Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The archeology of tai chi

Tai chi, like chi kung and meditation, has always been primarily a oral discipline rather than a written one. One learned from a teacher or sifu rather than learned it through reading a book. In the past, some prominent masters published their training notes, but with a verbal tradition in mind, the notes only form part of the whole discipline if at all, more likely to be passed along chiefly as a proof of lineage. For example, this is the "Three level internal power training" by a prominent Wu-style (武式太极:郝为真):


In essence, it says the three levels are: level one like standing on ground with water surrounding the body, level two like swimming in water, level three, like standing precariously on water (or on thin ice).

Archeological finds on tai-chi revealed little on method. To prove one's authenticity, in the past a master, if he was not one of the direct descendants, would keep a hand-written copy of their lineage master's written texts. Nowadays, a master usually uses photos: with the young master sitting (or sometimes kneeling) respectfully beside their aged/bearded sifu. In the West, a photo is probably the only way of proof of authenticity for a young Caucasian master. The issue as to whether or not the young master did learn anything is beyond the issue. Afterall, it is a proof of authenticity rather than a proof of having anything useful to teach nor a good skill in teaching, which is left to their students to find it out themselves. A proof of authenticity is of course having its good value, lest faulty practice might be camouflaged as genuine tai-chi or chi-kung, harmful to their students as well giving a bad name to the discipline.

In the past 10-20 years, things began to change, in particular in Mainland China. Today there are so many mind-body systems to compete with tai-chi and chi-kung for students (not to mention that ring-fighting arts, like San Da, Muay Thai, Boxing etc almost completely took over the train for combat market from tai-chi masters). Masters have to market their practices. Although there are shallow narratives, faulty narratives, incomprehensible narratives, I do see many gems that worth our good efforts to dig out, digest, and incorporate into everybody's own system of practice.

Archeological finds in the past revealed documents of authenticity, modern finds might reveal a pot of gold. Keep digging!

Old tai chi text

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...