How many years have you been practicing Taijiquan?
It is about 24 years. I originally began the study of Shaolin martial arts as a child in China in 1972. Eleven years later, I began my journey to understand the internal arts by studying orthodox Chen Style Tai Chi under the 11th generation Chen Masters in Chenjiagou village.
What stimulated your interest?
I love Chinese Martial Arts and practiced very hard everyday. As part of my course I studied the 24 Step Simplified Tai Chi Form in 1981 whilst I was studying at university. My emphasis was on the Martial Arts applications, so this did not interest to me at all. Two years later I was amazed by the skills of a young student from the famous village of Chenjiagou during a new academic year recruitment meeting for new members of Martial Arts Association. That demonstration broadened my knowledge and inspired my interest of Chen Style Tai Chi. To me Chen Style combined perfectly movements for both Martial Arts applications and health purposes.
What does Taijiquan mean to you?
Taijiquan (Tai Chi) is a sequence of dynamic movements that combine soft and hard, with fast and slow actions, in a balanced and natural way that adheres to the philosophical Taoist principles of yin and yang from the “yijing” (Book of Changes). Contained within its framework are spiralling, twisting, and unique silk reeling energy movements, jumps, leaps and explosive energy releases.
During practice the body remains relaxed with the practitioner’s consciousness, breathing and actions all closely connected. These unique features enhance benefits to health, fitness, and weight-loss.
What is the most important aspect for you?
Taijiquan is more than a Martial Art and health exercise to me, it is my main job and gives me future guidance in my life. The Martial Arts applications are for self-defence, the health benefits makes you ‘fighting fit’ whilst the Tai Chi yin – yang philosophy point the way in your life to deal with people and society.
Who or what inspired you?
The first person was a young student, Mr. Li Xianming, who demonstrated the authentic Chen Style Tai Chi form to me for the very first time. I was sufficiently impresses to take up Tai Chi as part of my Martial Arts training. The second person is the Shaolin Kung Fu Grandmaster, Liang Yiquan, who is one of the Top Ten Martial Artists in current China. During a summer training course with him he personally pointed out that Tai Chi is an excellent internal Martial Arts system of movements that consist of all the essential skills for both self-defence and health benefits. He said he has personally learnt many Tai Chi techniques and principles of martial arts then made them his own. This surprised me because I always believed in the hard school of martial arts. My main training up to that point was Shaolin martial arts, with a bit of Tai Chi. During that conversation I learnt the difference between Shaolin and Tai Chi. In Shaolin one starts from Yang then introduces Yin and in Tai Chi one starts from Yin then introduces Yang. Both will reach the same goal of any martial arts of Yin Yang balance (with much practise), they are just walking along a different training path. In the end all martial arts are the same, where you can see no style or form. This is the highest level of any martial artist where you just do what is needed without any restrictions. If it works then keep it, do not through it away. All martial artists have their specialities and walk along different paths. The important thing is that they are walking in the same direction to the top of the mountain. People must pick the path they want to walk down, whatever style they prefer. This was a great revelation to me and opened my eyes. I personally wanted to pursue this so called internal art of Chen Style Tai Chi. Finally I found Grandmaster Chen Delin, Kongjie Gou, Chen Xiaowang and Chen Zhenglei who showed their wonderful Tai Chi movements and Push Hands skills to me. This left me in no doubt whatsoever of the martial ability of Tai Chi. Here I was a proud, heavily muscled martial artist confident in his own abilities, humbled by these highly skilful Tai Chi practitioners. Tai Chi is my main foundation, but I am aware of other martial systems. It is just that there is so much to practise in Tai Chi that it takes up all of my time. From that point onwards I became a very dedicated practitioner of Tai Chi and a full time professional instructor of Tai Chi for the rest of my life.
Do you have any person goals in Tai Chi?
- I currently hold the 7th Duan Wei of the Chinese Martial Arts grade awarded by the China Martial Arts Association and I will be working towards the top grade – 9th Duan Wei.
- I am going to establish a new large full time Tai Chi Centre in the UK, which will make it the best Centre of Chen Style Tai Chi in Europe.
