The Balance of Taiji
Interview with Chen Stylist Chen Zhonghua
- Chen Laoshi, first of all, thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions. I know you are very busy.
You are welcome. Since we are here, take your shot. I will answer what I can.
- Presently there are many versions of the Taijiquan definition. What is your understanding of the original intent of Taijiquan?
First of all, the original intent of Taijiquan was not a recreational sport that strengthens the body. Its original intent was a martial art with an internal focus. This art is different than all other martial arts. It is only present in the Chen Village and several branches that are derived from the Chen Village.
- What makes it different?
Taijiquan is about balance. No matter what method you use, Taijiquan will weigh you like a balance scale. To weigh you, is the special method of Chen Style Taijiquan. This method is not found in any other martial art systems. Taijiquan, Xing Yi Quan and Bagua Zhang are all considered internal martial arts. But it is different from the other two. Taijiquan is all encompassing: it has whatever other styles have. But what it uniquely possesses, other styles don’t have.
- What do you mean, to weigh you?
This is the method of weighing something. No matter how heavy you are, I only need to nudge the counterweight one tiny little notch on the scale and the scale will balance. If you were lucky enough to have touched grandmaster Hong Junsheng, you would understand what I am talking about. Otherwise, it won’t be that easy to understand.
- Scale is an object. Nudging the counterweight is only an action. Where is the “internal” in this?
You put one ton of weight on the scale, I will only move the counterweight one unit and the whole thing balances. If this is not internal, then you will never find “internal” in this world. It would be like to put the cart in front of the horse if one seeks to look for the intangibles such as Jing, Qi and Shen.
- According to you, then Taijiquan is too simple.
Indeed, Taijiquan is very simple. It’s yin and yang. But on the other hand, it is easy to say it and understand it but quite another to be able to do it.
- Why, then, there are no famous masters holding this view?
Each to his own. I cannot answer this question.
- Can I say then, if one can make his body a weigh scale, he has received real Taijiquan?
You can say so. But more accurately, you should train yourself to possess the ability like that of a scale. You don’t need to turn yourself into a scale. We are not talking about the object scale here. It is only an analogy. The body can possess several scales. As a matter of fact, the human body is much more capable than a scale.
- How can one train to make his body a scale?
This is not difficult either. First you establish yin and yang. When yin and yang are present, the rules will come out. The rule is the one side is yin while the other side is yang. The center is the affixation (central equilibrium). All others are derived from this.
- So simple and yet no one can do it.
First of all, modern people do not like simple things. Secondly, there is no one to teach you. You cannot possibly what yin and yang are by yourself. It is not like commonly known: one foot is solid then the other must be empty; 3/7 division; and 4/6 division. None of that. It is not: black and white; left and right; top and bottom; or front and back. Yin and yang are not antonyms of words you learn in school. When you gradually experience it in learning Taijiquan properly, you will realize that it is not something that the language can describe.
- Are there people who can teach this?
I have seen masters from the last generation (18th). There should be masters of this generation (19th) who can teach it, but I am very sheltered. There are many who claims, few who can.
- What is your view on Hardness and Softness of Taijiquan?
Hardness refers to the state of circular integrity; Softness refers to the state of rotation. Both are representations of the same. The nature of both is not about soft or hard. They are about the structure of a circle and the action of a rotation. The ancients did not have today’s knowledge of physics. They used the words “soft and hard” to express the physics knowledge that we have today. If one is to learn Taijiquan from the point of view of “soft and hard”, he is not different from the blind men who touched the elephant.
- Taijiquan looks slow but has devastating martial ability. Therefore, many theories arise in the marital world. What is your view?
Slowness is not part of Taijiquan. It is a matter of learning method. Please do not confuse these two.
- Currently there is an emphasis on “Fang Song (relaxing)”. What is your opinion?
The real value of Fang Song is nobody knows what it means. Should you pay attention to things nobody knows?
The Song that the ancients speak of is a valuable, simple and yet deep concept. It is not what people of today talk about. What is Song? It is “no intent”. What is “no intent”? It is not to react. This is a state of being, not a quality. The current understanding of Song is a quality. This understanding is wrong. Therefore we say that cotton is Song; Steel and iron are both Song. The ground is Song. To say that cotton is Song but steel is hard is the wrong understanding of the word Song in Taijiquan.
- Do we use force in Taijiquan?
Only those who live in the ivory tower will ask this question. There is more than one person who lives in the ivory tower. If you don’t use force, there will be no force. If you don’t have any force you will be beaten by the one who has force. Simple as that. But this is too simple a logic for people to follow. “I can beat your strong force with no force at all”. How wonderful! How mysterious!
Back to our topic. There must be force. There must be lots of it. Now there are wise men who say that force is no good, jin is better. To me, the key is not which word you use, the key is to know how to use the force. It is Taijiquan practice to apply force to the vital points of the opponent. It is not advisable to apply force to your own body. We have seen that when force is used properly, the opponent will appear to stifle himself.
- What is the Taijiquan that you learned like?
The Taijiquan that I learned is very simple. Nothing mysterious like promoted all over the place nowadays. My teachers only taught me the basic things. They stated that the purpose of Taijiquan is to be fast, accurate and strong when dealing with an opponent. There are only three elements. Nothing else.
- Aren’t fast, accurate and strong external?
There is no such a thing as internal and external gongfu. There are only internal and external training methods. These two should not be confused.
- Then how does Taijiquan train these three elements?
Taijiquan uses an internal method to reach these three goals. Specifically the training involves timing, angles and distance. In Taijiquan terminology we call these three empty, sticky and linked. Empty is the total of void and solid; sticky is the result of unchanging angle; linkage is the proper adjustment of the distance between the two parties in action.
Further we say movement, traveling, curving, spiraling and fixation. Movements mean the postural choreography in the routines. The ability to link all the moves in the routine and play them in a sequence is the ability to travel. When the routine practice starts to show circular motions, you are curving. In about ten year, you have reached a considerable level but you don’t move as much as before. This is because you are starting to spiral. When this spiral movement replaces normal movement and the energy moves inside your body without you appear to move, you have reached a level we call central equilibrium.
The body does not appear to move but the energy is moving. Your energy is changing directions; it is opening (peng) and closing (lu); it is throbbing and swallowing. Another function has taken over: turning of the joints. These are not mysterious abilities. But there must be special training methods to get there.
- What is “turning of the joints”?
Chen Xin said, “To gain postural advantage you must fight for the meridians; to produce the element of wonder, you must turn your joints.” The higher level Taijiquan skill is the ability to create “wonders”. Wonder is the result of turning of the joints. This will make you solid when your opponent is sure you are empty. This is the same as an animal trap. This is done through knee, kua and elbow.
- What method do externalists use?
You have to ask externalists.