Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Chen Xiaowang: Five Levels of Taijiquan

Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang
Over the last several years I have read many books on taijiquan. Some are very basic and explain the forms in an elementary and "outward" way. I have found these useful, in a limited way. Some are of the type,"This is the best taijiquan style and all others are fake." These are less than useful. Still others are written by masters and have a depth that requires reading and re-reading. Each time something new is discovered as your own practice evolves.
Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang's The Five Level of Taijiquan with a commentary by Master Jan Silberstorff, is of this type. It a fairly brief text, but is a useful guide as to where your taiji is at present, from the vantage point of where it might be in the future, from someone who is already there.
In brief, Chen Xiaowang suggests that ninety-nine percent of taiji players are in the first level of taiji development. The one percent are at level two and upward, with fewer and fewer in the higher levels.
I tried to be as objective as I could and after over a thousand hours of taiji, I would place myself at the juncture between levels one and two. By the end of level one a student has learned the form (of whichever style the student practices), has a reasonable body alignment, and some beginnings of an understanding of the philosophy —not merely "head" knowledge, but an integral mind-body knowledge. Reading through the Grandmaster's levels, I have a long way to go!
It did give me a way of looking at the levels of progress I designed for students of Way of Peace Taijiquan. My intent was to give students, who take taiji seriously a way of marking their progress in daily practice. I determined that hours practicing were a more accurate measure than number of forms learned. Progress is marked more quickly early in taiji, becoming increasingly difficult as proficiency is acquired. I estimated that if a student was conscientious and practiced for half an hour each day if would take between five and six years to complete the first twelve levels. Level thirteen would be marked by a black sash. To get to level fourteen would requires another ten to twelve years at half an hour a day. An hour a day would be roughly half the time.
Master Silberstorff suggests that a sincere student in a one on one relationship with a master, practicing daily under the masters guidance, could active level one of the five levels in about a year. However, he also says that without a master/disciple relationship it would take much longer.
When I compared this with the levels of progress I devised, there was a remarkable symmetry. Practicing an hour a day would get a serious student through level one (in my terms 1,000 hours) in just about three years. That compares favorably with a master/disciple intense relationship of one year.
In the master/disciple relationship it would take nine to ten years to reach level five. Level five then continues with no end, continuously learning.
In my scheme, where taiji students are unlikely to be in an intense training relationship, to achieve level five would take twenty-five to thi years of daily practice of an hour. This seems about right, seeing taijiquan as a life-long practice of health, meditation and integration.

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