Learning Practical Method on Daqingshan (3)

by Ketong Lin on 2013/03/04

Learning Practical Method on Daqingshan (3)

My Fourth Visit to Daqingshan

If you want to be strong, do Taiji! If you want to be healthy, do Taiji!If you want to be smart, do Taiji!

–         From ancient Greek adage

How to Practice

“What do your guys say is better? Practicing the form routine the right way for one time or the wrong way for 10 times? ” Master Chen asked.

It was10 o’clockin the evening onSeptember 29, 2012, the first day of my fourth visit to Daqingshan. After a dinner as sumptuous and delicious as ever and some practice, we were now having tea at the coffee table in the lobby of Magnolia Hotel. Also present were Sun Jian, Zhu Dongsheng, and several other students just enrolled for the one week short course on Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method.

Tomorrow would be the Mid-Autumn Festival. The moon was high above in the sky, rounded and bright. The moonlight shed over the trees and plants and on the mountains like water, and the Han Palace Restaurant in the valley and Royal Courtyard Hotel on the hill faraway could be seen clearly as in daylight.

“Of course one should practice the right way.” One student said.

“Practice 10 times the wrong way.” Another student said.

“It depends on what you mean by right and wrong.” I said, thinking that my answer was very clever.

“Take the right or wrong out.” Master Chen said, looking at us.

Seeing we were completely at loss, Master Chen went on to say: “Do you know what is right and what is wrong? At your level, you can’t tell the difference. Only Shifu can tell the right from the wrong. And right or wrong is relative. It is not possible for you to do it right.”

Master Chen paused, letting his words sinking into our minds.

“Right or wrong is not for you to control, but you can control how much Yilu you will practice. If you do not practice, but spend all your time trying to figure out the rights and wrongs, how can you improve?

Several of my disciples are very, very smart and have been with me over a decade now but they have learned nothing. The reason is simple: they kept analyzing and contesting but practicing.

One of my disciples is a very simple man. If you teach him Taiji theories, he would fall to sleep on spot even standing there. His brain could not process complicated information. But if you told him how to do a move, he would do it exactly as told. And his Kung Fu is the best among the disciples. Sometimes I myself find it difficult to get him in push-hands.

There is again this Jewish student. No one can push him, because he never moves. He does not react to your push. He does not fight you, neither will he give in. He would say ‘Shifu told me not to move, so I will not move’.

You get Kung Fu by practicing; it doesn’t matter whether you are smart or not. You have not done 10,000 Yilus and you say you have got it, either you are cheating yourself or others or both. Do Yilu 10,000 times, you will get it even without I teaching you.

You must remember that you can only learn one thing at a time. You cannot gain superior Kung Fu all of sudden. So do not expect that. Shifu always has higher skills. He knows better what is right and what is wrong. He knows clearly at what stage you are. When you are ready, he will give the instructions you need. What he teaches you suits you best for the moment. So you should just do what he told you to do.

When I was learning with Grandmaster Hong, He used to say ‘the elbow should always be close to the rib”. Once I said to him, ‘But your elbow sometime is not close to the rib.’ He just smiled without responding. Not until I started to teach Taiji did I begin to understand that arguing with you Shifu will not help your learning from him. Having doubt in him and not trusting him will keep you from progressing.

If you want to gain Kung Fu, you must learn to stop wasting your time and energy on wondering.”

This conversation reminds me of the teaching methods of Tibetan Buddhism, which emphasis much on disciple’s trust and devotion to his guru. The disciple is asked to see his guru as a Buddha. This is because that without the guidance of the guru, the disciple will surely be lost in the vast ocean of hundreds of thousands volumes of Buddhism teachings and will never be able to get into the door of the Buddhism. What he may learn through reading is at most an intellectual understanding of the Buddhist theories rather than real experience, let alone enlightenment. The guru has the map to the treasure. He knows all the turns, byroads and pitfalls, because he has been there. He alone can lead the disciple through the darkness into the gate of the treasures.

It is quite similar in the teaching of Taiji. When you meet the real Master, trust him and follow his instructions and you will be on the way. Sooner or later, you will understand the things he repeatedly told you. You have heard them many times by now. Though you have never really understood them, they have planted the seeds in your mind. Eventually you will be there.


Jiaozhou Bay Bridge and Taiji Square

My original plan of going to the mountains in July or August in the summer failed to materialize as result of unexpected matters. Just when I thought that I would not be able to meet Master Chen this year, I received an email from him in the middle of September telling me that he would be on Daqingshan for a short course on Practical Method to be held from September 30 to October 7. It happened that I would not be particularly busy during that period, so I booked a flight toQingdaoright away.

I was quite lucky this time. The flight arrived on time inQingdaoairport. As soon as I got out of the customs, a young man with a big smile came up to greet me. It was Chen Xu. While never met him before, I recognized him right away as I had previously seen his push-hands video clips on the internet. I learnt from our chat on the road that he practiced Chenjiagou Chen Style Taiji before he met Master Chen in the summer of 2010. After that, he would visit Daqingshan once every few months when Master Chen was there. Seeing that he was really into it, Master Chen offered him a job on Daqingshan. He would work during the day and practice in the morning and evening. Several employees on Daqingshan were recruited like Chen Xu for their passion for the Practical Method, and some staffs on Daqingshan also began to learn Practical Method.

Since Chen Xu began to learn from Master Chen, he practiced diligently and made much progress. He won the first place in Weifang andBeijingpush-hands competitions at his weight level this summer. He told me that he enjoyed doing Yilu very much and would practice more than 20 Yilus on a daily basis. I asked him why he liked to do the form routine, he said he had no idea. He only knew that if he skipped one day, he would feel uneasy. His mind would be in peace only after he practiced Yilu.

On our way to Daqingshan fromQingdao, we went through theJiaozhouBayBridgewhich came into use last year. ConnectingQingdao(GreenIsland), Hongdao (RedIsland) and Huangdao (YellowIsland), theJiaozhouBayBridgeis the longest cross-ocean bridge in the world today, 36.5 km in length. At one place close to Hongdao, the bridge goes to the three islands in three directions and 5 levels, a spectacular view to look at. Although it was just 2 days before the golden week, the traffic was very smooth on the six lane bridge. But traffic on some other roads was quite different. Master Hong Sen and his family leftJinanatnoontime but did not arrive on Daqingshan until aroundone o’clockatmidnight. Some students could not enroll on time due to traffic problems.

