North American Training Camp 2019 Review and Notes

by Spencer Jones on 2019/08/08

Last week we concluded another great workshop/training camp in Iowa with Master Chen.  There was a good turnout with around 50 attendees. The vibes were good and the lessons were clear and concise.

Master Chen emphasized consistently throughout the workshop that we must always stay on topic, and our inability to understand is because we are “in another room”. This is a very human failing, because we come to anything we do with our own ideas intact. It is nearly impossible to break ourselves of these mental and physical patterns. To listen and to hear are two different things. Reality and our version of it are two different things almost always.


In six days, Master Chen covered a lot of subject matter. We had what seemed like 4 classes or more a day. He’s kind of always teaching. Even during meals. I won’t try and explain the partner exercises, or the private lessons, or those things that are better illustrated in the videos that will be posted to the PM website. I will review many of the concepts discussed to the best of my ability.

Here are some of the topics that were covered with brief notes to explain them.


Whenever you rotate it is considered “not moving”

Rotation isolates a movement from a non-movement.

The example of a clear unmarked water glass in the very center of a lazy susan- When you rotate the lazy susan, if it is perfectly centered, you cannot even see the movement. It looks stationary. When doing push hands, there should always be a dot. If the energy is directed forward it is aimed at a dot, like a bullet shooting forward.


49/51 This concept means that there is enough deviation to create movement, but not enough to “go off”.  You need the opponent’s actions to create it.


A vector is created when two straight forces create it. The vector is the illusion. It is real power but it’s not physical, it creates a field, but you cannot touch it. You never feel it, you never see it, but you will see the result.  Master Chen said cheekily, “When done correctly your students will call it ‘chi’.”


The camp’s lessons this time were pervaded by the idea of “intention”.  Intention in PM is what we call “to lead”. For example, in the positive circle, the ‘elbow in’ is the “lead”. Intention has no meaning in itself, but it changes everything. I am starting to realize this is one of the reasons Master Chen’s form looks so much different than mine and I can never figure out why. Your eyes can only see movement. The act of leading translates to intention, and when intention is used, the action is different. In with elbow, turn at waist, out with hand… You have to be clear about those intentions. Say them aloud! When the intention is clear, you produce a very thin line. From one large thing, you pull out one dot. This is the concept of silk reeling.


Separate inside from outside. Move the inside until your opponent feels like he has ability, then use the outside.


If you hold my hand and I pull with the elbow you cannot defeat my action. Your brain will generate an idea, therefore all your actions are off. You hold my elbow, I move my kua, your actions are off. You are “not there” so you cannot sense it. You come in to detect them, so I go out with the hand leading.  Always give your opponent the indirect.


In a conversaton about measuring taiji against other martial arts Master Chen said this:


“In the end,

There is nothing real,

There is only a preservation

Of your tradition.”


Master Chen needs us to take notes because he is looking for a new method to describe some of these principles and actions unique to taiji. The system was designed in Chinese for Chinese people to understand. The existing Taiji language in the west is largely flawed due to translation errors. So Master Chen developed a language to talk about these things. That is why PM is described so differently than other Taiji. But he is always looking to refine those teachings and find the best possible way to illustrate the concepts.


The 8 techniques (These are upper body movements, also called “methods”, or “tricks”)


Peng- Ward off

An energy that starts in the middle and expands in all directions. (or) a movement


Liu- Roll back. To pull (sort of)

Ji- the current translation of “to squeeze” is incorrect. It really means “to stick”. It is an

inward attachment. You attach yourself onto.

An- To push w/ the result of separation. A thrust that bounces the opponent off.

Cai- To pluck, tear, yank. (Fast) A break in speed.

Lie- To break from the middle. Your hand has to create direction

Zhou- To twist.

Kao- A whole body strike


The 5 steps (These are lower body movements, also called “5 elements”)


Jin- To advance (100% forward movement). This is the dragging step.

Tui- To retreat. (100% backward movement)This is the falling step.

Gu- To look.

Pan- To Gaze (to look with focus).

Ding- Fixed (actually “Don’t Move”). Whatever happens, the center doesn’t move.


All together these make the 13 postures of Taiji.

8 techniques and 5 steps is the theory, but the overriding principle is yin/ yang separation.


Use the 8 techniques for accuracy and direction,Then change the feet (5 steps). The eyes are part of the 5 steps. They govern the feet and the direction of those steps.

The top cannot push, can only adapt… the moves are on the feet.

And the two are DESYNCHRONIZED.


Find the center and move the two ends, OR Lock the two ends and move the center.


The top and bottom lock. The distance is irrelevant. The rod may tilt, but the relationship must not change. In the example he gave, the finger was the top, the kua the bottom.


The body must be divided into 2 with the center as a demarcation. The center cannot move. In the punch of fist covering hand, the belly is considered the center.


“I’m going in with elbow,

I’m turning my waist

I’m going out with my hand”

Say it out loud


Do not live in your head… The problem is that he gives instructions and people change them and make up their own exercises. The instructions must be REAL, the action must be REAL, The understanding must be REAL.


Practice Erlu fast. Try to execute as many techniques as possible with one breath. (This does not mean holding your breath). In many cases in a fighting situation or push hands, if you can do 3 moves in quick succesion, people cannot deal with you. But each move must maintain integrity. This is the hard part.


The breath are like bellows, gradually deeper and deeper all the way to the heel.


Yin/Yang- Once the inside locks up, you can spread out,

Once the outside locks, then you can draw inward.


Imagine the core is a cylinder, fill it out and make it immobile. Then you can do whatever with the arms. Everything in the core stretches downwards like water, or like a tree growing roots in the ground. This is the concept of “sinking”, and every posture contains this before the move can go to the other side and transition.

I asked Master Chen what the inside being “hollow” meant. He said that full is empty, no protrusions. You must fill out the middle ‘evenly’ so that it acts like a pillar. If there are imperfections in a pillar the structural integrity will be compromised.


Synchronized/ Desynchronized- The top half and the lower half make the same movement, but the timing is off just a little. Immense power is created.


“Empty your cup” Do 1 thing right. Do another thing right. Then when you have 3 or 4 things you can actually produce an action.  Our problem is that we move on to another exercise too quickly.


Wuji is nothing specific. From this randomness we start to specify. Once there is a dot, we can say “Here!” In terms of the positive circle, 1 dot is just putting your hand out to start. Then with elbow in, a line, a relationship is created. “Add one” is the turing of the waist.


Find all of the triangles on the body. Each one has a missing part. Our job is to find all the missing parts and make them real. If you can do this, then you’ve got taiji. Maintain that space somehow… Think of something so strong it is indestructible when you are being pushed. Do not move that rod. You always think Master Chen is moving, because of foreshortening, because of the perspective change, but he is always doing this. Your eyes always deceive you in Taiji. Ignore the other 2 parts and put your attention to the invisible part.


The method of learning:

  1. Trust your ears, listen

  2. Watch

  3. Imitate

  4. Touch

  5. Ask

  6. Experiment

  7. Think (only with a lot of verification)


If you can use your eyes to feel, If you can use your skin to listen… this is enlightenment.


In with elbow- You must take the slack out before you can bring the elbow in. Then the forearm acts like a knife.


When you train more, you become very strong and then you have the confidence to try moves. Training Yilu gives you internal power. With this power, you can afford to be “relaxed”.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Carlson August 9, 2019 at 11:56 am

Wow, Spencer! Such good notes. I never seem to be good at taking notes.
They will help me a lot.
Thank you.


Barb Steger August 9, 2019 at 3:26 pm

Awesome notes! Mine are not this detailed. Thx for sharing.


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