TaiChi Day, Auckland 2003.
TaiChi is also known as Taiji, Tai Chi Chuan or Taijiquan.
It is regarded as one of the more "internal" and
subtle of the martial arts. It takes longer to become an adept
practitioner but the skills and benefits are that much greater.
It is less stressful on the body than is the case with the
more "external" martial arts, less physical exhertion
is required and a wider range of health benefits follow on.
is Chen style TaiChi?
There are now five main styles of TaiChi: Chen, Yang, Sun
and the two Wu styles. Chen is the original parent, martial
form of TaiChi which originated from Chen village (China).
It was kept hidden in the Chen family until very recent times
because it was a highly prized and valuable defence skill
for the villagers. It was also practised by young and old
for health benefits.
Chi is Slow and Boring - right?
Wrong, you may be thinking of "Yang style" (though
many people do not find it boring) or the 24 Step Daily Exercise
invented by China's Phys-Ed Department for nation-wide use
during the latter stages of the Cultural Revolution.
style that we teach is the lesser known parent, fighting form
of all the Tai Chi styles and is known as "Chen style."
It is explicitly energetic. It can of course be performed
slowly if you desire.
people in Western countries have only ever witnessed the very
popular Yang style (or the 24 Step). These two Forms together
probably represent 95% of the TaiChi taught in clubs throughout
European countries. Yang style is typically practised slowly.
do I wear?
Anything light that doesn't restrict your movement.T-shirts,
track-suit pants and soft soled gymn shoes are popular. Light
coloured soles will avoid marking floors. If you really want
to take it seriously specialised Tai Chi footwear can be purchased
from any reputable Martial Arts store.
Old or Fit do I need to be?
Tai Chi suits all ages and fitness levels.
"exercise philosophy" is also very different from
the usual Western idea of pumping up the heart-rate and thrashing
the muscles of arms and legs. The goal of Chen Tai Chi is
to be able to practice as vigorously as you desire without
puffing because its goal is for stamina, flexibility and efficient
muscles (rather than big muscles).
style, because of its more energetic nature, is especially
suitable for young adults. But there are also classes and
routines very suitable for older folk too. Tai Chi "exercises"
are low impact which is really good for those with disabilities
or who are recovering from surgery (under doctor's advice)
do not need to be fit to start. Tai Chi also contains very
effective "Breathing Exercises."
advise your instructor so they can advise the best plan for
does Tai Chi Chuan mean?
"TaiChi Chuan" literally translates awkwardly into English
as something like "supreme ultimate fist". In the first two
words, "Tai Chi", we find a much older expression.
This expression has many layers of associated meaning at both
everyday and philosophical levels (involving Tao-ist understanding
of the Universe). It could be paraphrased as "the harmony
of Opposites that is the basis of Being."
means "fist" - i.e. a fighting, or martial, art.
is the older Philosophy behind "Tai Chi"?
The European language also has these sort of foundation-of
the-universe type words (eg "Spirit"). However the
basic idea (as relevent to modern day TaiChi Chuan) behind
the very old phrase "Tai Chi" is that Nature is
at its most creative, dynamic and powerful expression in anything
that can harmoniously hold together things which we usually
regard as opposites. Painting in very broad strokes we might
say that the feeling evoked by this phrase in Chinese elicits
much the same feeling a Christian European might get when
they open the Bible and read, "In the beginning the world
was Void and without form, darkness covered the waters and
the Spirit hovered over the Deep."
all this is summarised in the well-known Chinese image of
the "Yin-Yang" Circle composed from two identical
"teardrops". Long before it was used to represent
the martial art of TaiChiChuan it signified the older "TaiChi"
principle of the "harmonious harnessing of opposites
held in tension.
this " harmonious harnessing of opposite principles"
applies to "Chuan" (meaning "fist" - ie
fighting art) and what these contrary forces are is another
story. Nevertheless that is how TaiChiChuan works and this
Art sees the whole human body, in harmony, as the single most
potent weapon of defence.
What is "Internal"?
"Internal" has a number of meanings. At a very basic
level "Internal" refers to the particular way in which physical
force is generated. This force is produced by skillful use
of the whole body in harmony.
