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The Basic Principle: Chan Fa

The Chen Form
Chan fa or cocoon power is the basic principle of Taiji.
The Chan technique appeared for the first time in 'The Chen Family's Illustrated Taiji Book' authored by the Great Master Chen Xin of the sixteenth generation. He is the first to affirm that Chen style Taiji is the 'Chan technique'. Following, he explains that without knowledge of Chan, the intimate nature of Taiji chuan is incomprehensible therefore establishing the importanza of the cocoon power in Taiji Chen.
The chan power can be subject of numerous variations such as chan in advancing or retreating, the left or right chan, the inferior or superior chan, the internal or external chan, the negative or positive chan.
Owing to my experience, I believe that these different chans can be grouped in two categories: the positive chan and the negative chan. But what is the criteria to distinguish these two different chans? Chen Xin in not very clear in his book about this point.  There are also numerous and diverse interpretations regarding the significance of chan inside the books treating the matter. I have therefore made my summary of the criteria which enables to distinguish the two chan so as to make them clear for my students.
  • Chest: the torsion of the chest to the left is considered positive chan, to the right, negative.
  • Legs: when the body twirls to the left the left leg has positive chan and the right leg has negative. When the body twirls to the right the right leg has positive chan whereas the left leg has negative chan. Consequently, with positive chan the knee lifts, but with negative chan it falls. They never rise or fall contemporary and under no circumstances do they move from one side to another (like tennis players).
  • Hands: when the thumb rotates outwards with the palm upwards, it's positive chan; when the little finger rotates outwards with the palm downwards it's negative chan.

When hand and hip work together rotating right and left, forwards and backwards, up and down, this is called 'revolution'. The revolution directions are those above; while doing a revolution up or down or right and left, there is another rotation inside. Only the rotation has 'shun' (ex: with the right hand you will have 'shun' when the little finger rotates towards the chest and the thimb rotates in the opposite direction: 'ni' comes to be when doing the opposite).
When the right hand rotates towards right, ni chan opens in the superior part whereas shun close in the inferior part and this is called 'positive circle'. In opening, ni chan needs the hand to guide the elbow and the elbow guides the shoulder.
In the case of the right hand, this movement is continuous from the heart to the chin and continues rotating until the hand arrives at eye level:  this consists in the superior half of the circle. Following, relax shoulder, sink elbow and keep wrist in line with forearm, lift the fingers and recall the elbow at the side of ribs. The elbow maintains this contact therefore only the forearm rotates high towards the heart passing near the navel.
Chen Xin believes that each hand is responsible for half of the body. In performing, the hand is the sentinel whose task is to protect the chest while the demarcation of the central line is given by the nose.  Personally, I have brought this to the heart just in case students get it wrong and bring the hand to the nose (Master Hong taught his students not to follow the hands with their eyes but to watch their opponent). The nose line, according to every fighting situation, is the measure for the central line for attacking tecnique (whoever needs more information can contact Master Cafiero).
Wang Zongyue also affirms “without extension or deficiency”.
We therefore need to find the key to define what is “extension” and what is “deficiency”. In Chen style the hand must not be above the eye or below the navel and cannot cross the heart line, (the right hand cannot invade the left side and viceversa) To cross these lines means a loss of power whereas not reaching them will cause a rigid resistance in movement.
Generally, from heart to eye the hand is rotating to 90 degrees.
This is the essence of the positive circle. In form, examples of this movement may be found in both hands in “hands as clouds” and in the right hand “blocking by touching the robe”.
The movement of negative circle in the revolution of the right hand is such; shun tan pulls the right hand into the internal superior right angle. The fingers point to the same direction.
The elbow is recalled to low part of the chest and then changes in ni chan. Beginning, the elbow must be attached to the ribs. The hand guides the elbow from heart to hip and then highers towards the eyes; examples of this can be found in “crossing the hands” in the Yi lu form and consists in a negative revolution.
There are very few examples of negative circles brought towards the higher and lower part of the body. It's to be found only in “golden rooster on one leg” that the hands separate above and below forming negative circles: both hands separate in negative cicles at heart level. The superior hand passes from shun chan up to the heart changing in ni while passing the mouth, nose and baihui  at the crown. It's a sensation of lifting an object upwards.

The lower hand passes in a ni chan from heart level moving towards hips and pushing outwards at the level of the hips.
This movement (golden rooster on one leg) maintains shun and ni for two rotations. Attention must be paid to the higher hand which must be straight and the lower hand slightly angled.
The rotation of the front hand and the backhand are both in negative circles. The back hand passes from a shun chan brought to heart level to a ni chan, passing beside the hip getting a 90 degrees angle (to the heart) and returning to shun chan so as the elbow is next to the ribs.
The wrist then turns to ni chan and passes to ear side in front of chest. We have an example of this in 'hitting hiding the hand': in this movement, the chan rotation changes four times.
In 'caressing horse's hair' , when the elbow is next to the ribs in shun chan and the hand is at ear's level, it changes slightly into ni chan when passing from ear level outwards in shun chan. In the movement “await the tiger” in 'pau chui' there are six inversions of chan.

Therefore, in the different movements the hands change chan direction in the different positions of the body. There is no space for error. The Taiji treaty says: a deviation of even one millimeter at the source will bring to a confusione of kilometers to destination. This saying is not without motif.

Students must pay careful attention to this concept.
In movements such as 'sweeping the knee' and ' one step backwards holding the hands on both sides'
the hands move following a rule (and obey to a principle): the hand in front is spread out while the one behind is bent.
These are the directives for the hands coordination, readers pay much attention even to this.
The difference between shun and ni regards eyes too? Certainly.
Eyes are the organs, which focalize, and infrom the mind. The mind may then comand the whole body to adapt according to the changes of challenger, just as it observes the peripheral situation. Chen Xin once said: when practicing the form imagine you are fighting an opponent. He refers to decoding the movement of the opponent by using the eyes so as your own movements are coordinated to your opponents. It's the only way to know your opponent.
The first method in knowing your opponent is watching his posture because thanks to this we are able to know the direction and method of attack.
This can be obtained by the coordination of the eyes and the discernment in planning a quick and flexible attack or defence. Based on this, every Chen movement finds its right use. Directions are decided according to the target of the technique.
Consequently, when the direction of the eyes and the movement are the same, it's to be considered shun; when it's different it's to be considered ni.