RUNNING ON EMPTY
Tai Chi Question Time
by Dan Docherty (Combat May 1993)
Most readers' questions were about where to find Tai Chi instruction. The problem is that although there are now Tai Chi clubs in most major cities, the level of ability and the approach of the teachers varies enormously. I've replied to these letters individually and if they require more information they are welcome to contact me or one of the Tai Chi Union for Great Britain regional officers whose numbers are listed in Combat's Clubs Directory.
In addition, I'm attempting to address this problem myself by running seminars with a teacher training element in London and Manchester and also abroad.
Now to reply through Combat to some readers whose letters raised matters of wider interest.
Doug McGuire from Middlesex asks, "What is the Tai Chi ruler and what is it used for ?"
The Tai Chi ruler is a short stick 10" - 15" in length. There are two stories about its origin.
Most authorities credit Chu Man-yi, a student of Wu Jian -quan, with inventing both the Tai Chi ruler and the Tai Chi ball shortly after the First World War. His idea was that simple turning, twisting and circling movements based on Tai Chi form and Western Gymnastics could replace the form, which he considered too complex for some students.
In one of my Chinese martial arts encyclopedias, published in 1990, a gentleman named Zhao Zhong-dao, whose dates are given as (1843-1962) (?!!!), is credited with inventing what was known as Tai Chi Stick Chi Kung or Prior to Heaven Chi Kung Tai Chi Ruler.
The ruler should be gripped with both hands and can be trained sitting, standing and lying down. The movements of which there are nine major ones, should be soft and slow. There is no martial dimension to the training, although there is nothing to prevent you applying sabre or sword techniques with the ruler.
I don't practice the ruler as I find it pretty boring and not that useful compared with other elements of Tai Chi training.
Tsui Woon-kwong, one of my Tai Chi brothers in Hong Kong is the only practitioner I know personally who practices the ruler, he has also written a book in Chinese on the subject. He can be contacted at 5/fl., 10 Victory Avenue, Kowloon, Hong Kong.
Hugh Byrne from Nottingham asks if I practice Chin Na techniques within my self defence system.
The answer is that we don't use the term Chin Na to describe the Tai Chi grappling techniques, but refer to them as Die Pu or Shuai Jiao. Most of the techniques used are also found in the hand form e.g. Raise Hands Step Up, Embrace Tiger and Return to Mountain, Sweep Lotus Leg etc.
The Die Pu techniques are largely used as counterattacks once you are inside or underneath the opponent's attack. This is also where the skills such as "Listening", which are trained in pushing hands, are of use. No matter what the style you can't be considered an effective fighter unless you have trained in Die Pu, which can be a much more devastating response than a simple punch or kick.
I 'll cover this subject in more detail in subsequent columns.
A Mr. Ketley from an H.M.Y.O.I. in Bucks. (he doesn't say whether he is an inmate or staff member) asks no fewer than five questions, which are almost entirely based on false premises.
1. He says that he has been told that Tai Chi is ineffective in a streetfight because it is based on forms as a moving meditation with have no spontaneity. He therefore asks, "Can one still study Tai Chi Chuan without losing fighting abilities ?
Firstly, every martial art has certain training drills and forms are just one example of this.
Secondly, he says that forms lack spontaneity; this is not so. Though the techniques in any form are set, the way that we do them is not. Likewise every martial art has spontaneous training too; whether someone knows and teaches this or not is another matter.
Thirdly, he asks whether Tai Chi Chuan art is effective in a streetfight. This, as in the case of any other martial art, depends on the person doing it, the type of training which they have been doing and the abilities of the opponent. A seven stone, 60 year old Kyoshinkai karate white belt would in my estimation have some problems dealing with three 18 stone lager louts.
2. He says that many martial arts teachers use no forms, though they still aim at spirituality so if both types aim for the same goal, "surely an experienced and well-seasoned Tai Chi expert after reaching inner peace can take care of himself, as well as adapt to new and unfamiliar situations ?"
I would have thought it unlikely that one could achieve "inner peace" overnight whereas, when I was in Hong Kong, I helped train Tai Chi students to fight with success in full contact competitions after six months training. I don't think any of them had achieved inner peace.
Furthermore, I don't know what Mr. Ketley means by spirituality so I'm not sure if most martial arts teachers are aiming for it.
