Category Archives: Interview

“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




“The slow way is the fastest way”: An interview with David Gaffney


In front of the temple in Chenjiagou village (photo: D. Siaw-Voon Sim).

We had the opportunity to ask David Gaffney, Chief Instructor of Chenjiagou Taijiquan School (Manchester, UK), for an interview during his visit to Slovenia in October 2012. David kindly agreed, and during our conversation placed his main emphasis on two central aspects of Chen Taijiquan: the martial aspect of the system, and the necessity to deepen one’s knowledge both naturally and gradually.

David, how old were you when you started training in the martial arts, and what was it that inspired or motivated you initially?

I was fifteen years old when I started training in the martial arts. My motivation was entirely pragmatic. Living in Moss Side, a tough inner city district in Manchester where street crime was common, I initially saw martial arts solely as a means of self protection.

What styles have you practiced over the years, and what was your experience in each of these styles?

I practiced external martial arts for fifteen or sixteen years, training Wado Ryu Karate and then Shaolin Nam Pai Chuan (Northern and Southern Fist) and kickboxing. Since 1996 I have trained exclusively in Chen Taijiquan.

You now practice and teach Chen Taijiquan. To begin with, could you tell me a little about your background in Taiji? When were you first introduced to Chen style and what was it that you found in this system that you couldn’t find elsewhere? Who were/are your teachers and what did you learn from them?

I was first introduced to Chen Taijiquan in the mid 1990s and shortly afterwards met Chen Xiaowang for the first time. This was a pivotal moment for me. He gave a lecture in a cold hall in Manchester and when he finished talking stood up, took off his jacket and tie and unleashed a fantastic series of fajin. Up to this point I had seen many strong martial artists, but this was something else. From that moment I have only trained Chen Taijiquan following him since then in the UK, throughout Europe and in China. Over the years I have travelled to China many times to train with some of the foremost teachers of this generation. In 2003 our school took the first British group to train intensively in Chenjiagou with Chen Xiaoxing and have been back just about every year (sometimes twice) since then. In 2008 I was awarded an Instructor’s certificate by the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School. In Manchester we have been fortunate to have a very good Chen style teacher Wang Haijun who has been resident here for the last decade. Our school has tried to bring the best Chen Taijiquan masters to the UK to raise the standard here. We are the only school in the UK to have hosted three of the “Four Buddha’s Warriors” of Chen Taijiquan. We organised the first UK visits of Zhu Tiancai, Chen Xioaxing and Chen Ziqiang. I have also met some great teachers who have had a valuable part in my Taijiquan development including Chen Zhenglei in the early years in China, Feng Zhiqiang, Tian JIngmiao… Each of these teachers perspective has helped me towards a holistic understanding of this traditional art.

Push hands with master Chen ZiQiang (photo: D. Siaw-Voon Sim).

Pushing hands with master Chen ZiQiang (photo: D. Siaw-Voon Sim).

What is your daily practice like; for example, how long do you train each day? When do you usually practise? What is a typical training regime for you?

My daily training varies depending upon my schedule. During the week I teach lots of classes and like to participate in these rather than standing in the front talking. On busy days I might have done seven or eight Laojia Yilu’s, Silk Reeling, Standing etc before I get round to my own personal practice. Generally I like to get in at least a few hours solitary practice – more if the day is not too busy. The bulk of this is Laojia Yilu, Chen Taijiquan’s “gongfu” frame – the traditional method of skill development practiced by generations of Chen village practitioners – supplemented by zhan zhuang and silk reeling exercises. I usually train push hands (both drills and sparring) a couple of times a week. Paocui (Cannon Fist), weapons, pole-shaking etc, when I feel like it, but usually at the end of training on days when I have more time.

As to when I practice, I have no set time. I know people look to the Chinese habit of training in the early morning, but as I say to my students – it doesn’t really matter when you practice, what is important is that you do practice.

What in your opinion are some of the most important aspects of Taiji study/training (also when compared to other martial arts that you trained in the past)?

In my opinion the most important factors in the study of Taijiquan are the motivation level of students and the knowledge, ability and willingness of teachers to pass on the skill. Training must be done in an ordered and systematic way. Really this is no different to other martial arts. To reach a good level of skill one must first master the fundamentals. In Chen Taijiquan we must train the essential aspects of body structure and movement. These must be trained into the body rather than simple learned and recited in a parrot-like way. People in a hurry to get to the “good stuff” rarely achieve good Taiji skill. This lack of patience to train the fundamentals can be a real problem. People may think that they must be ready to progress to the more advanced aspects of training if they have already practiced for ten or fifteen years. But if they (or their teacher) only meet their own teacher once or twice a year at a seminar then the true level of experience is actually very low.

Development of the frame starts with Zhan Zhuang (photo: D. Siaw-Voon Sim).

In Chenjiagou it is often said that quantity begets quality. Master Chen Xiaoxing often talks about the necessity of grinding out skill, so it is obviously important that the student be motivated to train hard on those aspects appropriate to their stage of development. Students must have confidence in their teacher and in the method. Learners in Chenjiagou have a big advantage in this regard. They can see people at all stages of the developmental process from absolute beginners to grandmasters. In the West beginners often start off with great enthusiasm but then start to doubt the method, supplementing their training with other things they think will make them more effective. Ultimately the slow way is the fastest way to achieve real skill. First laying down the correct body structure, silk reeling movement and energetic sensation (Light at the top, heavy at the bottom, inward to outward expansion etc) means that when a person begins to explore the combat possibilities they can make the system work. Those collecting forms and techniques without first developing an adequate foundation are unlikely to be successful when tested under pressure.

