Tai Chi or not Tai Chi, that is the question?

Tai Chi or not Tai Chi, that is the question?
First I shall give you a brief summary of my Tai Chi history, so that I can at least satisfy myself that I can give an informed opinion on Tai Chi.

I started to practise Tai Chi about 27 years ago, before that I had practised Shotokan Karate, and dipped in and out of different with kung fu styles. The first Tai Chi style I trained was the Wu style taught by David Barrow (UK), himself a student of Master Loong Fong (Malaysia). This style’s unique feature is the sloping back and the big movements, which looks beautiful when performed well. David had had several teachers Loong Fong, Woo Sing (Hong Kong) and the late Grandmaster Ma Yeuh Liang (Shanghai-China), at present David is a student of Ma bo (Ma Yeuh Liang son). At present my teacher of over ten years is Patrick Kelly (New Zealand) himself a former student of the late Grand master Huang Sheng-Shyan. Patrick also spent a short but worthy period with Ma Yeuh Liang.

One of my joys at the moment is practising the Sequenced Movement Sets of the:

  • Cheng Man Ching 37 posture Yang Short form.
  • Yang Fuchan 108 Long form. Huang Shyen Shyan Quick fist form.
  • The three sections of the Yip Man Wing Chun forms.

I have studied and practised Acupuncture for over fifteen years; this requiring the knowledge and understanding of the internal workings of the Zang Fu system. Therefore, another of my joys is the inquiry of the deep internal workings of the forms via the body system. I have been teaching Tai Chi to the public, NHS, Universities, Schools and Adult Education for over twenty years. So there you have a brief resume of my Tai Chi life. So let’s begin with the question of ‘Tai Chi or not Tai Chi that is the question?

The different approaches to Tai Chi:
There are so many styles of Tai Chi available ranging from the Chen, Wu, Yang, Lee, Son and many more. The other equation to the changes within each style; small changes are made to the forms and training protocol by the individual tai chi teachers. A teacher is a student that may know a bit more information than the student, therefore always bear in mind that a teacher is ultimately a student, and their ego (personality, views, beliefs and opinions) can influence their training system.

Some of the conditions that the teacher may advocate within their systems training regime are:

  • No speaking in class, assuming that the communication is transmitted by some sort of mental osmosis (implying that you simply follow the movements and you will learn by default).
  • You must practise daily at the right time and place.
  • You must not question your teacher (teacher knows best).
  • Your style is the only truly right approach of all styles (and that other styles are lacking in the right training).
  • While some styles advocate a chilled out approach, practice when you want, ask the teacher if you don’t know.

I have seen approaches that levitate towards the fighting or the chilled out feeling (hippy and new age vibe) or the health and wellbeing outcomes. Some advocate that the spiritual direction can be towards any religious belief, or another vein absolutely states no spiritual direction is needed.

Several of the approaches believe that competition events are required to achieve a deeper understanding of the art. While some clearly refute the competition aspect due to it disturbing the calmness and non – competitiveness of the art form.

Is Tai Chi keeping in with the times of modern person? Can Tai Chi be embraced and fulfil the desires of modern person in the 21st century of the technological and forward thinking society? To answer this I guess you could look into the past, and one of the tools of the past which may help the knower to ascertain any assumptions is the ‘I Ching’ the book of changes. The book of changes implies by its name that all things are changing. That the duality of the two forces ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ maintain a constant flux of equilibrium, albeit whether it is in time or space. This statement gives an idea that duality moves in complete harmony with time, space and place. Ta chi is deemed to be the philosophical bed mate of the ‘I Ching’. Therefore the nature of natural development is always to stay in synchronicity with itself, that being values, time, space and place. So the Tai Chi maintains it equilibrium by the intrusions and changes of man/woman, that is to say the interpretations of teachers and students that have been passed on the understanding of Tai Chi and developed it, or not developed it, albeit good or bad. This intervention has aided the Tai Chi in staying in synchronicity with modern times.

The classics state that the Tai Chi can only be taught by oral transmission; however the fact that it is the written word that makes the above statement, would imply to me that the understanding can indeed also be communicated by the written word. The classics contain many ideas and indications that contribute on how to train the Tai Chi (to what level is down to the interpretation).

We have at our hands countless amounts of books giving solid ideas of correct practice, and now there are videos and DVD’s stating it can accomplish to deliver a clear and concise way of practice. With the advent of the internet, several practitioners of Tai Chi give claims to being able to deliver the proper teaching discipline – with this modern technology the practitioner can watch, listen and interact with the teacher. With this technological wonder the art does not have to be obscured by distance or time. I myself have recently created an Online Taiji Tuition Site, because I realise that one of the ways the Tai Chi can be taught clearly and correctly is by multimedia means via the internet. Misinterpretations and misunderstandings can be always be accrued whether you learn in a physical setting with a teacher, reading a book, watching a video, listening to verbal instruction, or using multimedia via computer. I always feel that one of the ways the practitioner advances his/her Tai Chi by the mistakes and errors made while learning and practicing their system.

So in conclusion – Tai Chi or Tai Chi that is the question? For me Tai Chi radiates from a personal relationship with whichever version or discipline you find yourself training labelled as ‘Tai Chi’ as your ‘Tai Chi’. If you label your Tai Chi as ‘Tai Chi’, then for you surely it must be Tai Chi. On what level of accomplishment of Tai Chi does not matter, Tai Chi ‘IS’ it runs in parallel with ‘life’, it constantly changes never standing still, it has values and meanings on many levels, it is the ‘Dao’ that our mortal being can never fully accomplish the understanding of the absolute truth.

There are levels of refinement within Tai Chi, which with clear tuition from a trusted and practiced system will elevate the practitioner to a superior and fulfilling standard of Tai Chi. However as mentioned before, teachers will interpret their system to their understanding (or level). Therefore ones development within the Tai Chi can be stilted and not refine itself due to improper practice. Does this matter? Not really, because the Tai Chi seems to be individual to each person needs, and will satisfy those needs, no matter what the level.

So in total it appears ‘Tai Chi’ can be anything. My ‘Tai Chi’ has a discipline that is attuned to me; it fills in a lot of the meanings that fulfil my life. My dream is to share my knowledge of what I have learned and gained through the practice of Tai Chi. At all times I have tried to discriminate clearly of what I deemed to be the Tai Chi that is appropriate for me.