A Comprehensive Training System
Chen Taijiquan has a comprehensive training system comprised of standing-pole exercise, single-movement exercises, barehand forms, push hands, weapons and supplementary equipment training. As with any other sport or martial art, it is important to start with the fundamentals. With time and diligent practice, the body is strengthened and one learns a new way of moving. Each of the different training methods should be considered within the context of a larger system. Each aspect of the training process, from the standing exercises to advanced push hands drills is interrelated and necessary. Viewed in its entirety, the training process is like a series of overlapping steps, each building on the foundation of the previous one.
Standing pole or zhan zhuang is the most fundamental exercise of Taijiquan. Holding the arms in front of the body in a rounded position, the practitioner stands and quietly observes the natural ebb and flow of the breath. This seemingly simple exercise improves postural alignment and balance, increases the strength of one's legs, and develops acute body awareness, deeper breathing and a tranquil mind. When laypeople talk of Taijiquan, they are usually referring to one of the barehand routines or forms, performed gracefully and slowly. The forms of Chen style Taijiquan, however, are made up of dynamically changing rhythms. Practitioners store energy slowly and then release it rapidly in a dramatic explosion of power. The style is often compared to thunder clapping and then vanishing instantly; to a gentle breeze that becomes a storm; or to ocean waves crashing against the shore and then slowly retreating. Where the zhan zhuang can be said to provide the letters of the Taiji alphabet, the forms allow one to write in complete sentences.
Push hands is a two-person training exercise created by Chen Wangting, the goal of which is to acquire sensitivity to the movement and intention of an opponent while concealing one's own intention and energy. In the "Song of the Canon of Boxing", Chen Wangting states that one should aspire to reach the level of "Nobody knows me, while I know everybody." Harmonizing with the movements of an opponent, the practitioner seeks to eliminate all tension and resistance within his own reactions. Unlike most external martial arts, the aim is not simply to block an incoming force with greater force, but to "listen" to and "borrow" the opponent's energy to defend oneself.