Chen style this force is not only generated from the outer
muscles but also from deeper muscle tissue (especially the
muscles around the spine, hips and diaphragm), whole body
movement and the energy that can be stored in the rubber-like
elasticity of joint tendons/sinews. With correct alignment
and movement this force can be built up in muscle/joint groups
and transferred cumlatively around the body. It can be released
in powerful or even explosive-like movements of considerable,
force", on the other hand, tends to rely simply on outer,
localised muscle strength (and often only a few local muscles
at that) and is considered "external".
arts take longer to master because joints must be loosened
up, seldom used muscles must be strengthened, very subtle
body movement skills must be aquired, "involuntary"
muscle group movements must gradually come under the control
of the mind so that they can be "discharged" at
will. The end result of course is greater force for same amount
Internal/External dichotomy is in fact a sliding continuum
and no martial art is purely one or the other. More experienced
practicioners of the "External" martial arts will
more than likely exhibit a greater use of internal force as
the years go by. Conversely the Internal martial arts have
some movements that make little use of internal energy and
only after many years of dedicated training will the disciples
of these Internal martial arts manifest useful internal energy.
historians suggest that "internal" refers to those
martial arts that are taught privately and thus kept hidden
- as was the case with Chen style TaiChi (known only to the
families in Chen village until the early 1900s.)
is also a suggestion (Japanese influence?) of an historic
association of the Internal Arts with the ruling classes and
care for the body; while the External Arts are associated
with "commoners" and indifference to the body. The
reason is somewhat pragmatic. Commoners needed to be trained
quickly for war by their rulers. Also, the rulers didn't mind
too much if these effective fighting systems actually damaged
the commoners body's over time because their lives were often
considered short and unimportant. The nobles and rulers, on
the other hand, had plenty of spare time to learn and practise
the more difficult Internal methods which were ultimately
superior systems - at both martial art and bodily health levels.
The External arts had the better "bang for the buck."
are the health benefits? (see
Health Benefits page)
There are numerous health benefits for joints, balance
and coordination, respitory, circulatory and immune systems
to say nothing of mental health benefits for complaints ranging
from depression and insomnia to stress and anxiety. The greatest
health benefits come from the cultivation of "internal
energy" techniques and skills. Traditional Chen style
TaiChi was devoted to this goal primarily for martial art
purposes (great stamina, very efficient muscle tissue, very
high "impulse" power) but the secondary long term
health benefits have always been recognised as well.
benefits acquire to the body from these Internal Skills due
to the special technique and the high percentage of body tissue
that is engaged. Huge amounts of muscle tissue is uniquely
exercised, lungs and diaphragm are intimately integrated ("Breathing
Exercises"), abdominal organs are gently massaged, joints
are mobilised and stretched. This whole body "exercising"
is responsible for the unique health benefits at a systemic
level as mentioned above.
skill is based on a training philosophy of low-impact exercising
of extremely relaxed muscle tissue. It results in a completely
different muscle tone from that obtained by "pounding
the footpath" or working out in the gymn (which actually
aware that a lot of TaiChi is only taught "externally"
(so-called "loudspeaker Tai Chi") - ie more as a
calisthenic exercise pattern with no real regard for the traditional
techniques/guidance needed to learn the Internal skills. Greater
health benefits aquire from practising the internal skills.
Many traditional teachers maintain that it is only through
the verifiable internal, self-defence teachings that the health
benefits present themselves.
Why is Chen
style TaiChi virtually unknown in N.Z.?
The martial art now known as "TaiChi" was developed in Chen
village, China, for the self defence of its inhabitants. Obviously
it was not in their interests to teach this effective martial
art to those outside of Chen village.
very talented "visitor" (in the 1800s) managed to learn this
Chen style. It appears that his changed/adapted version spread
rapidly throughout China - becoming what is now known as "Yang"
style TaiChi. This is the style that most Kiwis associate
with "TaiChi" (often practised in our parks by Chinese Kiwis).
The other main styles seem to have split off from Yang.
Finally, in the
late 1920's, Chen village began to open up their art and by
1928 it was being taught in Bejing by the renowned Chen Fake.
