Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Thursday, August 31, 2023

The Varieties of Chen Style Taijiquan Practice

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at Thoughts on Tai Chi, regarding the differences in the practice of the different major substyles of the Chen style of Taijiquan. The full post may be read here.

(Today we have a guest article from Charles Tauber. I asked Charles to develop something he had written in the internal arts discussion board Rum Soaked Fist, as this is a topic not very much written about and should be interesting for Tai Chi enthusiasts. Please visit Charles Webpage where you can find his carpentry as Tai Chi rulers, guitars and more. // Thanks! – David )

By Charles Tauber / May, 2023 

A basic guiding principle of the practice of Taijiquan is that the whole body is mobilized in movement, rather than isolated motion of the limbs. In Chen style Taijiquan, specifically, the method for uniting the body in motion is called “silk reeling” (chan si). As with most styles of Taijiquan, the specifics of practice vary between styles, within sub-styles and between teachers of the same style. 

Early in their studies, most students of Chen Taijiquan are taught basic foundational exercises – called jibengong by some and silk reeling exercises by others – to assist with their understanding and development of the body method used in Chen Taijiquan. Much of the Chen style Taijiquan currently taught, directly, or indirectly, comes from Chen Fake (CFK), who is widely recognized as the most skilled Chen Taijiquan practitioner of the 1900’s. He left behind three best-known lineages of practitioners; family members in Chen Village, Feng Zhiqiang in Bejing and Hong Junsheng in Jinan. 

Despite having a common source, there is considerable variation in how each of these lineages conceptualizes, teaches, and practices the art and its foundational exercises – jibengong/silk reeling exercises. One of the sources of variation is the result of Hong Junsheng, Chen Fake’s (CFK) longest-standing disciple, observing that CFK performed his movements one way in solo practice and another during application. With CFK’s approval, Hong altered how movements were performed in solo practice to be the same as how they were performed in application. Hong observed that to be martially effective, the movements needed to be performed in a specific way that is more strict than is generally required for solo practice.  Hong called his resulting approach “Practical Method”.

In Chen Village solo practice, the elbows are often raised, and is a basic element of most solo practice, including foundational silk reeling exercises (chan si gong). Chen Xiaowang (CXW), for example, explicitly teaches that during an “outgoing” portion of a silk reeling circle “qi” travels from the abdomen (dantian) to the lower back (mingmen), up the back to the shoulder, to the elbow and then to the hand.  Feng Zhiqiang’s training doesn’t explicitly teach this pathway but performs the circle similarly. By contrast, in Hong’s Practical Method, it is taught from the onset that raising the elbows is an error in any part of practice and is to be avoided from day one. In application, regardless of sub-style, the elbows are rarely raised since a raised elbow is a liability easily taken advantage of by an opponent or partner. One of the distinguishing characteristics between Hong’s method and that of Village/Feng is the use/non-use of the elbow in the pathway. 

This leads to a second distinguishing characteristic. With Village/Feng solo silk reeling circles, and the dantian/mingmen/shoulder/elbow/hand sequence, the movement of the elbow precedes the movement of the hand. In Hong’s style, the hand precedes the elbow: the mantra is, “Out with the hand, in with the elbow”. In long weapons training – and some shorter weapons training, such as saber – the hand must precede the elbow: the weapon won’t work if the elbow leads. For example, if thrusting a spear outward, the forward hand leads the action, not the elbow. Similarly, when withdrawing the spear, the opposite occurs: the elbow leads the hand, pulling back with the elbow as the hand follows. In Village/Feng solo (empty hand) work, the elbow leads in outward-going movements while the hand leads on inward-going movements, the exact opposite of Practical Method. This has huge implications in how the solo movements – including the basic “silk reeling” circles – are performed and trained.


Friday, August 25, 2023

Cheng Man Ching Taijiquan Video Jackpot

Cheng Man Ching was one of the first highly skilled Taijiquan masters to come to the United States and teach widely. Below are four videos I've found that are particularly interesting.

This first one is believe to be the last video taken of him in 1975




Here is another of him performing the whole form from the 1950's.

This next one shows his student, Master Huang Sheng Shyan, who had thousands of students himself, doing the form side by side.

