From its origination around the sixties of the seventeenth
century up to now, the Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan has gone through
a history of more than 300 years. As the oldest one among Wjiquan
schools, it was created by the famous martial arts master Chen Wangting,
a native of Chenjiagou, Wen County, Henan Province, China. Although
some other popular Tai Chi Chuan schools such as Yang, Wu and Sun
styles have been developed on the base of Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan,
it has always preserved its original features through the ages. The
differences between Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan and the other schools
include the following; prompt and explosive actions embodied in the
slow and gentle movements of Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan. Chen Style
Tai Chi Chuan places emphasis on the twining, twisting and spiraling
motion which can lead to a strong, changeable and unpredictable offensive
or defensive. There are relative difficult movements such as soft
neutralization, explosive strike
and various jumps in routines of Chen Style. Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan
can be divided into
several kinds such as Old Form, New Form, Big Frame and Small Frame,
and they have their own distinguishing features and multitudinous
barehanded or armed routines.
Characteristics of Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan
Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan shares the common features that the other
schools of Tai Chi Chuan have. Its outstanding features are usually
described as "having both form and spirit", "combining
inside and outside into one". The movements should not only have
the form of attack and defense, but also be performed in the spirit
of attack and defense. Moreover, all the movements should be in harmony
with one's breathing and consciousness, so that the unity of internal
spirit and external appearance can be achieved. Like the other schools
of martial arts do, movements of Tai Chi Chuan also consists of
skills of kicking, striking, throwing and joint-locking, yet the routine
of Yang, Wu and Sun Styles should performed slowly and gently. However,
the unique style of Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan should not be ignored.
Abdominal Paradoxical Respiration
Abdominal paradoxical respiration is contrary to normal method but
is specially required in practicing Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan. The
way to carry out this unique breathing is to: Inhale with the lower
part of the abdomen gradually pulled in and the chest expanded, and
exhale with the lower part of the abdomen slowly bulged out and the
chest contracted. In this way, you can strengthen your diaphragm and
abdominal muscles, and improve the blood circulation with a broader
range of fluctuation of abdominal pressure. Often, the movements of
distinct collection or explosive discharge of strength emerge in routines
of Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan, and the rhythm of motion changes frequently.
Thereby, the way of breathing is not immutable and the abdominal paradoxical
respiration is not always required. While conducting ordinary movements,
you might breathe deeply and naturally, coordinating respiration with
actions of the limbs and trunk. However, the moment you are accumulating
or exerting strength, speeding up or slowing down the pace to a great
extent, the abdominal paradoxical respiration would make its appearance
Spiral Thread-twining Strength
The thread-twining strength is one of the important features of T'ai
Chi Ch'uan, and it is particularly noticeable with Chen Style. In
practicing Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan, you are required to move your
limbs always along circular paths, to apply strength as if twining
silk thread or reeling it off a cocoon. The mind is dominant, guiding
all actions and directing strength through the joints in proper order.
Every section of the body is linked up, so nothing would remain still
if any part of the body is in motion. In a sense, Tai Chi Chuan
actually takes the shapes of a ball, with the ankles and the legs
, the wrists and the arms, the waist and the spine constantly twisting,
therefore manifesting a unique style of uninterrupted spiral motion.
Only in this way can you smoothly neutralize the oncoming force from
your opponent while doing push-hand exercises. It can also help you
to increase the initial length of the muscles so as accumulate inner
power, therefore in discharge, the limbs can be extended explosively
like a spring.
Strength from Waist and Crotch
Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan distinguishes itself from others by its
obvious and speedy discharge of strength, one method of which is usually
called "strength from waist and crotch". It is actually
a combined energy, with the waist as the dominant factor, accompanied
by the twist at the hips and the opening-closing motion of the crotch.
