- this is about who taught who
- your instructor's knowledge can be traced through generations of teachers, right back to the founder
- An experienced instructor
- Sifu Waller trained with Peter Southwood for 20 years
- he has been teaching tai chi since 1995
- he has been training martial arts since 1975
- A qualified instructor
- Sifu Waller holds a post-graduate certificate of education
- he is an advanced instructor with The Tai Chi Union for Great Britain
- he taught under Peter Southwood's close guidance and supervision for several years
- A fully-differentiated syllabus
- a syllabus offers an incremental learning program that will enable all students to become skilled at tai chi
- the layers and levels of the syllabus are interlocking and interconnected
- there is an ongoing accumulation of both knowledge and skill
- regular, consistent, thorough assessment is essential to ensure quality and understanding
- progress can be proven
- this ensures that all students study material appropriate to their own ability level
If alive, would he devote practice time in the 20th Century to a 200 year old weapon that can no longer be carried on the street?
Who can say?
But it seems unlikely.
Seeking to preserve old methods, forms and drills is certainly noteworthy.
However, it is not really traditional.
Tradition dictates that you apply the art in the immediate cultural setting in which you live.
That is what Yang Lu-chan did.
Student seek powerful methods of defeating assailants.
There is nothing more to it than that.
Styles, approaches, preferences... are just variations on a theme. Permutations.
Every art was designed to be functional, to be applicable.
The traditional purpose of tai chi was combat.
Your journey through life becomes an easier one.
You upset fewer people and offer a deceptively innocuous appearance to others.
Was it for his competition form?
Was it his stunning sword demonstrations?
Did people like his shiny silver costume?
It was his application of the art in hand-to-hand combat.
Direct. Functional. Pragmatic. Optimal.
They demonstrate the discipline and the knowledge necessary to become an instructor.
Martial arts schools around the world ask the student to be of 3rd dan black belt level.
Not all tai chi schools have grades and belts. But they should at least have standards.
A student must pass 3rd dan to become a trainee instructor with our school.
The clouds of emotion fade and you can act without anger or aggression.
You feel to have more time and more favourable options.
Can you handle difficult students?
Do you work well under pressure?
Are you organised?
Can you articulate well?
Are you capable of conveying complex information in a differentiated fashion?
The instructor needs a good measure of your character before committing to training you.
If you are not suitable, then instructing is not for you.
You need to be closely guided by a skilled and knowledgeable instructor.
It is easy to mistakes.
Your instructor will set you many tasks to determine your attitude.
Laziness is your worst enemy.
An instructor works far harder than a student.
If you lack the motivation to do what is necessary, you would make a very shabby instructor.
It was a fascinating contrast with my husband's usual direct functionality.
It contains fluid patterns of movement known as 'postures'.
Every posture has at least 7 self defence applications.
We teach a number of forms:
- Yang Cheng Fu
- 2-person cane
- Walking stick
- Straight sword
It is not for you to decide.
What qualities does your instructor seek?
You need to be:
- Friendly and personable
- Interested in other people
You cannot be lazy, indifferent or emotionally unbalanced.
Right now that means: multiple opponents, knives, sticks, baseball bats, batons etc...
You (the defender) will be unarmed.
Most of your life will not involve physical combat.
You will be faced with psychological, emotional and physical challenges every day: stress, health, work, family, fear, driving.
A living art must address the nature of your interaction with life.
It must furnish you with the means to adjust to a wide variety of attacks; very few of which will involve physical combat.
This sounds reasonable.
However, can a student assess this for themselves?
It is like a person deciding that they want to climb a mountain.
Have they researched the criteria?
Do they meet with the necessary fitness standards?
Is their skill level adequate?
Can they be trusted to do what they are required to do?
You may think that you are good enough...
You are not an instructor.
You have not climbed the mountain.
From your perspective you cannot even see how high the mountain is or understand what is involved.
Only the most arrogant person decides for themselves that they are instructor calibre.
A performer can learn to dance.
A sports person may play tennis.
A 'feel good' person may take a walk in the country.
Martial arts training is concerned with something else.
Many well-meaning teachers have twisted the nature of martial arts practice into something else.
