The Taoist Sanctuary is in its 40th year this year. This anniversary came as a surprise to me and Bill - seems like we celebrated the 25th anniversary just a handful of years ago. Time marches on.
In the 40 years, we have taught 2 styles of Taijiquan - Yang style and Chen style. These days, we only teach the Chen style because we committed to the original style and the original methods, and we pass on the original forms of the Chen family, led by Grandmasters Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing. Our primary practice form is the Laojia Yilu, from which one studies the principles and internal methods of Taijiquan.
In the 40 years, we have chosen to maintain and disseminate the fundamental tenet that Taijiquan is a martial art, first and foremost, and that if it is studied properly, it will bring to the student not only martial skill, but additionally all of the health benefits that are being discovered by modern research using the scientific method.
As more of this research is published, the original forms of Taijiquan are being altered, shortened, renamed and offered in venues ranging from parks to the local YMCA to the fitness clubs. Tai Chi Chih, Tai Chi FIT, Tai Chi Zen are a few of these. In my own neighborhood of Southern California, there is a weekend certification course offered for aspiring teachers, supported by the government.
Am I glad Taijiquan is gaining in popularity? I’m not sure. I’m afraid that what is becoming popular is not actually Taijiquan at all, but an adaptation of only small pieces of the original art, created to appeal to a modern audience of short term dabblers. Someone I know took a weekend certification course recently, and was exclaiming proudly to me about how he is now “teaching” Taijiquan to all of his therapy patients. I have been studying this art for 20 years, and I know what he is teaching is most definitely NOT Taijiquan, but instead is a series of movements that outwardly resemble Taijiquan, devoid of even the basic principles of the art developed over 400 years ago.
The average person off the street doesn’t know the difference. It’s up to those of us who practice the original arts to educate those people by offering the art in its entirety, then they can make their choice. Most importantly, I believe that the people teaching these weekend courses and these adapted programs have a big responsibility to divulge the honest truth about what they are teaching to their customers, so that the customer will not go forth and present a simple movement exercise as representative as the Art of Taijiquan. My fear - that the people teaching these exercises don’t know the difference either, and that the original art will get so watered down that the genesis of Taijiquan will be lost.
Of course, things evolve, things change. But for these newest permutations of the ancient martial art of Taijiquan, let’s be clear about what’s being offered to the general public. It’s not Taijiquan.
Flowing to bring in 2013
As the sun sets on 2012, we ready ourselves for the coming year. 2013, Year of the Snake, the Year of Mathematics of Planet Earth. Whatever we call it, resolutions are a common theme around any shift of identification.
We resolve to:
We will start 2013 with an open taiji flow by the ocean - please feel free to join us. You can flow with us or simply watch and relax in our flow. We will be at Sunset Park on Coronado Island at 9am. Looking forward to seeing you there!
We are so lucky! We have been following our teacher Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang and his family for over 10 years. The dedicated practice of his disciples has started to pay off, and the Taoist Sanctuary is now hosting many of those practitioners who have become excellent teachers in their own right.
In 2012, the Taoist Sanctuary hosted these 20th generation practitioners:
Jan Silberstorff from Germany
Davidine Siaw-Voon Sim and David Gaffney from Great Britain
Stephan Berwick from Philadelphia
These highly skilled practitioners provided many additional layers of learning to our students at the Taoist Sanctuary. All are scholars and authors, several have full command of the Chinese language, and all have the enviable talent of being able to clearly articulate and demonstrate the complicated principles of Chen style Taijiquan. They greatly compliment the continued teachings of Grandmasters Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing, and Masters Chen Ziqiang and Chen Bing, who visit our school every 1-2 years.
They will all be returning in 2013-2014. If you have a chance, you should attend their seminars. If you have any lingering doubt that Chen style is alive and well in the 20th generation, you should attend their seminars. These 20th generation practitioners are committed to carrying on the lineage that has been so generously bestowed on us by the Chen family, and our students at the Taoist Sanctuary and other schools who host these teachers are tremendously lucky to be the recipient of their commitment.
High Standards. We all have them. We all want our student to practice harder, practice more, practice correctly. We have these standards for ourselves, why not for everyone else? After all, they pay us to teach them the Correct Way, right? At what point do we allow our students to just be?
I struggle with this in each class I teach. I give corrections, watch the transient follow through, then come the next class, the correction is gone and I have to give it again. And sometimes again, and again but nothing changes. And eventually, I get irritated and either stop giving it, or chastise the student for “not listening”. I think the student doesn’t care, or can’t learn, or worse, thinks I am wrong.
Who am I to define Correct? Sure, I’m a 20th generation disciple of Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang, who is widely known as the Standard Bearer of Chen style Taijiquan. I’ve studied taiji for almost 20 years. I have a Duan Wei ranking from the Chinese Wushu Association. But what does all that mean? It only means that I have been willing to put in time for my practice, and that I’m willing to teach others what I know. It doesn’t mean I practice it correctly, all the time, or even part of the time. Sometimes, I don’t practice for days.
I think as teachers, all we can ask is that the student shows up. We offer to pour tea in their cup, and either they take it or they don’t. If in class their lack of interest or lack of hearing is disruptive to the class, then we may need to address it. I do this, and once it cost me a student. But everyone makes a choice to come to class, to pay the fees, and whatever their reasons, they are there, we should teach them, and what they take away is theirs to take, not ours to demand.
Chenjiagou documentary -
Great documentary on taijiquan in Chenjiagou featuring Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang
“Making Pesto” is an analogy I used in the intermediate laojia yilu class tonight. I was trying to elucidate the idea of sinking into the lower body, or “sitting in the hips” during the transitions. The hip joint should move like a mortar and pestle, maintaining strong contact through the range of motion, without rising up or separating. An analogy only, since of course the hip joint shouldn’t really be separating anyway.
We practiced this through a couple of moves. The question arose about how best to practice this technique. The tale of Chen Fake doing 30 rounds of laojia yilu a day has been a topic of conversation lately, and the thought of “making pesto” through all 70 something moves x 30 reps was a bit intimidating.
So how to practice?
I played classical piano from age 3 to age 20. I was a very serious student - I was told I could have really gone somewhere with my talent (but I chose a different path). I can easily compare practicing piano to practicing taiji.
Scales, and pieces. Silk reeling, and form. Basics, and flow.
My signature piece was Fantaisie Impromptu by Chopin - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fantaisie-Impromptu- an exceedingly difficult piece that I happened to play very well. For many years I practiced this piece, and for as many years, I practiced scales, over and over, and over. I never could have mastered this piece without the practice of scales. And it wasn’t like I practiced scales for a while, then mastered the piece, and never had to practice scales again. I always had to practice scales. At the same time, I had to play the entire piece, over and over, and over. It wasn’t like I played it a few times, and mastered it. I always had to play the whole thing, many times.
It’s like that with taiji. Practice the silk reeling, flow the form. Practice the moves, flow the form. Work the technique, flow the form.
You have to do both. That’s how you move toward mastery.
We have Grandmasters and Masters, 19th generation and 20th generation, friends and family dropping in to teach at the Taoist Sanctuary this year!
Something for everyone! Don’t miss any of all of these great opportunities to learn Chen style Taijiquan from the Chen family and their 20th generation disciples.
Special offering in March - Qi Gong with Ken Cohen, one of the world’s foremost experts on Taoism and Qi Gong. This will be offered as a 6 week evening seminar on Tuesdays at 7pm. Starts March 6th. Space is limited so sign up early!
Follow us to keep up with the latest offerings—check out our webpage for more information on seminars and classes.
Chen Family Taijiquan Training Methods