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.
Without work on the correct external shape and "moulding" it there is hardly any internal developent in Taijiquan and it doesn't make much sense to talk about more refinded contents such as dantian work or internal silk-reeling.
P.S.: Please overlook the crudeness of the drawings, I go through a naive art process right now :)
Five mistakes in Chen Taijiquan stances
1. Too low.
If we go to low and especially below a 90 degrees angle between calf and thigh we lose our pathway of internal force (jinlu) which should connect our central area (dantian, waist etc.) to our lower body (kua, thigh, calf, feet). Though it might look spectacular, it will not be possible to properly control your centre of gravity and its alignment with the rest of the body. There are very few postural exceptions to this rule, for example as in the "fall and split" (die cha) movement (there are always some exceptions :) ) Also it would lead to something Chen Zhaokui called an error: "The error of a rocking crotch area: the crotch area is too deep. Countermeasure: the crotch area is required to be round and supportive; you must not go below your knees except for the pubu (仆 步 stand). The angle between the lower thigh and thigh must not be less than 90 degrees."
The yellow line in the illustration shows the error and how our centre would drop outside the body structure, creating some pulling forces on the inside which should be avoided. The red lines show how we want to create internal connections, these are obstructed in this position as the external structure is too low.
2. Too wide.
If the stance is too wide, we lose the "crotch force" (dang jin) and cannot mould it correctly. Chen Zhaokui said: "The crotch area is like a bridge, always in the form of a semi-circle and not like an upside-down 'V'." This mistake is related to the 5th mistake I list here of course. It will be very difficult with this stance to create a closing, stabilising force from the crotch area downwards and also upwards in order to achieve what we call "closing the abdomen" in Chinese. The yellow lines show how the internal force is dispersed when this error happens.
3. Too much to the front.
Don't bring your centre of gravity too much to the front of the feet. If the feet are inactive this will naturally happen. It will stress the knees and when the knee joint cannot open up to bring the force downwards it might get hurt in the long run.
The yellow line shows a linear, straight push from the centre of gravity forward, but like this it has no balancing counterforce. The weight will drop too much to the front and we lose our root. The red line is how we should organise the internal forces.
4. Too straight.
This often happens to beginners and especially in the unweighted leg, when the attention shifts too much to the weighted side and when we forget to correctly shift the weight. Then the weight change often happens to be linear. If the leg is too straight, however, it loses the expansive power (peng jin). It can be internally stretched to create some stability, but that is still too linear for the way we practice. We thus lose the other directions necessary to create proper expansion. So as a general rule of thumb, don't straighten your leg and don't just push in a linear way.
The yellow line shows the straight push from the leg, the red lines show how the leg should rotate to create silk-reeling force (chansi jin).
5. Too open.
If the feet are in a V-shape they open too much and we cannot close the crotch force nor develop more advanced mechanics in the legs, the crotch and the hip. The foot position should not be in a V-shape or a 丁-shape. Chen Zhaokui said: "[It is an error] to move the feet about chaotically and when the toes do not grip the ground, so the base is not stable." This correlates to some of the other mistakes above or rather it produces some of them. When the feet are wrong, the upper body cannot be properly aligned as it rests on the feet. So make sure your foot positions are clear.
The external shape is very important to develop internal qualities. In Chinese the proverb is "internal and external unite", it does not make much sense to try and solely focus on one side and forget the other in the art of Taijiquan.
- This is a short video from one of my online classes where I explain a bit about how to wrap the internal forces around your lower body, which only works with correct stances: