I wish I could tell of secret skills but I can’t.
It is also not to say that there are no advanced techniques in Taiji Chen, there most certainly are and they are very effective, but I still say that they are largely irrelevant.
Very few people persevere long enough to learn intermediate skills let alone advanced ones. There is no point teaching an advanced skill until the basic skills have been mastered.
Learning Taiji is like climbing a ladder.
Some people may be able to take two steps at a time or even jump from the ground to the third or fourth step, but very few people could jump straight to the top of the ladder.
If they could they would not need the ladder anyway. The most important things that you need to know about Chen Taiji will almost always have been taught to you on your first ever lesson.
In fact it seems to take most people several years to take on board what they should have learned in their first lesson.
The first thing that you do in the first lesson or any subsequent lesson is a series of warm up exercises.
The first warm up exercise is a twisting movement. You stand upright with the legs slightly bent and twist the spine. This movement is one of the foundations of the entire Chen system.
It forms the basis of the spiraling energy that finds full expression in the forms. The spiral enables you to evade attacks. It allows you to apply your body weight to an attack without committing it.
To my knowledge the spiral is unique to Chen. It is what gives Chen its distinct character. The more you understand the spiral and how to apply it, the more you will appreciate the clarity of principle in Chen.
Chen as a system is so well constructed that it is frightening to think of the level of genius necessary to have conceived and refined it. It is easy to understand why many people have sought to ascribe semi-divine origins to taiji.
Following the warm up are five horse stance exercises.
These are the most basic level of the internal training of Chen Taiji.
For the first couple of years these horse stance exercises should be amongst the most important things in your daily practice. Although the forms will gradually help you to develop your leg strength, it is the horse stance training that will do most to develop the legs and improve your form.
You should expect it to take several years of daily practice to become comfortable in horse stance. Without this fundamental work your form will look poor, your stances will be weak and ineffectual and you will never be physically able to make an advanced technique work no matter how many times you are shown.
The importance of diligent practice can never be emphasized enough.
This is one of the reasons that I say that advanced techniques are largely irrelevant.
If you have not put in the work to develop a firm foundation, then no technique will be of much use to you. However, if your foundation is good, then you should be able to make even the most basic of techniques work for you.
Strong legs and the spiraling energy are just two of the foundations that you will have been shown how to develop in your first lesson.
The third and final thing that I shall mention is perhaps the most important. When you start the form you will be told to do two things – “bend your knees and relax“.
Learning to relax in the form is arguably the most important lesson to be learnt.
It is certainly the most persistent problem that almost everyone seems to have.
Tense, stiff movements are among the commonest faults with forms. Tense, stiff movements make a form look ugly. Yet they seem to be integral to the way most arts are taught outside of China, which is a shame because they are also potentially very damaging to your health.
Tension is also one of the most common faults in pushing hands. Tension creates blockages in practitioners’ movements as they struggle for dominance. It is often more useful to lose at push hands so that you can learn which postures place you in a position of weakness and danger.
Once you have eradicated these postures you will find that you will not have to struggle so much and that when people use force against you, it just creates difficulties for themselves.
The first lesson of Chen Taiji will give the seeds of the entire system.
Whether you learn the lesson or not is up to you, but you cannot advance far unless you do.
by Glen Gossling