Tai Chi is a Chinese art – for good and for worse. It bears a whole lot of fascinating thought and tradition. But as it usually practiced and taught today, it has also inherited the worst of the Chinese teaching system.
Frankly and completely honestly said – the Chinese teaching and learning system today, as it is seen in schools and institutions is completely dumbing as it’s based on learning but not thinking. Everything is about doing what the teachers do, not about creating, not learning. This is all too present in the whole Chinese society and whenever it comes to teaching and learning.
You find this in Chinese arts as in calligraphy and painting where you follow your teacher and write and paint in a standardized manner. All strokes, bamboo, flowers, mountains and shrimps, everything looks the same, painted with the same strokes, the same techniques to look identical to what the teacher made. There’s no room for creativity, no space for experimenting or using the tools to find out how to use them in another way.
You will find the same attitude and tradition of learning if you look at children’s “interest classes”. Chinese parents can spend half of their salary on these things. I know a kid less than ten years who studies robot Engineering and programming. All they do is – teacher does and they do after, exactly the same. They just do, never learn. Earlier he went to a “lego class”. The same, no creativity, just building models following the teacher.
T’ai Chi Chuan usually follows the same model. The teacher performs the movements of a form – the students follow. Often the teacher corrects the student’s movements, but it’s all a very mechanical teaching and learning style. There’s really no thinking and judging involved. Just following movements and remembering rules. What a tragedy it is that people believe that this is the way T’ai Chi should be taught!
In earlier days, before Tai Chi was called as such, the art was not taught this way at all. There was no fixed form at all. The art developed as individual movements and drills. One movement was to be perfected before another was taught. Thereafter, when movements were stringed together, the teachers taught rules or made suggestions on how to string them together and the students could create their own forms. There was much creativity and experimenting involved.
The Taiji Boxing that Xu taught was called Thirty-Seven, because it had thirty-seven posture names. In this boxing art, each posture was to be trained to perfection and only then could the next posture be practiced, and the student was not allowed to be impatient.
(Source of quote, Brennan Translation)
One of the Chinese teachers that I have had followed much of this old tradition. He would usually only teach five basic movements for two years. Every possible attack or defense could be formulated through these five movements. It was a condensed version of the whole art. Later, if his students wanted to learn a form, he would send off the students to other teachers and he didn’t care what form or what style they learned. He believed that all T’ai Chi Ch’uan or Taijiquan is just one art. I agree. All style differences are superficial. The principles are the same. Where all of the different styles meet, there is T’ai Chi. To understand this, you must understand the principles. The external movement and visual expression is not important. What people usually focus on is not important. They focus on wrong things and do not understand how to explore the arts be themselves. Not everything is good about Chinese learning methods. Not everything or how it is taught is old and profound. There is a fundamental problem with the teaching of the art, a real Tragedy of modern T’ai Chi.