Removing "Chen Creep"

In my comment on Spiral Force in Dong Taiji Long Form, I wrote:

When I first started chen, my yang began looking like my chen. Everything began looking like chen to the point that I called it “chen creep”. But now, my chen almost looks like yang, and my yang is just yang.

This comment reminded me of this whole notion of “Chen Creep”. What’s a bit amazing is the first time I used this phrase was in 2004 in a post titled, 24 Revisited. It’s been over 3 years and I’m still working on removing ‘chen creep’ from my execution of CHEN! For me, I define “Chen Creep” to be the physically exaggerated and overt display of spiral energy within the form. It can also be defined as an exaggerated personally stylized execution of the set.

One of the main attractors to chen style is it’s emphasis on silk reeling and spiral energy. Because I already had a preconceived notion of this, when I learned the form, I put a lot of “stylistic” flare into the form. I waved may hands around a bit more, I did more spirals in my knees, ultimately, I tried to make it “look good”.  In retrospect, this proved to be a huge stumbling block and hurdle I had to overcome.

It didn’t really hit home until I repeatedly got blasted for it in private lessons. “You’re moving too much. Relax your torso. Don’t wave the spine.” Huh… This was all quite shocking b/c I went into private lessons thinking I was pretty good, but boy was I wrong. “You need to work on your basics. Practice Zhan zhuang and silk reeling”. What??? I wanted to do all the cool stuff, but now I’m being told I need to practice zhan zhuang and silk reeling more. Why???

Well, instead of questioning, I just did it. I practiced zhan zhuang more, focused on it more, tried to see what my instructor was telling me about the spine and relaxing the torso. The more I did zhan zhuang, the more I realized in my form execution, I was ‘waving the spine’. What is ‘waving the spine’? Sit down in a chair and do that dance move where the head goes side to side and you wave through your body. This is waving the spine. Why is this bad? When doing this, are one’s shoulders connected to one’s hip? Does the upper-body move as one piece or in segments?  Is the area between the shoulders and hips relaxed?

What about the idea of moving too much? Can one really move too much? I didn’t really understand this until I was put through excruciating detailed corrections in silk reeling. “You need to clearly define the movements. Shift, then turn”. This is really hard to explain without hands-on corrections, but basically I was blending the shifting and turning within my silk reeling. My shifting wasn’t really shifting and my turning wasn’t really turning. Perhaps this is what is meant my ZenMindSword’s local quote of: “Not 3, Not 4”.  By doing both, I was doing neither one correctly..

After time, and trying to follow the corrections I was given, I began to notice I had toned down my ‘flare’. I realized my hands cannot possibly move that much, based upon the movement of my dantien and center. By doing such, was just my hands moving. The movement was not driven by my center.

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About wujimon

taiji, meditation and health
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16 Responses to Removing "Chen Creep"

  1. zenmindsword says:

    try getting hold of a cantonese speaker and ask him what is meant by “ng sam, ng say” (not 3, not 4)and you’ll get your explanation. i think the english equivalent is “doing things by halves”. meaning if you have 1 hour and you spend 1/2 hour on chen and 1/2 hour on yang you end up looking like neither but a strange amalgation of both.so the old saying of “jack of all trades, master of none” is a useful one to keep in mind if we really want to get somewhere far in the long run

  2. Rick Matz says:

    Many years ago, I learned the CMC short form, which I practiced on and off over the years.

    For the last several years, I’ve been almost exclusively just practicing zhan zhuang. Recently, a friend of mine in another state began learning the CMC form, so I decided to start practicing it again.

    The way I do it now, the way that feels right, for better or worse, feels nothing like I used to do it before.

  3. silkreeling says:

    Other than zhu tian cai’s form, there are not many other ones that have obvious aesthetic features in them. For example chen fake form or hong junsheng or even gu liu xin, or even CXW or CZL etc i wouldn’t say that their form “look good”

    if you feel comfortable doing the form, onlookers would also feel comfortable looking at it. By the same token, people can tell if you’re trying too hard.

