Thursday, May 5, 2011
Tai Chi Chuan: What is it Missing?
Tai Chi Chuan: What is it Missing?
I started Tae Kwon Do (Korean Karate) in 1979 and got to Second Dan Black Belt with eight years in the system. After moving out of Oregon I found a Kenpo school and reached Third Dan. Fortunately, one of the instructors was also a Yang-style Tai Chi Chuan practitioner, and had a friend who taught us some Bagua. Monday and Wednesday was Kenpo, Saturday was Aikido, and Sunday was Tai Chi and Bagua. It was a pretty full schedule.
As injuries and age set in, I dedicated myself to trying to understand the subtleties of the softer internal arts, and Tai Chi Chuan became a full-time art for me.
I love to research and compare, so I started collecting everything I could find on Tai Chi Chuan - books, videos, visits to other instructors. As the years went by I felt I had started to internalize my movements and developed better sensitivity to opponent’s movements. While the hard-style arts were pretty easy to understand, the subtle techniques in Tai Chi were difficult to grasp. Sure, there was still punching and kicking, but it avoided direct clashing and relied on yielding skills.
And here-in-lies the problem; in Tai Chi Chuan the focus is so dependent on yielding skills, many students never really learn how to return power. Even the push-hands tournaments that are run in the United States have too many rules and none of the body-slams used in Asia. Actually hitting an opponent is virtually nonexistent in most Tai Chi classes. Tai Chi had become all Yin and no Yang.
For this reason, many of the old Tai Chi masters also trained in Xingyi (more hitting) and Bagua (more grappling). There were stories about one of the Yang sons considering suicide because his Tai Chi training was so intense. In those days, handling a spear or sword was a survival skill.
Times have changed, but life is still difficult and the streets are still rough.
The stress of guarding caravan shipments has changed to dealing with co-workers, hard economic times and the rat-race of modern life. Tai Chi Chuan has become a valuable way to decompress from a fast pace and turn inward to experience ourselves. But what about the martial art aspect?
Tai Chi is supreme at developing yielding skills. When I have taught classes, new women students always get a better start than the men, they are naturally more supple and adapt to yielding better. Women do however, have a harder time turning on the power when needed. Men can turn on the power, but need to learn yielding skills. Students with a hard-style background like I had can really benefit from learning the yielding. It takes time and patience, but eventually it comes along. People who have only practiced Tai Chi Chuan can benefit by either training in Boxing (hitting target pads) or Xingyi (developing aggressive Kung Fu). Everyone should have some practice in safely falling to the ground and returning to their feet.
So if you are an aging hard-stylist, You can get a lot out of the meditative and yielding skills of Tai Chi Chuan. It will make you a better martial artist.
If you have practiced Tai Chi Chuan as your only martial art, it would serve you well to practice hitting target pads and do some actual sparring.
Proper Tai Chi Chuan is not just Yin, it is both Yin and Yang.
Here are two resources for developing martial skill in Tai Chi Chuan:
Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming's website - lots of good books and videos
Tim Cartmell's excellent series on Sun-style Tai Chi Chuan - principles and applications that apply to all Tai Chi systems
My instructor Michael Gilman has some very detailed videos at the website for The Gilman Studio