As the proverb runs, "Waist is the dominator." The center
of the waist is the spine which should remain straight and erect,
and it plays an important role in controlling the tension and the
relaxation of the lumbar and abdominal muscles and the rotation of
the torso. Almost any strength whether it is the internal implicit
force or the external exerted power, comes out from the waist and
crotch, passes through the limbs and reaches the special part of the
body, thus accomplishing a complete discharge of strength.
The shaking power is a combination of the thread-twining strength
and the strength from waist and crotch. When the thread-twining strength
and the strength from waist and crotch reach the special part of the
body that is going to put forth force, they combine into explosive
power, causing the part of the body to shake all of a sudden. For
instance, while punching, the strength comes out from the waist and
crotch, flows through the arm by means of twisting and twining, and
reaches the fist as it promptly and spirally strikes at the destination.
Just at the moment, with the torso twisting swiftly and the wrist
shaking vigorously, the fist springs, exerting a kind of short, strong
bouncy power. It is all the same with other parts of the body.
One of the differences between Chen Style and the other schools is
that there are a lot of stamps in routines of Chen Style T'ai Chi
Ch'uan. Stand on one leg with the other foot raised. As you bend the
leg at the knee to squat down, the other foot falls and then forcibly
stamps on the floor with a smack. 'This is called "single stamp".
On landing after a jump, both feet stamp on the floor in quick succession.
And this is called "double stamps". A stamp should be short
and firm, and usually be accompanied by abdominal paradoxical respiration.
Inhale with the abdomen pulled in when the front rises; direct the
energy stream down while the foot falls; and exhale when the whole
sole of the foot strongly and promptly stamps on the floor. A sound
can also be given with the expiration and notice must be taken to
lower the hips and release force when the foot touches the ground.
The "Boxing Manual" handed down by predecessors makes it
a rule that "There must be a fold between traveling
to and fro,
and a transition between advance and retreat." Here, "folding
does not refer to a bend at some joint, but a turn in the path of
a special part of the body. If a movement has a path first in one
direction and then in the opposite direction, you should conduct a
"folding" for the turn in the path, so as to change the
direction flowingly, as if inserting a curve to connect to connect
two line segments smoothly. A Wushu saying goes: "Intend to rise,
descend first; Wish to move left, go right before." The way of
"folding" is that" When the previous movement reaches
its end and the next is in another direction, you should conduct a
small circular turn, moving first in the previous direction and then
transforming smoothly to the next. The "folding" actions
of arms, especially the wrist are quite clear. However, only with
the aid of twisting at the waist, can "folding" be consummately
Spiral twining or reeling in short, is a kind of unique motion with
power passing through spirally from its root to the special part of
the body in power order.
Spiral twining is the result of coordination of all parts of the body.
It takes shape with the continuous rotations of the legs, torso and
arms, and the twists at ankles, waist and wrists. Explained in detail,
a spiral twining is such an action that the arm rotates round its
own axis while it is traveling in an arc through space, just as the
earth revolves both round the sun and on its own access. The earth
moves in a certain path and at a certain speed, yet the movements
of the arms in doing Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan are changeable both
in path and at speed. In other words, to fulfill the requirement of
"Once any part in motion, nothing would remain still", the
hand should cooperate harmoniously with the legs and the torso, should
move and turn uninterruptedly, thereby displaying various twining
throughout the whole process.
Hardness and Softness Supplementing Each Other, Quickness
Alternating with Slowness
During the process of doing Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan, the changes
from hardness to softness, from quickness to slowness are particularly
noticeable. 'Me moving or transitive phase of an action stresses softness,
while the phase when a special part of the body reaches a final position
places emphasis on hardness. Generally speaking, softness means a
slow pace of movement and continuous twining. However, hardness can
be divided into three circumstances. First, you can only slightly
speed up the motion, applying inner power; second, you should accelerate
the action to exert strength; and third, you should quicken the movement
sharply, utilizing explosively power. No matter what it is, the transition
from one state to another should be smooth and natural. When it stresses
softness, be sure not to be feeble, you ought to guide your energy
stream to retain certain force. On the other hand, when it stresses
hardness, keep your movements from being stiff and clumsy. You might
direct your energy stream to promote your power and apply the strength
from the waist and crotch to manifest sturdiness and vigor.
