Meet Joanna Zorya

Joanna Zorya

How many years have you been practising Taijiquan? 8 years.

What stimulated your interest? I was looking for a good fighting style and my research drew me towards Baguazhang, Xingyiquan and Taijiquan. I also studied some Eskrima, Silat, and a little Seven Star Praying Mantis, but for me the Daoist styles were the most suitable because I am a Daoist. These arts make sense to me philosophically, intellectually and spiritually.

What does Taijiquan mean to you? It is a martial art, pure and simple. I interpret the words Tai ji quan to mean Great Polarity Boxing. So to live up to its name, Taijiquan has to be practised as a boxing style and it must also have differentiation between hard and soft, fast and slow. The Taiji symbol is 50% yin and 50% yang, so I don’t think Taijiquan should be considered as being limited to a single tactic – that of soft overcoming hard. Zheng Manqing stressed the importance of looking to the Taiji Classics for guidance. Chen Wangting wrote about ‘charging back to reclaim the victory’, Wang Zongyue wrote about ‘crowding a retreating opponent all the more.’ So it’s clear to me that Taijiquan must have yang as well as yin methods. The most crucial thing is learning how to fight: you can work on refining your power when you have some power to refine. The motto of my school is ‘Safeguarding Oneself, Defending Others.’

What is the most important aspect for you? Chen Xin emphasised the importance of reeling silk power. Taijiquan has really helped me to get to grips with the reeling silk movement method as well as teaching me how to be soft sometimes. Before I studied Taijiquan, I only really knew how to advance.

Do you have any personal goals in Taiji? Yes. It is my personal mission to try to help to restore Taijiquan’s martial credentials in the public eye and elevate it from the quagmire of new-age fads and so-called ‘Alternative Therapies.’ I will feel like I have succeeded when I start getting a few more phone inquiries from actual martial artists and a few less from new-age pagan Buddhist shamans looking for the fountain of eternal youth without ever having to break a sweat. As it is, most potential students are put off when I tell them about the martial emphasis of my classes or that I use a compulsory grading syllabus. ‘What you mean you actually have to learn this stuff?’ If anyone ever does ring me to inquire about martial arts classes, they are usually put off by the fact that I teach Taiji, so the current situation is very bad.

Who or what inspired you? I resisted studying Taijiquan until I encountered the work of people like Dan Docherty, Nigel Sutton and Feng Zhiqiang. They convinced me that Taiji could actually be practised as a martial art. Although I mostly teach the Zheng Manqing style, aesthetically I’ve only ever really liked the Chen style because it is powerful as well as graceful. My desert Island book would be My desert Island book would be “The Sword Polisher’s Record” by Adam Hsu, I always find something useful in that. I always find something useful in that.

What do you make of Taijiquan’s current popularity?

Well I don’t think that real Taijiquan is at all popular. I wouldn’t actually call most of the popular stuff that’s around Taijiquan.

As a teacher, how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art? Taijiquan is a martial art, so there is no separable ‘martial aspect.’ If you’re not practising it as a martial art, you’re not practising Taijiquan.

What are your views on competition? I’m not particularly interested in competitions because I prefer to emphasise the mutual benefits of practising real martial applications with fellow students. Getting hit or thrown around can be as educational as doing the hitting or throwing – it teaches you how to root and helps you to develop fearlessness. I don’t think it is possible to be relaxed in a combat situation and ‘move second, arrive first’ unless you’ve had plenty of martial experience. I don’t have anything against competitions, but I don’t think Taijiquan should become too stylised away from actual combat.

What direction would you like to see Taijiquan going in the future? More fighting, less fluff. Tel: 01422 881 587