Tai Chi Myths Exploded
The purpose of this page is to set the record straight with regard to some common misconceptions that crop up again and again.
Here are a few examples of the enduring myths we come across:
MYTH # 1. Tai Chi used to be a martial art but is now just a gentle form of exercise.
Tai Chi is still a martial art and it's one of the most effective martial arts around for anyone with sufficient intelligence and patience to learn it properly. It does, of course, provide gentle exercise, suitable for all age groups, but it can also provide rigorous training and develop useful fighting skills for those who wish to pursue this aspect.
We can sympathise with people who have gained this impression since it looks slow and relaxing and there are so many teachers around who are not into the fighting side, either because the idea of self-protection offends them in some way or because they don't have sufficient interest or patience to learn it, or because they simply want to offer an exercise system to improve people's health, which is admirable providing they don't then go on to say that it is not a martial art at all and so undermine their martial art. It's hard to imagine anyone doing the same thing with Karate or Brazilian Ju Jutsu, but it's a myth that Tai Chi practitioners have always had to put up with.
MYTH # 2. Tai Chi is a religious practice.
Tai Chi is not a religion, or an "occult practice", it is a martial art and a great method of exercise. We occasionally hear of groups of old ladies being prevented from hiring church halls for their weekly Tai Chi exercise classes due to this particular misconception. Astonishingly, we have even been refused access to multi faith rooms which were intended for use by people of all faiths (and even had yin-yang symbols on the doors) yet excluded Tai Chi practitioners without any explanation given.
It is not surprising in some ways, as there are some Tai Chi Teachers who are also Taoists, and some of the Tai Chi principles are derived from the philosophy underlying the Wu Chi and Tai Chi symbols, which are Taoist in origin. On the other hand, many Christians, Muslims, Atheists, Buddhists, Agnostics, Sikhs and people from virtually every belief system, culture and walk of life practice Tai Chi and and though some teachers may have an interest in Taoism, many have other religious beliefs or don't have a religion at all.
Again, we sympathise with those who have got the wrong message since, for anyone unfamiliar with this martial art, it is difficult to differentiate between the real stuff and some decidedly dodgy stuff that goes on - we do come across the occasional cult using the name of Tai Chi or Taoism to further its aims. Since even governing bodies have been deceived by some of this stuff, it makes it even harder to know what you are getting so perhaps some caution is justified.
On the other hand, groups of older people trying to keep fit are not likely to pose any kind of threat to established religions, unless we take into consideration the tendency for Tai Chi exercise to help people to calm down and think more rationally, which could make them less easily led. If this causes anyone concern, then sadly we have no sympathy.
MYTH # 3. A complete beginner can train to be a Tai Chi teacher in a couple of weekends
It takes an average of ten years to become a competent instructor of Tai Chi Chuan. Some people who have a fair level of natural talent to begin with have done it in less time but most take rather longer to assimilate all the skills and knowledge required. Normally, the minimum standard of Tai Chi skill required is the equivalent of a black belt in Karate and includes hand forms, weapons and martial applications. Although it could take less time to learn how to teach Tai Chi for Health and Relaxation only, achieving a high enough level of skill to do this safely requires considerable time and patience and some people reach this level more slowly than others, if at all. Therefore no one can guarantee to teach you to be an instructor just by having you pay a certain amount of money or attend a course of a particular length. In the end it comes down to your own capabilities, however long and intensive the training.
Our own instructors not only have advanced skills but they have also proved themselves to be capable of communicating these skills effectively and safely to others and have a portfolio of evidence to prove it. Nobody would expect to acquire a Karate or Judo black belt, or a professional teaching qualification, in a couple of weekends, yet people imagine this to be possible in Tai Chi. As with any martial art, Tai Chi mastery requires dedication, intelligence and patient practice over a long period of time. In fact it normally takes at least twice as long to master Tai Chi than any other martial art because of its complexity and subtlety. Historically, it is the root that many other martial arts developed from in the first place.
