Chen Taijiquan Practical Method in the Bay Area

The information on this blog is intended to serve the Practical Method taijiquan community of the San Francisco Bay Area. The Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method was developed by Hong Junsheng, disciple of Grandmaster Chen Fa-Ke. We practice the form as taught by Hong's disciple Chen Zhonghua (Joseph Chen).

Special workshops and private lessons on Taijiquan theory and practice are available. Check out the calendar or the classes section of the website ( for specific class times and information. Or email nathan.heintz(at)

Nathan Heintz is a student of Chen Zhonghua, the International Standard Bearer of the Practical Method art. Through this blog I will be sharing training notes, relevant videos, photos, and reflections on taijiquan practice and theory. I also intend to provide a bit of a portal into the vast world that Grandmaster Hong's art has spawned. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy.

For more on the Practical Method, check out the main website at

Sunday, February 28, 2010

empty cup. taking a seat.

Chen Taijiquan Practical Method: San Francisco Bay Area Branch, Oakland CA

Its hard to admit to yourself that you're moving your hand or that you're not sitting on your heel, or that what feels like rotation is not actually rotation. Its hard because you've got to have something to practice. If what you're doing is not correct, or if what you're doing will not enable you to issue power, then what are you doing it for? How can you do something that you don't know how to do? Its easy to convince yourself that you're doing it correctly, or as correctly as possible for the time being, just so you can practice...and you have to be comfortable practicing at the level that you're at. But then all that practice makes you feel like you're doing something right, correct, as if (at least a little) you know what you're doing. You begin to identify with and put a lot of meaning into all of that practice, all of that time and commitment you've put towards your practice. Its not easy to say, "yes I've been doing taiji for 10 years, and yes, I'm still a beginner". Or maybe its easy to say but difficult to really mean it. To live up to it. To continue to live with an empty cup. Sometimes your cup just fills up, and then you're "full of it". Sometimes someone needs to empty your cup for you. They tilt you over on the ground, and some of it spills out. Sometimes your cup needs to crack or break to empty out. Sometimes you just need to listen, or you need to sit down and stop working so hard, so you can slow down and relax, and realize that your job is actually much harder than you thought it was. To understand that what you've been doing had its place, and was not in vain. That all of that work got you here, where you are now. But that now there's something different on the table. Something more fundamental. Something more correct. Another piece. Sometimes a big piece is hard to swallow. Don't fight. Listen and then Do (receive and act) (yin, then yang). The soft always wins.

In my understanding, this is what it means to have an empty cup. You have to be willing to listen first, and then do. In social innovation they say that there are three ways of listening. The first way is to listen for only what you already know, what you recognize, what you agree with, and to allow everything else to pass through or go un-noticed, or even to fight against and discredit that which doesn't fit into your understanding. This is listening with a full cup. Its not really listening at all. The second way is to listen from the POV of the other, to put yourself where they are, and listen empathically. The third way is to listen for "the heart" of what is being said, to listen from the point of view of "what wants to emerge". To listen between the lines of what they're saying and see how their statement fits in to the larger picture. I think this is the most effective way to learn, especially in taijiquan, but I also think its difficult to get to the place where you can listen this way. Sometimes you have to not listen and not hear for a couple years before you get fed up with yourself. Before you're ready to see that you're full of it. I think its usually incremental for this reason. I'll close this posting with an excerpt from Hong's poem on push hands from his book, Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method, translated by Chen Zhonghua:

In dealing with fellow practitioners
One must respect the aged ones
Be polite to each other
And don't fight to be the first
Learn with an empty heart
And your ability will increase
If you initiate fajin
You must keep safety at heart
It is good to play the game to a draw
And both feel good about it
Keeping your opponent's reputation
Will make your heart feel at ease
If you run into a bully
Don't engage him
Treat him with polite words
And a humble attitude
Live in peace with everyone
And all must feel the peace inside

1 comment:

  1. Thanks to Jordan Keats and Gordon Muir and Chen Zhonghua for the inspiration and teachings. I am lucky to have such a great taiji community!