Meet Carl Burgess

Carl Burgess

How many years have you been practising Tai Chi? 18 years, plus 7 years other martial arts.

What stimulated your interest? My interest was stimulated by Bruce Lee back in the early 70s. In my early days I learned everything I could and met many interesting people who knew many interesting arts. A friend told me about Tai Chi Chuan but knowing that my interest was primarily martial warned me not to learn from anybody who did not teach the art primarily as a martial art. What piqued my interest was the mention of the Nei Kung training, something that I had not come across in all the other arts I had practised. Another friend told me that Dan Docherty, a South East Asian Martial Arts Champion, was teaching Tai Chi Chuan in Covent Garden and the rest is history.

What does Tai Chi mean to you? I have always been interested on Eastern Philosophy as well as Western Philosophy. If you read Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do, the way of the intercepting fi st, you will come to the realisation that it essentially follows the martial theories of Taijiquan, and of course its theoretical background in the LaoZi DaoDeJing and the SunZi Bing Fa. Tai Chi means to me the essence of water. Try to grasp it and it cannot be held. Try to contain it and it will eventually break free. It can be a tidal wave, but can also be a muddy pool. Within strength there is weakness, within weakness there is strength. Softness can overcome hardness but also hardness can overcome softness. The Tai Chi symbol is a profound one. The answer is to seek the middle way between the two extremes which contain the seeds of their own downfall.

What is the most important aspect for you? The most important aspect is the understanding of self. Ultimately through understanding self one will understand others. This requires rigorous testing on one’s physical, intellectual and psychological being. It is necessary to push oneself to the limits of intellectual understanding, physical endurance and the extremes of the subconscious emotions of fear, desire and lust. The intellectual limits are challenged by first having to learn a fundamentally different language system and then attempting to interpret the arcane language and poetic codes used to describe the art. The physical endurance is tested by the Nei Kung, internal strength exercises, that never get any easier no matter how long you practise them. Fear is exercised by using the art in fi ghting contests where you know you can get hurt but accept that. Ultimately it is about transcending these emotions and realising that desire to win gets in the way of winning, being afraid of getting hit makes it more likely that you will be, and that the powerful emotion of lust gains strength if you try to fi ght it but will dissipate if you let it go.

Do you have any personal goals in Tai Chi? My goal is to test my understanding of the art. If I can pass on what I know to others then I will be satisfi ed that I understand the art to some degree. If my students cannot do what I do then I am either a poor teacher or I my understanding of the art is insuffi cient to be able to pass it on. The theory of the art is relatively straightforward, the practise of it is not so easy, the transmission is even harder. I would like to continue the work of my teacher in spreading the Taijiquan martial system.

Who or what inspired you? Being a relatively small person I was always disturbed by the idea that large, powerful untrained people could beat trained highly skilled martial artists. I was dissatisfi ed with the martial arts training that I had been doing up till then as they lacked balance and artistry and did not have a coherent framework. This is still true today as it is rare that complete traditional systems are taught. This has led many fi ghters to abandon traditional arts and concentrate on Kick boxing, Mixed Martial Arts etc.

What do you make of Tai Chi’s current popularity? Tai Chi for health is very popular, Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art is far less so. The problem for me is that most people come to my classes looking for a soft gentle relaxing exercise and are surprised to fi nd that within the softness there is hardness, within the gentle there is the tough, and the relaxation is a special form called Song, which is diffi cult to attain. Training Tai Chi Chuan is a hard tough process. It is not possible to learn how to fi ght by reading books, practising forms and doing special exercises. To be able to effectively apply the art in combat it is necessary to practise a combative way.

As a teacher how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art ? To gain a proper understanding of the true realisation of the concepts of the art it is essential to practise the martial aspect. It is essential to understand the applications and how they can work in real situations. The Form is a sequence of martial arts applications performed in a very specifi c way to develop very specifi c skills that are the basis for the usage of the Taijiquan martial system. To perform the Form properly knowledge of the applications is essential because this will give the proper focus and meaning to the postures. The Tui Shou (Pushing hands) exercises are the bridge between the Form and the San Shou (Self Defence), so I teach these from the first lesson.

What are your views on competition? Competition is an imperative. Without being tested in unfamiliar situations against unknown people with unknown abilities one cannot say that one can act according to the situation. I have seen many seemingly highly skilled individuals whose perfect form, and beautiful technique has disappeared when confronted with the unknown. The mental side is equally important. Being able to remain calm and relaxed in a stress situation will allow the art to manifest itself. Without putting oneself in this stress situation in a relatively safe manner it is not possible to know how one would react if a more immediate danger presented itself. Tui Shou competitions reveal if one has internally understood the concepts of Taijiquan, if one is easily defeated by the muscular and the quick, or have to revert to overpowering one’s opponent then one really does not know it.

What direction would you like to see Tai Chi going in the future? I would like a better recognition of Tai Chi Chuan as a legitimate martial art. For this to happen there needs to be greater awareness amongst the general public and practitioners alike of the nature of the art. This will of course only happen when there are a suffi cient number of Taijiquan practitioners competing in full contact and other fi ght format competitions. Taijiquan is seen mainly as a soft exercise suitable for the old and infi rm hence does not attract many people who would like to participate in these kinds of activity.


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