getting to the heart of taiji

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Taiji fan

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I have recently conducted and interview with an Indoor student of Chen Zhen Lei who was visiting the UK last month. He was very interested to see what was happening on the British taiji scene but also did comment on the fairly poor understanding of taiji by Western teachers. It does seem that the way taiji is practised in China and the way it is practised in the West are somewhat different. For instance, he said that there were only 5 recognised styles in China....Chen, Yang, Wu, Woo, and Sun. He said that when China closed its doors, much of the genuine information regarding taiji had not made it out and many of the texts that were translated were written in 'old' Chinese that even scholars had difficulty understanding and as a result had been embellished or just plainly incorrectly tranlated which he thought was partly why Western taiji has so many variations from teacher to teacher. Essentially much of what we see practised in the West lacks authenticity and many western teachers have little understanding of the complexities of the styles and have gone on to 'make it up' albeit in a well meaning way. This has lead to the creation of 'new' styles and misinterpreation of exsisting ones. He was pleased to see the level of interest in the UK though and hopes that now more people are seeking out the origins and aiming to reach as high a level possible and study the art true to its founders.
 
Taji Fan,

I think you are correct. The problem is that I can learn, say 24step, from a video and then set myself up as a teacher of Taiji. I could also probably claim that my lineage came from the person featured on the video! There are a great many "snake oil sellers" out there and there seems to be little control or regulation of their teaching. Another part of the problem is the teacher who never bothers (or never feels the need) to update his/her own form. Taiji is a never ending journey of discovery. The teacher who does not feel the need for correction has a poor understanding of Tajiquan. As for the "new ager's" the least said the better!

Regards
 
There are a great many "snake oil sellers" out there and there seems to be little control or regulation of their teaching
thats true, although I am not sure how you could regulate it, at some point that means someone assuming control and thenlike most things politics get in the way. Taiji does seems to lack any kind of standardisation with reagrds to arts such as Karate, where at a given level the student will know x amount of stuff. In Taiji, you often find that out of 20 schools they will also have such different ideas of what they are doing....... Sometimes the main people running the show don't have as much knowledge as they first seem to and have only managed to elivate their status because they have been around for so long not necessarily because they are any good at what they do.it is a difficult situation I am not sure how it could be treated objectively
 
Taiji Fan,

Yes you are right. Regulatory bodies are generally governed by politics. But then so is our whole life.:mad: However the governing bodies do exert some sort of regulation into what I suspect would otherwise quickly develop into chaos. My governing body for instance will only accept you if you are teaching one of the "recognised" Taijiquan forms. This at least would exclude the "new agers" and the "dance" people :D Fortunately it also excludes the "franchise" taiji societies:p

Not sure I'm in favour of "gradings" though. Would we not just be back into the world of political grading again?

No, what we have is very far from perfect, but it is better than nothing at all I think.:cool:

What is the position in other countries with accrediting teachers?

Very best wishes
 
Better than nothing? I disagree. You described system where, unless you already know something, you have no idea whether what you are being taught will actually be useful, either in a martial or health context. Nothing would probably be better than that.

By the way, who do these taijiquan forms have to be recognised by? If it is the Chinese government I would be very wary of them.

Gradings would be fine if the result could be trusted. Failing a real grading atleast shows you that you aren't up to the minimum standard for the belt.

I think that with a martial form of taiji you can atleast see if you are progressing compared to the students around you. You can test yourself against others and see if you really are getting anything from your training.
 
I think a grading system is sorely needed. Other well-known Chinese martial arts leaders do, too.

The system I teach, Yilichuan, instituted a grading system many years ago and it has worked very well.
 
Arithon,

You are right. Until you know something about what you are doing, you have no way of judging its value. The "franchise" Tai Chi Societies can hold on to their members because they do not allow them to explore other forms, therefore they do not know any better.

Yiliquan,

I have experience of gradings in other martial arts and the problem has always been the same. Standardisation! I am not against gradings and indeed they can often provide a very strong incentive to training. However, if gradings have nothing to back them up or no standard against which they can be judged, they are worthless pieces of paper (or coloured belts as the case may be). Having visited your web site, I am convinced that your grading system will be strong, fair and worthwhile. However if I set up my own school and instituted gradings and charged $100 a time and handed out couloured belts as and when. What would I be judging my standards against? How would a blue belt in Yang style compare with a blue belt in Chen or Wu or Sun? Would I be pandering to anything other than the ego of my students or the benefit of my bank balance? Indeed this very problem arose in Taijiquan a number of years ago and resulted in the competition routines being evolved. Yet, I have six different videos of six different Masters performing 24 step. Every one is different!!! How would I grade one against the other?

