Taijiquan and the Four Minute Kilometer

A while back I posted training diary, with an associated article, Goals. I haven’t updated the article in a while – been busy with a new baby and the usual work and training.

So for the past couple of months I’ve been jogging around the lake (it’s about a kilometer) at a very leisurely pace. For at least three weeks it was all about just doing it. At first I couldn’t do a km. Then I could do two. Then I could do two, rest, and do a third.

Now I can do five.

I set a pretty okay pace, I suppose. I was averaging around 6 minutes a kilometer, over five kilometers. Nothing too backbreaking I guess. But then I decided to see if I could go any faster. Getting my average time down was tough at first. When I got down to a 5 minute kilometer over three km, I thought I was doing pretty damn good.

But then I decided to try and see how fast I could go in just one kilometer, and I was surprised when I clocked in at 4:01. Actually I was cursing. Oh my god.. one second.. four minutes and one second. What a rip!

However, the next day I got a 3:50. Then a 3:40. Then a 3:38. Now my best time is 3:36.04. Not bad. I would run fast for the first km then jog or walk a km to cool down, then I would decide if I wanted to go 3km for distance or just another km for speed before I quit. Later on I discovered that this is actually called fartlick training or interval training.

One of the things I noticed was that jogging a 6 min km felt similar to when I did wood form (beng quan) in xingyi. I could feel the qi (氣) in my fists. Well, obviously it is not the same thing as beng quan, but it did remind me of it. Interesting. When I am done I can feel the burn in the core of my body, getting smaller and smaller each time. I think it’s falling into my dantian. I can feel the heat encompassing my body. It feels hot and very comfortable if I relax into it. It’s funny, but I get it now – that is, avoid a chill wind like arrows (风如避箭, “bi feng ru bi jian”).

I am already noticing improvements in my Taijiquan. The last few times I ran a 4 minute kilometer I felt the burn but it was different. It seems to be moving to the inside of my body. The second time it felt like everything was gassed/burning but my skin and a cm under it. Weird feeling I tell you. Now, When standing it feels like the place which used to burn on the inside just explodes to fill up the rest of my body and this somehow roots me to the ground – like a vice grip. It’s a weird, hard to explain feeling, but the end result is that by relaxing, I can feel a much stronger root. If I connect this to my center I am sure it will yield a strong nei gong.

The aerobic impact from jogging is really beneficial to taijiquan. Not only does it work the legs but it works the whole body, if you relax into it and have good breath normalization. I kind of wish I had the drive to jog earlier, but I wasn’t aware just how beneficial it could be.

I did some more research. Jogging and doing Tai Chi (in a low stance) burn a comparable number of calories. From this I take it that they have a similar aerobic benefit. From this, I would definitely recommend a daily jogging routine for any beginning student of taijiquan. Why jog and not do tai chi right off the bat? Just to train your body to be able to handle the tai chi. So this isn’t a forever thing I’m proposing. It’s just a lot easier to control the impact when you’re jogging. You can push yourself and find your level a lot easier because the exercise is very uniform.

I’ve also been experimenting with cycling recently, doing ~17 km a day of outdoor cycling (not on a machine). I like cycling a lot. But I think running is good too. Maybe a combination of cycling and running?

At any rate, the science behind low-medium impact aerobic exercises is sound; after approximately one minute of low impact aerobic exercise the body will switch it’s primary energy source from carbohydrates to fat. I personally feel that it makes sense to train the body to draw energy from fat at a target impact level. I think this would greatly improve a beginner’s ability to pick up the movements properly in a low stance. I feel that it encourages continuous whole body motion, the kind of motion required in tai chi. Combined with a proper stretching program, I feel jogging will allow the beginner to reach lower stances much quicker than the usually “wait ten years” approach. This will have the net effect of shortening the time required to reach a high level.

My heartfelt recommendation for people who need to learn taijiquan is to seriously investigate daily jogging as a basic training exercise. Just do it. Anyways, isn’t this how they train in Chen Village? 🙂

Good luck out there.

