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...
|For the record...|
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 Four "Buddha's Warriors"|
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!
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.
|Wang Xian explains a point...|
of the tips he gave over the course of the week included:
|(L-R) David Gaffney, Davidine Sim, Wang Xian & Yen Sujie|
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.
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.
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"!
Thanks for sharing such an insightful interview. As the saying go "There are no shortcuts to any place worth going."ReplyDelete