With regards to the specific differences between Chen Taijiquan and the other arts I practiced – the main differences are Chen Taijiquan’s emphasis on the development of circularity and rootedness as the basis for martial effectiveness. The importance of understanding the body as a system rather than pre-set attack and defence drills. Central to Chen Taijiquan’s approach to combat is the need to accept the idea of spontaneity and to train with the goal of reacting in accordance to a situation.

What in your opinion is the real essence, the ultimate purpose of Taijiquan? Is the essence changing through time; was it different in the past compared to nowadays? 

Hexagram 11, Tai.

Hexagram 11, Tai.

The name of the system points to its essence: Quan is boxing or martial arts; Taiji is the core ideology of the Ijing. So we can say that Taijiquan is the adaptation of Taiji principles into a martial art form. Taiji is the search for balance. In Taijiquan: internally it is the balancing of the emotional mind (xin) which is considered to be yang and the logical mind or intention (yi) which is yin; externally it is the balancing of factors such as hard-soft, fast-slow, open-close, advance-retreat. This is as true today as it has always been.

Today there are Taiji classes everywhere but how many of those running the classes have even a basic understanding of the essence of the system.

What effect has the learning of Taijiquan had on your body and your mind?

It has had a profound effect on both! Taijiquan’s core training methodology revolves around the three characters, song, rou and man. That is training the body to be loose and pliant through the method of slowness. Slowness is required to pay attention to all aspects both physical and mental. Following this method inevitably brings greater mental quietness and focus.  When people ask me what I have got from Taijiquan, the first thing I always say is a feeling of comfort and ease within my own body.

Do you practice Qigong?

No. Taijiquan is a sophisticated form of energy work in its own right. As well as traditional martial arts, jingluo theory from Chinese medicine and yin-yang theory from the Ijing, the ancient methods of Daoyin (leading and guiding energy) and Tu-Na (literally inhaling and exhaling) were incorporated when Chen Wangting created Taijiquan nearly four centuries ago.

Do you think it is important for Taijiquan practitioners to have an awareness of the energy system, the acupoints and meridians?

First, we have to be clear that we are learning Taijiquan not studying to be Chinese doctors. That said, if we are to understand the teachings that have been left by past generations of masters it is important to be aware of the basic ideas of traditional Chinese medicine. It is helpful to be aware of certain important acupoints as they relate to Taijiquan practice.

What about the theoretical aspects of the system: how important is it for you to know and study theoretical works, such as Chen Xin’s Illustrated Canon of Chen Family Taijiquan? When would one need to start incorporating these aspects into one’s learning, if at all?

Illustration in Chen Xin's work, representing silk reeling principle.

Illustration in Chen Xin’s work, representing the silk reeling principle.

It is important to be aware of the relevant level of theory for your stage of development. For a beginning student it is enough to be aware of basic gross requirements – body upright, mind relaxed, arms and legs rounded. At this stage, too much emphasis on the more complex theoretical aspects can actually hold someone back. For instance, trying to incorporate more difficult requirements like storing the chest, when the body is still stiff and slanted will simply build more deviations into the body. Better to approach training in a logical step-by-step manner. Just like a child starting primary school would not benefit from reading Shakespeare, so a Taijiquan student must move through each stage, training the appropriate aspects. Chinese students have the advantage of understanding certain concepts more easily as they have clear cultural references. Words like qi, peng, lu, ji, an etc that seem mysterious to Western learners are commonplace to the Chinese. For this reason it is probably more important for Western learners to read around the subject. It is important then that they follow and trust the teaching of a competent teacher and do not become impatient or push for teaching that they are not yet ready for.

Would you agree with the saying that the skill of the next generation is always worse than that of the one before and that he skill of Taijiquan players is diminishing over generations?

No, I don’t think this is the case. Many things affect the relative levels of different generations of practitioners and even different practitioners within the same generation. A well known saying is that you cannot reach a high level of skill if you are to poor or too rich. At different times past generations were called upon to use their skills in real life or death situations: either as soldiers, guardians of merchant caravans or to protect their communities from bandits. This obviously provided great motivation to develop skills to a high level. At other times it was all people could do to survive during times of extreme poverty. It is well documented that when Chen Zhaopi, teacher of the current generation of grandmasters, returned to Chenjiagou he was dismayed to see that the art was in danger of dying out in its birthplace. Famine and natural disaster do not provide a great environment to develop skill. Today people are more educated and enjoy better living conditions than past generations, but they also have choices and distractions not available to past generations. At the end of the day as long as the training method is passed down correctly it is possible for great masters to emerge in any generation.

How do you feel about the planned development of Chenjiagou?

I first went to Chenjiagou in 1997. Since then there have been many changes, some welcome, some not so welcome. The plans for latest development reminded me of the commercialisation of Shaolin Temple. But last I heard the development had ceased due to funding issues.

Have you ever practiced full contact fighting or participated in competition? What was your experience of that aspect?

Over the years I competed many times in traditional Karate and later in semi and full contact kickboxing. I would consider this a valuable experience in terms of being tested under pressure. It’s okay to talk about this or that technique, but can you continue to fight after you have been hurt? Can you control your emotions when facing a strong opponent? Do you realise how much punishment you or another person can take, without even being aware of it, when your adrenalin is flowing? Answering these questions gives confidence and a sense of realism to your training. In Taijiquan I was successful in a number of push hands competitions, including taking first place in the UK Internal Arts International Atlantic Cup  – a competition featuring competitors from Hong Kong and the USA amongst other countries.

Is Silk Reeling Power (Chan Si Jin) the feature of Chen style only or other styles of Taijiquan have it too?

