Of course being a student under Grandmaster Chens tutelage last weekend was great. There were a couple of real gems for me during and in reflection. Let me share one of them with you…
Many years ago, back in the late 70’s I had returned to NYC to study again with Grandmaster Chen for a couple of months after having left the “City” and was living in Colorado. Much had happened in my life since then and I was in need of reconnecting with his style of teaching and interpretation of the T’ai Chi Ch’uan principles. In addition to studying with him I also attended classes at Don Ahn’s school on Spring Street. Ironically the one thing I needed to learn at that time was transmitted by Don Ahn and the way he did his form and was supported verbally by Grandmaster Chen… he told me that I needed more flexibility of the back. That although the back was straight it was not to be held stiffly. He used the example of the flexibility of the back while walking.
Over the years I’ve maintained a connection with Grandmaster Chen either by bringing him to places where I was teaching or sometimes driving for 4-6 hours to attend one of his workshops. This past weekend was one of the times he participated in the 25th year anniversary of my school – Peaceful Dragon School in Ann Arbor, MI by teaching a seminar.
Grandmaster Chen uses many playful images that foster a physical shape to help students achieve a deeper understanding of the tai chi principles. This time the image of Chihuahuas under the armpits was the one that helped me to develop a deeper sense of the classic principle “the top part is light and open, the bottom part is full.” No doubt I had heard this principle before and use it in my teaching and I have experienced a quality of it prior to Grandmaster Chen’s visit. But, there was something different that happened when I used his image.
He told us that his wife, Priscilla, had sewn large pockets on one of his shirt under the armpits which made him think, ‘you can put Chihuahuas in them.’ Of course we all chuckled at the image of carrying around Chihuahuas under our armpits, but there was truly a sensation of the weight of the body “dropping” downward towards the feet when employing the image.
I have always used the image of supporting eggs under the armpits, but with the image of Chihuahuas I had to let go and create more space. In playing with that image I found that there was a release of the sides of my body that allowed my weight to “drop” even more and the upper part of my body felt as if it were floating.
The following weekend one of my student’s brother, John Wolfe came to visit my school. Both he and Grandmaster Chen had been students of Professor Cheng man-Ching. Grandmaster Chen studied with the Professor in Taiwan over 20 years before John met the Professor in America. So why am I mentioning this?
While doing the form with John and a group of my senior students, I could feel this principle in action. John, too exemplified beautifully the principle of fullness below and lightness above. Grandmaster Chen told us that it was something that Professor had spoken of while he was a student of his and consistently, I could see that John also clearly learned this from the Professor. So, again it was one of those tai chi “things” that was reinforced for me under two closely occurring scenarios.
Oh, one more thing… Grandmaster Chen reminded us that we needed to “keep the Chihuahuas happy.” 🙂