A Toast to Zenmindsword

A toast.. I didn’t know you were back. When you deleted your blog I thought we had lost a member of our community who cared.

But alas.. okay, I’ve got to admit it – I feel left out. Not that I was ever “in”, but, in this particular case… aww heck, zenmindsword is back, people!

I’m talking about zenmindsword’s new blog, taijikinesis. Every single post is password protected. Now hey, I am not complaining, it’s his blog, let him do what he wants. Anyways here’s a mystery: one of the new posts on his site (which appears by the title to be a review of Chen Xiao Wang’s DVD series) links to my review here on my blog. I thought, cool, someone linked to me, so I went to check it out. Imagine my happiness when I saw that it was zenmindsword who was back with a new blog. But then I realised I couldn’t view the article. Also, there appeared to be no direct way to contact him – no email links, no comment boxes, nothing.

So I admit it, I want to know what it says. I feel left out. To be honest part of me can’t help thinking that they’re talking behind my back, even though I know zenmindsword isn’t that type of guy 🙂 it’s just an innocent DVD review, right?

I read some of zenmindsword’s interesting posts on taiji@stagmont before it was deleted. He has some very interesting things to say. I remember I used to love to read his posts, and once I even ventured to respond to one, but I was too late (I think I was poster #12 or something) so I couldn’t get the password for his answer. Alas :/ I really wanted closure, because it was a very interesting question about the application for white crane spreads wings. About a month or two later I discovered an answer on my own. I wonder if the answer was the same as his, but by that time I had forgotten the question, and of course there was no way for me to look it up again. However I did learn something about the application for white crane spreads wings and it reminded me of the puzzle he posted on taiji@stagmont. So in a way I kind of owe him a thanks. But I digress.

Well, it seems that all of zenmindsword’s posts have been restored on his new blog taijikinesis, at least I see a number of very familiar titles up on there. Except that now, they are all password protected. I know that a number of people have access to the site because I have received several unique visits from to my blog from the article there. Well, what can I say.. to me, it is a mystery.

Well, good luck with the new blog zenmindsword. A toast.. to days gone by.

DVD/VCD Review: Chen Style Taiji Quan New Frame Routine 1 by Chen Zheng-Lei

I bought this as a DVD on ebay. Once again, I bought from kungfu_tea001‘s online store – his prices and shipping are inexpensive and fast.

This is a two-DVD set featuring Chen, Zheng-Lei instructing us on the New Frame, routine one, otherwise known as “Xin Jia Yi Lu” (新架一路). For the students of chinese out there, please note that “jia” here is not 家 as you might expect, but 架.

The First DVD (one of two)

The first DVD is a step by step introduction to the movements found in Chen Style new frame. So let’s get down to basics. After a five minute general outline of Chen Taijiquan’s history and goals (section one), we are treated to a demonstration of Chen Zheng-Lei performing Chen style, while the specific history of the new frame, and some special principles of Chen style are explained (this is section two). Some examples, “use the waist as an axis”, “the body leads the hands”, and “pay special attention to the twining force”.

Next, is section three. This is where Chen Zheng-Lei begins to instruct us in Chen Style Taijiquan. Whereas Chen Xiao-Wang’s introduction in his video series starts from standing meditation and first principles, Chen Zheng-Lei takes the interesting approach of categorizing the different movements themselves. For example, he introduces “three hand forms” – palm, fist, and hook. He then extends this knowledge into basic hand techniques such as waving like clouds, push palm, press palm, arc palm and chop palm. From there he teaches us where these movements can appear in the form.

This kind of categorizing will appeal very strongly to some people, and frankly I like it a lot. It is a great way to introduce beginners to Chen Style, and here Chen Zheng-Lei does a really good job of covering all the basics. I get the feeling that you can really learn from this. It isn’t a demonstration, it is actual instruction, and Chen Zheng-Lei goes into enough detail that I didn’t think I needed to ask any questions. The way to practice the hand techniques is very clearly and comprehensively taught.

Chen Zheng-Lei gives stances the same treatment. He introduces Bow step, Empty step, Crouch step (pu bu-dropping body step), and many other steps. Again he shows where the stances appear in the form and gives a very detailed and instructive list of pointers on how to do the stances properly. Finally, he introduces the basic stepping patterns and footwork, again replete with examples from the form.

