Is the Chen Practical Method suitable for people who have done other Taiji before?
Yes. Here is my experience with this.
There are those people who are entranced with a brand of car, and no matter what happens, they remain faithful to that brand. They become fanatic, buy T-shirt, hats, join clubs, and speak in whispering tones when they find out you drive another brand of car. However, when the manufacturers, in the name of profit cut corners that affect the quality of the product, when the after market service is questionable, when you find that the heritage of the brand is not all what it is made up to be, then cracks start to appear in the glossy paint.
The circumstances are different for everyone. Some can find another ‘brand’ straight away, some need to go through a few brands to find the right one, some get stuck with a brand for a long time before they realise what is going on. So it is with me and learning Taiji. I drove an old Yang car, meddled around with some Sun and Chen International, and then decided to make a long term commitment Taiji by learning Chen Practical Method. All based on the specifications that are important to me and not some teacher in the local area .
I have been playing the Yang style for nearly 18 years. When I started, there were only a few people around who taught Yang style Taiji. I found a dedicated, nice, friendly teacher, and soon I was playing Taiji 6 days per week on the shores of the Shoalhaven river in Nowra, on the New South Wales south coast. Great views. When work commitments demanded that I relocated to Canberra, (the capital city of Australia for those who think it is Sydney or Melbourne), to my delight, I found another teacher who followed the same style. Great! Again, playing 6 days per week, it only took me a few years to learn most of the 8 forms within ‘the system’ (the brand).
However, after a while some cracks started to appear in the veneer of ‘the system’. I noticed that instructors from ‘the system’ filled these cracks with their own findings. Some students became unhappy, left and took up BJJ, Bagua, Krav Maga or Systema. All talked about the structure of the training that was a welcome feature in those new activities. I too left the circle of ‘friends of the system’. A pity, as some of then are really nice blokes.
So here I was roaming around. I knew there had to be some Taiji out there that was good and could stand up to the name Taijiquan. As it happened, in February 2009, on my way to work, I virtually ran into Ms Xiao (a Chinees citizen from Shenyang). Her son, Wen Bin, is doing a PhD at the Australian National University (in Cytokine Molecular Biology I believe), and she was in Canberra to look after her grandson.
Until her departure, despite not speaking a word of English, I managed to learn the Sun (International 73) form and the Chen (International 56) form. She also knew the Hunyuan Taiji form from Grand Master, but never got around to teaching me. Upon demonstration, I could see parallels between the Chen International 56 and the Hunyuan Taiji, and this further sparked my interest in the Chen style. As it happens, one of local businesses in Canberra called the ‘Taichi Academy’, teaches Hunyuan. Fortunately for me, when Ms Xiao, who holds a Duan ranking, contacted the Taichi Academy, they never returned her calls, so I ended up being her sole student. Ms Xiao returned to China in September 2009. So there I was without a teacher again and I had to make a decision.
I knew that if the mountain didn’t come to me, I had to goto the mountain. (Little did I know how literal this would be)
Checking out the scene, I noted that over the last 15 years or so, the opening up of relations with China also saw the increased access to Martial Arts for those willing to take the steps. One of my friends, Miles Henderson is a disciple of Liu Jing Rhu (Bagua). I thought, if he can do it, so can I.
Why did I choose Chen Practical Method?
It is no nonsense, direct, and practical in its application. I also wanted something that gets better the longer you do it. When you do Taiji for a long time, and you plateau, then there is something missing. After three months in Daqingshan, I am more than convinced that this is the right path for my Taiji. I’ve finally found a Taiji form I will be able to do for the rest of my life, and get better at it as I go. I have tasted, and am found wanting.
How did I find it?
Well. Yang style came from Chen, right? So why not go back to the source. I aimed squarely for the Chen style and started my research. It took me a few months to sift through the mountains of information on the internet, and then found Master Chen Zhonghua and Grand Master Hong Junsheng’s Practical Method. International Standards bearer Master Chen had been so good to supply Youtube with some videos, and from what I saw, here was a method that was like no other. No nonsense Taiji, push hands of high quality, the applications made sense, in English (later I found he grew up in Shandong and migrated to Canada) etc.. (and there was no old dog or horse walking through the frame of the videos) Additionally (although not a factor that added to my determination) Master Chen Zhonghua is a disciple of Grand Master, founder of the Chen Shi Xinyi Hunyuan Taiji or Hun Yuan Taiji for short. On his website, Master Chen indicated that Master Sun Zhonghua was going to be present at Daqingshan. Master Sun Zhonghua, an ex-rocket scientist, ex-top volleyball player, and ex-China representative at the United Nation, and ‘number one’ disciple of GM . I thought it would give me insight into Hun Yuan. I was not disappointed. There was instruction on the Hun Yuan form, sword, and Qigong.