All the major schools of Taijiquan have certain shared principles and ideas. I have only studied Chen style, so would not like to comment on the details of the other schools of Taijiquan.

What do you consider to be the most important part of Taijiquan practice, most useful in building “gongfu” (skill)?

Chen Changxing, father of Laojia forms.

Chen Changxing, father of Laojia forms.

It is vital that you pay strict and careful attention on the development of correct body structure. In Chenjiagou Laojia Yilu is called the “gongfu form” and training the form is often referred to as “training the frame”. When we talk about structure we mean both the correct positioning of all the body’s joints and from this the emergence of awareness of the dantian as the body’s centre. Correct structure must be present not just in a static positions but in movement so that you can fulfil the requirement of being  “supported in eight directions”.

How would you describe Peng Jin?

Peng is usually described in two ways. First as one of Taijiquan’s eight primary jin (along with lu,ji, an, cai, lie,zhou and kao). In this sense peng describes a type of “warding off” technique. It also describes an overriding quality without which we cannot really claim to be doing Taijiquan. The body in this state can be compared to an inflated ball, filled with elasticity and brimming with a physical feeling of inner to outer expansion and strength. Peng is the core jin or trained power of Taijiquan and is always present when moving, neutralising, striking, coiling etc. All of Taijiquan’s primary jin must be supported by peng. So it naturally follows that if you do not have peng jin then you cannot have any of the other jin.

How should a student build and enhance Peng Jin?

Peng jin can only be built through a prolonged period of internal training. Many factors are necessary to build and enhance peng jin. We must cultivate a mental state where the mind is quiet yet alert. The body must be trained until there is acute lightness and sensitivity in the upper body and at the same time a sense of extreme weightiness and connection to the ground in the lower body. By carefully adjusting the body we can break through blockages in the energy paths until qi energy becomes fuller and stronger, and fills the dantian.  Then we use spiraling “silk-reeling” movement to circulate this energy throughout the body.

If you had the opportunity to meet any practitioner of the martial arts, living or dead, who would that be and why?

It would be fascinating to meet any of the legendary past masters from Chenjiagou to see how what we are doing today compares to the way they practiced Taijiquan. If I had to pick one it would probably be Chen Changxing. He was the first to teach a non-clan member and reclassified the original forms of Chen Wangting into the Laojia routines we practice today – it would be interesting to see what he would make of today’s spread of his family art throughout the world.

Do you have any hopes or aspirations regarding your own development?

The entrance to the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School (photo: D. Siaw-Voon Sim).

The entrance to the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School (photo: D. Siaw-Voon Sim).

Really Taijiquan is about the journey rather than the destination. I just want to carry on training with great teachers, following the traditional village method and continue to develop naturally.

Is there anything you can say which would provide inspiration for others training Taijiquan? Are there any particular concepts or methods that you would recommend to students  to develop their skill (gongfu)?

From your first contact with Chen Taijiquan the whole process should be approached in a systematic way and logical way. The various aspects of the Chen Taijiquan syllabus are all interrelated and necessary. It is important to approach your training journey with confidence. Adding skill naturally – moving from the simple to the complex and from the superficial to deeper levels of skill. By training consistently year-by-year we can progress through different levels of gongfu having new realisations in each level. Everybody starts from a different point, but all can make significant progress in this way. A famous Malaysian Taijiquan master advised: “don’t be content to be the student of a successful teacher, make a success of your own practice”.


Agni Prijatelj

“Adopt the right way of thinking; be consistent in your practice; and continue to seek and learn”: An interview with Master Chen Ziqiang


Master Chen Ziqiang at his workshop in Ljubljana, June 2013 (photo: M. Vorwerk)

Master Chen Ziqiang is a member of the twentieth generation of the Chen family, and his genealogy is truly impressive: his father is Grandmaster Chen Xiaoxing, his uncle Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang, and his great-grandfather was Chen Fake himself. Over the past two decades, however, Ziqiang has gained recognition in the world of Chen Taijiquan through his own merit alone. In line with martial arts tradition, he’s fought anyone who’s dared to spar with him in both official and unofficial settings since his twenties, and has won numerous tournaments, gaining the reputation of a fierce fighter.

Intent on preserving the true essence of his family’s skill, and totally dedicated to upholding the tradition, he now runs Chen Village Taijiquan School (Chen Taijiquan Xuexiao) in his home village of Chenjiagou, along with his father. He also spends two to three months a year travelling through Europe and the USA, disseminating his extensive knowledge on Chen Taijiquan to Western students.

It was during his 2013 tour that Chen Ziqiang held a workshop in Slovenia for the first time, offering a group of students from various parts of Europe an extraordinary opportunity to experience his qualities as a teacher. In the gym, guiding a group through vigorous warm-up exercises, countless repetitions of Taolu (forms), and dynamic (and always fun!) push-hand drills, Ziqiang revealed himself to be a strict and tireless teacher with a hawk’s eye for spotting mistakes. With his strong and inspiring presence he motivated all of the students to work harder and push their own boundaries further.

Chen Ziqiang supervising the group at his workshop (photo: J. Suhadolnik)

Chen Ziqiang supervising the group at his workshop (photo: J. Suhadolnik)

Being patient and generous, Chen Ziqiang agreed to share his experience and knowledge of Taijiquan outside the gym, too. In order to answer students’ questions, he sat down during the quiet hours of the evening and gave his own account of learning the skill, his teaching experience, and his views on specific aspects of Gongfu. During the conversation, he reminisced on his childhood in a village where Taijiquan is firmly embedded in life’s daily and yearly routines, and where old masters’ stories and legends spark children’s imagination. He also described the intensification, over the years, of his motivation and will to train, and his growing commitment to preserving his family’s skill in its true and original form.

