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Chen Taiji Network Online Academy

Chen Taijiquan Blog

Here we add some info on our academy, some general info on the practice of Chen Taijiquan, on the prana-bindu 神经肌肉 contents ("Dune-speak" for arcane nerve-muscle-training) of Taijiquan and more :) We hope you find some of it interesting or insightful. If not, best don't read it :) If you want to make some suggestions what topics we can cover just let us know. There will surely be technical topics, with regards to the contents of Taijiquan practice, but also didactic or educational matters which might spark our interest. Stay tuned, this is only the beginning! :)


 

Internal and external martial arts 

The Chinese martial arts are often differentiated into a so-called "internal school" and an "external school". Taijiquan is associated with the "internal school". I would like to share a couple of thoughts here on the issue. 

History in a nutshell - the internal school

If you are not interested in history then you can skip this part.

Huang Zongxi (1610 - 1695) - one of the "most important intellectual figures of the early Qing", historian, philosopher, poet and author (from Mote, 1999) - was (just like Chen Taijiquan founder Chen Wangting) a Ming dynasty loyalist. Huang Zongxi fought for the "Southern Ming" until 1649, who resisted the Qing dynasty for a few years after the fall of the North. After 1649 he lived in seclusion in his homeland of Yuyao in the north of the province Zhejiang, but he no longer actively participated in the military or political resistance. After the fall of the Ming, Huang Zongxi carefully analyzed the errors in the political system that led to the overthrow of the Ming (Dillon, 1998). 

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In 1669, at the request of a certain Gao Chensi, he wrote an epitaph for the martial artist Wang Zhengnan (1617-1669), who allegedley practised the "internal school". Gao Chensi probably provided the necessary information. The inscription is an interesting testimony. Huang Zongxi's youngest son Huang Baijia (1643-1709) was apparently a student of Wang Zhengnan and wrote the treatise "Boxing Method of the Internal School" (neijia quanfa) in 1676, in which he describes the techniques of the internal school. They are actually quite straight forward and not really any different from other techniques. He writes:

"In the external school the Shaolin art is the most perfected of all. Zhang Sanfeng was skillful in Shaolin [boxing], but he turned it around and created what is called the internal school. To know it a bit is enough to beat Shaolin." 

Huang Zongxi also writes in the epitaph that the internal school originated form Zhang Sanfeng:

"Shaolin is widely praised for its boxing, but it is emphasized hitting techniques, against which advantages can be gained. There is a so-called internal school that uses stillness to control movement, thus an attacker can be brought down at the very start of an encounter. Therefore we differentiate Shaolin as an external school. The internal school was founded by Zhang Sanfeng during the Song Period. Sanfeng was an Alchemist from Mount Wudang."

It is pretty clear in the whole context that Huang's epitaph was not meant as an accurate historical account. Also he doesn't hide his antipathy for the new Qing government, using the internal and external dichotomy also as a means to drive home his liking for the Ming dynasty (considered to be the last real 'Chinese' dynasty in contrast to the 'foreign' Qing dynasty). The internal school was mentioned a couple of times in small articles in gazeteers in the following centuries but it wasn't really until much later that the internal school gained momentum. But even in the early 20th century many people saw the divide as negligible: 

“Boxing is divided into two schools, internal and external, however, more people are familiar with the external school. No matter if it is about the internal or the external school, you have to use the individual techniques of falling, lifting, opening and closing, of beginning and ending with perfection, one has to regulate the qi and understand the principles and be inspired when doing the forms. [...] In addition, the lower body is most important. It is the basis of the whole body. Whatever happens, if it is not stable, one can't respond properly to a capable opponent" (Xu Ke, 1916).

From 1894 onwards some masters of Xingyiquan, Baguazhang and Taijiquan began to associate themselves with the internal martial arts. Sun Lutang, a disciple of one of these masters, started in 1915 to publish a number of very influential books. Some time afterwards this classification became the official standard.

