Training in the Chen Village

From February 2019 Training Trip with Kim Ivy

We made it across the 1/2 way mark of our training yesterday and our team is doing really well. Our ages range from 35-mid sixties. We are sleeping on beds made for teenage boys, eating very simply, and training five hours a day on hard slick tile. It is chilly. We are taped up, creamed up, Advil-ed up. Viki whacked my shoulder yesterday and said, “I read your blog today, the one on Pain, “its not true!” We had a good laugh at that. But thankfully the only casualties so far are a cold, a tweak and some cravings for a nice juicy steak and a beer. All things considered we are staying healthy and representing well. 

I asked Moon student Richard how it was going for him his first time here. Back in Seattle I do my best to prep people for this experience but aside from a smart packing list there is nothing that can truly prepare one. “You’ll never be the same” I said to him at the onset of our journey. I check in with him but aside from some encouragement to ask Grandmaster for as much hands on has he can, “Its why you came all this way, after all,” I don’t say much. I used to try to control what people would experience, worrying about it too much. Over the years of bringing people here I have learned folks will have their own experiences, which will have nothing to do with what I may or may not think they will have. Richard is doing great. As I suspected his capacity to say present and inquisitive is solid. He knows how to train. He knows when to divvy chocolate and buy sesame balls for the group. He is definitely a team asset. 

I asked him what he is learning. He is deep in the absorbing it all phase and made some excellent observations. He ask me the same question. I took a minute to answer because I really wanted to think about it. I suggest to my students to learn one thing in a local workshop and if they travel for training, learn three things. For me I’m really learning so much more than that. I am learning about the hips, the method for sinking the Qi, my alignment, where I am solid and where I am not, choreographic nuances and how my body responds when it is put under this amount of physical and mental stress. But these are not new things. I’ve been here many times before. So I said to Richard, “really what I am learning are the same things over again.”

It is an utter privilege it is to be doing so, to be seeing and researching the same moves and rhythms and nuances I have been seeing and researching for years, once again. It happens no matter where the workshops and trainings are but here in Chenjiagou the experience is amplified.  It is clarifying. Over the years I have learned it can deepen a person’s practice or it can kick them out of it all together. “One and done” as it were. Its understandable on the one hand. Being here we see the levels of training that begin when the students are kids: the weight training, the running around the Village, the myriad weapons and forms. We see the mastery that grows over decades: the subtleties and patience and power of our teachers. We encounter Taijiquan in a way that is much different than the weekend certifications and the “easy exercise” it is sold and touted in modern culture. For some the chasm between what they see here and what they believe about their own potential is to vast.  One and done and on to the next new thing.

Here, the old ways are very much alive. The same methods, the same forms, the same corrections, the same discipline, the same over and over and overs again and again. It is not for everyone. This place does not toss out new food for our egos to gorge upon. It does not provide warm fuzzy accolades to soothe us. There is no, “Wow! You have really improved!” There is simply the disassembling again and again and the guiding deeper into what we do not know even if we have seen it ten thousand times before. Yes it is difficult. Yes we have to make up our minds over and over again to stay with it. “I’m having so much fun!” I said to Davidine as we walked across the dirt road into the Hutongs and over to our lunch place. “You keep telling yourself that!” She replied. We both had a good laugh. But truly, and I truly believe this and I am learning it once again: no matter our age, our fitness level, our station in life, if we can surrender to digging into what we know and see it anew, over and over again we can access more than Taijiquan. We can access our infinite potential. What a privilege. 

Today is Sunday in the Gou, a day of rest. It is a half-day of training for our group. We all, student and teacher appreciate it right now. We’ll prowl around, shop (again), perhaps go to dinner in Wenxian. Its supposed to be warm and sunny and then the rest of the time here warmer and warmer. The roosters wake us for day six. It goes very fast from here.