Internal Training with the Chen Style Taiji Sphere
by Chen Qingzhou, 19th-generation successor
Most people who practice Taijiquan know about the Taiji Sphere. When you reach a certain level in your barehanded practice, it is good to train with the Taiji Sphere; how one trains, for which purpose it is useful for, and what form its practice takes, is frequently neglected by those seeking "gongfu." In the investigative spirit of the present, I present by experience and developed skills to all Taijiquan players, in order to "toss a few bricks to entice some jade."
In 1944, when I was ten years old, in the yard of my house there was a roughly finished stone (qing shi) sphere with some white veins in it, about the same size as a soccer ball, that everyone called the "stone egg." I thought that I would grab it up into my arms, but I couldn't do it. At times my father would take an interest and approach the stone; taking a horse stance, he would pick it up with both hands and proceed to roll it around his abdomen. At times he would fling it off (with his abdomen) and at the end of his training the ball remained on the ground. My father said, "this is to play with after you have gotten a grasp on the barehanded postures." Many years later, it occurred to me that the "stone ©¶b ought to have been the ancient "Taiji Qiu" (Taiji sphere).
Nineteen years later, when I was studying Chen style Taijiquan with Master Chen Zhaopei, I had seen basketball being played on the basketball court, which brought to mind the teachings of the Taiji sphere. The better basketball players, when they caught a pass, really looked as if they were working out with a Taiji sphere. Just as in the peng (ward off) and lu (roll back) chan si jin (silk reeling force) of the posture Jin Gang Dao Dui (Vajra Pounds the Mortar), first they would rotate toward the rear to neutralize the incoming force of the pass and then they were able to turn at will with the ball.
In the past, the previous generations of masters placed great emphasis on special power training techniques (xing gong), training with a Taiji sphere of over fifty pounds, hitting three sandbags (da san dai), and training with a stick [or ruler] (xing gong bang) in order to develop the foundation gongfu of Chen style Taijiquan. From the Qing dynasty, after the introduction of Western rifles and cannon into China, people became indifferent to traditional martial arts training. The more difficult postures were eliminated from the old Taijiquan training routine which then developed into [more of] a health oriented practice. A few of the methods that were of benefit to developing "gongfu" were no longer practiced and basically should have ceased to be transmitted. At the same time the set was being changed the kind of sentiment in the following line was being expressed: "Do you want to know the entire purpose of Taijiquan? It lies in enhancing longevity and extending radiant good health into old age."
When I was learning the Taiji sphere, there wasn't any Taiji sphere to practice with, it was only by explaining a few movements by describing the movements with empty hands and performing as if holding a Taiji sphere that I was able to learn. Later on, I found an old leather ball and filled it with sand and practiced revolving it continually. Luckily, in 1973 I chanced to see three steel Taiji spheres in Zhengzhou. I happily purchased one as if it were a precious object and have practiced with it up until the present day, the surface of the sphere turning into a shiny black color.
Song of the Taiji Sphere
Training in the 18 methods with the Taiji sphere,
the method never strays from circles of silk twining.
changing in infinite permutations of Yin and Yang energy,
a perfectly round shape is formed internally.
The steel Taiji sphere is 26 cm. in diameter and weights 14 kg. At first, when I trained with it, I felt that it was a little heavy. By training in Taijiquan according to the "Eighteen Methods," until the [internal] "qi" drives the [external] form, then training in revolving of the Taiji sphere, means that the dantian will move the revolving of the Taiji sphere. Eventually it seems as if there is an invisible sphere inside the abdomen. When pushing hands with another person, the sensations are transmitted to the sphere inside the abdomen which can naturally respond in moving the whole body, thereby responding to circumstances and reacting accordingly. [Even] some people who feel that this is something quite strange, [after pushing against my abdomen with their hand, say that there is a rotating sphere, yet they cannot find where it rests and their hand will feel painful upon contact with its reactive force.
The years have passed like flowing water, and practice with the Taiji sphere has accompanied me these twenty one years. The Taiji sphere draws those who truly love gongfu into practicing with it. In practicing it I have work out many pieces of clothing and hurt my hands and feet, really sweating and bleeding, yet, throughout the years I persist in practicing it, without letting up.
One time, five years ago, I was lying on the bed and felt my dantian area involuntarily snap upward several times; I thought this was interesting. This made me try an experiment, putting an object on my dantian and finding I could cause it to spring upward [of my abdomen]. After practicing it many times, now I can send a fifty gram piece up into the air over twenty centimeters.
From January to April 1999: Jin Tai-yang, an American sent by an international martial arts magazine; and from Korea, Jin Jian-pu; and from Hong Kong, a writer from another publication, all came to investigate and research the special gongfu training of Chen style Taiji and the Taiji sphere. When I gave a demonstration of the Taij sphere they took some photographs and let me give a talk about my personal experience. I said: "Thirty years ago I really didn't understand the Taiji sphere, I didn't really press my teacher to teach it to me or ask him a lot of questions about it. The little which I can say about it today is based on what I learned from my teacher and then practiced and then learned on my own. Now, in light of the effort to uncover and restore a cultural heritage, I "throw a brick to entice some jade," respectfully inviting Taijiquan enthusiasts from wherever to put forward their views, in order that we can mutually encourage each other's practice. [July, 1994. The Journal of the Chen Style Taijiquan Research Association, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 10-11. Translated by Greg Bissell.]