Author Archives: agniprijatelj

“It’s easier to find a good teacher than to find a good student”: An interview with Davidine Siaw-Voon Sim


Davidine Siaw-Voon Sim held out her hand to me. As I took it, her gaze settled on me and she said, “You’re taller than I imagined”. It was a dark, cold and wet Friday afternoon, early in 2018. Students were slowly trickling into the warmth and light of the yoga centre, where she and her husband David sat on the couch, sipping tea, amiably chatting to everyone before the start of their intense, four-day Chen Taijiquan workshop.

The feeling of familiarity between Davidine and me was mutual: for several years now, we’d been in touch, on and off, through occasional emails. Come to think of it, the feeling must actually have been stronger on my part than hers; she’d been the voice that had succinctly, methodically and poetically described the many entangled physical and philosophical facets of Chen Taijiquan: “It’s just as important to learn how not to be as how to be.” “Always have a beginner’s mind.” “Concentrate on one thing and lose everything”. “Change ten thousand times without departing the original state.”

Her texts, woven around paradoxical statements such as those, would go on to explore Taijiquan’s link with traditional Chinese philosophy, medicine and ethics; after reading her blogposts, I’d often find myself returning to them, poring over them, marvelling at Taiji’s simplicity and complexity. Here was a writer with the skill to succinctly express some of the things I experienced through my own practice; who was able to unveil and demystify core Chinese concepts such as Qi, Dantian and Xin Yi which are so often misunderstood in the West; and who was able to inspire me to think and reflect more on my own practice.

Davidine straddles many worlds: she’s Chinese, and has a strong sense of her own cultural heritage despite having lived in the West since childhood. She has an enquiring mind, and teaches a martial art. She’s also a woman, in the predominantly male-orientated world of professional teachers of Taijiquan. All these dualities offer her, I believe, a unique position and the deep insight needed to write engagingly about a number of diverse Taiji topics.

Yet Davidine has, as a matter of principle, given no interviews. I imagine the reason for her decision is associated with her primary interest in “the art of Taijiquan, rather than the peripheral things connected with it”, as she says in the interview. I’m still not quite certain what made her change her mind, but when she agreed to take the time to answer my questions, I took the opportunity to ask her about her personal journey in exploring Taijiquan, her views on some core Taiji principles, and her take on the relationship between mind and skill.


Davidine Siaw-Voon Sim is a head of the official UK Branch of the Chen Village Taijiquan School (Chenjiagou Taijiquan Xue Xiao). The calligraphy in the background reads “Taiji”.

The personal journey

Davidine, whom do you consider your most important and influential Taijiquan teachers? How did you meet them? 

Every teacher I’ve trained with has had an impact on my Taijiquan journey. Some good, some not so good, and some significant. As I’ve learned through the years, it’s just as important to learn how not to be as how to be. The path wasn’t smooth all the way, but I persevered.

At different stages of my own development, I gained different things from different teachers. For me, the primary thing has always been the art of Taijiquan, rather than the peripheral things connected with it, such as teachers’ fame, plush training venues, geographical distance…

My first-ever contact with Taijiquan was the renowned teacher Huang Sheng Shyan, who lived a few doors away from my then family home. His Taijiquan was different from the “old people’s Taiji” we were accustomed to seeing. He showed the martial capabilities of the art, as well as the slow, soft side. As I was very young, he’d ‘chase’ me away when the adults started to play the ‘hard stuff’. But it planted in me the seed that Taijiquan is exciting, and can be used for self-defence and fighting.

The first Chen Taijiquan Master I met was Chen Xiaowang, in 1996 (I’d like to explain here that by ‘Master’, I mean an exponent who has devoted a lifetime to study of the art, and has attained proficiencies). I followed and studied with him right up to 2015, when he retired and returned to China.

He introduced me to his brother, Master Chen Xiaoxing, in 2003, as he thought I’d benefit more from personalised hands-on instruction than from seminar teaching in large groups. I’ve had the same personalised teaching from Chen Xiaoxing ever since, having set aside training time every year, either in Chenjiagou or at my home, or when he’s taught in Europe. Although I’ve had input from other teachers with whom I’ve trained, in order to acquire a broad picture of the art, I’d credit my Taijiquan ability to him for the most part.

CXW_sepia 2

Davidine training with Master Chen Xiaowang.

In my thirst for learning I’ve gone out of my way, over the last two decades and more – travelling far and wide in search of masters who could, I felt, enhance my understanding of the art. I trained with Master Chen Zhenglei on my first and two subsequent visits to China, in the latter half of the 1990s, and again each time he came to the UK (until 2012).

In 2000 I sought out Master Zhu Tiancai in Singapore, where he was resident at the time (I had family there), and trained with him each morning. In order to have more time to understand his take on Taijiquan, I later invited him to my home in the UK, and visited him again in Singapore.

In Beijing I met the late Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang, whose kindness and openness left a lasting impression on me.

On separate visits, I trained with my only female teacher, Tian Jingmiao, in Beijing’s Purple Bamboo Park. She’s the only female disciple of Lei Muni, who’s an early disciple of Chen Fake.

I met Master Chen Yu, the son of Chen Zhaokui, in Chenjiagou and arranged to meet and train with him in Beijing. I wanted to explore his take on his father’s form, and the experience was illuminating.

Master Wang Xian came in much later on my Taijiquan journey. I wanted completion in the “Buddha’s Four Warrior Attendants” legend. I’m glad I met and trained with him in France and Spain, and also interviewed him; he has indeed earned his reputation as a great master.

I’ve also trained with Master Zhang Xuexin, a student of Chen Zhaokui and later disciple of Grandmaster Feng, who taught in Ireland and England in the late 1990s. He’s perhaps now less well known than the others.

I’ve also attended the classes of several developing teachers (such as Chen Ziqiang and Wang Haijun), as I feel it’s important to have as much input as possible, to “always have a beginner’s mind”, and to be open-minded to new ideas and approaches – provided they adhere to the traditional methods of Taijiquan practice. And it’s often beneficial to watch “unfinished products” at work, as subtleties less discernible in an accomplished master can often be seen more clearly; that can help to answer some questions. Younger teachers are often more able to show the route that needs to be taken to reach the destination, as they are within sight of you on the road.

That’s an astounding number of teachers that you’ve had an opportunity to learn from. I imagine their approches to teaching must be quite different?

My main teacher, Chen Xiaoxing, is a traditional old-school teacher. His method of teaching focuses very much on relentless training in the fundamentals, without which he says nothing can be built. Methodical, no frills, no excuses, no shortcuts, with an emphasis on self-motivation and self-realisation. He’s a man of few words during teaching; he guides with his hands, taking you through movements meticulously and patiently. The trust I’ve built up with him enables me to feel relaxed about my training session, knowing that he’ll do his best to guide me in the right way.


Being shown the way by her main teacher, Master Chen Xiaoxing.

Chen Xiaowang emphasises the importance of establishing a solid structure, supported in every direction with the dantian as the core. To that end he focuses on fixing the frame (posture correction), in the hope that learners come to understand the feeling of what it is to be centred and balanced, and replicate it in their own practice. Unfortunately, many of his followers, as a result of not fully understanding his aims, tend to focus on the dots rather than the joining of the dots.

From the late 1990s onwards I’ve followed him in many of his UK and European teaching tours, and feel I can understand what he’s trying to do. To be able to communicate with him in Chinese is a definite advantage; his limited English, which he has in recent years insisted on using, often cannot fully explain the complexities of Taijiquan theories.

I had a few years of input from Zhu Tiancai, in the UK, where I invited him to my home; I also travelled with him to Europe, and trained with him in Singapore. I found him a lively teacher who provided more explanations of theories and principles than most, as well as relating stories and anecdotes. His style is flamboyant; but as he explained, “Your form reflects your personality; an introverted person will not exhibit the same form as an extrovert”.

Feng Zhiqiang opened my mind to the importance of the cultivation and nurturing aspect of Taijiquan, at a time when I perhaps placed less emphasis on that side of training. In recent years, I’ve come to appreciate and value what he taught. Words that appeared vague when spoken often become illuminating and relevant at a later stage.

For that reason I won’t dismiss anything a teacher says just because I don’t understand it at the time; also, I try not to miss anything a teacher says, whether to me or to someone else. One of my pet hates is seeing people having their own conversations when a teacher is speaking.

Chen Zhenglei, during my time training with him (from 1998 to 2012 in China and in the UK), made few hands-on corrections. However he explained practice methods and body requirements systematically, and therefore played an important role for me at that particular point of my development.

I had the opportunity to train with Wang XiAn recently; I also interviewed him about his approach to Taijiquan training. He’s a thoughtful man, and is approachable and hands on. He constantly emphasises the importance of relaxation – “song” – and urges people to place their hands on his body, so that they can identify the points where their bodies should open or close. He talks about intentions and functionalities of movements, without which Taijiquan is non-existent.

Each person I train with has provided a piece, or pieces, in the great puzzle of Taijiquan, or has simply facilitated an insight into the big picture.

What about your own approach to training? Did it change over the years?

I was a fully committed learner from the beginning. I’ve travelled widely, and spent a lot of time in pursuit of Taijiquan, and in my search for good teachers. My quest has been relentless. For me it never mattered how many times I repeated the same basics; if I knew there was a class or workshop somewhere I’d be there, no matter what was being taught, as long as I believed the teacher had something to teach me. In the early days I feel that’s crucial; without it, such a complex and sophisticated discipline cannot be grasped.

