Do You Want to Know a Secret? Ottawa Seminar 2016-11

by Ming on 2016/11/16

Master Chen in OttawaDisciples Rachelle B., James T. and Daniel M. once again organized a great Practical Method seminar in Ottawa. Participants from Ottawa, Toronto, Quebec City, Montreal and Petawawa gathered to train in the ancient act of Taijiquan under the personal attention of Master Joseph Chen. James have already posted a summary of this event. Over the course of three days, we covered all aspects of the Practical Method including theory, philosophy and history as well as the Foundations, forms and applications. The following are my personal observations.


The three day seminar started with personal one on one training with Master Chen. I found those individual sessions quite intimidating because you are getting direct feedback on your Taiji progress from the teacher. In general, people seek form or applications correction. I decided instead to check with Master Chen on my level of understanding of the Practical Method. The week before my private lesson, I reviewed my training routine and noted places where I have questions.

On a sunny autumn morning, I met Master Chen to start my session. I begin with my prepared speech “Master Chen, here is my understanding of the Practical Method. The training comprised of Foundations, movement and form. The foundations training consists of the Positive Circle ….” I continued for another five minutes but I noticed that he was not responding to my descriptions. So I asked “Am I on the right track?”
He only smiled and said “No.”
I then asked “Am I close?”
He continued “..not even.”
I became frustrated and asked “But what was wrong?”
He finally said “What you described is not what I told you.”
“So how should I be training?” I asked
He replied “Listen ..”
He then proceeded to review the basics of the Practical Method.

Do you want to know a secret

Master Chen used the term “Don’t move” (不动; Bù dòng) and “Really Don’t Move (真不动;ZhēnBù dòng) as key concepts in his Taijiquan training. In his travels both within China and internationally, he did not hear other teachers using this explanation. Even his Taiji brothers from Master Hong and Master Feng does not use this expression in their training.

Master Chen tells us that one time, he visited someone who use to watch Master Hong teach Taijiquan. This person himself was not a Taiji practitioner but frequently watch Master Hong’s classes at the park. Master Chen reminiscence with this person about Master Hong and then casually mentioned that he is teaching Taiji based on the concept of “Don’t Move”. To Master Chen’s surprise, this person then said that the term “Don’t move” was often used by Master Hong in his teachings.

Master Chen was sure that he never heard Master Hong used that term. On reflection, Master Chen acknowledge that he had exhibited the habit of hearing only what he wanted to hear.

Do you promise not to tell

The principle of Taijiquan starts with a dot (点, Diǎn). Two dots forms a line (线, Xiàn). On this line, you can have two action: a push or a pull. Those two actions are equivalent depending on your frame of reference. If you are situated on the line, a push is an action that moves the dots away from each other and a pull is an action that moves the dots towards each other. If you are outside the line, a push is an action that moves the dots towards each other and a pull is an action that moves the dots away from each other.

The Taoist says that a rotating symmetrical object does not move. This appears to contradict everyday observation. This point of view can be understood by considering the definitions of each term. A symmetrical object such as a circle or a sphere by definition is the same everywhere. Rotation is a movement of the entire object around a fixed point (a center or an axis of rotation). From the perspective of the points within the object there is no movement since its relationship with its neighbor remains the same. From the perspective of an observer outside the object you might argue that a particular position on the object has changed relative to the axis of rotation but from a Taoist view that is incorrect. For a Taoist, the definition of a symmetrical object (the same everywhere) means that you cannot differentiate each point as a result in a rotation each point is replaced by the exactly same point and thus no movement occurs.


The principles of Taijiquan are found in each technique of the foundation and the forms. From the foundations technique of “Twist the towel”, one hand in front and one hand behind. Each hand represents a dot, as the hands moves towards and then away from each order, the student learns the action of splitting that results in a push or a pull along the line. In the exercise “Fetch Water”, the concept of splitting is applied to a forty five degree line.

Let me whisper in your ear

The same principles can be found in applications training and testing your understanding of those principles with a partner. Master Chen showed us a set of simple progressive drills to illustrate the concept of “don’t move”. The drills are as follows:

1) Two person (A,B) face each other. B holds on to A’s wrist. A then moves his arms horizontally at a constant speed. The objective for B is to match the actions of A without loosing his grip on the wrist. A provides the feedback to B if B has any tension other then on his grip. The objective for B is to create a dot (the grip) on A regardless of the action of A.

2) Same as 1 but now the arm motion is vertical.

3) Same as 1 but now the arm motion can be in any direction.

4) Same as 1 but now the feet can move.

For each drill, B cannot change his grip and tries to match the actions of A.

I always used the term “honest” to describe two person practice such as Push hands. The only way for students to improve is for each person to provide real feedback. This is why Master Hong said that one of the requirements of the Practical Method is that :

還需要, You also need
有良朋, To have good friends
同學拳, To practice
可互助。 And experiment

Say the words you long to hear

201611 Ottawa 02

Master Hong said
師教言, The teachings of the teacher
多詳記, You must record carefully,
師示範, The teacher’s demonstration,
看仔細, You must watch closely.
This is the exact method of Master Chen. He speaks directly and does not deviate from the principles.


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

vincent den hengst November 17, 2016 at 7:19 am

Nice notes. I will try the exersize and keep the words of Hong in mind.


Gerry Gebhart November 22, 2016 at 1:37 pm

Great notes! I think all my lessons from Master Chen be summarized by “don’t move” then “really don’t move”. Each new lesson seems to be an increasing degree of don’t move.


taibarb7 April 28, 2017 at 8:17 am

Thank you very much for the explanations and the Daoist background and the respective points of reference! That helps a lot to understand better.


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