It still took time for this parent Chen style to become widely
known and understood both inside and outside of China. The
Chinese governmental agencies of the early 1900s may have
regarded provincial based martial arts groups as an obstacle
to their centralising efforts and so these arts were driven
underground. This appears to have had two contradictory effects
on TaiChi. It limited the spread of Chen style inside China
yet encouraged the spread of Yang style (already well established
throughout China) outside of China as individuals relocated
to other countries.
Tigers" of Chen Village were significantly responsible
for its spread outside of China from the late 1970s when they
began their international teaching circuits. In Singapore
and Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur), for example, Chen style instruction
was only publicly available from the early 1980s under the
influence of Master Zhu Tian Cai (from whom Malisa learnt
her TaiChi). In New Zealand it appears that a few individual
Chinese, proficient in Chen style, have dwelt here since the
late1980s. However it seems that publicly advertised Chen
style instruction was not initiated until the early 1990s
(Wellington?). Presently it is still difficult to find comprehensive
Chen style instruction in N.Z.
How is Chen
style different? (see
Chen style is characterised by its more vigorous, energetic
and uniquely graceful "silk-reeling", spiral, twist-like actions.
Also by its contrary gentle/explosive, slow/fast, hard/soft
style in its leaps, kicks, skip-steps, blocks, and strikes.
And again by its "stamping" and "shaking"
like actions. Chen style is ideally suited to younger adults
but of course all ages can practise and adapt the movements
to as vigorous a level as desired.
Is Chen style
a real Martial Art - can it be used for self defence?
As indicated above Chen style is in fact the original fighting
form of TaiChi and is widely regarded as amongst the foremost
of the Martial Arts. It is a genuine and effective martial
art for self-defence for experienced practicioners. However
if a "quick fix" self-defence strategy is sought then the
more "external" martial arts are better suited as they provide
the best short-term results.
How do I recognise
a good Chen style teacher?
Please go to the separate article, click
How is Chen
Style taught? (Also see Teaching
Chen style internal skills are traditionally taught by means
of two classical routines: Old
Frame One (Lao Jia Yilu) and Old Frame Two (Lao Jia Yilu).
The classical routines are single person sets of movements
that are joined in a continuous flowing manner.
These Routines are practiced by beginners and
seasoned Masters alike as, like layers of an onion, one searches
for ever greater depth in their exercise.
The purpose of
these Routines is at least threefold:
(a) First, its about aquiring the more mechanical basics (eg
balance; flexibility; muscle/cardio strengthening/toning;
correct postures and low-impact techniques for turning/twisting/weight-change;
training the mind to move the body in a certain way and to
use muscles in a relaxed manner). This is the "outward
(b) Secondly it
is also about Martial Art Discipline. Each of the movements
in the set, even if you don't know it, is in fact combative
based (either of defence or attack) despite the soft beauty.
Other TaiChi styles (and sometimes less experienced "Chen"
teachers) may minimise or stylise out this martial element
to the point of extinction - but not so Traditional Chen style.
Particular emphasis on this element in Traditional Chen style
TaiChi is known as "Applications." It is usually
only taught informally by more dedicated teachers or at specific
workshops. Not all Clubs have this emphasis but it is implicit
in Chen Style all the same.
(c) Finally it
is also about the longer-term project of developing internal
energy. This internal energy is what gives TaiChi its prowess
not only as a fighting skill but also as a true Art Form (of
the human body). This aspect of TaiChi movement is known as
the "internal form." Some who have achieved excellence
in its ways are legends because of the wonderful feats their
skills enabled. Like any Art form, excellence requires a combination
of raw gift, good teaching, lots of regular disciplined practice
and the intelligence/ability to self-learn and experiment/discover
under guidance. Some would say this skill cannot really be
"taught" - one can only be placed in a situation
where there is a good chance it may be "caught".
This is what constant practice (and a good teacher) of these
traditional forms is recognised as providing.
(Tui Shou) and various ancillary exercises such as "Silk
Reeling" and the Standing/breathing postures (Zhan Zhuan)
are also used to focus and advance the learning process.