To sum it up, what Chen Zheng-Lei did was provide us with an encyclopedia of knowledge about Chen Style Taijiquan. All of the kinds of movements found in Chen style are broken down into their bare essentials. If this was everything on the first DVD, I would honestly be satisfied.. however, the best is yet to come.

What Chen Zheng-Lei does next should be extremely interesting to Taijquan players!

In the next section, Chen Zheng-Lei takes our hand and shows us 1+1 = 2. That is to say, he demonstrates that the basic hand forms, combined with the basic stances and footwork, are actually moves from the Taijiquan form! “Well, of course they are,” you might think. But let me explain more fully. When he demonstrates the moves, instead of practicing a move and then stopping, going back to the beginning and and repeating it again, he links the end of one movement to it’s beginning. While this is obvious for some movements and sections of the form (such as step back and whirl arms, or wave hands like clouds) it is non-intuitive for others. This is a very xingyiquan idea; such as doing beng quan over and over in a line, then turning around and doing it back down the line. In the same way, Chen Zheng-Lei shows us how to do Taijiquan. Several movements are demonstrated this way which you normally wouldn’t expect to be; the stepping and catching movement from Opening of Taiji/Buddha’s Warrior Attendant Pounds Mortar, as an example.

Overall, I am very very happy with this first DVD in the set of two. We are not only taught all the basics of Taijiquan and given a solid foundation, we are taught how to drill moves from the form in a very small space. Now, finally, we have no excuse for not practicing in our bedrooms on rainy days. We have been taught how to practice boxing in the space where an ox may lie down. This set of drills alone is worth the price of the set; but there’s more.

In the last half of this first, one hour and ten minute DVD, Chen Zheng-Lei discusses:

  • Silk Reeling – shun chan and ni chan
    He demonstrates all of the classic silk reeling motions several times, including several silk reeling chi kung you may never have seen.
  • Standing Meditation
    A complete overview with some demonstration and discussion of postures.
  • Several important rules about Chen Style
    Requirements for the three sections of the body (head, back, and leg), and other general principles you need to know.

All in all, there is no basic or technical question which Chen Zheng-Lei does not demonstrate about Xin Jia Yi Lu in the first DVD. If you’re looking for a demonstration which is exceedingly difficult to learn from, this is not your DVD. Chen Zheng-Lei makes this stuff exceedingly easy to pick up at your own pace.

The Second DVD (two of two)

If you were pleased with the first DVD, just wait until you see this one! Once again I am very pleased with a product that the Chen family has produced. It is very clear that this DVD set should be worth many times the sticker price. It is very easy for a beginner to learn from this video. And as much as this is a two DVD set; the first DVD only prepared the way for this one. This second DVD is where we are taught the form in a very straightforward and step by step manner.

Let me be frank. If you try to learn the form by watching a demonstration, you won’t get very far. For difficult moves you may need to rewind the tape ten or twenty times to get an idea of the proper form; other times the angle is wrong and you just can’t see what is going on with the hands or the feet. In this way errors creep into your form and even when you are “done” learning, your form is nowhere near correct enough to be worth practicing.

Thankfully, this is not the case with this instructional DVD. Chen Zheng-Lei comments on all the important things that you can’t pick up from just watching a demonstration; tounge on the roof of the mouth, relax in this spot, weight on this leg or that leg, some of the intentions behind the movements , etc. The way he does this is by first breaking up all the movements into their essentials. He talks you through the *entire* form, showing the form in a very clear manner. If you’re the kind of person who needs to rewind a tape ten or twenty times to get a difficult move from a demo tape; take heed; there will be no rewinding here. The requirements are very clear. Very easy to pick up.

I might also add that experienced practitioners will love this kind of demonstration as well, as beginners, since it clues you into some possible standing meditation postures where Chen Zheng Lei pauses to talk about the form.