It has been less than a year and a half since my last visit in the year of 2011, but there were numerals changes on the mountains. Since the first Daqingshan International Hong Junsheng Taijiquan Conference and Tournament held in 2011, more and more people came to the mountains to learn Practical Method. In addition to the yearly Daqingshan International Hong Junsheng Taijiquan Conference and Tournament, Master Chen has also organized short courses on Practical Method and this was the seventh of such courses. It was to be taught by Master Chen and Master Hong Sen, with Zhu Dongsheng and Chen Xu to be teaching assistants. Zhu Dongsheng had been learning Practical Method from Master Chen since 2010 with much devotion. On the back wall of the grand hall of the RoyalCourtHotelwas a huge embroidery of Orchid Pavilion Preface, the most famous masterpiece of Chinese calligraphy by Wang Xizhi. The hand-made embroidery was the fruit of half a year hard work by Zhu Dongsheng and his wife. A large embroidery portrait of Grandmaster Hong Junsheng that Master Chen would use at disciple acceptance ceremonies was made by Zhu Dongsheng’s elder brother in accordance with Master Sun Zhonghua oil painting of Grandmaster Hong. Both embroideries are beautiful and have high artistic value. Since March 2012, Zhu Dongsheng has shaved his hair and moved to the temple on Daqingshan to be the “abbot monk” of the temple. He practiced the Practical Method morning and evening everyday and made great progress.

In order to meet the increased demand, massive construction projects were taking place on the mountains.A Taiji Squarenext to the Magnolia Hotel at the place where Liu Bang’s statue used to be was nearly completed. Approximately 10 times as big as the small square before the Magnolia Hotel, the Taiji Square was about 2000 square meters large and would be able to accommodate hundreds of people practical Taijiquan at the same time. In the center of the square was a diagram of Taiji and Bagua in black and white marble. Master Chen told me that a largerTaiji Squarewould later be build at the place of Han Palace Restaurant.

On the hill to the southwest of the Han Palace Restaurant workers were leveling the ground to build a four star hotel, which, upon completion, would be facing theRoyalCourtHotelat its roof level. Phase I of Daqingshan international village was under construction and was expected to complete by next spring. The plan also includes a dammed lake in the Green Dragon Gorge between the two hotels. The view of the Daqingshan resort will be quite different by then.

DaqingshanTaijiSchoolwould be formed and the first of students were expected to be admitted next year. Master Chen’s plan to promote Practical Method was being implemented step by step.


What Is Taiji

As usual, we started training on in front of Magnolia Hotel at5:30 A.M.before the sunrise. Master Chen first gave instructions on the foundation exercise of twisting towel, fetching water and positive circle.

“What is Taiji? Tai Chi is Yin Yang, move and no-move.” Master Chen started the course with the most important concept of the Practical Method.

“If there is no Yin Yang, there is no Taiji. However, Yin and Yang are not two things, but two ends of the same thing. They are rooted in each other. What we try to obtain through training is the ability to separate Yin Yang. To achieve that, there must be a point that does not move. This point is Wuji (starting point, point of void). Without Wuji, Yin and Yang cannot be separated, and thus there will be no Taiji. Therefore the first principle in Practical Method is not to toss. Let’s say you are trying to push a heavy object with a stick. Can you do that if the stick keeps moving? For the power to be transmitted, there must be a point that does not move around, otherwise the power will be lost.”

Most students of the course had learned other style Taijiquan before and were used to toss around in practicing, believing that “Any part of the body moves, all parts move with it”. What Master Chen said was unheard of and some could not help but skeptical. So Master Chen touched hands with them, allowing them to experience first handed what was meant by no-move. And those pushed hands with Master Chen were all amazed.

“The foundation exercises are designed to train your ability to separate Yin Yang without moving your center.” Master Chen said. “Taking twisting towel as an example: The center axis formed from Baihui to Huiyin must not move. The anchoring point shall alternate on the two Kuas. The foot pushes down to the ground, the shoulder is pulled to the Kua, and the elbow pushes toward Dantian. And the hand will be pushed out. The hand must not move by itself. It was pushed out by the power produced from the three-split. Key point: head poking and locked, elbows locked on rib-cage, and both knees posted outward.

For fetching water: the front foot and rear shoulder form a line, the front hand and rear hand form another. These two are actually on the same line and shall be stretched on both ends. The front shoulder pulls down towards the front Kua, and the front elbow pushes towards Dantian. In other words, the shoulder and elbow shall move towards the lines as much as possible. The front foot pushes down to the ground. As the ground will not move, the power will get back. But the head is locked, so the power has nowhere to go and shall goes down to the front hand. This power and the power produced by the elbow moving towards the line will push the line to lengthen at their ends. In other words, the middle section moves inward, making the root and tip sections moving outward. Through this exercise, the upper and lower bodies separate from Dantian, the rear shoulder and front hand separate from middle of chest, and the front hand and front shoulder separate from the front elbow. When you practiced long enough, your Kua and shoulder joint will open, and you will be able to connect your power to the ground.”

Master Chen then demonstrated the positive circle.

“The first thing is you should be able to step out the front foot at the right place and angle in relation to the rear foot and make the correct stance without looking at your feet. Once your feet are at the right places, sink the body a little bit to make the stance solid and stable. The knees open outward.

Positive circle may break down to 3 moves. Take the right side positive circle as example. First move: pull the right elbow in without moving the rest parts of the body, in particular the right hand, until the elbow touch the rib-cage. Second move: with head poking and the center-line anchored on the left Kua, the left knee pointing inward while the right knee outward, the right foot pushing against the ground and the right shoulder pulling down, open the right Kua and rotate the body towards left with the right elbow seeking the left nipple. The right hand should be fixed in the space. The palm of the right hand will turn up to 45 degrees as result of the rotation. Third move: with head poking and the center-line anchored on the right Kua, the left foot pushing against the ground and the right shoulder pulling down, open the left Kua, rotate towards right, and push the right hand out. Keep the left knee posted outward and the right hand and elbow should not get out of the line formed between right foot and right shoulder. The palm of the right hand will turn down to 45 degrees as result of the push out. At the beginning one can use the left hand to help to pull the elbow in and push the hand out.

