Tai Chi: East and West
(Mr Liu and I doing pushing hands at a rooftop space Mr Liu used for his classes in the late 1980s.)
Is there a difference between Tai Chi in the East and in the West?
Yes. In Taiwan and China, Tai Chi is so much part of the culture, its benefits known, its practice widespread and visible in public places. It is one of the ways that people keep fit, and find a harmony and balance in mind and body. Saying that, nowadays youth are more interested in basketball and computer games than in the traditional ways of health and self-defense. And there are also a lot of far out ideas that people in the East sometimes have from martial arts movies and books – people jumping up to tree tops in a single bound, one hero taking on a hundred sword-wielding men, and so on. In the West, Tai Chi is still an exotic import –`butts and guts’ calisthentics, aerobics, weight machines, treadmills, and now to some extent Yoga, are the exercises of choice for most people.
And then there is the difference in how to find a teacher. When I began my search for a Tai Chi teacher in Taiwan in 1981, it took several months to find someone I really wanted to train with. The way it turned out was ‘I knew a guy who knew a guy’ who was studying Tai Chi. My friend and I had to meet with his friend, and he quizzed us to see if we were serious about learning with his teacher. You see, in Taiwan and particularly with my teacher, Liu Hsi-heng, it was not a matter of simply seeing an advertisement and signing up for a class like you would in the West. In a sense, it was exclusive. You were filtered by the person giving the introduction. Mr Liu did not like people to join the class and not take it seriously. It wastes his time, and the class’s time. You had to be very sincere in your wish to study, and ready to commit to at least six months of training. There were no waivers to sign and no registration; you just had your recommendation based on your verbal commitment, a short conversation with the teacher to start off, and you put some money in an envelope once a month for the teacher.
Not every teacher in Taiwan or China is like that, but introductions still go some way in getting you taken seriously as a prospective student, rather than someone who just walks in from the street with no connections, whose motivations and character are unknown.
(This is taken from an interview circa 1997, shortly after I moved from China to the U.K. — William Tucker)