Baby Steps

I must admit I have a love-hate relationship with Dynamic Balancing Tai Chi. I hate blogspot. It won’t show up in English for me because I have a hostname indicating I am in China. So I can’t comment. Sigh.

Anyways, I often both agree and disagree with DBTC’s articles, and Stepping for No Reason is a great example. I found it interesting, yet hopelessly ambiguous. If that was intentional, to make me think, then it worked – but it’s still a little annoying 😉

To be honest i’ve been thinking about stepping methods a lot recently so the article tripped a nerve. When I learned 24 step taiji (a ‘wushu’ style), we started with stepping methods. Xing Yan-Ling in her excellent book “T’ai Chi Ch’uan: The Basic Exercises” contains a run down of the type of stepping we performed. I might also note that Chen Zheng-Lei in his DVD “Chen-style Taiji Quan New Frame Routine I” advocates a very similar stepping training methodology.

Why is proper stepping so important? I think i’ll let the Wu style guys field this question. Steven Hwa has an excellent youtube video “Internal Discipline in Tai Chi Walk”, explaining why stepping is such an important basic training. Let’s take a look:

I found what Steven Hwa says at 9:05 (2 minutes from the end) to be especially relevant:

The reason that taiji wants to take a step like this is because if you don’t, if you take a step like a normal person…for a fraction of a second, you lost control of your body. You’re falling forward. Gravity gets hold of you falling forward. At that moment, if you got hit, you’ll be gone. You’re not stable. You’re not under control of your body.

So I guess I can come to terms with the slightly ambiguous article by considering it just another way of warning new players to mind their root. This all can be placed under the umbrella of sinking in transition, which is a stage of progress within various exercises (step training, forms, push hands) where you have mastered the step and do not float when you step as demonstrated by Steven Hwa.

So let’s return to their article. What is a purposeless step? It is a step done without the benefit of training, as discussed above. Now I am not saying that we all need to start doing Wu style, or 24 step Yang style, for example. Of course… every school has their own unique method of training root, and training stepping. Right? Take your school for example. I’m sure your style or school has their own method for teaching these skills.

I mean.. your school does teach you how step.. doesn’t it?

Hmm. Interesting.

Sticking with the Wu vibe, while I was studying under Eddie Wu (Laoshi), he and his assistant instructors placed great emphasis on the stepping method and in conjunction with hip rotation. I just saw this great video from an Eddue Wu, Kwong-Yu seminar and I thought I would include it as a closing comment to tie everything together. It’s a really nice video and it makes me miss Wu style, just a little 😉 It explains from another standpoint why proper stepping (stance, or zhuang in chinese) is so important in Tai Chi. So let me close with a great quote from the start of his video: “Talk is Cheap.. put your money where your mouth is.” -Eddie Wu

Review of Chen Xin’s Book (Part 2)

Preface: INBI has not gone down. Although there may have been a problem with their website I am unaware of, inbiworld.com is up and running, at least right now. I sent them an email a month ago and was informed there was a problem with the publisher in china and the book may be delayed by two months or more. I’m sure everyone’s book will arrive. Now, on with the review)

[ Part 1 | Part 2 ]

The Illustrated Canon of Chen Family Taijiquan

Aaaah. Let that name sink in. This is it, this is THE BOOK.

I think the best way to do this, since it is such a large book, is to try and pin down some solid statements I feel I can stand behind about this book. I’ll start with a little history behind the book and go from there. Let’s start by placing this book in perspective for those of us who aren’t familiar with it and it’s position in the starmap of tai chi books.

First. This is not a straight up boxing manual or a book on how to do tai chi.
According to Jarek Szymanski, there are four or five known chen family boxing manuals, and this isn’t one of them. Do keep in mind however that Chen Ziming is the author of one of them, and Chen Ziming was a student of Chen Xin. Also keep in mind that there are explanations of some key points about tai chi and the postures, but you wouldn’t be able to learn tai chi at all just from the explanations or diagrams (then again, an abridged version of this book has in fact been published by Chen Xin as a “tai chi for beginners” book).

Chen Xin felt this book would be important to people who were already skilled in Taijiquan.
Again quoting Jarek’s page,

Chen Xin had no children and when he was lying in the bed old and sick he called his nephew Chen Chunyuan and gave him “Illustrated Explanations of Chen Family Taijiquan” saying: “this is the fruit of my whole life, publish it and give to those who deserve it, otherwise burn it, be sure not to give it to ignorant and presumptuous people!”.

The Chen Family respects the work on some level.
From Jarek’s page, again, (thanks jarek!)

In 1935 Chen Zhaopei, 18th generation descendant of Chen clan, in his “Collection of Chen Family Taijiquan” (Chen Shi Taijiquan Huizong) used many parts of Chen Xin’s book.