When describing his teaching experience, he touched upon the daily tasks involved in running the school with his father, as well as the kind of future his students can expect once they have graduated and left their training behind. He also discussed distinct aspects of Gongfu, the diverse challenges of the learning and teaching process, and the differences between Western and Chinese students’ approaches.

Some of Ziqiang’s most significant answers were also the shortest and most concise, delivered with the same precision and accuracy that he employs in the fighting ring. Like many masters before him, Chen Ziqiang stressed that there are no short cuts in Taijiquan. Of equal importance and gravity was his statement that a student can succeed through diligence and perseverance alone.

Our conversation opened with a question for Ziqiang about his childhood.

On Learning the Skill

Master Ziqiang, how old were you when you started training, and what did your training incorporate at that stage? How did you feel about Taijiquan and training at the very beginning?

I was trained from the age of three. Mainly I was asked to do Zhan Zhuang (the Standing Pole). I had no particular thought at that stage of my training process, except to feel that it was impinging on my play time.

Who were your teachers over the years, and what was your path in Taijiquan?

Grandmaster Chen Xiaoxing (Chen Ziqiang’s father) at home, making noodles. The rhythm, speed and accuracy of his movement reflect the principles of Taijiquan (photo: A. Christodoulou)

Grandmaster Chen Xiaoxing (Chen Ziqiang’s father) at home, making noodles. The rhythm, speed and accuracy of his movement reflect the principles of Taijiquan (photo: A. Christodoulou)

My father, Chen Xiaoxing, was my teacher. Whenever he had time, he supervised my Zhan Zhuang and adjusted my position accordingly. He did the same with my form and weapons training.

As a youngster, did you witness any real-life events (not necessarily fights) that revealed the great skill of teachers from the village? If so, how did those events influence you?

In the village I saw many such events, and didn’t think they were anything out of the ordinary – it was all part of my normal environment. So in that sense, they didn’t have any special impact on me.

The world of Taijiquan in general, and Chenjiagou village in particular, is full of stories of legendary masters and their accomplishments. Is there a story that you’re particularly fond of?

Every generation in my clan has fantastic stories. I like them all, particularly the ones that portray real martial skill. Others, based on legends, are designed to inspire.

Master Ziqiang, what has motivated you in your training? Has your motivation changed over the years, and if so, how?

As a child, I wasn’t particularly motivated – I trained and practised because my parents demanded and expected it. But at the age of 13 I suddenly became very motivated and trained hard, as I wanted to be as strong as I was small in stature. I also began to realise that it was a matter of passing on a unique family skill that had been handed down from generation to generation [for centuries]. If I didn’t continue the tradition, my family would lose it. That sentiment has stayed with me, and has never changed – I have an obligation to fulfil.

Do you still train with your father, and if so, how often? Given your extremely high level of skill, how important do you find working with elder masters in order to further your own progress?

Of course I continue to train under my father. Although I no longer have him standing over me every day, I seek him out when I come across a point that needs clarification, or something I can’t understand. It will always be like that.

What’s your daily practice like these days – how long do you train each day, for example? When do you usually practise? What’s your typical training regime?

I train every morning, afternoon and evening. When I’m at home, that comes to about eight hours a day. I practise everything in the system – Taolu (hand forms), weapons and Tuishou (push hands).

Do you favour any particular aspect of training? If so, why?

I like to examine the common ground of Taolu and actual fighting. That’s the only way I can understand the reason behind Taolu movements and their functions and purposes.

On Chen Village Tajiquan School and Teaching World-wide

You now run a school with your father. What are your responsibilities? 

At school, my main responsibility is teaching. I’m responsible for training students for competitions.

Could you tell us a bit about your students? How many are there in the school? Where are they from? How long (on average) do they stay there? What is their path after they leave?

Every day, training at Chen Village Taijiquan School starts with a run, and warm-up exercises (photo: L. Marsh)

Every day, training at Chen Village Taijiquan School starts with a run, and warm-up exercises
(photo: L. Marsh)

There are around 300 registered students in the school. They are from Chenjiagou and all over China, and from other countries. Some are in the school as short-term students (for anything between a few weeks and six months), while others are long term (for between two years and ten).

Most of the long-term graduates who come as children go on to become martial arts instructors. Some go into security, or the police and armed forces. The short-term students are mostly mature people with a career or occupation, who come to learn Chen Family Taijiquan, or taiji instructors of other schools who come to upgrade or raise their standard.

Would you agree that teaching not only helps students to progress, but also allows teachers to improve their own skills? In your experience, which particular skills are further sharpened by teaching others?

Master Chen Ziqiang during a demonstration at Chen Village Taijiquan School (photo: A. Christodoulou)

Master Chen Ziqiang during a demonstration at Chen Village Taijiquan School (photo: A. Christodoulou)

If the teaching method’s correct, it will definitely raise the standard of both learner and teacher. A teacher should constantly research and examine the correct method and the correct route, and that’s invariably reflected in the learner. So both teacher and learner raise their level of practice and understanding.

How would you describe the learning process in Taijiquan?

Besides having a good teacher, a person should train and practise diligently, and persevere unremittingly.

When one trains constantly and has a good teacher, is progress in Gongfu always gradual and incremental, or can it sometimes be rapid and sudden?

A quantum leap isn’t possible – it’s wishful thinking, a pipe dream! There are no shortcuts!

Is it true that when one becomes more advanced, each additional level of skill is harder to achieve, and takes longer? Why is that?

Not necessarily, but if one fails to learn the correct method or take the right path, it’s difficult to make further progress. Also, on reaching a certain level, it isn’t a matter of time. The key lies in acquiring the technical ability and skill to reach a higher level.

