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 ]

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Review of Chen Xin’s book (Part 1)

[ Part 1 | Part 2 ]

Happy to report my book has arrived. Hardcover, 750 pages.

I pre-ordered my copy from INBI. Don’t bother, they’re already sold out… 😦 You will have to wait until the second printing.

Sender was “chen xiao-wen” – the same person who is listed in the book as editorial manager. Translator was alex golstein. I am unsure if chen xiaowen refers to chen xiaowang, since it does seem somewhat plausible chen xiaowang might be involved, and additionally his picture is on the very last page of the book.
Editor: Juliana Ngiam
Project design: Roman Mukhortikov

I don’t have time to do a full review right now and I haven’t read the book at all yet but I will make some observations.

-Editor’s note starts off saying “(this book) is universally acknowledged by the Taoist community and Taiji practitioners as the seminal sourcebook…”

-The very first page of the book contains a song of taijiquan by chen pan ling, in commemoration of this book.

-There seems to be a large amount of information pertaining to the location of accupoints and meridians in the book, and a large amount of illustrations, nearly all of which appear useless at first glance. I doubt the value of the illustrations and explanations of postures because they do not appear specific enough; but again I have not read the book yet so I don’t know what Chen Xin was trying to accomplish with those descriptions.

-The translation on pages 110 and 111 is functionally similar to the one on Jarek Szymanski’s page (http://www.chinafrominside.com/ma/taiji/chenxin.html). There are some omissions and the translation seems to gloss over some things which might deserve a few words. Notably it omits ” (I do) not know (if this is) correct or not, for the time being (I gave) illustrated explanation to make it more funny.”. As a result of this omission I realise that this book is intent at presenting information and not a faithful translation of what chen xin may have said or meant. This makes me frown but on the whole it seems like a worthwhile “first translation”.

-Most of the useful portion of the book appears to be in songs and poems and explanations of the postures.

-one song which starts off sounding like wang zongyue’s tai chi classic has a different idea of yin and yang/movement and stillness. (I didn’t read the whole song)

I will write a more detailed review after work if anyone is interested. This book would appear to be quite authoritave on the subject of what chen taiji was like in chen xin’s day (1849-1929).

Anyone else get their books? Thoughts? Impressions?

[ Part 1 | Part 2 ]

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.