Power Dynamics in Chen Pan Ling Tai Chi

I’ve been trying to figure out the body mechanics of our Chen Pan Ling Tai Chi for the last while.  The Chen Pan Ling Tai Chi Textbook, describes these mechanics in detail, which it terms dynamics. I’ve failed to figure these out fully, but I’ve made a small bit of progress. The method below is how I started to get more ground path power into the forms using methods I believe are specific to CPL Tai Chi. If anyone has any corrections or suggestions I’d be grateful.

The unique CPL preparation form pictured above gives us the clues needed to figure out the basic method of body mechanics or dynamics for the rest of the form. Chen Pan Ling wouldn’t have put a random sequence of movement at the beginning of his life’s masterwork for show, or even just as a signature, so it must be important. Realizing this, I drilled it backward and forward in different ways for the last couple months and found that it provides some keys to unlocking CPL power dynamics. 

To summarize, the simplified movement in the preparation sequence isolates the basic method of CPL power generation, which would be very difficult to figure out from a full tai chi form movement. Combined with the first circle of the hands the preparation form breaks down the building blocks of power generation in a digestible progression.

The above diagram from the book shows the preparation sequence, it is illustrated and explained in more detail than other forms in the book. Note the initial stance is a “penguin” stance, I don’t know what the actual name is, but the toes are pointed outward like a penguin. This means the inguinal creases in the hips are both open, among other things. Afterward you step forward into what is called the “natural stance” where the knees are drawn together. This stance is similar to dragon riding stance in southern styles, which sometimes point the toes inward. In tai chi the knees are more drawn together with intent than an extreme forced posture as in these southern styles. Anyway this natural stance posture indicates that both inguinal creases of the Kua are now closed. So essentially the preparation form is opening and closing the Kua on both sides, like hinges, while incorporating a simple step.

So the opening and closing of two sides of the kua like this is using what Dillon Beyer calls hinges. Different styles of tai chi emphasize different hinges, in combination, to generate power. So right off the bat, our CPL form is specifically emphasizing these two particular hinges (inguinal creases.) Why is this?

Well why do you think Ed and Laoshi’s tai chi has so much rotational movement unique in it’s circles compared to other styles? At Ed’s paris seminar I got to the training hall early and Luo was there, we were locked out and started chatting. I asked him specifically why his tai chi had so much twisting and rotation. He explained this to me. The rotation in the CPL style gives you way more options when you’re fighting. Remember that Hung Yi was taught by CPL differently than his normal students, because of his skill level he got the full fat version. Luo then demonstrated single whip with an absolutly insane amount of power, it wasn’t like the whippy/shaky fa jin you see in chen style, so the point was this rotation can also lead to linear strikes of incredible power.

At Ed’s last Brittany seminar Laoshi told me that after master Hung had learned the tai chi from CPL he kept nagging Luo that he had learn this really important tai chi form that he had just lerned this really important master. Luo repeatedly told him that he did not want to learn tai chi at that stage of his life because it was too slow. So I asked, well what made you start learning it then? “When he hit me with it” was the answer. lols. IMO our CPL tai chi is one of the only remaining styles suitable for fighting, there are a couple others, but 99% of tai chi today is nerfed. The caveat to using it like this is that it is what Luo calls an operating system or software style, that is you have to develop the fundamentals in a hardware style first. Anyway Ed is the only one in Europe who learned this tai chi from Luo properly, I digress.

Anyway if you need an illustration of what I’m referring to by opening and closing the sides of the kua go into a forward gong bu stance. Try and hold a book in the crease between your groin and inner thigh. That forward kua is now a closed hinge. Then go into rear weighted gong bu as in roll back and try and hold the book on that side, the rear hinge is now closed, note that you may need to lift the toe on the front empty foot to facilitate this on the rear weighted closing. In the opening and closing of the kua like this you can generate a strong rotational force. When you add this rotational force to other hinges it can both direct and amplify them. It’s difficult to coordinate the timing of opening and closing both sides of the kua smoothly and it takes a lot of practice.

Once I realized this opening and closing is important my form started looking a lot more like Ed’s. Even so I was still not getting consistent power with it during single push hands, so I was missing something…

Now after the preparation form the next form has you draw a circle with both hands by rotating your waist while holding sort of a Bao tai chi / shoulder width posture. In the book there is a point in the description of this form about the spine being like a straight pole that rotates on a central equilibrium. Now, if you draw this circle by rotating your spine like a straight pole from the normal shoulder width stance, you will find the rotation limited by your hips. 

However if you release the hips you sill see that they open and close following the spinal rotation, you can then amplify the rotation by feeding the opening of one hinge into the closing of the other, you need to be in the natural stance for this, it doesn’t work well if the knees are not slightly uniting. That is one side will naturally open and the other will close. This is just as I noted in the preparation form, except now your spine is creating the opening and closing. I’m still unclear on how the movement is properly initiated, which is important. I have some thoughts on this I might put into another post.

