Why Practical Method and First Impressions

by Gary Readore on 2012/11/10

For those of you that come from other taichi backgrounds and now do the Practical Method, I’m curious as to what led you along this path.  Also, what was your first impression of the Practical Method style?  I’ll tell you a little about my story.

I started taichi due to a chronic health condition back around 1990 and I have been studying and doing the Yang style for most of this time.  I think I had generally good teaching in this regard but always felt something was lacking.  Quite a while back I was watching a video of a master’s demo from the Taichi Legacy Tournament that was held in Dallas, Texas.  One of the masters was Chen Zhonghua.  I had never seen him before and didn’t know anything about him but something about his form captivated me and I would watch it over and over again.  There was something different and special about his form and demonstration compared to the other demonstrators and other Chen stylists.  His movements were flowing and he had a very relaxed type of  power.

Years passed and I stumbled across some videos of Master Chen on YouTube.  Most had to do with push hands and applications.  From the moment I saw the first video I said to myself, he’s got “it”.  The things he was doing in the videos I had not seen others do.  Here was someone not large of stature, yet in an effortless manner was pushing people around and applying taichi applications.  This further “sealed the deal” for me and I knew that Master Chen had something special.  What surprised me somewhat was that my friends who I discussed this with didn’t seem to see (to the extent that I did) the same things I was seeing.  They were content to keep moving and stumbling along the same path they had always been.

I decided I needed to learn the Practical Method and so I registered on the web site and began watching as many videos as I could and began learning on my own for there was no one where I lived (or so I thought).  I studied by myself for 6-8 months and while watching one of Master Chen’s videos I saw that one of the students on the video lived in my city.  I emailed him “out of the blue” and asked him if he would teach me the Yilu form and he agreed.  This was a huge benefit and turning point as it was tough going trying to figure this stuff out on my own.  That was almost 2 years ago and my understanding has steadily increased.

My first impression of the Practical Method style once I started learning it was that the overall form “didn’t look like taichi”, it seemed to stiff and mechanical, it was not like the Yang style I had learned.  I really wondered how this could be taichi, I didn’t understand it, but yet I felt I had to trust in the method for it works as Master Chen is a prime example.  Also, the topic of “not moving” was very foreign to me and didn’t make sense as this was contrary to a certain extent to what I had learned as well.  But thankfully, over time, and with much practice and gleaning insight from Master Chen’s videos, I now see what this is all about and realize how much I had been missing.  I had some semblance of the truth but yet was “way off” on many of the key concepts.  I will keep “plugging away” and hope to be able to meet and study with Master Chen one day.

 

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Kelvin Ho November 11, 2012 at 9:19 pm

My first impression from the videos was that Master Chen’s way of teaching was different from others’. My impression upon the first workshop was that he got an ability that seemed to exist only in legends.

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Wilkin Ng November 11, 2012 at 10:45 pm

I was practicing taijiquan for health before, and when I saw Master Chen clip of the energy alignment video, I was intrigued because he put so many details.

As I progress in my taijiquan journey, I have found that what Master Chen teaches do lead to what the Taiji classics described. But this school is more direct and scientific in the training process.

There are numerous misconceptions because the taijiquan power is not generated by our normal body movement, hence it require a teacher who can demonstrate the correct way and point out mistakes

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mralyu November 12, 2012 at 5:58 am

The reason –
I learnt Yang style for health and stress-relief reasons years ago. I am grateful that those conditions did improve and my interest of the art grew. Since Taiji is a martial art, (I thought) with years of practicing, I was supposed to slowly develop some power and useful skill, but I wasn’t satisfied. I am a slow learner, and not pleased with my progress of just practicing on my own with our Taiji brothers after my old master ceased instructions due to old age. Hence, I am in an exploration mode and have tried other styles with local classes out of curiosity.
I ran into Master Chen’s series of video 3 months ago. I forgot which one, but something clicked, and his explanation is simple and make sense…but the form and the “not move” concepts are very different (in fact, contradictory) to what I was exposed. Nonetheless, I decided to give this a try, I purchased additional video and learnt both the foundations and Yilu online…I also finally met Master Chen at the Phoenix workshop this weekend to experience his teaching first hand.

My first impression -
Hard, very hard! With my Yang background, I was prepared that my Yilu moves were full of tossing, in fact they are. Okay, I expected that…but wow, I thought I’ve “learnt” the foundation and the Yilu moves, I was wrong.
Borrowing Master Chen’s word here, I am at the “subtraction” stage, my moves are too “pretty”. I am prepared that this is going to be a long journey. Hopefully, by the next correction, I will have at least the first 13 moves of Yilu down.

The Chinese saying “学拳容易, 改拳难” is true. Translation – Learning a new martial art is easy (from a novice), but correction is (extremely) difficult.
I thank Master Chen for his patience and repetitions of his instruction on correcting my moves. Now the hard work begins.

A few key suggestions for those who have prior arts and want to learn Practical Method.
Of course, it is assuming that you are open-minded and time committed.
- DO NOT DEVIATE from master’s instruction. (This is harder than you think)
- Resist the temptation of mapping the moves from practical methods to what you already know. This is very dangerous. You think you know, but in fact you don’t and you are limiting your progress.
- Same goes to NOT mapping Master’s words to Taiji classics that you might have read, it will only confuse you. (Not mentioning wasting his time and yours)

I committed all of the above (and more) :-(

al

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mralyu November 12, 2012 at 7:48 am

More on First impression -
Master Chen will let you repeatedly experiment your right/wrong moves on him, until you can feel the difference. He amplifies the moves so that his students and audience can feel and see his points while he being the moving practice dummy. I’ve not known any master doing that.