That I have the cultural background and the language is a definite advantage. I never asked what the programme was, or told my teacher what to teach me. Every time I stood in a class, if I learned just one thing I was happy. I left it to my teacher to tell me what I needed to learn at any given time of my development. I showed respect to my teacher, by practising what had been taught, so that he didn’t feel his time was wasted, and by reading as widely as I could around the subject, so that I could understand what he was trying to tell me, and could ask appropriate questions. After a time, the teacher is there to fill in the gaps of one’s own knowledge.

At the beginning of one’s training the learning curve is steep, and many things are new and exciting: new form, a dynamic weapon form, challenging push-hand techniques. The curve gradually evens out, then reaches a plateau. That’s when many learners leave; they either feel they “know everything now”, “are not motivated any more”, or decide there’s still so much they don’t know that the task is insurmountable. Perseverance at this stage requires deep interest and commitment, as well as self-reliance and self-motivation.

Then the next layer: one that is just as challenging and fascinating. Taijiquan is much more than knowing movements and remembering forms. One comes to appreciate the fundamentals more and more, as everything is built upon them; and to understand that everything is inter-related. That wider Taiji philosophy is in every aspect of life: one has to look beyond the kicks and punches, to understand Taijiquan’s philosophical roots.

Taijiquan practice naturally changes and adapts over the course of a lifetime; it has to be age-appropriate, and is a demanding physical discipline. Yet relatively young people often train as if they were already old – afraid to stretch out, or make dynamic movements. Just as bad are out-of-shape middle-aged learners who fixate on fajin and applications, when they’d be better served by concentrating on improving their level of health and fitness first.

Borneo hills

People establish a relationship with Taijiquan on different levels. What aspect of Taijiquan is the most important for you personally?

Taijiquan has allowed me to connect in a very real way with my Chinese heritage, particularly as I’ve lived in the West since my teenage years. The Taiji philosophy is the bedrock of Chinese culture and world-view. A lot of that has been eroded through political upheavals in China itself, and through years of separation for the Chinese diaspora.

The philosophical/cultural side of Taijiquan, and matching its various elements to the physical discipline, are important to me. As Professor Yu Gongbao [a renowned Taijiquan researcher] has explained, “Taijiquan culture operates within a system that cannot be divided or isolated, but can be understood from many angles… the main focus is Taijiquan’s social element, as well as Taijiquan’s link with philosophy, the military, art, literature, medicine, religion, folk customs, and ethics.”

Your husband, David Gaffney, is, like you, a Taiji teacher and a prolific writer on various Taiji topics. What is your dynamic as a couple, when it comes to training, teaching and writing? For example, do you train together, and do you correct each other while training? And your writing commitments: do you split those between the two of you?

We travel together, to train with various teachers. While we do discuss different aspects of practice, we almost always train individually. Taijiquan is a discipline that requires you to engage your intention and pay close attention to your own posture, movements and energetic state. Tuishou is the exception; we’re fortunate we have a training partner whenever the need arises.

It works well with us as a couple, because we both have a deep interest in the art and everything that goes with it. We read widely on the subject and related topics, and often discuss what we read. We each have our separate blogposts, but collaborate on larger projects such as writing our books. We feel the collaboration has worked well.

At the moment we’re putting the final touches to our third book, “Chen Taijiquan: Masters and Methods”, which is a series of interviews with some members of the most accomplished older generation of Chen Taijiquan whom we have been fortunate enough to meet, train and speak with, including the late Feng Zhiqiang, Chen Xiaoxing, Chen Xiaowang, Wang Xian, Chen Zhenglei, Zhu Tiancai, Chen Yu and Yu Gongbao. It’s important to have their insights, as they trained at a time when there were no incentives of fame and fortune to motivate them.

A few years ago you started a blog, Chinese whispers, where you write and discuss diverse topics such as the transmission of the essence of Taijiquan; water and the big dao of Taiji; and identifying errors in ones own practice. How do you select the topics for your blogposts? What effect should a good Taiji blog aim to achieve in its readers, in your opinion?

I read a lot around the subject, and of course I have access to the Chinese Taijiquan community’s articles and discussions. My blog posts usually arise naturally from a topic I’m looking at; or I might comment on an aspect being taught or discussed in class, or address common misperceptions of Taijiquan and Taiji theories.

My aim with these short posts is not to fully answer all the questions, but to highlight certain areas in a way that encourages people to do further research of their own, or inspires them to go out and practise. Taijiquan is a multi-faceted art, and one that appeals to different people in different ways. My blogposts therefore include technical and training aspects, as well as Taijiquan’s philosophical and theoretical aspects.


A calligraphy by Master Chen Xiao Wang “Book and Sword” – representing the scholarly and martial contents of Taijiquan. 

 Teaching and Taiji principles

You initially came to Slovenia in 2015 and are now, along with David, a regular guest here. In terms of your Taijiquan path and teaching, what has left the greatest mark on you over the last three years?

The best reward for a teacher is the commitment and progress made by students. There are students who have attended from the outset, and who always turn up for the workshops and their regular classes. Some have challenges in their lives, often difficult ones, but have not lost motivation and focus.

It’s easy to tell which students have been training on a regular basis, either because they’ve noticeably improved, or because they’ve acquired fluency and familiarity. We have many beginners, but only a few stay; that’s the case everywhere, though. We’ve gradually built up a core group, which provides continuity and progression.

You spend part of the year travelling around the world, conducting workshops for people with different levels of Taiji knowledge and understanding. What essential principle or lesson would you like those attending your workshops to retain in their daily practice when youve left their country?

First of all, that students actually maintain a consistent training regime. Generally speaking, only a minority actually commit to daily practice. We constantly tell our students to do just a little Taijiquan every day. The aim is to make it a habitual part of their daily routine; more focused training may follow.

Many people have only a superficial interest in Taijiquan, and only practise in class; they rely on the teacher to motivate them. The teacher imparts the theory, and shows the practice method; but sustained, regular practice outside class and workshop/seminar time is vital, to reinforce learning.

We must all train step by step. The first stage is to learn the foundation form, because everything one needs to know about movement principles is within it. Familiarising oneself with sequences of movement, and adhering strictly to requirements, is essential.

Taijiquan postures are often complex in nature, and require the mind to be focused on several areas at once. Students must concentrate on coordination of upper and lower limbs; coordination of hands, eyes, body and feet; on body and structure being in the intended position; on the functionalities of every action and posture; on keeping the whole body relaxed and supple; and on coordinating movement with breathing and energy. In practical learning and training, determine the meaning of each action, its key points and specifications, and its yin-yang (complementary opposite) principles.

A new learner of Taijiquan doesn’t yet know how to work in concert, and tends to focus on one aspect and lose another. The key is in the slow practice method: don’t be in a hurry, and don’t be impatient. Be exact. Don’t be careless and settle for an approximation. Start from the simple, and work towards the complex.


During the workshop in Slovenia.

How does one train correctly and efficiently, then, in order to achieve a good end result?  

In the early stages, lay down a solid foundation and build upon it. The sequence of training is important, and familiarity is the stage of laying down a foundation; this is learning the taolu (form). Every move must be clear and exact, and not deviate from principle – because once a mistake is made it’s difficult to correct, and can lead to further mistakes. A good teacher will enable you to make progress.

Realisation and improvement depend on the dedicated practice of each individual. You need to slowly and gradually examine and feel the actions. First, intellectually understand the action (which may not take very long); then work it into the body (which will take longer). To achieve a good “end” result is a matter of allowing the skill that has been learnt to develop, and internalising it. It takes as long as it takes.

The encompassing qualities and therefore training approach is song (relaxed and devoid of stiffness), rou (pliant and elastic), man (slow and unhurried).

Is there a single most important thing we need to pay attention to while training?

I’d caution against looking for a “single most important thing”.  One thing and all things are of equal importance; it’s simply a matter of understanding the Taiji philosophy of inter-relationships and co-existence. “Concentrate on one thing and lose everything”.

At different stages of one’s Taijiquan journey, a certain aspect may take temporary precedence: for example, in the beginning, movements must be big and expansive (to let the joints stretch and let the Qi flow), and then at a certain point movements must be reduced and contained, and Qi gathered. It’s important to recognise that Taijiquan has no absolute.

From the outset, establish the “taiji modus operandi”: Taijiquan is a complete theoretical and operational system which has two objectives: first, to reform our usual way of thinking about our body; and second, to replace it with a Taiji body – by transforming the quality of the body, freeing the body of stiffness and rigidity, discarding physical strength, stabilising the root, and becoming soft and pliant.

Have a general understanding of the many facets of Taijiquan: first from a wide knowledge, and then through specific learning. That way you won’t lose your direction and succumb to misconceptions. Find a good teacher to help you understand and follow the right principle and method.

You summarised the training approach in Taiji as “song, rou, man.” What happens in the body when we achieve the state of fang song?

Fang song is translated as the act of letting out the body’s looseness and pliancy – a releasing of tension. It’s one of the most important and fundamental elements of Taijiquan, and is the ongoing goal of every Taijiquan player. Even with guidance from a good teacher, the state of song can be achieved only after a long period of self-discipline and correction, in which there is no end point. A multi-layered understanding of essential principles is required. Almost all the essentials of Taijiquan are directly or indirectly associated with fang song.

