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Yiheyuan Martial Arts

Real Tai Chi in Leeds, UK

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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.
 
WRONG   
 
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.
 
HOWEVER
 
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, and so offer it as a kind of watered down exercise system instead.  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.
 
WRONG    
 
Tai Chi is not a religion, it is a martial art.  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.  Tai Chi practitioners have even been excluded from a "multi-faith" room with a Tai Chi Symbol on the door!
 
HOWEVER
 
It is not surprising, in some ways, that people think that Tai Chi has something to do with Eastern religion, 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.  In China, Tai Chi is practiced in Wu Dang and Shaolin temples with their strong Taoist and Chan Buddhist traditions. 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, like us.
 
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
 
WRONG
 
It takes an average of ten years to become a competent Tai Chi instructor.  Some (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.  In our school, 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.  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. In fact, it is the root that many other martial arts developed from in the first place.
 
HOWEVER
 
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 - for one afternoon!.  A couple of weeks later they proudly proclaimed themselves to be fully qualified Tai Chi instructors, 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 do and 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.

 

TAI CHI TRAVESTIES
 
Though the popular misconceptions above are bad enough, we do hear a lot worse. 
 
Just the other day we heard of a lady who is going round other people's classes telling their students that it is not safe for ladies to practice the Yang Style Long Form because it was designed for men!  This indicates a complete lack of awareness that "Yang", in the case of the long form, refers not to Yin and Yang but to the Yang family who developed it.
 
This is not, however an isolated case.  A few years ago, a man turned up at one of my classes claiming to be a qualified Tai Chi instructor with ten years experience.  He put an arm round my shoulder and said: "I'm sorry to have to tell you this dear but yours is only the Yang Style; ours is the original yin-yang style."   He was entirely oblivious to the fact that, not only was "Yang" a family name but  also that all styles of Tai Chi are based on the concept of Yin and Yang.

The strange things we have heard over the years would be funny if people had not payed out lots of money to the perpetrators. 
 
Our advice would be for members of the public to be very wary of people offering to manipulate their mysterious energies or claiming that their own style of Tai Chi is the only one practiced anywhere in the world (Conveniently ignoring the millions practicing Chen, Yang, Wu, Hao etc) or  that their own system was passed down to mankind by nine foot aliens in shiny golden suits; or that their whole transition was transmitted to them by an old man in a park one Saturday afternoon or by the ghost of Chang San Feng or their dead master at his graveside!  We kid you not!!! :[
 
After several decades of hearing reports of such travesties, a host of mortified individuals have finally persuaded us to set up a new website:


a dedicated Tai Chi information site where we attempt to set the record straight by telling it like it is!

The site is very new and still under development but we're getting there.



We may add to this list from time to time, but for now we hope that this will help to overcome some of the prejudice around and also help to prevent a few people from being ripped off.
 

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