5 Ways Tai Chi Masters Hide Information and What To Do About It.

In the last 15 years our ability to share information has exploded. Between books, videos & youtube it’s easier than ever to find or publish information on almost any topic.

Unfortunately the quality of Tai Chi information has not caught up with the ability to share it. Misleading information is spread faster and knowing what to look for and what to avoid can be difficult.

To make matters worse this situation is perpetuated by many senior Tai Chi masters who do not want to impart any real skill to their students.

Here are 5 common ways Tai Chi masters hide information.

1) Overwhelming

Have you ever been to a seminar and learned a whole bunch of stuff but a week later you can’t remember much of anything?

This is a common byproduct of the seminar format. In a large event with a variety of teachers and lots of great information it becomes very difficult to focus on any one thing long enough to properly retain it.

Unscrupulous Tai Chi Masters know this and use it to their advantage by demonstrating a skill extensively and moving to the next topic without giving students enough time to practice that skill. This allows the teacher to look very impressive without actually teaching anything the students will remember in a couple weeks.

There are a couple ways to minimize the effects of overwhelming.

First, take notes whenever possible. The process of writing the information down will help a lot and if you review your notes in the days following the seminar you will retain a lot more information.

The second is to focus on flavor and not technique. Don’t try to memorize the forms, drills or techniques that a teacher is showing. Instead, focus on the quality of their movement, their body state and principles they are using in every technique they show.

2) Omitting

Leaving out vital pieces of information is another common tactic used by teachers who don’t want to impart skill to their students.

There are many ways to do this. A common one is simply not correcting basic postural errors.

For example the most common error we see among 20 year Tai Chi practitioners is that the lower back is out of alignment. This will separate the upper and lower body making all advanced skills impossible and it will cause lower back pain over time.

To keep students from realizing they are missing information Omitting is often combined with Misdirection.

3) Misdirection

One of the most common methods of misdirection (although there are many others) is the Tai Chi sets.

Students are often taught the choreography with very little instruction on what skills they should practice while doing the set. Questions are answered cryptically and with the implication that the student simply needs to practice the set more.

This leads to the belief that if students just practice the set enough someday they will have great skill with Tai Chi. Unfortunately without being taught those skills and shown how to practice them while doing the set these students are doing a lot of work for very little gain.

4) Misinformation

Also known as: Outright lies.

Unfortunately this is all to common. Here are a couple examples:

1) “The lower Dan Tien is the storage place for all the chi in the body.”

This is a half truth. If you dig deep enough you’ll find that the lower Dan Tien is a temporary storage place for excess chi.

If you do a lot of Chi Kung to build energy and then try to store it all in the lower Dan Tien a lot of it will dissipate and you are doing a lot of work for only a fraction of the benefit.

The long term storage place for chi is in the bone marrow.

2) Another common lie that Sigung Clear and several of his senior students have seen live is that “root is not important.”

One of the skills we train very early is the ability to look at someone and see or feel what they are doing with their root / center. So when you see a master use root to perform a skill and then he tells you he is not it becomes hard to take him seriously.

5) Over-Complication

This can be a problem in any complex field with a specialized vocabulary. For example it is fairly easy for a doctor, a physicist or a lawyer to speak in a way that only another skilled professional in their field can understand.

Everyone else in the room is impressed but clueless.

A skilled lawyer can spend hours spouting gibberish and sound very impressive as long as there’s not a more ethical lawyer in the room to call them on it.

Unfortunately Tai Chi is the same.

There is a lot in Tai Chi that can be explained clearly and simply. However many teachers choose not to.

The solution.

The solution is simple. We need more highly skilled Tai Chi players in the west. Knowledgeable teachers who share openly so that these amazing health, healing & self protection benefits can be experienced by everybody.

To achieve this goal we publish new information twice a week on our website, we have an extensive video catalog and we hold workshops on a semi regular basis.

And tomorrow we will announce an exciting new project where you can learn beginning to advanced Tai Chi online.

But more on that tomorrow…

There is one more piece that is essential.

In-fact it is the most important part of the solution.

The most important piece is you.

Do the work. Learn advanced internal skills and become a shining example of what is possible with quality Tai Chi.

With your help we can make sure that quality internal arts flourish in the 21st century.

Comments

  1. Very good article. I would add one other (sub)-category of mis-information though. As Richard Bandler and John Grinder discovered while developing Neuro Linguistic Programming, many skilled people don’t conciously know *How* they do what they do and often have incorrectly identified the *how*, they’re not deliberately mis-informing, they’re just wrong themselves.

    • Good point David. There is lot that could be written about those who unknowingly spread bad information because they don’t fully understand what they teach.

  2. Robert Shanken says:

    So bad info + poor teacher = terrible results.
    Put another way, one dummie teaching another dummie equals a dummie.
    This misinformed person gains accrediation from his/her teacher and then continues to spread pollution throughout the system.
    Does that about cover it?

    • That is one problem.

      However in this article we are talking about teachers who are highly skill and very knowledgeable. True Tai Chi masters who choose to use tactics like those discussed above to mislead the vast majority of their students.

      This of course leads to the problem you and David mentioned which is someone who is misinformed unknowingly spreading bad information.

      • Robert Shanken says:

        I have been lucky. In my short involvement with T’ai Chi, I have received very good instruction. Ben, I do not understand why someone would mislead their students. It just does not make sense to me. After all, the student is a direct reflection of themselves. That said, can it be that certain students do not receive information because they are not willing to put forth the effort to learn well?

        • I understand your skepticism it can be hard to appreciate the full extent of the problem without experiencing it first hand.

          Donn Dreager & Robert Smith list 4 shortcomings of Chinese boxing in their book Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts. Number one is: “Some excellent methods have died because of the fetish of secrecy.”

          Unfortunately this “fetish of secrecy” is especially bad in the internal arts. Many systems have a public or “open door” curriculum that is taught to almost anybody and a private or “closed door” curriculum that is only taught to close family members. In many arts it is tradition for only 1 or 2 people to learn the complete system.

          Protecting the “family secrets” like this makes a lot of sense before the invention of modern weaponry. Now days I feel the reasons for this secrecy are a lot less valid.

          Fortunately sites like youtube are saving the day. In the last couple years it has become possible for anyone to go online and see hundreds of practitioners performing any number of advanced skills. As the awareness of how much is really possible with the internal arts continues to grow the demand for how to acquire those skills is growing as well.

          We are just beginning to see a growing number of teachers who are teaching openly and as this trend continues less and less people will be willing to study from those who hide information.

          Our goal with ClearsTaiChi.com is to accelerate this process by sharing lots of great information on Tai Chi and training as many people as possible to become examples of what is possible with quality Tai Chi training.

  3. Great article! Unfortunately it is sometimes not only the senior “old school” master that withhold information. Younger teachers that want to make a name for themselves with do same to keep students around to “learn more” so they can one day “understand the secrets”. My sifu is a stickler for the basics, and never hesitated to instruct in such a way that we not only learned form and function, but also *how* to learn more in our own self practice. She never witholds information, yet makes sure we understand a concept fully before moving on. I only hope I can pay it forward with my own students. 🙂

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