And somewhere along the way the true nature of the art is forgotten.
Why did martial artists learn to use a sword in 16th Century Japan?
Because it was the weapon of choice.
It was a necessary survival skill.
What weapons are you carrying today?
In the UK you are not allowed to carry any weapons.
Your arsenal of improvised weapons is also pretty limited.
How can anybody learn the necessary teaching qualities from long-distance learning?
It is simply ridiculous.
Only the most desperate and naive individual would seek to undertake such a course.
The qualification is not worth the paper it is written on.
Any insurance company that provides personal liability cover based on such a course is negligent.
Most of the tai chi classes taught in the UK are not martial in nature.
They may be more accurately labelled 'tai chi-inspired exercise'.
It is possible to feel good in a martial arts class without losing the plot.
The most obvious answers are not very flattering:
- No discipline
- No credibility
- No self-respect
- Lacks the necessary competence
- Likes the idea of being a tai chi instructor
- Incapable of completing a genuine 'real world' instructor course in a known school
This is why tai chi has no credibility in the 21st Century martial arts world.
There is limited commitment and the training is done at their convenience.
This is not really what martial arts training is about.
Martial arts teach a wide variety of skills.
Combat is just one of these skills.
In order to learn a martial art, it is necessary to change how you look at things.
You must remove anger, aggression and conflict from your life.
Instead of fighting with people: physically, verbally, emotionally and psychologically, you learn how to approach situations differently.
It will affect every aspect of your life.
How can a gym teach this?
You never over-reach or compromise yourself.
The body remains soft and heavy, with each footstep grounded and firm.
• A lifelong commitment to the furtherance of the art
• Spontaneous demonstration of every and any aspect of the art
• The ability to train other people to become tai chi instructors
• An embodiment of the principles outlined in the Tai Chi Classics
• Highly accurate rendition of every exercise/form/drill/application
• Extensive knowledge of every facet of every subject in the syllabus i.e. 'jing'
• An in-depth understanding of every facet of the exercise/form/drill/application
• How the exercise/form/drill/application links to other aspects of the curriculum
• The ability to dismantle and explain how and why the different components operate
• Grace, ease, subtlety, sensitivity, nimbleness, appropriateness, simplicity are all a given
• The willingness to train disciples to acquire every aspect of the teaching and perpetuate the art themselves
• Unselfconscious, skilled and utterly effective application of the art in combat employing chin na, jing and shuai jiao
• The ability to develop, improve and deliver a thorough, fully differentiated syllabus suitable for all ability levels and all ages
• The ability to dismantle and explain how and why every form posture operates and how it can be applied in at least 7 different ways
• Comprehensive theoretical knowledge and the ability to discuss and explain how taoism, martial theory and actual practice all tie together
• The ability to apply the tai chi principles (yielding, stickiness, peng, jing, composure, connection, 4 ounces etc) in every situation with absolute ease and certainty
Swordsmanship, archery and other such practices have little purpose in modern life.
The students who train these arts keep the knowledge safe.
Are these viable martial arts classes?
On the one hand they are; the skills are genuine martial skills, no doubt proven in actual combat over many years.
On the other hand the skills are not functional or viable in modern society.
Will you be carrying a sword?
If you did carry a sword, are you legally allowed to use it?
Performance is the act of entertaining somebody else.
It requires a certain self-consciousness.
An awareness of the audience and a desire to please the spectators.
Now ask yourself: does this definition fit a martial art? Is this what martial arts are really about?
The danger with performance art is that the performer can sometimes take themselves far too seriously.
Singing a song is hardly comparable to helping the needy, the sick or seeking a cure for cancer.
- A quantity of precious metals, gems, or other valuable objects
- A very valuable object
- Keep carefully (a valuable or valued item)
- Value highly
- A collection of precious things
- From Greek θησαυρος; thesaurus, meaning "a treasure of the chest"
- A concentration of riches, often one which is considered lost or forgotten until being rediscovered
- A term of endearment
- To consider to be precious
- To store or stow in a safe place
Isn't it odd how the art takes a hold of you?
The student suggested that people are 'haunted' by their memories of the art. The massive amount of effort, time and money expended in learning taijiquan meant that years may have been committed to something that was at some stage cast aside.
