I was recently interviewed for Tai Chi Chuan & Oriental Arts magazine's "Meet the Instructor" section:
many years have you been practicing Tai Chi?
I was introduced to TCC in the mid-1990s,
so about 18 years.
stimulated your interest?
I was practicing and competing in external martial arts and
initially used TCC as a form of cross training to increase my looseness. After
about six months I met Chen Xiaowang for the first time. He gave a short
lecture on Chen TCC and then stood up and unleashed a series of fajin that blew
my mind. At that point I had spent about 15 years training, first in Karate and
then in Shaolin gongfu and kickboxing. I had trained with some very strong
teachers, but this was just on a different level. From that moment I have
trained only Chen TCC.
does TCC mean to you?
TCC is more than a martial art, it is a complete way of life. At its
heart TCC involves the search for balance in both physical and psychological
terms. Using the vehicle of martial arts we try to balance the internal aspects
of the emotional and logical mind and external aspects such as body structure
and the equilibrium of hard-soft, fast-slow, open-close etc. The road to
mastery in Taijiquan (and anything else) is the path of patient, dedicated effort
without attachment to immediate results. Great success in any physical
endeavour, including Taijiquan is built upon consistency and patience. We must
be prepared to pay the price both in time and energy.
is the most important aspect?
I believe in a "whole syllabus" approach, rather than
picking out separate bits of the system. Every part of TCC is inter-related and
there for a reason. Basic exercises like standing pole and reeling silk
exercises, hand and weapon forms, push hands and pole-shaking etc complement
and support each other. To get the most out of TCC, practitioners should also
appreciate the history and underlying philosophy of the art. What is the most
important aspect to a person can change over time. The young are naturally
active and like low postures and explosive movement; the strong may be drawn to the combat side; as people
get a bit older health maintenance suddenly seems like a good idea; the elderly
may look to maintain their mobility and suppleness. Ultimately to be successful
in our practice we need to be able to adapt our TCC over time, all the time
staying in line with the principles that have been laid down.
|Standing,reeling, silk, form - everything is there for a reason..|
you have any personal goals?
Really Taijiquan is about the journey rather than the destination. I
just want to carry on training with great teachers, following the traditional
Chen village method and continue to develop naturally. A saying that is often
quoted in Chenjiagou is that "you can't force the fruit to ripen".
There are no shortcuts. The students I like the best are the ones who quietly
show up week after week, year after year and just get on with it. No hurry, no
impatience to get on to the next thing. Just consistent honest effort…
or what inspired you?
First I'd like to mention John Bowen the teacher who first set me on
the martial arts path back in 1980. His passion for the Oriental fighting arts
sparked an interest that has taken me to China and the Far East almost 20
times. He died tragically young, but I do wonder sometimes what he would make of
my martial arts journey. Over the years I have been fortunate to learn from
some great TCC teachers who have each inspired me in different ways: The
aforementioned Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing, Chen Zhenglei, Zhu Tiancai, Chen
Ziqiang and Wang Haijun… The first time I went to China in 1997 it was like
opening the door to a different world. For the last decade I've been training
in the Chenjiagou Taiji School with Chen Xiaoxing. Anyone who has trained with
him will be aware of his penchant for simple, repetitive and excruciating
emphasis upon basic training, with no truck paid to entertaining students. He
offers what works and then it is up to you to put in the effort. Don't think
about success. Just follow the rules and grind out the skill.
|My first martial arts teacher John Bowen - that's me on the left (about 1981)|
do you make of tai chi's current popularity?
For sure TCC is popular in terms of numbers, but there are still a great
many misconceptions about the art. Many people come to TCC classes with the
idea that is an easy option that doesn't need any self motivation or commitment.
I read a recent article during which a person mentioned that his seventy
something year old mother had gone to a Tai Chi class. She said she wouldn't be
going back again as "she got more exercise during the walk to and from the
class than during the class itself". The continuing move towards shorter
and more simple forms and to fast-track instructor courses all feed into this.
Taijiquan is much more than just learning a few sets of movements or a few push
hands tricks. It is the development of complete physical and mental
coordination. It means striving to follow a set of rules that have been passed
down for many generations. If it is to maintain its credibility newcomers to
TCC need to be steered towards qualified teachers who have taken the time to
learn the art properly, and teachers need to be encouraged to continue working
on their own development.
teacher how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art?
TCC is a martial art. Within Chen TCC we can trace back almost 400
years during which every generation, until recent times used their skills to defend
themselves and their community. People often try to understand the martial
aspect of TCC by comparing it to other more obvious martial arts. TCC has its
own unique way of training martial skill. It requires us to train the whole
body as a system rather than training individual techniques. Many learners
become fixated on training set applications rather than the underlying method.
Simply training hard is not enough. We must understand and train in line with
Taijiquan's principles and philosophy. For example if we are to develop
effective fajin we should first learn to "fang song" or loosen our
body. Taijiquan's unique brand of looseness allows us to use strength
effectively. We should also understand spiral force, the requirements for each
part of the body, how to coordinate the crotch and waist, how to use the floor
to employ the system's "rebounding force"…
|Qinna training with GM Chen Xiaoxing |
are your views on competition?
Competition has its place. Before I came to TCC I competed many
times in external martial arts competitions and once taking up TCC was
successful in several push hands competitions. All valuable experience in terms
of being tested under pressure. If your goal is to achieve fighting skills, you
can learn a lot about yourself and your ability when faced with a non-compliant
opponent. It's okay to talk about this or that technique, but can you continue
to fight after you have been hurt? Can
you control your emotions when facing a strong opponent in a full contact bout?
Do you realise how much punishment you or another person can take, without even
being aware of it, when your adrenalin is flowing? Answering these questions
gives confidence and a sense of realism to your training. Forms competition can
motivate some people to train harder. Ultimately I find that the majority of
students are not that interested in competition, which is also okay.
|Competition training in the early 80s, when I had more hair!|
direction would you like to see tai chi going in the future?
Regardless of style, I would like to see more people keeping
confidence in the traditional systems. The traditional way is harder to learn,
but it is worth learning.
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