Basic Rules of Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan
Basic Body Positions
While practicing Tai Chi Chuan, you should be calm, getting rid
of any distracting thought and concentrating your attention on the
exercise. body should be erect, and the muscles and joints should
be naturally relaxed, so that the viscera can be in a comfortable
state. The requirements for the body are as follows.
In practicing Tai Chi Chuan, the position of the head must be strictly
maintained. You should hold the head upright with the neck naturally
relaxed and the chin slightly tucked in, as if you were carrying a
pitcher of water on the head. The movement of the neck must coordinate
with the change in position of the body and the turning of the torso.
Be sure not to allow the head to sway. There is a saying relating
to this respect: "Leading propping force up imaginarily".
This indicates that you must get a sense of imaginarily pushing the
acupuncture point "Baihui" on the top of your head upward,
as if your head were hoisted up with a rope. An upright head makes
it possible to assume an erect body posture, to preserve a tranquil
mind and to keep a vigorous spirit.
The facial expression should be earnest, relaxed and natural. Close
the mouth gently with the tongue flat and its tip softly touching
the palate. Breathe naturally through the nose. But while you are
exerting strength, you can slightly open the mouth so as to promote
your power with the expiration through both the nose and the mouth.
The Shoulders and the Arms
While in practice, you must see that your shoulders are even, relaxed
and lowered. Do not shrug them at any time. Keep the elbows slightly
bent and dropped. As a jargon says: "Elbow never clings to ribs,
nor does it go far away from ribs." This description means that
when you withdraw the arm, you must not bend the elbow excessively
and draw it so close as to nestle against the torso, and a space of
a standing fist should be left under the armpit so that the arm can
move round freely; and while you extend the arm, you must not straighten
the elbow completely so that the elbow never goes too far away thereby
losing its function to protect the ribs. In fact, the arms should
be well rounded throughout the whole process. Be sure to avoid any
straight or angled movement.
The wrists should be flexible, moving nimbly and tenaciously in line
with the torso and the arms. Much attention should be paid to the
subtle changes of the hands which are brought along by the rotation
of the arms. 'Me wrist should be sunk in some fixed position such
as pushing hand.
The Chest and the Back
One of the basic rules is "keeping chest in and back extended".
It reminds us that while doing Tai Chi Chuan, do not throw the chest
out, nor draw it too far in, but just keep it slightly restrained.
Ibis description also means that the back should be straight so that
you can get a sense of "back up". In fact, the muscles on
both the chest and the back should be relaxed so as to eliminate tension
on the ribs, to guarantee smooth and natural breathing, and to allow
the arms to move freely. Be sure not to hump the back.
The Spine and the Waist
The spine is the mainstay of human body, playing a most important
role in practicing Tai Chi Chuan. It must be held normally erect.
You must not arch or jut out any section of it, nor incline it to
either side so as to avoid unnecessary muscular tension on the torso.
Likewise, the waist, namely the lumbar section of the body, is the
central link, harmonizing actions, regulating postures, keeping balance,
ensuring freedom of the torso in turning, smoothing the transition
of movements from one to another and propelling strength to special
part of the body. This is exactly what the saying "waist is the
dominator" implies. While in practice, the waist should be naturally
relaxed. Do not thrust the belly out, nor draw it too far in. Pull
the abdomen slightly in while inhaling, and bulge it slightly out
by guiding the energy stream down to the acupuncture point "Dantian"
while exhaling. 'Me role of waist is particularly conspicuous in Chen
Style Tai Chi Chuan. The strength accumulation is fulfilled through
obvious twisting at the waist which brings the arm to move. On the
other hand, only with swift twisting at the waist can the powerful
exertion of strength be accomplished.