If you think in terms of rotating your spine like a post with central equilibrium, in conjunction with opening and closing the inguinal creases the cpl form starts to make a lot more sense. Note the similarities in this approach to bagua mechanics but from a totally different stance. A couple other styles emphasize this method as well but once you understand the synthesis here it becomes obvious that CPL was a genius.

I recommend combining the preparation form with the below video of Ed into a drill. Note that this is tai chi for power generation, it’s different than the public health style type tai chi. It requires that you understand the basics of using the ground as leverage and that you have developed your legs from the feet up to that end. If you’re trying oppening and closing hip rotations while stacking weight onto your knees its not going to be good for them at all. There is more to all of this, but this is a good starting point. I will post more findings if anyone is interested.

Tai Chi Heavy Bag Workout

Although it is not a traditional tai chi training tool I’ve rather taken to using the heavy bag for practicing striking and developing power. My teacher Shifu Chao at first admonished me when I told him I was using a heavy bag. Later when he saw how I was using tai chi principals on the bag he did he not mind as much and began giving me tips to generate and increase the power of my strikes. Likewise the master Luo Dexiu told us at a seminar, train striking with a partner(including pad work) not a heavy bag.

The reasons good tai chi teachers avoid the heavy bag workout in tai chi training.

Of course the above masters are not mistaken in their dismissal of heavy bag usage in tai chi training. If a student starts training on a heavy bag before understanding tai chi body mechanics and force generation methods it’s likely to really destroy your tai chi. You will start to rely on the power generation and footwork of boxing or kick boxing. Boxing and kickboxing are all great arts, but they use totally different body mechanics than tai chi. If you have not been taught tai chi body mechanics you will be humbled by the heavy bag and you will try and compensate

The reason I started using the heavy bag as a tai chi training tool.

I have not had a tai chi push hands partner for a long time, and the heavy bag provides some substitute for one it’s resistance and movement. Also I have several boxers in my family and over the years I began to see the effectiveness of the heavy bag in power development, though it me some time to figure out how to integrate and adapt bagwork to tai chi.

Considerations in using the heavy bag in Tai Chi training.

The seven stars and three points is a core concept in tai chi that deals with the different striking areas we can use on the body. The three points are the hand, feet and head. These are used for conventional punches and kicks. The seven stars include the knee, elbow, shoulder and everything else.

Practicing only the three points on a heavy bag will make you overly-reliant on upper body power and you will get stuck at that level. The seven star methods make up a large portion of tai chi striking attacks in the form and during push hands, so you must carry this over to your heavy bag workout. Striking with the 7 stars you will keep the ground path and not rely on upper body strength as the primary source of power. Finally, you must use tai chi footwork when doing tai chi methods on the heavy bag. You must use gong bu, natural step, and whatever methods you have in your specific style of tai chi to generate the power. Do not start training tai chi striking on the heavy bag until you understand these concepts.

Example of a kung fu heavy bag workout with tai chi motifs.

Using the 7 stars

An example of striking with the seven stars, instead of the three points.

Example of Using the 3 points striking in Tai Chi heavy bag workout

Working on the standard tai chi parry and punch is an example of using the three points. Don’t overdo or under-do this important technique on the heavy bag.

Tai Chi Steps For Beginners

This is a quick post to show how to do chi steps for beginners. I was digging through old tai chi videos on Youtube and found a good one of the great Wu style Master Wang Peisheng instructing a traditional outdoor tai chi class. In one part of the video he demonstrates Gong Bu step to his students very clearly. 

I’m always trying to improve my tai chi stepping so I cut out that segment of the video and put it on a loop.  I thought it might help others who may be working on the simple tai chi form so I uploaded the clip with awesome cgi edits.

Gong Bu – Mountain Climbing Stance

The weight transfer in Wu Style tai chi is like felling a large tree, it uses a lot of bowing power. This gives the Wu style its distinctive leaning posture.

Gong Bu is a basic of tai chi step for beginners

Note that the transfer of weight from the full to empty leg is like the felling of a large tree, hence the style’s slight bowing posture. This is ever so slightly different from the weight transfer in our style. If you’ve ever watched Luo transfer weight in his tai chi it seems a bit complex at first. The Wu method is similar but has less moving parts so it’s a good first step.

The Chen Pan Ling posture is straighter so instead of leaning into the weight transfer you slide onto it more like you have a swing under you bum, on top of this many of the CPL steps also include what Ed calls “pushing up off the side of the pool” at the end. The Wu-ish generation methods were an ingredient in CPL tai chi and it’s public form was made to be accessible so it is a good starting point for many things.

I’m assuming this clip is basically public domain at this point.
Full video here.