There are two formulas to remember. One is ‘in with elbow leading hand and out with hand leading elbow’. The hand is always in front of the elbow. Front and rear is determined by where your eyes are on. If you are doing positive circle, your eyes are on the right at 45 degree, and that is your front. It is the same for the form routine as for the foundation exercise. For instance, in single whip or brushing knee and walking with twisted steps, your must not allow your elbow move out before the hand. Exception to this rule is when you make elbow strikes.

Another formula is ‘pulling like a rope and pushing like a stick’. This formula is about how to use power. When you are pulling in, the arm is like a rope, and the hand must not be powered up. Imaging pulling something with a rope, only the end of the rope you are pulling (the elbow in this case) has power. Dantian is this solid pulling end and the back must be open. When you are pushing out, the fingers must be powered up to lead the movement. Just as when you are pushing something with a stick, the tip of the stick must be solid. The chest should curve in and empty and the power goes over the back to the hand.”

For the foundations, I recommend the following videos of Master Chen: Basic Foundations, the Shoulder, Elbow and Kua in Twisting Towel, Chen Zhonghua 2012 Daqingshan Lectures 1


Rotate With No Move

“Taijiquan is all about the two circles. Every move in the form routine is a variety of the circles. One might say shouldn’t it be simple to do the circles? Let me tell you, it is definitely not simple. Practicing 3 years, you probably still could not do it right, because you don’t know how to move with no-move. If you want to move with no-move, you have to be able to rotate. Rotation is moving with no-move.

But human beings can do anything but rotation. To rotate, you need an axis you can rotate on, and the axis must not move. We all played tops as kids, right? When a top sleeps, the axis is motionless, like being nailed to the ground. And when the axis begins to toss, the top can not stand still anymore. But we people do not have axes on us. We have things in pairs: two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, two arms, two legs. If the top has 2 axes, will it still be able to rotate?

To practice Taiji, you need to find yourself an axis that will never move. Keep this in your mind.”

Afraid that the students did not understand, Master Chen gave more examples of other items of daily life, such as wheels, door hinges, grinding machines, etc. to illustrate that a fixed axis is the precondition of rotation.

So, where is this axis in our body? For beginners, the first and most important axis is the line between Baihui and Huiyin. Try to keep this axis still in doing the form routine. When you have moved to more advanced level, you will have more and more axes in your body. For a real master, he can make any part of his body an axis and rotate around it.

For many new students, Master Chen’s teaching completely overturned their fundamental notions of Taijiquan. For example, suppose the opponent is attacking me from the front using his right hand and I too use my right hand to connect him. The conventional notion of “enticing him into emptiness” is to move my weight to my rear foot while turning my waist to the right so my hand moves in a circular movement, making his power off me. The problem is that in retreating my center I may give in too much and get caught by the opponent’s Ji (squeezing), An (Pushing), Zhou (elbow strike) or Kao (shoulder strike). In Practical Method, we emphasize on indifferent equilibrium. We match the opponent’s power with Peng energy right at the touching point without retreat an inch. We then add another power from a different angle and create rotation. The opponent’s power will miss our center and is enticed into emptiness.

For not moving the middle axis, please see How to Keep the Center. In fact, Master Chen talks about this subject constantly and you can see references on this matter in most of his videos.


Kua and Dang

It was lunch time. As soon as I entered the Han Palace Restaurant, someone came up to me from right front. Without saying a word, he put his left foot behind my right leg and gave me a shoulder strike. With no time to think, I sank my body, opened my Kua and turned my waist to dodge the strike. I looked up to see who the guy was and he too was looking at me. As our eyes met, both of us burst into laughter. The man was no others but my Taiji brother Wu Shaozhi whom I had not seen for sometime now.

I first met Wu Shaozhi three years ago in mid-October 2009, when I visited Daqingshan for the first time. At that time Master Chen had not started teaching courses for Chinese students. There were only a few of us learning with Master Chen, including Wu Shaozhi, Sun Jian, Charlie Gordon, Nicholas Fung and Chris. I wrote about this visit in Learning Practical Method on Daqingshan in detail. Wu Shaozhi visited the mountains on several times thereafter and I came to Daqingshan again in August 2010 and May 2011, but we missed each other on all these occasions. On the day I arrived on Daqingshan this time, I asked Sun Jian if Wu Shaozhi would come during the golden week. Sun Jian said he invited Wu Shaozhi to come together but Wu had some matters to take care so he was not able to come this time. Now his appearance was really a joyful surprise.

Wu Shaozhi was really obsessed with Taiji. Whenever he opens his mouth, it is about Taiji. He had trained in Shaolin, other martial arts and other style Taijiquan for years before he came across Practical Method. He used to push hands with other people in Linyi but always lost to those who had trained longer than he did. In the summer of 2009, Wu Shaozhi visited Daqingshan for the first time. And just in a few months those people that used to defeat him could hardly move him anymore. He was up the mountain several times since then and his Kung Fu improved after each visit. It is said that nowadays there are almost no one can win him in push-hands in Linyi. When being asked about his secret, his response is Fetching Water. Why a simple foundation exercise is so powerful? I think it is because this exercise focuses on pulling down the shoulder and open the Kua, which are the two major joints of the human body. Whether these two joints are able to open has much to do with if one’s energy can be properly aligned and move in the body.

Before Master Chen, few people talked on the importance of the Kua. The old Taiji treatise used to say that waist is the dominant part of the body where energy switches and transmits. How the switching and transmission are achieved, however, is seldom talked about, and the students of Taiji are left in the dark, wondering if tossing or turning round loosely will do the magic. As a matter of fact, the dominating role of waist is achieved through the open and close of the Kua.

