Stop Fake Tai Chi

I saw this commentary video “Stop the Spread of Fake Tai Chi” from Aiping Tai Chi on the promotion by on learning Tai Chi online.

Many good points raised such as not giving a person a certificate and turning them into a qualified teacher on the basis of a piece of paper.

She explained about the importance of learning Tai Chi properly instead of just chasing after styles that offer hollow learning sanitized of its cultural heritage.

She took umbrage at the website’s offer of a certification learning program because she didn’t believe that it is possible to teach Tai Chi properly this easily.

She examined a video of the instructor demonstrating Tai Chi and explained why she does not think the instructor understood the art properly.

She contrasted this with a video of her own teacher to highlight the difference between what authentic and fake Tai Chi is.

She then had a look at some examples of applications put up at the website and pointed out what is wrong with them.

This is what I think of the fake versus real issue. You can’t stop people thinking that their fake Tai Chi is real any more than you can stop people from teaching fake Tai Chi even when they know its fake. There will always be people defending fake Tai Chi so criticizing them just reads like sour grapes.

I think its pretty pointless to say that someone’s Tai Chi fake and saying that your Tai Chi is authentic. How do you know that your own Tai Chi is really authentic? Who decides this? Tradition? Lineage? Cultural background? You can say that your Tai Chi is authentic and even put your teacher’s video up to justify the claim and I am sure someone will find grounds to point out that your teacher’s demo ain’t so hot either.

That’s why over the years I took a leaf out of the field of engineering to examine my own learning. No teacher will say that their Tai Chi is fake, I mean, they are not stupid, right(?), especially not if they want to teach because they have an itch to teach cause it boosts their ego and make them feel important.

In mechanical engineering when a motor is installed in a plant it should be commissioned and data collected to establish that the installation was properly carried out and the motor is running in accordance to the specifications agreed on between seller and buyer.

An example of this would be the buyer agreeing to accept the motor as long as it is within acceptable vibration limit. But then what constitutes an acceptable vibration limit? The buyer may agree to accept the seller’s proposed vibration limit if the seller is also the motor manufacturer. However, if the seller is not the manufacturer then both parties may agree to use an ISO standard for this purpose.

Even then this can be problematic because they are many ISO standards out there and both parties have to agree on the particular standard to be used. For example, an ISO standard that is meant for a ship should not be applied to an ISO standard developed for a plant on land. Why is this so? The reason is that ships are moving so the vibration acceptable limit for a motor operating on a ship is easily double that of a motor in a land plant.

At this point we should ask what is a reference standard? Why should we refer to it? Standards are like guidelines developed from good industry practices over a number of years. They would normally agree on which practice to base a standard on, form a committee to review it before codifying the information into a standard. The people in the committee are made up of experts from the industry and they can take years to review (sometimes more than a decade) the information before they finally come up with a reference standard.

Now in Tai Chi we do have reference standards. They are called the Tai Chi Classics. Whether these body of writings are actually written by the people who are claimed to be so is another question. There are also disagreements by some styles whether the entire body of works should apply to them.

This is what I think – if Tai Chi was originally one art then what is the problem of applying the Classics to all the styles of Tai Chi? Of course, some Tai Chi styles may have branched off into some other areas of specialization, negating some of the principles that would previously have applied to them. But still wouldn’t a large body of principles still be applicable?

So if we use the Tai Chi Classics as a standard to refer a performance wouldn’t that be better than using your opinion to label someone’s Tai Chi as fake? Instead, just term it as in-compliance or non-compliance. This is how ISO audits are carried out – if you do not conform to some parts of the standard then those parts are labelled as not complying to the particular clause and we have to rectify them.

Today with the abundance of information out there we can even add knowledge of anatomy and biomechanics to our assessment arsenal. We then have three areas to check our performance. If we want more we can add more. You can add push hands and sparring ability too down the line.

An example of how you can assess anyone’s Tai Chi performance :-

a) If you can see it done its probably more external than internal

b) If you can explain it easily then the level of performance is most probably beginner rather than advanced level

c) A performer may look soft and composed but if the leg is shaking then probably its not relaxed. If its not relaxed, then the rooting will be off and the ground force connection will be disrupted

d) If the movement is not economical in motion or efficient in movement then the movement will probably be impractical cause there are gaps in the movements

e) If the movement can only performed faster by moving faster instead of moving more efficiently then the performer needs more practice

Mind you the above does not tell you if a performer can apply his Tai Chi. That’s another story altogether for another day.

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