Song enables the body to settle and sink (chen). This sinking facilitates softness and pliancy, which in turn leads to lightness and agility. Lightness and agility results in extreme sensitivity of the whole body, which develops the neutralising skill that’s considered the highest level of Taijiquan.

No part of the body should have any trace of unnecessary musculoskeletal, mental or energetic tension. This is an extremely difficult thing to do. Any action that does not adhere to principle will affect the quality of song to some extent. For instance, if the body is not balanced and stable, the muscles and joints contract in order to restore balance during movements, using unnecessary strength as well as creating musculoskeletal tension. The mind becomes anxious, and attempts become frustrating, affecting mental calmness. Therefore, achieving balance and correct structure is one of the methods for achieving song. Addressing mental imbalance such as worry, stress, impatience etc. is another.

Song also leads to rootedness, as Qi sinks down into the ground through the heels and feet. This sinking must not be confused with bending the knees and lowering the body. It requires guidance, practice and experimentation. Rooting skill enables an incoming force to be directed down the legs to the ground, and an outgoing force to be generated from the ground.


Davidine leading her UK students in practice.

At the beginning, we try to establish the state of song in a static exercise of Zhan Zhuang. We then progress to maintaining this physical and mental relaxation when the body starts to move. One of the fundamental exercises helping a beginner to achieve this is chan si gong. How would you explain the purpose of this exercise in Chen Taijiquan?

Chan Si Gong exercises were devised for the purpose of understanding and training in the fundamental movement patterns and basic energetic route of Chen Taijiquan. In the past, people in the Chen village trained full time, and came to understand the movement system through sheer repetition; in more recent times, on the other hand, it was deemed necessary to devise some kind of basic exercises that would enable learners to grasp the spiralling and rotational movement principles of the system.

Through a set of repetitive and relatively simple exercises, learners are able to grasp the essential points, and then transfer them into training. For the same reason, they’re able to feel the energetic flow more quickly, which helps when they progress to the long form. The energy and power that result from Chan Si Gong (reeling silk exercises) is known as Chan Si Jin (reeling silk energy).

The eighteenth generation master Chen Zhaopi said that Taijiquan is in fact Chan Si Jin, without which it is not Taijiquan. Achieving it isn’t easy; it requires many repetitions and considerable focus. Hence the logic of the creation of the sets of exercises. However, many learners fail to appreciate their purpose, and view Chan Si Gong and the Taolu as separate entities.

What are the essential requirements to execute Chan Si Gong movements correctly?

The requirements are the same as that of the form, except that you are making a single movement repeatedly. Maintain a correct posture throughout, by fulfilling the rules for each part of the body: head suspended, shoulders relaxed, elbows sunk down etc. Know the exact time when weight shifts should take place. Know the positions of the arms and legs as they rotate within the parameters of your body.

The guideline is strict: the upper hand should be in line with your eyebrow, and the lower hand at the dantian level (fulfilling the functions of guarding the head and protecting the crotch and knees). The centre line of the body determines how far the hands should rotate inwards; at no time should they cross over (that is to say, the wrist shouldn’t pass the centre line).  Identify and maintain the body’s core (dantian). Keep the mind and mental state calm and focused, in order to use intention rather than strength to execute the movements and feel the sensations of each action.

Thus, based on correct body posture, the spiral and rotational movements of the whole body are trained to move through different sets of chan si gong, which cover basic directions, angles and dimensions: front, side, left, right, up, down, in, out etc., until the movement system – with dantian as the core, supported in every direction, a continuous sequence of actions linking joint to joint –  becomes natural and spontaneous (the default way to move).

Do you believe its important to continue practising Chan Si Gong once past the beginners stage, and if so, why?

As I mentioned earlier, the set of Chan Si Gong as practised today is a fairly recent addition. It was devised in order to offer a systematic introduction, a jibenggong (fundamental set of exercise) in line with other Chinese martial arts to people new to Chen style Taijiquan. In the past, the taolu (form) was the only medium through which to train in Chen Taijiquan’s movement system, Chan Si Gong, and its end product, Chan Si Jin.

With that in mind, it’s vitally important for practitioners not to deviate from the movement principle of Chan Si, even if they’re not doing the set pieces. If a movement in the form doesn’t feel right, examine it and decide whether it conforms to the fundamental principle. Single movements of the form have always been taken out and practised repeatedly, until they have the same end result.

Could you elaborate a bit on the energy we’re cultivating by training in Chan Si Gong?

Chan Si Gong is translated as “reeling silk exercise”; the energy that’s cultivated as a result is Chan Si Jin, or “reeling silk energy”. It’s an idea derived from the silk-gathering activity of silkworm farmers, in which movements are soft, so that the silk strands don’t break, while at the same time firm enough to prevent the thread from becoming entangled.

So the energy is the presence of both soft and hard strength. It’s a little difficult to translate Jin and Qi by a single word, so the term “energy” is used; they can, however, be viewed as something esoteric or metaphysical. Jin is trained strength, a state of instinctively knowing the appropriate strength to use for a given situation, based on practice and experience. The opposite would be inappropriate, uncontrolled (either excessive or deficient) strength, used in response to a situation (using a sledgehammer to crack a nut comes to mind). Eighteenth-generation master Chen Zhaopi, the teacher of most of Chenjiagou’s 19th-generation masters, explained Chan Si Jin as a state in which “all movements are circular, with no sharp angles or flat surfaces, no deficiencies or excesses”.  Actions are smooth and flowing, the outward gentle movements disguising a latent strength (as in silk gathering).

The rotational and spiral Jin cultivated from Chan Si Gong is the core power of Chen Taijiquan; its accuracy and usage are based on practice and experience, for example in Tuishou, Sanshou, Sanda. Its effectiveness has been seen when earlier generations used it in actual life-and-death situations.

We’ve talked extensively about the art itself, but I’d also like to ask you about your experience as a teacher. Comparing male and female students, have you noticed any differences in their approach to Taijiquan, their practice and/or their relationship with the skill?

I’ve observed that more women start, but more men stay. That may be because women are more sociable, and feel less intimidated about starting a group activity. At the same time, they’re generally more distracted by life outside practice, once it becomes more than just a casual pursuit.

The distraction is largely, in my opinion, a result of the demands placed on women at a societal level. Although much has been said about the equality of the sexes, women still shoulder more home responsibilities and child care, as well as holding down jobs. They tend to put family obligations first when it comes to the time that must be set aside for practice, attendance at classes and seminars, and travelling to deepen their skills, etc. They’re often faced with time constraints and financial limitations, through responsibilities for caring for children, elderly parents and dependent husbands/partners etc. This is a fairly universal situation, although more pronounced in some parts of the world than in others.

As for Taijiquan practice, it’s generally harder for men to realise song as they’re inherently less supple, again due to cultural expectation and socialisation. A female practitioner often needs to be encouraged to have more gang, as her postures and movements lack the base energetic quality required. So a male student should generally focus on removing stiff, hard strength from his musculature; the female student on developing more energy. Eventually, the quality of hard and soft, in combination, is reached by both men and women.

Is there a particular female practitioner/teacher whom you greatly admire? If so, why?

I’ve been almost exclusively taught by male teachers. The only female input is Tian Jingmiao, whom I met on separate visits to Beijing. She’s known to be the only female disciple of Lei Muni, a disciple of seventeenth-generation Chen master Chen Fa-Ke, who’s still teaching and actively promoting Chen Style Taijiquan. She has continued her practice without a break since she first started 40 years ago, through life-threatening illness and other challenges in life. She pointed out several aspects of training that apply only to female practitioners: placement of the upper limbs, due to anatomical differences between men and women; and approach to training that can be used during pregnancy and menstruation. (for Davidine’s interview with Tian Jingmiao, please see T’ai Chi: The International Magazine of Tai Chi Chuan: Vol. 30. No. 4, 2006, or Slovenian translation of the interview).

There are not enough female Chen Taijiquan “masters”. An old clip of a few very able Chen female practitioners was shown in a film about Chenjiagou in the 1980s; unfortunately, none were awarded the publicity and accolades enjoyed by their male counterparts, many of whom had gone on to become world-famous masters and grandmasters. An old decree in the Chen clan stipulated that transmission should only be through the male line. Although this no longer applies, the challenges for women practitioners are still very real, given expectations of a woman’s role.


Tian Jingmiao and Davidine Sim.

In his interview for our blog, Chen Ziqiang described the main characteristics of a good student as intelligence, diligence and perseverance. What, then, are the main characteristics of a good teacher, in your opinion?

There’s a well-known saying, “it’s easier to find a good teacher than a good student”. Also, “when a good student is ready, the teacher will appear”. Essentially, that means it’s very much a two-way thing. A good match between teacher and student depends on what the Chinese call yuan fen (natural affinity; predestined relationship; the luck that brings two people together).

Most students meet their teacher through a set of circumstances, the chief of which is the desire to learn a skill the teacher possesses. Whether the teacher is able to transmit the skill depends, on the one hand, on the training attitude of the student, and on the other, on genuine skill, and a willingness and commitment to teach, on the part of the teacher.

It’s not easy to determine a teacher’s or student’s aptitude at the start; that’s why, in Chinese martial arts, it’s said that anybody can teach a beginner. Traditionally, a teacher takes a disciple only after many years of contact and observation; if the disciple is accepted through introduction and connection, the teacher will first establish his or her commitment to learning, again through observation.