I first recognized the function of Kua 3 years ago, when Nicholas Fung just returned toHong KongfromCanadaand I just came across Master Chen’s website in internet. In out meeting Nick told me that the elbow should never leave the ribcage. I said wouldn’t that made it easy for the opponent to block you. Nick said you try it. I put my hands on his arm and pushed him as hard as I could but he did not move an inch. I was surprised and asked him for an explanation. He then said look at my Kua. It is open and your power has all gone to the ground.

The Kua is important because it connects the up and lower body and close to the center (Dantian). The power generated in Dantian has to go through the Kua to reach the foot and the power generated at the foot has to go through the Kua to reach the other body part. If the Kua is not open, the route of the energy (the line as Master Chen would call it) is crooked and the energy will be stuck at waist/hip area and the upper body and lower body become two disconnected parts. Supposing the opponent pushes my upper body, if my Kua is not open, I will not be able to channel his power to the ground and thus will be caught by the opponent’s power. If on the other hand my Kua is open, then I can easily channel his power to the ground and the opponent will feel like pushing a wall while I do not even need to power up. Master Chen has on many occasions demonstrated standing on one leg as firm as a rock while being pushed by the opponent. For Master Chen’s Kuas and other joints are fully open like universal joints, so he can redirect forces from any direction into a downward force. As a result of repeated practice of Fetching Water, Wu Shaozhi is able to open his Kuas to certain degree and thus others find it hard to move him.

However, opening of Kua alone is not enough for application. The Kuas must not only be able to open, and also be able to switch. If you do not know how to switch, the move of your steps will be rigid and awkward, the energy alignment will be broken when you moves, and you will always fall into double heavy in push-hands, putting yourself in losing position. In the foundation drills, Fetching Water focuses on the opening of Kua while Twisting Towel and Circles will train on both opening and switching of Kuas. But practicing the form routine will give you a more profound and comprehensive training than the foundation drills. When doing the form routine and pushing hands, the two Kuas should not be both closed, but they cannot open simultaneously either. Generally one Kua should be open and the other closed. The foot on the side of the closed Kua (usually the front foot) is the one supporting the body, and the foot on the side of the opening Kua (usually the rear foot) will be the one to generate power. When two Kuas switch, the centre must be locked, so that the power at the touching point does not change and you can make the switch without being detected by the opponent. In practicing the form routine, one should pay much attention to the switch of Kuas and try to maintain the center while making the switch.

Earlier Taiji books do not talk much about Kua, but rather Dang. In Grandmaster Hong’s book, one often read instructions of “bending the knee and sinking the power” and “sinking well the Dang power”, and one cannot help but wondering what is the Dang power, how to sink it, and what it will be like when the Dang power is sunk. When you studied Master Chen’s teaching about Kua, you will realize that Kua is the same as Dang and Dang is the same as Kua (although in Chinese Kua usually refers to groin and Dang crotch). Hence in grandmaster Hong’s book, the left Dang and right Dang is actually referring to the left Kua and right Kua. Therefore, “When turning left, the left Dang should be loose and the right Dang should be tight. When turning right, the right Dang should be loose and the left Dang should be tight”, means that in turning left, the left Kua should be closed and right Kua should be open, and vise versa. As to “sinking well the Dang power”, my understanding is that the power on the supporting leg should sink downwards the ground, so that the structure is more stable and the other Dang (Kua) is more flexible.

One related issue is the movement (or no movement) of the knees. The rule laid down by Grandmaster Hong is that when turning to the left, the left knee should move upwards while the right knee downwards, and vise versa. Considering this rule together with the previous rule about Dang, we know that in turning right, the left Kua should sink (closed) and the left knee turns upwards. The right Kua should open and the right knee turns downwards slightly. When you turn left, the left is front. The front knee turns upwards, the knee and the heel will be in a vertical line, so the ankle can be “got rid of”, which effectively moved the fulcrum of the lever forward. The opening of the rear Kua will move the power generating point backwards and thus extend the arm of force. The power will transfer from the back foot through the Kua, the waist, the back, the shoulder, the elbow, and the wrist to the fingers. A good example is Hand Covering Fist where the front Kua is closed (sinking, loosing), the front knee is pointing upwards, the rear Kua is open, and the rear knee is turning downwards. Note that the close (sinking, loosing) of the Kua is to strengthen the support to the body.  Generally the supporting Kua is not allowed to be behind the shoulder, otherwise the power will be lost and it is very easy to be caught by the opponent. For the same reason, the shoulder on the side of the open Kua must not go behind the Kua. If the shoulder has to move behind the Kua so as to take the power of the opponent, the Kuas must be switched simultaneously to maintain indifferent equilibrium.

One question may come up in this regard: Does Master Chen’s emphasis on the no-move of the front knee contradicts Grandmaster Hong’s teaching on the up and down move of the knees? In my opinion what Grandmaster Hong and Master Chen said are the two sides of the same coin. In the process of structural adjustment (positioning), knees are allowed to move. Once the adjustment is complete and the line goes through the front shoulder and Kua has formed a supporting axis, the front knee must not move anymore. Otherwise the structure will collapse.

In addition to the Kua, the shoulder must be able to open as well. If the Kua is open but the shoulder is not, the arm will be separated from the rest of the body. When the opponent pushes my body, I may entice and channel his power by opening the Kua. If however the opponent pushes my arm but I cannot open my shoulder, my shoulder will goes up and I will be caught by the opponent. All the three foundation exercise (in particular the circle) can train the opening of shoulder and should be practices often.

About Dang and Kua, one may want to refer to Kua Opening Mechanics, Kua, Knee and Foot, and Kua Function


How to Practice Yilu

Many students like pushing hands. They spent a lot of time to push around. Master Chen also often touched hands with the students, teaching some push hands techniques, which I believe is more aimed to demonstrate what real Taiji is, so as to change the new students’ concept of Taiji that they acquired during their previous learning, or deepen the old students’ understanding of the principles of Practical Method. Grandmaster Hong said in his book that push hands are designed to test whether the learner is doing his form routine correctly after he has practiced the form routine for a considerable period of time.

