Locations : Iowa (Midwest)

Taiji Classes by Levi Sowers and John Upshaw

This article is to summarize my technique takeaways.   So many!

In twisting the towel (day 1 or 2)
  • The body is like a Mercedes Benz symbol (legs and torso/head).  Practice with your head fixed in the ceiling in a spot, so the torso can’t move off a central line or move up & down.  I tried it with 2 folks holding a staff and it definitely made it a very different experience
  • The elbow rubs against the side of the body.  He had us practice that and pay attention to it.  I don’t yet know why it is important, but I will work to remember to do it this way
  • the foot of the side going forward drives the movement (without moving much).

Some principals ..
  • The body or parts of the body are often very fixed and you don’t move in space at all, and by using that constraint, then create pressure and the pressure goes through your body more.  When you let the body part move, then the power leaks out.  I need to not let my body move so that when I apply power, it goes through my body in the desired path, rather than leaking out near the parts that move.   He did a vastly more subtle version where it was almost more energetic, and as if he had 2 layers in his body, an outside and an inside.  I don’t understand it at all and I don’t think it is where I am yet.  He also showed what it was to be equally full everywhere, and to keep that even as moving.  These were super cool, very enlightened things.  Maybe after many years of hard work I can start to work on these.
  • Often there is a body part that doesn’t move at all (and more, keeps the same pressure and direction of pressure, if I am in contact with someone), and then other parts move.   I saw this illustrated in a place where we stepped forward with our qua hinging down below someone as our hand stayed fixed against them.  Another example in a moving step positive circle … I come in on them in the part where the arm comes in, and then extend the arm after I step.  
  • Direction – I still need to work on better aim (a lot).  However, sometimes I get it pretty well (I think).  Easier for me when the person is directly in front of me (but I still vary up/down, even then).   But the idea of aiming through a spot was helpful for me.  This was similar to a pole exercise Kelvin did, where you both pushed on the pull in a push-a-war (instead of tug a war).  By aiming through their hand, the power transmitted beautifully.  There was also spiraling the power in, which I can do a little bit of, but I don’t understand why it works at all, only that it does 🙂
  • Pung.  The sense of stretching in all directions.   You can also stretch inwards, and I believe (not sure) that there is often a sense of compression and expansion which sometimes alternate.  I should pay more attention to see when it is one or the other so that I am clear.  Another example is The arch of the legs & the exercise to pull the Qua away from each other … actively pull the qua away from each other or from one or the other if it is a fixed point.   I think stretching is something I need to pay more attention to … he’s mentioned it to me twice in the zoom class, and also has mentioned that my body is too loose.  This is probably one of the bigger takeaways for me.  (Although there are so many!)
  • In my own body and when watching him …. do I know what the fixed point is?   He made the comment in six sealing four closing that the fixed point could be the back qua (or the front, but he showed mostly with the back qua fixed).  I believe the qua is fixed and the muscles move around it, enabling extra motion.  
  • in opening the qua … I need to be more strict in my standards.  Don’t let my centerline give at all, and my qua doesn’t move much.  Then stretch more to get a little extra movement.  And look at my shoulders … have they moved forward relative to my qua at all? If so, then I was not strong enough.  This also makes me more aware of the facing of the hips .. because then that is also the facing of the torso … I let my waist turn a small amount many times … I need to use my qua, and also sometimes my foot placement.  For example, before I would step straight forward more often, and I see now that the feet are typically not straight forward on a line, with the hips completely facing that line.
  • 1 cannot see 3. The upper body relates to the qua/dantien and they relate to the feet. But if the upper body relates to the feet, you lose power. Similarly the shoulder relates to the elbow to the hand.

