How many years have you been practicing tai chi? Seven years, predominantly Wudang style, having practiced Yang and Lee styles for two years before Wudang.
What stimulated your interest? I have always had an interest in the martial arts, initially spending nearly all of my teenage years studying Shotokan Karate and Kung Fu for a year and a half. Beyond the martial aspect I had an interest in the philosophical nature of martial arts and the profound depth of wisdom and knowledge it contains. I bought a book, surfed the net and Tai Chi and philosophy kept appearing. So ‘what the hey’, I took a class in Tai Chi but it almost became like an addictive drug. I needed a stronger fix each time I went back. I began to understand that different styles held different philosophies, so the process of trying different styles began. Then I hit ‘pay dirt’ with Wudang, top quality philosophy and superb martial arts together in one, I have been addicted ever since.
What does tai chi mean to you? The world. Everything now in my life revolves around the practice of Tai Chi, increasingly all e-mails, letters, social events, holidays, are Tai Chi influenced. Tai Chi has taught me the value of yin and yielding, and softness as a means to overcome all adverse situations in my personal and professional life, being relaxed and soft is in direct conflict to the person I was before Tai Chi, I was very intense and rigid in my thinking. Holistically Tai Chi as a mental concept can be applied and operate outside of the martial field and its principles I have found are directly applicable to all aspects of life.
What is the most important aspect for you? The strategy of yin and yielding. Knowing the value and strength of yin, yielding to force as a means to redirect it back on itself, 4 ounces against 1000 pounds. I use this principle at every opportunity in practice to encourage students to think in a strategic way in all areas of Tai Chi, from applications to thinking about form practice, to pushing hands.
Who or what inspired you? Philosophy of the martial arts and masters of the art who have fluency in all areas, a prime example is Master Dan Docherty.
Do you have any personal goals in Tai Chi? My first goal is to remain on the Tai Chi path, to never give up learning and understanding. My second goal is to share whatever knowledge I have freely and always promote Tai Chi for all its benefits as a philosophy and a martial art.
What do you make of Tai Chi’s current popularity? Its accessibility for all irrespective of age or ability, Tai Chi can mean as much to the practitioner of average ability as to the high-level competition competitor. Because Tai Chi has so much for everyone, everyone can get so much out of Tai Chi. The serious student can learn full contact fighting to competition standard, the person suffering a physical condition, arthritis, asthma etc can improve their health. Everyone wins, everyone improves.
As a teacher, how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art? ‘It should do exactly what it says on the tin’, but there my argument falls down and I do know I contradict myself in this question. Tai Chi Chuan (Supreme Ultimate Fighting/Fist) is a martial art and should be approached and trained in as such; however because of its subtleties and health qualities, its accessibility as a therapeutic exercise for all, the argument becomes blurred. I’m very fortunate to train in Wudang Style TCC because I favour the marital end of the spectrum, but that is not to say that the therapeutic end is of no use to the martial artist, on the contrary, without the therapeutic end there may be no martial end. In Tai Chi’s recent history in the west, the pendulum of public perception of Tai Chi has swung toward the soft, therapeutic non-martial aspect of the art. I believe that it is a matter of personal choice which end of the spectrum the person chooses to train in, and all respect and value to be given to the person’s choice. As the public’s perception becomes more ware of Tai Chi’s martial content the pendulum will swing back, hopefully opening the art up to a wider martial conscious audience.
What are your views on competition? Being on journey towards an end goal, to strive for that extra measure of performance or excellence is a challenge. Pitting your hard learned skills in open competition is daunting, and nerve wracking even before you put one foot on the mat, but to actually put theory into practice, to test your ability is the ultimate test of the art and its philosophy. I agree that there are arguments against Tai Chi as a competitive sport, however without that dedication of time, effort, energy, patience and hard work directed toward one goal, I believe that the practitioner who competed at whatever event at whatever standard, win or lose, may have a quality of experience of Tai Chi that the non competitor may never have.
What direction would you like to see Tai Chi going in the future? Ultimately back to its roots being more recognized for its abilities as a martial art, and secondly as a therapeutic art. I am aware that the notion of the martial aspect may be off putting to a lot of potential Tai Chi students, but by the same token it may attract a higher interest from the more martial candidate. Tai Chi has something for everyone, but popular public belief has resigned Tai Chi to arm waving in the park in a lot of cases. Tai Chi is much more than that, its history is of proud fighters, and wise strategists, the diluted public view could do with a refocus on the Martial Art of Tai Chi Chuan, to bring it into more of a balance, and hopefully more people taking up the art enriching and pushing it forward in the public’s mind eye to its rightful place as a profound and practical martial art, with interwoven philosophy and strong health applications for any ability.
Berine Nash is based in Kettering and has a web site at NORTHANTS TAI CHI CHUAN