Also, Chen Zheng-Lei never demonstrates too much at once, without pausing to review the whole set so far. At the end of every section, we are treated to Chen Zhenglei leading a group of beginners and intermediate students in practicing the section of the form we just learned. Again, we are talked through the form, but at a somewhat faster pace. This is a brilliant method, and one I found exceedingly easy to follow.

So basically by this point we are taught straight line movement sequences which approximate the actual movements of the form as they should be performed with spiral force. For example, “Obliquely Walk” is taught in six sections. It is called as “walk obliquely. One.. two.. three.. four.. ” etc, as each section of the move is performed, or “Buddha’s Warrior Attendant.. One.. Two.. Three.. Four.. Five”, etc. This is very easy for a beginner to digest. But don’t worry; even though your form may look like a robot in the beginning, they are then demonstrated more roundly after each section. Finally, Chen Zheng-Lei demonstrates the entire form.

With this, we have gone from rote basics of knowing the name and form of each basic component of the moves, to the complete yi lu form, properly performed with spiral energy. There is truly no question left in my mind about how to do any of the exercises.

In conclusion, I’d like to say that if you just can’t find a good teacher, this DVD is light years ahead of a crappy one. If you don’t rush and carefully listen to what Chen Zheng-Lei says, you will certainly learn enough about Tai Chi to increase your ability by daily practice. And although I still encourage people to seek out a competent teacher instead of just learning from books and videos, you have to admit this video is pretty damn near complete.

Quan Xue Chan Hui review, part 2

This is part two of “DVD/VCD Review: Chen Xiao-Wang “Internal Strength Learning Boxing and Coiling Slightly“.

You can order the videos on kungfu_tea001’s ebay store. (DVD version | VCD Version)

First let me say that this is the first dvd in a series of twenty six DVDs(!) in which Chen Xiao Wang completely teaches Chen style. This VCD/DVD however will not teach you the form of taiji. No, Chen Xiao Wang realizes that before you learn the form, you must learn the basic movement rules of taiji. And he uses the first DVD in the series (three VCDs) to teach you how to do that. This review covers the second and third VCDs of part one (of twenty six).

The impact of the first VCD (part 1/3 on the dvd) was not lost in the second and third VCDs. Chen Xiao Wang answers many questions that should be understood by tai chi players of the Chen style.

What really has to be remembered is that this is the first DVD in a complete series of DVDs by Chen Xiao Wang. Furthermore is that this is Chen Xiao Wang speaking. Without question, he is an authority on this art with few equals.

So when the second VCD opens with the question “What is the relationship between the taijiquan frame and the law of motion?” and “What is the standard to judge of the taijiquan frame is correct or not”, we are blown away. The implications of the answer Chen Xiao Wang gives are not neccessarily profound; But rather, an answer has been given. This will hopefully clear away the cobwebs of misunderstanding among millions of uderinformed (or worse, misled) taijiquan players in the world.

As a fatter of fact, when Chen Xiao Wang answers the questions above, he does so (again) by outlining the basics of how to fight using taijiquan. He, quite simply and clearly, links the principle of movement discussed in part one with the frame of taiji and explains why it is important in a fight. This fresh perspective is not a violent one; actually Chen Xiao-Wang appears calm, yet firm. This is a great middle ground between wet noodles and paramilitary types which you tend to see at either end of the spectrum (no names, no names).

As he does, Chen Xiao-Wang tends to go off on relevant tangents. Here he begins to discuss the truth about the relationship between large circle and small circle in Chen style. As an example, some people (jarek szymanski and formosa neijia) seem to have said that that Xiao Jia, Da Jia (Lao Jia), Xin Jia, etc. are unique branch within Chen Style, or that you must first start with large circles and then “progress” to smaller ones, or something like this. This is not the opinion of Chen Xiao-Wang, and he explains his position with reference to the basic theories of taijiquan. What he says certainly makes a lot of sense. He also discusses the history of all of these different branches and how they relate to each other as recorded in the Chen family documents, for the past several hundred years. All in all, it’s completely fascinating. And this is just the first part of the lecture he gives in part two of this DVD (vcd #2).

