|L-R David Gaffney, Wang Haijun, Chen Zhenglei, Davidine Sim - Manchester 2013|
Had a chance to catch up with Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei yesterday during his UK visit. I first met Chen Zhenglei in 1997 when I spent several weeks training with him with a small group in Kaifeng. I remember that it was extraordinarily hot and the training was intense. Over the next few years I returned to train with him a number of times and, as well as training us very hard, he was keen that we caught the essence of Taijiquan. Looking back through my notes I see one entry where he spoke to us about the three correct ways and the three incorrect ways to train Taijiquan. Chen Zhenglei advised that we should:
- Train the principle not physical strength
- Train the source not the symptom
- Train the method not the manifestation
Training the principle not physical strength: Simply training hard is not enough. We must understand and train in line with Taijiquan's principles and philosophy. For example if we are to develop effective fajin we should first learn to "fang song" or loosen our body. Taijiquan's unique brand of looseness allows us to use strength effectively. We should also understand spiral force, the requirements for each part of the body, how to coordinate the crotch and waist, how to use the floor to employ the system's "rebounding force" ...
Training the source not the symptom: People are often attracted to one particular aspect of Taijiquan - it might be low postures, push hands, fajin, flowing movement... Then they focus exclusively on that aspect. It's all very well taking a low posture, but can you respond from that position? did you get down following the correct spiral path and can you get back up smoothly? Is the posture correct, or have all the body requirements been compromised to get down lower. We can compare this to Chinese medicine - when illness occurs it is not enough to treat a patient's symptoms, instead one must treat the root cause of the illness. In Taijiquan the source is silk reeling movement. We should learn and apply the basics in order to get to a high level. Silk reeling movement is achieved when all movements are circular with no straight lines or acute angles.
Training the method not the manifestation: We must train the whole body as a system rather than training individual techniques. Many learners become fixated on training applications rather than the underlying method. This is like a maths student trying to remember the answer of every possible computation rather than learning the formula to be able to find the solution to any problem. So we have to concentrate on the body as a whole rather than parts of the body. When we do think about any particular part, this should be understood as a process towards achieving the whole body as a system.
This is the traditional way and over the years I have tried to apply this advice. For sure, at first it was not easy to understand the importance of some aspects or requirements, but with time you come to realise that everything is there for a reason.