- I am going to train at least 100 Tai Chi instructors to teach people proper Chen Style Tai Chi throughout Europe. As well as the above I would like to continue the following:
- Promote Tai Chi to benefit people and Teaching Tai Chi to its full potential.
- Publish and produce high quality books and dvds on Tai Chi.
- Organise the annual Tai Chi and Shaolin Kung Fu Show around the country.
- Organise Study Trips to China regularly to explore the source of Tai Chi.
- Invite the best Grandmaster to conduct seminars and workshops in the country.
What do you make of Tai Chi’s current popularity?
Although Tai Chi has its roots in martial arts, most people practise for health benefits and to reduce stress. The training exercises to develop high level martial arts are absolutely fantastic for your health. The Qigong and breathing exercises are fantastic for your internal health and your spirit. Basically I see people becoming increasingly stressed through work related issues. People want to exercise but do not like going to the gym due to time constraints or the monotony of it all. They also want to combine this with some socialising. I think Tai Chi combines all these aspects for people of all levels, hence it’s popularity. It is also a very good way of learning about Chinese culture. We often go to eat in Chinese restaurants where I can introduce foods that they would not necessarily choose themselves!
As a teacher, how do you feel about the martial aspect of the arts?
Chen Style Tai Chi is a highly effective, practical martial art system. There are punches, kicks, locks just like any other martial art. The source of the Tai Chi strength is what makes it different, mainly from relaxation. The martial aspect is the most important aspect of the art and it was the main purpose for creating the Tai Chi movements along with the breathing techniques and Yin – Yang philosophy. Historically Tai Chi was considered as an internal Martial Art and was recognised to be a self-defence skill. In recent years, people started to recognise that Tai Chi masters lived long and healthy lives in addition to their perfect martial arts skills. So now many people practise Tai Chi purely for the health benefits alone. I try and promote the martial aspects as this can only add to the students understanding of why they do certain movements. The more martial their form becomes the better their physical and mental health along with their Qigong development. They are all one and the same, the more you put in the more you get out of it.
What are your views on competition?
Competitions provide very good platform to give all Tai Chi practitioners an opportunity to show their skills to others, watch other people’s movement and judge the difference between themselves and others. It also gives practitioners the opportunity to learn and exchange skills with each other. The downside of these competitions is that there are many restrictions to the push-hands competitions. This makes it more like a wrestling competition. They are still very good for people to test their skill in a safe environment. Alternatively, if a student is very keen on testing their martial ability, there are many full contact competitions around the country.
What direction would you like to see Tai Chi go in the future?
I predict that we will eventually see a centralised grading system for all Chinese Martial Arts systems (Tai Chi, Ba Gua, Shaolin Kung Fu, etc.) as currently seen in China. All Chinese Martial Arts use the same basic elements: body structure, posture, intention, fluidity and power of movement, and it’s against this elemental knowledge that all forms can be assessed, regardless of style.
By introducing a more accurate grading system that clearly identifies the depth of knowledge an Instructor possesses would go some way of ensuring a higher level quality control. Grading each instructor on their breadth of knowledge (Tai Chi Form, Qigong and Internal Energy techniques, Martial Art Applications and Spiritual training) would also give a student greater information when selecting their teacher.
Under this Martial Arts Association, Tai Chi would become more unified and begin to attract the highest level of knowledge and skill from all the main branches (Chen, Yang, Wu, Cheng Manching, Wudang etc). Within each branch a specialised team of the most experienced instructors could be drawn together to disseminate this knowledge (both theoretical and practical) to all instructors of that style. This would create a school of excellence and a deep pool of high level knowledge that all teachers could access and pass on.
These measures would drive-up the level of knowledge and create a form of CPD (continuing professional development) that has been implemented in so many other service industries.
If the deepest levels of Tai Chi are accessible for all, everyone will benefit – both teacher and student. A trainee instructor would be able to successfully apply the techniques and theories to maximise the benefits to all those who study. This knowledge could then be used in any field that the instructor had access; within the NHS to assist in patient rehabilitation, or to produce sporting excellence for example.
Contact Liming: http://www.taichicentre.com