How to learn Tai Chi online free

If you want to learn tai chi online free there are considerable challenges to overcome. The good news is that not only can it be done but if you’re willing to put in extra effort you can learn tai chi online free. It’s always best to learn directly from a master but these days there are just not enough tai chi classes to meet demand. With a shortage of qualified tai chi teachers and other obstacles learning tai chi online is the best and perhaps only option for a many seekers. Whether you learn tai chi online or irl, the fact is that you must learn it from a good teacher.

Learning traditional Tai Chi Online Free

There are loads of resources available if you want to learn a short beginner Tai Chi form online. This is fine if you’re into that sort of thing. This article is for folks who want a more traditional path. There is little benefit to learning one of the modern short forms over one of the traditional forms. Learning the first quarter of one of these traditional forms is more benefitial that learning the full 24 form, even though it takes about the same amount of time. An exception to this would be the Chen Man Ching 37 form, which was not created for the same reasons as the modern 24 type forms. I recommend the Chen Pan Ling 99 form or the Yang 108 form.

To learn tai chi online free requires a considerable commitment

You will need good resources here are some videos.

Chen Jing Bao a student of Chen Pan Ling – Performing the Chen Pan Ling 99 Tai Chi Form in great detail.

Another student of Chen Pan Ling Tai Chi

Golden Rooster Stands On One Leg – An Important Tai Chi Posture

The idea of the golden rooster posture is to keep the peng or leverage in the raised hand and then learn to move the lower body independently from that. You put your hands in a simple autopilot defense posture when you’re practicing your tai chi kicks. The peng jin or leverage can be used to hold, block, defend or pull. Of course you can do this with two hands up, such as in the seven stars posture, but golden rooster trains the basic idea. Look at the cigarette in my hand, that is where you keep the leverage.

The resting posture at the end of the form is how you learn the full posture, it feels like you’re pulling you knee into your kua. If you assume that posture and have someone place one hand on your ming men (top of sacrum) point and then push your knee up and in you will get the feel. You can get a lot of power from moving this way. The other thing is that you are constantly feeding your weight into the rear leg. Ed had a video up on Patreon of a simple back and forth tai chi leg drill that is very good with this idea, I have it saved I might put it up here if he doesn’t have a link.

The kick in the end clip is an example of usage, if you where pulling someone in with your hands they would brace the rear leg then when it’s extended fully you can keecap it. Alternatively you can hook their front leg from behind with the kicking foot first. 

It’s also a very good chi kung posture but I’m not getting into that as you are looking for the applications.

Tai Chi basic techniques and terminology.

Tai Chi Chuan is a martial art that combines internal strength and energy cultivation on a profound level. Today we can enjoy the health benefits of Tai Chi Chuan practice without subjecting ourselves to the bitterness of the martial arts training aspect. Still, it is important to know that Tai Chi Chuan is not a performance and should have power if needed. The concepts below are the basis of Tai Chi practice and are called the Thirteen postures or techniques. The translations of the original terms are from my teachers or my own understanding and are subjective and may not match up with some books.

Tai Chi Chuan has four fundamental energies.
Tai Chi Chuan has 4 energies that all the postures stem from:

Peng: Ward Off – long range force – Peng Jin: Epanding force in general
Lu: Rolling back
Gi: Short-range force
An: Pushing with dropping force

Tai Chi Chuan has four secondary techniques:
They are:
Zhou: Elbow strike
Kou: Shoulder strike
Cai: Pluck or yank
Leih: Split or rend

The five directions in Tai Chi:
The five directions are – forward, back, right, left and centered. This is obvious and the potential to move in any direction is found in every Tai Chi posture. Less obvious is that every posture is stable from incoming force from any direction. The directions, primary and secondary techniques together create the 13 postures of Tai Chi Chuan.

Some important Accupoints for Tai Chi practice are:

Yong Quan – The bubble point – The weight can land here
Dan Tien – Energy Field – Can generate and control force through the waist
Ming Men – top of the sacrum – needs to be unlocked to control whole-body movement

Beginning movements in the Yang 108 Tai Chi Form.

Preparation and Commencement Form – Hé tài jí.

The first movement of the 108 tai chi form is opening to a shoulder width stance and putting peng jin, or warding off energy, into the elbows and arms.

The beginning of the Tai Chi form teaches the concepts of opening and closing. Here I am practicing loosely, just focusing on opening and closing, not too much on getting the form perfect. Opening and uniting is another translation. First, you open horizontally, everything opens then unites, second, you open and close vertically. These two techniques are very important, they teach you how to open and close with all parts of the body simultaneously. After the Tai Chi beginning form thing’s get complicated because in many of the postures one part is opening while another is closing.

Sorry about the music, I had to over-write the background music because YouTube was blocking it for copyright.