The position of a Shi Fu (“teacher father”) is based on the Chinese philosophical concept of the “mandate of heaven” (the circumstances under which a ruler rules: good rulers are given a mandate to rule, while despotic, unjust and unworthy rulers will have their mandate revoked). The social relationship of the teacher and student is based on the family unit: the student is a child to the master, two whom he/she owes respect and obedience. The teacher, as the parent, is responsible for the learning, wellbeing and development of his “children”. In this system of relationships, the teacher only has authority as long as he fulfils his duties and upholds his responsibilities to his “children”, through continuous development of his own skill, and by living a virtuous and moral life. So there are demands on both student and teacher.

Taijiquan and the mind

How important is it, in your view, to train ones mind as part of the Taiji routine?

Correct Taijiquan training calls for precise, accurate movement, and the fulfilment of movement rules and exact and changing requirements for every part of the body. Approximation is not acceptable. The mind must therefore be focused and engaged at all times; not on any single thing, but on the relationship between the different parts, and on their integration into a coherent whole. Taijiquan is a completely mind-driven discipline, and the inevitable result of training is the development of qualities such as calmness, perseverance and attention to detail.

Taijiquan’s mental training (xin yi) mainly trains the spirit, the mind intention, the energetic quality and the state of the body. It’s not easy to do! And it can’t be seen as a casual pursuit. Through a disciplined process of mental and physical adjustment, the conscious state which governs focus and intention progresses from the chaos of a chattering mind and scattered thoughts to a state of quietness and focused consciousness. And the physiological state which controls movements and actions progresses to enable blood and Qi to flow unobstructed, and the physical body to become free of tension and stiffness.

How can this be achieved? First and foremost, by accepting that it is a long-term cultivation of the body and mind: the student must continuously amend, modify and repair physical and mental states that don’t meet the requirements of Taijiquan principles. Also, constantly cultivate, nurture and breed the mental and physical requirements that are in accordance with Taijiquan principles. These processes must be implemented at all times, without exception. Physical and psychological adjustment are the prerequisite for internal mental cultivation. These are not tasks that are easy to achieve, but we must strive for these ideals.

In what ways is the cultivation of mind inherent to Taiji practice?

If trained in the correct way, cultivation of the mind is inherent to Taijiquan practice. Taijiquan theory states that movement arises from stillness. Each time one trains the form, the starting point is a state of mental calmness and physical balance. Practitioners are often in a hurry to get on to form practice, and don’t give mental preparation the same importance.

Zhan zhuang training represents a state of “movement within stillness”. To an observer, nothing may appear to be happening; and many misinterpret standing training as a kind of spaced-out self-indulgence. However, an experienced practitioner simultaneously maintains a deep sense of calmness, and an acute awareness of the internal sensations of his or her body and his or her environment.

How important a role do moral character and spiritual development play in ones progress in a martial arts skill?

All Chinese martial arts emphasise the dual approach of training the physical skill and cultivating the character.

In the past, when martial skills were used to defend oneself, the home and the clan (community), the moral character of a person was carefully observed before a skill was taught, in order to preserve the art and, more importantly, to ensure that it was not abused (i.e. not used against the community).

The downside was that many ancient martial arts were too closely guarded, and disappeared. Most martial arts systems, including Chen Taijiquan, have a moral code that has been written down, and transmitted through the ages, for the purpose of guiding the morals and ethics of its practitioners. Most of the codes can be observed in a practical way, and applied to one’s practice: impatience and arrogance must be curbed; acquired martial skills must not be used to bully and exploit;  modesty and magnanimity are key; etc. This is the much-talked-about but often overlooked wu de (martial virtue), without which one will fall short of the highest level of attainment.

Many Taiji teachers speak of applying Taiji principles to everyday life. Can you give us some examples of how you yourself use these outside the gym?

As far as possible, incorporate the wider Taiji principle into every aspect of daily life. First of all, we need to ensure our lifestyle and habits don’t contradict or conflict with the rules. For example, Taijiquan requires looseness, suppleness and calmness; in life, therefore, try to avoid tension and using unnecessary strength. Practise Taijiquan all the time – not just in the classroom. You can train when you’re standing in a queue, walking, driving, reading or chatting etc… Never be too far from your practice.

As Taijiquan trains both the body and the mind, anything that’s detrimental to the physical body and mental health is bad for its development. In traditional Chinese medicine, which is a big part of Taijiquan, external factors that cause physical weakness are excessive or untimely exposure to conditions such as wind, cold, heat, humidity and dryness. Also, habits such as unregulated food intake, irregular lifestyle, personal uncertainties, overwork or too much idle time. Mental stability is affected by extreme emotions such as anger, anxiety, brooding, grief and fear, as well as negative thoughts such as arrogance, envy, greed and pride etc.

Human nature is such that we fall constantly, but insight and mindful cultivation do help us to be aware of the pitfalls.

Forest practice

Do you have any aspirations in terms of your own personal development?

I hope that Taijiquan and the Taiji philosophy, the idea of complementary opposites to gain balance and harmony, will be a guide for how to lead my life.

It’s a matter of constantly being mindful, and not letting myself deviate too far from Taijiquan. The physical exercise will keep my body pliant and elastic, fit and free from injury, into the future as I age. I hope I’ll always keep a learner’s mind, and continue in my pursuit of its complexities.

It’s my wish to continue to study, translate and write about the subject, so that the wider Taijiquan community understand the true nature of Taijiquan.

Davidine, thank you.

Agni Prijatelj




Poletje v vasi Chenjiagou [Summer in Chenjiagou village]


V Chen vasi je vsakdan obarvan z vadbo Chen taijiquan-a. Mladi, starejši, domačini in gostje s Kitajske ter drugih dežel prav vsi stremijo k  istemu cilju – razumeti in osvojiti umetnost Chen taiji quan-a. Oglejte si ta izreden video o življenjskem utripu Chen vasi!

[Everyday in Chenjiagou village is coloured by practice and training of Chen taiji quan. Young, adults, locals and visitors from China and other countries alike striwe towards the same goal – to understand and master the art of Chen taiji quan. Take a look of this extraordinary video, depicting the rhythm of life in Chenjiagou village.]





V tokratnem prispevku objavljamo videoposnetek kratke demonstracijske forme mojstra Chen Ziqiang-a. Forma jasno in zgoščeno prikaže temeljne principe gibanja v Chen taiji-ju: tekoče spiralno gibanje, katerega usmerja in vodi Dantian, kombinacijo počasnih gibov ter  hitrih, eksplozivnih skokov, brc in udarcev ter kultivacijo notranje moči Neijing. Mojster Ziqiang je bil posnet leta 2013, tekom njegove prve taiji delavnice v Sloveniji. Ponovno se nam bo pridružil aprila 2017, več o njem in njegovem pogledu na Chen taijiquan pa si lahko preberete v intervjuju z njim.

[A clip of a short and explosive demonstration form, as performed by Master Chen Ziqiang. The form clearly demonstrates all core principles of movement in Chen taiji: fluid, spiral movement, directed by Dantian, a combination of slow movement with quick and explosive jumps, kicks and punches, as well as cultivation of Neijing. The form was recorded in 2013, during Ziqiang’s first workshop in Slovenia. The upcoming workshop with Master Ziqiang in Ljubljana (Slovenia) is scheduled for April 2017. In the meanwhile, you can read about his outlook on Chen taijiquan in the following interview.]


“Imej pravilen pristop; bodi vztrajen v vadbi; in nadaljuj z iskanjem in učenjem,” intervju z mojstrom Chen Ziqiang-om

Mojster Chen Ziqiang med delavnico v Ljubljani, junij 2013 (foto: M. Vorwerk)

Mojster Chen Ziqiang med delavnico v Ljubljani, junij 2013 (foto: M. Vorwerk)

Mojster Chen Ziqiang je član dvajsete generacije družine Chen z resnično impresivno genealogijo: njegov oče je velemojster Chen Xiaoxing, njegov stric velemojster Chen Xiaowang in njegov praded sam legendarni Chen Fake. Kljub temu pa je postal tekom zadnjih dvajsetih let Chen Ziqiang  v svetu Chen taijiquan-a priznan zgolj zaradi lastnih dosežkov. Od svojih dvajsetih let dalje se je namreč – v skladu s tradicijo borilnih veščin – meril na uradnih in neuradnih turnirjih s komerkoli, ki bi mu upal stati nasproti. Izboril si je nešteto zmag in z njimi pridobil sloves ognjevitega borca.

Chen Ziqiang, odločen ohraniti resnično bistvo družinske veščine in popolnoma predan ohranjanju družinskega izročila, skupaj z očetom v domači vasi vodi Chenjiagou šolo Chen taijiquan-a (Chen Taijiquan Xuexiao). Dva do tri mesece letno preživi tudi na poti po Evropi in ZDA, kjer predaja svoje obsežno znanje veščine zahodnjakom.

Tekom njegove turneje leta 2013, je Chen Ziqiang prvič vodil delavnico tudi v Sloveniji in tako skupini učencev, zbranih z vseh koncev Evrope, ponudil izjemno priložnost, da izkusijo kvalitete njegovega poučevanja. Ziqiang se je v telovadnici med energičnimi ogrevalnimi vajami, neštetimi ponovitvami form in dinamičnimi (ter vedno zabavnimi!) drili potiskanja rok izkazal kot strog in neutruden učitelj s sokoljim očesom za napake. S svojo močno in navdihujočo prisotnostjo je motiviral vse učence, da so še bolj zavzeto delali in potisnili lastne meje še dlje.

