5.d.vi.-chen-xiao-wang-visit Section

Visit with Chen Xiaowang

Nineteenth-Generation Heir of Chen Style Tai Chi

 by J. Mackenzie Stewart                From Inside Kung-Fu Magazine, 1982

 In December 1981, the All—China Sports Federation invited an eight—man delegation,
sponsored by the National Chinese Wushu Association of America, to visit the People's
Republic of China for the purpose of studying Chen style tai chi chuan, the oldest
authenticated style of tai chi in existence. The delegation, led by Anthony Chan,
studied in the capital city of Beijing under Professor Feng Zhi Qiang and Ge Chunyan.
In addition to their studies, the group visited the 1500 year old Shaolin temple in
Henan Province. The highlight was December 19, when a group of "surprise guests"
shared their warmth and wisdom with us


Professor Feng Zhi Qiang is twenty minutes late for class today. His students practice their indi­vidual warm-up routines in silence, eagerly awaiting his appearance. The "practice hall" is the back of the sixth-floor cinema in the Xuan Wu Men Hotel, Beijing, China. The Xuan Wu Men, located about two miles southwest of Tien An Men Square, is primarily a hotel for overseas tourists, and is also the American delegation's home during their stay.


The air is dry this cold December day, and the steaming thermoses of water which the hotel provides daily are rapidly being drained by parched tai chi players. Bryant Fong, Anthony Chan's assistant, appears in the doorway and says to the class, "Why don't you all come down to our room? Mr. Feng is there, and he has some friends with him that he would like us all to meet."


In the living room of Anthony and Bryant's suite, Anthony, Professor Feng, and Ge Chunyan (the del­egation's assistant instructor and a member of the Beijing Wushu Team) greet us, and the strangers stand up to meet us. Anthony Chan makes the intro­ductions: "These people are friends of Mr. Feng. They are members of the Chen family and have come from Chenjiagou Village to see us. They are very interested in what we are doing here and would like to sit in on our class today."


For a few moments, the American group mem­bers are too stunned and excited to speak. This is the first meeting of non-Chinese Westerners with members of the Chen family, and certainly an impor­tant moment in tai chi chuan history. Anthony con­tinues, "This is Chen Jiang Hat, and the gentleman next to her is her husband. She is Master Chen Fa Ke's daughter; her father was Mr. Feng's teacher." Then, indicating a robust-looking young man standing in the center of the group, Anthony says, "This is Chen Xiaowang. He is also a relative of Chen Fa Ke, and I hear his tai chi is very good." With the introductions completed, everyone heads to the practice hall."


After almost three weeks of intensive daily prac­tice, the group has finished learning the first form in the Chen style, a form called "Old Style Number One." The Chen family village representatives sit down and watch as Professor Feng leads us through our class. After several repetitions, we stop to rest, and Professor Feng then invites our distinguished guests to demonstrate their tai chi chuan.


Chen Xiaowang is the first to do so. One can tell even before he moves that his level of skill is very high. Standing in the wu-chi, or "preparation stance," Chen Xiaowang is the picture of wu-wei, or "effort­lessness," alert relaxation. Yet, one senses that this profound poise could explode in an instant into pow­erful response were any person foolish enough to challenge him. As with Professor Feng, there is a noticeable glow in his eyes as he moves through his form with masterful power and precision. Never had any of us seen a form performance such as this.


Xiaowang's level of concentration is uncanny. He moves with fluid grace through intricate and diffi­cult maneuvers, all the while looking as if he is in some far-away zone of time and space, his mind's eye turned inward. "It reminded me of someone in a voodoo trance," one of the delegation members later commented. Chen's transitions from the softest soft movements, moving as if he has no bones, into explosive, fast, hard corkscrew punches and breaks are done as easily as if he were scratching his head.


Chen finishes his form with an air of peace and stillness, and then casually strolls around for a few minutes to cool down before sitting to watch as his aunt demonstrates Chen routine number two, pao chui, or "cannon fist." Chen Jiang Hat's performance is impressive, even though she is in her seventies and tells us that she has not practiced regularly for thirty years!


