5.c.vii.-method-and-progression Section

The Method and Progression of Chen-style Taijiquan Training

by Chen Zheng Lei


1. Familiarity with the set of forms, postures clearly executed:


The so-called set of forms (tao lu) indicates the complete set of forms. The so-called postures (zi shi) indicates the structure of movements in each form (jia shi). In the beginning, the main thing is to place emphasis on being familiar with practice of the set of forms and that the positions and directions are correct. At the same time, it is appropriate to pay attention to the standards concerning the postures. After practicing Taijiquan for a short while, when you are thoroughly familiar with the set, at this time you must place emphasis on the correct performance of the postures; in this way you will be able to produce internal energy (nei qi) and bring into play the health and barehanded combat effects. Presently, we will look at it from two aspects and discuss the training techniques and the items to pay attention to at this level..


1) In quietude there is motion; in motion there is quietude. In practicing Chen style Taijiquan you must keep your thoughts quiet, getting rid of all internal and external disturbances. Only in this way will you benefit, by restraining your internal energy (nei qi), and by guiding the rising up and movement of internal energy (yin dong gu dang). A boxing treatise says: "Quietude nourishes the 'ling gen', qi nourishes the spirit (shen)". The so-called root (gen) of "nourishing the root" is the fundamental nature, and is also the kidney. Chinese medical theory holds that "kidney is the root of inborn nature" (shen wei xian dan zhi gen), and stores within it the original Yin and the original Yang, the animating force of life and movement in the human body.

"Quietude nourishes the fundamental nature" (jing ze yang gen), this is to say that only when your conscious­ness is in a state of peace and quiet is it of any benefit to the flourishing and collection of your kidney qi (shen qi); therefore causing your five internal organs to function healthily, your internal energy (nei qi) to be full, your spirit nourished and your movements strong and vigorous.


2) Pay attention to body-mechanics (shen fa). In the beginning of your practice of taijiquan, you shouldn't set your sights too high or train in great haste. This is similar to beginning to write Chinese characters, it's acceptable if you can just make your cross stroke horizontally level, your vertical brush stroke straight, your dot and hook, etc., forming characters within a square frame. In the beginning of your practice of taijiquan, with respect to body mechanics, you are only required to keep your head naturally upright, stand straight, and don't lean over too far in any direction (bu pian bu yi). In your footwork (bu fa), you are only required to perform the bow and arrow stance (gong bu), empty step stance (xu bu), step out (kai bu), and draw back step (shou bu) well. If you know the position and direction of each it is acceptable.


As for those errors that unavoidably crop up, like raising your shoulders or sticking out your elbows, filling your chest with unrestrained qi (heng qi),panting when you breathe, your hands and feet trembling,etc.— it is not advisable to delve into these phenomena too deeply. But, the direction of motion, the angles, and proper sequence must be absolutely correct. You should do everything you can do to make the movements (zi shi) soft (rou ruan) natural and balanced (da fang shun sui).


By keeping up with the practice of around ten sets a day, you can become familiar with the set of forms (tao lu). At this time, you should make progress in taking into account the requirements of the movements; from head to foot, undertaking correction of every form and movement. You should do as much as you can to slow down the speed of the movements in order to benefit the thought process in determining whether the movements are correct or not. Keeping to daily practice of ten sets, after a period of time, you can pass through this level and enter into the second stage.



2. Adjustment of body mechanics, relaxing the whole body:


So-called body mechanics (shen fa), indicates the principles of the requirements for each part of the entire body while practicing taijiquan. If you want to adjust body mechanics you must first expend some effort (gong fu) on relaxation. In order to cause the joints to relax and open up (song kai), stretch the muscles (or tendons) and set the bones in proper alignment, you can select a few movements to practice such as "Jin Gang Dao Dui" (Pounding the Mortar), "Yan Shou Gong Quan" (Cover Fist and Punch), "Bai Jiao Die Cha"(Swing the Foot and Drop Down), etc., but you must do all that you can to relax and not use brute force (zhuo li).


The main defects of practice to appear at this level lie in not standing up straight, filling the chest with unrestrained qi (heng qi), lifting up the shoulders and sticking out the elbows, etc. There are two main causes that produce these defects: the first is that there is not a sufficient understanding of the meaning of relax (fang song - to relax or loosen); the second is that the supporting strength of the legs is not sufficient, making it difficult to relax.


