Getting some coaching from Nabil Ranne while Ryan Craig looks on.
I spent a few days training with Nabil Ranne in Philadelphia a week ago. I met Nabil through an email exchange in 2020 and interviewed him for my Internal Fighting Arts podcast.
My journey with Chen style Taiji began in 1998 and focused primarily on the Chen Village branch of the art as taught by Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing and others. In recent years, I became intrigued by the differences in the Chen Zhaokui/Chen Yu branch in Beijing, so after the interview with Nabil, I did a couple of private lessons with him and then signed up for his online classes.
What impressed me most about Nabil's teaching was the level of detail. And there were differences -- in the shorter stances where feet are parallel most of the time, in the shifting of weight, in the awareness of different jin in each movement, the fullness of the dan t'ien and the coordination of the mingmen, the opening and closing of the chest and back, the folding of the chest and stomach, the closing power in the legs, the grounding from the heels, the stability of the knees and the spiraling through the feet, and connecting it all in each movement; and peng -- always maintaining peng, which I have worked on for over two decades but still learn new aspects. These are just a few differences, and they are difficult to address in a blog post.
This was my second workshop with Nabil. Like last year's workshop, it was hosted by Ryan Craig, instructor at Philly Chen Taiji. Ryan has game, my friends. He has good people associated with him, too. It was good to see people like Caleb Arnold, Ted Brodkin, Sanja Martik, Joe Zane, Kent Kreiselmaier, Matt Brownlee, Tony Demma and Rufus Grady, among others..
The workshop was held over four days -- Friday through Monday. We started with some body mechanics and how they work in applications and joint locks. We worked on the expression of peng and the connection through the body, utilizing the mingmen and the grounding from the heels. We worked on the Yilu form each day, receiving excellent hands-on corrections.
Push hands was an important part of the workshop, and I was looking forward to experiencing how Nabil does it. One of the exercises involved the legs. You put your right leg against your partner's right leg and do circling exercises similar to single-hand push hands. After a while, you switch to the other side. There was a leg exercise where you do the same, but this time, you raise your knee so your foot is off the ground. It was a great way to work on your balance and a tough leg workout. Connecting with an opponent's legs is an important part of breaking his structure.
Push hands is done differently than what I am accustomed to -- the peng is heavier and you keep your weight on the front leg instead of moving back and forth between the front and rear legs. It was eye-opening. I always enjoy "emptying my cup" and exploring different ways of doing something. The worst thing you can do to yourself is to be shown something new and react with, "That's not the way I do it."
After studying with Nabil online, and seeing other students in the online classes, it's one of the year's highlights to see everyone in person. Nabil is a highly skilled, humble man with a great sense of humor, and he draws people to the workshop with friendly, cooperative mindsets. There were no egos on display or cliques being formed.
I have been teaching Chen Taiji for a long time now, but there is a lot to learn, and even teachers need a teacher. Attending workshops helps me take another little baby step forward, and that's one of the goals in these arts -- getting a little better every day.
The deeper you dive into Chen Taijiquan, the deeper it gets. The body mechanics are fascinating, and how those gentle movements enable you to generate relaxed power in a self-defense situation, and the health and fitness benefits that come with the activity -- it's an endlessly rewarding pursuit. That's why I practice, why I teach, and why I study with great teachers like Nabil Ranne.
--by Ken Gullette