Chen Ziqiang med delavnico nadzoruje skupino (foto: J. Suhadolnik)

Kot potrpežljiv in velikodušen učitelj je Chen Ziqiang delil z nami lastne izkušnje in znanje o taijiquan-u tudi izven telovadnice. Da bi odgovoril na vprašanja učencev, je v poznih večernih urah za mizo spregovoril o lastnem učenju, izkušnjah, pridobljenih s poučevanjem ter lastnih pogledih na specifične vidike Gongfu-ja. Med pogovorom se je spomnil lastnega otroštva v vasi, kjer je taijiquan tesno vpleten v dnevne in letne ritme življenja in kjer zgodbe in legende o taiji mojstrih še vedno burijo otroško domišljijo. Opisal je tudi, kako sta tekom let njegova motivacija in volja do treninga postopoma postajali vse močnejši, enako kot tudi njegova odločenost ohraniti družinsko veščino v svoji izvorni obliki.

Med pogovorom o izkušnji poučevanja se je Ziqiang dotaknil vsakodnevnih obveznosti, povezanih z vodenjem šole. Opisal je tudi prihodnost učencev po formalnem zaključku treninga. Spregovoril je tudi o specifičnih vidikih Gongfu-ja, raznolikih izzivih, povezanih z učenjem in poučevanjem ter razliko v pristopu do veščine, katero opaža med kitajskimi učenci in zahodnjaki.

Nekateri najbolj pomenljivi Ziqiang-ovi odgovori so bili tudi najbolj jedrnati, podani z enako preciznostjo, kot jo mojster uporablja v borilnem ringu. Podobno kot številni mojstri pred njim, je Chen Ziqiang poudaril, da v taijiquan-u bljižnjic ni. Enako pomemben in pomenljiv je bil tudi njegov odgovor, da za uspeh učenca zadostujeta že samo pridnost in vztrajnost.

Pogovor s Ziqiangom smo pričeli z vprašanjem o njegovem otroštvu.

Učenje veščine

Mojster Ziqiang, koliko ste bili stari, ko ste pričeli trenirati in kaj je takrat tvorilo vaš trening? Kakšen je bil vaš odnos do taijiquan-a na samem začetku?

Poučevati so me začeli, ko sem bil star tri leta. Večinoma sem moral vaditi stoječo meditacijo (Zhan Zhuang). Na samem začetku šolanja seveda nisem imel nobenega posebnega odnosa do veščine, razen da sem čutil, da mi krade moj čas za igranje.

Velemojster Chen Xiaoxing (Chen Ziqiang-ov oče) doma, med pripravo rezancev. Ritem, hitrost in natančnost njegovih gibov odsevajo principe taijiquan-a (foto: A. Christodoulou)

Velemojster Chen Xiaoxing (Chen Ziqiang-ov oče) doma, med pripravo rezancev. Ritem, hitrost in natančnost njegovih gibov odsevajo principe taijiquan-a (foto: A. Christodoulou)

Kdo so bili vaši učitelji tekom let in kakšna je bila vaša pot v taijiquan-u?

Moj učitelj je bil moj oče, Chen Xiaoxing. Kadarkoli bi imel čas, bi oče nadzoroval mojo stoječo meditacijo in popravil mojo držo. Enako je bilo tudi z mojimi prostoročnimi formami in treningom z orožji.

Ali ste kot mladostnik v domači vasi prisostvovali dogodkom (ne nujno dvobojem), kateri bi razkrili mojstrstvo učiteljev v vasi? Kako so takšni dogodki vplivali na vas?

V vasi sem videl mnogo takšnih dogodkov in zato nisem mislil, da so kaj posebnega. Bili so del mojega vsakdana. V tem smislu zato niso imeli posebnega vpliva name.

Svet taijiquna-a in še posebej vas Chenjiagou sta polna zgodb o legendarnih mojstrih in njihovih dosežkih. Vam je kakšna od teh še posebej ljuba?

Vsaka generacija v moji družini ima fantastične zgodbe. Všeč so mi vse, še posebej tiste, ki govorijo o resničnem mojstrstvu v borilni veščini. Obstajajo tudi zgodbe, osnovane na legendah, katerih namen je navdihovati.

Mojster Ziqiang, kaj vas motivira pri vašem treningu? Se je vaša motivacija tekom let spreminjala in kako?

Kot otrok nisem bil močno motiviran – vadil in treniral sem zaradi pričakovanj in zahtev staršev. Ko sem bil star trinajst let, pa sem nenadoma postal odločen, da začnem resno trenirati. Ker sem bil majhne postave, sem želel postati močan. Poleg tega sem se pričel zavedati, da je to edinstvena borilna veščina, katera se je v naši družini [stoletja] prenašala iz roda v rod. Spoznal sem, da bo veščina znotraj družine izgubljena, če ne nadaljujem. To zavedanje je ostalo z mano in se ni spremenilo – izpolniti moram obvezo.

Ali še vedno trenirate z očetom in kako pogosto? Glede na izjemno visok nivo vašega znanja, kako pomembno se vam zdi še naprej trenirati z mojstri starejše generacije, da bi napredovali v veščini?

Seveda še vedno treniram pod vodstvom svojega očeta. Čeprav to ni več trening, pri katerem bi me oče dnevno nadziral, vedno poiščem njegovo pomoč, ko naletim na točko, katera potrebuje pojasnilo, ali kadar naletim na kaj, česar ne razumem. Tudi v bodoče bo tako.

Kako torej poteka vaš trening? Kako dolgo na primer trenirate vsak dan, kdaj običajno vadite in kaj zaobsega vaš običajni trening?

Vsak dan treniram zjutraj, opoldne in zvečer. Ko sem doma, to pomeni približno osem ur na dan. Treniram vse znotraj sistema – Taolu (prostoročne forme), orožja in Tuishou (potiskanje rok).

Je kakšen vidik treninga, ki vam je še posebej všeč? Zakaj?

Rad preučujem skupne točke Taolu (prostoročnih form) in dejanske borbe. Samo na ta način lahko razumem razloge za posamične gibe v Taolu, njihovo namembnost in cilj.

Chenjiagou šola Chen taijiquan-a in poučevanje 

Sedaj torej z očetom vodite šolo. Kakšne so vaše zadolžitve znotraj šole?

Moja glavna zadolžitev v šoli je poučevanje. Odgovoren sem za trening in pripravo učencev na tekmovanja.

Nam lahko poveste kaj več o svojih učencih? Koliko jih je v uku? Od kod prihajajo? Kako dolgo običajno ostanejo v šoli? Kakšne so njihove poti, ko zapustijo šolo?

Trening v Chenjiagou šoli Chen taijiquan-a se vsak dan prične s tekom in ogrevanjem (foto: L. Marsh)

Trening v Chenjiagou šoli Chen taijiquan-a se vsak dan prične s tekom in ogrevanjem (foto: L. Marsh)

V šoli imamo več kot 300 registriranih učencev. Učenci prihajajo iz vasi Chenjiagou, z raznih koncev Kitajske in nekateri tudi iz tujine. Nekateri učenci so v šoli krajši čas (od nekaj tednov do šest mesecev), spet drugi ostajajo v uku dlje (od dveh do deset let).

Večina učencev, ki zaključi večletni program, pride v šolo še kot otroci z namenom, da bi postali učitelji borilnih veščin. Nekateri odidejo tudi med varnostnike, v policijo ali vojsko. Učenci, ki so pri nas krajš čas, so večinoma odrasli z lastnim poklicom, ki bi se radi izučili Chen taijiquan-a, ali pa učitelji taijiquan-a iz drugih šol, ki pridejo, da bi dopolnili in dvignili nivo lastnega znanja.

Bi se strinjali s trditvijo, da učenje ne pomaga napredovati zgolj učencu, temveč izboljša tudi veščino samega učitelja? Katere elemente učiteljeve veščine, po vašem mnenju, mojstri poučevanje drugih?

Mojster Chen Ziqiang med demonstracijo v Chenjiagou šoli Chen taijiquan-a (foto: A. Christodoulou)

Mojster Chen Ziqiang med demonstracijo v Chenjiagou šoli Chen taijiquan-a (foto: A. Christodoulou)

Če je metoda poučevanja pravilna, bo nedvomno dvignila standard tako učenca kot učitelja. Učitelj mora težiti k nenehnemu raziskovanju in preučevanju pravilne metode in pravilne poti, kar bo zagotovo vidno tudi v nivoju veščine njegovih učencev. Na ta način se zvišuje standard razumevanja in prakse v Chen veščini tako učitelja kot učenca.

Kako bi opisali proces učenja v taijquan-u?

Učenec mora imeti dobrega učitelja ter prizadevno in vztrajno vaditi.

Bi rekli da se, če redno vadiš pod nadzorom dobrega učitelja, napredek v Gongfu (veščini) vedno zgodi postopoma in korak za korakom, ali je v določenih primerih preskok v znanju lahko tudi nenaden in hiter?

Kvantumski skok je nemogoč – to je le fantazija in nemogoča želja. Bljižnic ni!

Ali, ko učenec doseže višje nivoje znanja, vsak naslednji nivo zahteva dlje časa in je težje dosegljiv? Zakaj je temu tako?

