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 :-)
Thankfully most people are appreciative, but unfortunately some aren't which of course is normal on social media. Basically I don't care and just delete the comment if it is plainly derogatory. Interestingly the following video tends to get more of those comments than others. It shows my teacher performing the 75-form of Chen Taijiquan which he basically learned from watching. He VERY (!) rarely performs it. But that particular day in the park, with only his wife, his son and two or three of his friends around, he started doing the whole form. I asked him afterwards why he did it. And he said casually "for health" 养生. I considered not publishing the form at all but then released a short part as I thought maybe others would like watching it. I also added the term "laojia" to the video as the 74- or 75-form is called "laojia" or "old frame" by the majority of today's Chen practioners. We don't usually use the term so I put it in brackets.
This is the form:
Green apples and red apples
Negative thinking will often make us all dismiss things especially when our opinion is predetermined. It happens to myself occasionally :-) Though I added a short explanation that the two information of "75 form / laojia" and "for health" are not linked, some people tend to think they are nonetheless and thus think my posting of this video was derogatory. Someone accused me of marketing, calling the general idea of gongfu training baseless. :-D
The problem is, I cannot post this video without these two information. First of all, I have to say that this form is not usually being practiced by my teacher. This is an important aspect viewers should know. Secondly, people should not believe this is how training with my teacher usually looks like - for the simple fact that it just doesn't. He NEVER teaches that casually. So it would be unfair and deceptive not to mention these two aspects to the viewers. But I never stated 75-form can only be practiced that way, this is a reverse logic which does not apply to my statement. If I posted a video saying "here are some green apples" it does not mean all apples are always green. They can be red, yellow, whatever. The two information are not necessarily linked in a causal way. When somebody asks me I am happy to clarify.
And underlying problem of this situation also seems to be that apparently in the West there are people who do not openly talk about gongfu training. In China it is basically clear to everyone in all Chen lineages I know that if you only do forms casually, you will not develop gongfu. It is just basic knowledge. Like a friend on Facebook mentioned: "You can jog lightly or you can sprint." When I only jog, I will obviously never be as fast as Usain Bolt. If I only use 2kg kettlebells they might be a very good training tool but if I only use those I will not become the strongest person in the world. It is very simple!
Some people do not seem to like this thinking, maybe because of the marketing of Taijiquan in the West as a light exercise which though seemingly easy then develops high levels of skill. In China I never encountered this absurdity of not recognizing different intensity levels in one's training (though it might exist there, too, I don't know). One problem might be that progression in the art is not often talked about. The notion that you have to "eat bitter" 吃苦 sometimes floats around and also that you can get better with a lot of training, of course, but not really how you get better!
Unfortunately this is a bit more complicated in Taijquan practice than in running. You could ask why is that? I will give a very simple example. If you go low in Taijiquan, with low stances, the training will get heavier and more intense. But to do this correctly you need to have learned certain requirements:
- how to position and use your feet properly
- how to position and use your knees properly
- how to set and loosen (song) the hip joints (kua)
- how to move the hip joints
- how to build up the correct internal leg forces
There is more to this, but I want to keep the list short. If someone hasn't learned these requirements and still goes very low, the chance that one will get injured because of the training is very high. So while running most people can basically increase intensity by just running faster or longer, and only if problems occur they will get special running training, in Taijiquan you need to learn the method of doing something properly first before you can increase the intensity. (Or at least while learning the method you can increase intensity.) The same actually also applies to many other aspects in Taijiquan, but I think the stance analogy is the easiest to understand. Sometimes people ask me "the form is so difficult to do, what do I have to do to be able to do it properly?" My answer usually is, "you have to practice the form and slowly build in the correct methods". There is no addtional training needed. Though we do have additional training, you don't need to shake the long pole or do an hour of mabu stance before you can do the form. The form is the main training to build skill and power 功力!
So in our line we don't differentiate the Chen forms in terms of old or new, as the authentic methods are all quite old and as our lineage is a continuous tradition, but we rather differentiate the intensity and level of training in terms of "basic" 基础 , "advanced" 提高 and "gongfu" 功夫 training. They are actually quite different. And you need to have learned some things before you can practice all of those different layers. Some aspects of the training basically stay similar, while others such as what forces you use, the intention work, the breathing etc. change considerably even to the degree that one way to do it in one stage would be correct but in another would be incorrect. Just like in the example above, if you have not learned the proper method (for example of going low), you should not really attempt to do it as it can be detrimental to the practice. This is a very interesting topic I will surely write about later in this blog. You might notice that all I am writing about here is not the what, the names of the choregraphies people practice in Chen Taijiquan, it is all about the how of the practice. And whatever you practice, make sure someone in your lineage put in some interesting methods :-)
To make this somewhat more comprehensible to someone new to the topic you can watch the next two videos in relation to the one above. The next form doesn't show the practice of Taijquan, but it is a demonstration. It shows certain skills, but not, how these skills are built. Noone would practice like this on a daily basis, it is just a demo of Chen Yu which I filmed when I went to Zhuhai with him:
The next form is something quite different. If you start it (at app. 33') it shows much more of the actual training practice (still somewhat specific but it's sufficient for my point here):
These are some thoughts on the variety of expressions Taijiquan practice can have. Hope you enjoyed reading about this matter. I could do endless videos of myself performing a random form in a "for health" kind of way or in a more gongfu kind of way. Depending on the time of the day, my feeling at that point in time and so on. Though generally speaking my personal focus is on gongfu, none of these practices is necessarily better than the other per se. And of course, the gongfu should also show, like in Chen Yu's video above, when someone performs a more health oriented form. But the gongfu has to do with intention and intensity of one's practice and what you are looking for. It does not depend on the name of the form, if it is a 75-form, 83-form, 89-form, a shorter form, a standing practice or whatever. It depends on your intention and how deep you want to get into the matter!
So if you practice some Chen form and feel slighted after reading this article, you might want to read it again to notice I never said anything bad about any form. I wanted to talk about intentions and fundamentally about being conscious of our practice.
If you have any questions about this topic or would like me to further discuss a certain point please let me know!