My lesson with him – Foundations – Twist the towel
  • Feet facing mostly forward ( I was too turned out)
  • Pung, be more actively full. I need to work on this more and actively. It is not my instinct.
  • the push is not in the arms (we always say this!)
  • My line / Point … wants to veer left.  Then right.  Then up.   Then gets stuck in the wrist … go through the fingers. I think I need to practice with a stick.
  • Things must be so tight that there are no other possibilities. This was very interesting and I did feel it.
  • He pushes me and my qua is a gear, but my elbow must move in and screwdriver ever so slightly.  
  • He slaps arm and qua redirects (note, shoulder also goes down as a consequence of the qua)
  • Push from the qua … but there is no push!! It is the rotation of the gear, in response to a different imaginary gear. This is the tai chi symbol.   It feels like this is the beginning of a big idea.
  • Then there is a lock of the qua to the elbow.  A spiral drilling from shoulder, elbow, wrist into the line
  • In passing – Curve spine … huge curve, Head down like curve, then pull hea duplicate and find vertical.  Everything is always extreme. I don’t think this was as important for me as some of the others, but something to remember.
  • He was pushing me.  You get stuck … then push with the rear qua more … then split more (right/left) … then spiral in more
  • The Rotation / Spiral in the elbow was the same in other places … there was a place where we were pushing our opponent away, and the elbow spiraled in, in a similar way

While practicing twisting the towel
  • Do not let the shoulder move. It wants to cause my spine to bend sideways. And also to rotate
  • My qua doesn’t have that much mobility. Don’t let myself over-rotate in either my qua or my shoulders (but do work on getting a bit more through stretch)
  • keep my hand on the line
  • many other things above (the bridge/arch of my qua/thighs / pung, etc.)

Push Hands – some things I got from various disciples (Brennon, Kelvin, Levi, etc. Thank you)
  • Method 1
  • in a position where I have a leg behind them and the same arm in front
  • push with arm to lock them
  • then just go down in to the pit
  • Method 2
    • lock their body with underhooks, hips facing them (probably any lock will do)
    • reach back with a leg
    • bring my opposite shoulder to that leg
    • somehow this squeezes them out
  • Method 3
    • lock a part of the person’s body
    • imagine the opponent has a fixed line going through them vertically
    • work around that fixed line (for example, left hand locking their body and pushing up and over their back, while right hand locks torso and pulls down and to my back)
  • Method 4
    • aim narrowly through them with my elbows and hands
    • make this line increasingly narrow
    • pretty soon their line is too small and they are squeezed out
  • Other random push hands comments (from Brennon)
    • you can change the battle by keeping the pressure but changing the spot that has the pressure (their left hand to your right, for example)
    • you can change your body, while keeping the direction, place & line of pressure the same
    • if they are pushing you, you can dissipate things by keeping them on the same line and moving ever so slightly back on that line

    He taught Armwrestling in a Tai-Chi Style
    • push hard into the table, and power will shoot up against that push
    • Stretch through your body, past the opponent’s body (perhaps with some curl in your spine & reach through your arm / forearm / hand).  Pointing past him in the line helps.
    • You can then pick up your opponent / go around behind them.  I think this helped cause them to lose power
    • Then crank, but not from your shoulder – keep your hand / front shoulder / back shoulder locked as one unit, and crank from below.  I think also keep your shoulder connected to your qua
    • He also mentioned that he would make the lever even longer by orienting it behind him … I saw him do it and my eyes saw it, but I don’t understand at all how to do it.