"Push hands" is a subtle, two-person
training system where partners link wrists in various circular
patterns as they seek to detect loss of balance and harmony
in the other so as to exploit their weakness and off-balance
progress is made in the "open fist" routines there
are also Chen style weapons routines which are useful in developing
various aspects of the "internal form."
Be warned - if
you seek proficiency in the internal skills of TaiChi it takes
time and cannot be gained without disciplined and regular
Are there other
Chen Style Routines?
There are many other Routines invented by more recent
Masters and even National Institutions. These often have different
purposes and Beginners need to have a good idea what they
really want out of Chen Style Taichi before choosing. Like
painting, success comes from the preparation so sort out exactly
what you want from TaiChi, research well the different Routines/Forms
available to you and then stick to it. Chopping and changing
is no way to become adept in anything. Hopefully the few words
that follow will help you in the right direction.
Broadly the different
Routines can be divided into Traditional and Contemporary.
These are the forms/routines that derive from the long evolutions
in Chen Village. Recorded history show that original TaiChi
learning in the Chen Village centred around a comprehensive
set of Five groups of routines of which only two have survived.
These surviving forms evolved into two distinct Chen traditions:
Large Frame and Small
Large Frame eventually
evolved the two surviving forms into what is now known as
One and Old
Frame Two (aka Pao Choi). Small Frame's origin is disputed,
some say it is the oldest surviving form from which came the
Large Frame (a more exaggerated form to help beginners more
quickly learn the internal form) while others say the reverse.
In any case Large Frame was for serious beginners and Masters
while Small Frame (less vigorous and no Fajing) was used by
the very mature artist (maintenance) or children (for health).
Apart from the
above "classics" there are also the New
Frames. Renowned Chen Master, Chen Fake, adapted the Old
Frame routines and created these New Frames. He was the one
who first revealed Chen style to the Chinese public when he
taught these forms in Bejing in the 1930s. A minority opinion
believes this "New Frame" is also very old but had
been kept secret until Chen Fake publicly taught it for the
first time. See
here for a discussion on the matter.
Be careful with
the terminology - some authors refer to "Small Frame"
as "New Frame" (because they say it came from Large
Frame and is relatively new). Chinese to English translations
and paraphrases don't help the matter!
There are other
traditional Chen Routines as well. There is the Thirteen
Postures/Powers/Movements which is not really a flowing
set of movements (ie a routine) but rather 13 essential basic
principles/stances to which any system calling itself TaiChi
must conform to be considered effective and comprehensive.
Remember that TaiChi is not the routine. The original TaiChi
had no set routines at all and indeed TaiChi used to be called
simply "The Thirteen."
The routines teach
the internal form/skills which, in real combat, should issue
from any situation or simple movement. Of course the "external"
routine teaches effective KungFu "moves" (adapted
from the Shaolin Long Fist tradition) which further increase
prowess. You may be interested to note that "Long"
means coiling and forever flowing (as in the Long Yellow River).
TaiChi inherits much of its flowing external routine from
the ancestor of present day Shaolin Long Fist tradition (especially
the Taizu and Red Fist forms).
Mention must be
made of "variant strains" of the Chen tradition
at around the 15th/16th generation Masters (the present "standard
bearers" are 19th Generation). These are the non-mainstream
Zhaobao and "Thunder
Style" variants which can be found exhibited by a
much smaller group of families still within the Chen Valley
Finally there are
those forms which are in the process of becoming traditional.
The "innovation" by Chen Fake (mentioned above)
is now considered traditional in Chen Village not only because
it was adapted by such an acclaimed Chen master but also because
it has stood the test of time.
There are also
other very recent "innovations" that may be well
on the way to becoming "traditional." For example,
the 38 Chen Form (adapted by Chen Xiao Wang) or the 19 Chen
Form (Chen Zen Lee) or the 4 or 13 Chen Form (Zhu TianCai's
abbreviated Old Frame One based on the ancient Thirteen Postures
mentioned above) as these Masters are all members of the respected
"Four Tigers" group of Chen Village.
