|Kung fu syllabus|
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Japanese martial arts
Japanese martial arts are usually taught in a very methodical, thorough way. There is a clear syllabus, steps of progress, grades and some degree of ongoing continuity.
Treated as a product, a cultural treasure, a sport or an educational endeavour, Japanese martial arts measure up well under scrutiny.
In a Japanese class the student is encouraged to replicate the teachings of the art perfectly. Like a carbon copy.
Chinese martial arts
Chinese martial arts are not taught like Japanese arts. By comparison there can often seem to be no discernable syllabus, no continuity and a generally haphazard approach to teaching the syllabus.
If indeed a syllabus actually exists.
Traditionally, in China a martial arts instructor was very reluctant to take on new students. How come? If the student's skills were inadequate it would directly reflect on the teacher.
On a mild level, this made the teacher look incompetent and affected their reputation. More seriously, it could mean that the teacher would be put to death for failing in their responsibility.
Consequently, traditional tuition tended to be harsh and severe. The teacher hammered the student and adhered strictly to Confucian terseness.
do not enlighten those who are not eager to learn, nor arouse those who are not
quick to give an explanation themselves.
If I have presented one corner of the square and they cannot come back to me with the other three, I should not go over the points again.
Historically, there was no call to teach taijiquan publicly or to adhere to a recognised system or standard of teaching. Teachers did whatever they saw fit.
In recent years a number of taijiquan teachers have sought to introduce a more systematic approach. This is highly commendable but has certain drawbacks.
We strongly encourage you to read The Sword Polisher's Record by Adam Hsu for further insights.
A teaching method
Ideally a taijiquan class should have a syllabus akin to a Japanese martial arts school. There are many facets of the internal martial arts that need to be studied in a disciplined, clear, uniform manner...
What is commonly being taught in a tai chi class
According to The Journal of Asian Martial Arts, most tai chi classes in the world offer solo form (a sequence of moves), and a bit of qigong. Not many classes actually do pushing hands.
Some do sword form. Occasionally, teachers speak of self defence applications. Things like 'san sau' are very, very rare, and rarer still are classes that teach anything approaching an actual martial art.
Sifu Waller combines traditional values with modern teaching. We provide detailed lessons, a reading list, a website and handouts. But these things cannot contain the complete art.
The student is still required to join the dots for themselves.
The kung fu syllabus combines chin na, shuai jiao and taijiquan. Baguazhang is taught as a separate concern.
Learn from Japan?
Too much structure and an art can be become rigid; physically and mentally. Too little guidance and framework, and the taijiquan can fold in on itself; becoming worthless.
Why do we need grades?
The Tai Chi Union for Great Britain insurance policy advised instructors to ensure that students are being shown things appropriate to ability. This means that a syllabus is necessary.
There must be an order to the presentation of the material. Grades are required.
There are 16 belts in the kung fu syllabus:
Black (1st dan)
Black (2nd dan)
Black (3rd dan)
Black (4th dan)
Black (5th dan)
Black (6th dan)
Black (7th dan)
Black (8th dan)
With taijiquan you cannot simply pass a belt and imagine that you have 'got it'. This is the work of a lifetime. There is no final certificate, no graduation. You keep on refining and improving.
Ability is everything in kung fu
Remember this - martial arts are a meritocracy. Ability is everything. Not knowledge. Not time served. Ability. If you can do it, then you can advance.
From coarse to refined
A new starter can only approximate the required movements. Nobody starts class with good body habits. With practice, a student slowly begins to use their body in the internal way.
In order to move from coarse to refined, it is necessary to have your practice regularly assessed and corrected.
Go easy on yourself
Taijiquan cannot be forced; acquiring the fighting skills takes as long as it takes. Take small methodical steps. Proceed at a pace that suits you and your level of ability and commitment.
Do what you can without becoming anxious or stressed.
Be patient but not lazy
Focus on a topic, learn it and then move onto the next one. Be patient with yourself. Set realistic learning goals. Each grade involves only a limited number of topics, exercises and drills.
Aim to pass a couple of new items every time you are assessed. Look to existing skills. Correct any mistakes and remove gaps in your knowledge.
Do not neglect material
With taijiquan, you must constantly refine and improve your basic skills. The most simple-seeming and obvious drills are with hindsight actually quite complex and sophisticated.
As you move through the grades, Sifu Waller will be looking for increasing skill in all areas of knowledge. You cannot just learn a skill and move on. You must also go back and re-consider.
Repetition and familiarity
The only person that can train your body do taijiquan is you. Talking, watching video clips or reading books will not lead to skill. You must get on your feet and do the work.
This means lessons, assessment, regular repetition of movement patterns and familiarity with partner work.
5 missing pieces
Many taijiquan classes lack 5 important elements necessary in order for taijiquan to function as a martial art:
Neigong (whole-body strength)
Martial concepts (what combat constitutes and how to do it effectively)
Chin na (the art of seizing)
Shuai jiao (take downs)
Jing (whole-body power)
Without these 5 components, taijiquan is lacking something and may not work in combat. Newcastle Tai Chi explores an advanced version of Yang style taijiquan.
Establish a ranking system similar to that used by the Japanese martial arts. Improve the art by uniting in an effort to create standards for future generations of kung fu practitioners.
18 April 1995
Last updated 22 January 1996