We present the first in a series of 5 articles
THE FIVE LEVELS OF SKILL IN CHEN STYLE TAIJIQUAN
by Chen Xiao Wang translated by Tan Lee-Peng, Ph.D.
Learning taijiquan is in principle similar to educating oneself; progressing from p
rimary to university level, where one gradually gathers more and more knowledge.
Without the foundation from primary and secondary education,
one will not be able to follow the courses at university level.
To learn taijiquan one has to begin from the elementary and gradually progress
to the advanced stage, level by level in a systematic manner.
If one goes against this principle thinking he could take a quick way out, he will not succeed.
The whole progress of learning taijiquan, from the beginning to achieving success consists of five stages or five levels of martial / combat skill (kung fu).
There are objective standards for each level of kung fu. The highest is achieved in the fifth level.
The standard and martial skill requirements for each level of kung fu will be described in the following sections.
It is hoped that with these, the many taijiquan enthusiasts all over the world will be able to 'assess'
on their own their current level of attainment.
They will then know what they need to learn next and advance further step-by-step.
The First Level of Kung Fu
In practising taijiquan, the requirements on the different parts of the body are:
Keeping a straight body; keeping the head and neck erect with mindfulness at the tip of the head
as if one is lightly lifted by a string from above; relaxing the shoulders and sinking the elbows;
relaxing the chest and waist letting them sink down; relaxing the crotch and bending the knees.
When these requirements are met, one's inner energy will naturally sink down
to the dantian. Beginners may not be able to master all these important points
instantly. However, in their practice they must try to be accurat
in terms of direction, angle, position, and the movements of hands and legs for each posture.
At this stage, one need not place too much emphasis on the requirements for different parts of the body, appropriate simplifications are acceptable.
For example, for the head and upper body, it is required that
the head and neck be kept erect, chest and waist be relaxed downward,
but in the first level of kung fu, it will be sufficient just to ensure that one's head and body are kept naturally upright and not leaning forward or backward, to the left or right.
This is just like learning calligraphy, at the beginning, one need only to make sure that the strokes are correct.
Therefore, when practising taijiquan at the beginning, the body and movements may appear to be stiff;
or 'externally solid but internally empty'. One may find oneself doing things like: hard hitting, ramming,
sudden uplifting and or sudden collapsing of body or trunk.
There may be also be broken or over-exerted force or jin.
All these faults are common to beginners.
If one is persistent enough and practices seriously everyday,
one can normally master the forms within half a year. The inner energy, qi, can gradually be
induced to move within the trunk and limbs with refinements in one's movements.
One may then achieve the stage of being able to use external movements to channel internal energy'.
The first level kung fu thus begins with mastering the postures to gradually being able to detect and understand jin or force.
The martial skill attainable with the first level of kung fu is very limited. This is because at this stage, one's actions are not well coordinated and systematic.
The postures may not be correct.
Thus the force or jin produced may be stiff, broken,
lax or on the other hand too strong. In practising the routine,
one's form may appear hollow or angular.
As such one can only feel the internal energy but is not able
to channel the energy to every part of the body in one go.
Consequently, one is not able to harness the force or jin
right from the heels, channel it up the legs, and discharge it through command at the waist.
On the contrary, the beginners can only produce broken force that 'surge' from one section to another
section of the body.
Therefore the first level kung fu is insufficient for martial application purposes.
If one were to test one's skill on someone who does not know martial arts,
to a certain extent they can remain flexible.
They may not have mastered the application but by knowing how to mislead his opponent
the student may occasionally be able to throw off his opponent.
Even then, he may be unable to maintain his own balance.
Such a situation is thus termed "the 10% yin and 90% yang; top heavy staff".
What then exactly is yin and yang?
In the context of practising taijiquan, emptiness is Yin, solidity is yang;
gentleness or softness is yin, forcefulness or hardness is yang.
Yin and yang is the unity of the opposites, either one cannot be left out;
yet both can be mutually interchanged and transformed.
If we assign a maximum of 100% to measure them, when one in his practice can attain an equal balance
of yin and yang, he is said to have achieved 50% yin and 50% yang.
This is the highest standard or an indication of success in practising taijiquan.
In the first level of skill in kung fu, it is normal for one to end up with '10% yin and 90% yang'.
That is, one's quan or boxing is more hard than soft and there is imbalance in yin and yang.
The learner is not able to complement hard with soft and to command the applications with ease.
While still at the first level, learners should not be too eager to pursue the application aspect in each posture.
Here is the next article in the series The 2nd Level of Kung Fu Skill.
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