Instructor Liana Netto hosted the third taijiquan seminar taught by Jan Silberstorff in Salvador, BA, Brazil from March 17th to March 19th 2006. Jan Silberstorff was in Brazil for the first time in November 2002 to attend to the last seminar taught by Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang in this country, and returns anually to teach since 2004.
Jan Silberstorff was born in Germany, and has lived with the Grandmaster for 5 years with the sole goal of learning taijiquan deeply, after 8 years practicing with various teachers in China. He has been a direct disciple of Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang for more than 10 years and is widely recognized as his most advanced western student. Besides this he has partecipated with the Grandmaster in the founding of the World Chen Taijiquan Association, and is the director of the World Chen Taijiquan Association – Germany, the largest taijiquan association in the world.
The 2006 seminar was a landmark in the development of taijiquan in Brazil because besides the much awaited lessons, Liana Netto announced together with Jan Silberstorff the foundation of the Bahia branch of the Chen Xiaowang World Taijiquan Associaton – Brazil, which has been formaly authorized by Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang himself. CXWTA-Br will be under the Grandmaster authority, and will be supervised directly by Jan Silberstorff.
The lessons followed the traditional format of starting with a theory lecture, when Jan commented in detail the Grandmaster’s explanation of the 5 Levels of Gongfu. The Grandmaster’s text is published elsewhere in this website, however it’s complete understanding is a challenge for any student, and Jan’s commentary came to enlighten the meaning of the text for the attendees. Below we trancribe some of the lecture’s high points (non-literal):
There are 5 levels of skill in taijiquan. What most people do not know is that 99% of the people practicing taijiquan in the world are in the first level of skill, including teachers and tounament winners; 0.9% are in the second level of skill, and the remaining 0.1% are in the third, fourth and fith levels. Even this is an exagerately optimistic estimate, because there are probably not more than a dozen people in the world in levels 3, 4 and 5, which is much less than 0.1%.
Sometimes a student reads the Grandmaster’s text and thinks, “maybe i am in level 3 or 4”. This happens because if the text is not understood correctly, it is very easy to be mistaken. But if the text is correctly understood, one sees straight away that the higher levels of skill are very, very far away.
The first thing to now is that no one can improve directly. This means that everyone is making mistakes. Everyone begins, make mistakes, gets a wrong understanding, is corrected, comes back to the right path, and then develops other wrong ideas, and is again corrected, comes back to the right path again, and so on – and this doen’t depend on one’s inteligence – and so improves as this picture shows. It is the realization of a mistake that causes improvement, but without a teacher, there is no way one can discover that one is following a wrong idea, and one can follow this wrong idea for his whole life.
Many people, specially in the West, practice to learn taijiquan, but after some time practicing there is nothing new hapenning. This occurs because their teacher doesn’t have much knowledge, so waht he has to teach is finished in one or two years. Many people that practice, because they have no more improvement after some time, begin to create things from their own ideas, or to invent what they think are new systems, or try to combine taijiquan with other kinds of movements. If the student looses the right path, he feels something is missing, but he doesn’t know what it is, and he begins to search blindly. It is better to have a teacher that knows well what he is teaching and that can correct him so he can stay in the right path and improve on it.
In the first level, one learns everything there is about correct understanding: this means not only the zhanzhuang itself, but understandig clearly the principles behind this exercise. One has it’s posture corrected, so one can keep the right posture, one learns all the ideas behind the concept of chansijin, and of course all the forms and weapons – not only the moves but the reason for them and the correct way to do each one. In the first level not only one hears, but understands all the traditional teachings of the system. Because the student is still a beginner, this information are not yet taught in all their deepness, and the posture corrections do not aim for perfection but rather for a general rightness. In the end of the first level the student has a good feeling after practicing, and can feel what he believes to be the qi flow. The forms look correct when seen from the outside. All this creates the sensation that one has already a good level, but one tries tuishou there is not much difference from before one started to practice. The student can push some people but not other, just as it would be if he had never practiced. For one’s health the benefit is as that of moderate exercising.
This is a dangerous point in practice, because the student can come to believe that he knows taijiquan and doesn’t need a teacher anymore, and so he stops his improvement and stays in the same level of skill for the rest of his life. This is why it is so commonplace to hear in taijiquan circles that “it takes 20 or 30 years to learn taijiquan”: this is a very calming thought for those who have stopped to improve after 2 or 3 years and aehv passed the following 15 years stagnated. If someone in this level starts to teach, one ends up avoiding tuishou, because one feels there is something wrong with his practice as it doesn’t have any real verifiable effects, or one strats talking about “secrets” that can only be taught later of for special students, so as to avoid questions for which one has no answers.
Among all the great masters that i have met in China and outside China, not even a single one ever talked about secrets; and all of them would allow me to touch their bodies so i could feel the movement or to try to push them. All of them liked to teach. The lower a teacher’s level, the more he talks about secrets and not testing the teacher.
In the second level the student begins to understand more deeply what is called the 6 Harmonies. He understands the conection between hands and feet, elbows and kness, and shoulders and hips; between mind and heart, external and internal energy, and organs and tendons and muscles, and how all this works together to join the exterior and the interior into one. In the first level one hears about qi work and internal alchemy, but it is in the second level that one understands what this means. In the seconf level one understands the differnce between real internal work and the simple good feeling that one had in the first level. One understand how the movements in internally connected, and how the qi is linked to this. In the first level this could hapen in part, but it in the second level this is understood, as the chansijin is. The knowledge about he chansijin can be used in the forms, and gradually there appears the perception that the moves are right or wrong.
In the second level of skill the student can see for himself what is real and what is not, in his own practice and in other people’s, and separate the concrete from the imaginary. One doesn’t look anymore to the beautiful movements, but rather to the body’s internal connections. At his point it is possible to start correcting other people. But without a good teacher one will still be lost. Really to be able to correct oneself totally without a teacher does not start before the fourth level of skill.
In the end of the second level the martial skill works when the oponnent moves slowly. This doesn’t mean that the speed of his moves has to be small, but that the changes in his force can’t be to fast. The student’s body must be consciously guided by his thinking to change it’s force, and the changes are not natural yet, so it is not possible to react adequately to real atacks.
The difference between the second and the third levels is that the internal circles of the qi are smaller in the third level. Not the external visible movements, but the internal connections, the path of the energy becomes more concentrated and compact. This has nothing to do with the external appearence of the movements. Smaller circles mean that the internal changes are much faster, the force changes are faster. So, if a real atack occurs, the path of the qi and the connection between the mind and the qi are shorter and more immediate, and it is then that the martial skill begins to work. Even if a strong oponnent atacks very fast it is possible to change quickly and solve the situation, and because of the more compact qi circulation the level of detail and deepness is much greater.
The result for one’s health is accordingly much better, and it is possible to act on an energy imbalance much sooner and more effectively, and so avoid illness in many cases.
The internal connections of the energy are deep enough to create a sensation of much comfort and naturality.
During the weekend after the lecture the lessons were dedicated to the first part of laojia yilu and to basic push-hands practice. Once more the seminar had full support of Paulo Roberto Silva Santos, which assured mass atendance of his students who came all the way from Aracaju specially for the event. As usual the seminar was closed with the confirmation of next year’s seminar to continue the learning.