On another perfect Ottawa autumn weekend, Master Chen taught his disciples and Taiji enthusiasts the intricate art of Taijiquan. The organizers (Rachelle, Daniel and James) meticulously planned three days of intense training focusing on Taiji history, philosophy and the unique nature of the Practical Method. the workshop participants was fortunate to have an entire day devoted to the hidden art of Pao Chui. A special thanks to all the students from Toronto and Montreal who made the long trip to take advantage of the hands-on training with Master Chen.
Tireless advocate of a traditional approach
I have attended many workshops and each time I gain a fresh perspective on the Practical Method. I now appreciate the effort and care of Master Chen in maintaining the quality and standards of his Taijiquan.
For thirty years, Master Chen has roam the world spreading his unique insight on this ancient art. Despite the pressure to conform to the status quo, Master Chen has consistently focus on the principles of Taiji based on the teachings of his teacher Hong Jungshen. This in-turn is a direct transmission from the noted Chen Fake. This direct transmission is important not because of its prestige but so that the ancient ideas are not lost or changed through hands on experience.
During the workshop, Master Chen spoke of an example of this lost in translation. It is generally known to the Taiji aficionados that “Taii is the art of peng”. The definition ofis usually vague or mysterious and often involves some specific action of the hand or the body. Grandmaster Hong suggests that in the ancient times, merely means that the structure does not collapse on first strike. The form maintains its integrity under an external force. Chen Xin, 16th generation Chen master, added the concept that “Peng is silk reeling” to help practitioners in understanding the nature of Chen Taijiquan. Grandmaster Hong provided additional insight into the art of by describing silk reeling as spiral movements composed of positive and negative circles. When Grandmaster Hong attempted to communicate his ideas to the public in the sixties, he was ridiculed and eventually ostracized by the Taijiquan community. It is only after international recognition and the success of his students in national push hand competition that Grandmaster Hong’s work was finally acknowledged. However, this understanding remains within the domain of the Practical Method.
Master Chen follows in his teacher’s footsteps. His workshop does not uses the commonly accepted but ill- defined concepts such as qi (氣) or jin (勁). His explanation remain rooted in the Doaist principles of Yin-Yang separation. Eachis tested and experimented on using push hands as the tool for physical demonstration. In each workshop, Master Chen will provide hands on training with all participants regardless of their physical strength or martial art experience. Through Master Chen’s tireless efforts, his students are working hard to spread the benefits of training in the Practical Method.
Learning a new language
Master Chen, also a linguist by training, uses the concept of learning a new language as an illustration of the difficulty in understanding Taijiquan. As an adult, when you start to learn a new language nothing makes sense. The beginner will then try to map his native tongue to the foreign language as a means of understanding the new language. This approach is prone to error since the mapping itself can result in misunderstandings. The proper approach is to learn the language like an infant. Immerse yourself in the environment and through frequent and repeated use one can then understand the principle and nuances of this new language. Learning Taijiquan should follow the same idea – don’t try to find and understand the training based on your past experience (your native language) instead practice Yilus (immersion) and understand the principles governing the training.
A concrete example of language training might be useful. Consider the following section of poetry by Grandmaster Hong in his treatise “The quality of Taijiquan” (太極拳品).
If you plugged this into an automatic translation service such as Google translates, you get :
Spirit too exposed, but also a disease, but also subtle….
Which is complete gibberish. Only a native Chinese speaker and one that understands the philosophy of Taijiquan such as Master Chen can really translate the verse into something meaningful as:
The Internal energy is full
The outside does not have any pretension.
A thousand pound bow
Four ounces of arrow
Pulled tightly but not released
As if it has already reached the target.
For the reader, only those that appreciate the fine art of Taijiquan can understanding the superficial meaning of those verses. The lucky few who are familiar with the Practical Method training can truly appreciate the fundamentals ideas that those words really captured.
These layers of interpretation and understanding are the main problems in learning Taijiquan. The solution in the Practical Method is “no deviation” – just follow the instructions of a qualify teacher.
The hidden art of Pào Chuí (炮捶)
The organizers were lucky to convince Master Chen to give us a peek at the the second form (Erlu). This form is commonly known asbut this translation is a misnomer. The Chinese literal translation is “Cannon Hammer” but a better translation would be “Hit like a cannon”.
The common understanding ofis the rapid movement and the use of fa-jin (發勁). The problem is that the concept of fa-jin is vaguely defined as the sudden release of energy and it is visually associated with the rapid shaking of a body part. A more knowledgeable Taiji practitioner will espouse the concept that the First form (Yilu) lays down the tracks and that the Second form (Erlu) is moving object on those tracks. This is the but meaningless until you start learning Erlu
The workshop was fortunate to have Master Chen demonstrate and taught the first thirteen moves of Erlu. Through training, one can see the basic principles of energy alignment, Yin-Yang split andlearn in being applied with speed and power in Erlu. As the name implies, each technique in Erlu should be performed as if an object is being shot out of a cannon. The object travels directly along the energy path with no deviations. As Master Chen said, “Yilu represents the DNA (core) of the Practical Method System and Erlu is the growing up (the body) of the system.”
On reflections, the meaning of the last stanzas of Grandmaster Hong’s poem becomes clear when Master Chen was demonstrating the Erlu..
Which Master Chen translate as:
Mountain rain is coming,
A pleasant wind is starting
but like using military strategy
Stay still like a virgin
with one touch it all releases
With one taste all must releases.
This imagery you can see vividly when Master Chen performs the lost art of Pao Chu. Each move is clear and precise but executed with speed and power.
After an exhausting two days, I am reminded of the quote:
“About what one cannot speak, one must remain silent.”
“Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darueber muss man schweigen.”
who knew Grandmaster Hong, Master Chen and Ludwig Wittgenstein (路德维希‧维根斯坦) have so much in common.