3. He asks, "How many forms are there in Yang style Tai Chi Chuan ?"
The answer to that question depends on what we mean by Yang style Tai Chi Chuan. Yang Zhen-duo one of the better known 4th generation Yang family practitioners was recently interviewed by Tai Chi magazine. He was asked whether the fast form and the two person form practiced in some Yang style schools were part of the Yang style. He said no, that they were later additions. However, the persons practicing these forms certainly believe that they are doing Yang style.
Some people only know the Yang style Long Form; some know three or more variations of this and weapon forms as well. So the answer is that it depends who you ask.
4. He asks, "is Yang style a system within itself ?"
To my mind that means a complete method which can be used against hard styles with effect. Yang Lu-chan did do that successfully as did his sons. The Tai Chi which I do does come partly from Yang Lu-chan and we have also been successful in such fights.
Against that most Tai Chi practitioners have little or no knowledge of the martial aspects of their art. If you go to one hundred schools of Yang style Tai Chi Chuan, you will find a hundred different approaches, not all of them good and not all of them teaching a complete system.
5. He asked what more is involved in Yang style and for this I've referred him to some Yang style teachers.
Tim Homan from Devon writes that he is 13 years old, lives near a "normal" Tai Chi club and would like an explanation of what Tai Chi is and what I do.
Well Tim, I hope you're not trying to suggest that the Tai Chi clubs I run are not "normal", otherwise I might have to send the boys down to North Devon.
Tai Chi literally means "Supreme Ultimate" and this is the principle that the interaction of Yin (night, negative, soft, intellectual) and Yang (day, positive, hard, physical) control all matter in the universe. Chuan literally means fist, but here means a martial art. So Tai Chi Chuan is a martial art using yin and yang to complement one another; instead of using hard blocking we use evasion and counterattack - soft against hard and hard against soft.
There are five parts to Tai Chi Chuan. The hand form is a sequence of soft slow movements linked together to improve coordination and breathing and remind us of the fighting combinations. The self defence techniques include locking striking throwing and low kicks. Pushing hands is a method of training martial skill such as footwork, balance and flexibility with a partner. There are three traditional weapon forms in Tai Chi Chuan, spear, sword and sabre. Finally there are the 12 Yin and 12 Yang Nei Kung exercises.
Apart from the above there are various other exercises and conditioning methods that I teach.
If other readers, whether or not Tai Chi practitioners would like to raise any matters connected with Tai Chi Chuan, please get writing.
by Dan Docherty (Combat December 1995)
Once again it's time to answer reader's queries. But first I'd like to deal with a question from one of the participants at the recent Combat Seminars in Birmingham. The gentleman concerned is a practitioner of Escrima among other arts and he told me that often after a hard training session he finds it hard to sleep and he asked if I could suggest a solution.
We all have within us a primitive fight or flight response developed over millions of years so that humanity could deal with dangerous situations. Every martial arts has methods, some direct some indirect, to help develop this response, but many seem to either neglect or to fail to emphasise the importance of being able to deal with the negative effects of stress.
One of the reasons why practitioners of the Japanese martial arts go into mokuso both before and after a class is to utilise the calming influence of Zen meditation to focus themselves for the pressures they will face during the class and so that after the class they can bring down their heart rate, level of blood lactate and breathing rate, all of which naturally increase with mental or physical stress.
Yet how many people realise that Zen is the Japanese for Chan, the name of a school of Chinese Buddhism with heavy Taoist influences ? How many people, instructors and students alike, realise the purpose of mokuso or do it for long enough to produce the desired effect ? In Tai Chi Chuan classes there is not normally any meditation per se, but the 12th Yang exercise in Tai Chi Nei Kung is designed to work along similar principles being used in conjunction with a simple mantra and I often use it myself before going to bed; either that or I follow the advice of the Combat Doctor in a recent column and consume lager and crisps - purely to restore sugar and salt levels.
Herbert Benson, Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Hypertension Section of Boston's Beth Israel Hospital has termed this type of meditative solution the "Relaxation Response". This meditative type of response requires 4 conditions:-
1) a quiet environment
2) a word/phrase to be repeated mentally
3) a passive attitude
4) holding a comfortable position for 10-20 minutes
For a long time this relaxation response was provided in our society by organised religion, but for many people this is no longer a part of their lives and this I believe is one of the reasons for deaths and illnesses caused by hypertension in our society. So the solution for our friend would seem to be to take up meditation, Tai Chi or religion or to consume more lager.
