Tai Chi, originally known as Tai Chi Chuan (Supreme Ultimate System), is a widely practiced but not thoroughly understood art. Hopefully, I can shed some light for those that are unfamiliar with this system and even to those that are veteran players. I will speak of Tai Chi in general and Shu Family Tai Chi in more specific terms. Before I begin, I will give some personal background, including my Tai Chi Chuan lineage.
I am a certified instructor of the Shu Family Tai Chi Chuan system and have been studying Tai Chi and Taoism for seven years. I study Taoist arts such as proper nutrition/health, Chinese medical theory, and Yin/Yang theory. Tony Zayner, my teacher for the past five years, studied with Dr. Tao of Taiwan where he lived for twelve years during his course of study. Dr. Tao's teacher was Cheng Man Ching, originally from Taiwan but more recently residing in New York. My lineage goes back even further, but I acknowledge the style and softness of Cheng Man Ching, Dr. Tao and Tony Zayner. I am also a licensed massage therapist specializing in Asian bodywork.
Why do I love this art?
It is as Cheng Man Ching (famous Tai Chi teacher) said: "Tai Chi Chuan is in accord with philosophy and science, for its theory is purely philosophical and its attitude completely scientific." Practiced correctly, Tai Chi/Taoist principles will lead you from the philosophy to the science of this art. If you are not following the principles, you are not doing Tai Chi Chuan and are not getting the true benefits of this art.
I'm a teacher as well as a student of the Shu (Gentile) Family system created by my teacher Tony Zayner. Shu Family is unique in that it has the applications for the entire form (form without function is useless) which gives true meaning to the art.
Doesn't every teacher teach applications?
I wish they did. Most teachers teach many forms including weapons, push hands, kung fu, "secret forms", etc. but not applications.
Are applications really important?
Applications give a much deeper meaning to the form. The apps give understanding as to why you are doing the postures, because without them, you are just doing a dance. Another unique aspect of applications is that in order to do them you must not only know the form (Yin) but be the "other" person moving the form (Yang). In order for this to work, the form (Yin) must adhere to principles (softness, yielding, no-force, relax) and the one moving the form (Yang) must use force (Yang energy). Please note the only reason we are moving this way and that way while doing the form is because someone is doing it to us (moving us). As my arm moves out in single whip, any steps taken, or any movement of the hands are just me following the one moving me, but I'm relaxed and without fear while doing so. It's like ballroom dancing where someone, usually a Yang person, takes the lead. The Yin (partner) just follows along. The same principles apply in Tai Chi Chaun. Nobody teaches this anywhere.
Sounds like a lot of work!
It is. But a little work gives little results while a lot of work brings tremendous results. Because of this system you learn and apply the principles while doing the form by yourself. You can imagine "no-form" moving you this way and that way, while you yield and follow principles to gain growth. The Shu Family Tai Chi Chuan is really on a different level than the "follow the teacher and do as they do, pay your money and leave" routine. You will gain very little substance this way, and after years of doing Tai Chi you will find that you have wasted your time. You may know a lot of forms/styles that will impress people, but true Tai Chi Chuan is transformation of oneself. That is why Tony always emphasizes to his students that true Tai Chi Chuan is Transformationalrather than Translational. Because the student adheres to principle, their health and state of mind improve. True Tai Chi is the method of cultivation. "Self cultivation is the Tao of long life and begins with this."
How long will this take?
A lifetime. In Shu Family you learn the Cheng Man Ching 37 posture form, form applications, the graduate class No-Form/Form, Taoism, Chinese and Western anatomy, Tai Chi/Taoist principles, and Yin/Yang theory. The classes are truly about science and wisdom as well as philosophy. This takes a lifetime of study but again, you get out of the Tao only what you allow yourself to receive from it. Tai Chi is not done in class, but throughout our daily lives. This is something you use in everything you do and say, because the principles are about peace and doing no harm. This is not done in an hour and a half class, a weekend seminar or in one year or two or three ‚ÄĒ this is used a little each day until a new "you" has grown and you see the oneness of all things.
I thought Tai Chi was a martial art about self defense.
Tai Chi Chuan is about internal self-cultivation. It can also be viewed as a medical art where we defend ourselves against bacteria, viruses, asthma, arthritis and heart disease to name a few. It is also self-defense against accidents such as getting hit by a car or catching something before it hits the floor. It's not about kicking someone's butt outside, but kicking our own butts inside. We need to heal ourselves internally to be all things to all people. Chuang Tzu speaks of this as being in the "Pivot". It is true that the apps can be used in a self-defense situation, but the art teaches you to "self-disappear." The best way to avoid conflict is to not be in conflict. A true practitioner of this art does not go looking for a fight but tries to remain in the "Tao" where they are sensitive to the world around them. Being sensitive also means being in touch with your health and whether or not you are in a state of "dis-ease."You may find yourself taking a serious look at what you eat, your lifestyle, habits, the condition of your home, the people you spend time with, etc. Changing these things along with practicing Tai Chi Chuan will manifest on a deep level. Again, I must stress, you get out what you put in, and it is up to each individual to choose what their level of investment will be.
I wish to close with some words from Tai Chi teacher Cheng Man Ching:
"More than ten years ago a student asked me, Sir, you are a master of five arts. Which has been the most satisfying to you personally to teach?" I answered that teaching Tai Chi Chuan was the most enjoyable. Those who had heard this were very skeptical and asked if it was not a bit unrefined and brutish. I responded that they did not really understand, and that Tai Chi Chuan was the essence of the philosophy of life. As for the achievement of true excellence in Tai Chi Chuan, there is no art more difficult. Absolutely no ordinary martial art can compare with it."