I should not need a coloured belt to display my proficiency in my art. My very bearing, attitute and conduct should do that!

Very Best wishes

"When asked about breathing in Tai Chi, my Master replied "Yes, keep doing it"
 
I have recently introduced a grading system within my taiji school...while I agree with what east winds has said
I should not need a coloured belt to display my proficiency in my art. My very bearing, attitute and conduct should do that!
I decided to offer some tangible levels of achievemnt to my students to prevent the fustration that I had when I left my first teacher and had no idea of what level I was at in the grand scheme of things.....I had assisted in class and taken classes when my teacher was away...did that make me a teacher? there was no standardised curriculumn and as I have found out since working with my current teacher of nearly 3 years.....I knew very little. So this was why I introduced certain levels or standards to keep a progression in the classes. It is largely based on the external understanding of the body requirements.....eg for level one things like being able to demonstrate correct distances for bow step......its not rocket science, but I have seen people train for years and still do their basic stances incorrectly. In my 'grading system' I hope that at each level all students will have been able to demonstrate an understanding of the same requirements....thus being a standard level. I am not juding what we do in our school against any other school, so yes my system is only applicable in my school, however I hope that it will enable us to run in a more structured way and that should any of my students go on to teach I will have confidence in their abilities because I will have assesed them on at least the mechanics ....which, judging by some of the rubbish passed off as taiji these days, is a helluva lot more than what is taught in some places. Incidently I don't call it a belt system.

By the way, who do these taijiquan forms have to be recognised by? If it is the Chinese government I would be very wary of them.
Arithon, the only people necessary to recognise the taiji forms are the families....Yang family, Chen family etc.
 
Tajifan,

You have made some very good points and I cannot argue with what you and Yiliquan have said. Honest and responsible gradings have value, as is clearly the case with both your schools. The problem I would have of course is knowing whether I was dealing with a "snake oil seller". I see the Taoist Tai Chi Society accrediting Instructors who have as little as 18 months experience of "Tai Chee" and then being let loose on the general public to run classes. Certainly they do not offer gradings or belts, but I wonder what level of instruction I would be receiving?

It is certainly good to know that you are progressing in the art that you are studying, but as always, the more I learn about Taiji, the more I realise there is to learn about Taiji. I do not offer gradings in my school, merely because after 15 years of training, I am still a student and wonder where a particular colour of belt would place one of my students in the greater scheme of the Tiji world? I wonder what colour of belt my present teacher would give me? (Perhaps I do not want know!!:shrug: )

There are certainly good arguments for and against, but for the present I must come down on the side of the against.

"When asked about breathing in Tai Chi, my master replied "Yes keep doing it"

Very best wishes
 
Taiji Fan,
You are, of course, quite right. There SHOULD be a "standard" against which we measure, but to whom or what do we turn?

Karate ran into this same problem long ago and now we have many different systems which have different standards for various ranks......I suspect that will be the way Taiji may turn out, too.

It is admittedly a real problem and one which needs to be seriously disussed.......
 
Originally posted by Taiji fan
I have recently conducted and interview with an Indoor student of Chen Zhen Lei who was visiting the UK last month. He was very interested to see what was happening on the British taiji scene but also did comment on the fairly poor understanding of taiji by Western teachers. It does seem that the way taiji is practised in China and the way it is practised in the West are somewhat different.

This is one major problem I have with Asian teachers. Many of them seem to feel you must be from the same genetic gene pool as the art came from to be good at it.
Every once in a while some Japanese will give me grief about being American and how I cant possible fathom the true essence Karate since I am not Japanese. Funny thing is they will say that even if they are years behind you in training or even if you could drop them on their pompous asses in a nanosecond.
So for me it just sounds totally stupid since Karate is an Okinawan art and Okinawans are genetically different than Japanese. So by the Japanese guys logic he is just as lacking as I am.
I have met some Chinese that are this way as well but Japanese tend to be this way to a greater extant.