Chen Xiaowang is gently resting the backs of his hands on his thighs as he sits in what looks like a Taoist meditation posture. When queried about this posture, Chen smiles and says, "Feel my palms." His palms feel soft and relaxed and are hot in the center. "My hands are always hot, no matter what I do," he says, still smiling warmly. He agrees to an impromptu interview, a translation of which follows.


INSIDE KUNG FU: What is the chan szu chin?


CHEN XIAOWANG: What do you think it is?


IKF: Well, I've heard that it's called the "corkscrew strength" or "spiraling energy," and that if the foot is really rooted into the ground, the push or movement starts from the foot. All of the momentum of the force starts twisting up from the foot, through the leg, the hips, the back, and the arm, and is fi­nally expressed in the hand. The whole body is relaxed so that all the energy is focused, and the entire motion is combined with mind intent. That's all I understand about it.


CXW: This corkscrew strength does not initiate from the foot. It initiates from the trunk of the body; it initiates from the waist, from the kidney area. It transfers down toward the foot, and then it rebounds from the foot back up and on through the body. Don't forget, everything initiates from the waist; it then goes down to the foot and bounces back up from the foot. Otherwise, if you are just

using the strength of the foot, it will not be as powerful. When the power is really coming through, its expression is not limited to the hands; it could be in the elbow; in your hip; in your knee;

in your thigh. In Chen style, whenever there is movement—not necessarily a striking move, but whenever you have movement—you have this chan zu chin.

Basically the strength itself is soft. This thread is like the silk cocoon. The term itself has nothing to lo with tai chi chuan: The two characters chan szu do not refer to the corkscrew strength itself. Chan szu means the "weaving" of the cocoon. But this itself does not really relate to tai chi. For example, move­ments like "cloud hands," the hands move in circular notions, sort of like a silkworm weaving a cocoon. So, the term chan szu is used to describe the action of tai chi. If you want to be really technical, chan szu is the threading of a cocoon, and the corkscrew strength is different. Chan szu is the big circular movement. The corkscrew strength is something else; it is a twisting strength.

Sometimes these terms can be interrelated; they can even describe the same thing. For example, in the movements that I was demonstrating, my hands look as if they are weaving a cocoon, but my waist is almost turning on an axis, so that is more like a corkscrew. To give another example, sometimes as they are making the circle in the weaving of the cocoon, the hands are simultaneously turning on their own axis, so you can have corkscrew within the weaving of the cocoon. But no matter how one tries to describe it, we are only using adjectives. It is more important to use the energy appropriately than try to put it in if it is not comfortable. The most important thing is that these motions do not obstruct the flows of chi to all the limbs.


IKF:  Can we get anywhere just by practicing what little we've had a chance to learn? Will some of these things that you've been speak-about become clear to us after we practice for a while?


CXW: It is only natural that you cannot yet feel these theories applied to you when you are going through the forms. Basically you can divide tai chi into five levels.

The first level is just learning the external movements, trying to make it look like tai chi, knowing the requirements of the physical action, and at the same time knowing the theory, knowing what should be right. You complete the first level when your movements are precisely the way they should be.

You move into the second level when you can feel some sort of inner strength building up, mostly in the form of heat throughout your body. At the first level, you try to make the movements precise. By the second level, you know the movements so well that you don't consciously think about it. Then you start to work on the contradictions. For example, you could be doing a movement that looks very cor­rect on the outside, but on the inside, you feel almost as if you are having a cramp. In other words, your muscles are still stiff in the wrong places. At the sec­ond level, you have to work on the internal smooth­ness in combination with the external precision.

When you smooth out all the contradictions, when the internal is in good coordination with the external, when you feel your flow of energy through­out your body—the day you get to that point, you are in the third level.

In terms of fighting applica­tions, in the first stage, even if you are learning the techniques, your body is not yet ready to use them for fighting. It is like something that is top heavy: you can easily be toppled. At the second level, you know the techniques; you know how to use them. But usu­ally, the internal is still not really in coordination with the external. At that stage, when you start to push hands with people, or actually start fighting, a lot of the techniques cannot come out; they do not flow smoothly.

