Chen-Style Taiji Fist

2009 Mar 19

Unless you’re a martial arts dork, you probably haven’t seen Chen-style taiji (taichi) before. Unlike the dominant Yang-style, Chen style requires you to build up tension in your muscles during some points in the form (as if you’re doing a harder style like kungfu) and release it in little spasmy flurries of quick actions. This is really hard, because the rest of the form is flowing and has very little tension.

Check out this ten-year-old kid doing the basic Chen form, which I used to do in high school. I was never anywhere close to this good, of course. He’s ridiculous.

4 Responses to “Chen-Style Taiji Fist”

  1. Guy Shalev Says:

    Wow, he is so good…

    I’ve used to practice Yang Style, myself.

    Anyway, I really like this kid’s fluidity, he looks, when you think of the fluidity on one side and the sharp movements on the other, well, the thing closest to him I know is people who truly do “The Robot” amazingly well, where they both flow and seem to have sharp points.

    He also reminds me of a praying mantis, in that he see-saws back and forth, he moves back and forth slowly, like a leaf in the wind, but then there’s a sharp move when the leg moves forward and he switches his center of balance.
    The kid or the praying mantis? ;)

  2. timfire Says:

    Jonathon, do you still actively practice Chen-style or some other martial art?

    Over the last couple years I’ve gotten involved with some inter-disciplinary folks that focus on the raw “internal” body mechanics that undergird taiji and other Chinese MA (as well as pretty much all Asian MA, actually). EXTREMELY cool sh!t, including some stuff that you think only exists in the movies. I now have a small routine of various qigongs and silk-reeling exercises that I practice (almost) everyday.

    Fa-jing—those “spasmy” movements you were talking—aren’t meant to be executed with muscle tension. Rather, you build, umm… let’s call it “pressure” in the back by utilizing the elastic properties of the body’s connective tissues. You then, err… let’s say “channel” that pressure out to the limbs, which causes them to snap like a rubber band. But throughout, the muscles should remain soft.

    The issue, though, is that it takes a few years to condition the body to hold and manipulate that sort of “pressure”. I’m not *quite* there yet, though I’m getting pretty close (I think).

  3. Guy: What struck me the most about this kid was how effortless he made the footwork look, especially the parts where you drop your center of gravity close to the ground. That’s really hard for a lot of older folks, but the kid is really, really supple.

    Tim: Hey there! It’s been cool to see you poking around a few places. I was just talking to this 12yo kid at JiffyCon who ran Mountain Witch for his friends as a bunch of government agents trying to get to the top of this mountain where aliens had crash-landed. He said the best part was when “one agent teleported into another agent.” Grisly.

    I’m not currently doing any MA training right now, though I’ve been trying to get back into yoga, which has a surprising number of similarities. Honestly, I’ve been really disappointed with the few Chinese MA schools I’ve tried in the area. They seem to want to teach you one movement at a time — which bores me out of my mind and makes it hard to learn how the movements relate to one another — instead of the way I was taught in China where you learn an entire form as soon as possible and then work on refining individual movements.

    I haven’t tried to do Chen style or any fajing since high school and I was never really adept at any of the internal stuff. Thanks for the clarification. What you guys are doing sounds really cool. The only qigong place I know locally was unfortunately renowned for being very cult-like and shut down recently. When you say fajing comes from your back, do you mean, like, the rear part of your waist or is it higher up than that?

  4. timfire Says:

    Are you going to be at Camp Nerdly by chance? I’ve actually moved to DC, and Prince Williams Forest is only like 45 minutes away. I’ll be there, and I can show you some of the internal MA stuff I’ve been doing.

    The “store” of pressure begins in the lower back at about the waist area. If you’re doing it in an overt, big way, you bend or hunch such that the back is stretched. This is the “pressure” I was talking about. (It’s actually elastic tension from the connective tissues, but “tension” implies the wrong idea.) You then sorta push with the legs, such that a slight wave is formed throughout the body, and the pressure is “pushed” or “channeled” up into the torso and then out the arms.

    But of course a classical teacher wouldn’t explain it that way. The classical explanation would probably be that you’re collecting qi from the dantien and sending it out to the arms (or something like that).

    If you check out [this video] you can see what I mean. The kid at the beginning is doing a basic exercise to condition the connective tissues. See how he’s stretching the back, then rapidly straightening it as he pushes with his back leg? That’s the basic idea, though he’s doing it without the “wave” action needed to make the arms “snap”. If you watch the third performer with the bright blue sweat shirt, you can kinda see the “wave”, though it’s pretty subtle.

    As you get better, you can “pressurize” the connective tissues by contracting specialized musculature in the abdomen, rather than overtly hunching the back. That’s why when you watch the masters, the hunch and “wave” are nearly imperceptible.

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