Talking Chen TaiJiQuan – Book Review


In the spirit of this website I want to share information that is of value to any tai chi practitioner, regardless of style. The book Talking Chen Taijiquan is a compilation of insights, teachings, and interactions from some of the most accomplished tai chi practitioners of our time.  True, the title is directed at Chen-Style Practitioners, but the information conveyed from Chen Grand Masters and a few other styles is style-agnostic and is useful to anyone wanting to improve their tai chi practice.

It contains enough hands-on information to grow to be one of our all-time favorite tai chi books.

About Talking Chen TaiJiQuan

Talking Chen TaiJiQuan is a compilation of 99 essays published on David Gaffney’s blog Talking Chen Taijiquan between 2011 and 2020. If this blog is new to you, it is something else you should explore aside from this book. David interviews Grand Masters and tai chi practitioners, brings in events, competitions, and new developments in the world of tai chi. There is no way that I personally could keep up with everything going on in the world so the blog is a nice update, with and fresh perspective.

Talking ChenTaiJiQuan summarizes the last decade of writings into sometimes short, sometimes long articles.

What I like about Talking ChenTaiJiQuan :

Access to Authorities

In some ways this book is simply a collection of firsthand accounts of some of the current living and recently deceased grand masters. It is told through quotes, experiences, interviews, and observations during workshops and performances all over the world. You get to eavesdrop on how teachers interact with their attendees and students.
There are plenty of new insights but also repetition of foundational ideas. At first, I have to say, I didn’t enjoy some of the same quotes and tai chi all-truisms being used so frequently. By the end of the book I believe I see the author’s point: That if so many great practitioners are saying the same thing, on different continents, in different environments, these are the things we should focus our practice on. In this way it can make improving your tai chi less complicated. Just go to work and focus on the foundational aspects.

Relativity

I believe tai chi suffers from an esoteric reputation where if people see themselves as not making progress, they attribute it to something like the following:

  • The masters have had perfect instruction and have been practicing since they began walking, there is no way I can make progress like they did.
  • It is too “out-there” and this “chi” thing may not be real and I can’t feel it.
  • It is something you do on a weekend or in a class, but it doesn’t really relate back to my life. It is much like a hobby: fun and a way to socialize, but not really impactful.

Talking Chen TaiJiQuan is refreshing from this standpoint.

  • Everyone profiled who achieved anything, just worked their butt off.
  • You are not alone. You get to meet normal people in Poland, Great Britain, China, the U.S., collectively working to improve their lives by learning what they can and sticking to the original system.
  • Workshops, classes, and people exist that have developed demonstrable skills. And they are not hiding! You do not have to climb onto the roof of their secret dojo and pry loose a shingle to spy on them and learn. They will be happy to have you join them at any event or interact with them online.

A Highlight from Talking Chen Taijiquan: Focusing on the Process

While I am at it reviewing the book I wanted to share an idea that I found important enough to take notes on and dog-ear across several pages. In many of the essays and interviews there were a lot of references and suggestions for focusing on the process which I see as having two implications:

  1. We expect in life that when we undertake learning that our improvement is a trajectory traveling upwards at a 45-degree angle. Every day we get better and better! Right? If only it were so. Maybe in the first year of practicing tai chi we make consistent, continual progress. After that, great leaps are followed by long plateaus. Excitement is followed by boredom. We gain flexibility and clear thinking but as we get better, we are asked to push ourselves, and this can be exhausting and painful. But we are improving continually if you stand far enough back and look at your progress. The upward trend is just more zig-zaggy.
  2. Focusing on the process also means focusing on the session or the form you are doing and not thinking about the long term. You may or may not progress, are you enjoying it right now?

Both of these thoughts have implications for everything in life.  Be it our jobs, the way we parent, or anything we want to get good at. We need to be present enough in the moment and try to get the most out of it. And, simultaneously trust that it is contributing to something greater, as long as we are following the instructions of someone who can demonstrate success and skills.

In Summary

Talking Chen TaiJiQuan is an enjoyable read that you can dip in and out of or read straight through. It is good for a new practitioner to digest a lot of concepts at once. It is also good for avid practitioners to hone in on the important aspects to focus on. The blogs of both Davidine Sim and David Gaffney are great syntheses of a lot of knowledge. This book compiles it even further to be more digestible. Kudos and thanks for another great book. It is available on Amazon.

About the Author

David Gaffney has been teaching Chen Style Tai Chi since the 1990s. He is based in the United Kingdom and travel to China regularly to continually expand upon their training and learning. He and Davidine Siaw-Voon Sim head up the Chenjiagou Taijiquan Great Britain school which has been honored as an extension on the main school in China.  They both publish blogs and books related to tai chi.

If you are new to their work, do yourself a favor and also check out Davidine Sim’s blog, Chinese Whispers.

Scott Prath

Scott has been practicing and teaching tai chi and qigong since 2000. He is a lead instructor for the Austin Chen Tai Chi Association. His interest in the internal martial arts began after traveling in India and Nepal, and he has since traveled to China to train. Scott has published over 100 articles on tai chi with a focus on research showing the benefits of practicing.

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