A story Master Chen told me illustrates the relationship of practicing form routine and push hands. Master Chen taught English in a high school when he first arrived inCanada. He knew how to type. But without formal training, he could only type with two fingers at a speed of 20 words per minute. When the teacher for typing left, the school asked Master Chen to teach typing until a new teacher was recruited. In order to teach the students, Master Chen had to first teach himself the correct way for typing. As a result of the practice, he could now type 50 words per minute when the typing course finished.

As Master Chen said: “Some people may win push hands without Taiji training if they are young and strong and have trained in other martial arts. But that is like typing with two fingers. If however they have trained in Yilu, their push hands would be like typing with 10 fingers. The result would be entirely different.

Yilu is like combing hair. If your hair is not fixed on your head, can you comb them well? And if your hair is not well combed, and you want to toss it back to look cool, it will only get more tangled.

Some people have not laid a good foundation in Yilu. They cannot even hold one part of their body still. Yet they want to jump to Erlu and push hands. Just like you want to toss you hair before it is well combed. And all you can get is a mess.

The training of Taiji is to put an axis in your body. How do we do that? By doing a lot of foundations and Yilu. Through practice, your body structure will be transformed and your habits of body reaction changed. Yilu has incorporated all the methods required for the transformation. It may be said that the gene of Taijiquan is in Yilu. The Practical Method is difficult because its movements are against our body’s habitual reaction formed through our daily life. At the beginning you will feel very awkward in doing the form routine. If you feel very comfortable when you just started learning the Practical Method, then you must have done something wrong. You will feel not uncomfortable only after you have trained for a long period. And when you no longer feel awkward, it is your opponent’s turn to feel uncomfortable.

Practice Yilu in accordance with the principles. It is a sure thing that you will gain Kung Fu if you have practiced long enough.”

Steven Chen and Chen Xu are good examples of Master Chen’s teaching. Neither of them are senior students of Master Chen. Steven has practiced for about four or five years, and Chen Xu has only practiced a little more than two years, but both are already quite impressive in push hands, as result of their diligent practice of Yilu.

You must remember that you do not gain Kung Fu through push hands. You learn the skills of Taiji application by doing push hands, but you gain Taiji Kung Fu only by doing the form routine.

How should we practice Yilu? The following are my humble opinions.

(A) Move vs. No-Move

The first thing is to practice Yilu in accordance with the principles. Master Chen has once made a comment to the form routine of a student: “Following the principles in practice is the most important thing. Whether your form routine is pretty, I don’t care a bit. Do you think the robber will watch you dance first? So-and-so’s body and limbs may look rigid as sticks, but he never moved. And that was good.”

Master Chen has repeatedly emphasized on no-move. It is obvious that no-move is the most important principle of Practical Method, and yet it is also the most confusing principle. When I just started to learn Practical Method, my first reaction to this principle was “How can one do the form routine if one is not allowed to move?” After quite some time I began to understand conceptually the meaning of no-move, but the real understanding came only after I started to feel the energy alignment in the body during practicing Yilu.

I have read a few books on martial arts in general and Taijiquan in particular and never came across anything about no-move (not even in Grandmaster Hong’s book). I could have missed it in the old classic Kung Fu books. If however it is not the case, then in my opinion the articulation of no-move as a principle of Practical Methods is a significant contribution to and development of the Taijiquan theory by Master Chen.

In my view the importance of no-move can be summarized in following aspects: First, no-move connects your body parts to the ground, so that your moves have a root. Second, no-move is the original point (Wuji, point zero) for the Yin Yang split, which generates the two dimensions internal martial arts energy. Third, no-move is the axis for rotation which generates three dimensions Peng energy. In one word, you may say that no-move is the very foundation of Taiji. Without it, nothing works.

No-move is difficult to understand because it is a relative concept. If nothing can move, then one becomes a statue, and will not be able to practice the form routine. But if everything moves, it is no longer Taijiquan. To do the form routine correctly, some parts of the body must move and some parts must not move.

So which parts can move and which must not move? When is move allowed and when not? To simplify the matter, let’s examine it in the context of three sections. The human body parts can be classified in three sections (and that is exactly what the grandmasters did) for the purpose of martial arts. The bigger three sections are the arms, the legs and the trunk. Each section can in turn be divided into three sections. The arm can be divided into hand, elbow and shoulder; the leg foot, knee and Kua, and the trunk Baihui (head), Dantian and Huiyin. Generally speaking, when one moves, only one section may move, while the other two sections must be locked in stillness. For example, in the first and second moves of Single Whip, only the tip section (hand) moves; the middle and root sections remain locked. The third move actually consists of two parts. In the first half, the root section (left foot) pushes out to the left, but the middle and tip sections remain locked. In the second half, the middle section (the trunk) moves to the left, but the tip and root sections remain locked. In the fourth and fifth move, the tip section (left hand) moves to the left while the middle and root sections remain locked.

As there two hands and two feet, question may arise as to which one may move and which may not. I believe that the foot moves only in positioning and switching, and the supporting leg never moves. The touching hand may not move during body positioning and center switching and only moves in issuing. For example, in the third move of Buddhist Warrior Pounding Mortar the root section (none-supporting left foot) pushes out (switching), middle section and tip section (both hands) remain locked. In the fourth move, the middle section moves forward (positioning), but the root and tip section remain locked. The right hand may seem moved, but its relative position with the left hand does not change, so it is not considered a move. In the fourth move of the Hand Covering Fist, the tip section (left elbow and right hand) move in opposite directions while the middle and root sections remain locked. In the first, second, fourth and fifth moves of Block Touching Coat, tip section (hands) move, the middle and root section do not. In the third move, the right foot moves out, the left hand comes in, and the trunk also moves to the right. It seems all three sections have moved. But actually the right hand and left foot remain where they are, so it is still consistent with the principle stated above. Take another example, the second Step Back and Whirl Arm on Both Sides. The moves are fast and big, but the three sections move one by one, thus does not violate the principle on moving.