Finally, Three generations of Taijiquan. Cheng Man Ching, Huang Sheng Shyan and Huang's student, Wee Kee Jin

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Taijiquan Makes You Smarter

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at Thoughts on Tai Chi on how the practice of

Taijiquan makes you smarter.The full post may be read here. Enjoy.


Anyway, here are three great ways Tai Chi will make you smarter (as long as you don’t quit of course.):

  • Tai Chi teaches you to challenge yourself
  • Tai Chi philosophy teaches you to question reality
  • Tai Chi is the right way to train your brain and nervous system

– What? How could that make me smarter?
– Duh! You haven’t even let me explain yet. Don’t be so impatient. Being impatient is not smart. So let me dig into it:

1. Tai Chi teaches you to challenge yourself

Tai Chi will challenge you and continue to challenge you in many different ways. When you start practicing Tai Chi, the exercises might seem so simple. But you’ll find out how hard it is, and while trying to coordinate your body, you will realize how clumsy you are. (I will let you know a secret: Sometimes I have a very hard time holding myself from not bursting into a big laughter when I teach a Tai Chi form to a beginner.)

Yes, Tai Chi will challenge you and your own self-image in many different ways. And it will continue to do so as long as you continue to practice. You will always find more mistakes, more deep-rooted problems (like what you can read about in this article). But challenging yourself will also make you humble, less arrogant and more open for other people’s views and different ways of looking at the World.

This means that you will become more open to other people’s views, and probably also more interested in what other people think. If you don’t understand that this is a kind of intelligence, I am sorry, but then I have not much hope for you. This is a kind of intelligence, an emotional type of intelligence you will gain, an intelligence and the ability to more clearly reflect yourself in others, and to better understand others by reflecting them through yourself.

Oh, and by the way, one of my teachers, a doctor in psychology said that he believed that if you understand Tai Chi you cannot be arrogant. If a “Tai Chi Master” is arrogant, he does not understand Tai Chi. Well, I agree. So you should run away from any Tai Chi teacher you find arrogant. You will thank me later if you follow my advice.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

The Motivation of Classical Japanese Martial Arts

At Ellis Amdur's excellent Kogen Budo blog, there was a guest host by Dave Lowry, who has written many books on classical Japanese martial arts, including one of my favorites, Autumn Lightning.

The topic of the guest article was the samurai practice of taking heads in battle. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.


Japan’s classical martial arts are exercises in volition. The exponent is exerting his will on another. Indeed, those methods are a fundamental element of classical martial traditions.Those who are sincerely interested in the koryū would do well to give this point some very serious thought. The bujutsu have resonances upon one’s character. They are specifically aimed at organizing perceptions and neural conditioning. That’s why, to be frank, you’d better be damned sure of the character of a potential teacher, the other members of the ryū, and the nature of the ryū itself. Because absorbing that character and nature are not accidental byproducts of study—they are the raison d’etre.

With the exceptions of the Mongol Invasions in the 13th century, and the Shimabara Rebellion in 1638 (an aberrant local conflict involving a religious cult), the history of warfare in Japan is unique in that campaigns and battles were waged by parties that shared the same race, language, religion, ethos, and civilization. No one thought or behaved in dialectic mentioned above, that of Oppressor and Oppressed, Victim and Victimizer, when facing an enemy. The warrior in classical Japan did not wage war because of a belief in his supposed superiority in faith or righteousness or correcting a wrong based on ideology. In contrast, nearly every war in the West has been fought under exactly those circumstances. Really, the only impulse our wars shared with those in Japan was a quest for economic advantage, a commonality between the two civilizations that not incidentally would eventually bring on a worldwide mother of all wars.

The serious koryū  adept must give this distinction much consideration if he wishes grasp the nature of his art. He must understand that the martial ryū did not seek to address class struggle or “social justice.” He must contend with the reality that the ryū approaches conflict in an entirely different context from that to which he is “civilizationally” accustomed. This can be a truly challenging task for even those who are not marinated in ideology. This reality is not merely academic. Self-identification as a victim has deep consequences in absorbing the true nature of a classical ryū. As I noted early, the mindset of the martial ryū member is predatory. It implies a certain cold-bloodedness. We can see this in the various kamae used in many ryū. Frequently a posture will mimic some sort of gap or weakness, an invitation to generate an attack. Even here, though, the intent is clearly one of “Come on, go for it and see what happens.” One may superficially appear helpless. The canny professional, though, would see through the veneer.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Vintage BaGuaZhang Video: Two Man Form

Below is a vintage video of two BaGuaZhang masters performing a paired form. It was interesting for me to watch the continuous changes. Enjoy.


