Seeking Realistic and Pragmatic TaiJi
Present Situation and Thoughts
Over time, of the existence and development of TaiJi Quan in China, faces daunting challenges. Some people might think this is alarmist talk, right? The unprecedented popularity of TaiJi, lots of competitions and participants, how can it be said that TaiJi faces severe challenges?
The issue we are bringing up is the problem of inheritance and development of TaiJi, which is covered by the popularity of “TaiJi for Health”. We want to discuss real TaiJi, the continuity and development of real skill.
There are many people paying attention to this cultural inheritance issues. And they are worried about the lost of this traditional martial art. You might have read their articles. Those who have contacted the older generation of practitioners, after understand them will have the sense of urgency, some refuses to teach, or no one to teach to.
Of course, many do not consider this problem, and many feel different about this problem. As one who has trained TaiJi for many years, we cannot help but worry for the presence and future of TaiJi. From the passion and the responsibility to continue this art, we are willing to share our thoughts with the huge TaiJi community.
Misconception of Current Understanding
The serious problem of “TaiJi for Health”. Some said that after the era of cold weapon, martial art’s fighting capability and purpose no longer needed, what is left is the purpose of creating good health. Some suggested it as performance art. If this is the fate of Martial Art, it is the same with TaiJi. It seems that TaiJi’s movements are not aggressive, almost everyone can practice, popular for creating good health, TaiJi Quan naturally become a serious crisis. In recent years, taiji is very popular with healthy living, developed as performance, Dao Ying (QiGong), entertainment. This concept in many people’s mind is flawed.
Recently, human’s most advanced technology, with most monetary investment are into manufacturing of weapons. Now, development of weapon is at incredible pace. From this we can see that martial art is destined to decline. Taiji is only good for health. This is wrong.
Firstly, those who push this wrong thinking has forgotten, as an important school among our country’s martial arts, TaiJi Quan is passed down from our ancestor, an important cultural inheritance. If, during our passing on of this TaiJi Quan, ignore its combat function, is to discard all its special quality. Without the combat characteristic, TaiJi Quan is no longer a martial art, it is the same as dancing, stretching, acrobat, exercise, no difference from these. In this way, it is fatal to TaiJi Quan, what we have left is fake TaiJi, imitation TaiJi. Only appearance. I want to ask, do we want to continue this way? Is this what we want as a precious cultural continuity? If we are to think calmly, clearly about this problem, the answer is obvious.
Everyone here, who are passionate about martial art and seek combat characteristic will not merely accept the excuse of “cold weapon era” statement. The combative function of martial art has attracted all of us. One of the subtle but important reason is, these people has a passion for martial art DNA. If a person loves Martial Art, it means to say his ancestor could be a soldier or hunter and the love for combat genes has passed down to his body, and is revealing itself. Abandon combat and learn fancy form, people will learn Judo, Tae KwanDo etc. This passion for combat cannot be denied. Put aside the reason of gene, human always strive to develop and discover its potential, to excel himself. This is normal, not something a fake TaiJi can fulfill.
Another point, without application, the moves in the TaiJi Quan form will lose its practicality. Lose its measuring stick to determine right from wrong. The moves will deviate! Whoever think you can get your form right without knowing the application will be wrong.
Lets take a step forward and discuss the original purpose. How did the form come about? Martial Art great masters who founded schools, compiled their most practical combat moves, most important, most basic, most advanced moves, together into series of forms. In normal days, will train repeatedly, to maintain or improve one’s level of combat. After all these martial art engineers progressive addition or subtraction or hard training, compiled a form or sequence and after fixing the routine, became a form routine. After that, they pass this form to their disciples and students, generations after generations, if we abandon the practical aspect of the form, is like destroying the form. The form become rootless, will not survive, cannot be developed.
From the training aspect, what combat can provide to a training, cannot be matched by empty forms.
To elaborate further, in today’s world of global economy, we should all the more protect and treasure our culture’s multifaceted sides. This is also the wish and strive of many countries and governments and even united nations. If we can unite the world’s culture, the world will be wonderfull!
An Indian scholar, presented a similar point at the United Nations meeting. His example, is that McDonald culture is a strong culture, taking advantage of global economy to popularize, Although India’s yoga is most popular throughout the world, actually this culture inheritance is decaying in its core. Without human’s self-control and minimized natural resources consumption, became a art of maintaining good health, a kind of high consumption of resources, a modern toy.
Example, drive a car to a luxurious club, make a yoga stance to aid indigestion etc.
As a citizen of a developing country with long history and cultural richness, should have some knowledge of protecting our own culture. We should all have “everyone has a responsibility” mentality. We sounded very serious, actually it is. We think that multifaceted culture is far from us, actually it is a close issue to everyone. This is to present a different angle to the problem.
To those who don’t like or not suitable to train combat, it is also good to train TaiJi for health, good for self and country. Besides everyone decides for himself. However, if he has influential or decisive power, cannot decide for those who enjoy otherwise. You cannot tell those who loves combat “You can only practice empty forms, the combat is long gone.” Hope this doesn’t happen too often, otherwise, not only TaiJi, it is also the end of Chinese Martial Art. We, as the unfortunate generation, cannot face our ancestors and descendants.
