Below is a summary of the topics Master Jack Yan taught on the internal aspects of Chen Style Tai Chi. Jack (Zhigang) Yan has more than 20 years experience teaching in North America. He holds a Ph.D. in Chinese Martial arts and is a 12th generation inheritor of Chen Style Tai Chi. Please note, this summary is meant as a reference for students who attended the workshop and as a general overview for other readers.
Master Yan began by contrasting external and internal styles. An external style can be considered like a building, with it’s walls, beams and joists that holds the building up. An internal style can be thought of more like a inflated tennis dome, without an hard internal structure, it uses internal pressure to gives the dome its shape.
He continued by detailing the three key requirements for internal styles:
- Regulation of the Spirit (Tiao Xin)
- Regulation of the Breath (Tiao Xi)
- Regulation of the Postures (Tiao Xing)
Regulation of the Spirit
The Chinese word “Xin” often is translated as heart or spirit. It can also be translated as mind, but this can lead to confusion, implying that you should think while practicing. In this use, a closer translation would be to regulate emotions. To activate the Qi requires emotion. (Note, implied is a broader meaning for the word emotion that includes simple emotions like anger or happiness, but includes more complex states). A person’s emotional state is reflected in the face and in the body posture. For Tai Chi training this state is upright, calm and principled. Regulating the Spirit in this manner will activate the Qi in a like manner – smooth, responsive and grounded.
Regulation of the Breath
Regulating the breath builds Qi and supports the body. Master Yan then guided the class through a breathing exercise. Attention was paid the co-ordinating the breath with the movement of the body, with different timing on the inhalation compared to the exhalation.
From a standing exercise, this breathing pattern can then be incorporated into the routine. Master Yan reminded us that the Lao Jia Yi Lu (Old Frame First Routine), is the primary form for building the internal aspect.
Regulation of the Postures
Most important in the regulation of the form is to separate Yin and Yang. The term ‘double-weighted’ was briefly discussed. But in addition to meaning not having equal weight on both legs, the separation of Yin and Yang also includes distinguishing between left and right sides of the body, upper and lower halves of the body, etc.
With the arms, having a fixed side that provides an anchor for the posture was emphasized. As a general guideline, the arm that is moving less will be the fixed side.
With the legs and hips, separation of Yang and Yin relates to the rotation (weight shift side-to-side) and spin (turn into the hip) of the body. These 2 aspects (movements of the upper and lower body) are combined to give Chen Tai Chi its characteristic continuous change from one posture to the next.
Master Yan then taught the standing posture exercise. Particular attention was paid to the hand posture. One aspect of standing practice is to help identify and remove tension. To achieve this, standing for 20 minute or more is required.
After this spiral rotation and dantian rotation was explained and practiced. The inward and outward rotation of the hands and forearms help to either extend the Qi outwards or draw the Qi back inwards. Master Yan then discussed dantian rotation as an advanced practice.
The class then practiced the Spiral Rotation exercise (Silk Reeling). Emphasizing the rotation and spin governed by the legs and hips, and the inward and outward rotation of the hands and arms. This was also combined with the breathing technique, using the opening and closing of the body to guide inhalation and exhalation.
Finally, Master Yan recommended for beginners to train balance and gripping with the toes, to improve rooting. Once the routine is familiar and the proper boundaries of the postures understood, focus can be placed on separation of the two sides of the body. Breath regulation and finding dantian rotation become part of the training after the separation of Yin and Yang has been trained to a sufficient level.