The Dragon River school of Tai Chi Chuan is based on Chen style Tai Chi, developed by the Chen family hundreds of years ago & taught in CHEN JIA GOU - the famous Chen village, in the Henan province of China, not far from the Shaolin temple.
Below is a photo of an ornate pagoda in a historic training area in the village - used centuries ago, before the Chen style was eventually passed on to the Yang & other famillies & eventually opened up for the public to learn.
If you look closely, you can see pictures inside of figures practicing Tai Chi.
My aim is to help people to understand what they can get out of Tai Chi Chuan.
I'm by no means a master, but I've got a fair amount of knowledge & I hope I can give a good idea of what Tai Chi is all about & how people can benefit from it.
This site is aimed at my students & is designed to complement what I teach our classes.
Having said that, as far as I'm concerned, everyone's free to browse around & take from it whatever they can.
However, if you download & use anything on this site for yourself, please credit me as the source - thanks.
My name's Dave Ashbey & I practice Chen style Tai Chi Chuan.
Although I've been training regularly since about 1993, I very much consider myself a student - always learning new skills & improving old ones. Tai Chi is really something that you never stop learning.
As my teacher once said to me - I'm just a little further down the path than you.
I started out learning Yang style Tai Chi on a course at my local college initially knowing nothing about Tai Chi and feeling like I had the worst co-ordination in the class. By the end of a couple of sessions, although I still didn't have a clue what I was doing, I was really enjoying it & feeling great at the end of the class.
After a few years my teacher - Jay Rossi - decided to change to Chen style Tai Chi & before long started teaching this strange new style to his students. Although it seemed a lot more complicated than the Yang style I was used to, I really enjoyed the energy it generated & have stuck with it ever since.
In 2003 I travelled with a small group to train for a few weeks in Chen Jia Gou - the village where Chen style Tai Chi was created - and had the good fortune to be taught by the Headmaster of the Chen family school - Chen Xiao Xing - for five hours each day.
My teacher also organises occaisional training sessions with his teacher - Master Wang Hai Jun, several times Chinese champion, currently living in Manchester www.wanghaijun.com/ . Master Wang's sessions are always hard work, but his thorough teaching style, patience and good humour always results in a great learning experience.
I've also recently (2014) qualified as an instructor with the Tai Chi for Health organisation - click here for details.
Through them, I'm qualified to teach their Tai Chi for Arthritis & Falls prevention, and Tai Chi for Diabetes programs.
And I'm an Instructor member of the Tai Chi Union for Great Britain.
I have current public liability insurance.
I have a recent DBS certificate.
And I'm available for taster sessions, private tuition, small groups, conferences - you name it, I've probably done it, or will give it a go!
Why Dragon River?
There are a lot of legends about the origins of Tai Chi - some more likely to be fiction than others. One story is of a Taoist monk called Chang San Feng, who watched a crane attack a snake & was impressed with the way the snake used circular, coiling movements to avoid the direct strikes of the crane's beak. From that, he developed a martial art that employed similar movements which became Tai Chi. No-one knows how true this story may be - elements of the story may be true, other parts are more likely to be embellishments.
Another story which is well documented is that of a General in the medieval Chinese army - Chen Wangting - a keen martial artist who created an art that as well as being useful for self defence, also followed principles of Chinese medicine in order to promote health. The art he created became known as the Chen style of Tai Chi - named after his family and was taught at his ancestral village - Chen Jia Gou, in rural Henan province.
The Chen family still teach at the village, and students come from miles around to live at the school & join the local children learning traditional Tai Chi. What they learn looks very different to the style practiced by the red suited people in the BBC advert (Yang style Tai Chi) - it mixes slow movements with more energetic moves, and emphasises a development of relaxed energy release from a very mobile, stable stance. There's also a big emphasis on push hands practice - a little like judo - to develop things like timing and leverage in applications.
Over time, although the Chen family closely guarded their art, only allowing family members to learn, eventually in the 19th century an outsider - Yang Luchan - learned the style & was permitted to teach it to others. At the same time, he modified it to suit himself, and successive students changed it further & taught it to their students, until the current main styles emerged:
The Yang style is probably the most widely taught in the world - 'invented' by Yang Luchan from the Chen style, but modified by his students into the style seen occasionally on TV. Overall, today there are none of the fast movements of the Chen style, and the stance is higher - less difficult physically, however this doesn't mean that its ineffectual for self defence.
The Wu, Hao, Sun styles are less well known, but also have distinct characters because of the different ways they have developed.
Different Tai Chi classes tend to have slightly different emphasis - its hard to say that any one class is right or wrong in what they focus on, but these are the things that are generally covered in my classes:
Patterns of movements that are generally regarded as the core of Tai Chi & what most people associate with Tai Chi. Like the Kata of Karate, they teach people to link a series of postures or techniques & move in a fluid, balanced way from one to the next. There are many types of forms in Tai Chi - empty hand, fast, slow, weapons (sword, staff, sabre, spear, fan, etc.). I teach several different forms depending on the stage of development of the class.
All students in my classes start with the 'short' 18 posture form, then move on to the long (Liao Jia) & fast (Pao Chui) forms, along with the straight sword (Jian), Sabre (Dao) & short staff forms.
Breathing exercises designed to increase the flow of energy (chi) around the body. The Tai Chi forms, being based on principles of Chinese medicine have the same effect. The general idea is to make you more healthy.
Push Hands (Tui Sou)
This can be practised in two ways: competitive & non-competitive. Non-competitive push hands is a set of exercises with a partner to develop balance, posture, sensitivity & co-ordination. Competitive push hands is a bit like judo - the aim is to use techniques from Tai Chi principles to knock your opponent over, or move them out of a circle.
No punches or kicks are allowed, this is a training technique to develop skills of timing, judging distance, rooting & energy release. I'm not really interested in competitions, so generally tend to focus on non-competitive push hands.
Tai Chi was originally developed as a martial art, so as well as using the principles & methods learned to promote health in the student, it can also be used to promote something very different in a self defence context. As most people today see Tai Chi as purely a health promoting exercise, they may not be expecting to learn self defence in a Tai Chi class, so these aspects are not compulsory.
Also, it takes most students a long time to learn to relax sufficiently to use Tai Chi properly for self defence, so it can be very frustrating & time consuming to learn for this purpose, although for those willing to put in the time & practice, Tai Chi has a long reputation of being an extremely effective martial art, and one which one can continue to improve with age.
Learning to focus & calm the mind. There are many kinds of meditation, Tai Chi is often considered a moving meditation, but this is tricky until you know the form inside out. Until then, we also use sitting or standing meditations / guided relaxation.