After some thinking and chatting with another taiji buddy, I have decided to start teaching my coworker the Chen Practical Method (CPM) as taught by Chen Zhonghua (CZH). In a previous session, I had shown my coworker a bit of the CPM Yilu form and my coworker expressed interest. He noted that when I did the CPM Yilu, it looked like I was fighting someone. Additionally, since I am working on the Chen Practical Method in my own time, teaching someone will give me yet another opportunity to train.
My initial reservations in teaching the CPM material was due to having very limited exposure to the teachings myself. I have been following Chen Zhonghua’s material online through blogs and videos for a couple of years. Also, I have discussed the theories of the CPM and training methods with students of CZH, but I have only recently received formal instruction in the material through a weekend workshop with CZH.
The taiji buddy I spoke with pointed out that even though I have little experience in the CPM, teaching the material may help me in my own understanding. This made sense to me and has proven to be true.
As a tangent, I am reminded of my college days where free instruction of martial arts was offered. There were a couple of fellows that freely taught martial arts instruction, one of them trained in muay thai and the other trained in grappling and brazilian jujitsu. My room mate began training with these guys as did I for a short period of time. What I realized was they taught for free to (1) increase their own understanding of the material and (2) to test their skill against various people and body types. Both of these guys were training to fight and one of them was even a muay thai champion in his weight class. Like them, I teach my coworker for free as it allows time for me to train as well as increasing my own understanding. No, I do not train to participate in fighting competitions 😉
Since I have decided to teach my coworker the Chen Practical Method, I have found myself thinking more about the method and the principles taught by the method. Also, trying to teach the material to a complete beginner is very difficult as it forces me to use precise terminology in my instructions. A beginner has no idea what the term song means, or what it means to “swim in air”. Instead, my instructions are more concrete: “elbow in, no movement of otherwise”, “turn waist via one knee up the other down”, etc.
The first thing I taught my coworker was the positive and negative circles. I taught using a three point circle, because that’s what I am comfortable with. I have seen videos of Master Chen doing 7 and 9 point circles, but I am nowhere near that level of body control and mechanics. At a high level, the positive circle can be defined as:
(1) Right Elbow In
(2) Turn Waist (left knee up, right knee down)
(3) Right Hand Out (left knee down, right knee up)
During the instruction, I explained there is no weight shifting, but maybe a 55/45 weight distribution caused by the up and down motions of the knees. I must admit doing the up/down motion of the knees with no weight shifting is very difficult and something I am still working on.
My coworker was shifting weight during the positive circle and said that I was too and it could not be done otherwise. So, to prove my point to him, I had him stand next to me and put his arm straight out in front of him touching my right shoulder. I proceeded to do a positive right circle and during the whole movement, my shoulder touched his outstretched arm. This proved that I was not shifting my body side to side, but merely rotating about the central axis in my movement. He was satisfied with the demonstration and saw that the positive circle could be done without horizontal weight shifting.
Next, I taught him the negative circle which can be defined as:
(1) Right elbow in, turn waist (left knee up, right knee down)
(2) Turn Waist (left knee down, right knee up)
(3) Lower Right Hand
Below is a video of Master Chen Zhonghua demonstrating the 2 circles of the Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method system of Grandmaster Hong Junsheng.
Then, we covered Twisting the Towel foundational exercise. This exercise is basically done in a horse stance as if you are trying to wring the water out of a towel. I first demonstrated the exercise with closed fist to emphasize the wringing or twisting nature. Then, I showed him the exercise using the Chen Tile Hand.
My coworker looked like he was spacing out a bit during this exercise so I decided to do another demonstration. I had him tightly grab my wrist and I showed him how I was able to counter the grip using the Twisting the Towel body mechanics. I then showed him how ineffective the move was if I just used my shoulder to drive the arm movement and then demonstrated again how powerful the motion is if the movement is driven by the up and down movements of the kua. Additionally, I emphasized the importance of coordinating the movements of the hands with the movements of the kua, that is, when the kua stops, the hand stops. I then grabbed his wrist and had him try.
My coworker was surprised by the immediate feedback on what worked and what did not. He was able to experience himself trying the move with just shoulder and then utilizing the waist to drive the movement. To me, this is one of the greatest advantages of the Chen Practical Method. You learn in a practical application scenario what works and what does not and you can adjust accordingly. This is a very different approach in that other forms of taiji will teach years of form work before any applications or push hands is trained. In the Chen Practical Method, form and practical applications are taught TOGETHER from day 1.
Finally, I showed him the Fetching Water foundational exercise. My coworker tried to follow me as best he could, but this exercise is a bit hard to grasp for beginners. Instead of going into the details of the movements, I showed him an application of the exercise. Basically, with my right foot forward I grabbed my coworker’s right wrist using my right hand. I then stepped into him and placed my left knee behind his right knee. Next, I initiated the Fetching Water movement by moving my left kua down and right kua up, at the same time doing a twisting the towel motion with my left hand on the outer edge of his right hip.
As I moved, he let out a little yelp as he felt very uncomfortable. I let him go and he sighed a bit with relief but then asked me to do the application to him again! He said it felt so weird and not at all what he had expected and that he had to see it again. This time I explained to him that I was basically using my body like a gear box. The kua movement and my body placement caused his right elbow to be over extended against my chest affecting his right shoulder. Additionally, my left knee going down knocked out his foundation behind his right knee, removing the foundation support of his right leg. Finally, my left hand twisting against his right hip pushed his body down into his unsupported right leg. In summary, I pulled on his right arm, knocked out his right leg while pushing his body down into where his right leg should have been.
Furthermore, I explained to him that the Chen Practical Method teaches up to make our body bigger than it appears. In effect, the Fetching Water exercise increases the surface area from left knee to right right shoulder. In other words, there is a stretch happening between the left knee and right shoulder and I was basically stretching his body across my lengthening frame.
In the workshop with Master Chen Zhonghua, he spoke about framing our opponent. In essence, you are stretching your opponent out on an imaginary frame (think picture frame). As the opponent’s body is stretched like a string filled with tension, only a little pluck of a finger results in the reverb of the string, ie affecting the whole string. I stretched my coworker’s body and then applied a little “pluck” with my left hand, which was enough to disrupt his whole body. The crazy thing is that it felt like I did nothing and used very little energy. Note, the Chen Practical Method is all new to me and I am learning as I go along, sort of like, on the job training 😉
An example of Twisting the Towel foundation exercise can be seen at time 4:45 in the clip below.
After this demonstration, I called it a session. We both walked back to work discussing what was covered with a new sense of enthusiasm and energy!