My Tai Chi Classes in Phoenix and Notes from Students

by pingwei on 2020/06/11

Since January 2017, I have been teaching Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method at Paradise Valley Community College (Phoenix, Arizona) every Monday and Wednesday as a one credit class. I started just one class per semester (Spring and Fall) plus summer session. From January 2019 on, my Tai Chi class was split into two classes. One for total beginners, the other for returning students. More important, I developed a core group of Tai Chi students we meet outside of college and consistently meet every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings (one hour) at Roadrunner Park. So, this core group of 10 students would practice at least 5 time a week. Some I know practice every day.

Covid-19 pandemic broke our regular schedule. No more community college classes. But we continued our Tuesday and Thursday morning practice (1.5 hours). I reserve Saturday morning spot to develop more locations. I committed to teach introductory class at Japanese Friendship Garden on Saturday mornings in June. These classes are hit or miss. Since mid February, I have been teaching a beginner’s class at Encanto Park every Sunday morning. Carefully treading through social distancing, the class was survived. I will most likely to continue as long as there’s one student to show up. Recently the attendance remain 4 or more students.

I know I need to devote my time to teach beginner’s class, I have to admit I’m more happy to teach advanced students. Currently my Tuesday and Thursday classes cover Yilu (30min), Cannon Fist (30min) and Sword (30min). Guaranteed to practice Yilu, Cannon Fist and Sword twice. Additional time are used to address specific Practical Method training topics.

I also start to offer private or semi private lessons to my core students. Mostly to work on their foundations in great details.

Here are some notes from students: (Their original notes. No editing from me.)

Ramona, April 1:

Today’s lesson focus was on two elemental foundations of Taiji Chen style Practical Method. ‘Twisting theTowel’ and ‘Fetching Water.’ Both of these moves are repeated in the Yilu.
The movements are very precise. Most of the time, a student does not realize that the body is moving incorrectly unless the teacher points out the exact moment when the move goes wrong causing the power of the move to ‘leak out.’ Once the student has been shown then it is important to practice repeatedly so one does not fall back into the wrong way of doing it. Practice until you get it right and then keep practicing until it is impossible to do it wrong. This will take many repetitons of mindful practice, probably months or years.
Twisting the Towel
1. The forearms must remain parallel to the ground
2. The elbows stay at the ribcage, not splayed out to the side
3. The hand does not lead the movement but is pushed out by the action of the elbow
4. Keep the forearms as if moving on two parallel tracks ensuring the trailing hand stays on its track rather than moving across the body
Fetching Water
1. Keep the shoulders solid yet relaxed so one shoulder does not rise with the movement
2. Move the torso as if it is shaped like a barrel and moves as one unit
3. Use the image of gears. Start with the thumb turned down at thigh level. As the large gear turns (torso), the small gear (arm) turns causing the thumb to face up
In both exercises you practice the moves in small increments counting to 3 at first. Increase the count by 2 each time. By the time you reach a count of 9 the movement should be smoother and less robotic. Push the feet into the ground to increase the power and when turning, remember the movement is initiated at the ‘qua.’ As you become more proficient, the hips will open, the knees will eventually become stronger.
Karen, April 15:

Twisting towel
-Hands on same track as elbows – two lines
-Keep elbows close to body
-Distance between elbows and hands stays the same/ parallel between right and left sides
-Everything going down
-Wider stance – will go down automatically
-Push with leg going down as arm goes out but does not leave body
-Turn around center line
Six sealing/ single whip
-Bring elbows into one line/ center line
-Can use sword or stick to line it up, bring elbow into track
-Practice casual arm swinging also
-Relationship between both hands as one goes forward and other goes back
Fetching water
  • Hand going down on vertical line; don’t move hand out
  • Like action of a screwdriver
  • Stretch fingers down
  • Turn body
  • Turn back hip in a little to create more room for opening
In the form:
  • Hand does move out in second close
  • Move small and larger gears at same time in three count increments to practice
  • Or can practice in large movement with one count
First 13 in Yilu
-Pounding mortar:
Drop pelvis, bring elbow down, don’t move hand up
-Stance better, keep dropping pelvis
-Shift just a little to left so weight is in center
-Practice faster, don’t get stagnant; get flow going
-Different training speeds, focus


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