James Strider – Fulltime Training Blog Wk3 2019
“You are all so clever, you’re stupid!”
These words, uttered by Master Chen (with his usual impish grin and mischievous glint in his eyes!) at his premier European workshop way back in 2006 when he came to Holland, have since been heard by many others around the globe. As the room was full of grown Dutch men in this instance, a nation that prides itself on being pragmatic, logical and individualistic, they did not go down well!
Master Chen Zhonghua on Daqingshan Mountain
Later that night Master Chen held a long discussion about what those words meant, as some of the students found them quite confrontational, and thirteen years later they hold more impact and import to me than any that Master Chen has said, as they hold the key, in my humble opinion, to effectively learning the Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method and one could argue to learning Eastern disciplines in general.
What I took from this enthralling and long gathering (I believe we were there until at least midnight) was that he was telling us to put our Western mind aside, with its constant internal/external babble and egocentric questioning and rationalisation of what it hears, allowing for a more Eastern approach of accepting what is said, repeating what we have been shown without question and trusting in the process.
What triggered Master Chen’s comment was a particular student’s insistent reinterpretation of his word’s, with expressions like “So what you mean is…” and “Is that like…?”, which anyone who has spent time learning from Master Chen will know is one of his pet hates! The reason for this is that we stop listening and start talking, asking what Master Chen calls “The wrong questions”.
Over the years I have done my best to follow Master Chen’s advice, and having taught quite a few students have even resorted to using his words verbatim with certain ones to get the point across (with varying degrees of success!).
One of the first things I noticed here in China is that there seems to be a lot less of this “Western” behaviour, although I have seen Master Chen and Chen Xu give a few speeches about really “listening” and “following” to Chinese audiences on the rare occasion, indicating that there is a subtle shift in the Eastern mind towards the West (and vice versa from my experience).
For the first four years of workshop attendance I took as many notes as I could of Master Chen’s words and teaching’s, quoting him directly when possible as it kept me in the moment and less likely to ask questions as I was simply too busy writing! This is a practice that he encourages to this day with all students who attend his workshops worlwide.
Coach Chen Xu instructing an International student in the Yilu
As my daily practice now involves more and more repetition, with guidance from both Master Chen andCoach Chen Xu, I am directly experiencing the benefits of simply “doing as I’m told” and not overthinking my Practical Method discipline. I of course have the incredible privilege of having Coach Chen Xu as an example to follow and am finding that by simply copying his movements alone, without discussion or tuition, I am improving every day.
Master Chen Zhonghua teaching National and International Disciples in Rizhao
So, what am I trying to say here? Namely, when you train with your Practical Method instructor (whatever level they may be), attempt to really listen to what they are saying, perform the movements as instructed and if you have questions, check in with yourself first and wonder: “is this relevant to the Practical Method and the lesson at hand or am I merely allowing my ego to reword it into something which makes it ‘mine’?”, and when you come to China, leave your ego at the door…
We need to make space for new knowledge and learning, with another great Master of the past having said that to do so:
“You must unlearn what you have learned”
Until next time, Happy Training!