A boxing treatise says: "The body must use an upright posture as its fundamental principle and use the whole body's natural alignment and movement as its subtlety." That is also to say that in practicing the forms of the set, in body mechanics you must use standing with an upright posture as the cardinal principle. The upright (duan zheng) posture referred to also has two meanings. One indicates that the trunk and limbs and the head are all situated in an upright position. Another is when the body is under a tilted or slanted circumstance, it maintains a relative balance, as for example, a movement like taking a step forward, with the upper body drawing in the attacker and the lower body advancing simultaneous­ly.


So-called relaxation (fang song), is to say that with the legs supporting the body, each part of the body relaxes in a natural and concerted way, with the qi sinking to the dantian. In the beginning, because there isn't understanding of or attention paid to these few problems, and in addition, one's strength is meager, therefore one unavoidably will experience the above mentioned defects. You can overcome the above mentioned defects through increasing the number of times you practice the set, increasing athletic capacity by making your postures lower to the ground, and performing some sing­le or double leg squatting exercises, and standing meditation training (zhan zhuang gong.) At the same time one should  pay attention to relaxing the hips (kua), bending the knees, rounding the crotch, and maintaining an upright posture.


As the strength of the legs increases, and in body mechanics a loosening up or relaxing takes place; this will cause the chest or thorax (xiong bu), the back (bei bu), the ribs (lei bu) and the diaphra­gm (ge ji) to naturally sink downward, coordinating with the rise and fall of the motive force of qi within the body. The breathing will be natural, the vital capacity of the lungs will be enhanced, and the defects will be eliminated.


This level of practice can be achieved in a three to four month period of time. When the time comes, the body mechanics will have already been adjusted, the postures already basically correct; moreover, as the quality of the practice is raised, there will already be a perception of the movement of internal energy (nei qi).





3. Opening up energy channels -directing internal energy:


Energy channels and collateral channels (jing luo) spread throughout the body. Internally, they connect the internal organs, and, externally, they connect points on the skin's surface, thus linking up the upper and lower and the inside and outside of the body. These are the pathways that regulate the organism and along which internal energy (nei qi) moves. Qi is an almost impercepti­ble substance that forms and maintai­ns life in the human organism. It is an infinitesimally small particle, very difficult to perceive from direct observation. It is only through the human sense organs, according to the changes that it goes through, that its existence is made known.


The qi of the human body arises from the following several aspects: the first is a natural gift from our parents' "jing qi" (the  energy of sperm and egg which combine to form the zygote or fertilized egg); the second is the energy that is produced by the transforming of what we eat and drink into "grain and water"(shui gu) refined energy (jing qi) and exists within the human body “jing qi" (refined or sexual energy). Qi is produced through the combined physiological functioning of the spleen (pi), lungs (fei), and kidney (shen).


A boxing treatise states: "Qi is the root source of life, "jing" (as in jing luo - channels and collateral channels) is the path of qi. If the pathways are blocked, then the qi does not travel along them." It is also stated, "Utilizing my body's unfettered original energy (yuan qi), to move (or move throughout) my body"; "Use qi to move the body, linking together all parts in one continuum of energy." This is an explanation of qi as the body's basic innate substance. Only under the condition that the channels and collateral channels (jing luo) are open and unblocked can you guide (yin dong) the movement of qi and expand and contract your energy at will, reaching a state of the constitue­nt parts linked together in one continuous flow of energy (yi qi guantong), thus producing the results of preventing disease, mainta­ining good health, and fighting ability.


We have already discussed above, in the later part of the "adjusting of body mechanics relaxing the whole body" level, that there is already the feeling within the body of the movement of internal energy (nei qi), and the practice of Taijiquan also becomes more interesting. However, this feeling is like the rising and falling of the waves, at times it is there, at times it is not, sometimes hidden and sometimes manifest. After a short period of time, it can even reach the point where it is completely gone. This is due to the channels and collateral channels not flowing freely, the moving force of qi is unsuccessful in getting through, and, one's not guiding the movement of internal energy. Because of this, at this level of practice it is necessary to pay attention to mentally guiding internal energy.


Under the direction of the conscious mind, using intellect to move the body, internal energy will penetrate throughout, segment by segment. If there is some part that presents difficulty, you can adjust your own body mechanics, with the obtaining of the free flow of useable energy (jing) as the criterion. It is advantageous to practice slowly and disadvantageous to practice quickly.