His approach and lessons are personalized and adapt to individual students while adhering to all the Taiji principles he preaches. Watching his classes with other students are very enlightening. They are all different yet the principles are so familiar (from the online video).
I honestly believe he can teach you if you are willing to learn and (of course) practice correctly with time and effort.

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bruce.schaub November 18, 2012 at 3:37 pm

I, like you Gary, came from other Taiji background and felt as if something was missing. Studying Master Chen’s videos has made it very clear what that something is….. Clear explanations of the fundamental elements and training practices that develop real taiji ability. People simply don’t openly teach the core fundamental components and training methods that bring out these abilities. Many people teach forms, or qigong, or Chin na, or techniques, but don’t have the understanding or ability to teach what Master Chen teaches. And, if they do, they keep it locked away behind closed doors, only available to a select few. So, it’s not a difficult decision to want to take advantage of the many opportunities he presents us with to learn.

I find it very inspiring to think about, not only how hard he has worked to achieve his level, but how much harder still, he works to make all of this available to so many. Being at the recent workshop (my first) and seeing all the work that goes into filming, downloading, etc. (not to mention the editing and uploading), maintaining the site, thoughtfully answering peoples questions, flying around the world non stop to teach people, building a premier taiji training center in China where people who are very serious can eat, sleep, and live Taiji 24 hours a day for months on end….. it’s really amazing to me. A Lot of Work!!!

As far as my first impression, I would have to say everything else I’ve felt in training with lots of different Masters would have to fall into the realm of “normal” martial arts. I’ve met and felt people who were very skilled and impressive, but i’ve never felt anything remotely like Master Chen. It’s extremely strange, but there really is no fighting against it. The first thing he let me feel is very difficult to describe, but I’ll try. As I went to push he shaped himself to my structure extremely evenly touching alot of the surface area of my body. It didn’t feel threatening, but the angles he used made me completely stuck in place without being able to get away or step back. It was kind of like having a large partially inflated ball pressed up against me that took up all the space and filled in all the nooks on the front side of my body. Then the ball began to expand….evenly. There was equal pressure on all the contacting surface area which created pressure. As I said, I was stuck in space because of the angles and particular way he had engaged me so I couldn’t move back or wiggle out, so as the pressure increased, I had to jump out of where I was trapped with both feet…he never grabbed onto me in any way, nor was he using any chin na or anything. It’s the strangest thing I’ve ever felt.

Another very strange feeling was when I asked him about “tracing back”. He had me push against his arm. I was pushing against the outside, and the power of my push immediately came back to me from the inside as he spiraled his arm. Again, a very strange feeling, like he had two arms in one, as if his arm was a conveyor belt that returned power from one side to another, (like a loop), I could feel none of my push went into his body at all. (his body didn’t move….not one bit)

There were many other things I asked him about and he let me feel, all were extremely unique. He clearly has many layers of skills and methods at his disposal that can produce amazing results. “To stifle” is another ability where he let’s you freely push and no matter what you try it is interrupted just before it starts, your feel your lines being crushed as they form, but continuously.

So to say I was impressed, would be an understatement…..I am already beginning to see the videos in new light…. Thank you Master Chen!!!!!

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pingwei November 18, 2012 at 8:09 pm

I started to learn Tai Chi (Yang style, and Chen style/Xinjia (new frame) in 1980 when I went to Nanjing University. I heard “Practical Method” first time in 1987 through one of my Tai Chi brothers who studied from one of Master Hong’s disciples. He described “Practical Method” as the only correct Tai Chi. He simply told me not to waste time on practicing “wrong” Tai Chi. His words has kept in my mind. Even though I was in China at that time, I didn’t have any opportunity to see and learn “Practical Method”. The first time I saw “Practical Method” was in 1998 when Master Chen was invited to a martial art tournament in Scottsdale/Phoenix. My impression when I pushed hands with Master Chen was as if I was standing on a icy floor. I knew it was real because Master Chen explained step by step what happened, and I knew it was possible for me to learn from him because he showed me the training method. But the time (1998) was not right for me yet. I had to wait another 4 years before I started to change Xinjia (new frame) to Practical Method from my student who spent two full time terms with Master Chen and became his disciple. From then on, it was a satisfying journey.
Just remember, to learn, required time and efforts. Take a step at a time.

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Michael Winkler November 19, 2012 at 5:00 am

Thank you for sharing your first experiences – it’s always interesting to read about what other people think about “Practical Method”.
I also did practice other Taijiquan forms before (7 years of Chen: 2 years common Laojia, roughly like the form they are doing in Chenjiagou, then about 5 years a form from another lineage after Chen Fake).
I can remember very well how it started with the video “The two circles” on YouTube, then I did use the intstructional videos on Yilu and went to Daqingshan in 2010 for 6 weeks. After that there was no decision left to do, it was clear that I can only keep on practicing this form.

Main reasons:
- The method is so dense that there is neither room nor necesarity to incorporate anything else than Master Chens instructions – till today I’m very happy about that.
- The main principles are clearly explained, and more than that, they are directly linked to the practice, it’s never only theory or “big talking”.

Before for me it was different, learning Taijiquan was like putting a puzzle togehter, and every school seemed to have some pieces which another did not have …

I also did publish an article about my first experiences two years ago, here’s the link – feel free to comment:
http://practicalmethod.com/lang/en/2010/07/first-experience-with-practical-method/

And also one can feel free to comment everything on my YouTube channel, there are also old videos from my previous Taijiquan forms:
http://www.youtube.com/TaijiShiatsu

Best wishes to everybody,
Michael

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