Chen Taijiquan Residential Course
Master Tse recently taugth the entire Chen Xinjia Yilu on an exciting residential course in the UK.
I arrived a little later than usual at Harper Adams for the Xinjia & Tui Shou Residential. I’d just had a root canal and the dentist had filled me with confidence by telling me to stock up on painkillers because that’s going to hurt when the numbing wears off, as well as giving me a slip of paper advising I not do any exercise for the next three to four days. Fat chance! I’d been looking forward to this residential ever since starting the Xinjia form at the previous Chen residential in 2013, and I was determined no pesky tooth was going to get in the way. In the end, as it turned out, Chen Taiji must not be exercise in the way dentists understand it, because I had no pain or trouble at all throughout the whole course. It just goes to show, you can’t undervalue good health!
By the time I arrived people were already upstairs drinking tea and practising Tui Shou, and I felt at home straight away. The Chen residentials are perhaps the cosiest ones, with a loyal core Chen following but also some eager new faces, and it felt natural and easy to slip straight into pushing hands before settling in for a night’s rest to be fresh for the teaching.
Xinjia is a really long form, and I felt like the previous residential and weekend seminar had only just got us going. Of course, we always need to revisit and polish what we have done before, and I picked up on several movements which had rusted over in my own practice, or maybe I had just seen them with less experienced eyes the first time around. It was reassuring when Tse Sigong pointed out that we should learn the way he learned, get the shape first, and then when you can remember the shape and the sequence you can start to fill in the details. For a long form like this, even remembering the shape is a huge undertaking. Sigong prepared a sheet with the names of the movements for us, and there are 83 movements in total! I think the previous seminars had taken us up to movement 45, which was more than enough to spend the whole first day polishing, whilst the new students worked on picking up the form for the first time.
When not demonstrating, Sigong watched us all at practice and moves around the groups, giving valuable personal feedback and clearing up any questions that come up. So many questions! I am always interested to notice that the questions we have when we are just watching can be quite different to the questions we have when we are given the chance to try and remember the movements and do them for ourselves, and then different again to the questions we have the next day after we have had chance to sleep on things! Not to worry, Sigong always has the answers, and then back to your group to see whether you can incorporate what you have learned into the way you perform your movement.
Regular attendees of residentials at Harper Adams will be dismayed to learn that Tin Tin Chinese restaurant in Telford has closed down! I was shocked too, we have been there so many times for the big course dinners, but we had a very nice course dinner at the Lamb pub instead. After the evening meals, we met again for Tui Shou practice, on the first evening, we tried stationary techniques, and on the second evening, we played with stepping. I managed to touch a lot of the same hands on both nights, which really brought up how different the skill can be once you are able to move around. Bigger and more unmovable opponents become less imposing, and at the same time moving smaller opponents reveal to you just how much you were perhaps relying on your own strength to push them around in stationary practice. One thing I am trying to be more aware of is how to follow the flow and energy in the movement between my partner and myself, so that I step in the correct way at the correct time. Otherwise, shifting your weight and picking up your foot at an inappropriate moment is a great ‘freebie’ for your opponent, or a particularly neat route to your own speedy defeat. On the flip side, I also come to see how situations which would be checkmate for you in stationary practice can be rescued by moving out of them with correct footwork.
As always, Tse Sigong showed us the proof in the pudding for the skill by pushing hands with each of us in turn. Recently I have been talking to my fellow students in Manchester about how much it unveils the potential of all the training when you can touch hands with someone at a much higher level than you and just simply feel the skill which is there. Few of us can last very long against Sigong when pushing hands, regardless of whether we are bigger, faster, stronger, or even just meaner looking. As Sigong said in his story about Chen Fa Ke’s childhood on the third day of the course, though, there are no secret techniques” just more practice. He even pointed out to us a problem that most of us have with Tui Shou by demonstrating to the group how different the result is when the upper body is truly relaxed, vs. when we stiffen up and resist our partner. I got the opportunity to come to the front and try to pull his arm, and I could really feel the difference” when he resisted me, I was able to pull him off balance, but when he relaxed, my pull went nowhere. I was still pulling on his arm, but because of the relaxation, it wasn’t his arm I was pulling” it went down through to the strength of his stance. Sigong even invited me to pull in changing directions continually, to no effect. The main thing I noticed was that he let his waist move in response to each of my changes of direction, and how that combination of his waist and my force traced out the spirals we see so often in the form. In other words, when he says that the first principle of Chen taiji is to relax, he really means it, it’s just that most people really don’t follow how deep relaxation can go!
