The Fist Theory of Chen-style Tai Chi Quan states: “Understand the Jin (energy) after becoming familiar with the movements, and attain the level of divine understanding through understanding the Jin.” These are the three stages of Chen-style Tai Chi Quan: Familiarization, Understanding Jin, and Divine Understanding. To help practitioners fully understand these steps and methods, and to further become skilled, proficient, and reach these three stages, I will analyze and dissect them gradually.
The first stage: Familiarization. This stage involves becoming proficient in each routine and movement of Tai Chi Quan, from the starting position to the closing position, performing them smoothly and harmoniously. The movements should flow continuously, like the mighty Yangtze River. Each movement within the routine should be practiced repeatedly to achieve standardization. Standardization requires correct posture, coordinated variations in speed, accurate breathing with each movement, and an understanding of the purpose and application of each movement. Following the principles of each movement, one should be soft when needed and firm when necessary, combining softness within firmness and firmness within softness. Soft movements should be slow, gentle, relaxed, and graceful, with a continuous and uninterrupted flow, allowing the mind to lead and the energy to follow. Firm movements should be fast, powerful, and clean, with quickness without losing control. When issuing power, one should demonstrate looseness, speed, fierceness, and intensity. Each power-issuing movement must be swiftly executed based on the foundation of relaxation and power accumulation, possessing both speed and force. Movements in the first routine of Tai Chi Quan, such as “Covering Hand and Forearm Fist,” “Green Dragon Emerges from Water,” “Cannon Fist to the Head,” “Whirlwind Kick,” “Double Swinging Legs,” “Double Kick,” and “Left and Right Leg Thrust,” should embody the concepts of rising and falling, rotation, grabbing, throwing, and tripping, expressing the state of power accumulation and release, with clear transitions. Initially, practitioners may have difficulty relaxing, and as a result, they may struggle to release energy. This is a normal phenomenon and can be overcome through dedicated training over time, gradually eliminating stiffness in the body to allow the power to be issued effectively. At the same time, one should maintain the integrity of Peng Jin (ward-off energy). Peng Jin is the primary force in Chen-style Tai Chi Quan, which should be initiated from the beginning of the routine, ensuring that Peng Jin remains continuous, unbroken, relaxed, and not collapsed, enabling the internal energy to surge while maintaining external calmness. Peng Jin is like when people bend down to lift something, the force just before their hands touch the object. The force exerted when lifting the object is not Peng Jin; if it exceeds Peng Jin, it becomes stiffness, and if it is less than Peng Jin, it becomes loss of force. To gain a clear understanding, one must carefully experience and comprehend it during the practice.
Grandmaster Chen Zhaopi once said, “Beginners should emphasize the Four Fierceness: fierce striking, fierce charging, fierce rising, and fierce falling, with the effect of stretching the tendons and lifting the bones, leading form with Qi.” The theory of the fist states: “Every joint should be relaxed, and the skin should be attacked. The whole body should be connected, with emptiness and agility in the center.” Without the practice of combining firmness and softness, the joints of the whole body will not open, and the internal energy cannot be activated. This stage of practice focuses on using the form to cultivate Qi, and it is also a stage of slightly applying power. Applying power with the hands involves practicing grabbing, capturing, swinging, and striking
, while applying power with the feet involves piercing, jumping, and leaping. This represents the aspect of firmness, where firmness is transformed into softness, and softness is generated from firmness. The combination of firmness and softness is seen in the early stages, appearing externally exaggerated, but lacking internal energy. It is a stage that every Tai Chi Quan beginner must go through, where there is external firmness but internal emptiness. In this stage of practice, each movement should be carefully pondered, bridging the previous and the next, paying attention to the coordination of the upper and lower body, with the mind, intention, and Qi present. There should be balance between left and right, consistency between front and back, and a continuous flow from start to finish. One should also pay attention to the purpose of each movement at all times. Without careful contemplation, it is difficult to understand the profound essence within. Without attentiveness, the movements will lack authenticity, and the transitions will not be smooth.