Višji nivoji veščine niso nujno težje dosegljivi. Če se učenec ne priuči pravilne metode in ne izbere pravilne poti, težje napreduje.Napredek ni pogojen z vprašanjem časa. Kar je ključno je, ali si pridobil tehnično sposobnost/veščino, katera ti omogoči napredovati na višji nivo.

Vadba (foto: J. Suhadolnik)

Vadba (foto: J. Suhadolnik)

Kaj so, po vašem menju, lastnosti dobrega učenca?

Dober učenec naj bi imel tri lastnosti: inteligenco, pridnost in dispozicijo. Imeti vse tri je redko. Običajno sta že pridnost in vztrajnost dovolj.

Ali obstajajo razlike do pristopa in vadbe taijiquan-a med kitajskimi učenci in zahodnjaki?

Določene koncepte, kateri so del kitajskega duha in kitajske kulture, zahodnjaki težje dojamejo. Na trenutke se to zdi celo nemogoče, saj zahodnjaki skušajo interpretirati kitajske ideje s pomočjo lastnih konceptov. V pristopu in vadbi kitajski učenci delajo, zahodnjaki sprašujejo. Medtem ko kitajski učenci skušajo začutiti gibe, se zahodnjaki ukvarjajo z mehaniko in kinetiko gibov.

Taijiquan in Gongfu

Kaj se vam zdi najpomembnejši element vadbe v taijiquan-u za izgradnjo Gongfu-ja (veščine)?

Treniranje osnov in Taolu (form), nato Tuishou (potiskanje rok) ter zatem Sanshou (prosta borba). Vsi trije sklopi so med seboj povezani in vsak sklop gradi na temeljih predhodnega.

Omenili ste, da obstajajo trije razlogi za vadbo taijiquan-a. Jih lahko še enkrat naštejete in opišete njihova razmerja?

Prvič: ohranjanje zdravja. Drugič: izgradnja telesa. In tretjič: taijiquan kot borilna veščina. Ne glede na cilj, mora učenec slediti principom borilne veščine pri svojem treningu. Na ta način taijiquan pomaga izgraditi telo in tudi ohranjati zdravje. Sčasoma taijiquan postane tudi dejanska borilna veščina.

Kaj pa so stopnje in metode v Tuishou (potiskanju rok)?

Tuishou lahko kategoriziramo v štiri stopnje, pet metod in tri vzorce. Štiri stopnje so: ohranjati kondicijo, študij/eksperimentiranje, aplikacije in borba. Pet metod vključuje enoročno potiskanje rok, dvoročno potiskanje rok, korakanje naprej in nazaj, potiskanje rok v nizki preži (da lu), ter prosto korakanje. Trije vzorci v potiskanju rok so horizontalni, vertikalni in poševni vzorec.

Kaj so vaši upi za prihodnost Chen taijiquan-a?

Želim si, da v procesu širjenja in popularizacije taijiquan ne izgubi svojega bistva.

Bi lahko za konec povedali še kaj, kar lahko služi učencem kot navdih pri treningu taijiquan-a? Bi priporočili kakšne posebne koncepte in metode za izboljšanje veščine (Gongfu)?

Potrebno je zaupati. Vztrajaj na svoji poti, da bi dosegel končni cilj. Imej pravilno idejo, bodi dosleden v vadbi ter nadaljuj z iskanjem in učenjem.

Mojster Chen Ziqiang, hvala za pogovor.

Mojster Chen Ziqiang vodi skupino skozi Taolu (foto: J. Suhadolnik)

Mojster Chen Ziqiang vodi skupino skozi Taolu (foto: J. Suhadolnik)

Zahvale: Pričujoči intervju ne bi bil mogoč brez odprtih src in velikodušne pomoči številnih prijateljev in taiji navdušencev. Rada bi se zahvalila mojstru Chen Ziqiang-u, da je – raje kot da bi počival v poznih večernih urah – potrpežljivo odgovarjal na številna vprašanja učencev Slovenskega združenja za Chenjiagou taijiquan. Prav tako bi se rada zahvalila izjemni učiteljici taijiquan-a Davidine Siaw-Voon Sim, katera je vprašanja prevedla v kitajščino ter nato mojstrove odgovore nazaj v angleščino. Brez njene pomoči ideja za ta intervju ne bi nikoli zaživela. Neskončno hvaležna sem tudi prijateljici in lektorici Claire O’Kell, katera se redno bori z mojo angleščino in s svojim pretanjenim občutkom za jezik vedno uspe moje angleške tekste spremeniti v zanimivo branje. Zelo sem hvaležna tudi vsem fotografom, ki so odstopili fotografije za objavo na blogu, ne da bi zanje pričakovali plačilo.

 Velika hvala poklicnemu fotografu Jožetu Suhadolniku, ki je dokumentiral delavnico v Ljubljani in ustvaril serijo izjemnih fotografij. Celotna serija je dostopna v zavihku Galerija na našem blogu.
 Prav tako bi se rada iskreno zahvalila poklicni fotografinji Androniki Christodoulou, katera nam je dovolila objaviti dve njeni fotografiji. Če bi želeli izkusti življenje v vasi Chenjiagou skozi njeno izjemno reportažno fotografijo, si oglejte spletno stran Androniki Christodoulou Photography.
 Zahvala tudi Michaelu Vorwerk-u, ki je z avtom pripotoval iz Kaslla (Nemčija), da bi treniral z mostrom Ziqiang-om in med treningom našel tudi čas – in najboljšo svetlobo – da bi ustvaril nekaj izjemnih portetov. Izbor le-teh si lahko ogledate v zavihku Galerija na našem blogu.
 Nazadnje velika hvala še prijateljici Lai Marsh, katera je spomladi 2013 obiskala vas Chenjiagou in mi dovolila objaviti eno izmed svojih fotografij v tem intervjuju.
Agni Prijatelj

»Počasna pot je najhitrejša.« Intervju z Davidom Gaffneyem

Pred templjem družine Chen v vasi Chenjiagou (foto: D. Siaw-Voon Sim).

Pred templjem družine Chen v vasi Chenjiagou (foto: D. Siaw-Voon Sim).

Oktobra lani smo imeli ob gostovanju Davida Gaffneya v Sloveniji priložnost zaprositi vodjo Chen šole iz Manchestra (VB) in avtorja dveh temeljnih del o Chen taijiquan-u za intervju. David se je povabilu z veseljem odzval in v pogovoru izpostavil predvsem dva vidika veščine: borilni aspekt kot taijiquan-ovo primarno naravo ter nujo, da znanje poglabljamo naravno in postopno.

David, koliko si bil star, ko si se začel ukvarjati z borilnimi veščinami in kaj te je takrat motiviralo?

Borilne veščine sem začel trenirati, ko sem bil star petnajst let. Takrat smo živeli v Moss Side-u, nevarnem središčnem okrožju Manchestra, kjer je bil poulični kriminal nekaj običajnega. Prav zato sem borilne veščine videl sprva izključno kot sredstvo samoobrambe.

Katere sloge si treniral tekom let ter kakšne so tvoje izkušnje z vsakim od teh slogov?

Zunanje borilne veščine sem treniral petnajst ali šestnajst let. Začel sem z Wado Ryu karatejem in nato nadaljeval s šaolinskim Nam Pai Chuan-om (severno in južno pestjo) ter kickboksom. Od leta 1996 treniram izključno Chen taijiquan.

Zdaj torej treniraš in poučuješ Chen taijiquan. Ali nam lahko za začetek orišeš svoje ozadje v taiji-ju? Kdaj si prvič spoznal Chen slog? Kaj te je pritegnilo v tem sistemu, kar nisi našel nikjer drugje? Kdo so bili tvoji učitelji in kaj si se od njih naučil?

Chen taijiquan sem spoznal sredi devetdesetih in kmalu zatem prvikrat srečal Chen Xiaowang-a. Zame je bil to ključen trenutek. Chen Xiaowang je imel predavanje v mrzli dvorani sredi Manchestra: po predavanju je vstal, si slekel suknjič, odvezal kravato in izvedel fantastično serijo fajin-ov. Do tistega trenutka sem videl mnoge mojstre, vendar pa je bilo to nekaj povsem drugega. Od takrat dalje sem se posvetil treningu izključno Chen taijiquan-a in prepotoval Veliko Britanijo, Evropo in Kitajsko, da bi mu lahko sledil. Tekom let sem mnogokrat odpotoval na Kitajsko, da bi treniral z največjimi mojstri 19. generacije družine Chen. Leta 2003 je naša Šola popeljala prvo skupino angleških učencev na Kitajsko, da bi lahko v vasi Chenjiagou intenzivno trenirali s Chen Xiaoxing-om. Tja se redno vračamo vsaj enkrat, občasno tudi dvakrat letno. Leta 2008 mi je Chenjiagou taijiquan šola podelila certifikat učitelja. V Manchestru imamo tudi to srečo, da tu zadnjih deset let biva zelo dober učitelj Chen sloga, Wang Haijun. Naša šola se tudi trudi pripeljati v Veliko Britanijo najboljše mojstre Chen taijiquan-a in na ta način dvigniti nivo znanja tukaj. Smo edina britanska šola, katerja je gostila kar tri izmed »štirih Budinih bojevnikov«. V Veliki Britaniji smo tudi kot prvi gostili Zhu Tiancai-a, Chen Xioaxing-a in Chen Ziqiang-a. Tekom let sem srečal kar nekaj izjemnih učiteljev, ki so odigrali pomembno vlogo v mojem razvoju. Omenil bi delo s Chen Zhenglei-em med mojimi prvimi obiski Kitajske, pa Feng Zhiqiang-a, Tian Jingmiao-a in druge… Pogled vsakega od teh učiteljev je doprinesel k mojemu bolj celostnemu razumevanju veščine.

