Friday, 18 September 2009

Is the ground letting you down?

A sports surface's performance can be described in a number of measures:

Rolling resistance: How it stops a ball rolling. (i.e. a bowling alley versus a soccer pitch.)

Rebound resilience: How much it cushions to a blow (i.e. a concrete screed versus a crash mat.)

Grip: How rough the surface is so you can grip it (i.e. an ice rink versus astroturf)

The best martial arts flooring has good grip to prevent slips. It also should have moderate rebound resilience to reduce hammer on joints.

But no matter how good your flooring, if it is not kept clean, it will become slippery and dangerous. The Japanese know this very well, and keep their wooden floor dojos spotless.

If you go to China, the majority of their martial arts halls are carpeted so that they do not become slippery when dusty. I have lost count of the amount of times a good class has been undermined because the students can't keep their grip on the floor.

Fellow martial artists, join with me and insist that the floors we use are clean and safe. Don't give in to the excuses of your centre manager and ensure they are aware of the risks of classes on slippery floors.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Don't Limit Tai Chi

I have read dozens of articles from tai chi instructors; all claiming that they are reclaiming tai chi by focusing primarily on the self-defense aspects. They all expound the virtues of their own personal systems, saying that they are the only shining beacon of martial intent in a sea of retired, wimpy, tree-hugging, lentil-eating hippies.

I'm going to make a bold admission here. When I started teaching Tai Chi, I made similar claims to my students. These claims were largely based on the fact that I only saw my own teachers training methods. When I saw other styles, they were at competitions, where I could only observe the external sense of peoples forms. Combat was only within the severe restrictions of pushing hands competitions.

But as my experience of teaching grew, I began to comprehend other systems and styles. I began to recognise a core set of principles that they all adhered to. I had to swallow my pride and realise that there are quite a lot of good teachers - all patiently teaching valid systems.

Even within the same style, teachers repeat the same traditional practices - just calling them by different names. Take Silk Reeling (the traditional family name for fixed step Chen style movement training)- I have heard it called "Silk Winding", "Winding", "Reeling", "Powering in Circles", "Spiral Training" and "Silk Twining". There seem to be minor variations on elbow position, based on different practical applications, but the exercises are all the same.

There are many forms of tai chi that concentrate on the medical and spiritual aspects of tai chi quan. To reject these practices is to completely discount an important part of the martial journey. By all means, split the disciplines into different exercises, but don't reject them. A martial arts teacher should be able to enable their students to look after themselves martially, physically, mentally and spiritually. It is worth remembering that all Chinese martial arts came from the establishment of Zen buddhist and yogic practices in China.

As well as tai chi, my teacher taught me aspects of first aid, diet, cooking, meditation, business, etiquette, Buddhism, Chinese culture and history.

I understand that all professional Tai Chi teachers need to establish a unique selling prospect - or "marketing". But to do this at the expense of other valid lineages or by rejecting spiritual practices is at best a lack of understanding of how other systems work - and at worst, betrays a severe inferiority complex.