For each and every technique and form, you should pay close attention to the energy, which should be active and ever flowing. Make every effort to keep the awareness of the undifferentiated state between internal energy and external form. By practicing and making progress in this way for a while, the internal energy will just naturally flow unobstructed. You will also slowly overcome the stiff energy (jiang jing) and brute force (zhuo li), gradually reaching a state of the whole body interlinked, continuous and unbroken movement, internal energy in accord with the demands of the barehanded boxing forms. A regulated expansion and contraction of internal energy will be produced, reaching the state of all of the constituent parts linked together in one energy continuum (yi qi guan tong).


4. Combining form and energy, like a circle with no end:


So-called form, indicates the body, and is also the external form of the barehanded boxing forms and movements. Qi indicates internal energy. From the point of view of medical theory, form (xing) and energy (qi) are united, are mutually interdependent, and one relies on the other for its function. A boxing treatise says: "using mind to move the energy, you must be calm, settling the energy, and you will be able to infuse qi into your bones." It also says: "using qi to move the body, the body's movement must follow smoothly.' That is, it requires that in each and every technique and posture, you must concentrate on using your mind (yi) to lead the movement of qi, using the qi to move the body, in accord with what is natural, driving the external form. Through the repetitive practice of combining form with energy, the internal energy is caused to circuit the body and then start over again at the beginning, like a circle that has no end.


Spare no effort to accomplish the following: the whole body as one, internal and external united, the external form driven by the movement of internal energy, once set in motion the entire body moves, once it is still the entire body becomes still, in movement and stillness, open and close, in rising and falling, revolving and rotating, there is nothing that is not in accord with what is natural.


During the course of practice, the body and the hands, inner and outer any parts that are not sufficiently coordinated will produce problems that can influence the flow of internal energy, thus causing the internal energy and mind difficulty in combining with the external form or body. If the speed of the movements is too fast or slow, as well as the angles of the body position not sufficiently mastered, it will be difficult to achieve the desired effects. While practicing the movements of the set, it can cause the body to be slow while the hands are fast, the eyes not following the movement, etc, and other disorganiz­ed phenomena; you won't be able to combine body and hands as one, or coordinate the movement. There is a saying: "The hand arrives before the body, the strike will amount to little; the hand and the body arrive together, striking the opponent is like crushing dry grass." That is an explanation of the importance of combining form with energy, and the body and limbs following smoothly.


The practice at this level should place importance on combining thought (yi nian) with the postures of the body, and it is also the heart/mind (xin), thought or intention (yi), internal energy (qi), and form (xing) all reaching a single target simultaneously, causing internal energy to link together all parts into one uninterrupted flow of energy. At the same time, you should understand that the "open" or "closed" condition of any part of the body, is just a partial manifestation of the open or closed condition of the entire body. The overall defects of the whole body, can also be manifested in any part of the body. Consequently, it is common practice, when adjusting the position of the parts, that you must pay attention to adjusting the whole body, thus reaching unity of intention and energy. The specific indications at this level are: you feel your skin expand, your fingers feel numb, your heels feel heavy, and you have the feeling that your "dantian" is getting heavy.


5. Reciprocally connected movement of the whole body, the unity of internal and external:


The meaning of "the interconnectedness of the whole body, unity of internal and external" indicates the whole body's forming an integrated system of movement. Chen Chang Xing, in his Shi Da Yao Lun (Essay on Ten Critical Points), said:

"Taijiquan is ever changing, elusive and ever powerful; although its postures are not all the same, in the end, their energy goes back to the same state of oneness. So called one, from the top of the head to the feet; internally, there are organs, sinews and bones; externally, there is skin and muscle, the four limbs and all the bones of the body, all interconnected as one. Chop at it and it will not separate, strike at it and it will not break apart. When you want to move the upper body the lower body follows by itself, when the lower body wants to move the upper body commands itself to follow. The upper and lower move and the middle responds, the middle moves and upper and lower join together in movement with the middle. Internal and external are interconnected, the front and the back are dependent on each other, the so-called one is what connects them, how could it not be thus called?"


This discussion specifically expounds on the interconnectedness of the whole body (zhou shen xiang sui), the matching of internal with external (nei wai yi zhi), and all the parts of the body linked together (yi qi guan long) in one uninterrupted flow of internal energy.