    Yilu corrections for me from Master Chen
    • Walk Diagonally and Twist Step:  
    • the first step
    • aimed forward very directly, and the aim is also my body curled so that the curve of my spine also aims forward
    • elbows behind fists
    • body turned a little sideways, so my right shoulder is somewhat behind my left
  • when my right arm comes around to meet my left, my left doesn’t move in space, and my right comes forward to meet it
  • then my arms stay fixed in space, and I pull my lower body forward.  This was difficult, because it feels like you will fall backwards, but you need to pull with your forward foot and shift the lower body and believe it is possible.
  • when expanding my arms
    • stretch more, just a little bit in front of the horizontal line, and often roughly shoulder level.  This happened a few times
  • in fetch water
    • I was rising up … I didn’t understand one of his earlier instructions.  It should be “as if” I was rising up, without rising up
  • in the step to go low, keep the long pull I created in fetch water, and move it as if holding a staff
  • Then I mimicked him through the end of the 1st 13.  The only correction was to stretch more in a few places, but being able to be behind him mimicking him was helpful.  I tried to feel like I was wearing his body 
  • Yilu corrections (mostly Master Chen, but also some classes others gave)
    • Buddah’s Warrior Pounds Mortar 
    • keep my front hand fixed in space as I rotate.   Rotation happens around the central line.  The back arm hits backwards, but doesn’t move .. it is from the rotation along the central line.   
    • Extend the leg by digging down and then having it pull me forward while the back also resists (from Spencer’s class)
  • Block touching Coat
    • wrist is strong, and as hands go up, the body goes down & upper back curls a little.   I was curling my wrist to get up and that isn’t it.  It is about the down of the body changing things
  • six sealing four closing
    • back qua is fixed
    • left hand doesn’t move at all … usually it moves, causing the cut to be dramatically reduced
  • single whip
    • there was a correction for spencer where the 2 sides where long and the impact on the beak hand caused the other hand to shoot out energy.  Then even more amazing, the open hand shot energy to the beak.  It was amazing and I bet this is just another example of “it’s always like that”.  Probably every correction is just an example of “it’s always like that’.
  • turn left to pound mortar
    • the same shock of single whip above carried through to the following movements.  I am not at this level yet, but still amazing.  
  • White Crane spreads it’s wings
    • My right hand was too high – eye level
    • he corrected someone that energy is in the back as well as the front – very interesting
  • Initial Closing
    • the right elbow comes in (not the hand – almost everyone was doing this wrong, certainly including me!)
    • then there is a small circle (from the dantien/qua) so that the right hand encircles the opponent’s hand
  • Walk diagonally & twist step (my corrections above)
  • second closing (my corrections above)
  • lean with back
    • lock left leg more where it was when I grab my opponent 
  • Flashing the back
    • the punches are elastic

    PS – obviously too much for me to do well.  Nonetheless, I will try to remember as much as I can and follow instructions as best I can in my practice.  This has been a wonderful re-beginning.  

    My background & early exposure

    I saw videos of Master Chen on youtube and I was Very impressed.  I watched them periodically until one day, 4 years later, I registered for a workshop with him in Toronto (after I was laid off, and had a bit of both time and money).   It was clear that he had an amazing understanding of movement (and obviously, Practical Method Tai Chi Chuan).

    One event that happened in that 1st workshop / exposure to him, which was an enlightenment, was that I touched his foot as he was doing “in with elbow”.   And I understood that all movement was driven by his foot / qua / center system.  And that after studying dance actively for 20 years, I didn’t know anything about how to use my legs or hips.

    I started taking his online classes, and they were full of great exercises and insightful corrections.  I hope I am improving there, but I think it is slow.  But regardless, even if the body is improving slowly, there is no doubt that my eye / ability to understand is evolving, and that this is very valuable.  I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to study in these classes with him online.

    I went to the Iowa workshop after taking that 1st workshop in Toronto, and then studying videos and online for about 7 months

    A week in Iowa

    After the first few days, I began to understand what “stretch” means.   He had given me this correction a couple of times in the online classes, and I wanted to work on it – I thought it was an important thing for me to focus on, but I didn’t really know what to do.  Now I begin to know what to do.  This was very satisfying. My current understanding is that it is neither tensing the muscles in place, nor is it “limply” stretching, but rather an extreme extension which creates space in joints and charges up the facia/tendons/etc, in the desired direction.

    There were also many pieces of instruction on different details that start to educate my eye … many more details later.

    A private lesson with Master Chen

    I am so lucky that I have access to a master who is a great practitioner, a great teacher, very open with information & willingness to let you feel him do things, and who speaks English and is in North America.
    I registered for a private lesson with him.   You go to a workshop and having a little bit of hands on, on the topic that he feels is most important for you, really helps you be on a right path.   I felt I had my first taste of what it is to feel what it is to do practical method.   I remind myself to follow instructions, however, and not just go back to the feeling.

    I think my capacity went up a notch in the first few days of the workshop, and another notch after my lesson with Master Chen.  I started to better understand “gears” in the body, and the way you use a gear to indirectly create power … the movement is perpendicular or at a 45% angle, and I genuinely need to not let my body try to drive the wanted result, but just do the technique.  Not “end game”.   So hard.  


