The Transmission of Touch

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.


About wujimon

taiji, meditation and health
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7 Responses to The Transmission of Touch

  1. Pingback: Searching for the feeling - shang lee . com

  2. chessman71 says:

    Wow. Your site looks different every time I check it. What did you decide about the “practical” taiji? I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

  3. wujimon says:

    Hi Chessman.

    As for the site, just trying to find the look that clicks and I think this one will do.. for now 🙂

    I think the practical taiji thing will sit on the back burner for now. I feel kind of uncomfortable trying to learn something from just video/books as I have no first-hand experience with the instruction of the pracitical set, however my friend has commented that since I already know the chen village form, it shouldn’t take me too long to learn the practical sequence. In addition, he notes the vast amounts of clear, concise instruction from Joseph Chen as another reason to learn. Still lingering on the back burner.

  4. chessman71 says:

    I know lots of people learn from J.Chen at his annual camp. It looks like it’s worth attending. Maybe that would be an option. But I agree about learning only through books and vids. That’s not really the way to go. If the camp isn’t an option, it might be best to shelve it for now, as you’ve decided. If some of his videos strike you as particularly good, then I would love to read a review of them, if you have the time. Keep us updated.

  5. Pingback: The Position of Shoulders in Opening the Chest | wujimon taiji blog

  6. Pingback: Learning: self, dvd, instruction | the way of wujimon

  7. Pingback: Reader Question: Sinking Lower in Zhan Zhuang | the way of wujimon

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