Originally posted by Taiji fan
For instance, he said that there were only 5 recognised styles in China....Chen, Yang, Wu, Woo, and Sun. He said that when China closed its doors, much of the genuine information regarding taiji had not made it out and many of the texts that were translated were written in 'old' Chinese that even scholars had difficulty understanding and as a result had been embellished or just plainly incorrectly tranlated which he thought was partly why Western taiji has so many variations from teacher to teacher.

I lived in Taiwan for several years and met many really good Chinese martial arts figures.
Oddly enough they said most of the good TaiChi/Kung Fu people left China in 1948~49 and went to other Chinese populated countries. I thought this might have been said due to National pride and hatred from communism, but after traveling to China and seeing for myself I tended to agree.
Most of what China has done to their martial arts is similar to what they did to their kanji and that was to unify (ugh) the systems so everyone is one the same page more or less. This was essentially supposed to bring the standards up to the same level. However, just as communism is supposed to make all people equally prosperous and doesnt, so too did the unifying of martial arts. Communism just made everyone basically equally poor and unifying the arts made everyone basically equally so-so in skill.
I have just made a pretty broad generalization since there are 1.2 billion Chinese and a good number do martial arts, but by and large from what I a saw I thought the skill level and purity was better in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore.
As for the reading of old ChineseI doubt they would have trouble reading and understanding it. There are plenty of scholars that can read texts from 400 BC with no problem.


Originally posted by Taiji fan
Essentially much of what we see practised in the West lacks authenticity and many western teachers have little understanding of the complexities of the styles and have gone on to 'make it up' albeit in a well meaning way. This has lead to the creation of 'new' styles and misinterpreation of exsisting ones. He was pleased to see the level of interest in the UK though and hopes that now more people are seeking out the origins and aiming to reach as high a level possible and study the art true to its founders.

This happens in almost every art but is not limited to western countries.
I have seen plenty of fake instructors and dodgy martial arts in Asia as I have seen in the west. Asia has just as many dan factories as well.
 
That whole "genetics" argument really cheeses my crack...

When I was in Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo., I worked with a lady who was from Bavaria (married to a caucasian officer), NOT a naturalized citizen, who complained about soldiers who went to Korea and brought back "foreigners" for wives...turned my stomach...when I told her I was married to a Filippina, she said, "that's different, they were occupied by Spain and are almost white..." I then reminded her to not forget to inform INS about her recent address change...

When in Hawaii, I met many an angry Samoan who wanted white folks to leave...many of them called me an immigrant...so, I simply asked them where they were from...other than the original Hawaiians, EVERYONE on the islands were immigrants...

Also, while in Hawaii, I shared YiLi's ideas with a Chinese teenager, who belonged to a local "Chinese Association."
When I asked him to share some of his style, he said he couldn't...apparently, unless you were not only Chinese, but of a specific NAME in Chinese, you weren't worthy of the teachings...

Master Arthur Lee and his son (now headmaster of the FutGa system) welcomed me with open arms and shared a wonderful Shaolin system with me...for that openness, Master Lee was ostrasized by the Chinese community (Sifu Lee was the first on the island of Oahu to teach non-Chinese)...

and on and on...

Each and everyone who reads this post has it within themselves to be the very best...it is simply a matter of working hard...

:asian:
chufeng
 
Originally posted by yilisifu
Taiji Fan,
You are, of course, quite right. There SHOULD be a "standard" against which we measure, but to whom or what do we turn?

Karate ran into this same problem long ago and now we have many different systems which have different standards for various ranks......I suspect that will be the way Taiji may turn out, too.

Good question.
I definitely dont think having a single entity in control of the grading standard is the way to go.

I think we would see a dumbing down of any art that had such a system.
In Japan they have the JKF which is huge organization that has a universal grading standard. This was supposed to bring the level of karate up, however, I still see people with bloated ranks that cant perform the simplest techniques.
Also, having universal grading standard in Karate for example has made all the lesser-known aspects of the art that much lesser known.
For example, in the 15 years I have lived in Japan I have yet to find a dojo that teaches tuite (not to mention one that even knows what it is), emphasizes kata bunkai, or any other aspect of old style karate.
Case in point when I spoke with the head of the JKF (8th or 9th dan in Wado Ryu) and asked him for his thoughts on tuite he had no idea what I was talking about. I asked him what he thought the opening move of a certain kata was (Naihanchi), he said it was an Okinawan bow. I said I disagreed and used him for an uke (crash dummy) to demonstrate the technique. He didnt like being used for an uke nor did he care for the fact I did it in front of a room full of people from his organization.
 
