Beginning steps as a novice
Usually when I lead through a class I take students on a ride through my own practice. That can make things quite demanding as there are a lot of things to work on, details in the body work, in the intention work, in the forces we use and so on. So it can just become a bit too much especially for a novice who cannot possibly know how to prioritise things. On the one hand my experience shows everybody will still take things from the class in a very individual kind of way :-) They will kind of naturally choose what is relatable, what they want to work on or what they can connect with. Plus it makes the class more interesting for the advanced students and it helps to keep the focus of the group together.
However, I thought it can make sense to help novices prioritise the contents somewhat. In the first stage of learning we usually need to focus on the basic requirements. We summed them up to make them easier to memorise.
Basic requirements of Chen Taijiquan
1. Central Energy
2. Hollow the chest, expand the back
3. Qi sinks to dantian
4. Expand mingmen, the gate of life
5. Bind and expand the ribs
6. Loosen the hips and settle down the lumbar region
7. Bring back the hip joints
8. Round the crotch
9. Place your weight on the back third of your feet
10. Empty the center of your feet and palms
11. Empty the neck and lift the top of your head
12. Sink the shoulders, drop the elbows
13. Knees do not move past the toes
14. Elbows don’t stick to the rib cage
15. Retract the lower jaw
16. Slightly close the lips, breathe in through your nose, breathe out through your mouth, breathe naturally
17. Expand the shoulders
18. Relax the entire body
(Note: Of course some of these requirements are easier to understand without instruction than others. For example, 'qi sinks into dantian' might make no sense at all if one doesn't know what biomechanically speaking it's all about. It might even sound a bit esoteric which would be an obstacle in the learning process. Other points probably sound more relatable. Of course we need to see that all points are interconnected and cannot really be separated from one another in the long run.)
So in the 1st level of training we can usually focus on one of these requirements and often when we go about the next one we will lose the first again. That's a normal learning process. Most importantly we have to get the first point right, the central energy, to begin and understand the connection from the top of the head to the tailbone and the perineum. We need to learn how to activate and control body parts like where is the crown of the head (which we call baihui GV20 百会) and so on. These are specific points and not just located anywhere on the body and they will help to get the body structure right. Controlling the central energy will also help to bundle the body weight together, form a central pivot point in the body and then root it somewhere. Rooting it is the next big thing, so we need to work on the lower body structure and be careful not to let the weight drop into the middle of the foot and also be careful not to let the weight drop into the knees. Rather the teacher should guide the correct the dropping of the body weight and how to root it. This sounds easier said than done and can take a couple of years or even one's whole taiji life depending on how we view this matter :-) Anyway, these are the 👉 two most important points for any novice to work on: centering vertically and dropping the weight correctly! 👈
Learning is never linear
Now of course this is meant as a kind of standard advice for everyone, pretending learning was a linear process. Clearly, it is not, so everything I said could be turned around again. During learning we also need to play around a bit, make mistakes, encounter difficulties, solve a couple, encounter more and so on 🌀 But here I wanted to help novices with a couple of good starting points. These refer to the contents inside the practice. Whether to train them during form practice, standing, basics or the like doesn't really matter.
To me, the first level of learning is mainly about learning requirements. Like learning to know and activate 'dots' inside our body. The second stage, however, is more about learning connections, about connecting the dots. In the third stage we can focus more on the movement methods and then in the fourth stage more on the internal work. Maybe I will elaborate on this in a later post.
I posted this on Facebook a couple of days ago. I thought the video of Chen Yu is very intersting to watch. The input is truly great, but of course for a beginning student it's very difficult to know when to integrate it. The requirements need to be in place before some useful, functional movement patterns like core movement (dantian) or whole body method (shenfa) can be intergrated. On the other hand doing only requirements will never lead to the more complex functional movement patterns... thus training always needs balance, needs order and chaos ☯️ I hope this article helps novices to see the path, which provides a good learning structure but also a lot of freedom to go for a stroll now and then 🙏