Now lineage may not mean very much to you, dear reader, but having studied a system where questions as to the sources attract tales of a spirit guide, a stolen form and trips to an unknown Wudang monastery, I prefer one over the other. I wanted to learn Taiji from someone who could tell me where, and from who he learned the art. Master Chen Zhonghua had it all.
As to lineage, GM Hong Jungsheng and GMwere both disciples of GM Chen Fake. This trip has not only opened my eyes to the differences between the two, I have also been privy to some interesting information from several Hun Yuan disciples.
As to the Chen family village Chen style. There are too many conflicting stories of what happened to the Chen style in the village after GM Chen Fake went to Beijing.
The choice was made. All I had to do was to get the ball rolling and get on with it. So, I found the three month full-time course, contacted Master Chen, enrolled, and am not sitting on my bed, with 7 days to go, writing you this article.
Was it what I expected?
Yes, and much, much more than that. More push hands than I expected, which was good, because my old push hands turned out to be technically really bad. (REALLY BAD) Theform is under control. Enough to start the second stage of learning where I need to iron out all the errors that I learned in the learning process. Things I couldn’t see at the start, I can see now. Things I could not understand, I am able to understand solely due to the continuous work of the full-time program. Master Chen Zhonghua and Master Sun Zhonghua are great, they are down to earth, funny, know their stuff, do some mean calligraphy, and shock horror, do not behave like Gods.
On the website Master Chen talked about visiting Masters. Nearly every week we received visits from visiting Masters at Daqingshan (Qinna, Yi Chuan, Hun Yuan Qigong, Yang, etc..) Most interesting of all, there was the conference with teh attendance of most of GM Hong Junsheng’s Disciples. It gave us the opportunity to push hands with the Masters, to feel the differences, and to see theforms from different disciples.
Then there where the competitions we attended and participated in. (Got a bronze medal for my newly learnedform, bargain !!!)
Then there is the great surroundings of Daqingshan. The clean air, the great hotel rooms, and the food, well, I must admit that after a while we are starting to talk about chocolate muffins, lamb roasts, and even spaghetti. But hey, when in China, its chinees food al the way. (Hint, when you make small trips, call in to the local supermarkets for those items such as Snickers bars, nuts, Oreo’s, strawberry jam, tissues, shampoo, etc….)
The students were also great bunch to hang around with. One of the side effects of living with people over an extended period is that you get to know them in more than one way. For those that are thinking of coming to a Full time course, my suggestion is that you come here from the first week if possible, as this is the time that the ‘tribe’ (for lack of better words) is established. When you come later, it is like ‘the tribe’ has already formed, and any new students coming in can sometimes have issues integrating. (although some latecomers fitted in just perfect) When you get a large enough group together, there are always some ‘outlaying’ characters. Humour (depending on the receiving end) was very helpful in bonding. Even though I love all of them, there are some where one gets on better. I hope this feeling is reciprocal and want to stay in contact in the future.
I also found it a nice long time to contemplate about the future, to listen to those books on my Ipod. (Note: Bring more books or load more books on IPod) to work on what goes on in myas well as what goes on with your form. And, the ability to just work on your Taiji without having to worry about having to drive the family around, not having to worry about doing the grocery shopping, not having to worry about anything really (except for Taiji).
Where to now?
Practice, practice, practice. I have gathered enough information to keep me sweet for a while. Doing thetwenty times per day doesn’t sound crazy to me now. In fact, its one of the things that made this three months so interesting.
What would I do before I come back?
Apart from the natural answer being, study my Chen style more, I would add, “Learn to read and speak Chinees.” Even if it just basic. That would have opened up the experience way more, and would have enable me to communicate with the other Masters better too.