Discovering Chen Zhaokui Method Gong Fu (Part 1)

October 23, 2016 in Articles by Mo Ling

By: 方颖华 (Warmond Fang) Feb. 6 2016

I just came back from an 8-day intensive week of training with Marin Spivack in the Chen Yu line of Chen Taijiquan and I just want to say it was an eye opening and humbling experience to say the least. I’ve had years of previous experience in Chen Taiji through the Wang Xi’an line and I had talked with Marin for some time now to arrange a meeting so I could experience for myself the Chen Yu line of gong fu. Marin is very knowledgeable in Chen taiji gong fu and it shows with the quality of his students who I got to meet and train with. While they aren’t active on the facebook taiji scene they are all great people and all accomplished in their own respective ways in Chen Taijiquan gong fu.

Marin was a very gracious host and spent many hours patiently teaching his complex method of gong fu to me and I came away with lots of notes, thoughts and ideas that I thought I would share on this forum from the perspective of someone who is Chinese and with experience in the Chen Village line of Wang Xi’an. I came away with so much material that I won’t be able to write everything, but the first issue I wanted to write about is an issue that we’ve discussed previously in this forum, which is the difference between the Chen Yu method and the Chen Village method.

A Tale of Two Chens:

We’ve had many discussions on the history of Chen Taijiquan on this forum and the changes as a result of Chen Fake leaving Chen Village and Chen Village for the most part developing independently through Chen Zhaopi’s method. I say this with full awareness that Chen Zhaokui returned to Chen Village on several occasions to teach the 4 tigers, but I have to conclude for whatever reason it maybe, what is practiced in Chen Village at present is fundamentally different (doesn’t matter which line of the 4 tigers) than what is practiced by Chen Yu, Marin and members of their line.

Now we talk about this Chen divide a lot on this forum and I guess opinions are all over the spectrum on this issue, some may agree, some disagree and whatever else maybe. All I will say is whatever you may or may not believe about the differences, the magnitude in the difference between the two methodologies in Chen Taijiquan cannot be understood until you actually have trained in the Chen Zhaokui method.

Having trained with Marin intensively throughout the last week, I got to experience this first hand and it truly is so different and so much more complex that the only proper analogy I can use to illustrate the point is to use cars as an example. One could say both a Honda and a Ferrari is a car but the engine that powers each car is vastly different and that is how I see the Chen Taiji debate as it stands having experienced both methodologies.

The internal system and mechanics are so different that any similarities that one may see with the Chen Village Xinjia are just superficial resemblances of choreography. The amount of bitter one needs to eat to succeed in the Zhaokui line is just astounding and in the order of magnitudes higher than in the Village line. You see 24, 38, 42 simplified forms in the village lines and those are supposed to be taught to beginners and whatever else. Marin’s simplified form consists of 5 moves. You start from Taiji Qishi and you end at Single whip, the failure rate however is that 99% of the people that try to practice this simplified form can’t get past the first 1/8th of Buddha warrior pounds the mortar. This is no joke, the requirements on the body and legs are so taxing that whatever I describe here in words still doesn’t capture the feeling.

It’s so intense I was pushed to tears by the 3rd day training with Marin. Granted Marin knew I came to him with previous experience so he really pushed me to my limits and then pushed me some more after that. I don’t know if that’s the experience of everyone who goes through his door, but that was my experience. My diet consisted just of heavy protein and electrolytes just to keep the recovery adequate to keep training. In the end however, it’s a losing race, as recovery never catches up with what Marin demands that you output everyday. My legs were just totally cooked beyond any type of feeling I’ve had before. Again it cannot be described in words and can only be felt and experienced.

When we see Marin demonstrate his form in his videos, he makes it look easy and so we don’t really get a sense of how difficult the Zhaokui method is to be able to do what Marin does. As we say in Chinese 台上一分钟,台下十年功 (Tai shang yifen zhong, tai xia shi nian gong). What this translates to is that for each minute someone shows you something in a performance on stage, there’s 10 years of bitter gong fu off stage backing it up. It’s a saying to say that while often times we see the result of someone’s achievement we often fail to see the bitter struggle to get such a result. In Marin’s case looks can and are really deceiving because he makes it look so easy and that’s why personal physical experience is important because your eyes can lie to you but your body will not when you are actually eating the bitter during training. Taijiquan like all gong fu is and must be a physical and visceral experience and words capture only a fraction of what it means to live through it. I went to Marin with close to 10 years of Chen Taijiquan experience and was humbled on the first day of training and broken into tears by the third.

Having said that I came away with a new understanding of Chen Taiijquan, what it means to pursue a life of gong fu, and most of all an excellent friend and teacher who took very valuable time out of his busy life to diligently train and impart to me without reservation all his knowledge and gong fu skill in Chen Taijiquan. I have since left Boston but I know I will return to continue my journey in Chen Taijiquan because I feel I’ve only just begun my real training.