    Many wonderful people – helpful & generous, but also very interesting, and with their own unique insights into life in general. Lou mentioned to me in the Toronto workshop that it was a great group of people, but I didn’t understand. Let me say in writing, Lou – you were right, so many great people 🙂

    I would come without the community, because Master Chen and his teachings are so profound, but the community definitely makes it more fun 🙂

    Psychology & Science. Thinking

    Master Chen also shares many stories which are educational.   He’ll talk about science and make analogies with Tai Chi.  I majored in physics in college, and most people who talk about physics but don’t know it are spouting garbage.  Master Chen is not – what he says is profound, relevant, and such a completely different perspective.   It is very interesting.

    And there are periodic stories about how we should think as students to progress, to not be in our own way.   He said, and I am sure he is right, that each of these funny stories about other people is also a story about us.  That the story he was telling about someone else where the other person was being so wrong-headed, is actually a story about me / each of us (just more subtle).  I need to be careful of being too wrongheaded, of not listening enough.  Of not believing enough.  Of interpreting too much through a personal lens.  

    One example is often when people ask questions that are not on the topic he is teaching, he’ll make it clear that it isn’t a good question.  This really isn’t the typical American way, but it is clear he is correct … better to focus 100% on what he is saying and talking about, so you have more hope of learning it.   Having a distracted mind can only make something that is already difficult even harder!  

    There are many ways that my thinking is too opinionated, I think.  But at the same time, I do know he is such a master of this, and I need to not just listen, but hopefully learn to think more like he thinks.  I appreciate that he doesn’t just work to teach us Tai Chi, but also works to teach us how to think and learn.  Kelvin & Winston also had a great conversation on this same topic with a couple of folks late one night – thank you both for your help in this workshop!

    I think I also am getting a better appreciation for the use of physical props, and to practice in the right way.  Every time I used a prop I realized how I wasn’t as accurate as I thought.  

    Realizing there is hope

    I had a large part of me that believed I would never “get” it.  That there was too much to the practical method.   The more I learn, the  more nuanced, subtle & difficult it gets.  

    I studied for the 8 months after my 1st workshop online, and honestly, I didn’t think I would develop any skill.  If studying Practical Method was climbing Mt Everest, I thought I would start hiking, and not even be able to make it to base camp.   With such a bleak view of my future progress, why did I stick to it?   The answer is that I thought I would learn amazing amounts along my journey, even if I didn’t get very far.   It had already had dramatic changes in my dancing and movement.   With rewards so high, and the luck of such an opportunity to study with him, how could I not?

    However … in this workshop, I realized that with hard work and time … I could learn!  I could start to climb Everest.   Realistically, I’ll never reach the summit.  I will never be even close to as good as Master Chen.  But there is hope now … I see that I can make real progress, and begin the ascent.   Somehow knowing that I can make real progress is very encouraging.  The impossible has now become possible.

    We are pleased to have Master Chen Zhonghua back for the 4th annual training camp.  Once again, the taijiquan training, lodging and dining will be at one location with one cost at the same location as last 3 years.  This will be an intensive workshop focused Theory, Foundations, Yilu, Push Hands and Broadsword.  Disciples will take part in the instructions.
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    Practical Method Popsockets for your smartphones are $12 plus shipping. As many of you are aware I teach a group of kids, which several have attended Iowa workshops taught by Master Chen. I was able to work out a fundraising deal with the company so 50% of all the sales will be applied towards tuition for my kid students that have financial need. So an awesome item + good price + great cause = excellent purchase!

    For orders email me midwestpracticalmethodtaiji@gmail.com or message me on Facebook.


    John Upshaw

    Probably the biggest thing had to do with the learning process: The questions that arise in my mind are usually off topic and I think their purpose is to distract me from paying full attention to what Master Chen is teaching at the moment.  By asking them out loud I’m distracting everyone else too.  My mind doesn’t want to give up control.
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    Comments on 2019 North American Practical Method training camp

    From my perspective, this year’s training camp was outstanding! I came with the thought that I had progressed a lot but after a short time I realized (as usual) I have so much to learn. I am basically a very beginner but I can see that each time I attend a function with Master Chen I can get a little better grasp of what he is teaching.
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    For the second consecutive year the North American Practical Method Training Camp was held at Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This seventy acre retreat, located in a mainly residential section of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, provided a relaxed and private location for training. While the center is an outreach ministry of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration it is an informal center with an emphasis on ecology and  the many varieties of spirituality. It is easy to mistake the sisters for the volunteers working in the garden or helping maintain the grounds. One of the sisters, who is 80 years old and teaches Tai Chi Chih, a form of Qigong, can often be seen driving a tractor on the grounds. She took a break from her work to watch a group of us practice the First 13. Another sister told me she was happy to see our large, primarily, but not entirely, male group stay at their center, because we provided a different type of energy than is usually found there. My point in mentioning this is to suggest that the folks at Prairiewoods appeared to have enjoyed us being there