To sum up, one can move freely before one makes contact with the opponent. Once the hands touch, one may not move the contact point anymore. From now on, one may only adjust the parts between the contact point and the power generating point (usually the rear foot), and the principle for the move is to extend the line between the contact point and the power generating point and compress other parts into this line as much as possible. When the power is issued, the power generating point and the center must be locked and only the contact point moves. How does one know when is positioning and when the contact with the opponent has been made when one practice the form routine alone? For this purpose, one needs to learn the application of the moves in the form routine, so that he will be able to “practice the form routine as if he is engaged in combat”.

What have been said above are simplified rules, but beginners may find them helpful. In fact, there are three sections within each section of the three sections, and thus moving and no-move are interwoven with each other. For example, in the fourth move of Hand Covering Fist, the root section (feet) and middle section (Dantian) are locked, but switch of Kuas has been made and the supporting foot and power generating foot has changes places. Master Chen said that the real masters can make the no-move point to the size of a needle tip, and all other body parts may move freely as far as that needle tip point is firmly locked. It is of course better for beginners to first focus his attention on the big three sections for the practice of no-move. The first step is to create a stick from Baihui to Huiyin for the body to rotate on, and gradually create more sticks in the body.

(B) Tight vs. Loose

For students who have studied other style Taijiquan, this is also an issue caused a great deal of confusion. While almost all the masters of other Taiji styles would say to the beginners that their body is too tight and they should try to loose up in doing the form routine, Master Chen would say to the new student that his form routine is much too loose and he must tight it up. The new student would be confused, not knowing what to do.

Like the other concepts, loose and tight are relative concepts and must be understood in the right context. Taijiquan use structural force in fight, so the practitioner must adjust his structure to form a power line to strike. Suppose you want to poke an object, say a basketball. It is relatively easy if you have a stick to do that. It is however difficult if what you have is a seven section whip, a tradition martial art weapon made up of seven short sticks connected to one another by rings. If you want to poke the basketball with this tool, 2 conditions must be satisfied: first, the seven section whip must form a straight line, and second, the links between every two sections must be locked, so that the line will not wiggle. Actually, the second condition alone is sufficient. Because even if the line is not quite straight, as long as the links are locked, an invisible straight line will be formed from one end of the seven section whip to the other and may be used for the job, although some energy will be wasted to maintain the structure of the whip, reducing the effectiveness of the tool. Therefore, straighter the whip, better the effect. But if only one of the links is loose, the power can not be properly transferred from one end to the other and the tool is useless.

The human body structure is much more complicated than a seven section whip. The two conditions stated above in the human body are met by the compression and lengthening of relevant tendons and muscles. In fight, power is mainly generated in feet and applied by hands. The natural structure of human body makes it impossible to adjust all the joints between the power generating foot and power issuing hand into a perfect straight line, and there will be protrusions and indentations for sure. I believe that is why Master Chen always said that regardless of how harder you train, you can never do the form routine right. This does not mean that you will never be able to do what your master told you to do, but rather what you are trying to do can never be accomplished because of the design of the human body structure. All you can do is trying to be as close to the ideal structure as possible, and for that reason, you have to be tight all the time. You have to try to get rid of the protrusions and indentations as much as possible and have the joints locked.

But you should be loose at the same time. The meaning of this looseness is two-folds: First, you do not use power unless it is absolutely necessary. The power is used only to make the move and to maintain the structure, no more and no less. For example, the hand must be strong, but there should be no power in the arm. As Grandmaster Chen Fake advised, you should only use as much power as necessary to keep the arm to make the movement. If you power up the arm, it will not only waste your energy, you also become stiff and rigid. Stiff and rigid arms will bring your center of gravity up and make you inflexible. Second, looseness refers to the open of joints. One must not only be able to lock the joints, but also be able to open the joints. The joints can be rotated freely only if you can open them. The feeling of this looseness should be the same as heaviness. To be loose is to be able to sink one’s gravity to the ground.

The tightness and looseness should exist at the same time. You are tight where tightness is required and you are loose where looseness is necessary. The appropriate balance can only be achieved after long time of hard training. The beginners do not know how to be tight, let alone when to be loose. Since tightness is a precondition to usefulness, a practitioner should first focus on tightness and he should seek looseness only when his form routine is tight enough.

Tight and loose are related to power and no-power. People tend to think that loose means no-power. The popular idea of Taijiquan is that it should be done in a relaxed manner, it naturally follows that power should not be used. We often hear famous masters claiming that one must not use any power in doing the form routine. If only a bit of power is present, it is no longer Taiji. Many practitioners thus formed the habit of not using power. The moves are done in such a soft and smooth way that makes one just feeling wonderful. Some would even say “look at me. I just relax my arm and the Qi goes to my fingers.” As result, they practiced many years and still do not have any Gung Fu.

In fact, looseness and using power is not mutually exclusive. Anyone who plays piano or violin will know that the looser you are, the more powerful you will be in playing. As Grandmaster Hong put it, you definitely need to use power, but you should use smart power than dumb power. Dumb power is the kind of power you use for weight lifting or building up muscles. The smart power is stretching and spiral power. You must use power, and a lot of it when you just started training, to stretch and rotate, so as to elongate the rigid muscles and open the joints. One must keep in mind that in stretching, rotating or even issuing, power should be applied to both sides of the structure. For example, when the right hand punches to the front in Hand Covering Fist, the left elbow strikes backwards to balance the punch. In addition, both hands make a negative rotation, adding spiral power to the issuing. Another example is horizontal Lie with two hands. Although this is a move to fight straight force with a horizontal move, the power applied is still a stretching and spiral power. The second move of Double Kick is to strike the opponent behind with right shoulder and elbow, but the left elbow strikes downward and forward to help to generate and balance the power on the right side.

The power we seek to grow should be tight but not stiff, loose but not soft.

(C) Fast vs. Slow

Every student of Master Chen knows that one should practice the form routine as many as one can and the number does matter. However, one should not sacrifice the quality of the practice in pursuit of quantity.