Yin Cheng Gong Fa’s website has an article about Chen Xin. Zhang Yun is quoted saying, “Although it is said that Taiji Quan spread out from Chenjiagao Village, there were no real quality classics written down there until Chen Xin. So today Chen Xin’s Taiji Quan classic is greatly respected in Chen family.”

Chen Xin was a scholar and wrote the book in a scholarly style native to Henan.
There’s two points here. One from Ingo Augsten, who states

A Henan local told me, that Chen Xins book is really hard to translate, since it conains regional and “old” language – even hard to read to people from Henan today. Maybe that’s why nobody dares to be authorative.

And the second point, quoted from Andy S. on EmptyFlower:

My understanding is that Chen was a scholar who wrote in purposely scholarly style, using lots of ambigious and metaphorical terms (today, he would probably be called “pretentious” or “elitist”) and so his book is very difficult to understand. This irritates me, as martial arts are, on the whole, pretty common-sensical. To put it another way: Very, very few great fighters are great scholars, so do you need to be a scholar to read a book about fighting? To my understanding, with Chen Xin’s book, the answer is: “Yes.”

The point is, that this book is pretty hard to translate into something meaningful. For the average reader, pages 1 to 108 are basically unusable; it’s an exhausive description of trigrams and the book of changes. And when I say exhausive, I mean that. Over 100 pages. I tried to read through it, ended up skimming most of it, but it just doesn’t seem applicable in any way to the physical practice of tai chi. For example take the “Square Diagram of Taijiquan’s External Form” on page 107. I just don’t see the point. Even in the square and round explanation given on the next page, it is not really clear what Chen Xin is referring to. If this was Kuo/Guttman’s book then we would see examples. There are no examples here. That’s a real pity.

To give you a better context to what I mean by the word exhaustive, let me quote from the “explaination” to the very (very) odd looking diagram (keep looking and it starts to make sense – scary) on page 46. This is just a random example, likely not the worst one:

The preceeding diagram charts the reversibly inversed sixty four hexagrams, while the diagram which follows represents the reversibly compatible sixty four hexagrams. The latter diagram also explains the relationship between the six stratums of big and small circles of the silk reeling method of taijiquan. This consists, on the one hand, of the six levels of the human body, including skin, flesh, tendons, membranes, joints and brains; and on the other hand, the circulation and compatibility of the blood (xue) and energy (qi) flows. It also includes the agglomeration of the internal essence (jing) and spirit (shen), through which the practitioner can lift up and sink down, enter inside and go outside of a circular frame, the size of which depends on the time of utmost effectiveness. Through the wisdom of everyday living one can also enter into the all-embracing spheres of self-regulation cultivated through the wisdom of everyday living.

Now go back and read that again. Wow, huh? The entire first hundred pages are like this. Granted, there are a few moments of clarity, but good luck digging them out. Me, I’ve caught glimpses, and he will suddenly stop and say something about tai chi fighting techniques (like on page 63), but still.. so much seems confusing.. Hey, let me be clear, I’m not saying that it’s incoherrent babbling or anything. There does seem to be a point, but it is (to prove a point) like how Kun turns into Gen or like how Quan might turn into Dui. Oh god, now I’m doing it. I mean to say, like two musicians communicating to each other by flute. If you’re wondering why I didn’t just say that in the first place.. I don’t have an answer for you. I could speculate, but I do not know.

In short. If you’re not a master musician, forget about trying to comprehend what Chen Xin is saying in these first 100 pages.

Illustrated Explanation of Silk Reeling
I’ve also decided to find fault with the Silk Reeling discussion on 109 through 118. Yes, there are some things that Chen Xin says which are destined to become classic quotes, such as the Zhong Qi comment, also about the primary source of taijiquan’s skill – maybe even how he talks about replenishing the energy. Also, to be honest, this is the first time that I’ve heard about Haoran zhi Qi and how it may relate to Zhong Qi. So there are definately some interesting things here. But there is no diagram or description of how to train silk reeling. There are no examples. I keep forgetting, I’m not reading Guttman. Still, if someone was really dedicated and thought about this stuff for a long time, kept an open mind and had a really good teacher, he would likely be able to use this section (pg. 109-118) to increase his taiji nei gong.

This book contains an encyclopaedia of Meridians and Accupoints
Without batting an eyelash, on page 109 Chen Xin suddenly launches into an illustrated list of hundreds of accupoints and meridians. He lists poems and songs for each one. This goes on for dozens of pages. The burning question “why” is certainly in your mind by this point. Why is never explained.