In the interconnectedness of the whole body, unity of internal and external level, although internal energy already penetrates throughout and links together the body, the internal energy is very weak. While practicing Taijiquan, by slightly not paying attention or when conditions are not right for exercise (such as over-exhaustion or not being mentally up to it) all can influence the movement and linking up of the internal energy of the various parts of the body. In the previous level, if the body and hands, internal and external produce "contradictions" (mao dun), you can make use of adjustment of body mechanics (shen fa) to resolve them, causing the postures to follow smoothly and internal energy to penetrate throughout. However, in the present level, it is not permitted to use the solution of adjusting body mechanics to resolve defects or contradictions. This level requires that the whole body be reciprocally connected (xiang sui), using internal energy to drive the external form. If the qi is not there, the external form doesn't move; if the qi is there, the external form moves according to the internal energy. Use the mind to move the qi, use the qi to move the body. In each and every move and posture, the qi arises from the dantian. Internally, it moves throughout the internal organs and the bones of the body; externally, it moves along the skin and fine hairs. It moves throughout the whole body and then returns to the dantian, spiraling back and forth, circling at will. The core of the movements is "chan si jing" (twining silk energy), using qi as the overall "driver", forming a comprehensive system of movement. Chan si jing originates from the kidneys (shen) and arises from the dantian, spreading throughout the whole body. Each part of your body always has some, filling your four limbs to overflowing, soaking into the "hundred bones" of your body, reaching the ends of your four extremities and penetrating nine important points (jiu qiao). This increases your internal energy without limit, causing the internal energy to be infused into your bones, stretching your tendons and strengthening your bones. The internal energy and blood flow freely, aiding digestion of food and drink, curing disease and extending one's years. These are all beneficial results of working on "twining silk" internal energy. Twining silk internal energy is the essence of Chen style Taijiquan.


During this level, in addition to maintaining daily practice of the forms and sets, you can combine this with the practice of push hands, thus realizing the distinct energies of "adhere to, connect, stick to, and follow" (zhan lian nian sui), and, "ward-off, roll-back, press, and push" (peng lu ji an), testing whether or not your forms' movements are correct. You can also add the practice of several sets of "Paochui", in order to strengthen your stamina and explosive power. You can practice broadsword (dao), spear (qiang), double-edge sword (jian), and staff (gun) in order to test the coordina­tion of the hand, eyes, body, and step. Therefore, causing your practice of Taijiquan to be a process bringing about unity of internal and external, and the whole body interconnected. You practice without having to think too deeply about it, and without having doubts or unanticipated results; grasping completely Taijiquan's requirements and rules of movement..


Passing through this level of practice, you already have self-correcting ability and can manage to avoid pitfalls and follow the right path without the guidance of your teacher. Continue to delve deeply into the study of Taijiquan and you can gradually enter into the realm of profound mystery. Chen Xin said: "When you don't clearly understand the theory, engage a teacher who understands clearly; when the way is not clear, call on a good friend; when the theory is clearly understood and the way is clear, but you still aren't able, practice daily with all your effort and then continue without let up, and with the passage of time you will arrive by your own effort."


6. A stable foundation, substantial internal energy


The meaning of so called stable foundation, substantial internal energy, indicates progressively stabilizing the lower body, and building upon the foundation established in the previous level, impelling internal energy to become substantial and full. A boxing treatise states: "when the root is firmly rooted the branches and leaves flourish." "Nourish the root and the branches and leaves will flourish on their own, prime the spring and the flow will increase on its own." Practicing forms is a method of nourishing the root and priming the source. The "root" indicated here has the meaning of

foundation, and is also the lower body from the waist down. A boxing treatise states: "When the lower body is firm, the upper limbs are naturally light and flexible."The so described "lower body"(xia pan) indicates the lower half portion of your body or your legs. Relying on the supportive strength of your legs, with your two feet as a foundation, your crotch energy rounded and able to turn freely, you will sink into a stable stance.

Another theory has it that your root (gen ben) is your "original internal energy" (yuan qi). Original internal energy is stored in the kidneys. When the kidneys are full of internal energy, then "essential strength" (jing li) will be abundant. This is the so-called "solid root"(gen ben gu).

