Traditional Tai Chi Chuan Artisans
At first glance there would seem to be little use for traditional martial arts with traditional training methods. In the face of all this modern exercise science, who has time to develop Kung Fu and for what purpose? Perhaps this article will go some way to explain why I find that time within my busy modern life, not only to further develop my Kung Fu through traditional Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan, but also to pass it on to others.
My Sifu, Master John Ding, wrote a Chinese saying on the wall of his Kwoon (training hall) a couple of years ago which read, “Quality goods take time and effort”. It helps to remind me that acquisition of high level Kung Fu skill takes decades and is a journey full of pitfalls for the unwary traveller. It can seem inefficient and slow and at times pedantic, requiring great trust in your teacher. As a consequence it is for those that can see through the mind's superficial resistance to realise that there is time in life for both long and short. What do I mean by that? Well we all know the story of the tortoise and the hare attributed to Aesop don't we? When applying this to our life I think it is too narrow to say I am a hare or a tortoise. There are many aspects to our life – family, friends, job, interests, rest, activity. If you look carefully you can start to spot that in actual fact you have both the hare and the tortoise approach manifesting within all the different aspects of your life. Again, as explored in other articles, this is simply the concept of Yin and Yang expressing itself. The hare is Yang, the tortoise Yin. So for example you may attack your career like a hare, but with a long term plan like a tortoise. Or create a life in a moment of passion and then happily nurture that life for decades to reap the richness of family life in the future. Therefore despite how you may feel, there is definitely room to invest in something that takes time to come to fruition, because perhaps unnoticed, we do things like that all the time.
So if we can accept the possibility that investment to produce quality goods is a human trait that enriches us beyond money, the next 'block' to beginning to invest properly in Tai Chi may be related to your own material attitudes - will you pay for 'time and effort'?
Look back over your life if you will; how often have you willingly paid for quality goods that have taken time and effort to produce? I think it is something we have almost forgotten in modern society, perhaps seeing it as the capricious preserve of the rich. Look around your home – how many things were made just for you by a skilled individual? Not many I'll bet. After all, how could you ever justify the cost? But have you ever stopped still long enough to think about what the products of a skilled person mean? For example if you were buying real art directly from the artist would your instinct be to see how cheaply you could get that piece? Would you think of the days it took the artist to produce it? Not just the days of labour that they set aside, but the years of sacrifice it took for them to hone their skills – the everything that has made it possible for them to create this thing you must have. That time – those parts of the artisan's life - can never be given back to that artist: he has given them to you in that personal piece you now own.
Perhaps our understanding of what an artisan has put into their product has been greatly reduced in the western culture by modern manufacturing methods. Gone are the days where each 'thing' had to be individually carved, forged, painted or otherwise created. Click – and the machine makes 10,000 soulless impressions. Where things have been handmade they can often be found to have come from hidden, sweaty third world production lines where people slave for peanuts like battery chickens. The human population has increased to such a degree that mass production is the only way to provide for us all. But the emergent consumerist nightmare has emptied us of something – we are concerned about cost when something breaks or must be replaced – that is all. We rarely feel that anything unique or irreplaceable has vanished, we certainly don't feel the connection or respect for the human lives behind it.
Our elders often tell us how poor the quality of goods are these days, but do we listen? Do we care? I like quality items, but in the main mine are still mass produced. Quality these days means that the components of the product were more costly and the solution better engineered and so more money was spent on clever research and development. As a result of increased budgets in these areas, more money is often put into superficial design and so the item looks nicer too. But this is far from bespoke work.
Still, these items are definitely classified as luxury items. So, by extrapolation, gaining proficiency in all aspects of Traditional Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan in this modern age through a combination of mass and bespoke tuition over decades must be an über luxury item! The art manifesting in such a practitioner must be one of the richest and rarest things on earth! What they have must be like 10 Rolls Royces, 15 Picassos or the complete original works of Shakespeare! To what extent am I exaggerating? Perhaps not much, perhaps for some individuals, not at all.
I think this is a good way of looking at what Tai Chi practitioners do. In our modern lives – so full yet simultaneously so empty – perhaps a little investment in über luxury is required. Set aside some time and money each month for Tai Chi training and you could end up owning your own unique work of art within yourself and reaping all the fruit that comes with it: practical wisdom, health, understanding, warrior skills, and more.
So what can we take from this? Massive amounts of pride for a start. If you are in any way involved in Tai Chi Chuan, you are part of a growing movement helping to restore some balance in society. Recognise that you are an artisan – not just a fighter, self defence expert or even health guru. What you hold is deeper than the art's headline manifestations. You are a holder of ancient art, culture, philosophy and skill. It shows in everything you do. A solidity develops that all can see, with a depth and understanding of life that is hard to get without similar investment in an alternate intact tradition. Hold your head high and walk with confidence – you represent something so much deeper than anything money can directly buy, anything a machine can produce or tool can do.
This is why it is worthwhile protecting and respecting the traditional approach to the art of Tai Chi Chuan and those that practice it. For those with the mind to perceive it the art contains the essence of scholarly attainment and will naturally bring understanding of ancient principle that people all over the world love to look at, quote, but rarely understand. Ancient does not mean out of date: It is just as relevant now as it always has been. Densely populated cities in vast civilizations have come and gone many times over in the history of our species and the sort of knowledge contained in Traditional Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan has survived each time. I do hope that this article can help inspire you and maybe a few others to delve deeper into the real, authentic art we practice and develop under the watchful and critical eye of people such as my Sifu, Master Ding.