This post is written for the Tai Chi beginner or someone who still looks for high quality Teaching. The questions are about what you are looking for, Tai Chi as health, martial art, for spiritual development or for show and competition. Maybe you are already studying but still look for something more or want to check something else? Here I will try clear up some mistakes about styles and what Tai Chi can appear to be, but maybe is not.
Common questions for beginners or people who are looking for Tai Chi are: What style suits me best? What style is the best? Any of these or similar questions have a big problem. Style does not proof anything of the quality of a teacher’s Tai Chi or what kind of methods are prevalent in what he or she teach.
Amongst more advanced practitioners from various styles, there is often a common notion that in Tai Chi, at it’s essence, there are no styles and what forms you practice doesn’t matter, and that there are only Tai Chi principles and non-Tai Chi principles. But this kind of statements does not help you either. Style still matter for a beginner or someone who is still looking for high quality teaching or really authentic Tai Chi. What style you practice matter, in what lineage you practice matter, in what organisation matter. But what does not matter is what any person tell you about a style. And still, the style itself does not matter. Yes, I understand that this can seem cryptic and hard to understand.
There is no common or widely accepted standard in Tai Chi
It said that Chen style is the original style, so if you want to get close to the origins, you should study Chen Style. It is said that Yang Style is the most “daoistic” and utilise soft principle more than Chen style. It is said that Sun style is especially fit for older people and that the Sun form has less impact on the knees. But in many sense none of these things are true. Tai Chi has changed, developed and most of the variants are very modern. Chen Style in China is used to lure in tourists and the versions that are studied briefly by students is what comes over here. Yang style is used for modern variations that are often taught as short courses in China. Chen style is said to be harder than Yang. But Chen teachers can be extremely soft and focus mostly on soft methods. Yang Style can be very hard and some schools teach “iron body” methods to teach the body to withstand hard blows. There is often a tremendous difference between teachers that claim to teach the same style. Sometimes even between teachers from the same style or between teachers who claim to have the same “Master” or “Chief Instructor”. You need to realise that in Tai Chi there is no standard of how Tai Chi should be taught, no standard curriculum and no standard of teaching methods.
Health T’ai Chi variants
The question is WHAT Tai Chi you are looking for regardless style or outer appearance. Forget this things and ask yourself if you want practice only for health or if you want the martial art. If you want health Tai Chi, do you want a traditional or a modern version? Every style has both. If you ask a teacher, try to ask about meditation aspects, standing meditation or stance practice. Ask about “jibengong”, basic practice for building “shenfa” or body methods. Is it a traditional or short modern form they teach? Or both? How fast does the progress go? You must also ask yourself if you just want a course of a semester or a year or dedicate yourself to the art for a much longer period.
Martial T’ai Chi Ch’uan
If you want the martial arts aspects. Do you look for an older method relying on principles or a more modern one relying on technique? Do they teach traditional ways for power development? Do they only rely on Push Hands? Is the aim a personal art only or does the teacher want you to compete? It might be hard to ask the right questions. Tai Chi can be perceived as a strange puzzle with pieces that does not really fit. Everyone express themselves differently and have different opinions on how Tai Chi should be taught. Personally, I would not recommend a teacher that mix traditional with modern methods or with hard methods from other styles. In my own opinion, there should be a very strong focus on principle. But it should not be too narrow and focus on Push hands only.
And a final advice – don’t look for any kind of short cut
Tai Chi as a traditional art is very broad. There are methods for health practice, stance practice, solo drills. Some teachers add qigong or use Tai Chi movements as Qigong. Some teachers practice together with music, others add sitting meditation. All of this is fine. As a martial art, there are many aspects of martial arts, drills, basic exercises. Tai Chi also has it’s own specific tactics and strategies. There are methods to generate striking power that is quite different from the “hard styles”.
Searching for genuine Tai Chi, if that is what you are looking for, can take a lot of time and effort. Use your own judgement and don’t confuse visual expression and shallow things with principle. Don’t listen to anyone who says that Tai Chi is easy. Understanding Tai Chi takes time and effort. There are no short cuts. If you want the “real thing” you need to be prepared to put in the time and effort necessary.