I had a conversation with Patrick towards the end of day three where I commented that I couldn’t help but feel it was unfortunate that more Chen practitioners hadn’t taken advantage of the course. Between us we reckoned that to try and learn the Xinjia form in class once a week would take well over a year, and that’s not including the opportunities the course offered to practise Tui Shou and general exposure to the wide spectrum of hands across the centre. That’s a serious leap to anyone’s skill level, delivered in just one weekend. The teaching is top quality, and you get the chance to ask Tse Sigong anything that’s on your mind” whether it is a question about the history and theory of the skill in the daily lectures, or about the movements in the form during the teaching, or applications and techniques during the Tui Shou practice, or even what his favourite TV show is when we’re all out for dinner. If you’re nervous or shy, you can make use of the access to the seniors on the course instead” everybody is friendly and helpful in the centre, and often I found the answer to something I was stuck with by working it through with one of my fellow coursemates and taking the time to figure it out together. In other words, let me close by saying if you’re ever in two minds about whether or not to attend a seminar, you shouldn’t be” just come along and discover the benefit for yourself!
by Lee Baylis
Slowly understanding more, there are many applications for each movements and it will be fascinating to learn more of these in the future. Very good course, with plenty of laughter and Good Food. Enjoyed being in the Tse Qigong Centre bubble for a few days , forgetting about everything else. Christine
I am so happy I could come to the seminar! I have enjoyed it so much. It is a luxury to be able to immerse yourself completely and only thinking of practicing Chen style Taijiquan. It has also been a fantastic opportunity to spend more time doing pushing hands. I am always amazed when I see people using real skill instead of force against Force. When you look at the forms they are very powerful but when you see high level pushing hands it is so subtle. This is been a very inspiring course and I’ve learnt a lot. Now it’s just more practice! Tor
Wow! A really good course. So much to fit in and learn. Again it is really good to have the opportunity to learn such a profound skill in a genuine fashion. Very enjoyable, thank you. Martin M
I have enjoyed this time to polish what I’ve done previously and I’m looking forward to trying to remember the new parts. Everybody has been so helpful. Thank you for keeping this form for us. Sue
Dear Sifu, thank you for letting me call you by this title. It means a lot to me. This course has been like a university introduction to a subject one knows little about and will be with him for the rest of his life. I look forward to years of practice and for you helping polishing in the time to come. John
Once again more insight into the world of Chen Taiji. The layers keep on coming. A challenge which is so enjoyable and fascinating. This form has many spirals which gets the energy reaching all through the body. All 3 days concentrating on Chen style Taiji it’s worth many lessons in class. Thank you. Ann
I am overjoyed to have been able to attend this residential course. Having only done 3 classes a few years ago , I have wanted to train and study with Sifu ever since. I have felt humbled excited to train with Sifu this weekend. Everybody on the course has been very friendly and I feel I have found a new family which I hope I am able to continue to learn with. Thank you for making my first residential course so special. I look forward to continuing this journey with the Tse Qigong Centre. Kelly
This course has had something to challenge the mind, body and soul. I came to this course as I have been before so it was about making my mind and body closer to the ideal form. To get more detail and be more correct. There was also Tui Shou, which is my favourite part and this helps to make my understanding more complete.
As for the soul, – I just love doing Chen Taijiquan! Now it is time to polish and improve the 5 Essentials of Chen Taijiquan. Where this will lead to… See you in 10 years!
Thank you Tai Sigong for cleverness and clarity, and for helping me to understand and improve. Earl
Forms are stories, and this one is an epic tale. Such a pleasure to be able to come and finish off the form. Lots of details which are different from the Laojia, but at the same time I think my Laojia has been improved my studying here as well! Pushing hands is also starting to come together and I really think I’m able to understand how important the footwork is in order to avoid a stronger opponent. Thank you Sigong for having me and the opportunity to learn. Lee
After 3 days of Chen Taiji – my legs and whole body feel much stronger. The course has been testing on the brain, in order to remember everything, but Sigong taught in such a way that it wasn’t too difficult. Great to push hands with Sigong and the other students I don’t usually get to train with. A fantastic course and lots to take away and work on. Many thanks! Kate