Next, Chen Xiao Wang explains the five levels of Taiji kungfu. This is similar to his classic “five levels of taiji skill” essay which has been published in tai chi magazine and on websites many times. However, to hear him discuss it as a part of this presentation is different, because he explains it in a different way. He links it to everything he has said so far, using the terminology he has defined. This opens up new levels of understanding for the student of Taiji. For example, he says “two yin and eight yang is sanshou”, and “three yin and six yang is drawing a large circle”. These are all explained very clearly in the video. One of the most memorable things about this video is how Chen Xiao-Wang yet again uses the principles he discusses to outline how he would react in a fight. He will freely admit, “If I am attacked from behind, I can’t know about it.” and then answer the obvious question on how to apply the training and principles already discussed to best respond to such a situation.

I’d just like to say again what a great motivator Chen Xiao-Wang is. Listening to him explain, you can feel his enthusiasm. But more than that, he is a great teacher, and the way he explains things makes you think that if you just practice a little harder.. or a little more correctly.. you will make progress. Of course, what he says is true.. Thats what makes this such a great video.

Okay so this review is a little long. I’ll say this much: The last half of this video (including the third VCD, or part 3 of the DVD) is in no way a lower quality than the first half. This set is such an amazing value I’m actually very suprised it didn’t cost five or six times as much.

Other lectures and demonstrations on VCD #2 and #3 in this 3-VCD set:

3. How to exert force (fa jing) – in this martial applications from the form are shown, including a very interesting application of single whip versus one, two, and four opponents.

4. The direction of Taijiquan – demonstrates many martial applications for the first section of yi lu. Here, “direction” is like “aim” or “intent” behind movements, i.e. the proper direction to fajing or apply the combat techniques, for example. Then Chen Xiao-Wang performs the form but every movement is a fajing. I counted fifteen fajings in the first few movements.. Must be seen to be believed. Then a discussion of some misconceptions about taiji applications, such as “punch at ground”, etc.

The third VCD opens with a few questions to answer, such as “what is the psychological state we should hold while practising taiji” – from that point he also gets into discussing theories of TCM and how they apply in taijiquan practice, and what you can expect from them when *you* practice.

Next question, “what effect can be achieved by the frequent practice of taijiquan hand pushing”.

Like every single question in this video, this one is a bombshell. Chen Xiao-Wang discusses everything you ever wanted to know about Taiji pushing hands. The exercise is explained from the ground up and linking it to taiji theory, which is of course immediately linked to practical demonstrations of how to practice. A complete set of pushing hand exercises is shown. Chen Xiao-Wang’s opponent must have gotten tossed out twenty or twenty five times just in what’s shown. Well, who ever said taiji practice was slow and gentle?

Well, this review is getting really long 🙂 But you know what? It’s worth it. Overall, I think this first offering in Chen Xiaowang’s DVD video series is an excellent product and well worth the money.

If I had to say anything bad about it, then I would say that it says too much; In a first video (there are more than twenty DVDs in his series) I didn’t expect to see pushing hands demonstrated so completely. They also didn’t really teach the form. But then again, the *next 14 dvds in the series* teach empty handed forms – 19 form, 38 form, lao jia and xin jia. This includes a three disc set entitled “punch in new frame”! For old frame and new frame there are four DVDs each. So actually the truth is I can’t find a single fault with this video series…. SO FAR (evil laugh)

I’m planning to slowly pick up the entire series. I’ll write some reviews of what’s in the other videos later on.

Hey.. is that a knock on my door?

Wow, my *four DVD laojia set* just arrived! I can’t believe it got here in less than a week 🙂

DVD/VCD Review: Chen Xiao-Wang “Internal Strength Learning Boxing and Coiling Slightly”

First, the basics. I ordered this in VCD form (original, not a copy) instead of DVD. Same thing. Anyways, the seller on e-bay was kungfu_tea001 – he is in hong kong, but shipping was extremely fast, it arrived in something like 2 weeks. The item was listed in his auction as “Chen XiaoWang TaiChi:Internal Qi Gong Chen Si Gong 3VCD”.