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    Iowa180731 - 08

    The body must separate into two. For example in the opening move, part of the body faces forward and part of it rotates 45 degrees
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    Iowa180731 - 04

    I’m extremely pleased at what I’ve taken away from the camp. I have a lot to work on between now and the next Master Chen Zhonghua workshop, for instance:
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    Pretend to fight to find the end points. Once locked, move-in the middle point.


    (Alignment) Rear fingers look for the front elbow. The rear kua looks for the rear elbow.

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    Iowa Class i

    by John on 2018/05/14

    PMNATC2017_1 Read more

    We are pleased to have Master Chen Zhonghua back for another workshop. This time Taijiquan training, lodging and dining will be at one location with one cost. This will be an intensive workshop focused on foundations, drills, form, push hands and applications.

    Date: July 28 – Aug 1 2017
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    Practical Method Iowa Workshop 2015

    I attended the Practical Method Iowa Workshop 2015. Officially, the workshop was on Sep 12-13, 2015. I spent a total of 6 days there from Sep 10-15, 2015. It was the best workshop I had ever attended. We had a lot of dedicated Practical Method people there. Thanks to Levi and Christina who let a number of us stay at their place the whole time, and gave us the opportunity to immerse in taiji with Master Chen Zhonghua. Thanks to Levi and John for taking care and arranging food, as well as driving us around. We woke up early at 4:20 am to start doing yilus before breakfast, and we often pushed hands till 10:30 pm at night. It was just wonderful being around my taiji brothers.

    The following are the notes I took:

    Day 1
    – Keeping the back straight at all times
    – Always have an aim at the centre, every movement should result back to the centre (don’t deviate from it)
    – Keep the movement small, otherwise it is wasteful, and there won’t be any left.
    -Separation: When the hands have power, move in the waist. Have power in the waist, the hands can become free. Nudge in bit by bit.
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    New disciple: Jeff Clevenger and Chris Christopher Thomas Dusek

    New disciple: Jeff Clevenger and Chris Christopher Thomas Dusek

    11988188_10153235847585369_7258667695431584400_n12002376_10153233597430369_6344555527897408616_o 11950262_10153238574295369_1758815090607009670_o

    Notes by Aaron from September 12th and 13th Iowa workshop:

    stepping foundation drills: power is constant, speed determines the appearance of more force.
    Positive circles, negative circles, mixed circles, 6 sealing 4 closing

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    10856457_10153365437296528_603459249230409363_oAn awesome practice on Sunday with Levi and Gerry. We focused on separation of movements/body function, finding the lines, taking and not losing space…just to name a few…Levi corrected our first 13 postures

    Iowa Workshop Clip i

    by admin2 on 2014/09/02

    Yilu by Spencer  and a correction at the end.

    • 注册登录后可以继续看下面的内容

    • 注册登录后可以继续看下面的内容

    Upper Midwest Practical Method Gathering will occur at Mount Hosmer City Park in Lansing, Iowa.

    We will cover Yilu, Erlu, and push hands. We will be meeting on 08/09/2014 at 5:30 am through 9:00 am and 7:00 pm through 9:00 PM.We will meet again the following morning on 08/10/2014 at 5:30 am through 9:00 am. Read more

    Inside and Outside i

    by admin2 on 2014/07/18

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    The event that originally was centered around a push hands workshop featuring Steven Chan has been reduced to an Upper Midwest Get-together hosted by John Upshaw in Iowa City, Iowa. These are great learning experiences that include a lot of sweat, bruises, and push hands followed by good food and great camaraderie. The get-together will start around 1:30 PM on Friday December 7th. There will be more fun and learning opportunities on Saturday and Sunday. If interested give John a call at 1-(319) 404-3962 or email him at johnnyupshaw@yahoo.com