Chen Xiaoxing caught mid-flow by the camera, lands a jump weilding the two-sections staff.

Chen Village Tai Chi FAQ.

What is different about Tai Chi movements and other martial arts or exercises?

All movement is initiated from the dantian, and your whole body literally moves together. If your dantian moves an inch, your shoulder will move and inch, your elbow will move an inch, and your hand will move an inch. There are no movements where one part of the body moves in isolation. I would say that a good athlete will move in a similar way some of the time, particularly when applying maximum power in a large movement. Tai Chi has analyzed this mode of movement and applies it all of the time: for the smallest movement as well as for big, and for gentlest movement as well as for the violent ones. This way the body is always ready to produce power, and to change the direction of the power.

What is the difference between Tai Chi breathing and other breathing exercises?

Tai Chi simply adjusts the external body posture so that the diaphragm isolates by itself. Breathing is very deep, but completely relaxed and natural. Breathing exercises from other styles exercise the diaphragm by using mental concentrated on the diaphragm itself, or large external movements to get to the diaphragm and move it.

What is the difference between Tai Chi and other qigongs?

Tai Chi has its own way of circulating qi. The qi should start at the dantian. From there it should move out to the extremities, and from there move back. Moreover, if the body moves, the qi moves, and if the qi move, the body moves. If I move part of me an inch, the qi should flow an inch. There are no movements where the body moves without the qi moving, and no movements where the qi moves without the body moving. Moreover the qi moves in the same direction as the physical movement, and in the same vicinity. This is quite different from other styles of qigong, where moving qi from, say your lungs, involves shaking your hand, or where you circulate qi using your mind.

Where did Chen style Tai Chi originally come from?

The Chen family came from Shanxi province and settled in Henan in what is now known as Chen Village (Chenjiagou). 9 generations latter, they created Tai Chi. Some people postulate that they had some input from outside, possibly from xingyiquan which was popular in the Chen's place of origin. Others claims that there was substantial input from a visiting Wudang monk. Since a lot of historical evidence was destroyed during the cultural revolution, I don't think we will ever be able to prove to the satisfaction of a historian which theory is correct, and I suppose it only really matters if you engage in ancestor worship. For practical purposes, whatever history you believe in, Tai Chi today can all be traced somewhere along the line to Chen Village and the other villages that neighbor it.

What are the 13 postures?

These are 3 groups of 4 techniques, plus a final technique. The names of these techniques is very difficult to translate. Unfortunately you may just have to memories the Chinese. Here is a approximate translation to help with the memorizing process.

How to neutralize and shadow your opponent

  • Peng - Support

  • Lu - Pull

  • Ji - Squash

  • An - Press down

How to press home an advantage

  • Cai - Grab

  • Lie - Twist

  • Zhao - Elbow

  • Kao - Shoulder

More dynamic techniques

  • Teng - Rise

  • Shang - Flash

  • Zhe - Break

  • Kong - Empty

Final bit of advice!

  • Huo - Change

What is meant by frame (jia)?

The postures a Tai Chi practitioner adopts is called his or her frame (jia). Thus different styles of Tai Chi have different postures or frames. For this reason Chen Changxing's style is called big frame (da jia) because of its extended postures, and to distinguish it from the style of his contemporary, Chen Youbeng, who's revised Tai Chi had smaller movements, and who's style is thus called small frame (xiao jia).

In addition to style divisions, within a style different methods of practice are also named according to their frame. Big frame practice is divided into high frame (gao jiazi), middle frame (zhong jiazi) and low frame (di jiazi) depending on how deep each stance is held. Low frame primarily trains strength, flexibility and overall physical conditioning, and is especially suited to young people. Middle frame trains mobility and practical usage. High frame does not put a strain on the body, so is practiced mainly for health.

How do I get to Chen Village?

Catch a train or plane to Zhengzhou. It used to be a 3 hour bus ride to the small town of Wenxiang, but a new bridge across the Yellow River should cut this down by half. About 15 minuets before you get to Wenxiang, you jump off the bus at a point known as the junction for Chen Village (Chenjiagou menkou). From there its a 5 minute ride on a motorcycle rickshaw. Alternatively you could splash a bit of currency at the train station and get a taxi there instead.

Who, if anyone, in the village speaks English?

There is a high school teacher in a nearby village who speaks passable English. She is busy most of the time, but during weekends she doesn't mind acting as an interpreter.

What accommodation options are there, for someone who hasn't been invited to stay in a local's house? Or is that the standard practice?

It is normal practice. If you feel uncomfortable about it, you can stay in the local town of Wenxiang at a hotel.

Do they have Internet access?

They do now.

Is the school mainly oriented towards long stays, i.e. do they object to someone (who doesn't speak Chinese and is no good at Tai Chi) popping in for a week or so?

You are welcome to stay there for as long as you want, or as short as you want. A week or so is a good amount of time for a first visit. Everyone, when they fist get there, falls into the "no good at Tai Chi" category.

How far is it from Chen Village to Shaolin Temple?

The bus ride from Chen Village to Luoyang, and from Luoyang to Shaolin used to take the best part of 6 hours. Going by taxi shaves a bit of time off this. The new bridge over the Yellow River cuts the time in half.

Where did the phrase the 'Four Buddha Warriors' of Chen Village come from?

The phrase Four Buddha Warriors, or Four Tigers refers to the Tai Chi Masters Chen Xiaowang, Chen Zhenlei, Wang Xi'an and Zhu Tiancai. The phrase was coined by a journalist in the early eighties because the four were all roughly the same age and all came out looking for trouble at the same time. They were also the top practitioners at that time. Since then, the term has taken on a life of its own.

Where is Chen Chanxing's grave?

His grave was marked, but its location is lost, since they removed the head stone during the cultural revolution. A lot of stuff got destroyed during the cultural revolution, including Chen Wanting's sword, and a portrait of Chen Wanting with Jian Fa.

Where did zhanzhuang and silk reeling exercises come from?

Zhanzhuang and things like starting position, closing position and silk reeling exercises are a relatively new additions to the Chen style syllabus. Its not that they didn't exist before, its just that they were taught in an ad hoc way before.

Before, everyone learned Tai Chi from a very early age, so if you wanted to teach someone about the internal aspects of Tai Chi, you would ask them to hold a single whip so you could correct the qi flow. Nowadays, because a lot of people start at an older age, and because they don't have the physical endurance that working a field by hand gives you, holding a single whip is too complicated and physically demanding, so you tell them to hold a zhanzhuang posture instead.

The same goes for silk reeling exercises. The Chen form is just one big silk reeling exercise, so if you have been doing it all your life and you have constant access to an expert, it is not necessary to teach isolated exercises. Moreover, because you would be so familiar with the form, insight into the underlying meaning would come. Today however to allow more people to understand the form, silk reeling exercises have been created to assist teaching.

As for the starting and finishing positions in the form, if you live in a quiet farming community it is not so important to calm the mind before practicing. They would start the form by simply standing still for a moment, and then go straight into it without the up, down, left, right arm wave you see today.