Practice (photo: J. Suhadolnik)

Practice (photo: J. Suhadolnik)

What are the characteristics of a good student, in your opinion?

A good student should have three qualities: intelligence, diligence and disposition. It’s rare for anyone to have all three, and diligence and perseverance are acceptable for the most part.

Comparing Chinese and Western students, are there any differences in their approach to Taijiquan and practising it?

It’s harder for Western students to grasp a concept that’s inherent in the Chinese psyche and its culture. At times it seems impossible, as Western students try to interpret the concept on the basis of their own beliefs and interpretations. In approach and practice, Chinese students do, while Western students question. Chinese students go by feeling and sensing movement, while Western students are concerned with the mechanics, or kinetics, of movement.

On Taijiquan and Gongfu

What do you consider to be the most important part of Taijiquan practice, most useful in building Gongfu (skill)?

Training in core skills and Taolu (form); then Tuishou (push hands) and Sanshou (free hands). Each one’s built upon the last, and they’re all inter-connected.

You mentioned that there are three purposes for practising Taijiquan. What are they, and what are the relationships between them?

First: to maintain good health. Second: to build the body. Third: for martial skill. Regardless of one’s purpose, one must apply martial arts principles to one’s training. In that way, Taijiquan will help one to build one’s body and therefore maintain good health. Eventually one will also acquire practical fighting skills.

What are the stages and methods of Tuishou (push hands)?

Tuishou can be categorised by four stages, five methods and three patterns. The four stages are keep fit, study/experimental, applications and combat/fighting. The five methods are single hand, double hands, backward and forward stepping, low stance (da lu) and flexible steps. The three patterns are horizontal, vertical and oblique.

What are your hopes for the future of Chen Taijiquan?

I hope Taijiquan doesn’t lose its true essence in the process of expansion and propagation.

Lastly, could you please say something that will provide inspiration for others training in Taijiquan? Are there any particular concepts or methods you’d recommend to students to develop their skill (Gongfu)?

You need to have confidence, and to persevere in your pursuit of the skills required to achieve your ultimate goal. Have the right idea, be consistent in practice, and continue to seek and learn.

Master Chen Ziqiang, thank you.

Master Chen Ziqiang guides the group through Taolu (photo: J. Suhadolnik)

Master Chen Ziqiang guides the group through Taolu (photo: J. Suhadolnik)


Acknowledgments: This interview wouldn’t have taken place without many friends’ and Taijiquan enthusiasts’  open hearts and generous help. Firstly, I’d like to thank Master Chen Ziqiang for patiently answering many inquisitive questions from Chenjiagou Taijiquan Slovenia School students, rather than having a well-deserved rest in the evening. Secondly, I’d like to thank Davidine Siaw-Voon Sim, a brilliant taiji teacher who translated our questions into Chinese and the answers back into English. Without her help, the idea would never have been realised. I’d like to express immeasurable gratitude to a friend and editor, Claire O’Kell, who has to struggle with my English on a regular basis and who always manages to transform my writing through her subtle sense for language into an interesting read. I’m also very grateful to the photographers who generously allowed their beautiful pictures to accompany the interview and be published on our blog free of charge.
 Special thanks to professional photographer Jože Suhadolnik, who kindly agreed to document a workshop in Ljubljana, and produced an amazing series of photographs. The whole series can be seen in the Gallery section of this blog.
 I’d also like to thank professional photographer Androniki Christodoulou, very sincerely, for allowing us to publish two photographs from her Chenjiagou series in the interview. If you’d like to experience life in the village through her amazing reportage photography, please visit Androniki Christodoulou Photography.
 Thanks to Michael Vorwerk, who not only drove from Kasel (Germany) to Ljubljana in order to train with Master Ziqiang, but also managed to find the time – and the best light – to capture some beautiful portraits. A selection of the portraits can be seen in the Gallery section of this blog.
 Lastly, I’d like to thank my friend Lai Marsh, who visited Chenjiagou in spring 2013 and kindly allowed me to publish one of her photos with the interview.
Agni Prijatelj

“If you give more, you receive more” An interview with Wang Yan, head coach of the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School


Wang Yan - 1


Wang Yan at the Chenjiagou school, September 2017 (photo: Š. Kolenc)

Wang Yan was born in 1990. After a baishi ceremony to his teacher, Master Chen Ziqiang, he became a member of 21st generation of the Chen family. For a decade, he was continuously taught and guided by his master, and was not just a talented student, but also a very diligent and commited one, capable of putting relentless effort into his Taijiquan practice. Wang Yan became one of the best fighters of his generation. He is a national sanda champion, and International Taiji Tuishou champion, winning the greatest number of competitions in the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School’s history. He is also a member of the Chenjiagou Taiji Boxing Organizing Committee, a national level referee, and one of the Chenjiagou “Nine Tigers“.

In spite of his young age he already has almost ten years of teaching experience – he became the assistant coach in Chenjiagou Taijiquan School in 2008, and since 2013 has undertaken the duties of head coach. In 2011 he started to teach on seminars abroad, travelling to France, Germany, Poland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Uzbekhistan.

During my 6-months stay at Chenjiagou school in 2017, Wang Yan was my main teacher. From the very beginning, I noticed his exceptional dedication to the work and duties in the school. He starts teaching at 6.30 am, and finishes his work at 8.00 or even later in the evening. During his working day he is always ready to help anyone asking for his help.

As a teacher he is authoritative with the children and youngsters, and serious and demanding with the adult students. If he wasn’t satisfied with one movement, he wouldn’t show me the next one. At the same time, he was extremly patient and kind, correcting my posture and movements again and again in order to make my skill better.

