Monday 18 August 2014

Meeting Wang Xian...

For the record...
At the beginning of the month I spent a week in the French coastal town of Fecamp. We came here to meet, train with and interview Wang Xian, one of the pre-eminent Chen Taijiquan practitioners of the elder generation. Fecamp is in the Normandy area and has a long martial history. Here, close to our hotel, William of Normandy celebrated with a giant banquet almost a thousand years ago after conquering England and killing King Harold. The nearby beaches saw action more recently with the bloody allied landings in the Second World War. Wang Xian's camp brought a more peaceful martial vibe...

The Four "Buddha's Warriors"
Wang Xian is one of the "Four Buddha's Warriors" of Chenjiagou Taijiquan and is renowned for his great combat skills. Over the last two decades I've had the chance to train with the other three and was curious to see how his teaching style compared. One of the things I really enjoyed about the seminar was his spontaneity in breaking out of the set programme. Many people who only learn via seminars and don't attend regular classes find this stressful. They argue that the poster said Laojia Yilu or Xinjia Erlu or whatever and that this should be stuck to, or the group won't be able to finish the form. Anyone who has trained in a traditional class for any length of time knows that the best instruction often arises in an unplanned way.

The programme for the week was Xinjia Yilu (New Frame First Form). On the first day Wang was not satisfied with the footwork of the group, so spent quite some time having everyone go through various stepping drills  - including how to take deceptively long or "greedy/hungry" steps to enter an opponent's space unexpectedly. At any time he would switch from the Xinjia to train some movement from Laojia that could illustrate the point he was trying to put across. With a great emphasis on appreciating the subtleties that lie at the heart of correct Taijiquan he would repeatedly ask people to place their hands on his waist, kua, shoulders, chest or dantian so they could feel what was happening. Then after a while he would call everyone to go away and train themselves - "You won't get it by watching me doing it.You'll only get it by doing it yourself!

Wang Xian explains a point...
Above all, he constantly stressed the need to achieve "song" or looseness through slow training and great attention: "Everything is dependent upon song"; "the amount of Qi in the body is a direct reflection of the degree of song". The Daodejing says that one must: "Make freedom from desire your constant norm; thereby you will see what is subtle. Make having desires your constant norm; thereby you will see what is manifest". The failure to understand the difference between the root of a movement and its ultimate expression is a great barrier to many students. It's not that they are not prepared to work hard and sweat, but desperately wanting the end product, they cannot appreciate the need to minutely examine their practice. It's easy to see the explosive fajin of an accomplished practitioner or an exciting application. It's not so easy to realise the correct route of the movement or its energetic requirements. When people are asked to train slowly, you can see that in a short time, some people soon feel the need to go faster, some just get bored and start to do some push hands, some just have a convivial chat with their  friends. Only a few painstakingly repeat the movement over and over, checking if their chest is loose, back filled, kua relaxed etc etc ... It's particularly striking when the teacher leads the group through the form after telling everyone to do it slowly. Some people are always one step ahead. Those who know how to learn try to stay with and  mirror his movements as closely as possible.

(L-R) David Gaffney, Davidine Sim, Wang Xian & Yen Sujie
A few of the tips he gave over the course of the week included:

Don't stupidly repeat the form and think that you are going to get fighting ability. You must take out single movements from the form and train them repeatedly until you completely understand them.

The form is not a dead thing. Many people can do an outside imitation of the form, but they are lost in, as one participant put it, "copy and paste mode". The form must be alive within the principles.

Use slowness to achieve detail. I cannot emphasise how much importance Wang put on the fundamental need to train slowly. Everyone can quote Taijiquan's requirements such as storing the chest and filling the  back, but finding the  optimal degree of relaxation, extension or co-ordination of different parts of the body can only be realised through slowness. 

In his final address to the group at the end of the seminar he told everyone to "train everyday or you won't get it - you cannot train for one day and rest for three"!


  1. Thanks for sharing such an insightful interview. As the saying go "There are no shortcuts to any place worth going."


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