  4. chessman71 says:

    Wuji,
    Maybe you should switch to the Chen Pan-ling form. We intentionally do the spinal wave in many movements. Sounds like you’re a natural for it already. Haha.

  5. wujimon says:

    haha… I found a guy who did the CPL form in the past and I took a couple of classes but it just didn’t click with me as I was looking for chen at the time.

    Perhaps if there were some high quality CPL locally, it might be a different story 🙂

  6. Pepe says:

    Hi Wuji,

    In my case what is more disturbing of leaving the stylistic flare behind is that, when driven by legs and waist, my chi flow to the arms is lower. I guess I was fooling myself adding too much peng to every move…

  7. wujimon says:

    Hi Pepe. That sounds interesting. The way I do chen, I place my mind (intent) on certain parts of the body when doing moves. As such, the qi seems to follow where my mind goes 😉

  8. Pepe says:

    The way I do Yang, I place my mind (intent) just on openning/closing. That means a certain amount of chi expansion and contraction on the whole body. But the chi path is triggered-delivered by legs and waist. In this way the mind is not focused in a body part but on the whole structure.

  9. zenmindsword says:

    strange thoughts from the la la land of taiji………..

    if you don’t put your mind somewhere does that mean you are not doing taiji?

    yet if you put your mind somewhere how can it be everywhere.

    when you drive a car do you focus on how you are seating, how your hand holds the steering, where your feet are on the pedals, etc. or do you really just stare at the car in front of your?

    or maybe you just see here, there, everywhere so that your mind is somewhere yet it is nowhere.

  10. wujimon says:

    Chen Xiaowang is often heard saying, 50% of mind on qi, 50% just calm and relax. The funny thing is when I place 100% of mind on qi pathways and such, I am not relaxed and cannot feel too much of the flow. Overtime, I hope I am able to let go a little to just enjoy and relax 🙂

  11. chenquestion says:

    Hi Wujimon,

    This post and its comments were very educational to me. I kind of envy your “problem”, having to deal with the two different styles while I’m still in the starting blocks with one. I often wondered how even someone as talented as Paul Lam could offer the [various] styles.

    Just had a thought which might seem off-topic, but to me it has relevance. Are you familar with the rare kungfu style known as Piguazhang? I see it as Chen taiji’s kungfu brother somehow. Formosa Neijia has trained in it, he’s written some things on his blog. For me, if I wasn’t working on Chen style in my own strange way, Pigua is what I would want to try to learn. Though I don’t know where I’d find a teacher. Anyway it’s such a cool style that I have to talk about every so often.

  12. wujimon says:

    Hi CQ:
    The is a common saying that we must empty our cup if we want to truly learn. How many can truly say they are emptying their cups? For me, this is very difficult.

    I’m not too familiar with piquazhang but I’ll be on the lookout for it in the future.

  13. chenquestion says:

    Thank you. I guess this can’t be said too often. Sometimes I become aware that I’ve been trying to cram some more into my own cup. Then I wonder about the times when I’m not aware of it – am I really learning anything or is it just the equivalent of channel-surfing on TV.

    I only mentioned Pigua because to me, it has a good strong unique flavor which complements Chen taiji. But it is clearly not taijiquan, it’s a distinctive kungfu style with looseness and twisting as key elements. 🙂

  14. Pingback: wujimon » Blog Archive » You do Yang better than Chen

  15. FreeTaiChiBob says:

    November 2009: My Chen TC, Aikido, and Yang TC are becoming American chop suey – all movements are moving toward lazy TC (by FreeTaiChiBob)

  16. FreeTaiChiBOB says:

    2012 July
    My Chen Tai Chi Laoshi often complains that I do too much Yang stuff in the Chen old-frame (lao jia) Form and I often have to apologize to my Yang Sifu that I have not spend enough time in my Yang practice. My Yang Sifu would say something like “You have restarted your Aikido training again.” I just smile and said “No, not exactly”.

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