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Variations in Chen Taijiquan Strategies

(Immediately we’ve a visitor article from Charles Tauber. I requested Charles to develop one thing he had written within the inside arts dialogue board Rum Soaked Fist, as it is a subject not very a lot written about and needs to be attention-grabbing for Tai Chi fanatics. Please go to Charles Webpage the place yow will discover his carpentry as Tai Chi rulers, guitars and extra. // Thanks! – David )

By Charles Tauber / Might, 2023 

A primary tenet of the follow of Taijiquan is that the entire physique is mobilized in motion, slightly than remoted movement of the limbs. In Chen model Taijiquan, particularly, the strategy for uniting the physique in movement is known as “silk reeling” (chan si). As with most kinds of Taijiquan, the specifics of follow differ between kinds, inside sub-styles and between lecturers of the identical model. 

Early of their research, most college students of Chen Taijiquan are taught primary foundational workouts – known as jibengong by some and silk reeling workouts by others – to help with their understanding and growth of the physique methodology utilized in Chen Taijiquan. A lot of the Chen model Taijiquan at present taught, instantly, or not directly, comes from Chen Pretend (CFK), who’s widely known as probably the most expert Chen Taijiquan practitioner of the 1900’s. He left behind three best-known lineages of practitioners; members of the family in Chen Village, Feng Zhiqiang in Bejing and Hong Junsheng in Jinan. 

Regardless of having a typical supply, there’s appreciable variation in how every of those lineages conceptualizes, teaches, and practices the artwork and its foundational workouts – jibengong/silk reeling workouts. One of many sources of variation is the results of Hong Junsheng, Chen Pretend’s (CFK) longest-standing disciple, observing that CFK carried out his actions a method in solo follow and one other throughout utility. With CFK’s approval, Hong altered how actions have been carried out in solo follow to be the identical as how they have been carried out in utility. Hong noticed that to be martially efficient, the actions wanted to be carried out in a selected means that’s extra strict than is mostly required for solo follow.  Hong known as his ensuing strategy “Sensible Methodology”.

In Chen Village solo follow, the elbows are sometimes raised, and is a primary component of most solo follow, together with foundational silk reeling workouts (chan si gong). Chen Xiaowang (CXW), for instance, explicitly teaches that in an “outgoing” portion of a silk reeling circle “qi” travels from the stomach (dantian) to the decrease again (mingmen), up the again to the shoulder, to the elbow after which to the hand.  Feng Zhiqiang’s coaching doesn’t explicitly educate this pathway however performs the circle equally. In contrast, in Hong’s Sensible Methodology, it’s taught from the onset that elevating the elbows is an error in any a part of follow and is to be averted from day one. In utility, no matter sub-style, the elbows are not often raised since a raised elbow is a legal responsibility simply taken benefit of by an opponent or associate. One of many distinguishing traits between Hong’s methodology and that of Village/Feng is the use/non-use of the elbow within the pathway. 

This results in a second distinguishing attribute. With Village/Feng solo silk reeling circles, and the dantian/mingmen/shoulder/elbow/hand sequence, the motion of the elbow precedes the motion of the hand. In Hong’s model, the hand precedes the elbow: the mantra is, “Out with the hand, in with the elbow”. In lengthy weapons coaching – and a few shorter weapons coaching, resembling saber – the hand should precede the elbow: the weapon received’t work if the elbow leads. For instance, if thrusting a spear outward, the ahead hand leads the motion, not the elbow. Equally, when withdrawing the spear, the other happens: the elbow leads the hand, pulling again with the elbow because the hand follows. In Village/Feng solo (empty hand) work, the elbow leads in outward-going actions whereas the hand leads on inward-going actions, the precise reverse of Sensible Methodology. This has large implications in how the solo actions – together with the fundamental “silk reeling” circles – are carried out and skilled. 

One other important distinction between Hong and Village/Feng strategies is that in Hong’s methodology one shall not transfer the fulcrum throughout utility. In follow, which means one doesn’t shift weight forwards and backwards throughout utility. In an artwork that depends closely on leverage – “4 ounces deflects a thousand kilos” – shifting of 1’s weight between legs introduces pushing or pulling that diminishes the efficient leverage. In Village/Feng solo follow, there’s a fixed shifting of weight forwards and backwards. (It’s attention-grabbing to see video of Feng pushing arms the place he does little or no weight shift.)