Not Careful in Selection of Teacher
In this popular craze of keep fit or good health situations, those who had the real transmission and insist on total continuation of the art of TaiJi Quan is few and precious. However, mostly, they are ignored by everyone. Choosing a teacher is most critical for one who seek martial art. Unfortunately there is many flaws here. Mostly it is due to not being realistic and scientific in choosing the teacher. The following are most common among TaiJi lovers:
Choose teachers with highest fame. We always seek out those who are famous, and learn from them. Actually, however famous is about who recommends and exaggerates. And it is not about whether he has the real skill transmission. Especially in this commercialized society, using the commercial term, it is about advertisement. Falsified promotion is common.
Follow those who speaks well. We always listen to teachers’ words to select. Thus those who are low profile will not be selected. But low profile and humbleness are characteristics of great masters. Have we not setup wrong criteria? Those who are loud spoken and boast of many feats (put aside whether they are truth or not), will not mention of their failure. Thus don’t heed what you hear. And, some always talk about supernatural, do not be misled. How this move can complete small circle (moving qi around the body), this move is to along the meridian, that move is to move the acupuncture point, create internal “dan” to defeat opponent. Do not be misled. If you like QiGong “DaoYin”, go and learn “DaoYin”, if you like to practice Taoism and Buddism, do so. They have a strict theory and discipline to guide, you might succeed, do not mix up with TaiJi.
Follow those who can perform well. Some teacher, can manipulate his opponent like a toy. It is very easy for us to believe this teacher has high skill level. However, if the opponents are this teacher’s students or disciples, it is difficult to discard the fact it could be a performance; Even if the opponent is not a student of disciple, but the skill levels differs greatly, and the reason of win and defeat is not explained properly. Very often we did not wait for that teacher to compete with a stranger with good skill level, and too quick to decide that the teacher has high level skill. In this case, don’t even believe what you see.
There is also another type about performance. After seeing that the teacher performs well, you decided to follow. If you do not like combat, do not care if you can apply what you learn, it is alright. However, if you are really interested to learn real TaiJi, this is not enough. First, without real TaiJi, it will not look good. In another words, in displaying the form, things that are not TaiJi is not good to look; only real TaiJi movement is good to look. We cannot, watching a person using dancing moves to play ping pong, decide he can teach ping pong. We have to use a technical viewpoint to judge if the moves are correct. Can you win a game, am I correct? In this case, why do we as we search for TaiJi teacher, not care about right or wrong or correct results? Every Martial Art and exercise do not allow wrong moves. Not even extra but technically correct moves. Not to mention so call pretty but non-TaiJi moves! Now we understand, without correct practical applications and only discuss who’s taiji moves are pretty, visually pleasing, relaxing and big movements etc, and not consider its usefulness, is not a expert. If we have not train our eyes, do not listen to our eyes.
Follow those who have the most number of students. We love to follow the crowd. Selecting the right teacher is utmost important, not merely follow the crowd, cannot follow blindly. If we don’t understand deep enough, not seriously experience ourselves, but only decide based on if the teacher has huge followers. It is too casual. Think again, isn’t it not so? It is not polling or about minority follows majority! Besides, “the truth lies in the hands of the few”, generally, majority is harmful and damaging.
Anxious to learn, just pick one teacher. We always want instant result. Always think “I can’t wait, just find a teacher first, will change after I find a better one. Can’t I do that?” It is not absolutely forbidden. It is just too difficult. If we choose a wrong teacher, we not only waste time and not being able to learn the real skill, even acquired problems and injuries to ourselves. Among TaiJi practitioners, knee joints injuries are very common. A saying “Easy to learn quan, difficult to correct quan”. If you want to correct your wrong or bad habit moves, it is difficult! The actual situation is, find a wrong teacher, not only do you have wrong movement, you learn a lot of wrong theories, to give up all these wrong theories, to receive new theories, is not easy. It is like a piece of paper, if you write on it, and draw on it, if you feel it is wrong and want to correct it, is it easy? Perhaps it is because of the reason of “First in takes the lead”, we cannot accept a different theory, thus we are not fated to receive good teacher.
Therefore, we as TaiJi practitioner, should have the mentality of realistic and pragmatic approach, follow the examples of the ancient people with virtue, study and practice real TaiJi. You have this mentality, follow a good teacher to learn real TaiJi, you can be a future expert; if follow the wrong path, train empty form for your whole life, is a lost to the real TaiJi.
Eager for fame.