On pages 166 to 169, there is a treatise on the Ren-mai and Du-mai channels. I want to comment on this and say it seems invaluable. This is an example of one of those moment of clarity hidden within hundreds of pages of philosophical coding. Ahh but that’s not entirely true I suppose. When I say a moment of clarity, I am implying that there is enough literature available in english such that a native english speaker, sufficiently learned of the meaning of the important chinese words and philosphical concepts, would likely be able to get something out of this short essay on ren-mai and du-mai. This is an important observation because I suspect that someone who was really interested in figuring out everythgn else Chen Xin was trying to say, could use this as a key to try and unlock the symbols and metaphors Chen Xin used in other parts of his book. IOW, it’s still written in some kind of tai chi code, but it’s somewhat understandable if you’re willing to stretch your mind around it. And I do mean stretch. But don’t worry, I have faith in you 😉 I know you can do it if you try. There is a point in what Chen Xin is saying, and I feel it’s very interesting and important to a dedicated, open-minded practitioner.

Treaties and Essays
Notably missing are the two articles “Push Hands Sixteen Points” and “36 Push Hands sicknesses”, as explained in the above-mentioned article by Zhang Yun.

“Taijiquan Classics” is the first essay. No, this isn’t the tai chi classics you may have read before. This is some kind of philosphically coded description of Tai Chi. I’m not sure what it means exactly. More than anything it seems like advice you would give to a beginner. So take it for what it sounds like, I guess. There’s a “Revised Treatise on Taijiquan” which starts with a discussion of zhong qi and yuan qi, is interesting, next is “Some Statements on the Taijiquan Classics” which does not appear to be a commentary but a paraphrase (and I use that word quite loosely. See the quote above from page 47 😉 ) with no apparent references made to the “other” classics. It again mentions yuan-qi, etc – an interesting read I suppose.

“Item 65”, on page 182, “Revised Statement on the Taijiquan Classics”. seems to be a rewrite of the previous essay. Interesting in how certain points remain the same and certain others are emphasised more, or less.

Next, “regarding the name of taijiquan”. “Regarding the Origin of Taijiquan”. “Explanation of Taijiquan’s mechanism of development”. “Concepts of the human body” (quite long and covers lots of topics like feelings, beauty, neigong, different kinds of qi (zhong qi, yuan qi, haoran zhi qi etc etc).

So many mini essays. “Explanation of Taijiquan Application”. “Restricting.” “The Secret of Success in Combat”. They’re all really interesting, actually. This mini-essay section is quite worth the price of the book. It’s of varying clarity to be sure, but an intelligent and dedicated practitioner should be able to make sense of it after a few readings.

Then suddenly on page 216, in small words printed in the middle of the page…

End of Introduction.

Wow.

I guess I’ll have to write a part 3 soon 😉

Addendum:

Apparently INBIworld has gone down and email sent to the company is bouncing. I just went to inbiworld.com and everything seems fine. I want to report that I definately have my book, it is very real. However if you are panicking because you’re worried there might not be a second printing, or if you’re panicking because you fear you might not get your book, or you just really really want a copy of this book right now, I’ll sell you mine for $5,000 US. Yes, that’s me bragging. Sorry 🙂 I’m sure everyone will get their books soon. Just be patient. Maybe try sending the emails again? Mine went through last month and thats how I got my book. It was explained to me there was a problem with the publisher in china and only a few books got printed, and that the rest were delayed for a few months. Just be patient and I am sure everything will work out. Good luck and check back soon, I’ll post Part 3 of this review when I can! Feel free to ask any questions about the book I’ll answer as soon as I can.

[ Part 1 | Part 2 ]

Qi Debate #861a

(Transferred from “Oh Please!!“).

I am taking issue with something Joanna said. But not about Qi. No, believe it or not, we’ve found something else to disagree on. Some of it has to do with stuff she has said in the past too, on “Taiji without the Qi”, and “100% Qi Free” as well as other articles too.

In “Oh Please!!” Joanna made several statements which finally made me upset enough to write this. First, what I am NOT upset about:

“There is no qigong, because there is no qi. There are no internal martial arts. ” -Joanna

Now, even though what Joanna is saying is directly contradicted by pretty much every major player in the Tai Chi world, what Chen Zhenglei might say (or in this article), or what Chen Xiaowang might say being great examples, this isn’t what I am worried about. I’m specifically prefacing this by saying I don’t take issue with Joanna’s opinions on Qi and Taijiquan. I’m not talking about her skills in Tai Chi, good or bad. I think it’s perfectly fine for her to have her own viewpoint. The problem is with something else she’s fond of saying.

Comment #11
On a serious note, people who DO subscribe to the so-called “internal arts” and “qigong” rationales will dismiss what other qigong people do while claiming that what THEY do is different – that somehow THEY have the Real Deal…Skills that few Westerners understand.