I experienced him as a very friendly and positive person, who shows a sincere interest in people around him, and is open for new ideas. During breaks, he could be amusing and humorous, and was ever eager to learn some new English words.

His way of dealing with people so open-heartedly made a big impact on me. Working with him day after day for half a year, I did have an opportunity to make my physical skill better, but also to grow as a person. Wang Yan has, in my opinion, developed the characteristics of a warrior, which led him towards his achievements.

I introduced the idea of interviewing him in June 2017. He was surprised at first, almost embarassed, but at the same time happy about it. So three months later, this idea finally came true.

In the beginning of our conversation, Wang Yan talked about his first Taiji steps, describing his daily routine as a young student at the Chenjiagou school. He explained what motivated him during extremly hard training day after day, and what were for him the most difficult things to overcome.

He also shared some memories of competitions and his preparations for them, stressing the necessity for very hard work in order to reach good results. But he also insisted on another basic requirement for a success in a fight: keeping a calm and peaceful mind and not giving in to anger and aggression.

At the end of the interview he described his duties and role at the Chenjiagou Taijiquan school, and his current approach to practice, emphasizing the need for any teacher to practice on their own besides teaching. In conclusion he mentioned the importance of being knowledgeable of Taiji theory as well. His opinion is that thinking in Chinese traditional concepts could help Westerners to grasp the skill easier.

About beginnings…

You come from Wenxian, the town very close to Chenjiagou, so it was quite natural to come in touch with Taijiquan. How old were you when you started practicing? What and who inspired and supported you at the beginning?

My father often used to practise Taijiquan on his own, and so I gradually got interested in martial arts. Also, in primary school at Wenxian I had a teacher of physical education, who taught us Taijiquan in a promotional way. I was then about 10 yrs old. Sometimes he would ask me to stand in front of the others, and to lead a group. That inspired me as well. Later, at the age of thirteen, I joined the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School, and from then I started practicing seriously.


Was Master Chen Ziqiang your only teacher since the very beginning at the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School, or were there other teachers guiding you as well?

From the very beginning Master Chen Ziqiang was my main teacher. At that time, he was not travelling abroad so much, so I was trained by him consistently and regularly. There were also other coaches besides him at the school, helping me with different aspects of the training. I was taught, for example, some external martial arts as well, particularly sanda and shaolin kungfu.

Wang Yan - 2Children training at the East ditch in 2004. Wang Yan is standing in the middle, wearing a sweater with stripes. (Photo: personal archive of Wang Yan)


Can you describe your training routine at the beginning, and how training changed in different periods of your development? Are there some basic training elements present throughout all those years?

Our daily routine started in the morning with running and warming-up excercises. In the first morning class we studied forms, in the second class we did strength excercices, in the third class we did push hands exercises, kicks, punches and other self defense techniques, and during the last evening class we were again doing push hands exercises, and sometimes weight lifting.

Tuishou training for children was play-like: we children liked playing with each other this way. Those trainings were not about learning the specific techniques or exploring the skill in any systematic way, but they were more like rough playing. Other types of training, on the contrary, were quite demanding: we did a lot of weight lifting, stretching, also other strength excercises to develop fitness and muscular abilities. When a student grows a little older, reaching his late teens and early twenties, then the school starts putting much more attention to learning taolu (forms).

The period between my 18 – 21 years was the most intense and demanding period for me: hard training, competitions, and on top of this, I became an assistant coach at the school.


What kept you persisting during this period of daily hard work? Did you have difficulties standing up to those standards?

During that period, I felt exhausted many times during and after training, and simply fed up. At those moments my motivation was shaken and weakened. I dealt with it by remembering the goals I had set to myself, I concentrated on a vision of my future, and that kept me persevering. And besides, quitting was out of question for me, as I did not want to dissapoint my family, especially my father, who was very interested in Taijiquan.

What were your goals at that time?

I set a goal to myself to be a number one champion.

Wang Yan - 3Wang Yan (in the orange suit) with grandmaster Chen Xiaowang in 2007. His father is in a second row. (photo: personal archive of Wang Yan)

Is training for children and young students different nowadays from the time when you were a student?

When I was a young student, the training was more strenous then now. The approach has changed nowadays towards a somewhat softer way. Students now come from more comfortable backgrounds and are, generally speaking, often more interested in computer games than in serious training.

Some of them, of course, are genuinely and seriously interested in learning Taijiquan, while the others are lazy and do not have a drive for learning. But methods of training have basicaly not changed over those years.

What was the most difficult thing in the learning process for you, and how did you deal with it?

The greatest challenge for me, as I said, were feelings of exhaustion, of being overwhelmed by strain. But, luckily, those feelings were just temporary, and passed after a good rest and after calming down. In those moments, I kept myself up by focusing on Taiji and on my wish to achieve higher Taiji standards. This challenge was actually more of a psychological than physical problem. I drew motivatation from the awareness that I had made a conscious choice to give the most I can. I was thinking to myself: “I have to go through this, if I want to win at the competition…”, etc.

In China we have a saying: “To do something halfway is the same as not doing it at all“. I didn’t want to allow this to happen to me and I wanted to complete what I had started. (At that time, I even named myself on social media »Carry On«.)

Wang Yan - 4Wang Yan training with his master Chen Ziqiang in 2016 (photo: personal archive of Wang Yan)

About fighting…

You are one of the most succesful Taiji fighters of your generation. Beside practicing dilligently under the guidance of a good teacher, which traits should a fighter develop in order to bring out the best of his/her potential?

