|Written by Rachel|
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The public tai chi class is known as the 'open class'. Anyone can come to lessons and join the school if they want to.
People are taught relative to their own ability level. There is a syllabus in place, DVDs for home study, a reading list and additional training opportunities.
Everyone has the opportunity to make progress at a pace that suits their own attitude, commitments, interest and lifestyle.
Behind closed doors
Traditionally, tai chi was never taught in public classes. The art was considered to be too advanced, too precious, too esoteric and too difficult.
In feudal era China sharing was not encouraged. With fierce rivalry between villages, individuals, kung fu schools and states, nobody was eager to share what they knew.
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 theory 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.
The notion of 'inner' and 'outer' schools is derived from how old fashioned Asian houses operated.
Visitors were only permitted to enter certain, limited spaces within the house. They saw only what the host wanted them to see, what they felt was appropriate. This usually wasn't much.
This is exactly like a drawing room in Western history. A drawing room was where visitors were entertained.
Inside the door
Deeper within the house the family resided. Their rooms, eating and living space were never seen by visitors.
To enter deeper into an Asian house was seen as being 'inside the door'. No longer treated as an outsider/visitor/guest/stranger.
It was considered to be an honour to be permitted access to the more intimate areas of the host's abode.
Historically all tai chi lessons took place inside the door. The teacher rigorously screened new students and kept the school numbers low. Anyone who failed to work hard was denied tuition.
This is how things were for centuries.
In the 20th Century tai chi was taught more widely.
Faced with a health crisis, the People's Republic commissioned the creation of a simplified tai chi exercise sequence that would be relatively easy to learn and good for health.
This was 24 step tai chi (it looks like a tai chi/yoga hybrid). Please note that this was not a system or style of taijiquan. It was merely a sequence of movements.
It was deliberately devoid of martial and unpolitical Taoist influences.
What is really being taught publicly?
This is an interesting question. In most classes the sad truth is not much. So-called tai chi lessons are often just slow motion movement and very little substance.
If a student is just looking for a relaxing night out, then this is probably just fine for them. After all, it is far better than just watching TV.
Kung fu is thousands of
years old and is a highly developed system of martial art. The student who
locates a good kung fu school will find the training thorough and
challenging. Kung fu skills, which have been refined over centuries, are not
learned easily or quickly. The sincere student, however, through hard work
and dedication, will not be disappointed with the results.
What are we
As much as we can. However, this is sorely limited by the lesson duration (2 hours) and the amount of training/study the student undertakes between classes.
No matter how keen we are to share every secret of the art, 2 hours isn't very long at all. And we can't make anyone train at home.
Most students simply don't put in the necessary time or effort. The sad part is that we're not talking about several hours training every day. Just as much as is needed.
What can you teach to people who don't study?
Not much. A person who doesn't invest in additional study has a very limited idea of what tai chi constitutes; therefore any new information lacks context and relevance.
How the individual approaches a tai chi class, what they expect to find and whether or not they like the experience will largely be shaped by their mental representation of tai chi.
When a student doesn't study between lessons, deeper knowledge simply has no significance to their practice.
Peter Southwood maintained that tai chi can only be taught relative to each individual's degree of interest.
e.g. a student may profess great enthusiasm but refrain from reading the required books or engaging in daily practice. What can the instructor do? Nothing. It is beyond their control.
The student themselves decides what level they can be taught. For most students the public lessons are quite adequate. They like the idea of something deeper but lack the requisite commitment.
Why don't people go deeper?
By the time many people reach their thirties they're in The Dead Zone. This is a stage of life where complacency and laziness predominate.
No longer fired up to find a partner or a good job, the individual stagnates. Their sense of zeal, passion and enthusiasm dulls and they slide gradually towards 40.
This happens to a lot of people - male and female. It can be hard to break the habit of apathy. There's always many good reasons to procrastinate.
Somehow the fight is over and the person has forgotten the joys of hardship, uncertainty and struggle. The mundanity of everyday life has replaced the hope/lust for adventure.
The 'inner school' offers serious depth and is not for the half-hearted student. Indoor tuition is aimed at people who want fast-track progress through the taijiquan syllabus.
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
Steal my art
Throughout the world, tai chi people still join inner schools. They want more than the public class can offer.
Instead of being 1 student in a class of 30 they want closer tuition, more attention, deeper knowledge and better skills.
The individual understands that their own conduct makes this possible and therefore avidly reads the recommended books, studies daily and works hard.
Being 'inside the door' involves a more informal relationship with your teacher. Conversation is freer. The student is disinclined to waste time with specious opinions concerning the art.
They want the 'good oil', the power of tai chi. They know full well that the teacher cannot imbue it and seek instead to supplement their own studies with direct transmission.
Rather than feel like an outsider, the student enjoys a relaxed, comfortable relationship with their instructor.
What does the indoor student get?
Their everyday experience of life is altered. The student feels acutely alive and alert; energy-filled and passionate. There is a sense of ease.
