It is a great pleasure, when attending tai chi conferences, seminars, and competitions around the World to interact with people who practise balance as an art form. It is amazing how much fun such people can have. One might think that becoming profoundly aware of one’s centre and learning to adapt to the slightest imbalance or perturbation might make a tai chi expert particularly reserved or even boring. It seems that the opposite is usually the case.
It seems that when one is able to find balance easily, one can stray from the centre much more freely. So, while some tai chi gatherings are mellow and contemplative affairs, I have found that no group enjoys themselves more easily than tai chi folks.
There are many styles of tai chi, and within each style there are many variations and combinations. With each generation in each school, the focus of the art expands, narrows, deepens, and/or broadens according to local needs and potential. Some things are lost in one place and gained in another. This diversity ensures that, while no teacher is right for everyone, and no student is perfect for every school, serious students can find themselves good places to learn and improve. There are schools where the ancient traditions are preserved by dedicated and generous teachers. There are schools where research, change, and experimentation are the modes of operation. Yet other schools are dedicated to offering students a simplified and easily accessible version of a proven exercise.
Tai chi is practised by millions of people around the world. It is arguably the most popular martial art. But it is most definitely the most popular martial art to be practised by non-martial artists. Each person may have his or her own reason for “playing tai chi.” Health, relaxation, balance, therapeutic exercise, mental clarity, sport, meditation, self defence, combat effectiveness, recreation, spiritual discipline…Any one or all of these reasons may be the goals of individual schools.
One school may teach the same exercise to seniors seeking health and relaxation that they teach to teens and young adults seeking combat sport or extreme fitness. There is power in this plurality.
Camaraderie and Competition.
Conflict takes on a different meaning in tai chi circles as well, whether in committee or in competition. You might be shocked to learn that tai chi competitions even exist, since tai chi is supposed to be non-confrontational, after all. But being non-confrontational is not the same as being passive or non-engaging. As the ancient Daoist sage once said, “Yige Amishenren ye da bengxiu.” (Even the Amish play baseball.)
There are, in fact, several types of tai chi competitions – including but not limited to:
- routines that are scored by judges,
- restricted-step and free-stepping tuishou (pushing hands)
- sanshou (free hands)
- and even weapon sparring
It was while attending one of these competitions with my students that the unique character of tai chi became very apparent. One of my students was a 2nd degree black belt in another martial art before he began learning tai chi, and he had attended several martial arts tournaments over the years. He was impressed (dare I say “dumbfounded”) when he noticed competitors giving each other valuable advice in advance of their events. These competitors were from different countries, and different lineages. They had no affiliation whatsoever before they met. Yet here they were giving away their secrets right before confronting each other on the mat. The sharing continued over the next few days. At night, the hotel lobbies and conference rooms were occupied by ad-hoc gatherings of sleep-deprived martial artists from several countries. The were openly sharing knowledge, “playing taiji”, and occasionally acting out scenes from a Monty Python movie with tai chi swords and those cylindrical hotel ash cans.
This site has seen several changes since 2004. Efforts are ongoing to improve this site and make it as useful as possible to teachers and students of all styles. It is supported primarily by its membership. It has not been an easy road. But it has been an engaging one.
Now, we once again move with the times and adapt to the constantly changing reality. This new format for TaiChiCentral.com is the most promising yet. I have high hopes that it will be able to adapt and change with us as we work to promote and strengthen the diverse community of tai chi players around the world.
Event listings will still be edited manually by an administrator. School owners and instructors can submit information about events such as seminars, grand openings, celebrations, conferences, competitions etc. Events that are relevant to a global audience will be posted in the event calendar.
Other features planned for this site are a blog, seminar list, instructional videos, reference videos, articles, newsletters, lineage chart, advice for schools and teachers, and more.