It’s a lie.

Point of Contention #1: Chen Xiaowang, Chen Zhenglei, Hong Junsheng, Wang Xi’an, Zhu Tiancai, many others, not to mention the major players in the Yang and Wu (i.e. Ma Yueliang is a great example) families, not to forget the others as well.. are all liars?

What? This is the kind of closed-minded attack I expect from Judo and MMA people. Not Tai Chi people. But wait. There’s more.

Comment #14
I don’t doubt that there will be differences between what Chen Xin’s book says and modern qigong becaus there is no consistency within the methodology anyway. It is all just superstition and whispers.

Wow Joanna, just wow. Not minding the fact that, actually, what the major players (examples above) say IS quite consistent, it is consistent to a degree where it would be logically impossible to assume it was a conspiracy.

Even if we assume what you say is plausible, you have not provided any evidence (in the form of quotes from interviews or books, for example) to support your opinion. I realize that it’s unfair to “accuse you” of this after the fact you made the postings, but you have also made similar quotes on your website and you haven’t provided any information there. I think a little backup is necessary for such an extreme viewpoint.

Comment #22 – Joanna
I don’t think renli appreciates that as far as me and the MTA goes, it isn’t just saying qi exists or is real that is essentially off limits – it is all talk of qi, qigong and so-called “internal arts”, “internal work”, “energies”, “energetics” and all the usual esoteric nonsense that plagues Chinese martial arts. That sort of talk dominates every other Tai Chi space in the world – the MTA is the alternative. Qi is not part of MTA Tai Chi training.

I have spent the last year having to fight tooth and claw on forum after forum and blog after blog defending this stance from qi-believers and the occasional qi-agnostic. I think Tai Chi blogs can be about other things – such as the quan / ch’uan component. In my opinion this blog is a space for discussing fighting training, bruises and making bad jokes.

I do appreciate it, thats why I am upset. Of course it’s not about Qi. It’s about mentioning Qi. That’s why Joanna said those things (and others which I didn’t quote). That’s ridiculous! I do Chen Style, and the main proponents of my style are “qi believers”, as is, frankly, every top master in the world. But apparently I am not allowed to say that. I am not even talking about if it’s real or not. I am mentioning the fact that, for example, Ma Yueliang will talk about qi, or that Hong JunSheng will talk about qi, and that Joanna will deny this and claim that those people actually support her viewpoint.

A great example of this are the comments at “100% Qi Free?“. Joanna says, “Tim Cartmell, Hong Junsheng and myself all reject the value of the concept of qi. Hong even refused to discuss the concept.”

However the truth is quite different. I have a copy of Hong’s life work in front of me, and there are a dozen or more references to Qi in the book. Including the following:

“Open the meridians for the blood and qi to flow” -pg. 28.

“…this posture makes qi naturally sink to the dantien.” -pg. 7

“The central qi (zhong qi) permeates” – pg. 66

And Tim Cartmell? You mean the guy with a Qi Gong / Internal Power training section on his forum? Oh please, some of what Joanna has said is so sour and false it’s unbelievable. So childish.

What is being said here ties in with what everyone else is saying. For example, Chen Xin’s “Taijiquan is a method of moving zhong qi (central qi)” (to tie in with the page 66 quote). The fact that Zhong Qi is mentioned is highly significant. Joanna apparently does not realise there are many different kinds of Qi. For example, Chen Zhenglei might talk about Xiantian ziran qi in one instance, Chen Xiaowang might mention yun qi in another. But the terms and context are totally being ignored. All of it is accused of being inconsistent. Being a lie. And it’s this I am debating. Not if Qi exists.

That’s right, It’s not about believing in qi. You can disbelieve in qi and still understand that there is a definite method which is passed down. A method which whose consistency is unimpeachable regardless of it’s truth or falsehood. So I don’t see that as being an issue and I do get upset when Joanna claim thingss like there is no consistency. Even cross family (Yang, Wu, etc) things are pretty consistent.

Joanna, if you’re reading this, I know it’s not about chi. I know that. It’s about you trying to eradicate the very mention of Chi. So this isn’t a discussion about Chi. It’s a discussion about how far you are willing to go. What you’re willing to say and do to get things done. I guess it has become about that for me anyways. Would you intentionally spread a mis-truth about what people say/do/believe? I wonder. So far the best thing I can say is that you’ve been spreading mis-truths un-intentionally. No, I’m not trying to get you to change your mind. I’m trying to get you to stop spreading misinformation about qi. You have in essence become the very kind of person you speak out against; someone who spreads an inconsistent viewpoint regarding qi.

Chen style is known for it’s relatively martial approach to tai chi. Everyone knows that. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.