The newer contemporary forms tend to be "invented"
by Wushu Organisations under the patronage of the Chinese
Government often for competitions. These forms tend to emphasises
the beauty of the external form and are very popular amongst
Asians themselves. The principles behind these forms may not
come from traditional Chen style alone or at all. These forms
are not really intended for long-term assistance in developing
internal energy. However they are quick to learn, look good,
have health benefits and are very popular in competition TaiChi.
The 56 Chen Competition Set is popular amongst Chen style
enthusiasts because it has the approval of Chen Village for
use in competitions.
known, individual masters feel they can improve on the traditional
routines and they adapt/invent their own which they believe
conform to the principles. A beginner needs to be careful
here. It can be a frustrating experience to join a club and
learn their form only to find it is very different from anywhere
else and may well die with the master. Of course this is not
to say it isn't a valid evolution - afterall the Traditional
routines were once innovations. It is perhaps better to adopt
a club whose "unusual" forms have stood the test
of time and critique for a generation or two. At best make
sure you are well grounded in the traditional Old Frame One
before experimenting in this way.
Free video clips
of some of the above Traditional Forms are available here.
More info on Traditional Forms here.
I learn Chen style?
Of course you don't have to do anything! But what are you
Chen style TaiChi has some very particular attractions that
may appeal to you:
At a very basic level Chen style TaiChi is useful an enjoyable
and low impact way of exercising and body conditioning. This
is not the slow-motion exercise seen in the parks (probably
Yang style). It can be a real workout. And its interesting
because you learn and practice with a group and all the social
contacts and activities that go with that (if you want). As
you learn the routines you gain the freedom to exercise at
home by yourself. You will also find a peace and tranquillity
that comes from the "mindless", disciplined and
graceful coordination you have achieved. And as practitioners
are always improving their skill (if you want to) it only
gets better with the years. If you are too unfit to start?
Don't worry, there are breathing exercises to ease into it.
(b) Other Health Benefits: (see
Health Benefits page)
There are numerous health benefits for joints, respitory,
circulatory and immune systems to say nothing of mental health
benefits for complaints ranging from depression and insomnia
to stress and anxiety.
(c) The Traditional Internal Skills:
Here resides the traditional wisdom and the high learning
that gave TaiChi its prestige as one of the foremost of the
martial arts before the invention of the gun. These internal
skills are also the deepest source of TaiChi's health benefits.
If you are serious about learning one of the deepest and most
subtle of the Martial Arts then you won't run out of depth
with Chen style.
(d) A Wonderful External Art Form:
If whole body movement and harmony is what you seek Chen style
is wonderfully graceful in its exotic, lively liquid movements.
There are not only the challenging "empty fist"
routines for you to master but there are also excitingly beautiful
sword routines as well. There is no shortage of opportunty
for entertaining the public (as club demos are in high demand)
if that appeals to you and you are of sufficient proficiency.
And this is not a skill you will ever stop improving, especially
as you observe others and get involved in overseas conventions.
(e) A Great, Non-Contact, Competition Sport: Apart
from friendly city based conventions there are significant
trials, competitions and conventions at overseas venues such
as China, Malaysia, Singapore, USA. These events broaden a
students knowledge and experience.
(f) Club Teaching Opportunities:
If you like coaching or helping others then there is lots
of opportunity for you to help out within the Club as you
become a senior student - receiving further personalised training
in return. There are also numerous Community opportunities
as well. Presently the Club is receiving numerous requests
for Chen style instruction at Retirement Villages, Community
Centres, Senior Citizens Groups for various Ethnic Communities
and from health related Government Departments.
(g) Social Contact/Overseas Travel:
Clubs are great places for meeting new people and expanding
your horizens and experiences. Chen style taichi is no exception.
In fact you may like to travel with members to overseas Asian
and US venues for the exciting conventions, competitions and
trials that take place every year. And even if you aren't
heavily into the TaiChi you can still come along as a tourist
and watch your club members compete!
Where can I
find out more?
Check out our Chen
style Links page or write in a question to our Egroup
Discussion Forum run by Tu-Ky
Lam in Wellington.
If you believe any info here is inaccurate or in need of expansion
please let us know!