Robi Sen writes about his recent experience in a workshop with Chen Xiaoxing. Reading his entry reminds me of my own experiences in a workshop with Chen Xiaowang, in that both entries relay the importance of touch. A lot of what’s written about taiji is really philosophical and esoteric which much chatter about universal energies and what not, but I whole-heartedly agree with Robi when he wrote:
Chen Style has a tradition of teaching via touch.
I must admit out of the 8 taiji schools I have trained at over time, I received the most tactile feedback from only about 2 of them and both of them happen to belong to the chen village line. Is this just coincidence? I don’t think so.
When I asked questions at some of the other schools, I often got answers of “just relax” or “use the dantien”, or “just follow me and do what I do”, but very few of them ever got to the point that when I asked, the teacher would have me do the move I questioned and then provide hands-on, instant feedback, which often resulted in answering my question not with words, but with touch. I felt how I should move, or where my hip should be. I felt what it was like to “feel aligned” in such a way that I felt the burn almost instantaneously due to correct alignment.
Looking back, I sometimes have forgotten the importance of touch and what I learned in those private lessons. Sure, I did receive some physical corrections in the public clases, but that was merely a drop in the bucket compared to the time spent on tactile corrections and feedback found in private and/or small group (2-3 people) classes. Imagine having the teacher guide every inch of movement from the smallest weight shift to the extension of the fingers and the alignment of the hips and you’ll kind of have an idea what hands-on corrections feel like. I never knew what this was like until I took some private lessons with my recent chen taiji instructor.
The reminds me a a current article in Journal of Asian Martial Arts in which Stephan Berwick is on the front cover and it chronicles his journey to chen taiji. There’s a comment in there from Bow Sim Mark where she talks about being physically strong in order to handle the minute nuances of internal martial arts and I really must agree with this. Correct alignment and posture HURTS. There is quite a bit of pain and for those who think that taiji is all flowing-rainbow-universal-energy-harnessing stuff, I would advise you to reconsider. I think there’s some value in all those stories of Yang Luchan’s children trying to run away due to the intense pain of training, holding stances low to the ground to build up the strength, zhanzhuang stance holding in pools of sweat. Taiji is gongfu, and gongfu is effort, time, and skill in training.
One of the major take-aways I got from this type of training is the importance of feeling. After/while receiving a correction, I would often look down, only to be told to maintain the correct neck alignment and try to *feel* the correction so that I could later self-correct on feeling.