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Advanced martial art?
Many people do a little research concerning taijiquan and decide to learn the martial art. But they are not really thinking it through... Learning any martial art involves a lot of work.
Learning an advanced system must surely require even more?
Sadly, 'taijiquan' is often confused with tai chi for health and students falsely imagine a mild, perhaps casual course of study.
Think about it...
If a normal martial art typically expects students to attend classes 2-3 times a week, how much training is necessary for an advanced system? The answer is more.
In many martial arts schools the practice was carried out in secrecy and the
school's very existence was frequently concealed from the authorities. For
example, taijiquan is based on body of principles known to be around 2000 years old
yet it was not revealed until 1750.
When a master of taijiquan faces an opponent he brings to the confrontation thousands of years of philosophical, martial and practical thought. He has lived most of his life according to the principles established centuries ago and in the process, he has strengthened his body and probably earned a long and healthy life.
Nobody really knows how old taijiquan is. Mainly because it was taught in secret for a long time and only taught to family members.
What we do know is that the principles and Taoist insights underpinning the art are truly ancient. They go right back to the dawn of Chinese civilisation.
Taijiquan employs theories and principles that utilise Taoism, biomechanics, physics, martial insights, neigong and qigong.
In order to perform taijiquan with any skill at all, a student must discover what these insights are and endeavour to understand (and utilise) them convincingly.
To truly have a sense of what you are studying it is necessary to read the ancient texts and to study them thoroughly e.g. Confucius spent his entire lifetime exploring Tao Te Ching and I Ching.
If you want to use taijiquan properly, you must think like a Taoist. By definition, this is most likely NOT how you are currently operating...
The surrounding context gives meaning
to the otherwise meaningless, discrete words... If you want
to learn a subject, instead of
memorising rules and facts, concentrate on truly understanding the
fundamentals deeply. If you want to think of new ideas, don't sit and wait
for inspiration. Instead, apply strategies of transformative thinking such
as making mistakes, asking questions, and following the flow of ideas.
(Edward B. Burger & Michael Starbird)
Adults assume that reading a book is the same as studying a book. It is not. According to Rip It Up and The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking, a student must interact with the text in order to truly learn.
This means answering questions about the book, exploring the principles and insights in your taijiquan practice and your everyday life.
Monday night classes
Our taijiquan students attend weekly lessons for 2 hours.
The first 30 minutes is dedicated to basic qigong exercises (because not many people train at home, don't know the exercises well enough and need to warm-up).
The second half hour is pushing hands. This exercise must be drilled until competition, machismo, tensing-up and distraction are gone, and in their place there is sensitivity, stickiness and awareness.
Next is form practice, corrections, refinement and revision. The last half hour is committed to partner work appropriate to your current grade.
Monday night is for...
The role of Monday night classes is to enable students to interact with one another in a safe, friendly environment, practice their skills with other people, learn new things and ask questions.
The insights gained on a Monday night need to be taken home and practiced thoroughly.
Most people have never attained a
level of performance in any field that is sufficient to show them the true
power of mental representations to plan, execute and evaluate their
in the way that experts do. And
thus they never really understand what it takes to reach this level - not
just the time it takes, but the high-quality practice.
We offer workshops most weeks. The role of a workshop is to look at very specific topics in greater detail than we can on a Monday night e.g. 'connection'.
Even if you are an expert in taijiquan, there always something new to learn...
A student should attend as many workshops as they can because the material is vital to their taijiquan progress and needs to be explored frequently in order for the insights to take hold.
Omitting workshops means that the training remains shallow and the student makes no real progress. This is why 12 per year is mandatory for lower grade taijiquan students.
Obstacles promote growth
Obstacles are vital. For example: the syllabus requires the individual to mirror section 1 of the Long Yang form. This is not a great task. But it is challenging enough.
In order to mirror the form, the student must train at home between classes. Otherwise, they cannot remember the movements accurately.
Asian culture sees this as being akin to a tripwire fastened just above the ground... A small step is required to avoid tripping up. The student must lift their leg. Make an effort. Climb.
Neo: "I know
Morpheus: "Show me."
The Matrix (1999)
In The Matrix movie martial arts knowledge is downloaded into Neo's brain, enabling him to fight in the virtual reality simulation known as 'the matrix'.
So, the real question here is: Does Neo actually know kung fu?
The answer is no, he does not. Neo's mind contains the information and he can play a video game but his body cannot do kung fu at all...
Motor skills are about moving your body skilfully. 'Gross' motor skills are things like walking and running. 'Fine' motor skills are more complex e.g. writing, typing, tying a shoe lace.
The goal with motor skills is accuracy, precision and control. Put simply: you want your body to perform the required task efficiently, confidently and comfortably.
You can't download motor skills
Motor skills are the outcome of practice and experience. Motor learning is about the process of using the body, rather than simply exercising the body.
Martial skills include: agility, mobility, relaxed spontaneous movement, balance, structure, alignment, biomechanics, efficiency, ambidextrous body use, joint health, coordination, skill, emotional wellbeing or psychological flexibility.
Taijiquan requires an exponent to possess a range of fine motor skills that far exceed those of mainstream martial arts e.g. peng, chin na, jing, sung...
Consider this: Most people live lives that are not particularly physically challenging. They sit at a desk, or if they move around, it's not a lot. They aren't performing manoeuvres that require tremendous balance and coordination. Thus they settle into a low level of physical capabilities - enough for day-to-day activities or maybe even hiking or biking or playing golf or tennis on the weekends, but far from the level of physical capabilities that a highly trained athlete possesses.
The reason that most people don't possess extraordinary physical capabilities isn't because they don't have the capacity for them, but rather because they're satisfied to live in the comfortable rut of homeostasis and never do the work that is required to get out of it.
The same thing is true for all the mental activities we engage in. We learn enough to get by but once we reach that point we seldom push to go beyond.
To become adept at any physical skill (e.g. playing the piano) you need to practice. Daily.
In a conventional martial arts class the instructors push students to the brink so that they exert and compete and sweat, 2-3 times a week.
Taijiquan offers a far milder training regime. However, in lieu of strenuous practice it requires moderate daily training. Nothing massive but certainly adequate.
Physical skills cannot be acquired without physical training. Solo training is essential. Partnered training also; which is why we offer workshops and boot camp.
The ideal situation is to make friends with other students and practice together outside of class.
Getting your own way
Taoism encourages people to follow their own path, find their own way, experience their own journey. Consequently, we don't hassle or pressure students to make progress.
Ultimately, progress is your responsibility. You can fast-track through the syllabus if you want to, plod along or stay where you are. We don't mind. It's your choice.
Just keep in mind that if you knew what you were doing and knew how to learn taijiquan correctly, wouldn't you be the instructor, rather than the student?
There are many similarities
between the hard and
soft fighting systems; both use animal
movements and forms, for example,
and both incorporate the five elements, but because of the
Taoist influence, the
soft arts exhibit a stronger and
deeper relationship with the natural
Since the Taoist concepts are rooted in the most distant past with the most ancient beliefs of the Chinese, it is difficult for the Western mind to understand them. Therefore, before you can investigate the internal martial arts, you must first back to the very origins of thought in ancient China.
Sifu Waller's method
If you desire progress, please keep in mind that Sifu Waller wrote the syllabus and knows the path to skill. If you want those same skills, why not follow his guidance?
After all, isn't that what you are attending lessons for?
18 April 2013
Last updated 27 April 2020