There are waves of various TaiJi competition, very well attended. Many prices and medals were given out. We have many people among us who pursue these. However, it is only form competition and push hand competition. Competition routine movements are very difficult, objective is to differentiate the skill level from the difficulties. Think about it, execute a high jump, rotate 360 degrees, and land on one foot, the jump must be high, landing must be graceful, besides injuring your knee joints, what usefulness is there? Those who studied exercise physiology would know landing from a high jump, the knee joint will have to sustain a force equivalent to 24 times the body weight (above the knee), and this is for landing on both feet, for single leg landing, it is 48 times. At the same time we have to consider the risk of twisting the joint causing injuries. Therefore, abandoning real skill to achieve difficult move is ridiculous. Next step is to achieve 720 degrees rotation and single leg landing? And about push hand competition, what we see is “modified” Chinese wrestling, cannot find anything that is TaiJi. Even if you get first price, it is meaningless. Why do human still do these? Some take part to gain fame, some audience will enjoy the show. But I have to say “This is not TaiJi”.
The competition mentioned above are organised by Martial Art management system. Recent years, non-sport programmes like Central TV organised push hand competition has cause me to be exited. This is because Central TV’s objective is to bring out TaiJi’s combat functions, and set up their own competition rule (although it is not perfect). In this way, the competition is good to watch. In this current situation, this effort is rare.
TaiJi Quan is internal art. Have to train from outside to inside, what does competition encourage? Form routine has combative purposes, what does competition routine demonstrate? To be crude, performing the form, is deceiving the public, evil intention. TaiJi skill is accumulative; skill is acquired from quantitative to qualitative. The time required to achieve the skill could be fast or slow, but cannot be instant. Real skill, is not the same as technique and form. You will be controlled once you touch hand with someone with real skill. You cannot use any technique. In this impatient society, many place more emphasis in fame, but we understand eagerness to succeed is always conflicting with the path of learning real skill.
Many Books but Low Quality
Now, we have also another problem. To seek a good teacher is difficult, to find a good book is also difficult. There are many books on TaiJiQuan, more so compared with other martial art. In recent 30 years, many TaiJi related books are published. But to find one or two with “goods”, too difficult! What is “goods”? It means the crucial points in learning real skill. The points experienced by the authors.
There are so many TaiJi related books, how are they written?
Some author has low education, so they narrate while the students will write and compile. There are good books written with this method. Good example is Wang YongQuan narrated and compiled by Wei ShuRen, <Authentic Yang Style TaiJi Quan>. Unfortunately many are not like this. Teacher’s skill is not accomplished, attracted by fame, wanted to write a book to be famous. Or coax by the students to publish a book. It is very easy to write TaiJi book, copy and quote from everywhere, you can easily write a book. Some, the students wrote the book, and the teacher authored it without reading carefully, relying the teacher’s fame to publish the books. Once the book is published, both student and teacher benefitted from monetary and fame. Only the readers are deceived.
There are authors who are skilled and highly educated, but publish only one book. Example, Sun LuTan’s <Martial Art Log of Sun LuTan>, Liu WanHua, Liu ShiQiao’s <TaiJi Quan Form and PushHand>, each word is a gem, but too short. Hong JunSheng’s <Chen Style TaiJi Quan Practical Method>, they are rare. Some authors published their books too early, before they reach the peak of their skill, some authors honestly believe they are good enough, even though they are not, not considered as cheating. The problem is, most people uses book publishing as a way to gain fame and benefits. Inside the books are just common sense or baseless assertions, and real insights are lacking. Especially those who publish books but do not train TaiJi. Check them out if you do not believe me. “TaiJi books are so easy to write” Thus if you want to purchase a good book, is like finding a good antique in a shop. Many a times, TaiJi lover often see book titles with “authentic”, “advanced level”, “secret transmission”, and author with long list of credentials, and with good critics on the contents, photos taken with famous people, but after you purchase the book and careful reading, you know in your heart you just have another useless book.
I believe everyone TaiJi practitioner have this disappointing experience. We cannot blame the publisher, cannot demand that the editor is a martial art or TaiJi expert. We can only hope the authors be conscientious and readers to be carefull.
How to Choose a Teacher
A problem begets hope, and hope begets a solution.
We have discussed the wrong method of selecting a teacher. How do we choose a teacher? From my own experience, first we have to see if the candidate is from a authentic lineage. Only those with proper lineage, will have received the proper transmission. If not from a proper lineage, we have to put aside. This statement seems arbitrary. It seems unfair to those not belonging to the lineage. I have to apologise for my truthful words. TaiJi Quan is a highly powerful fighting method both theoretically and application wise. Since ancient times, it is only transmitted orally and physically. Without authentic teaching, you do not have the real skill. TaiJi cannot be self studied, even with good teacher does not guaranteed correct movements, self-taught success is even not possible.
Please note, we have said “Only those within proper lineage, have a chance of receiving real transmission”. In another words, “those outside proper lineage not possible to have real skill; even those within the proper lineage, might have received real transmission, also might not have received real transmission”. A TaiJi teacher with real skill, has many students, those student with true transmission is very few, sometimes only one or two. Among the taiji brothers, skill levels may vary greatly. There are many reasons, could be because of the teachers, or due tonthe student’s themselves. No matter what reason, this is a fact, choosing a teacher must have real transmission.
We must have realistic and pragmatic approach, spend time and use wisdom, avoid taking the wrong path, select a teacher with “goods” and can teach. To fulfil our love for our art, obtain self defense skill. Only then, our treasured culture heritage will be continued and develop further.