Hold the buttocks slightly in and avoid specially protruding them
out or tucking them too far in, so as not to spoil the normal position
of the body and hinder the legs from moving nimbly.
In practicing Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan, special care must be given
to the position and motion of the legs which are of great importance
the stability and balance of the body, as well as the flexibility
and deftness of the upper limbs. You should bend or extend the knee
naturally and smoothly according to the special requirement of the
action. 'Me hips should be lowered and relaxed, and the crotch should
be held open and rounded, therefore ensuring agile footwork, big strides,
smooth shifting of the weight and high kicks of the feet. You might
keep the hips at knee level as far as possible while forming a bow
stance or a horse riding stance. However, you can appropriately adjust
the height of the stance in accordance with your age and physical
All the movements of Tai Chi Chuan conform to the normal physiological
states of muscles and joints. therefore, you should try to obtain
a sense of natural yielding, not that of awkwardness, throughout the
whole process of practice. Regardless of the pace of a movement, the
height of a stance and the direction in which the torso turns, the
body should remain upright, natural, poised, relaxed and dexterous,
but not stiff, full, feeble and buoyant. In detail, the body technique
of Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan in common use includes the following.
Lifting of the Flank
This relates to the slight up-and-down relative motion of the flanks,
and it actually refers to the shifting of the torso weight between
the left and the right parts of the
waist, which results in the transformation of emptiness and solidness
of the flanks, hips and legs. When you place your torso weight on
the left part of the lumbar section with the left flank set firm on
the left hip, and thereby on the left leg, the right flank is slightly
lifted, as if the right part of the waist were propped up by the left
part. In this condition, the left part of the waist is solid, the
left hip and the left leg are solid too; yet the right part of the
waist, together with the right hip and leg, is empty and vice versa.
Turnings of the Torso
Turn your torso to the left or to the right with the hips almost stationary.
Keep the head erect and confirm its motion to the turn of the torso
which is carried out with the lumbar and abdominal muscles as the
active contractors. For instance, if you turn your torso to the left,
you should face the left side; and if you turn your torso to the right,
you should correspondingly face the right side.
Rolling of the Waist (circling of the torso)
Initiated by the lumbar and abdominal muscles, the upper body rolls
round the lumbar spine with the torso straight and the hips almost
stationary, moving in a tiny horizontal clockwise or counterclockwise
until it resumes the previous position. Although it is actually an
action of the torso, it is called "rolling the waist" because
of the important role which the waist plays in the movement.
It is often difficult for beginners to distinguish between the application
of lumbar and abdominal muscles and the motion of the hips while doing
Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan, therefore beginners are subject to such
a mistake as only turning hips with the waist still.
Eyes are the windows of the soul, expressing the internal consciousness
and incarnating the ingeniousness of the movements. Ancient martial
arts regarded the expression in one's eyes as a means of first deterrent
in actual combat. The importance of the eye technique is rightly delineated
by a Wushu saying, "Of a hundred boxing skills, the eye is the
vanguard." If one is unable to apply eye technique correctly
in practice, it is difficult for him to display his prowess and smartness,
and he wants some exercise to improve his skill. You should open your
eyes naturally to look horizontally at the attacking hand or in the
main direction of attack, with side sight showing consideration for
surroundings. 'Me eyes should be well coordinated with the movements
of the hands, legs and the torso. Keep your facial expression natural,
earnest, calm and resourceful. Do not slant the head, nor cast a sidelong
glance or stare angrily with the eyes wide opened. The methods in
detail are as follows.
During the transitional process between forms or in the phase the
arms are in motion, eyes should follow the main attacking hand (usually
the hand in front).
In a fixed posture with a hand in front of the face, you should look
through the tip of the middle finger forward. If one hand goes to
the left and the other to the right, or one up and the other down,
you should look horizontally to the front.
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