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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! :)


 

Technical requirements in Chen Taijiquan

When we train the form it is important that we learn to understand the intrinsic body work and the underlying forces in the single positions. We might encounter movements which we can relate to more and some we can relate to less. But to make the form full we also need to put in certain "intentions" into all movements. To do that we also need to understand the martial usage of movement sequences. 

Sometimes people might say: "There are so many applications in a movement, so don't think about them, just heed the taiji principles." Well, to me this is like saying to a piano player: "There are so many songs in this world, so don't think about them...?!" :-) But the problem is that then you will never be able to play a tune. Of course there are quite a lot of applications inside every single movement. But to understand them and to be able to apply the techniques we need to know at least a couple and to work on them. It's not techniques versus principles. But they actually complement one another. The "principles" or methods are there to make the techniques better, not to make them useless to learn. 

It's just a technique...

Techniques or rather technical training is what I refer to as yongfa 用法. We basically learn and then drill a certain movement. This is necessary to understand the technical repertoire of our style. This technical training will help us understand a lot of our own body mechanics, some distances, some kind of techniques (joint locks, throws, hitting etc.) and so on. But technical training alone will not be sufficient to use the techniques in competitive situations or in self defense. We need some different training for that, like stepping skills and tactics and so on. But without any technical training at all we will never really understand the foundations of our style. So it should be clear that learning techniques is a prerequisite to any other martial training and also to understand the principles and methods inside the form.

Approaching systematic application training

It will not really be possible to train everything at once in one single exercise. So I think it is important to understand the system of application training, how exercises connect to another to eventually build up a coherent whole. There are foundational skills, lik yongfa is to me, and a lot of in-contact techniques which we can start with some from being grabbed, pulled and so on. For example, once we know some techniques, we can use them in "pushing hands" (tuishou 推手), which represent structured pushing and pulling sequences, or in "hitting hands" (dashou 打手), punching routines in close contact, or in "free hands" (sanshou 散手), fighting from a distance in order to practice kicks, footwork and bridging to the opponent.

In-contact applications seem by far the easiest way to understand the body mechanics needed to respond in a good way. Of course there are additional skills and even specializations one could get into later, for example training certain self-defense scenarios or certain competition rules if that is one would like to prepare for. That's why the common notion "is the application realistic?" seems difficult to answer. "Realistic for what context?" would be a better question, or if the application was maybe just foundational, i.e. teaching a certain technique.   

Here is a short clip from my workshop in Barcelona at Pedro's school which shows a couple of techniques from the beginning of the form and how this technical training relates to some of the body work we might find in Chen-Style Taijiquan. You might notice there is no need for speed but it's more about making movements correct. After we have that control and efficiency in movements we can speed up, but not before, at least that's how I like to teach:     

This one is more about how to use your body mechanics I explained beforehand in a single technique: 

This is about using the body method (shenfa) in applications and to focus on not losing it once we get into contact with our training partner:

This is a somewhat special post as I thought it might be nice for readers to see some of my students and get some ideas of how people train with me. On a meta-level I thought it is good to understand that there are many methods ingrained in the form training which are shared in our whole community - they are not just individual skills or "talents". I guess many of these methods can be better seen if compared over a range of practioners. On a micro-level I hope the videos are just enjoyable as they feature enthusiasts who are serious in their pursuit of the art. I might add more later, not everybody likes to share their training but maybe I can nudge some more to lose their shyness ;-)

There is more than meets the eye

Here I would like to share a couple of thoughts on methods, what we can find in a method and what can we see from the outside and what not. I will use one example of a concept most people who train Chen Taijiquan will be familiar with. 

Leg structure and intentional work  

One requirement for Chen Taijiquan is yuan dang 圆裆, rounding the crotch. The weight will thus drop in a different way than it would if we didn't heed the requirement. The weight has to be distributed in such a way that it does not constantly compress all joints. Rather there is a tensile action we want to develop which protects the joints. The connections run all the way down to the feet of course. 

Memoirs of learning boxing with Mr. Chen Zhaokui (Episode I)

By Bai Shuwen

In the spring of 1971, I worked in the Political Department of the first artillery. Through the recommendation of Wang Ju of the Logistics Department in the second artillery, I was lucky to meet Mr. Chen Zhaokui in Nan Li Shi park. At that time, he was teaching Yilu 83 Form Chen Taijiquan. This was the first time I saw Chen Taijiquan. In his teaching demonstration, Chen laoshi displayed every movement with a deep level of gongfu. His exquisite quan skills deeply attracted me. Right at that moment, I was secretly determined to learn boxing from Chen laoshi.

Methods in form practice 

I remember when I looked at the manuals of old it always seemed to me that the postural details found in the descriptions were somehow a bit arbitrary. It didn't seem easily understandable how they really linked up and thus they lost their importance and relevance to me back then. Of course, the books (like Chen Xin's here on the right) were not really meant to be easily understandable "do it yourself" books in the first place.

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.

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.