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Yiheyuan Martial Arts

Real Tai Chi in Leeds, UK

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What We Teach

At Yiheyuan, we teach all three of the main Chinese Internal Martial Arts: Tai Chi Chuan, Hsing Yi Chuan and Ba Gua Zhang. The majority of our students come to us to learn Tai Chi, as it is the best known of the three in the UK and there are aspects of it that can be taught in a way that is not physically demanding, making it accessible to people of all ages and levels of fitness, unlike Hsing Yi and Ba Gua.

Martial Training
Although most of our students are attracted to Tai Chi as a gentle, meditative form of exercise, the martial applications of each movement are taught in all our classes and many students develop an interest in how to use their skills for self-protection. Of the many students who have learned Tai Chi with us, the majority of those who have found themselves in situations where they have had to use it to defend themselves on the street have been elderly ladies, who originally only practiced it for its health benefits but then found it helpful in enabling them to see off muggers out to steal their handbags!.

Most of our students train in push hands, and some practice this to a very high level. A few have elected to enter competitions and have gained medals in both fixed step and moving step pushing hands.  While the philosophy underlying Tai Chi is generally non-competitive, and some of our most skilled fighters decline opportunities to enter competitions, it can be a useful way in which to test our skills and discover a lot about our own psychology, including our mental attitude and how we handle stressful situations.  We therefore actively support those students who wish to train for such events.

Fight Clubs
For those students who wish to study practical self-protection skills in depth, we hold weekly “fight clubs” where people can practice effective combat strategies at different ranges, including grappling, ground-fighting and san shou/san da skills. Tai Chi Chuan is a complete fighting system when practiced fully, though some instructors choose to concentrate on certain aspects only. While the main emphasis of Tai Chi is to remain balanced and rooted in order to increase one’s chances of survival by staying on one’s feet, we feel that it is also important to learn what to do if a fight does go to the ground. We teach students how to deliver effective pre-emptive strikes as well as how to deflect and manipulate incoming forces, and we stress the importance of avoiding potential conflict situations in the first place, if possible, and explore ways of dealing with challenging and aggressive behaviour and helping others to calm down, where appropriate.

Higher Levels of Training
What use are strong muscles and superior fighting techniques to a man who is paralysed with fear or has never learned to control his own temper?

In addition to the physical training, our students learn to recognise the importance of the mental aspects of martial arts. In a fight, whether on the street or in a competition, physicals skills are useless if one is overwhelmed by fear or enraged to the point where judgement is impaired and energy is wasted through unnecessary tension.
Mastery of any martial art therefore requires mastery of one’s own mind above all else. Our students learn to recognise emotional arousal and its uses as a “fight or flight” survival response.  They also learn to develop strategies to manage their feelings and remain focussed in a crisis situation. The ability to keep one’s cool, take a wider view, see what needs to be done and have the courage to act upon it, is probably more valuable in terms of increasing one’s chances of survival than any amount of physical training.
Beyond this, the ability to step back into the “observing self” ultimately leads to the recognition that there is no separation between self and opponent. This is the highest goal of all true martial arts since it is the illusion of separateness which gives rise to conflict in the first place. The sense of connection and oneness makes it as ridiculous to wish to hurt someone intentionally as it would be for your left hand to pick a fight with your right hand, which is why there are so many legends of great masters meeting on a battlefield, bowing to each other and walking away without engaging in combat.
Some common misconceptions about Tai Chi

We are aware that there are many teachers, particularly in the West, who avoid any reference to martial arts when teaching Tai Chi.  We have read magazine articles and even books in which this is also the case, or there has been a single sentence claiming that "Tai Chi used to be a martial art".  This kind of mis-information perpetuates the common misconception among the general public that Tai Chi is just a gentle exercise system, similar to Yoga.  Those teachers who, like ourselves, teach a full and balanced syllabus, are often derided as "purists".  We have even been asked by potential employers to pretend that it isn't a martial art so that we "don't put people off".
Although peace is ultimately our objective, and we respect the view of our students and do everything we can to enable them to meet their individual needs, we will not demean our martial art by pretending that it is not a martial art at all. No one would ask this of a Karate or Ju Jitsu teacher and we therefore find it strange that it is often asked of teachers of Tai Chi, which is one of the oldest and most effective martial arts systems in the world.

Some practitioners of other martial arts tend to ridicule Tai Chi because of its outward appearance. They see soft, flowing movements and think of it as a kind of dance, and indeed this is what attracts many people to Tai Chi when they are seeking peace and relaxation.
However, the movements are slow because we study the dynamics of movement very carefully and learn each movement very precisely, including the correct use of breathing and the sources of internal power in the body. Movements practiced quickly from the beginning become sloppy and make it impossible to appreciate the internal aspects fully.
The movements are circular and flowing because a force released as a tangent from a circle is stronger than a force issued in a straight line (Compare throwing a brick in a normal way with tying a piece of string round the brick, swinging it round your head and then letting go!)
The slow, graceful training methods which, by happy coincidence, provide so many health benefits to millions of people worldwide, may be misleading to onlookers, but they are appreciated by advanced martial artists such as Karate black belts who often come to recognise their roots in the Chinese Internal Martial Arts and come to us to enhance and compliment their training by developing their understanding of internal power. In fact the word Karate, now translated as “empty hand”, originally meant “Chinese hand” in the Okinawan language, according to Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan Karate in his book “Karate-Do: My Way of Life”.  In our fight clubs, experts from various martial arts often come together to share their experience and discover their common ground with mutual respect and open-mindedness.
One can see similarities linking many of the martial arts, for example, the words of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, could just as easily have been written about Tai Chi:
“If you are centred, you can move freely. The physical centre is your belly; if your mind is set there as well, you are assured of victory in any endeavour.
Move like a beam of light;
Fly like lightning,
Strike like thunder,
Whirl in circles around
A stable centre.”
We will end with another quote from Ueshiba’s book,” The Art of Peace”:

“Heaven is right where you are standing,
and that is the place to train.”

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