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.


2 Responses

  1. Nice review of the DVD. I also have this DVD and concur with your thoughts about the content. I especially like the beginning where CZL takes the time to break down the ‘core’ movements of chen style taijiquan.

    Note, CZL also covers zhanzhuang in his video, but very briefly compared to CXW. For me, this is where they have a pretty big departure on how they teach and what each one chooses to emphasize.

    If you see CXW’s form series, he breaks each movement down into roughly 4 counts and then repeats the movement from front, rear and side views, but with little to no commentary.

    thx for the review 🙂

  2. Yeah – I have the Lao Jia dvds from CXW’s 27 dvd series. I’m going to write a review later 🙂 Heck. Might as well do it now *pops DVD in*

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