Tai Chi Myths Exposed – 7 Myths About Tai Chi That Continue to Confuse and Mislead Beginners
Note: ‘Tai chi’ and ‘tai chi chuan’ are Romanizations of Chinese terms using the older but still popular Wade-Giles system. ‘Taiji’ and ‘taijiquan’ are the equivalent terms from the now universally recognized Pinyin system.
Myth #1 ‘There is only one real Taiji style, the rest are imposters.’ This is the way that cultists propagate their own schools. Over a period of nearly 30 years I’ve encountered many styles of taiji and although the emphasis varies from one style to another, most of them agree on the fundamental principles, and most of them produce real health benefits if practiced regularly.
Myth #2 ‘To be good for your health, what you practice must be exactly correct.’
There are two things wrong with this proposition:
Firstly, that somehow practicing incorrectly is inherently harmful. If you never allow yourself to “do it wrong”, you’ll certainly never “get it right”. The most dramatic health benefits I gained from taiji practice actually came during the first 4 months, when my “form” was still a complete shambles. I overcame my chronic asthma; my posture, body mechanics and energy levels improved enormously and I began to gain control of my habitual anxiety. (Of course, I was at least trying to get it right!)
Secondly, that at some point your practice will be exactly correct. Anyone who has been practicing for many years will tell you that there are always new challenges, higher levels to strive for. Practice and investigate regularly and patiently without lust for results, and progress will come naturally.
Myth #3 ‘It’s best to learn from a Master.’ People who call themselves Masters must be viewed with skepticism. If you study and practice anything for many years, it’s reasonable to suppose that a degree of mastery will follow, but the highest level practitioner I ever met never called himself a Master. Neither was he ever publicly humiliated by a challenger.
On the other hand, sometimes it’s difficult for a high level practitioner to remember or understand the difficulties that beginners face. Experienced teachers often allocate intermediate students to teach beginners while they focus on the more advanced students. There is something to be said for this method.
Myth #4 ‘It’s best to learn from a Chinese teacher.’ This depends on the individual teacher. Some Chinese instructors are ill-equipped to deal with linguistic and cultural differences when teaching Westerners. Some Western teachers do very a good job of communicating concepts that come from a very different cultural context.
Myth #5 ‘Taiji is a Martial Art, so your teacher must be able to use it for fighting, or else they’re no good.’ While it’s true that the origins of taiji quan lie in a sophisticated system of armed and unarmed combat, the widespread use of firearms permanently transformed the meaning of “combat”, so the fabled super-human feats and skills of the old Masters are probably lost for ever. Taiji survives as a cultural practice in the modern world predominantly because of it’s known benefits for the mind and body as a form of moving meditation.
Myth #6 ‘Taiji is no good for self defense.’ While it’s true that it takes more study, practice and training to develop taiji combat skills than most of us are able or willing to commit, it’s also true that probably 90% of self defense ability has nothing directly to do with combat skills; sharp awareness, good posture and body use, a relaxed but resolute manner and clear-headedness, along with the body-language these attributes give rise to are known deterrents to would-be muggers and bullies.
Myth #7 ‘Because Taijiquan means “supreme ultimate fist”, once you learn it you’ll be able to beat all other styles.’ If it’s really fighting you want to learn, you’ll need to study and expose yourself to many combat styles. It’s naïve to think that any one “style” of combat can prevail over all others. An untrained person with a firearm can “defeat” a highly skilled martial arts practitioner. The supreme solution to violent confrontation is not to be there in the first place.