reasons mentioned, I believe that the traditional way, with all its complexities and demanding requirements, is needed more today than ever.

 I'd like to plug the website of the Journal of Asian Martial Arts
This is a great resouce with a section dedicated to traditional Chen Taijiquan. Currently there are 15 articles about Chen Taijiquan:
Three Techniques of Dantian Rotation in Chen Taiji: Internal Energy Techniques and Their Relationship with the Body’s Meridians by Bosco Seung-Chul Baek

Tensegrity: Development of Dynamic Balance and Internal Power in Taijiquan by Michael Rosario-Graycar and Rachel Tomlinson

Chenjiagou: The History of the Taiji Village by David Gaffney

Overlapping Steps: Traditional Training Methods in Chen Village Taijiquan by David Gaffney

Dripping Oil onto Parchment: Traditional Taijiquan Form Training in Chen Village by David Gaffney

Comments on Selections from Chen Xin’s Illustrated Explanations of Chen Taijiquan with Commentary from Chen Xiaowang by Stephan Berwick

Going Beyond the Norm: An Interview with Chen Taiji Stylist Wang Xian by Asr Cordes

An Introduction to Seizing Techniques in Chen Style Taijiquan by Yaron Seidman

Chen Xiaowang on Learning, Practicing and Teaching Chen Taiji by Stephan Berwick

Taiji’s Chen Village: Under the Influence of Chen Xiaoxing by Stephan Berwick

The Nurturing Ways of Chen Taiji: An Interview with Yang Yang by Michael De Marco & A. Edwin Matthews

Mind-Body Connections in Chen Xin’s Illustrated Explanation of Chen Style Taijiquan by Miriam O'Conner

Internal Training: The Foundation for Chen Taiji’s Fighting Skills and Health Promotion by Adam Wallace

An Encounter with Chen Xiaowang: The Continuing Development of Chen style Taijiquan by Dietmar Stubenbaum

A Brief Description of Chen-style Master Du Yuzi by Wong Jiaxiang & Michael DeMarco












  1. Thanks David! Your blog is even more prescient on the heels of our workshop this week with Grandmaster Chen Xiao Xing. Train everyday the Traditional Way!

  2. Excellent as usual David

    Dan @


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