To gain Kung Fu, one should practice the form routine as correctly as possible. Many Taiji practitioners have practiced Taiji very hard for years before studying with Master Chen but have not gained much Kung Fu due to the fact that they were not practiced correctly. Now they have the opportunity to learn from a real master, they still need to be careful about the correctness of their form routine. Grandmaster Chen Fake once said that “One should practice the form routine slow when one just starts to learn”. I believe that to start slow is to be more accurate on the moves so as to form good habit from the beginning.

Not only beginners should do the form routine slowly. Each time when one’s form routine has been corrected by his Shifu, one should slow down to master the corrections. As for myself, I would do the form routine in a slow motion and stop at the end of each move to examine the correctness of the posture. Take the final move of Single Whip as example, I would stop to see if the feet are at the right angle, the front Kua up, the rear Kua open, the head poked, the Dang sunk, the back arched, the wrists straight and the power though to the fingers. If any of them is not quite right, correct it immediately and stay at the correct posture for a while before next move, so that the body will remember the feeling of it. I will pick up the speed only when the moves have been stabilized.

One may do fewer form routines this way, but the quality would be better, so it is in the end more cost-effective.

(D) Higher Stance vs. Lower Stance

Generally speaking, lower stance in practicing the form routine, so far as the thigh is not lower than the knee. However, one’s physical conditions and age must be taken into consideration. It is difficult for anyone to maintain a low stance all the time, if one is to practice the routine several times consecutively. In such a case, one may want to do the first routine in higher stance at slower speed. Once one has warmed up, the stance will be lowered by itself, and it will feel natural to speed up. After several low stance form routines, one may want to adopt a higher stance again. For this easing routine, one may focus less on strength but more on specific technical points, such as no-move or Kua switching.

Note that regardless of the height of one’s stance, one should always sink the Dang. If you watch the video clips of Grandmaster Hong’s form routine, you will see that although his stance in his late years is apparently higher than that shown in his photos taken in his late middle age, his Dang sunk as always. Grandmaster Chen Fake said that one should do the form routine as if one is sitting on a stool. I believe Chen Fake was talking about the sinking of Dang. There are higher stool and lower stool, but one has to sit on it no matter which.

In short, practicing Yilu is to transform our physical structure into a machine, with all the joints like a universal joint or clutch, able to open, clutch and rotate in multi-dimensional manner. Imagine that you are a transformer. As soon as you are engaged with the opponent, all the joints can adjust independent of the other body parts. They can open to induce the opponent’s force into void or clutch and rotate to transmit your force beyond the contact points to the other side of the opponent’s force line. And with that ability, you can create Yin Yang separation any where and everywhere on your body.

As to the practice of Yilu, I recommend to new students of Practical Method the following videos of Master Chen: Yilu Detailed Instructions 1-4, Energy Alignment 1-12, Yilu Application 1-11, Hand Foot Connection, and corrections to students Yilu


Sticking, Adhering, Connecting, and Continuously Following;

Neither Abandoning nor Resisting

Master Chen likes to watch students practicing, whether they are doing well or poorly. He often holds a cup of coffee or a bottle of water or a can of Pepsi in his hand watching students practicing in front of the Magnolia Hotel. Sometimes he will watch for a while and leave without a word. But more often than not, he will comment on the student’s moves, give a short instruction and touch hands with the students. His words may be simple, but they usually are exactly what the student needs at the moment.

One day I was pushing with Sun Jian, Master Chen watched for a while and said “You are not full here.”

Master Chen demonstrated for me what was meant by full and said: “To be full, your force must match that of your opponent. To be exact, you should maintain the force balance between the two of you at 51% from the opponent against 49% from you, so that the opponent would feel he has caught you. What if he does not apply force on you? Then you apply your force on him to induce his force. And when the force balance reached 51% against 49%, you should stop adding force and try to keep the balance as it is.

When he retreats, you maintain the 51:49 force ratio; that is called not abandoning. If he increases his force, you still maintain the same force ratio; that is called not resisting. Always maintain this force ratio is called sticking, adhering, connecting and continuously following. It is not merely keeping the contact. When you are full at this 51:49 force ratio, you have established connection between the contact point and the opponent’s center. You control the contact point, you control his center.”

My understanding is that the purpose of sticking, adhering, connecting and continuously following is to put the lever under the object as closely as possible and adjust the position of fulcrum. 51:49 ratio is to put the force of the two parties in balance, with the opponent slightly in advantage. When you are in position, you just add force of 4 ounces, the balance with be tipped over. To do this, the power of the opponent must be out while your power must stayed in. The 51:49 balance is achieved not by using power at the contact points, but by adjusting your structure (indifferent equilibrium). The centre must never move, and that is how advantage is achieved in a seemingly balanced or even disadvantageous encounter.


Three Split of Energy and Three Sections

“Look at my arm. What do you see?” Master Chen asked. The elbow of his right arm was resting on the coffee table in front of me, finger tips pointing upwards.

We were sitting in a coffee shop inQingdaoairport. Chen Xu was also present. The short course had ended and I was to take a flight fromQingdaoto return toHong Kong. Leaving forBeijingtomorrow and then back toCanada, Master Chen decided to go toQingdaowith me and stay inQingdaofor the night to work on the video footages of the short course. Chen Xu drove us toQingdao. We arrived at theQingdaoairport a bit early, and after I checked in, I got an hour to kill before boarding, so Master Chen suggested that we should have a cup of coffee.

I knew that Master Chen’s arm was not an ordinary arm, but at this moment when I looked at it in front of me, I could not see anything unusual about it.

“You see my palm and my lower arm are not in the same direction, and my upper arm is yet in another direction than the other two, thus forming a triangular structure and producing three-split of forces.”, said Master Chen.

“We all know that triangular structure is the most stable, the so-called tripartite balance of forces. This structure produces the Peng energy, the force expending at all directions.”

It was almost time. We drank our coffee, which was quite good, got up and walked towards the customs.

“It’s more than that,” Master Chen went on, “when my power splits in three directions, my arm becomes an arc. When you push it, force will spread to the sides, evenly distributed on the arc.

If I adjust the angle of the arc so that the coming force hit the arc at a 45-degree, the force will go though the arc and get out from the other end. It may even return to the place where it is generated. It’s like you throw a tennis ball from one side into a big Chinese wok, it will come out from the other side. It’s also like wallride in skateboarding. You come to the wall at high speed and the wall throws you back. Your force does not affect the wall much.”