Sifu is not:
- a celebrity
- a coach
- a counsellor
- a guru
- a keep fit instructor
- a medical practitioner
- a monk/priest
- an on-line chatroom buddy
- a performance artist
- a personal trainer
- a therapist
- your mate
If you are training to be a tai chi instructor, you need to understand what that means.
If a person needs counselling, they should see a counsellor.
If a person has medical problems, they should see a doctor.
Wearing someone else's shoes may deny the student the proper treatment/help they require.
Whilst good in principle, values can differ wildly.
A children's class should never be a babysitting session or Saturday morning entertainment.
Young students should learn foundation skills that will grow with them as they age.
The aim of a fighting class is to engage is combat that is as real as possible.
In this regard, such classes are following the martial spirit.
Unfortunately, brutality and strength often prevail.
A student may suffer more injuries in class than on the street.
In such a class, the artistry of the martial arts takes second place to guts and sheer determination.
Your touch becomes spidery and your peng is a web of softness and stickiness; controlling without forcing and re-directing without committing.
If something doesn't work, he changes it. If he finds a better way, he does that instead. This isn't unfocussed, restless flitting. It's the driven mentality of somebody honing their art constantly.
Instructors are now 'coaches' and the whole approach is geared towards competition.
There is nothing wrong with this, if this is what you want to do.
However, strictly speaking, such practice constitutes 'sport' not 'martial art'.
The mandate of sport is quite different to that of a martial art.
Sports are about winning and losing, gaining trophies, medals and awards.
At its most crude, a martial art is simply about surviving a violent assault.
At is most refined, it is about attuning yourself to the way of existence, adjusting to the rhythms of life.
No sport can offer this.
- Young children
- Performance art
- Preservation classes
- Self defence courses
- The gym approach (drop-in and work out)
- 'Feel good' groups that focus upon the emotional and psychological benefit
However, many of these classes have nothing to do with the purpose of martial arts training.
The modern student can train what they like, how they like.
The important thing is to be honest with yourself concerning the nature of what you are practicing.
- Personal protection
- Professional combat skill
People are often too lazy to learn how to protect themselves.
They imagine that a cocky 'attitude' and a big mouth will work against a real life assailant.
The need for professional combat skills remains the unchanged.
Guns and batons may be widely used by security/military services, but robbed of their weapon, an individual still needs unarmed combat skills.
You flow around obstacles and change instantly without the need to relax beforehand or make plans in your head.
Strength can be borrowed, utilised and turned back upon itself. Force can be circumvented.
It is a tactic.
It is the ability to make space, to adjust, to allow an incoming force to over-extend, to expend itself.
Having yielded, you step-in vigorously and counter-attack decisively.
It is concerned with removing the barriers between yourself and everything else around you.
The danger of using a word such as 'taoist' is that names are misleading.
If a person considers themselves to be a 'taoist', in the same way that other people call themselves a Buddhist or a Christian or green or vegetarian - then they have missed the point.
Zen and tao are about losing your sense of 'self'. It is not about you.
Seeking to be somebody different or special is one way of hiding from the reality of yourself.
Strictly speaking there is no such thing as a taoist, nor could you consider yourself to be taoist.
Taoism is not an approach, method or doctrine - so there is nothing to actually identify yourself with.
A person who can intuit tao is just ordinary, natural and genuine.
Half-hearted taps, touch contact and point scoring is not acceptable.
The outcome needs to be unequivocal.
There must be no rehearsal, preparation or warning.
The student is required to 'in the moment'; ready to deal with whatever occurs.
This is something worth having.
A skill that you can use in real life.
- Shuai jiao (grappling)
- Chin na (seizing)
- Jing (energy expression)
- one person attacks, one defends
- the attacker aims to be committed and realistic
- a variety of attacks is necessary
- as above, except attackers take turns
- the defender must not be allowed time to return to a neutral state/posture
- pressure is important
- a group scenario in which nobody takes turns
- the attacker's need to target weak point and opportunities
- look out for holes in the defence
- the defender must not be allowed time to return to a neutral state/posture
- pressure is important
- this can be solo, relay or melee
- the attacker(s) actively seeks to prevent the defender's counters
- the defender must avoid 'fighting'
- San da
- this is more akin to a duel or a fight
- both parties begin in a neutral state and must attack/defend relative to opportunity
- feinting, luring, deception are crucial
- the defender must avoid 'fighting'
You generate a tremendous body-wave of focussed power with every movement.
