13 Pieces of Wood

The crescendo of Cicadas envelope me one more time while I Stand on the black and white speckled floor in the training hall. They sound like ten thousand small metal flags shimmering against each other as a gentle breeze blows. I think about their seven year gestation cycle. I think about my own Taijiquan gestation cycle and how it’s much longer than that. I think about my teacher and China and the ancient tradition from which they come, more than the cicadas or my training. Our lives and history, so different, and yet here we are, right now, each other’s companions in this room.

The fans overhead cool me as sweat pours down my face and legs, one more time. Outside in the quad spears shake, feet stomp, kids shout their timing signals, perfectly syncing their forms. The cement mixer hums pouring more concrete for the new dorms.  Grandmaster approaches behind me and sinks me down one more time. He presses my shoulders down too. My legs shake. I imagine surrendering myself down to the Well of this place and endure it. Can I endure it? For one or two minutes of counting? Just one more time. 

Ten days ago we arrived here. A lifetime ago, a moment ago. By day three’s end it seemed few would return. Now everyone’s conversations include, “the next time....”  If I were to read back at my training blogs I’m fairly certain I say at the end of each training, it was, this one was, the hardest. This is the one I dissolved the most, this is the one I became disassembled completely, this is the one it will take me the rest of my life to digest.  I’m sure I have said it before many times. Again, I say it now: this training was the hardest, this is the one I dissolved the most, this is the one I became disassembled completely. This is the one it will take me the rest of my life to digest. 

I am happy in Chenjiagou. The conditions and training are rugged, it breaks one down, it’s quite hard on the ego, but it suits my temperament in ways little else in my life does. This training was punishing for me in a way, not physically, though it was certainly rigorous, but mentally, conceptually. It is not as though I haven’t seen all of what Grandmaster showed many times before and yet it was like I never had. I worked hard to see through my own veils to what I could see lay beneath in my teacher’s movement. I felt fragmented much of the time, clumsy at best. But today, during the last hour, much came together for me. I do see the next way forward. I am very grateful to my teacher for giving me everything I can take and then more.

At the entrance to the old street right before the school two large frames flank the gate. One displays weapons, the other thirteen pieces of wood that are the Rules for Learning Quan, (Fist). Tomes have been written about each element, but in essence these pieces of wood shown in the photo above say, (from left to right):

  1. Requirements for learning Quan 

  2. If you want to learn Quan, first you need to understand the law: Be civilized, Be polite, Be righteous. Take care of one another.

  3. Understand Technology, Physics, Physiology

  4. Understand Leverage, Spiraling Energy, Physical Strength, Empty and Full, Blood and Qi Circulation

  5. Strengthen your body constitution. Know the skill.

  6. Be reasonable. Seek a good teacher. If the teacher is not good enough he or she will delay the student. 

  7. When a teacher is teaching and talking, pay attention and remember the teaching. When a teacher is demonstrating, watch carefully 

  8. From sense to sensibility, Think and practice often.

  9. Stick to it. Follow the rules. Seek progress but don’t be in a hurry.

  10. Before you know it your Kung fu will increase gradually. 

  11. Learning also requires good friends to learn Quan together. You will help each other. 

  12. Experiment often. Discuss in detail. Then right and wrong will become very clear. 

  13. Taijiquan

We all scatter tomorrow to various locations: Doug & I to Kunming, Meg to Shanghai, Lisa to visit family in China, Shiuwen to Taiwan to study with her tea teachers. John and Matt have a couple more days in China too and Greg heads back to the States. We are packed. Chen Zi Qiang and Cui Bing took our group out for dinner one more time tonight. Our bus leaves before first light tomorrow. Chen Xiao Xing’s parting words to us today were: “Have fun!” And I’ll take that advice to heart. Because soon the real work begins: to go home and work and re-work the teachings, one more time, and be ready for the next time in Chenjiagou.


First foremost we all Shiuwen Tai a debt of gratitude for her generous and fearless translation throughout this training. Grandmaster, Shiuwen and I have 16 years of history together and it shows in the serious but playful nature we all share together on the floor. I also owe my friend so much for helping me with all the questions and ‘interviews’ I conducted with Grandmaster and others in the Village. I could have never achieved the depths of communication without her.

Our group was wonderful and absolutely harmonized. Doug, Meg, Shiuwen, John, Matt, Lisa, and Greg never missed a beat one time throughout this training. I was proud to be here with them. Grandmaster’s Wife was extremely generous and kind to us. As always Chen Zi Qiang and his wife Cui Bing went out of their way, always treating us like family. To the Demo team and Yi Mei, who made us feel an even deeper connection to our home school. And to the people of Chenjiagou, my debt of gratitude for not just allowing me to train and learn here in your home but to share our open hearts together. Thank you, too, to all who took the time to read this training journey and share in my process. 

在陈家沟见!See you in Chenjiagou again!