In 1928 the Chinese government created a central martial arts academy in Nanjing - still the nationalists were in power at that time. The academy was divided into two sections, in a Wudang section consisting of Xingyiquan, Baguazhang and Taijiquan, and in a Shaolin department where all other martial arts were taught. There was a lot of political division between these departments.

What is internal and what external in real-life practice? 

As a trainer I am often being asked questions about the internal and external martial arts. I find the discussion a bit problematic and I don't want to strengthen the old divide between so-called internal and external martial arts. There has been a lot of nonsense and also vilification going on in the past 100 years or so. I personally think it is better to ask yourself if you are learning a coherent system rather than if internal is better than external or vice versa.    

In the Chen Taijiquan I have learned and how I teach it there are internal methods as well as external methods. To classify the whole art as only internal or only external thus seems a bit off. I think it is a much better perspective to discuss the repective methods which are inside a martial art. For example, we have stance training, stepping methods, long pole shaking, short stick training and so on. It would probably make sense to classify those as external methods as they are basically happening on the outside of the body and can be clearly seen. Then we have breathing methods, work on internal pathways of force generation, proprioception, kinesthetics, mind and intention work and so on. Many terms and concepts, like internal force (neijin), internal energy (neiqi), internal pathways (jinlu), intention work (yigong) and so on refer directly to this kind of training. A lot of this cannot really be seen from the outside but only guessed from a certain "cohesiveness" of the movements, so it makes sense to classify all this stuff as internal methodology. 

If we use this classification (internal/external method rather than internal/external art) we can see that certain martial arts use more internal methods and others more external ones. Still there will always be some kind of mix of internal and external. We should try to balance these methods in a coherent way, building skills in both realms and finally unifying them to reach one higher goal. In our Chen Taijiquan, for example, we teach some internal methods right from the start and they can be found all over the form, they are basically inseparable from it. But they become more important in later stages of our practice. In the beginning the external shapes are actually more important to develop skill, in a muscular kind of way as well as in terms of mobility. There should be a certain development in the art while we progress and some methods are more important when we start our training and some become more important later.  

We have a saying which goes "internal and external unite" 内外合一. This is the way to go in our system - not either internal, or external, but both in a coherent and useful way and in a good balance.    

Literature  

Dillon, M. (1998). China. Richmond: Curzon.

Henning, S. E. (1997). Chinese Boxing: The Internal Versus External Schools In the Light of History and Theory. Journal of Asian martial arts , 6(3), 10-19.

Huang Baijia (1676). Biography of Wang Zhengnan. (Online: Brennan Translation)

Mote, F. W. (1999). Imperial China, 900-1800. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Wile, D. (1999). T'ai-chi's ancestors: the making of an internal martial art. New York: Sweet Chi; Enfield: Airlift [distributor].

Xu Ke. (1916). Qing bai lei chao (digital version).

Mongolian Taijiquan master Tuo Mu Si about training with Chen Zhaokui

Translated by Linda Yeo from Chen Taijiquan Nairobi

Fascinating account by Mongolian taijiquan master Tuo Mu Si 妥木斯 who is featured in this video pushing hands with CZK.

Born in 1932, Tumut Zuoqi, Inner Mongolia, Mongolian. Oil painter, art educator. In 1958, he graduated from the Oil Painting Department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts. In 1963, he graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts Oil Painting Research Class. In 1983, he was awarded the professor of Fine Arts Department of Inner Mongolia Normal University. Retired in 1998. He studied Chen style Taijiquan from Chen Zhaokui and gives the following account of his time spent with CZK.

Taiji and fascia - Abstract

By Filip Gutknecht-Stöhr (May 2019)

Youtube: The Wonderful World of Fascia https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hijLMz9lEygbv

For several years now, the concept of fascia has become increasingly popular.  Previously, the attention of research was mostly on isolated structures such as nerves, muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, etc.. However, the notion of fascia as merely a layer of thin tissue enveloping our muscles is increasingly giving way to the realization that the properties and functions of fascia are far more comprehensive and significant than previously thought. 