We were at the entrance. I waved good bye to Master Chen and dragged my suitcase through the customs.

Sitting in the departure lounge waiting for the boarding call, I was still pondering on the teaching of Master Chen gave upon our parting. Master Chen talked about three-split of force many times before, but this was the first time I began to appreciate the real meaning of it.

Why the force has to be split three ways? Because that is how the Peng energy and the arc formed. But for the coming force to spread evenly on the arc, there need to be Yin Yang separation on the point of impact. The method is to stretch the point to both sides, thus the point becomes three sections. In fact, any point on the body can be three sections. For the entire body, foot is the root, hand the tip, and trunk the middle section. As for the trunk, Huiyin is the root, Dantian the middle and Baihui the tip section. For the leg, Kua is the root, knee the middle, and the foot the tip section. For the arm, shoulder is the root, hand the tip, and the elbow the tip section. For the part beyond elbow, elbow is the root, wrist the middle, and the fingers tip section. And as for the hand, the wrist is the root, the largest knuckles the middle, and the fingers tip section.

To make the three sections an arc, one needs to stretch the root and tip sections all the time. In doing the foundation exercise or form routine, the hand should be strong, the wrist flat and extended, and the fingers shoot out from the palm and bend slightly to the back of the hand. The shoulder is pulled to the Kua and the elbow pointing to the floor. This way the Peng energy will come about naturally. The spiral move of the body parts also forms arc, such as in the first move in Buddha’s Warrior Turning Right to Pound Mortar. To have three sections and arcs everywhere in the body, all the body joints must be open, and all the tendons and muscles are able to compress and extend lengthwise. In Master Chen’s words, you have to be able to separate the muscles from the bones.

An arc can be outward or inward. An outward arc is usually used for dissolving force. The opponent’s force is induced to glide through the arc into void. Inward arc is mainly used for intercepting force. The opponent’s force will hit the wall of the bowl-shaped arc and bounce back. Of course, this is an over-simplified characterization. Real masters can produce inward arcs with outward arcs in them, and vise versa. It may be said that the two arcs are what Taijiquan is all about. If every posture you make is of triangular structure and every move an arc with three-split force, you have mastered real Taiji Kung Fu. Even if your moves may appear in direct lines, there will still be three-dimension spiral power. Master Chen said that such a power cannot be blocked.


Concluding Remarks

This article is written to record teachings of Master Chen which I received during my fourth trip to Daqingshan, my learning experience thereof and my latest understandings of the Practical Method. I am deeply in debt to Master Chen, Master Hong Sen and all the students of the short course. As I am relatively new to this art, my understandings of the Practical Method are inevitably shallow and full of mistakes. I nevertheless decide to publish it, so as to throw a brick to induce pieces of jade. The readers however should not take what is said in this article as truth. They should rather compare them with Master Chen’s teaching and their own experiences. If you have found anything in this article violate the principles of the Practical Method, please point it out, so that I will not deviate from the right course much further.

Finally, I have a word to say to all the students of Master Chen. Taijiquan has spread widely in the world today and there must be hundreds of millions of practitioners globally. There are masters everywhere, but real masters are few. True masters who have genuine uninterrupted lineage of Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method, deep understanding of the art and real Taiji Kung Fu and are willing to share heir knowledge with others like Master Chen are very rare. Anyone who is lucky enough to study with Master Chen should appreciate the opportunity and not take it lightly.

Meeting the right master, however, is only half way to success. The other half is one’s own commitment and hard work. One will never have real Kung Fu if one does not practice, no matter how well one may understand the theory. As Master Chen put it: “What we practice is called Practical Method, and in the end all will be measured by the result. Whether your Kung Fu is good depends on if you can issue people out with Taiji moves. I talk about theories only to give you a nudge, to make you more interested in practicing. The theories have no direct bearing on if you can get Kung Fu.” Grandmaster Chen Fake once told Grandmaster Hong that if he kept practicing Yilu 20 times a day, he would have Kung Fu in 3 years. Do a calculation on this, you will see that 3 years of practicing Yilu 20 times a day amounts to more than twenty thousand times of Yilu. It is then become clear that ten thousand Yilu is a minimum requirement.

One more thing. For those who have just started to learn the Practical Method and have never had the opportunity to visit Daqingshan, I highly recommend you to find a time to make the pilgrimage to the Mecca of Practical Method. The First Daqingshan International Taijiquan Festival to be held in late May 2013 would be a good time to visit, as many masters of the Practical Method will also attend the event.


PS. The Chinese version of this article was written shortly after I came back from Daqingshan and was published in this website in December. In doing this English version, I made some revisions to the Chinese version which is now published again on Master Chen’s Chinese website. In addition, I want to thank ksloke for translating the section on Sticking, Adhering, Connecting, and Continuously Following. I have borrowed some of his translations.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

bruce.schaub March 5, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Great article KT. Thank you for translating it to english. Lots of valuable technical information and very inspiring! Google translate did not do it justice when I tried to read it before.


Jay Smith March 5, 2013 at 9:42 pm

Very good article! It was a lot of work to do this, thank you for taking the time to share it with us.



KT March 6, 2013 at 3:58 am

Hi Bruce and Jay, thanks for the good words. It was a lot of work, but I myself learnt a lot in the process of writing this article. My understanding of the Practical Method is quite different now after this trip. Hope your guys will be able to get something out of it. Don’t forget to point out my mistakes.

Bruce, you write quite often youself and I like your articles very much.


Gino March 6, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Well done KT!


Frank March 7, 2013 at 7:47 am

KT good job!


KT March 7, 2013 at 8:52 am

Thanks, Gino and Frank. Frank, how are you lately? Are you going to DQS next May?


Frank March 7, 2013 at 6:41 pm

KT, I will try to make it, though I won’t know for sure until early May. Too bad we missed each other in 2012.


Paddy Hanratty July 18, 2013 at 10:31 am

Thank you for this great article KT, and for taking the time to translate it.


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