Now for some questions that readers have sent in. Joseph Peragaya from London asks whether Tai Chi is just an exercise or a martial art. Well the answer depends on who is practicing it and what they are practicing. For example I don't consider that either kickboxing or Wu Shu are truly martial arts as the former lacks artistic elements and has a limited repertoire of techniques while the latter is mainly concerned with aesthetic and gymnastic appearance and incorporates many moves that are useless from a martial point of view. Tai Chi Chuan has within it grappling, striking, weapon training, full contact training method, but also contains soft and gentle exercise. For some it is a martial art, for many it is not.
Peter O'Mahay, a serving police officer from Cumbria, asks whether the concept of internal power is really a trick dependent on body mechanics or whether there is more to it. As I've said in past columns certain demonstrations such as withstanding a push from a group of people are really a matter of body mechanics and can be done by virtually anyone off the street yet they are often claimed by the demonstrator or his students to be "Chi power". Other "masters" send their students hurtling through the air with a flick of the wrist yet are strangely unwilling or unable to replicate this feat with strangers. In Tai Chi Chuan there is no such thing as "Chi power". The term for the type of power used in Tai Chi Chuan is Jin/Jing and this is trained in pushing hands and the 24 Nei Kung exercises.
There are, however, genuine examples of internal strength such as withstanding someone jumping from a height of 6' onto the abdomen. Also someone skilled in internal power should be able to deliver short range force similar to Bruce Lee's 1" punch with palm or punch. Although of course both these examples also require correct use of the body, they are genuine skills which take time to develop.
Mike Gorton from Stafford asks if I can recommend an instructor to him, he knows of one Tai Chi instructor who practices acupuncture, but who is uninterested in the martial arts aspects.As Mike says in his letter, this is an incomplete philosophy yet it is a disturbingly prevalent one and some instructors are even proud of such ignorance.
Mike goes on to say that he has rejected Karate and Taekwondo as being too linear/stiff, while Aikido is perhaps not a complete practical defence system, but is attracted by the concept of evasion that both Aikido and Kung Fu emphasise in view of his size (he is 10 stone). I have sent him details of one of my students who teaches locally, but this is a common problems. The choice often boils down to either travelling a bit further to receive higher level tuition in your preferred art or finding high level tuition locally in another system. This situation is now changing for the better in the Tai Chi Chuan world.
Daniel Jones from Telford has a number of questions. The first is how in the absence of a recognised certificate of proficiency or grading system how can you ascertain an instructor's ability or authenticity ? Here membership of an organisation such as the BCCMA or TCUGB is of some help as both these organisations check out the background of prospective members. However, in both organisations there are some highly experienced and capable instructors while others are not so well qualified. The best bet is to go to a few schools and check them out. See if you like the training method, the way the students move, how the instructor relates to the students etc. Personally I put no faith in certificates or gradings in any martial art. Daniel then asks if there any books on the self-defence/fighting aspects of Tai Chi Chuan. I can but recommend my recent book "Instant Tao", available from me @ £13 including P&P. Send cheques made out to me to 9 Ashfield Road, London N14 &LA.
Hazel Forbes from Greenock asks about videos on Tai Chi. The trouble here is that there are about as many videos as there are styles of Tai Chi Chuan, such as the David Carradine Tai Chi video which shows an art that most instructors I know would not consider to be a recognisable form of Tai Chi Chuan.
Linda Watt from Glasgow asks about different forms of Tai Chi Chuan which she finds confusing. Though there are different styles and even styles within styles, fundamentally there is only good and bad Tai Chi and this depends on the instructor, so I would refer her to my answer to Daniel Jones.
Paul Window from Norfolk asks about belts and grades in Tai Chi Chuan. Traditionally there are none and students are elder or younger brothers or sisters in relation to one another while their Sifu is the father and his peers are uncles and aunts to his students. Just as in life a younger sister can be better than an elder brother so family seniority is not a guarantee of ability. A number of Tai Chi schools have introduced gradings and belts and good luck to them. I have introduced teaching certificates on different levels for my own students to give some degree of quality control.
People are now talking about the NVQ system as if it is a panacea for all the ills of martial arts. It is simply another method for the government to try and regulate us and an opportunity for the smooth men in suits and blazers, generals without soldiers to try to separate the rest of us from our hard earned cash. My teacher would fail NVQ Level 1, never mind Level 5, yet he has produced international champions and is a famous master. It is another example of the British obsession to have people pass examinations and to produce a generation of paper tigers. The only tests that matter in the end are the street and the market place. Well, I think it's time for that lager and crisps.