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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! :)


 

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. 

Chang Naizhou (1724-1783) - the Scholar Boxer

Marnix published his book Scholar Boxer: Chang Naizhou's Theory of Internal Martial Arts and the Evolution of Taijiquan Boxer in 2005. It is translation of Chang Naizhous work plus a well-informed commentary and a great introduction to the topic, which is highly condensed. Some people did not like how Marnix renders some words. For example, he translates yin as shady and yang as sunny. I personally think had he translated everything just like everybody else his work wouldn't yield much additional information. But the way he translates the work and comments on it, he really stimulates the reader's own thinking and reflection. Chang Naizhou's theory in itself is of course also very interesting to read. 

Marnix writes that neither the Daoist temple of the god of war on Mount Wudang in Hubei, which was built by the Ming emperor Yongle in 1418, nor the Buddhist Shaolin monastery, which was deliberately set on fire by the warlord Shi Yousan in 1928, preserved an extensive combative philosophy. For this, he says, we would have to turn to the few cryptic passages of the "Taijiquan Classic", which was edited in 1881 by Li Yiyu (Yishe). But with Chang Naizhou's writings there is a more complete source from the previous century which discusses many similar ideas. 

Chang came from the village of Sishui in Henan, from the South of the Yellow River. Less than 50 miles to the south you will find the Tiger Cage Pass and the slopes of Mount Song, on which the Shaolin Monastery is located. To the North, basically just across the Yellow River, is Chenjiagou, which is today considered to be the home of Taijiquan. To the West we find Luoyang and to the East Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province. Further along the Southern bank of the Yellow River is Kaifeng, the capital of the Northern Song.  

Marnix states that Chang Naizhou's resources were the Book of Changes and the Four Books: The Analects, Meng Zi, Great Learning and the Measure of Middle, because Neo-Confucianism was the foundation of the educational system at that time. The "Taijiquan Classics" as they have been called, thus rely on many of the same ideas. One of the many quotations or ideas shared by Chang and Taijiquan reads:

"Inwardly a firm spirit,
outwardly show peaceful ease."

Chang Naizhou mentions the six connections which are widely practiced over many Chinese Martial Arts, also Xingyiquan for example. He also shows similarities to Chen Xin's publication (1919). They both share the theory of central energy (zhongqi), which we still use in our training system today, just like the six connections and many other aspects. Marnix writes that it is practically inconceivable that Chen had no idea that his famous predecessor was working on the same subject in the neighboring village. Chen Xin even mentions a story how one of his ancestors (Chen Jixia) supposedly met Chang Naizhou - of course we don't know how true this story really is. But Chang's and Chen's theories will always remain important testimonials of past gongfu practice. Thanks, Marnix, for sharing your knowledge with your readers and providing so many new translations and ideas in your work - highly recommended :)!

Here is the interview with Marnix Wells on his early journeys and on the Scholar Boxer:

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.