Types of forces in Chen Taijiquan

We find many different forces (jinin Chen Taijiquan practice. They actually work on different kinds of levels. For example, when we talk about peng jin劲 we mean a certain expansive force which should be present in the whole body at all times, building tensegrity into our bodies. When we talk about "silk reeling" (缠丝 chansi) it means how the forces should be wrapped in the body.

The first form is the most important part of the Chen Taijiquan training system. I would like to let you know a bit about its history, its roots, the names of the movements and so on so you get a general overview.

We don't call it old frame (laojia) nor new frame (xinjia), but Chenshi Taijiquan Gongfujia Yilu

In 2008 I was doing research for my own book on Chen Taijiquan. So I contacted some other researchers in this field - one of whom was Marnix Wells. Fortunately we could meet up for the fist time in Beijing shortly after writing emails to and fro. When we met we immediately formed something like a friendship. Marnix is a gentleman, very knowledgeable and with ample experience in the martial arts. He might not look like it but he is a generation older than me so his stories also enabled me to look back in time, getting a feel for Hongkong in the 1960's, South-East Asia in the 70's and so on. He shared many stories how he met and trained with some of the great names of old who shaped the early experiences the West had with the Chinese Martial Arts. 

Yes, I have to admit, I read all of Frank Herbert's Dune novels when I was young and I always absolutely loved them! :) When I started this blog I had to somehow think of the prana-bindu training of the arcane order of the Bene Gesserit. In a moment of utter nerdiness I looked up the words in a Chinese version of the novel and saw they are being translated as 神经肌肉, nerve and muscle (sinews, fascia) training. Somehow I thought that is quite befitting and describes well what we do in Chen Taijiquan.

This is just a thought I had the other day... quite often discussions around martial arts lead to group think, virtual sects and a lot of hostility bewtween different groups of people who practise different arts. Just like everywhere where people get together... Maybe because a lot of martial arts club are pretty hierarchical. So if you are top of a hierarchy you might get out of your bubble only to find out people outside don't put you on a pedestral anymore. Of course it might also have to do with the general underlying mindset of the martial arts to dominate one another in a quite archaic way - through violence. So some people might use the same mindset in normal communication or as their default mode for conflict. Which is kind of sad I think.

What is relaxation in Taijiquan?

Relaxation 放松 is one of the basic qualities in Taijiquan. In Chinese we would refer to these basic aspects of our training as "requirements" 要求. However, relaxation is often declared to be the sole purpose of Taijiquan. In my experience this thought leads to a somewhat wrong understanding and makes real progess in the art difficult. Because relaxation, loosening or the associated sinking are prerequisites for Taijiquan, but not the only movement goals. This is at least true of our art. Though we can achieve positive results with "relaxation", excessive relaxation and excessive "letting go" are irrelevant from a martial point of view and can also lead to physical problems from a health perspective.

I wrote this in 2011 as I thought there was so little information available on Chen Zhaokui. This is the English translation of the German text. I did not have the time to check all original translations again, so there are surely some parts which might be expressed in a much better way. But I wanted to share the article as I think it contains some elements not so often talked about. I also made some smaller revisions while translating the article. Let me know what you think!

How do we learn Taijiquan as a martial art?

After a good chat with fellow gongfu nerd Jon Nicklin I felt inspired to delineate a couple of quick thoughts and general ideas on how to learn Chen Taijiquan as a martial art. When it comes to learning and teaching martial arts I think we need to make one basic difference:

Summary: This is about communication and miscommunication when teaching Taijiquan or writing about (internal) martial arts. Also how language and concepts (proverbs and such) shape our practice, how we can relate to that while learning or teaching the arts and how to separate, connect and integrate your body experience and hone skills.

Where does the Taijiquan cannon fist (paochui) come from?