Within the 1990’s, when CXW was travelling the world to provide seminars, he explicitly taught that there’s one foundational precept and three methods for reaching that precept. The First Precept is that when one a part of the physique strikes, the whole physique strikes, or put one other means, when the dantian strikes, the entire physique strikes. He taught that there are three methods for reaching that. The primary approach is to maneuver the dantian left and proper, that’s, in a airplane parallel to the entrance of the torso, i.e., the Coronal/Frontal airplane. The second approach is to maneuver the dantian ahead and again, i.e., within the Sagittal airplane. The third approach is any mixture of the earlier two, that’s, motion of the dantian on any arbitrary airplane. 

CXW teaches motion of the dantian left and proper utilizing the frequent “arm circle” silk reeling train and its speedy variations. The arm circle train might be carried out in two instructions of rotation that he doesn’t explicitly label. CXW teaches motion of the dantian ahead and again utilizing a single circling-of-the-wrists-against-the-abdomen train. That’s the entirety of the silk reeling workouts he teaches, a minimum of publicly: the arm circle, its variations, with and with out stepping, and the wrist train.

In contrast, different Chen Village lecturers don’t educate this methodology. Zhu Tiancai, for instance, doesn’t explicitly educate it this fashion. He does, nevertheless, current one thing that CXW doesn’t, the most typical methods during which the arm circles might be mixed, as seen in varieties and purposes. Zhu presents these in his 13-posture neigong set. 

In contrast, Hong doesn’t current or conceptualize motion this fashion: he doesn’t breakdown three-dimensional motion into 2D (i.e., planar) motions. What he does do is current two – and solely two – “3D circles” that kind the premise for everything of the model, its solo work and purposes. He explicitly distinguishes every path of the circle, calling one “optimistic” and the opposite “adverse”, terminology not utilized in different Chen variants. All solo varieties are comprised of those two circles and/or parts thereof. (That is vaguely implied in Village shows however left to the scholar to determine, or not.) In Hong’s methodology, if one can’t establish at anyplace in any kind or utility which of the 2 circles are being carried out, the motion is being carried out incorrectly. As in Zhu’s neigong set, there are eight most-common mixtures of two circles with two arms, for instance, each arms performing a optimistic circle, one are performing a optimistic circle whereas the opposite arm performs a adverse circle, and so forth.

In Feng’s teachings, not one of the above is explicitly taught or acknowledged: he, usually, didn’t break motion into 2D elements, didn’t assign particular actions or actions to motion of the dantian (i.e., the fundamental arm circle being dantian shifting left and proper), didn’t educate that there are two and solely two primary arm circles or that they may very well be mixed to change into the premise for all kind and utility actions. 

One of many largest variations between Feng’s silk reeling set and CXW’s silk reeling set is that Feng included many alternative actions with all kinds of physique components, whereas CXW’s is nearly completely a presentation of the 2 primary circles with their variations. Feng included rather more common coaching that features issues like putting with shoulders, elbows, again, chest, knees, forearm rubbing, grabbing, wrapping, punching, kicking, foot sweeps, and so forth: its focus is rather more alongside the strains of creating “the entire physique is a fist”. In my view, Feng’s silk reeling set, alongside along with his Hunyuan qigong set, are his main contribution to Taijiquan. Nonetheless, as Feng aged, he dramatically modified how he carried out his solo work, together with the silk reeling workouts, with a lot larger emphasis on well being and longevity. He added extra circles to actions, made the circles looser and fewer well-defined and launched swaying forwards and backwards and bending on the waist. Feng may immediately swap from giant, ill-defined motion to efficient martial utility: astute college students noticed the distinction between his solo follow and his utility.  

The previous dialogue solely scratches the floor of what’s comparable and what’s totally different between the most typical variations of Chen model Taijiquan. Because the outdated joke goes, “What number of Taijiquan practitioners does it take to alter a light-weight bulb?” The reply is, “Ten. One to alter the lightbulb and 9 to say, “Oh, we do it otherwise in our faculty.””


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