How many years have you been practicing Taijiquan?
I began serious training about 15 years ago. I believe the number of years is not as important as the amount of practice you put in. Someone may go to a class for 10 years, doing an hour a week with no practice in between, and understood and achieved little. Or another who has done less years but practices everyday and has the interest to study the entire art.
What stimulated your interest?
Circumstances in my life took me away from my root, being relocated to England as a teenager and being socialised into another culture. As often happens, in maturity one returns to search for one’s root, and I picked up where I left off.
What does Taijiquan mean to you?
Taijiquan is a perfect representation of Chinese culture. Its profound philosophical roots, allied to a holistic training syllabus, makes it perfect for developing the whole person – physically challenging, emotionally calming and intellectually stimulating.
What is the most important aspect for you?
Most important is that Taijiquan retains its authenticity. Regardless of whether one’s main area of interest is in the health building aspects or martial arts, Taijiquan should be practiced following the very clear rules that have been handed down through the generations. The Taijiquan theory is not just a physical discipline, but also a blueprint for life.
Do you have any personal goals in Taiji?
To progress in my own practice and understanding of this great art. To continue promoting authentic Taijiquan through making accessible some of the teachers I have been fortunate to learn from. To dispel the misconceptions surrounding the art and the mystification of Taijiquan – through teaching and also through writing. I have co-authored two books “Chen Style Taijiquan: The Source of Taiji Boxing” and the recently published “The Essence of Taijiquan”. Taijiquan is an inherently pragmatic discipline. Chen Style Taijiquan has been passed down through generations of hardy and practical people and much of its “mystification” can be shared between simple cultural misunderstanding and New Age type appropriation of the art. I hope my writing enables non-Chinese readers access to information available only in Chinese, and breaks down some of the cultural barriers facing Westerners.
Who or what inspired you?
An old Chinese saying says: “when you drink the water remember the person who dug the well”. In that sense I’ve been inspired by the people who have entered my Taijiquan life at various times and in various forms. Chen Xiaoxing, Chen Xiaowang and Zhu Tiancai are wonderful teachers who have guided me in my practice. Chenjiagou, the birthplace of my art, that I visit at least once a year, has shown me Taijiquan in its simplicity and its richness. And then there are those who have taught me how not to be…
What do you make of Taijiquan’s current popularity?
Taijiquan is popular in terms of numbers with new classes springing up everywhere, but much of the quality is dubious. The move towards fast-tracking instructors in simplified and shortened forms is, I think, particularly damaging. I regularly have people enquiring about instructor’s courses who have little or no Taijiquan experience. Taijiquan is a complex art and before thinking of becoming a teacher one must first be a student who practices diligently for an extended period. This does not mean going to a seminar once in a while but to regular coaching from a qualified teacher. To me it’s like demanding to be a concert pianist just because you can play a few notes on the piano. In the long term there is a danger that this wave of low standard teachers will fatally undermine the public credibility of Taijiquan.
As a teacher, how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art?
Taijiquan is a powerful and sophisticated martial art system. To deny this is to show a lack of knowledge of its roots and function. On the other hand, many people are often too impatient to get to the combat aspects and applications. Combat skills are built upon the foundation of structural integrity and correct movement principles and the integration of the physical and mental (external/internal) aspects. One must follow the syllabus of the system meticulously.
What are your views on competition?
It is a way of testing out one’s skill in a controlled environment. It gives a platform for people to “show off” their attainment. It gives the practitioner a tangible reward for effort. It provides an opportunity for different groups to meet and exchange views. For the success and credibility of competitions, it is important that the judges are qualified to assess and judge. It is not enough to go on a course to qualify as a judge. Judges should have experience of practice, have knowledge of Taijiquan in its different forms, and are conversant with Taijiquan’s underlying theories and principles.
What direction would you like to see Taijiquan going in the future? I would like to see Taijiquan retain its original form and not be diluted. A skill that is worth learning takes time to master. I would like to see some kind of regulations in order to ensure good quality and accurate transmission. I would like to see more involvement from young people, to dispel the perception that Taijiquan is only for the old and weak