Singapore Tai Chi Chuan

Lack Principles = Lack Quality 2

Before I had a chance to write a follow up to my earlier post I received an email. Since the issues mentioned are similar to what I wanted to write in follow up posts I will answer the questions raised here.

The comments :-

…..but I see that some of the standards are not followed. Likely the guy learned it on his own. But it is not that bad.

Direct disciples of the late GM WSR also show performances that at least to my eye look very different of what is supposed to be the standard. How does it come?

Maybe a question to ask is why the standards are so low? Just because it is too dfficult to learn? Maybe not sufficient disciples doing the effort to teach it correctly? Is it only the fault of the students?

In your case, you do not teach the 22 form. Even if you teach some of the principles related to the 22, it is not the same. Will the knowledge you have acquired not disappear if you do not teach it???

On the other hand, can we expect many people training it correctly, due to the strict standards of practice and time/effort required?

My comments :-

…… but I see that some of the standards are not followed. Likely the guy learned it on his own. But it is not that bad.

From what I can see the principles are not followed from the very first movement. In my book this is plain bad. The Beginning Posture is where the principles set the requirements for our unique kind of body structure. If this is wrong everything that follows will be wrong. And sure enough when the performer moved into Grasp Sparrow’s Tail the mistakes are there.

I am not saying that someone who is doing the form wrongly cannot tape it or put it out for public enjoyment. My concern is that a viewer will take a look and assume that this is what Grandmaster Wei’s style is like. For viewers in the West who has no access to learning this style they might even try to copy the wrong movements. Thus, WRONG + WRONG = BIG WRONG!!!

 

Direct disciples of the late GM WSR also show performances that at least to my eye look very different of what is supposed to be the standard. How does it come?

I won’t comment on them. But I will say this – if in doubt refer back to Grandmaster Wei’s performance since it is out there. By saying this I am not saying to copy everything you see. What is important is to understand what the principles are about, how they define the requirements and this in turn shapes the way you do the form. You can do the form differently but the principles should be the same.

For example, if you try to incorporate Chen style silk reeling into our Yang style it will look horribly wrong. You can say that you are still doing Tai Chi Chuan but you would not be doing our type of Tai Chi Chuan and you need to understand why this is so. Otherwise, you are just learning the art blindly.

 

Maybe a question to ask is why the standards are so low? Just because it is too dfficult to learn? Maybe not sufficient disciples doing the effort to teach it correctly? Is it only the fault of the students?

I can think of many reasons why this is so. I can summarize it easily as you can drag a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. For example, when I teach I go into details, sometimes too deep and mentally the student has given up the moment he hears the explanation because it is mentally tiring just listening to it much less actually try to make out what it is about.
Yes, our style is difficult to learn, very difficult. But then anything that is easy to learn is not that refined an art in the first place. However, I should say that once you catch on to what the art is about you will say that it is actually very easy, just that without understanding the complexity you won’t understand the simplicity behind it all.

In my case though I teach 1-to-1 I have this problem trying to get the student to do it correctly. I can imagine how difficult it is when a teacher is trying to teach a few students of various intelligence at the same time. Plus, it is a common case that students overrate their learning capability and actual ability. So the student can mentally think he is doing everything correct when the reality is that he is doing many things wrongly. Some teachers may be nice to point it out but the traditional teacher in most cases will not point out the mistakes. When they do mention glaring mistakes they may also offer general advice.

For example, if a teacher tells you that you are not relax enough what does it mean exactly? If you don’t know what it means exactly then how do you know that you are doing it correctly? I see this problem in 99.9% of the teachers out there. They simply won’t or can’t explain what something as simple as how much sung is enough. Readers who read this comment instead of stopping to think over what I said, many will try to act smart and give a smart alecky type of reply not knowing that by closing their mind they will never realize that they don’t know that they do not know there is something more beyond what they have been led to believe.

 

In your case, you do not teach the 22 form. Even if you teach some of the principles related to the 22, it is not the same. Will the knowledge you have acquired not disappear if you do not teach it???

This is not true. Just because its not listed on the syllabus doesn’t mean that its not taught. The problem for a teacher of combat Tai Chi Chuan is that students come in expecting to learn how to use the art. So if I tell them that the way to learn this form properly is to just focus on getting the principles correct to the point whereby the student can generate power effortlessly before he should attempt to use it for combat no student would want to learn because it typically takes 10 years to shape the body to be able to do the requirements.

 
The alternative is to offer something that can be mastered but is tuned towards realizing the larger picture offered by a higher level system in the same way that one attends primary school before moving on to the next level of education and on and on before arriving at university. In fact, in the book on the form it is interesting that the final principle touched on is the 9-crooked-pearls. The 3-count and the 5-count actually teaches the use of 9-crooked-pearls but in a simpler manner.

Thus, as simple as the 3-count and 5-count is if the student can’t even master it then what are the chances of him being able to master the 9-crooked pearls? In this sense, the writer has confused between the learning of the style to the learning of the principles. In fact, the Hao style form also teaches many principles of the 22 form but in a manner that is easier to learn. how

In conclusion, the important thing is to preserve the principles rather than the form because doing the form without the principles is like a car without an engine. But once you know how an engine works you can redesign another engine and it will still work. Learning the form is not about imitating the movements. It is about bringing to life the principles so that you can apply them. In this sense, all Tai Chi Chuan styles should be the same because they are essentially expressing the same principles albeit though different ways of moving. Of course, if you don’t know exactly what the principles mean in practice then it is difficult to understand what this is saying exactly.

 

On the other hand, can we expect many people training it correctly, due to the strict standards of practice and time/effort required?

I know many people would like to learn it. In fact, I noticed that of late there are many videos out there of the long form of this style. A number of them are performed by elderly gents who look, sound and dress like a master except that when they start to move, alas, I can see where the principles are not adhered to. Funny thing is that to a viewer who does not understand the style such incorrect performances would probably appeal to them whereas they would gloss over and think that the correct performances are wrong due to the lack of outward manifestation of power-like movements.

But for those who are serious to learn they need to put in a lot of time and effort to practice. This is not a simple form. If a student can’t or won’t change his movements when learning any normal, less demanding form how can we expect him to change when it comes to learning a more difficult type of form especially one in which there are a lot of subtle nuances and lots of intention work. Even for people who think the 3-count and 5-count is no big deal I think they will be surprised when they learn it and find that it is also very difficult to do correctly. I have a student who is learning the straight sword now and he finds that he has problem doing the stances with proper alignment such that he can impart power to the blade. I pointed out to him that such mistakes are fixed at the 13-movement form level. So if he didn’t get it right now the past is back to haunt him. For this student if he can’t get the 13-movement form correctly if I teach him the 22-form I think he will massacre the performance.

I am of the opinion that this style will only be transmitted correctly to a small number of people. Many people will learn it but the odds will be the same though for the art’s survival it would be preferable to reach out to as many as possible. In fact, Grandmaster Wei was not the only person who learned the art from Grandmaster Wang. There were a few other students in the class but only Grandmaster Wei walked away with the skill. After Grandmaster Wei the art was transmitted to my master’s generation. Will it survive further? I have no idea. Only time will tell.

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Author: ZenMindSword

Mushin is a practitioner, researcher and trainer for Yang style Tai Chi Chuan. He is also author of The Ip Man Koans, The Ip Man Questions and TaijiKinesis series of eBooks, as well as co-author of Complete Wing Chun.

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