Friday 27 April 2018

What’s the hurry, do it properly…

In a recent post I went back through some old notes on Chen Taijiquan fajin. This time, in a similar way I’ve gone back through some of my battered old notebooks to pick out some words of advice on the rationale behind Taijiquan’s use of slowness as a primary training tool. One of the first notes I’d highlighted was the advice that “slow movement is not the aim of Taijiquan, only a practice method”. With experience this may seem obvious. In the early years, after coming from an external martial arts background, it was less clear. It is important to understand what Taijiquan is – a vast subject in itself. Chen Taijiquan is a centuries-old Chinese martial art that uses a number of different methods and concepts to train a high level of body integration and martial ability. An often misunderstood area is the highly practical benefits that can come - if one keeps confidence in the traditional slow training method.

In the first place slow training enables a practitioner to develop a high degree of synchronisation of timing throughout the body parts involved in any particular movement. Not just involving one isolated muscle but the cooperation of all. In the words of Chen Xiaowang, “Slow training allows you to slowly form the dantian as core. One part moves, all move. Connected from section to section, qi unbroken throughout”…this movement system can then be adapted to all circumstances”.

Chen Zhenglei: “Taijiquan movement is based on a body philosophy whereby everything is natural and unforced… left/right upper/lower forward/backward - all complementing each other, with no contradiction or friction”. Taijiquan’s movement system operates within a strict discipline that works towards the elimination of any unnecessary and potentially telegraphed movements. “To this end there are exact prerequisites in terms of intention, body requirements and limb placement… Slow training allows you to check for yourself whether you are following these requirements”.

Slow training allows us the possibility of NEVER IGNORING THOSE DETAILS. The unique nature of Taijiquan’s movement system is designed to get rid of all stiffness and rigidity in the body. With mindful training we can lay down the correct energy route: foot – knee – hip – waist – shoulder – elbow – hand all controlled by the waist as manifested in silk reeling exercises. Learning to loosen the body (fangsong) before using strength i.e. with the correct degree of relaxation you can use your strength effectively – the spiral force, shaking energy, rebounding force.

While learners often become fixated on the end postures of Taijiquan, the system’s usage is more clearly demonstrated in the space between postures. Here it is especially important to take care that you are not straying from the rules. A note I took from one of Wang Xian’s sessions reads: “You must practise slowly, especially through transition movements because during transition movements you must manage changes and manage deviations – self correcting all the time.” He went on to advise that “You must know your boundary [position of maximum strength]… explore this through slow practice”
Slow training allows us to:

-          examine each aspect carefully when practising until it becomes natural
-          Try to feel the movement. After adjusting a student’s posture Chen Xiaoxing doesn’t say “have you got it”, he usually asks “you gan jue ma?” (“can you feel it?")
-          Use intention – to internalise – to calm the mind
I’ll leave the final word on slow training to Chen Xiaoxing who, when asked why the movements had to be done so slowly, replied simply: “What’s the hurry? Do it properly”!

Get rid of bad habits before “souping-up” the engine...

The traditional way is to first put the building blocks in place – a strong unmovable base, co-ordinated movement, agile footwork.  Cultivat...