Sunday, August 13, 2023

The Long Fist of Adam Hsu

Adam Shu is a master of several Chinese martial arts. In the video below, he is demonstrating Long Fist. 

He is the author of The Sword Polisher's Record, an anthology of his many columns and essays that he's written over the years. 


Thursday, August 10, 2023

The Brutal World of Bonsai

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the New Yorker, about an American who apprenticed himself to a Bonsai master in Japan for 6 years. 

How hard could such an apprenticeship be? Well, brutal might be the way to describe it. 

The full article may be read here.

In the winter of 2002, a young American named Ryan Neil joined an unusual pilgrimage: he and several others flew to Tokyo, to begin a tour of Japan’s finest collections of bonsai trees. He was nineteen, with an athlete’s body and a sunny, symmetrical face. The next-youngest adult in the group was fifty-seven. Then, as now, rearing tiny trees in ornamental pots was not commonly considered a young man’s hobby.

Neil had grown up in a small Colorado mountain town. For much of his youth, he was focussed on playing sports, especially basketball, which he approached with an almost clinical rigor: during high-school summer breaks, he’d wake up every day at five-thirty and attempt twelve hundred jump shots before going to the gym to lift weights. By his junior year, he was the best player on the team. By his senior year, he had torn one of his quadriceps—“It was hanging on by just a thread,” he recalls—and was looking for a new obsession.

Like many Americans of his generation, Neil had discovered bonsai through the “Karate Kid” films. He was especially fond of the third movie in the series, which features dreamy shots of characters rappelling down a cliff face to collect a miniature juniper. In the films, the wise karate instructor, Mr. Miyagi, practices the art of bonsai, and in Neil’s young mind it came to represent a romantic ideal: the pursuit of perfection through calm discipline. One day, after seeing bonsai for sale at a local fair, he rode his bike to the library, checked out every book on bonsai, and lugged them all home.

About a month later, he got his hands on a trade magazine, Bonsai Today, which featured an article about Masahiko Kimura, the so-called magician of bonsai, who is regarded by many enthusiasts as the field’s most innovative living figure. (Kunio Kobayashi, one of Kimura’s chief rivals at the time, called him “the kind of genius who comes along once every hundred years, or maybe more.”) The article described how Kimura had transformed and refined a small juniper tree that had been collected in the wild. A scruffy, shapeless plant had become a cantilevered sculpture. As Neil saw it, Kimura had given the tree not just a new shape but a soul.

Near the end of high school, Neil laid out a meticulous long-term plan that would culminate in his travelling across the Pacific to apprentice under Kimura, who was considered the toughest bonsai master in Japan. Neil knew that the work would not be easy. Bonsai apprenticeships could last anywhere between five and ten years. At the time, some fifty people had begun working under Kimura, but only five had completed the apprenticeship, all of them Japanese.

Neil went to college at California Polytechnic State University, in San Luis Obispo, where he majored in horticulture and studied Japanese. He helped take care of the university’s bonsai collection and travelled around the West Coast to attend master classes with renowned practitioners. While other students were partying, he stayed home looking at bonsai blogs, or drove his pickup truck to remote mountain locations in search of wild miniature trees. “He was possessed,” his father recalls.

Neil signed up for the tour of Japan during his sophomore year, and took a short leave from school. On the second day of the trip, the group visited Kimura’s garden, in a rural area some thirty miles northwest of Tokyo. It was a cool, gray morning; Neil wore a hoodie. The group was met by one of Kimura’s apprentices and ushered past rows of ancient and pristinely shaped bonsai into the back garden—the workshop—where few visitors were allowed.

