Are there major differences between the different schools or do they share more than they would like to admit? And does your school offer a range of learning techniques for the different ways we all learn? Today, I'm reloading the Style Series of Tai Chi Podcasts up to iTunes (listen to the full episode below), starting with the first episode where we ask:
What are the main Styles of Tai Chi?
There are three main styles found across the world: Yang, Chen and Wu. Yet for the beginner seeking clarity, perhaps such nuances are of less importance than for the stylists themselves. For Within each of these is a multitude of variations that do little but confuse the picture for a new student of Tai Chi - as Mao said: "Let a Hundred flowers bloom".
Were we to encourage this approach in the broad church that is Tai Chi, we would perhaps see an even greater diversity of styles that could address the needs of all those who tread the floors of esteemed training halls around the world. And not just the needs of those who have defined in stone such definitions.
A Question of Style
Unquestionably, in the world of Tai Chi certain names and schools dominate the practice and the public image of the art. Some styles are seen as more traditional and pure, others as more recent developments with unproven modifications. Whilst Others still are seen as outdated or increasingly antiquated.
Although you may think that at the beginning, selecting the right school is paramount, most styles do in fact share more in common than their practitioners would probably care to admit. So, Rather than fixate on names and categories, it might be better to remember that it is the teacher and the ambience of a class that will determine much of a student's progress, rather than simply the name of a style or a possibly dubious historical time-line.
For Every teacher will place a different emphasis on some aspects of a form over others, some aspects of training over others.....and in time these will ultimately distinguish their style from those of their contemporaries.
This is the nature of teaching and it is part of Tai Chi’s rich legacy and development over the centuries. Some may deny this, others may embrace it. But rest assured you will always find in a class the fundamentals of the form: pushing-hands, rooting, breathing, Chi Gung exercises, sticking and yielding. And if you're lucky a bit of sword play.
Differences in Tai Chi Styles
So what are the fundamental differences between Chen and Yang for example....you could say that the Chen style - from which all others are said to have derived - still incorporates both fast and slow movements, as well as explosive and soft techniques. Other styles have leveled out these variations and tend to offer a more uniform pace in their forms and practice. The official modified Chinese form, and the original Yang Style have a much more regular flow and incorporate lower postures and angular stances.
Other styles such as Wudan still teach much of the martial side, while the popular Cheng Man Ching Form on the other hand tends to perhaps balance more the martial with other softer aspects. This is notable in the Form's upright stances, softer moves and consistent flow with an emphasis on circularity.
But, at the end of the day, whats in a name. Who was it who said about the martial arts…It's just a name, don't fuss over it. There's no such thing as a style if you understand the roots. What was his name…Bruce something or another...
Styles or Teaching Preferences?
One thing we must all remember when we talk about styles, is that we are often talking about teaching preferences. A good teacher from one style will help us in evaluating the practice by means of an approach that makes sense to us. Such perceptions then form the foundations of our learning style.
But, not enough teachers take the approach of finding out how best we learn. For example, learning studies have been carried out for decades on how best we learn and according to one model... Flemings VAK model, we learn either as visual, audible or tactile students.
That's to say, some of us learn best by watching and doing.
For example a teacher may demonstrate a move, and then we would copy it. I had a Chinese teacher in London many years ago that spoke not a word of English, and so I had to learn the sword form from him using this learning skill.
Others learn better by listening, and having something explained well before mastering it.
For example, the concept of yielding or rooting may be easier to explain for some people than merely demonstrating it.Doing is fine, but if someone needs to understand and not just copy and paste, then the listening factor must be taken into account.
Finally, another group learns best by actively trying as opposed to simply copying or conceptualizing. So for example, demonstrating good posture may be insufficient in itself for this student, nor chatting about alignment between knee, hip and shoulder. What is needed for these students is a teacher that can align them physically through contact and continual fine adjustment.
So a good teacher will have techniques at his or her disposal according to the type of student you are. Now. A question! Should you ask your teacher before signing up...which of Flemings VAK models they are prioritizing in the training hall?
Probably yes….but will you get a sensible answer? Probably no.
So what should you be asking? Well, you'll have to listen in to Part 2 to find out or - delve into the finer details in the complete book on Teaching and Learning: Ways...find out more about the book here.
You can listen to the full episode here, or download it to your portable mp3 player to listen to later.