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Traditional May Not Be Best

Traditional Chinese Building in Modern Times

In conversations between Tai Chi ‘experts’ you often hear that the traditional way of doing things in Tai Chi is the ‘best’, and that changes (especially modern ones) are bad. There is a kind of implied devotion to ‘Masters of Old’ and a feeling that modern Tai Chi is a watered down and less effective art than it was ‘way back when’.

OK, there is a bit of truth in-so-far as back then (whenever ‘then’ was) Tai Chi was used for fighting – probably in life or death situations – and that kind of fighting is just not so common today. Also, most people who train in Tai Chi do not live as tough a life as would probably have been the case ‘back then’, so they are not as physically robust. Thus, the fighting efficiency of the art has been reduced.

But, but, but – the majority (the vast majority) of people who are learning Tai Chi today, are not learning it to fight, they are learning it for health and fitness. So, times change and the arts we practice need to change too.

A number of years ago I created what is now the first Tai Chi form that we teach – the ‘Eight Move One Step’ form. It is a modern form with moves taken from a slightly older form – The 24 Short Form – that was developed in China around 1956.

The 24 form was created because the Chinese Government wanted an exercise method that was easy to teach to very large numbers of people. They also wanted a form that could be practiced quickly – the 24 takes about 4 to 5 minutes to run through, whereas many older forms take over 20 minutes to do just once. They had a reason for their changes and I had reasons for mine…

I used to teach and still teach the 24 and it is one of my favourite forms. However it has certain inbuilt problems for the average person living in England…
1) We live in houses with fairly small rooms.
2) The weather is often horrible and we would prefer to stay indoors.
3) We want to practice for health, not for fighting.

So, the Eight Move form only requires the space taken to step one pace forwards. It thus can be done indoors (of course it can be done outdoors as well). It is bilateral and that is important for health and fitness…

Most classical Tai Chi forms are heavily biased to working with and defending against RIGHT-HANDED attacks. That’s because historically most people were (and are) right handed – so for fighting, you practice those moves which have the greatest utility.

However, for health and fitness we want to develop both sides of our body equally, equal strength and equal suppleness. Also from a health point of view – whole body, bilateral movement, makes relaxing (one of the key factors that make Tai Chi so effective) much more straightforward.

So, our Eight Move One Step form is NOT traditional but it is modern and functional and purposefully designed to benefit its practitioners in the health and fitness domain that they are interested in.

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