Neil later likened the moment to peering into the mind of a mad genius. Hundreds of knee-high trees, in various states of arboreal surgery, were lined up on benches and beer crates. Custom-made power tools were scattered around the workshop, including a machine, used to sculpt trunks, that shot out tiny glass beads. Kimura was famed for his deft use of these devices to carve rippling torrents of shari—bone-white deadwood that is laced with thin veins of living wood.

That day, Kimura, who was then in his sixties, was working on an Ezo spruce with a spiky, half-dead trunk which was estimated to be a thousand years old. A photographer from the Japanese magazine Kindai Bonsai was present to document the process. Neil and the other visitors observed as Kimura, with the help of his lead apprentice, Taiga Urushibata, used guy wires and a piece of rebar to bend the trunk downward, compressing the tree—an act requiring a phenomenal balance of strength and finesse. Kimura misted the branches with water and wrapped them with thick copper wire. He then bent the branches—some slightly upward, some downward—arranging the foliage into an imperfect dome, with small windows of light spaced throughout the greenery. He worked with relentless focus, but what amazed Neil most was the synchronicity of Kimura and Urushibata: whenever Kimura needed a tool, he would wordlessly extend his hand, and Urushibata would have the implement waiting for him.

After Kimura had made his design decisions, he left Urushibata to finish wiring the branches. The tour group moved to the front garden, but Neil lingered, watching the apprentice work. Urushibata, a stern young man with the pretty face and floppy hair of a J-pop idol, turned to Neil and spoke to him, in English.

“So you want to apprentice here?” Urushibata said.

“I do,” Neil said.

“You should reconsider,” Urushibata said, then turned his attention back to the spruce.



Monday, August 07, 2023

Taijiquan Master William CC Chen Interview

While Ben Lo was Cheng Man Ching's first student on Taiwan, William CC Chen was his youngest student and he is still alive.

To celebrate Master William CC Chen's 90th birthday this year, Taiji Forum published a four part interview that took place back in the 90's. Below is an excerpt. The four parts of the interview, which includes videos may be found here:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

At the beginning of the video, you will see Master Chen’s characteristic collection of visual teaching aids, which nowadays have been complemented with an electronic teaching aid (yes, the one with the incomplete fruit on it).

Tai Chi for Health – Advantages and mechanisms

The first question touches the topic of Tai Chi practice for health.

The following advantages of Tai Chi as a practical system are touched upon:

  • Relaxing the mind
  • Slow motion in continuation: According to Master Chen at least 10 minutes of slow and continuous movement help us to unwind and relax. The slow motion’s effects on the brain/nervous system lead to a mind and body harmonization. It is the physical slow action itself that leads the mind to being relaxed.
  • Reducing stress
  • Furthering circulation by loosening up: Tai Chi improves the (blood) circulation without added heating up of the body as in intensive exercise.
  • Rehabilitation after/ during infections: e.g. having a cold leads to a tensing up of the muscles under the lower ribs. Practicing Tai Chi allows us to relax those muscles and helps us to release excessive tension induced by the infection.

Tai Chi’s general effect of wellbeing

Tai Chi Chuan therefore has a general effect on wellbeing. Master Chen clearly states that doing certain exercises for certain specific organs do not match any knowledge from his experience. Tai Chi Chan is thus solely but decisively a wholistic systemic approach – „as far as I know“.

How long should I practice when I have got a cold?
If you have got a cold, but are fit enough to exercise, the recommended time is 35-40 minutes. Short single exercises and 5-minute-programs of any kind (today one would probably say „quick 5-minute body hacks“) are not sufficient (see above).

How should I teach students with anxiety?

The question was how the teacher could react if learning / practicing Tai Chi adds to the anxiety of a student (heart rate goes further up etc.) According to Master Chen this could be a case of too much anxiety in the process itself. – He points out that this might be concerning both sides: While the student might be too anxious to get it right, the teacher might also be too anxious to teach right and to provide instant relieve for the student. Master Chen’s tip: bear in mind that relaxation requires experience – even more so for anxious people. Instead of correcting and adding more and more information, a suggestion would be to walk away and let them try on their own for a change.

Another suggestion for anxious students whose anxiety circles around not being able to memorize the Tai Chi choreography would be to devise exercises that are easier to reproduce.