In the phrase "priming the spring", the so-called "spring" indicates the source (gen yuan) or origin (ben yuan). The "original qi" (yuan qi) with which your body is already endowed at birth is the origin of all the various internal energies, the source of which is the kidneys -in connection with the "dantian". Original qi is a natural endowment from pre-birth (xian tian) (pre-birth indicates the embryonic state of a living being, consisting of elements from both the father and mother) and it's also called the pre-birth source. It

is the root of the five organs (heart, liver, spleen, lungs, and kidney) and the six viscera. The original Yin (yuan Yin) is used to nourish the Yin of the five organs, and the original Yang (yuan Yang) is used to nourish the Yang of the five organs.

Obtaining original Yang, the body uses it for warming; and obtaining original Yin, the body uses it for nourishing the Yin. Therefore, vitality flourishes, which in turn is good for helping the internal energy of the kidneys, filling the "dantian" to overflowing with qi. This kind of mutually beneficial process finishes a complete cycle and then starts anew; therefore, bringing about a solid root and priming the source.

After passing through the previous levels above, when you practice the barehanded forms, your whole body forms a holistic, completely integrated system of movement. However, in coordinating the breathing with the movement you still cannot manage to be appropriately natural and smooth.

In the first through the fourth levels above, because the move­ments and postures are stiff and not coordinated, internal energy and the external form are not combined, and, the requirement for matching up the movements with the breathing is not possible. When the fifth level is reached, although the whole body is interconnected, with the internal and external combined into one, if the movements speed up or change rapidly or alternate fast with slow, then it is difficult to match up the movement with the breathing. When you practice in this level, along with the raising of the quality of your barehanded practice, you must strictly match up the breathing with the movement. I want to especially point out that the abdominal style of breathing in this level is the opposite of the therapeutic medical style of abdominal breathing, that is, you should practice reverse abdominal breathing.


Under normal physiological conditions, breathing comes from the participation of the lungs, intercostal muscles, and diaphragm in completing the process of breathing. The main expression of this is upper thoracic breathing which, at the same time, involves the participation of the diaphragm. When a lung condition develops, because the functioning of upper thoracic style of breathing becomes limited, then, in a com­pensating way, the abdominal style of breathing becomes strengthened. The main manifestations of this type of abdominal breathing activity are: When you inhale, the diaphragm contracts, the abdominal cavity is shifted downward, pressure increases within the abdomen, and the abdomen protrudes toward the outside; when you exhale, the diaphragm slowly expands upward, with the abdominal cavity shifting upward, decreasing pressure within the abdomen, drawing the abdominal wall inward.

The "reverse abdominal breathing" of taijiquan is just the opposite of the situation described above. When you inhale, the belly draws inward, the diaphragm rises upward and the internal energy of the dantian (dantian zhi qi) rises upward from the belly. The stomach starts to bulge naturally, the thoracic cavity naturally expands, and the capacity of the lungs is increased; when you exhale, the belly protrudes, the diaphragm sinks downward, internal energy (nei qi) sinks down into the dantian, the stomach and thoracic cavity naturally returning to their normal state. There is a horizontal "rotation" (xuan zhuan - alternating expansion and contraction) of the kidneys at the back of the waist, due to the sinking of internal energy to the dantian and the inner horizontal "revolving" (zhuan) of the dantian. These are combined into one. When issuing energy (fajin) in coordination with the breathing, you use one quick inhalation and one short exhalation to complete the action.


After you coordinate the breathing together as one, in addition to normal practicing of the solo sets, you still should practice a few supplemental training exercises (fu zhu gong) as well. Such as: practicing standing meditation postures (zhan zhuang) using any of the stances, such as horse stance (da ma bu), or bow stance (gong bu), or "T"step stance (ding bu), these are all acceptable. Hold the posture for 20 minutes before and 20 minutes after practicing taijiquan, in order to develop a firm and steady standing posture, good breathing and moving of "breath" or internal energy, developing your strength and endurance.


Practice shaking a long pole (dou ganzi), using a white waxwood pole with a diameter at the base or thick end of 6-8 cm and a length of three meters. Practice every day the three actions of open (lan), close (na), and thrust (zha) - 100 times each.


In addition, you still should take single energy-issuing (fa jin) actions from the set of forms and practice them individually, in order to increase your ability to store and release energy (under the conditions of already having a stable foundation of rooted postures and substantial internal energy).