A certain friend of mine, who started on down a similar path of honest exploration and development in world of Chinese Internal Martial Arts, shall remain nameless.
He had studied under several people who should have otherwise known what they were doing.
It certainly seemed as if he was checking all the boxes. Doing all the forms. Pushing hands with all the right people.
But over the years, I began to notice a serious problem developing. And then came the end. He gave up Tai Chi and began practicing what might otherwise be called external martial arts.
Without getting into too many details I will record my general impression of what happened based my observations and conversations we had over the years.
One, this post isn’t finished yet. Two, this is not about one person in particular. Three, the purpose is to shed light on my own failures in life. I wouldn’t call it autobiographical, but rather a cautionary tale. An Aesop’s Appledog’s Fable.
Did not recognize the value of learning more than one form of Taijiquan.
No biggie. But I noticed it. I personally know three different styles of Taijiquan and within that I know at least two different forms in each style. I can tell you that I have received incredible value in each style. When I initially went from Yang to Chen I thought I could leave Yang style behind forever, but I was wrong. I now see value in some of the moves that merit practice. Then when I learned Sun style I thought it was next to useless, but as I learned it I realized how valuable it was. I also have learned variations of several forms, especially in Chen style and moreso in Yang. I see incredible value in these experiences. However, this person did not at the time see any value in more than one or two long forms. I will also point out that this person showed a strange lack of awareness and appreciation for the history and development of Taijiquan as it was passed down through the Chens, Yangs, et cetera, through the Japanese invasion, Cultural revolution, etc.
Even if you do not concurrently practice more than one style of Tai Chi, don’t sell yourself short; don’t get stuck in a rut. Sometimes, perspective is everything.
All over the place in other arts.
Perhaps most striking considering the above was his willingness to explore non-taichi arts; practices such as Yoga, Xingyi, Bagua, whatever. You name it! He eventually found himself baishi’d into a lineage that practiced a series of different martial arts as well. Not suprising. There’s nothing wrong with this per se, it can be done. But based on what I was able to glean from his forms, he did not have a firm foundation in the theory and practice of the basic shenfa of the arts he was practicing. I would say he had a wide but not deep experience with the arts he did. The lack of depth began to show in strange and unexpected ways. Several of the things he commented on showed a lack of experience and knowledge one would expect from someone who had done a lifetime of research into the available material. For example, he apparently was one of the “doesn’t believe in qi” people. I am certain the amount of cross-pollination he was willing to do was limiting his development in any one style.
Fundamental lack of information and knowledge of Qi.
One of the most striking things I picked up on was that this person talked about the arts like they had absolutely no idea what Qi was, even going so far as to give a throw in of support of sorts with the Martial Tai Chi/Joanna Zorya crowd. This was the first major red flag that something was up. Someone in this person’s position should have already reached that level of development. The confusion over it told me something was very likely wrong with the training regimen. The funny thing is that he told me that he has felt qi before, but with the caveat that qi is subjective, and that what he has felt he doesn’t want to explain because it’s different for everybody. In a way I am still undecided on his qi experiences, but remaining unsold in this case would be a strike against him here. The final weight was the way in which he would ask questions and puzzle over certain topics as if he didn’t know the answer and then, in the end, fail to provide a clear and strong answer to that same question. When I see people doing this I call it “puzzling”, or “fishing” for answers. I feel that they do it because they feel unsure about what they know, which tells me they haven’t put in the time and effort to figure it out, or haven’t been taught properly, or both. Of course, I can’t see into his stomach so I don’t know what he really ate. Just an impression.
Strange Fascination with applying Western Science to Chinese Martial Arts
Over and over I noticed that a lack of knowledge of the traditional way was being replaced by (or fueled by) a desire to re-examine the traditional way and understand it in the manner of western scientific thinking, Western sports-medicine knowledge, and so forth. I will explain another time why this is a damaged approach in order to keep this post short. Remind me if I forget.
Promotion of “Free-form Shoving Hands” in the guise of Push Hands
Several times he would comment that what amounted to yanking, bracing, clinching and and shoving was good push hands. A second major red flag. This is particularly ironic since he claimed to have some skill and success in push hands when practicing vs. various people (despite his inability to produce or feel qi). However again I will caution that when pressed he seems to give an explanation of push hands which is in-line with what it says in the classics. It’s odd, that there seems to be a sort of blind inclusiveness to his writings on push hands — as long as it isn’t direct force against force with tension supporting the force, it is useful.
Fascination with Technical Details
One thing which popped out at me was a repeated over-analysis of technical details, which showed me he was stuck at a clear-force / obvious expression stage.
See: part 2 (next)