Welcome to Bristol East Taijiquan! We are a Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong school based between (but not limited to!) St. George, Fishponds, and Easton (all located in East Bristol), specialising in teaching beginners' classes and courses in Chen Style Taijiquan and Daoist Qigong for learners of all ages and abilities. Principal Instructor Fabian Mander has been studying with Mark Leonard (Bristol Tai Chi Association) and Chen YingJun (World Chen YingJun Taijiquan Gongfu Association) since 2008, and has been teaching open classes since 2017; his wife, Amy Mander, co-teaches with him and has been training since 2009.
"Relax the body. Keep your centre. Without balance, there is no power."
This is how the essence of Taiji was first conveyed to me back in 2008 by Chen YingJun, current 20th generational head of the Chen family Taijiquan heritage and son of 19th generational head, Chen XiaoWang, when, as a beginner, I asked him to summarise the teachings of Chen family Taijiquan. This maxim has been the guiding principle of my Taijiquan and Qigong practice ever since, and all those of us who are lucky enough to train with YingJun can affirm the truth of these words as they manifest themselves in the excellence of his practice, which is a rare inspiration to behold and a privilege to be able to share with the world.
Taijiquan, or Tai Chi Chuan, is an internal martial art originating from or around Chen Jia Gou ('Chen Village') in Henan province in central China roughly 500 years ago (although its precise origins are a matter of ongoing debate); without doubt, however, the Chen family are the progenitors of the original art, although they themselves are deeply indebted to countless generations of Daoist monks, mystics, and misfits who preceded them. The traditional spelling according to the Wade-Giles system, Tai Chi Chuan, dating from over 100 years ago, is quite different from the modern spelling according to the Pinyin system developed by Chinese linguists in the 1950s, which is in widespread use today - note however that there is no difference between Tai Chi Chuan and Taijiquan except that the latter spelling is more universal. More importantly though, what is the meaning of Taijiquan?
In Mandarin, the word Taijiquan is composed of three characters, as follows: 太极拳. No translation from Mandarin is ever precise, but 太 'tai' means something like 'highest', 'extreme', or 'ultimate', 极 'ji' means 'top', 'utmost' or 'supreme' (originally representing the transcendent 'ridgepole' which enables the separation of Yang and Yin, the sunny and shady sides of the Cosmic Roof), and 拳 'quan' can mean 'fist' or 'boxing'; so Taijiquan literally means something along the lines of 'Extremely Supreme Boxing', which sounds rather clumsy in English. The basic idea, however, is that no other martial art can compete with it.
Taijiquan is a martial art first and foremost, but the paradox is that because it is an extremely powerful one, it takes years of training, attention, and discipline to develop the power necessary to cope with an unscripted martial situation. Therefore, it is vital that a thorough groundwork in posture, relaxation, alignment and balance has been established before even considering the martial applications of the art, and indeed the very purpose for which Taijiquan is intended! Once more the hallmarks of Daoism, the ancient Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang as laid out in the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching), written by Laozi (Lao Tzu) over two thousand years ago, shine through.
Precisely because Taiji is based on Daoist principles, it is a complete system in and of itself, and does not require - nor indeed preclude - supplementation with other forms of exercise; you need no equipment to practise, and only a small space is necessary. You can train wherever you like, alone or in a group, as much or as little as desired. One thing, however, is certain: it will profoundly restructure not only your body, but your mind and soul as well, since it is a holistic regime which works on all levels of the human organism. Postural tensions are linked to psychological states, and by releasing these tensions you also release mental energy, insight, and clarity. As you relax the body, you relax the mind; as you relax the mind, you relax the body. As the Dao De Jing admonishes, we should seek to "Empty the mind, and fill the belly; weaken your ambition, and strengthen the bones."
Qigong (spelt 'Chi Kung' in the Wade-Giles system), written 氣功 in Mandarin, is an ancient Daoist exercise system based on very similar principles to Taiji (emphasising gentleness, balance, coordination, light stretching, using the whole body as one, moving from the centre, and so on), except that Qigong is more static in nature, with no (explicit!) emphasis on martial training. The core exercise is Standing Qigong, or Zhan Zhuang (站桩), which teaches posture and alignment through a standing meditation exercise which can last from a few minutes to an hour or more, as desired, but never beyond your natural limits! As such, embodied mindfulness is a key element of Qigong training, and this aspect of the Taiji curriculum is unique to Chen Style Taijiquan. In Mandarin, 氣 'qi' means 'breath or 'energy' and 功 'gong' means 'work'; Qigong therefore means 'breath work' or 'energy work', depending on your interpretation. Note that the 氣, 'qi' in Qigong (Wade-Giles: Chi Kung) has no relation whatsoever with the 极, 'ji' in Taijiquan (Wade-Giles: Tai Chi Chuan).
"It is up to you to decide how deep you want to go" (Chen YingJun). Taijiquan can be practised on many, many levels, and it is not necessary to have the remotest interest in martial arts of any kind in order to play, practise and above all, profoundly enjoy Taiji - as the masters say, "there are always higher mountains"! Even at a beginner's level, the benefits to health and wellbeing (both physical and mental) are almost always immediately clear, as the basis of Taiji and Qigong is calisthenics. Calisthenic exercises are rhythmic in nature and rely on the weight of the body itself to generate resistance, thereby toning and strengthening the muscles and tendons and relaxing and opening the joints in a gentle and natural way. For this reason, Taiji and Qigong can be practised by young and old alike, and have empirically and consistently proved to be of enormous benefit to disabled people and those suffering with a broad range of chronic or debilitating illnesses or injuries too numerous to list here. Because Taiji and Qigong work on posture, relaxation, alignment and balance from the outset, the exercises we use are suitable for all people of all physiques, abilities, and ages, regardless of their condition, background or experience.
Happily, scientists (especially in China) and public health services across the globe (including the NHS) are learning more and more about the profound health benefits of Taiji and Qigong, and a profusion of new studies are demonstrating beyond doubt the scientific validity of the internal arts in general. At Bristol East Taijiquan, we are committed to sharing the teachings of the Chen family with the world in accordance with their principles, and warmly invite you to join us in contributing, in our own small ways, to the increasingly widespread practise, knowledge, and understanding of Chen Style Taijiquan!
Group Sessions - £7 per class (£6 concessions)
We meet at St. George's Park for outdoor training every week - please email me for details as timings vary!
These take place in BS5. Contact Fabian for details.
Private Sessions - £20 per hour
Move as one