The Taoist Sanctuary is in its 40th year this year. This anniversary came as a surprise to me and Bill - seems like we celebrated the 25th anniversary just a handful of years ago. Time marches on.
In the 40 years, we have taught 2 styles of Taijiquan - Yang style and Chen style. These days, we only teach the Chen style because we committed to the original style and the original methods, and we pass on the original forms of the Chen family, led by Grandmasters Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing. Our primary practice form is the Laojia Yilu, from which one studies the principles and internal methods of Taijiquan.
In the 40 years, we have chosen to maintain and disseminate the fundamental tenet that Taijiquan is a martial art, first and foremost, and that if it is studied properly, it will bring to the student not only martial skill, but additionally all of the health benefits that are being discovered by modern research using the scientific method.
As more of this research is published, the original forms of Taijiquan are being altered, shortened, renamed and offered in venues ranging from parks to the local YMCA to the fitness clubs. Tai Chi Chih, Tai Chi FIT, Tai Chi Zen are a few of these. In my own neighborhood of Southern California, there is a weekend certification course offered for aspiring teachers, supported by the government.
Am I glad Taijiquan is gaining in popularity? I’m not sure. I’m afraid that what is becoming popular is not actually Taijiquan at all, but an adaptation of only small pieces of the original art, created to appeal to a modern audience of short term dabblers. Someone I know took a weekend certification course recently, and was exclaiming proudly to me about how he is now “teaching” Taijiquan to all of his therapy patients. I have been studying this art for 20 years, and I know what he is teaching is most definitely NOT Taijiquan, but instead is a series of movements that outwardly resemble Taijiquan, devoid of even the basic principles of the art developed over 400 years ago.
The average person off the street doesn’t know the difference. It’s up to those of us who practice the original arts to educate those people by offering the art in its entirety, then they can make their choice. Most importantly, I believe that the people teaching these weekend courses and these adapted programs have a big responsibility to divulge the honest truth about what they are teaching to their customers, so that the customer will not go forth and present a simple movement exercise as representative as the Art of Taijiquan. My fear - that the people teaching these exercises don’t know the difference either, and that the original art will get so watered down that the genesis of Taijiquan will be lost.
Of course, things evolve, things change. But for these newest permutations of the ancient martial art of Taijiquan, let’s be clear about what’s being offered to the general public. It’s not Taijiquan.