It cost $18.99 US plus $3.50 S&H. (IOW: You should complain to ebay if any HK seller wants to charge you $40+ for “airmail” unless you live in the USA.)

First Impressions

I was exicited to receive the vcds, and was immediately struck by the professional quality of the box, jewel case cover, etc.

Plugging the first VCD into my computer (you can also watch them on most DVD players) I was VERY impressed with the quality of production. VERY nice. Short info in chinese and english about chen style, and master Chen Xiao-Wang. I was alarmed at first because there are no subtitles for the introduction, which is in Mandarin. But I was relieved to see english text after the chinese text in the bio of Chen Xiao-Wang.

Continuing to watch, I was struck once again by the professionalism of the production quality. This DVD/VCD is worth the money you pay for it, they have really put a lot of effort into making it LOOK good.

The Meat and Potatoes: or, what’s it GOT?

If you have never heard Chen Xiao-Wang talk, he sounds like a professional public speaker. He exudes confidence and authority on the subject matter. Everything he says is clear to understand – even through the subtitles.

Chen Xiaowang begins at the beginning and builds a logical case for complete practice. The back of the jewel case says, “This CD is theoretical crystalization of master Chen Xiaowang…it will illuminate Taijiquan fans walking in the wrong field like a beacon in darkness….if you practice Taijiquan without the dantian and without moving qi you will practice in vain…this is very instructive words have you heard it? please watch the work of master Chen Xiaowang quan xue chan hui (studying boxing, silk coiling etc)

Now let me say that the blurb on the back is NO exaggeration. This is easily the best taijiquan video I have ever seen. Let me try to state this in another way. In my nearly 20 years of Tai Chi and Chi Kung, I have learned a great number of secrets. This video blows the roof off of everything I have ever learned. So much of it verifies what I have known, and so much is new.

From the very beginning, Chen Xiaowang teaches Chen Style. Explaining every theoretical point clearly and concisely with physical examples. Along the way, the definitive way to practice is shown. Standing on stake is shown and thouroughly explained. Silk reeling chi kung is shown and thoughroughly explained. Chen Xiaowang clearly explains with many physical examples exactly what double weighting is. Everything is just EXPLAINED and SHOWN. It needs to be seen to be believed, just how good this video is at bringing the spirit of Chen Xiaowang into your livingroom.

They slowly move into teaching the movements of the form. Everthing is explained properly. Chen XiaoWang also mentions how the dantian rotates (and BTW, dantian rotation is fully explained earlier in the video and shown with examples so you KNOW what he means when he says it). Suddenly you realise they are *teaching the form* and you are like wow, this is such good stuff, and you feel like you want to just GET UP AND PRACTICE!

I am still somewhat in shock after viewing this video. It is the closest thing possible to learning in the dojo. No, this is not your average video. There is an almost spiritual effort to bring Chen Xiaowang in front of you and have him explain Taiji and teach you the proper moves. My final comment on this is that if the DVD was any better, it could only be so if Chen Xiao Wang was really in your living room, instead of on a TV screen. This is the best DVD/VCD I have ever seen on Taiji, and I have something like 15 gigabytes of footage I pulled off youtube, and have bought many other videos over the years.

If I had to start my entire collection of reference materials over again, I would first seek this video out. Then if I had any extra money, I would buy Hong Junsheng’s book. Then maybe Chen Style Taijiquan by Feng Zhi-Qiang. Then again, Chen Xin’s book is coming out soon, and I haven’t read any of the books by Chen Zhenglei (I have Taiji Qigong for Health book & VCD but it’s in chinese!) or Chen Xiao Wang, or other Chen family members yet.

But… my GOD… this VCD – it is very difficult to imagine there is a better VCD in existance. I hope Chen Zhenglei’s silk reeling/push hands video is this good! I just ordered it from kungfu_tea001. Let’s hope shipping is just as fast!

This is part one of the review. I haven’t even seen the 2nd and 3rd VCDs yet!

Since I cannot teach you, and if I could, I cannot teach you as well as Chen Xiao-Wang, I wholeheatedly reccomend this video to you!

Love, renli