(the Fall of) Tai Chi Chuan
Tai Chi Chuan developed simultaneously as a form of
self-defence and all of those other things that folk
imagine it to be. This is simply so - a fact. However,
most people that do decide to take up what they call
Tai Chi choose to ignore this and assume that they may
pick and choose as they wish, or as they see fit.
This is not always their fault. The main cause of this
is the fact that very few people teach Tai Chi Chuan.
What most Tai Chi teachers teach is what students pay
them to teach. Due to the fact that most prospective
students have already decided what this is - and what
this is everything that they imagined it to be, apart
from the martial discipline of self-defence - this is
what most teachers teach. The Tai Chi that is taught
is a cut down version of Tai Chi - very few teach Tai
Chi Chuan. In return, the most that certain teachers
ask of these students is that they pay in advance. I
would call this 'market forces', and I would personally
stop short of even calling it Tai Chi.
Very few teachers offer to teach Tai Chi Chuan because
very few students are interested in the Chuan part.
This is as much for the fact that few know that Chuan
exist and fewer know what it is. This is what I think
is called 'the rule of supply and demand'. The consequence
and vivid illustration of all of this are those little
adverts that appear in local newspapers from adult education
establishments that offer the likes of 12 week courses
in Tai Chi ... with concessions for the unemployed.
Without further ado may I quote from the Preface of
Advanced Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan, Volume One by the
world renowned Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming:
|". The art is gradually becoming
incomplete. Because most Tai Chi practitioners are
more interested in health than in self-defence,
the deeper aspects of the art have been gradually
ignored. Many people who have practised Tai Chi
Chuan for a quite a few years still do not understand
its theory and principles. They may not know how
to co-ordinate breathing with the forms and many
do not understand the relationship of Tai Chi and
Chi Kung. Some even do not know what Chi is, or
how to generate it through Tai Chi practice and
still meditation. Because of this their art remains
superficial. Furthermore, the original, major part
of Tai Chi Chuan - the martial application - is
dying out. The reader should understand that Tai
Chi was created as a martial Chi Kung art. The self
-defence applications remain a necessary part of
the wholeness of Tai Chi Chuan. Its principles and
techniques are unique in martial society".
The Tai Chi that is usually taught in the west nowadays
is absolutely devoid of Chuan. By this stage we can't
even blame the teachers anymore because nobody ever
pointed out to them the importance of learning about
it themselves in the first place! Tai Chi with the Chuan
removed is Tai Chi with the Martial and the Art removed.
That is simply so - and another fact. All that in fact
remains is all those other things that folk imagine
that Tai Chi should be.
Numbered amongst these things are 'relaxation' 'stress-relief'
'confidence' etc., along with a supple body and the
prospect of a long and healthy old age. Sure, all of
these things may be attainable - but all in about 12
hours is a big ask from any teacher, even the most honourable
and best intentioned. Any student that believes any
teacher could condense and impart thousands of years
of collective study and refinement into any number of
hours instruction should question and re-asses either
their own expectations or the teachers claims.
In the next paragraph of his preface to volume one
the venerable Dr. Yang goes on to state: "Because
Tai Chi is so profound and covers so much, it is not
possible for one book, or for that matter one person,
to cover the art fully". I would not disagree
with this and might go even further and state that the
only course or period of training applicable for Tai
Chi is the rest of a lifetime. We might also
bear in mind that many people take up this study and
practice in the hope of extending that lifetime to the
natural maximum. This incorrect view is like going to
a doctor with an illness, describing the symptoms to
him/her and then refusing to take the prescription.
It is like a person who has never driven a car taking
the trouble of finding a driving instructor to then
tell him/her that all they want to know about the car
is where the ignition and the accelerator is. Should
the instructor agree, would the result not be inevitable?
Not only would the student never pass the test (or in
the former find a cure) he/she would have no control
and hurtle (in both metaphorical situations) headlong
into a crash. This would continue to occur over and
over and would only be 'cured' when the instructor insists
that he teach the student about the benefit and use
of the steering wheel and the brake!
In Tai Chi Chuan the steering wheel is the martial
self defence aspect and the brake is the philosophy
that is directly connected to this. In short, most of
the people in the west that become interested in Tai
Chi are attracted almost exclusively to relaxation benefits
derived from the soft aspects of the practice. As a
final word for now on this matter this author would
observe that the habit of picking and choosing is now
becoming more prevalent within this side of the original
practice also. This is like going to a doctor just to
tell him/her what prescription you demand or telling
a driving instructor that you don't want him in the
car with you.
The most general and unfortunate misunderstanding of
prospective students of Tai Chi is that they have assumed
that the martial/self defence aspect of Tai Chi is intended
to teach a person how to fight. They could not be more
wrong. It is precisely and specifically intended to
teach how to not fight. Sticking to this original wrong
conclusion, they will never find out just how wrong
they are! The irony is that Tai Chi cannot really help
these people very much in their quest for relaxation
either. In the short term it may encourage a little
more patience and tolerance of minor irritations, but
this will never be more than short term and minor. Any
number of Tai Chi classes may help a student to relax
for a while also. This is also short term and might
end as soon as the Tai Chi session ends.
instance, a common reminder in Tai Chi training is "elbows".
This instruction is given to remind students to protect
their rib cage and all of the vital organs within. In
effect the elbows and perhaps also the wrists and shoulders
become relaxed and so this is I suppose a good thing.
But how long will this last? A student of 'partial'
Tai Chi may remember the instruction of "elbows
down" whilst dealing with the minor irritation
of say an itchy ear [Try it-scratch ear - elbows
up/ scratch ear - elbows down. Compare. Martial Art?] A student of 'true' Tai Chi is more likely to remember
the instruction amid the roar of the rush hour tube
train or within the chaos of a road traffic accident. [Try it. Protect face (look down tunnel) - elbows
down. Protect face - elbows up. Compare]. An advanced
student of Tai Chi Chuan would also heed all of the
other instructions of a good Tai Chi Chuan teacher in
all situations and occurrences of everyday life. All
of these instructions are based entirely upon the martial
applications of the form. They are its control mechanism,
its motivation and its direction. When this is removed
the practice is hollow, empty and lacking direction.
The most consistent and repeated instruction of a Tai
Chi teacher should be "yield". This has similar
effect to 'relax' though its full effect is far more
long term and useful. More and more nowadays "yield"
becomes the cry of the student. This could be why fewer
and fewer people teach Tai Chi nowadays. Soon there
may be no Tai Chi left to teach and kick boxers will
occupy the dojos.
What a sad irony this would be.