bookrev: Old Frame Chen Family Taijiquan by Mark Chen
Since it is reputably the most practiced form of Taijiquan, finding English language books on Yang style Taijiquan is pretty straightforward; there are several, particularly by Dr. Yang, Jwing-ming that one can refer to. But it is more difficult to find a Chen style Taijiquan book. Mark Chen’s book Old Frame Chen Family Taijiquan fills a large part of that void; though a large part of the book (90 pages out of 220) is taken up with descriptions and photos of the First Form of Chen style old frame, the rest of the material and some of the postures and movements from the old frame descriptions were very useful.
There are several sections of the book that alone are worth the price, particularly the section on Tajiquan basics.
As with most Tajiquan books, the book is divided into the following sections: Introduction; Evolution (the history); Instruction; Basics; Forms; Training with a Partner.
The Evolution chapter walks through myths about the history of Taijiquan, a specific section on Chen style history (focusing on Old Frame) and the Chen village, followed by a section on other Chen styles (New Frame, Small Frame, xin jia) and the ‘branching’ of Yang, Wu and Sun styles.
The Instruction chapter provides structure on how to find a teacher based on one’s individual goals for studying Taijiquan, and has an excellent chapter on dispelling ‘superhuman feats’:
Taiji was created at a time when people still believed in human potential. Those who practice it diligently for a lifetime can indeed do some extraordinary things, but the road to high achievement is built from the very ordinary. No one is going to whisper a secret formula in your ear.
The Basics chapter reviews postures, relaxation, the Dan Tian, hand and foot techniques and the ‘energies’. This section explains many concepts that are often vague and hard to understand from other books or teachers; for example, Chen provides a step-by-step method for locating and exercising your Dan Tian. This is followed by a section on Relaxation, a most vexing topic in Taijiquan, but explain well here with examples of good and bad relaxation provided. This chapter ends with a section on ‘Energies’, stepping through Basic Techniques (kinetic energies), Silk Reeling (chan si jin, ‘when one part moves, every part moves’) and Issuing (fa jin, well explained that also gives the basic reason for taijiquan as a martial art:
” …simply the application of chan si jin to attack. It is the explosive, directedunwinding in which everyjoint and process in the body extends or rotates in concert toward the point of application.This happens in a rippling, whip-like motion that originates in the dan tian and waist and propagates at once downward into the rooted foot and out toward the target.”
The section on forms goes movement by movement through Chen Style Old Frame, First Form. I do not have the experience to comment on the form, yet the first two movements are represented in the Chen-56 form which I have been studying. These movements are well represented in photos and detailed step-by-step instructions, but, as always, a book is never a good substitute for a good instructor. It is a good reminder and study guide.
The last chapter covers push hands and push hands applications, providing a background on why push-hands training is valuable, how to practice and how to apply the practice in application:
“..students never learn to function in a continuum. In a real fight, the martial artist must find entry to her attack or counter-attack while a lot of different things are moving at once…..For these reasons, Taiji applications are usually practiced within the framework of push-hands. The student is thus forced to find entry for her technique in the midst of a moving situation,to execute the technique while following the opponent’s force, and to exit the technique without compromising her own structure (this, of course, is the definition of coherent movement).
A highly recommended book for the Chen style practicioner.