In the 1950’s Liu Wan Fu fought in the last full contact death matches in China.
He never won a match with a clean technique straight from the form.
He told me this when I studied from him in the early 90’s. So I asked him “Why are you teaching me forms?”
He said that “for a skilled martial artist, forms serve as a library of techniques.”
This is a great metaphor. Libraries are excellent storehouses of information… but only for those who can read.
Illiterate monks are destroying Tai Chi.
Before the printing press the only way a library could preserve information was to copy it by hand. In many cases the monks doing the copying where illiterate.
They could copy the shapes of the letters and create beautiful manuscripts but they could not benefit from any of the information contained within their works.
Today there are Tai Chi “Monks” in every city in America copying their forms, making them look pretty and passing them on to future generations with no understanding of what they are doing.
The form provides no benefit without understanding.
The best you can hope for is the same benefits you could get from a brisk walk and some diaphragmatic breathing. This is a start but it is only a pale shadow of what Tai Chi can do.
But it gets worse…
The real danger is Sally. Sally doesn’t know the first thing about Tai Chi but she’s heard that it’s supposed to be good for you. So she signed up for a 8 week session from her local illiterate monk and paid $80.
Sally stuck it out for the full 8 weeks but by the end of it her feet hurt and she didn’t feel any better than she did when she started.
Sally will never consider studying Tai Chi again.
Any Tai Chi.
She doesn’t know that she had an illiterate instructor and she’ll tell all her friends that Tai Chi ain’t all its cracked up to be.
There are thousands of Sallys all across the America.
We must stop these illiterate Tai Chi monks before they destroy the art that we love.
The only way to do this is to spread quality Tai Chi. If you are a student always seek out the best information you can find. If you are also a teacher then teach openly and make sure every student you encounter benefits from the experience.
Tai Chi is powerful art for health and for self defense. The forms of Tai Chi are a central component of the art. However, they are only a small piece of what Tai Chi is. In this series of articles I will be going beyond the form in hopes that you will be able to reap the many benefits of this amazing art.