You of course need talent, but you also need a good teacher. Every student, even those introverted or timid, can become good fighter – if he has a little bit of talent, access to a good teacher and if he works hard. So, it is not just about talent, but also about a commitment to very hard work! Maybe I am more successful then other fighters, because I am willing to give more. If you give more, you receive more…

Beside this, students with a calmer and more good-natured character are more likely to succeed, compared with students with volatile, overly ambitious, and revengful natures. Those who flare up and get angry easily, who are desperate to win in order to achieve fame, will – as a rule – not succeed. A peaceful and calm minded person, if he is also focused and dilligent, is more likely to have better results, than someone relying exclusivelly on agression.

Could you tell something about your experiences as a member of Chenjiagou “Nine Tigers“? How and why the group got this name?

“Nine Taiji Tigers“ is a name given to a group of the best students of Master Chen Ziqiang. All of us were guided by him since our childhood. We belong to a generation of students, who were regularly trained under his guidance, before he started travelling abroad extensively. Some of us developed more in the direction of Taiji fighting, while the others became the very best in various Taiji forms. The name was given to us in 2013, like some kind of award for reaching high standards of Taiji skills, and for being successful at competitions.

Wang Yan - 5Chenjiagou “Nine Tigers“ in 2014 (photo: personal archive of Wang Yan)

Was your preparation training for competitions different from your regular training? Did you have any special diet? And, generally, how did you prepare for a competition?

Two months before a competition the training was intensified for more talented and eager students. During those periods our shifu Chen Ziqiang would also pay more attention to us than to the rest of the students. To develop stamina we would practice frog jumps, running in a crouched position, running while carrying someone on our shoulders etc., until the point where I would be absolutely exhausted.

One method of practicing tuishou was, for example, being in a circle of about twenty students, who would challenge you one after another. When I knock the first one down, the next one would attack, and so on till the last one, after which the circle repeats itself. I also practiced the same circle exercise blindfolded in order to sharpen body sensations. Sometimes during wintertime, shifu would take us outside, dressed just in trousers, to train in the snow. One of exercises was to hold each other by the legs while ‘hand walking’ on the cold or frozen ground.

Before tuishou competitions I always have to control my weight, so during preparation time I would eat less and avoid spicy and very greasy food. Finally, after hard training, it is also important to have a proper rest.

Wang Yan - 6Winter training at Chenjiagou Taijiquan school, 2011 year (photo: personal archive of Wang Yan)

Could you share some memories from competitions?

In spite of our natural desire to win, we have always cultivated friendship and mutual respect. It was quite usual, for example, to share online video clips of some new opponent’s fighting style, especially if his abilities were of the same level as ours. In this way we could study his movements and fighting approach in advance…

As I have won at many competitions, I became very well known as a fierce fighter. So it often happened that when opponents realized they would have to stand up against me (before competitions students of different schools talk a lot about competition and news traveled around quickly), they either found an excuse not to challenge me, or changed weight class. Learning from this experience, later I did’nt share information about the weight class I am going to compete in, or – if being asked – didn’t give clear answer. Therefore, during the competiton it may happen that I meet again in the ring some opponent(s) I had fought against at some previous occasion(s) – and they would just back off out of the competition.

During the Henan Jimiao Sai competition in 2010 (or maybe the year before?) I was one point away from losing. Then, somehow, I managed to turn it around and in the end beat the opponent by fifteen points. This competition was a particularly memorable experience for me.

Wang Yan - 7Wang Yan winning Chenjiagou competition in 2014 (photo: personal archive of Wang Yan)


Some students are, I noticed, overenthusiastic about the martial aspect of Taijiquan, and get emotionaly aroused very quickly. How much, in your opinion, does this affect their practice and actual fighting performance? How do you deal with your own emotions when practicing and competing?

It is good for people to be excited in a positive way, to be happy when practicing Taiji. But underneath the mind should stay calm and peaceful. As for myself, I tried to regard the competitions I participated in, as a kind of training, and this attitude helped me to stay calm. In this way I kept my emotions in check, as the most important thing during competition is to retain a peaceful state of mind throughout the fight.

During the preparation period for a competition I also avoided situations which could affect me emotionally. A day before the competion I would switch off my mobile, don’t go out with friends for a drink, etc.

Wang Yan - 8Wang Yan in combat training in 2016 (photo: personal archive of Wang Yan)

Do you think about possibility of getting injuried before going into the ring? Have you been injured many times?

Injuries are inavoidable, but this doesn’t affect my enthusiasm to enter the ring. I actually never think about that, because before the fight my focus is elsewhere. In the action, I am concentrating on combat tactics, on my fighting approach to the opponent…

I once injured my face and a finger, but those were not serious injuries. My ankle, shoulder and hip were twisted on another occasion, and that hurt quite badly. But, luckily, my injuries were never so serious to prevent me from practicing for longer periods of time. I remember very well one competition’s finals: my opponent was 4 kg heavier then me, and in an effort to throw him I overstrained my shoulder…

About teaching Taijiquan …

Although you are still young, you are already proficient teacher. When did you start teaching, and what is your present job in the Chenjiagou school?

I became assistant coach in the school when I was 18. Back then I was just one of the students, but I started to help in the school with some teaching as well. Three, maybe four, years ago, I became a head instructor. That means that I am, as far as my duties and responsibilities in the school are concerned, next to master Chen Ziqiang. He is in charge of training adult students, while I am coaching youngsters and children.

This job requires also travelling abroad to teach seminars. Usually, when Master Chen Ziqiang is abroad I am here, in the school; and when he is back, I travel. Also, my job involves managing and coordinating things to be done within the school. For example, to organize and coordinate groups of students to do some work. When our students attend competitions, my duty is to contact competition organizers, and to cover all the formal things to be done about that. My duty is also to organize and invent program(s) for different events in the school, to give interviews, to prepare information for the media etc…

Wang Yan - 9Wang Yan leading his group of students, September 2017 (photo: Š. Kolenc)

Would you agree, that teaching helps one to get to deeper understanding of Taijiquan?