Again, members of the public can be excused for thinking otherwise since there are so many con-artists out there eager to take your money for their services.
It's sad that there are people who demean our profession in this way, but without greater public awareness of the reality, there seems to be little we can do to stop them. For example, two people we know, with no previous experience, asked if we could teach them how to teach Tai Chi over a weekend. When we declined, they thought we were being difficult and bought in someone else instead. A couple of weeks later they proudly proclaimed themselves to be fully qualified Tai Chi instructors, having "studied it for a whole day last Saturday" which kind of makes a mockery of all the long years of hard work our own instructors have put in, and these were not what you might consider to be gullible people; they were senior medical practitioners in a hospital!
Another example is a College lecturer who went on a three hour "instructor training programme" one afternoon and came back convinced that she could now teach Tai Chi on her courses. When asked what she had learned she replied that "it was easy, you just wave your arms around and activate your chakra centres"!
It's not even as if you get what you pay for, since some of these charlatans charge people thousands to learn to teach their bogus and often unsafe styles and systems, while we charge very little since we consider that a person's courage, hard work and discipline over many years should be rewarded and like to give something back to them by facilitating their development as teachers and helping them to become established.
Unfortunately our altruism may be counter-productive since we remain known only to the dwindling few who actually know what Tai Chi is, while blatant rip-off merchants merrily rake it in and thrive.
Also,Tai Chi is not:
1. Something that an aerobics teacher can incorporate into their classes by attending an afternoon "conversion course".
2. A bit of "gentle arm-waving" added onto the end of a "Combat", "Pilates" or "Aqua" class as part of the "cool down."
3. A type of "Chinese Yoga".
4. Something you do while laying down on the floor on mats.
5. Something that was handed down to mankind thousands of years ago by nine foot aliens in shiny golden suits.
We have come across examples of all of these and more, including:
A chap who reckons that he received his master's teaching after he had died, while standing at his graveside, and was also taught by the ghost of Chang San Feng. (We kid you not - and this guy charges thousands for his seminars!)
Another chap who claimed he was taught a complete system in a park one afternoon by a passing stranger who liked the look of him. On the strength of this, he wrote several books and set up an organisation which is now international. This was possible because of the lack of knowledge about Tai Chi in the UK among members of the public, governing bodies, educational establishments and other organisations.
A woman who is currently going around her town to other teachers' classes, telling their students that it is dangerous for females to practice Yang Style Tai Chi because the Yang Long Form was designed for men! This lady obviously has no idea that Yang is the name of the family who developed this style of Tai Chi. She has confused the word Yang with the philosophical concepts of Yin and Yang, which are the foundation of all Tai Chi, including Yang Style.
A similar misunderstanding cropped up a few years ago when a man who had been an instructor of his own style for ten years went along to a class and told the teacher: "I hate to tell you this dear but you're only doing the Yang Style;ours is the original Yin/Yang style."
We have also been asked by prospective employers to "pretend that it's not a martial art so as not to put people off." No one would ask this of a Karate or Judo instructor!
It is in the face of such widespread ignorance and mis-information that genuine Tai Chi teachers struggle to pass on their martial art. This website is our attempt to set the record straight on behalf of all genuine teachers and their students.
You would also do well to avoid those who refer to themselves as "Master" or "Sifu" or "revered father" and insist that you address them in this manner and bow to them if you happen to pass them on the street or in Tesco.
No matter how long you have been practising Tai Chi, there is always more to explore (which is what makes it so rich and rewarding). Good teachers recognise this and are therefore usually humble. The title of master is conferred on them by those who recognise their mastery. By all means, respect your teacher but remember that a teacher is just a fellow student who is a little further along the road than you are and can help you with your next steps. There is nothing more dangerous than a teacher who thinks he/she knows everything and demands your adulation to feed their ego!
As a great Philosopher once said:
"A school should exist not only to teach but also to investigate, not only to formulate prematurely a finalized system but to remain creative,
to go on testing theories by applying them and by validating ideas by experience."