Originally posted by chufeng

Also, while in Hawaii, I shared YiLi's ideas with a Chinese teenager, who belonged to a local "Chinese Association."
When I asked him to share some of his style, he said he couldn't...apparently, unless you were not only Chinese, but of a specific NAME in Chinese, you weren't worthy of the teachings...
Master Arthur Lee and his son (now headmaster of the FutGa system) welcomed me with open arms and shared a wonderful Shaolin system with me...for that openness, Master Lee was ostrasized by the Chinese community (Sifu Lee was the first on the island of Oahu to teach non-Chinese)...
and on and on...

Dont even get me started on the racism in the MA path..I have too much experience with that after living here. It really pisses me off.
In fact if I ever write a book that will be several chapters unto itself.
 
Originally posted by RyuShiKan
This is one major problem I have with Asian teachers. Many of them seem to feel you must be from the same genetic gene pool as the art came from to be good at it.
Every once in a while some Japanese will give me grief about being American and how I cant possible fathom the true essence Karate since I am not Japanese.

So if some of the Japanese believe that statement to be true, would it then also be true that the Japanese can't possibly fathom the true essence of baseball, since they are not American?

;)

Oh yeah, "Hi" from another Yili guy!!! :D
 
Originally posted by Erkki
So if some of the Japanese believe that statement to be true, would it then also be true that the Japanese can't possibly fathom the true essence of baseball, since they are not American?

I have actually used that scenario with them and their reply seems to be that western things art dont have the depth and scope of Japanese things and are therefore not so difficult to comprehend. :rolleyes:
Sadly enough there are still plenty of people in Japanese martial arts that think that way. But the odd thing is, most young Japanese are clueless to martial arts or Things Japanese in general.
 
Originally posted by RyuShiKan
I have actually used that scenario with them and their reply seems to be that western things art dont have the depth and scope of Japanese things and are therefore not so difficult to comprehend. :rolleyes:

I take it you don't agree?
 
Originally posted by Kirk
I take it you don't agree?

For the most part no I dont.

For example, Shinto plays a big part in Sumo. Most, maybe all, Sum wrestlers are not Shintoists and only go through the perfunctory Shinto ceremonies of Sumo.
The real kicker is Sumo is actually Mongolian and was imported to Japan.

This is the same with many other things that people generally think of as Japanese.

Tea ceremony is another good exampleit was started in China.
Many Japanese dont even understand the whys and what fors of their own culture, so it is rather ridiculous to say that foreigners couldnt.
 
Originally posted by RyuShiKan
I have actually used that scenario with them and their reply seems to be that western things art dont have the depth and scope of Japanese things and are therefore not so difficult to comprehend. :rolleyes:

Hahaha!!! Figures. :rolleyes: It's a wonder, since our simple American sport is so easy to comprehend, that MLB isn't overrun with Japanese players. :confused:
 
I've run into the exact same problem with both Japanese and Chinese. I'd have paid good money to watch you dump the Wado-ryu high muckey-muck on his duff....:D

Sadly, many Americans have bought into this same idea; that only the Chinese or Japanese or Okinawans REALLY know a given martial art.....that's poppycock.

When I was in China, I saw what you spoke about, Ryushikan. It was awful. Oddly enough, these same people are now stepping forward and saying, "By the way, you're doing that wrong."
"Please show me the correct way," you ask. "You must attend my seminar and pay xxx dollars first, and then I will show you" is the usual response, more or less.

Sadly, real kung-fu (of any kind) in China is pretty much dead. The forms are there. The techniques are there, for the most part. But fighting skill? Gone. The Cultural Revolution put the tombstone on the grave of kung-fu in China. During that time, NO ONE practiced kung-fu openly and this meant that those who did, did so secretly and gained almost no firsthand experience in fighting.
In fact, once the communists took power, kung-fu went underground for the most part and no one got much experience in such types of training.
The communists took power in 1949, I believe. I would go so far as to guess that unless one put in a good deal of time training prior to that year, one's experience in training real kung-fu (which includes sparring and full-speed applications) is either very limited or non-existant.

I'll probably get flamed for saying this, but it's a fact. I've been there and seen it (as you have)......
 
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