The second form of Chen-style Taijiquan is called "cannon fist". It is a form which was recorded in the early records of the Chen Family which were recovered by the researchers Tang Hao and and Xu Zhen. It has traditionally been part of the curriculum of this style. In the old manuscripts there is a note: "Fifteen fists [and] fifteen cannons, use the heart [xin / centre] in boxing practice."

Common mistakes in Chen Taijiquan

Those who train with me know I don't want to impose my or our training methodology on anyone. So here I write about common mistakes which can happen in our training. And I think it helps to be aware of them. Of course if you train some other style or in some other lineage you might also want to read this post as it might help you to make up your own mind on how you solve these matters in your practice.

This question was asked by a new student who had before practised in another lineage for about 10 years. I was taken aback and flabbergasted. My main thought was: "Really? You are asking me this kind of question?" And found it difficult to answer properly.

The second form of Chen-style Taijiquan: Cannon Fist

By Gu Liuxin (1983), translation © CTN ACADEMY. 
(Translation from: Gu Liuxin. (2005 reprint). Paochui: Chenshi taijiquan di erlu (reprint). Beijing: Renmin tiyu chubanshe. Pp. 42-44)

Note: Gu Liuxin learnt different styles of Taijiquan from very well-known teachers like Chen Fake, but also Yang Chengfu and others.

Chen Zhaokui's silk reeling manuscript

(posthumously published script by Chen Zhaokui, revised by Chen Yu, translated by Stefan Gätzner and by Nabil Ranné)1

The reeling force 缠劲 is also called silk reeling force 缠丝劲 and it is one of the main contents of Chen-Style Taijiquan.

Online Learning Formats

As the Taijiquan school is kind of set up now I thought it makes sense to talk a bit on how we teach, the reason's behind it, the prospects and also the values behind our school. Hopefully you enjoy learning a bit more about our online training.

Buddhas Warrior

Vajrapani, in a 9th century representation from Dunhuang, is the guardian deity whose symbol inspired the Chen Taijiquan posture of "Buddha's Warrior Pounds Mortar" 金刚捣碓, thus linking taiji symbolism to ancient breathing methods.

We have methods in Chen Taijiquan which are called seizing methods 拿法 nafa or capturing and seizing 擒拿 qinna, which also contain a range of techniques from catching sinews 抓筋 zhua jin or turning bones 反骨 fan gu among others. Often we refer to these methods simply as joint locks though their usage differs somewhat. All methods contain a range of great applications for practical usage. They can also be trained in a pretty safe environment if taught in a reasonable manner.  

Maybe it makes sense to say something about my own journey before someone might want to ask me to set out on a Taijiquan journey and learn from me. So I want to share some info on how I learned what I teach.  

Here I thought it might be interesting to talk a bit about different training intentions, about the Chen Taijiquan training process and to give some examples of different kinds of practices. I was inspired to write this post by one of the (fortunately rare) negative comments I got on YouTube. So I am trying to transform the negativity into something useful here :-)

In the last two weeks I heard two of my students (with ample prior experience) describing our Chen Taijiquan frame to someone. One of them, being a Chinese speaker, used the term 丰富 fengfu, which means "abundant". The other one, an English speaker who comes to my workshops from afar, said to another student: "this frame is very rich, with so many details". When I think about this the German word "reichhaltig" comes to my mind, which means something like "rich in content".

To help you book a class, here is a step by step explanation of the booking process!

Online Learning - does it really work?

In the beginning we were all quite skeptical about online learning in Taijiquan. Though our Chinese family branch started this already about 10 years ago. But after teaching students abroad especially during the Corona lockdown we changed our minds and saw the actual improvement of all those who are sincerely training online.

Some of you might be thinking: Who are the people offering the online classes? Nabil Ranné and Konstantin Berberich founded the Chen-Style Taijiquan Network Germany in 2009/2010 to promote the Taijiquan in the lineage of our teacher Chen Yu. He has outstanding gongfu (Chinese for skill / martial skill) and learned Taijiquan in direct line from Chen Changxing (via Chen Gengyun and Chen Yanxi) to Chen Fake and Chen Zhaokui, his father.