No struggling, grunting or groaning, no pain in the back or the knees. The body responds instantly to the dictates of the mind. They feel spontaneous and free.
Nimble-footed, with strength, agility, fluid movement and sustained concentration, the student experiences a more immediate, vibrant reality.
One aim of tai chi is for the student to become a 'real human'. A 'real human' is simply somebody who is fully conscious. It does not involve the acquisition of superpowers.
Instead of stumbling through life in a semi-conscious state, the Taoist seeks a condition of exceptional alertness and physical harmony.
This is not seen as been an elevated state of being, but rather our 'natural' state.
The range of awareness and efficiency of the Taoist adept is
unnoticeable, imperceptible to others,
because their critical moments take place before ordinary intelligence has mapped out a description of the situation.
By seeing opportunities before they are visible to others and being quick to act,
the uncanny warrior can take situations by the throat before matters get out of hand.
Conserving one's own energy while inducing others to dissipate theirs is another function of the inscrutability so highly prized by the Taoist warrior.
He stresses change and surprise, employing endless variations of tactics,
using opponent's psychological conditions to manoeuvre them into vulnerable positions.
One of the purposes of Taoist literature is to help to develop this special sensitivity and responsiveness to handle living situations.
The art of not-doing which includes the unobtrusiveness, unknowability, and ungraspability at the core of esoteric Asian martial arts
- belongs to the branch of Taoism known as The Science of the Essence.
The pursuit of power
The ancient Taoists sought a high-level of physical strength; believing that a flexible, supple, resilient body would last longer than a brittle one.
They took this insight from the observation of plants/trees and the process of aging. Unusual exercises and considerations enabled the Taoists to gain whole-body strength.
This in turn fuelled day-to-day activities and martial requirements. Instead of tiring out the body they sought to use themselves in an optimal way.
An indoor student shares this quest for new skills, insights, knowledge, wisdom... and the opportunity to see the world differently.
The indoor student gets to walk the same path as the Ancients once did. To study what the Ancients once explored, to penetrate the mysteries and embrace continuous, on-going change.
In the distant past little was known about Taoism. Many of its adherents belonged to sects and esoteric schools. Others were hermits who lived in remote places.
Teachings from books with curious names such as The Way and Its Power, Book of Changes, The Art of War and The Book of Five Rings were treated with suspicion.
Secrecy, rumours of great power and deliberate obfuscation led to tai chi being regarded with considerable fear and superstition.
One interesting feature of taijiquan is its secrecy. Very few people today (or in Chinese history) have ever been able to apply the art successfully.
This means that the methodology of the art remains a mystery to most martial artists. The fighting skills associated with taijiquan are seldom seen, and therefore unfamiliar.
Consequently no one trains to counter-act them. The skills being trained in taijiquan are not the same as those being practiced by mainstream martial arts.
The movements are odd. Listening, sensitivity and stickiness are cultivated. Aggression, force and competition are removed. Unpredictable, unfathomable, imperceptible, inscrutable, spontaneous, unknowable...
The ancient Taoist teachings that were incorporated into taijiquan are no longer well known. Modern people seldom investigate spiritual matters. Taoism is often only encountered by the fringe 'seeker'.
The recommended books will expand your consciousness, increase your awareness, develop a more flexible mind and make you receptive to unforeseen possibilities.
The Old Ways are not easily understood or quickly learned. But they are very powerful and effective. Taijiquan employs Taoist insights and principles.
The teachings are counter-intuitive, puzzling and cryptic. They cannot be explained using words. In order to understand, you must do. The indoor student needs tenacity and resolve.
Tai chi is filled will odd little phrases or instructions that have little significance to a beginner. These apparently vague references and riddles are signs and pointers to the Way.
Were you to read The Tai Chi Classics or Zen and the Tao books, the cryptic statements and stories might not seem to have any obvious bearing on the martial art itself.
By challenging existing modes of thought, dropping long-held opinions and acquiring new skills the body must grow new brain tissue to cope with the demands of change.
Indoor students get the opportunity to have in-depth discussions with the instructor concerning Taoism, Zen, martial theory and practice, applications, principles and biomechanics.
Sifu Waller welcomes any earnest application for indoor tuition and will endeavour to provide as many additional learning opportunities as possible.
This is how he learned taijiquan, and it led eventually onto lineage.
An indoor student needs to think about what they want to focus on, what interests them and how best to gain additional tuition.
It is said that soon after his
enlightenment the Buddha passed a man on the road who was struck by the
Buddha's extraordinary radiance and presence.
The man stopped and asked, "My friend, what are you? Are you a celestial being or a god?"
"No," said the Buddha.
"Well, then, are you some kind of magician or wizard?"
Again the Buddha answered, "No."
"Are you a man?"
"Well, my friend, then what are you?"
The Buddha replied, "I am awake."
18 April 1995
Last updated 14 June 2019