Kakšna je tvoja vsakodnevna vadba; kako dolgo, na primer, treniraš vsak dan, kdaj običajno vadiš, kakšen je tvoj običajni vsakodnevni režim?

Potiskanje rok z mojstom Chen Ziqiang-om (foto: D. Siaw-Voon Sim).

Potiskanje rok z mojstom Chen Ziqiang-om (foto: D. Siaw-Voon Sim).

Moj vsakodnevni trening je odvisen od mojega urnika. Med tednom vodim veliko tečajev in pri teh, namesto da bi stal spredaj in zgolj govoril, rad tudi sam sodelujem. Ob na polno zasedenih dnevih tako opravim tudi do sedem ali osem ponovitev forme Laojia Yilu, navijanje svile, stoječo meditacijo in podobno, še predno se lotim lastnega treninga. Običajno skušam opraviti vsaj nekaj ur samostojne vadbe – tudi več, če le nisem prezaposlen. Večino časa namenim vadbi Laojia Yilu, katera predstavlja gongfu formo Chen taijiquan-a – številnim generacijam učencev v Chen vasi ta forma, poleg Zhan Zhuang-a (stoječe meditacije) in vaj navijanja svile, namreč služi kot tradicionalna metoda razvijanja lastne veščine. Potiskanje rok (tako rutine kot prosti slog) običajno treniram nekajkrat na teden. Paocui, forme z orožji, vaje z dolgo palico in podobno opravljam po občutku, vendar običajno po koncu treningov na dneve, ko imam več časa.

Za trening nimam določenih fiksnih ur. Vem, da veliko ljudi govori o kitajskem običaju, da se trening opravi zjutraj. Sam pravim učencem, da v resnici ni pomembno, kdaj vadiš, temveč da redno vadiš.

Kaj so po tvojem mnenju ključni vidiki učenja/treniranja taijiquan-a, še posebej, če veščino primerjaš z drugimi borilnimi veščinami, katere si treniral v preteklosti?

Menim, da so najpomembnejši vidiki pri učenju taijiquan-a na eni strani nivo motivacije učencev ter sposobnost in pripravljenost učiteljev posredovati naprej veščino na drugi. Vadba mora biti urejena in sistematična. V tem taijiquan ni prav nič drugačen od ostalih borilnih veščin. Da bi dosegel dober nivo znanja, mora učenec najprej osvojiti osnove. V Chen taijiquan-u moramo najprej pričeti s treningom bistvenih vidikov telesne strukture in gibanja. Ti vidiki morajo postati del naravnega telesnega spomina in ne zgolj slepo naučeni in mehansko ponavljani. Ljudje, katerim se mudi, da bi čim prej prišli do »dobrih stvari«, redko dosežejo visok nivo v taiji-ju. Pomanjkanje potrpežljivosti za trening osnov je lahko velik problem. Ljudje mislijo, da se lahko, ker so trenirali že deset ali petnajst let, začnejo ukvarjati z naprednejšimi vidiki vadbe. Če imajo (oni ali njihov učitelj) priložnost delati z učiteljem zgolj enkrat ali dvakrat letno, ostaja njihov nivo znanja zelo nizek.

Vse se začne s stoječo meditacijo Zhan Zhuang-om (foto: D. Siaw-Voon Sim).

Vse se začne s stoječo meditacijo Zhan Zhuang (foto: D. Siaw-Voon Sim).

V vasi Chenjiagou pogosto rečejo, da kvantiteta porodi kvaliteto. Mojster Chen Xiaoxing večkrat govori o nujnosti, da do veščine pridemo z drilom, torej je očitno pomembno, da je učenec motiviran in resno vadi tiste vidike veščine, ki so primerni njegovi stopnji razvoja. Učenci morajo zaupati svojemu učitelju in metodi. Glede tega imajo učenci v vasi Chenjiagou veliko prednost. Lahko namreč vidijo ljudi na vseh stopnjah razvoja, od popolnih začetnikov do velemojstrov. Na Zahodu se začetniki pogosto zaženejo v vadbo z velikim entuziazmom, vendar kasneje začnejo dvomiti v metodo in skušajo dopolniti lasten trening z različnimi stvarmi, za katere verjamejo, da jih bodo naredile bolj uspešne. V končni fazi je počasna pot najhitrejša za dosego resnične veščine. Šele če bo učenec najprej osvojil pravilno telesno strukturo, pravilno navijanje svile in pravilen energetski občutek (lahkosti v zgornjem delu telesa, teže v spodnjem delu, ekspanzije od vznotraj navzven in tako naprej), bo dejansko lahko praktično uporabil sistem, ko bo začel raziskovati možnosti v dvoboju. Kdor zbira forme in tehnike ne da bi najprej zgradil temelje, najverjetneje ne bo uspešen v praktičnem preizkusu pod pritiskom.

V zvezi s specifičnimi razlikami med Chan taijiquan-om in ostalimi borilnimi veščinami – glavne razlike so poudarek na razvoju krožnega principa in zakoreninjenosti v Chen taijiquan-u kot osnova za uspeh v dvoboju. Pomembno je tudi razumeti telo kot sistem in ne zgolj slediti drilu vnaprej dogovorjenih oblik napada in obrambe. V Chen taijiquan-u je za borbo osrednja ideja spontanosti in trening s ciljem, da odreagiraš v skladu s situacijo.

Kaj je po tvojem mnenju resnično bistvo in končni cilj taijiquan-a? Se je njegovo bistvo spreminjalo skozi čas in ali se ti zdi, da je danes njegovo bistvo drugačno kot je bilo nekdaj?

Heksagram11, Tai.

Heksagram11, Tai.

Samo ime sistema kaže na njegovo bistvo. Quan pomeni boks ali borilno veščino, Taiji pa je osrednja ideja Ijing-a. Rečemo lahko torej, da taijiquan prenaša princip Taiji-ja v borilno veščino. Taiji je iskanje ravnovesja. Navznoter skuša Taiji uravnovesiti emocionalni vidik uma (xin), ki ima yang kvaliteto, z logičnim aspektom uma oziroma namero (yi), katera je yin; navzven Taiji uravnoveša dejavnike kot so čvrsto-mehko, hitro-počasno, odprto-zaprto, napredovanje-umik. To velja tako danes kot je veljalo nekdaj. Je pa res, da so danes tečaji taiji-ja vsepovsod, čeprav je vprašanje, koliko ljudi, ki te tečaje vodijo, dejansko razume bistvo sistema.

Kako je učenje taijiquan-a vplivalo na tvoje telo in tvoj um?

Vpliv na oba je bil velik! V taijiquan-u se osrednja metodologija treniranja vrti okrog treh konceptov: »song, rou« in »man«. Gre za trening telesa s pomočjo metode počasnosti s ciljem, da telo postane sproščeno in odzivno. Počasnost je potrebna, da smo lahko pozorni na vse aspekte fizičnega in mentalnega. Sledenje tej metodi neizogibno porodi večjo mentalno umirjenost in osredotočenost. Ko me ljudje vprašajo, kaj mi je taijiquan dal, je prva stvar, katero najprej omenim, občutek udobnosti in domačnosti v lastnem telesu.

Ali vadiš Qigong?

Ne. Taijiquan je sam po sebi sofisticirana oblika energetske vadbe. Podobno kot pri vseh tradicionalnih borilnih veščinah, je tudi Chen Wangting, ko je razvil sistem skoraj štiristo let nazaj, vanj vključil Jingluo teorijo iz tradicionalne kitajske medicine, Ying-Yang teorijo iz Ijing-a, kot tudi starodavni metodi Daoyin (zbiranje in usmerjanje energije) in Tu-Na (dobesedno vdihovanje in izdihovanje).

Ali se ti zdi pomembno, da ljudje, ki vadijo taijiquan, poznajo energetski sistem, akupunkturne točke in meridiane?

Najprej je potrebno poudariti, da se učimo taijiquan in ne študiramo z namenom, da bi postali zdravniki kitajske tradicionalne medicine. Seveda pa je potrebno, če želimo razumeti zapuščino mojstrov preteklih generacij, poznati osnove kitajske medicine. Zato pomaga, če poznamo nekatere akupunkturne točke, katere so povezane z vadbo taijiquan-a.

Kaj pa teoretični vidiki sistema? Kako pomembno se ti zdi poznati in študirati teoretična dela, kot na primer Chen Xin-ov Ilustrirani kanon taijiquan-a družine Chen? Kdaj, se ti zdi, bi moral učenec začeti vključevati ta vidik v svoj študij, če sploh?

Ilustracija navijanja svile iz Chen Xino-vega dela.

Ilustracija navijanja svile iz Chen Xin-ovega dela.