So, when you get to the third stage, when your internal is in good coordination with the external, at times you feel that you can execute these techniques. You may often be able to effectively defend yourself or topple your opponent, but you may end up injuring yourself in the process because your internal energy is not yet strong enough. By the third level, you should be able to handle and smoothly perform the technique itself, and the applications. During this level, we require players to thoroughly know the applications and methods. The reason is that at this stage you are beginning to cultivate the chi inside. However, if you do not know the technique well enough, when you try to execute it you may either overuse your chi or under use your internal strength.

The fourth level is when you know your move­ments very well; you don't even have to think about them. There is no contradiction between inner and outer. When you are performing your movements, even when you are doing the set by yourself, you imagine that you are fighting an opponent in every move that you make. It seems as if you are actually applying techniques as you go along through the form. In other words, even when you are practicing, without an opponent, it seems as if there are ene­mies all around you. However, when you really face an enemy, you can handle yourself; it seems like you are handling these enemies as if they are not there.

When you get up to the fourth stage, that is when you start to work on learning the weapons forms. Prior to that, it will not be useful to work on the weapons. In the first three levels, all the move­ments are big. You perform the movements in an expanded, almost exaggerated way in order to understand them, so that it can begin to feel like a real and effective technique. However, when you reach the fourth level, these big circles can be refined into medium-size circles, and you will still be able to feel the strength and flavor fully in each technique.

The important point in fighting an opponent is that first you have to touch him. Without touching him, you cannot do anything to him. As soon as you touch him, the requirement is that you use just enough strength to conquer him; you don't over­power your opponent using unnecessary strength. You issue just enough to put him off his feet, to unbalance him. To summarize, at the first level, you have 10 per­cent yin and 90 percent yang. At the second level, you have 20 percent yin and 80 percent yang. Third level, you have 30 percent yin and 70 percent yang. Fourth level, you have 40 percent yin and 60 percent yang.

Then when you reach the fifth level, you have 50 percent yin and 50 percent yang; they are totally bal­anced. Also, the medium-sized circles get even smaller; they become small circles. This yin and yang is softness and hardness. So, in the first level, you have 90 percent hard things and 10 percent soft things. As you reach the ultimate, the fifth level, when it becomes good, you have 50 percent soft and 50 percent hard; totally balanced.


IKF: In the Tai chi Ch'uan Classics, I think one of the Chen family, Chen Xin, wrote about this, and called it something like "wonderful hand:'


CXW: Right. The "wonderful hand" means that as soon as it moves, there is a combination of yin and yang, softness and hardness in it, neither too much softness nor too much hardness. Whenever it moves, there is total balance between hardness and softness. When you get to that totally balanced stage—and then not only when you are practicing martial arts; it could be when you are walking, or when you are sleeping, or when you are driving at that point, it doesn't matter which way your op­ponent comes. You should be able to handle yourself and still apply this "wonderful hand." It be­comes totally natural, an instinctive kind of reac­tion. At that point, all of your body is open and coordinated; whichever part of your body requires strength, it can be exerted to that spot.

However, even when you reach five yin and five yang, it is still no big thing; it does not mean that you have reached the top. Martial arts practice has no limits.


At this point, the lesson is over for the day, and the Chen representatives have to leave. In the short
span of an afternoon class, the mutual love and respect for Chen tai chi chuan has drawn the entire
group together with a spirit of closeness. The feeling is like that of a family gathering. As we escort
our guests to the door, Chen Xiaowang seems to exude the very qualities of tai chi chuan's "wonder‑
ful hand": a deep humility combined with self-assurance, gentleness, and grace, blended harmoniously with the impression of tremendous power in reserve.

The writer expresses his gratitude to Anthony Chan for his interpretation and translation of the interview, and for his wonderful spirit which made the delegation's China visit a great success.


J. Mackenzie Stewart is a veteran tai chi player who recently traveled to China to study), the art. He makes his home in Rochester, New York