I note with interest that Batman Rises is to be the third and final Batman movie. Anna Hathaway has been cast as Catwoman; the jewel thief. After Halle Berry's disappointing character in 2004 I am keen to see what the new Catwoman will be like. Dark Knight was great, so I have high hopes for this movie.
A taoist is aware of their relationship with every living thing and the environment around us.
There is no 'religious' component to taoism in the Western sense of the word; it is not a belief system or faith of any sort.
It is about oneness with all things.
It is about wholeness.
Taoists try to appreciate, learn from and work with whatever happens in life, rather than impose order on a chaotic world.
It's not an institution. It's not even an ism.
You don't have to believe in anything or have blind faith.
You must learn to deal with whatever comes your way.
What comes out comes out.
The defender may be aiming to apply shuai jiao, chin na or jing.
But the attacker has no rules, no restrictions.
They must simply attack with vigour and meaning.
We do not offer a higher grade. There are no further belts to pass.
You remain 5th dan indefinitely.
But you must continue to improve your standards and skill.
Study, research, practice and progress must continue. The art must unfold and your insight deepen.
Tai chi is an incredibly complex, sophisticated art.
Being 'sifu' requires an understanding that transcends rote learning and repetition.
You need decades of practice, skill and teaching experience.
Resistance fades and old habits disappear.
You become sensitive and adaptive, fluid and surprising.
Your responses occur without premeditation and your nervous system moves easily and softly.
Risk, danger, threat, unpredictability. There must be some concern that you may be harmed.
Attacks need to be unrehearsed.
The assailant can punch, kick, grapple.
They can be armed.
They can have friends.
The key feature is this: the attack must be vigorous enough and threatening enough to trigger the defender's nervous system.
It is not necessary to injure anyone.
But the attacks must feel serious and create a genuine emotional, psychological and biological response in the defender.
You must train harder.
Train for longer.
Re-examine how you teach.
You must incorporate insights gleaned from scholarly inquiry.
This is not a time to rest on your laurels.
The art is not yet mastered.
And you are not yet mastered by the art.
Dig deeper, work harder... and you will find that the art is more complex and challenging than you might have expected.
Along the way you gain superlative combat skills.
However, this takes a lot of time.
It takes patience.
If the art is misrepresented from the onset, students will quickly grow bored and leave.
Does a would-be new starter earnestly expect to be undertaking that level of training from the onset?
Rehearsed combat proves nothing and ultimately shows nothing.
Real life assailants will not attack in a known pattern, using known angles of attack or styles of assault.
The melee of unrehearsed combat is less entertaining; more frightening and significantly less polished.
This may seem strict, but bagua is both hard to learn and hard to teach.
Unless you've got initiative, a willingness to train between lessons, and some aptitude at form... it isn't for you.
Show skill at the 1st palm change and Sifu will teach you the 2nd and so on.
Too little guidance and framework, and the art can fold in on itself.
Tai chi classes in the 20th Century fell prey to bad teaching standards, little or no syllabus, no testing of skills, and low standards.
Unfortunately, internal teaching methods vary from school to school, with each instructor essential teaching as they see fit.
This can be good sometimes.
It can also mean sporadic progress, if any.
Whilst a Japanese martial arts teaching approach does not quite fit the internal arts, it does offer some valuable lessons in terms of consistency and continuity.
'Feminism' is a tricky one. Yes, we want to be treated equally. Everyone does. But we don't want to have to dress and act like a man in order to accomplish this. I guess that Margaret Thatcher serves as an example of feminism-gone-wrong. In the UK she was caricatured in the 1980's; portrayed as a woman who had turned into a man.
When I see other women in my everyday life, so many have adopted the body language, mannerisms, facial expressions and gait of men. They look like transvestites. Is this a mean thing to say? No; it's just an observation.