Pomembno je, da poznaš dovolj relevantne teorije za lastno stopnjo razvoja. Za začetnika je dovolj, če pozna osnovne zahteve – poravnano telo, sproščen um in v razkoraku zaokrožene noge (kot da bi med njimi držal veliko žogo; op. avt.). Na tej stopnji bi lahko preveč kompleksni teoretični aspekti celo zavirali učenčev razvoj. Na primer, če bi poskušal zapreti prsni koš medtem ko je telo še vedno togo in neporavnano v vertikalni osi, bi zgolj povročil še več napačnih odklonov v telesu. Bolje je, da pristopimo k treningu z logičnim in potrpežljivim pristopom. Branje Shakespeare-ja ne more koristiti otroku v osnovni šoli. Podobno mora tudi učenec taijiquan-a iti skozi vse stopnje razvoja in trenirati njemu primerne vidike sistema. Kitajski učenci imajo to prednost, da lažje razumejo določene koncepte, saj imajo ti jasne kulturne reference. Besede kot na primer qi, peng, lu, ji, an imajo za zahodnjake prizvok misterioznosti, medtem ko so nekaj povsem običajnega na Kitajskem. Zaradi tega je morda bolj pomembno za zahodnjake, da prebirajo tudi razna dela o taijiquan-u. Prav tako je pomembno, da sledijo in zaupajo kompetentnemu učitelju in ne postanejo neučakani ter silijo v učenje nečesa, za kar še niso pripravljeni.

Bi se strinjal z mnenjem, da je veščina vsake nove generacije slabša od poprejšnje in da zato taijiquan postopoma usiha?

Mislim, da to ne drži. Veliko stvari vpliva na relativni nivo znanja različnih generacij in celo različnih ljudi znotraj iste generacije. Dobro znan rek pravi, da ne moreš doseči visok nivo znanja, če si prebogat ali prereven. Ljudje iz preteklih generacij so bili dejansko ob različnih priložnostih kot vojaki, varuhi trgovskih karavan ali lastnih skupnosti pozvani, da uporabijo veščino v situacijah na življenje in smrt. To je bila seveda močna motivacija za dosego visokega nivoja v veščini. V spet drugih časih hude revščine je bila prioriteta golo preživetje. Zabeleženo je, kako se je Chen Zhaopi, učitelj trenutne generacije velemojstrov, ob povratku v Chenjiagou zgrozil, ko je videl, da je veščina v lastnem rojstnem kraju na robu izumrtja. Lakota in naravne katastrofe prav gotovo ne zagotavljajo primernega okolja za razvoj veščine. Danes so ljudje bolj izobraženi in imajo boljše življenjske pogoje kot pretekle generacije, imajo pa tudi možnosti izbire in zabave, katere prej niso bile na voljo. Vsekakor pa bo imela, vse dokler se metoda treninga pravilno prenaša naprej, vsaka generacija svoje velemojstre.

Kakšno je tvoje mnenje o načrtovanem razvoju vasi Chenjiagou?

V Chenjiagou sem prišel prvikrat leta 1997. Od takrat se je marsikaj spremenilo, nekaj na bolje, in nekaj na slabše. Najnovejši načrti za razvoj vasi me spominjajo na komercializacijo šaoliskega templja. Vendar pa se je razvoj, kot sem nazadnje slišal, ustavil zaradi problemov s financiranjem.

Ali si kdaj treniral tudi full contact borbo ali sodeloval na tekmovanjih? Kakšno je tvoje mnenje o tem vidiku borilnih veščin?

Tekom let sem pogosto tekmoval v tradicionalnem karateju in kasneje v semi- in full contact kickboxu. To se mi zdi dragocena izkušnja v smislu preizkusiti se pod pritiskom. Saj je v redu govoriti o tej ali oni tehniki, ampak zmoreš nadaljevati borbo, ko si enkrat poškodovan? Si sposoben kontrolirati svoja čustva, ko si enkrat soočen z močnim nasprotnikom? Se zavedaš, koliko fizične bolečine lahko preneseš ti ali tvoj nasprotnik, ne da bi jo občutil, ko teče adrenalin? Odgovori na ta vprašanja ti dajo samozavest in doprinesejo k občutju resničnosti tvojega treninga. V taijiquan-u sem bil uspešen na številnih tekmovanjih v potiskanju rok – dosegel sem tudi prvo mesto na mednarodnem tekmovanju Internal Arts International Atlantic Cup v Veliki Britaniji, kjer so sodelovali tudi tekmovalci iz Hong Konga in ZDA.

Je navijanje svile (Chan Si Jin) značilno samo za Chen slog, ali ga poznajo tudi drugi slogi taijiquan-a?

Vse glavne šole taijiquan-a si delijo določene principe in ideje. Ker pa sem sam študiral zgolj Chen slog, ne bi želel razpravljati o podrobnostih drugih slogov.

Kaj se ti zdi ključni del taijiquan vadbe v smislu gradnje gongfu-ja (veščine)?

Chen Changxing.

Chen Changxing, oče Laojia form.

Ključno je, da natančno in pazljivo slediš razvoju pravilne telesne strukture. V vasi Chenjiagou pravijo, da je Laojia Yilu »gongfu forma« in da je trening te forme »trening okvirja«. Ko govorimo o strukturi, govorimo najprej o pravilni postavitvi vseh sklepov v telesu in posledično o vzniku zavedanja, da je Dantian center telesa. Pravilna struktura ne sme biti prisotna zgolj v statičnih položajih, ampak tudi v gibanju, saj lahko šele takrat izpolniš zahtevo biti »podprt v osmih straneh«.

David, kako bi opisal Peng Jin?

Peng je običajno opisan na dva načina. Prvič: poleg lu, ji, an, cai, lie,zhou in kao, je peng eden od temeljnih osmih jin-ov (notranjih sil, op. avt.). V tem smislu peng opisuje tip tehnike odbijanja. Drugič: peng predstavlja najpomembnejšo kvaliteto, brez katere ni taijiquan-a. Telo v stanju peng lahko primerjamo z napihnjeno žogo, saj je elastično in s prekipevajočim fizičnim občutkom moči ter ekspanzije od znotraj navzven. Peng je osrednji jin oziroma kultivirana sila v taijiquan-u in je zato vedno prisoten, ko se gibljemo spiralno, nevtraliziramo ali napadamo. Vsi ostali primarni jin-i morajo biti podprti s peng-om. Iz tega seveda sledi, da če nimaš peng jin-a, ne moreš imeti niti preostalih jin-ov.

Kako lahko učenec zgradi in ojača Peng Jin?

Peng Jin je moč zgraditi le skozi dolgotrajno notranjo kultivacijo. Za gradnjo in ojačanje Peng Jin-a so potrebni številni dejavniki. S kultivacijo moramo doseči takšno stanje uma, v katerem je ta umirjen, a čuječ. Telo mora preko treninga osvojiti občutek lahkosti in senzitivnosti v zgornjem delu in sočasno izjemne teže in povezave s tlemi v spodnjem delu. S pazljivim uravnavanjem telesa lahko prebijemo blokade v energetskih poteh, vse dokler či ne postane močnejši, polnejši in napolni Dantian. Nato uporabimo spiralno gibanje, ki sledi principom navijanja svile, da zbrana energija zaokroži skozi telo.

Če bi imel priložnost srečati kateregakoli – živega ali mrtvega – mojstra borilnih veščin, kdo bi to bil in zakaj?

Srečati enega od pokojnih legendarnih mojstrov iz vasi Chenjiagou ter videti, kako se lahko naše znanje danes primerja s taijiquan-om nekdaj, bi bilo res fascinantno. Če bi moral izbrati le enega mojstra, bi se verjetno odločil za Chen Changxing-a. Bil je namreč prvi, ki je učil tudi nekoga izven klana Chen in tudi tisti, ki je preklasificiral izvorne forme Chen Wangtinga v Laojia formi, katere vadimo danes – zanimivo bi bilo videti, kaj bi si mislil o širjenju družinske veščine po vsem svetu.

Kakšni pa so tvoji upi in želje glede tvojega razvoja v bodoče?

Vhod v Chenjiagou taijiquan šolo (foto: D. Siaw-Voon Sim).

Vhod v Chenjiagou taijiquan šolo (foto: D. Siaw-Voon Sim).

Pri taijiquan-u ne gre toliko za doseganje dokončnih ciljev, ampak za pot. Vse, kar si želim, je nadaljevati trening z izjemnimi učitelji, slediti tradicionalnim metodam iz vasi Chenjiagou in še naprej naravno razvijati lastno veščino.

Bi želel povedati še kaj, kar bi lahko služilo drugim kot navdih za trening taijiquan-a? Bi morda želel učencem priporočiti kakšne specifične koncepte ali metode za razvijanje njihovega gongfu-ja (veščine)?

K procesu učenja je potrebno vse od prvega stika s Chen taijiquan-om pristopiti logično in sistematično. Prav vsi različni učni vidiki Chen taijiquna-a so med seboj povezani in potrebni. Pomembno je, da stopimo na pot učenja z zaupanjem. Veščina bo naravno rasla – če se bomo v učenju gibali od enostavnega h kompleksnemu in od površinskega h globjemu. Z leti in leti konstantnega treninga lahko napredujemo preko različnih nivojev gongfu-ja in pri tem pridobimo nova spoznanja na vsakem od osvojenih nivojev. Vsakdo prične z različne izhodiščne točke, toda prav vsi lahko na ta način bistveno napredujemo. Znan Malezijski taijiquan mojster je nekoč svetoval: »Ne bodi zadovoljen zgolj s tem, da si učenec mojstra – naj postane mojstrska tvoja lastna veščina.«