Despite the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s, the International Tai Chi Chuan Symposium attracted more than 400 enthusiastic participants in July.
While they were able to learn 16-form Tai Chi sets taught by masters of the five major styles, one of the most interesting aspects of the symposium were the panel discussions involving the masters, scientists and researchers and long time practitioners in the U.S.
In addition, there were interesting keynote addresses by the five masters plus presentations by prominent researchers on the benefits of Tai Chi Chuan as well as demonstrations.
One of the more interesting discussions occurred when a researchers requested that there be a short, standardized form designed that could be used for tests about the benefits of Tai Chi Chuan. This brought about a challenging discussion about whether it was possible to standardize a form and whether a form of nine or 10 movements would be a valid test of Tai Chi Chuan benefits.
Of course, one can create a form of nine or ten Tai Chi movements. Also, participants in a study who are learning the form may experience benefits as long as they are learning the form two or three days a week for an hour or an hour and a half each class. But such research would never show the benefits from doing a traditional Tai Chi Chuan form.
But it is highly unlikely that a person practicing such a short form would benefit much from doing it only once a day. I think practicing such a short form would be so unproductive that most people would abandon their practice before long.
Some years ago I saw an ad for a Tai Chi video billed as a three minute workout. On the other hand, there was a teacher in the Northwest, who taught a Yang style form that contained left and right postures and took an hour and a quarter to complete.
I personally practice a Yang style form that takes 30 to 40 minutes to complete. I don’t think I would have gotten the same benefits nor have the same enthusiasm practicing a much shorter form.
The researcher was quite adamant about a shorter form and at least one veteran Tai Chi practitioner agreed that a shorter, balanced form could be created for the purpose of a scientific study.
Regardless of the form one practices, the benefits are directly related to the time one puts in as well as the quality of that time. Doing the form one must use the mind—small mind and large mind.
All the masters at the symposium emphasized the use of the mind. But what does that mean? It means awareness, mindfulness and the effort to understand the relationships between mind and body and how the body works and how the mind works.
Bringing together academics and practitioners was very interesting and beneficial. Both had a lot to contribute. But I had the feeling that some of the academics had never learned Tai Chi Chuan and didn’t know much about it.
But, as several academics mentioned, various agencies are now willing to spend a lot of money for research on Tai Chi’s benefits.
The masters suggested that Tai Chi practitioners try to understand more about Chinese culture as a way to better understand Tai Chi Chuan and to improve their practice. This is a very good suggestion. Chinese culture as embodied by the I Ching, Confucius and Lao Tzu and many subsequent scholars and philosophers has much to offer.
The world is now in transition as people encounter many different cultures. The more people learn to understand different cultures, the more they grow. The United States and many other countries have many different cultures and are all the better for it.
Tai Chi Chuan is a product of classic Chinese culture so one can enrich one’s practice by learning more about it. Ma Hailong, son of Wu stylist Ma Yueh-liang, tells a story in this issue about a student asking about the difficulty of a non-Chinese learning Tai Chi.
He responded that if the student works hard he can reach a high level. But as a comparison, he also said that he likes the jazz music of the 1930s and 1940s. But he acknowledged that it was difficult for him as a Chinese to sing it with the same quality of the people who created jazz.
It was good to see many people I hadn’t seen in a long time. Chen Zhenglei I first met in 1983 in the Chen village. Yang Zhenduo reminded me that we first met 19 years ago. And there were people like Pat Rice, J. Justin Meehan, Andy Lee and Dr. Jay Dunbar, veterans of A Taste of China and Jou Tsung Hwa’s Tai Chi Farm and Bill Walsh, New York director for Yang family Association.
Yang Zhenduo, who has made great efforts spread the word about Tai Chi Chuan, is optimistic about its future. The Chinese government is giving Tai Chi Chuan its support and Tai Chi is becoming more popular overseas. Equally important, Yang Zhenduo is supporting the interaction of the different Tai Chi Chuan families so that they can work together with mutual respect. At 84, he still teaches with the same gusto that he has always had.•