I don't think that women should totter around in fluffy, high heeled shoes.... but becoming men seems to somehow defeat the point of equal rights. Is equality to be interpreted as 'the same as men'? This seems silly, since we're not. We are different, and if we can't have equality as women, what exactly is the point?
This ties in with the 'science of the essence', and 'te'; where power comes from being true to our inherent nature.
They travel to see all manner of visiting instructors and add them to their tai chi curriculum vitae.
Collecting forms and snippets of information is a popular pastime in tai chi.
What can you learn from one workshop or a weekend seminar? Is a visiting master really going to bare his secrets to a room of total strangers?
Be honest about this.
Training with a renowned instructor in no way translates to mean that you have been given that person's skill. Do not be naive.
The only proof of skill lies with the individual. What can you personally do?
Your instructor may be brilliant at tai chi but you might be lousy. Similarly, your instructor may be mediocre yet your skills are excellent.
We teach our students to master the fundamentals: to be accurate, economical, relaxed and alert.
Then we challenge with their ability to maintain these skills when faced with a wide range of unexpected attacks.
Usually it is to promote the class.
Often, public demonstrations are rehearsed, practiced, choreographed.
The aim is to provide an entertaining spectacle.
This does not capture the nature of the art we practice, nor does it reflect our values as a school.
Student study sensitivity and awareness drills.
They learn about structure, range, timing and distance.
Balance is considered extensively.
Some partnered drills are very routine, whilst others required adaptation and change.
Group work and different types of combat break down habits of thinking and preparation.
My husband will only teach it to certain people.What are his criteria?
- must have an aptitude for form
- be non-aggressive
- not lazy
- making significant progress with tai chi syllabus
- not afraid to go to the floor
Many teachings are akin to zen koan.
Attempting to explain the material coherently is not so easy, but a direct physical application proves the point nicely.
If somebody gives you the answer to a koan, do you really understand at all?
Many things in life are only fully understood when you figure them out for yourself.
A student may be given all the necessary training in order to defend themselves yet still falter under pressure.
A student may be offered every piece of a puzzle and never succeed in putting the parts together correctly.
We are all different, and our capacities differ.
The flexibility of the Chinese internal arts allow for this.
They also recognise that some students may just never 'get it'.
This is why distance qualifications and fast-track teachers are particularly ridiculous. In an art that must prove its credibility in the modern world, what credibility can a fast-track teacher possibly have?
But being responsible for your students and the integrity of the art... that is something else entirely.
The 2 ex-students (who now claim to be instructors) I found today certainly didn't fit the bill. One was too lazy to even be a student. The other started lessons with Sifu by asking in all earnestness: "Why can't I just skip the basics and go right onto the advanced syllabus?" This question remains a kind of standing joke in our school. It speaks of an unbelievable degree of arrogance and naivety. A small-mindedness that is worthy of anecdote. Like Aesop's fables?
How does this happen? I found 2 recently: a very, very lazy pretentious man and a paper tiger.
When I compare these ex-students to Sifu I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
My husband doesn't spare a moments thought for ex-students, so I won't tell him about these so-called instructors. I guess he'd just laugh and laugh until he cried. But I won't tell him. He wouldn't believe it. The absurdity is too ridiculous.
I cannot honestly believe that anyone would be dumb enough, or desperate enough to fall for something like this...
I cringe for the future of tai chi.
There have been attempts to turn taoism into a religion.
This is misguided.
To quote Ursula Le Guin:
The religion called Taoism is full of god, saints, miracles, prayers, rules, methods for securing riches, power, longevity, and so forth - all the stuff that Lao Tzu says leads us away from the Way.
(Ursula Le Guin)
Taoism is concerned with the art of living.
Taoism is not a religion or a belief system. It is only interested in observable reality. Not ideas and concepts.
Consider: if a person were to truly follow nature, they would need no form, no tuition, no words and no doubts.
A cat is not anxious or troubled. Nor is a tree.
They simply exist and they move in accordance with what they are. With their own natures.
We (humans) do not.
What we refer to as 'taoism' is simply the act of working with nature, rather than against it. It is not a religion.