Yes, definitely. Teaching is very valuable tool for reviewing what one has already learned. But the most important is to go on with your own practice, and reach a good level of Taijiquan performance yourself. In that way one is always keeping a higher level of knowledge than the students, and therefore can give them some valuable guidance. If you just teach and do not practice, there is a possibility that your students may become better than you. Teaching is a good supplement to practice, but is not a substitute for it.

You are teaching from early morning until evening. Considering this schedule, do you still find time for yourself to practice? As you have just limited time available for practice, what do you concentrate on in your practice?

As my job requires most of my time, and is quite dynamic, with a constantly changing schedule, I don’t have a specific time set for my own practice. I have to be flexible in that respect. Usually, when students are occupied training for themselves, or if some other teacher takes over the class, I find some moments for my own practice. There is a saying: “By missing one day of practice, your skill regresses for three days”. So, I make sure that I practice every day. That means that I go at least through forms. And when I have some more time, I do also some fitness exercises like running and weight lifting.

Wang Yan - 10Wang Yan giving instructions to students, 2017 (photo: Š. Kolenc)

What is your favourite discipline?

I like to practice all kinds of forms and techniques. But I enjoy the most demanding preparation training for tuishou competitions. Especially exercises for stamina and fitness, and practice of self defense techniques.

Do you find it important to study Taijiquan theory as well in order to improve the practice? How much do regular students of the Chenjiagou school study Taiji theory? Are they required to read some books or texts related to Taijiquan?

The theory is very important. It is actually essential for learning Taijiquan properly. But the children in the school are not expected to study the theory, because they are too young to really absorb it. This requirement may also diminish their interest in Taijiquan at that age. We have no theory classes organized in the school, but during my everyday teachings I explain to my students theoretical details relevant for their actual practice. Later, if some of them show more interst, they read some texts by themselves.

During my stay in Chenjiagou school, I noticed that Chinese students grasp techniques of Taijiquan easier and faster then Westerners. What is, in your opinion, the reason for that difference?

Many important requirements for good Taiji practice, like not thinking to much, moving in a natural and balanced way, etc., are already a part of Chinese culture: Daoism and Buddhism, for example, value the same qualities in one’s everyday life. So, these concepts are already part of the language, and of the collective subconscious mind in China. Maybe this is the reason why Chinese students sometimes grasp Taijiquan concepts easier then Westerners. In general, but not always, it is easier for Chinese people. In my opinion Chinese also have the responsibility to learn taijiquan and its concepts well in order to preserve our culture.

Do you think that adults and senior students should also put some effort into strength exercises like running, for example, in order to improve their Taijiquan skills?

Most adults and senior students have a limited amount of time available, so they don’t do a lot of running, or stretching or other fitness exercises. Taijiquan is already a very good excercise system on its own. But it is common sense, of course, that before one starts practicing some warm up exercises should be done in order to prepare and open the joints.

Wang Yan - 11A demonstration of Chenjiagou taijiquan school’s students in front of Chen taijiquan museum, August 2017 (photo. E. Dorfman)

What is the main quality of Taijiquan? What it means to you?

First, Taijiquan is a very effective martial art. It represents a highly developed system of excercises, based on ancient philosophy and Chinese culture. Taijiquan is neither a sport, nor it is a recreational exercise. It is a practical study of Nature itself, and principles which exist in Nature. That is why one’s practice never ends – there is no limit to how deep you can go.

Taijiquan is very practical and useful in modern world as well. It is valuable tool for dealing with stress, anxiety, poor health, high blood presure and for general improvement of one’s well being. It has beneficial and balancing effect on people living in modern society.

Do you have plans or wishes for the future? What would you like to do in years to come?

I simply want to continue with what I am doing now. Beside this, my wish is to travel some more abroad. It is a great pleasure and adventure for me to lead seminars in foreign countries. I have taught in several foreign countries. I liked environment in Germany the best. I would like to travel to the US once as well, as I have never been there.

Wang Yan - 12Wang Yan teaching at a seminar in Cologne (Germany), December 2017 (photo: personal archive of Wang Yan)

To end this interview, can you give one piece of advice that could help and inspire students of Taijiquan?

The most important thing is to persevere.


This interview was taken in two sessions at the beginning of September 2017 at the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School, and later, some amendments were added to it through online communication with Wang Yan.

First of all, I would like to thank Wang Yan for his time, good will and patience in answering my questions, for kindly making available to me some of his personal photos, and for sharing additional information online with me, as I was improving the interview with some amendments.

A special thanks also to Joe Davey, a long term student of master Chen Ziqiang. Joe was at the Chenjiahou school in the summer of 2017 year as well, and he translated my questions to Chinese language, and Wang Yan’s answers into English. I am also grateful to Joe for his time and further translation work during my later online communication with Wang Yan, as I tried to get some more details for this interview.

Joe knows Wang Yan since his beginning at Chenjiagou school, and has been following his development for fourteen years, until now. During our interview sessions he helped Wang Yan to recall some past events. As a result, some answers in this interview are more elaborated and interesting. Withouth Joe’s help it wouldn’t be possible for me to make this interview.

I also thank Elana Dorfman, who was training in Chenjiagou in the summer of 2017, and kindly allowed me to publish one of her photos in this interview.

In the end, I thank Biljana Dušić for revising the English text of the interview, and Davidine Sim, who edited it.

Špela Kolenc