"It is impossible for a person to learn what she thinks she already knows." Adapted from The Golden Sayings of Epictetus
Frequently Asked Questions
Will I need any equipment or a special uniform like the ones you see on Youtube?
No. Loose-fitting clothing that allows freedom of movement - t-shirt and tracksuit bottoms are fine - and suitable footwear are all that is necessary; trainers are good if they have a fairly thin sole that enables you to feel the ground. I do not recommend training in bare feet in a public venue, though you may wish to do so when you practise at home. You may want to bring a water bottle in hot weather, though a kitchen is available and free tea and coffee will be provided. The only other essential is a notebook and pen; you will remember far more and make much better progress if you make some notes during class.
Some schools like to have a uniform or even require learners to wear "tai chi pyjamas". Such things are much less traditional than you would expect and don't help you to learn any better, in my view. And as for those gauzy chiffon cloak things...
Why do you only offer weekend monthly classes?
The longer period of time creates more space to give individual correction and attention. Monthly classes also strongly encourage you to practise in between times, both to remember what you have learned, make it part of your life and discover questions that you want to ask. Your personal practice may start with a mere 10-15 minutes, a few times a week.
And what better way to start your weekend centred and energised?
What if I forget something in between times?
You will be given access to an increasing range of written and video support material online, some of which you will be able to download and keep for your personal use. You will also be very welcome to contact us between classes if you get really stuck.
Tai Chi and Qigong are just for the more senior or sick person, aren't they?
No. Certainly people do come to tai chi and qigong seeking help with chronic conditions and may find that they help; see below for information about the possible health benefits. However, the Western approach to health-care is strongly oriented towards cure rather than prevention. It has been enormously successful in that respect but to some extent that mindset is beginning to change. It is my belief that some sort of personal health and fitness regime is best started well before the point where it is really needed and that consequently qigong and tai chi have an enormous amount to offer those who are still relatively fit and well. Moreover, there is plenty in Chen-style tai chi to stretch the most physically able (in ways which often surprise sportspeople, for example); it is all a question of adaptation according to the learner's capabilities.
So am I fit enough to learn Tai Chi and/or Qigong?
As a rule of thumb, if you can do some shopping at the supermarket and carry it in a few bags to the car (ie without using a trolley), yes. Bear in mind, too, that you will be standing for a good proportion of the class and need to be able to do so without serious discomfort. (We do, however, take breaks!) Some people who may not quite be at this level may find the Eight Pieces of Brocade Qigong (Ba Duan Jin) accessible and helpful. If you are unsure, you are very welcome to contact us and ask.
As part of the registration process, I will ask you about any health conditions which might affect your ability to practise and and can make some adjustments where these might be required. You will also be encouraged to assess your own limits and to work sensibly within them.
Also, please do not feel intimidated by the idea that you are not young enough, fit enough or confident enough to begin tai chi training: my own teachers have students who are in their twenties and in their eighties. On the other hand, if you are young, fit and physically confident, Chen-style Taijiquan still has a great deal to offer! What are the health benefits of learning Tai Chi and/or Qigong?
getting your body's structure and its various systems to work together better;
strength (including bone strength), flexibility, balance;
cardiovascular function - tai chi is also categorised as a low to moderate aerobic activity;
natural, free breathing;
awareness, including mindfulness and focused attention;
intention, belief and expectation (ie the importance of willpower and imagination in improving your life);
social and spiritual wellbeing.
I would say that the same very much applies for qigong. If you are hoping that tai chi might be able to help you with a specific condition, you can find out more here. How much do you emphasise the martial aspect and martial applications of Tai Chi?
Taijiquan - the word "quan" means "fist", or, by extension "fighting system" - originated as a fully functional and practical combat system. There are a few tai chi schools which train specifically to this end (for competition fighting, at any rate), and I respect their endeavours in ensuring that this aspect of the art is maintained. It is not something that particularly interests me or the vast majority of people who take up tai chi, however. That said, knowing how moves might be used can be very helpful for grasping what you are supposed to be doing. For that reason, you will be introduced, if you wish, to at least one martial application for each move in the form under safe and controlled conditions.
Do you teach self-defence?
No. While some martial arts schools claim to do so, the results can be variable, and self-defence is also about a great deal more than how to punch and kick. There are plenty of stories of martial artists who get involved in confrontations because they thought they had the skills to cope - and learned the hard way that they didn't. If this is what you are really interested in, to begin with you might be better off looking for an accredited self-defence course that is appropriate to your circumstances.
How long does it take to learn Tai Chi and/or Qigong?
I don't know, I haven't finished yet. And all of the high-level teachers I have ever met say that they are still learning and improving. You should aim to enjoy the journey and not worry too much about attaining some miraculous goal.
That said, the basic qigong sets that I teach can be learned in a relatively short space of time and, with practice and perhaps some refresher sessions, a good standard can be obtained within months rather than years.
On the other hand, learning tai chi is an enterprise which can be compared to learning a foreign language, a musical instrument or to draw or paint; the more you are prepared to put into it, the better progress you will make. It depends on the level you want to reach: to put in musical terms, do you just want to play for fun, be a good amateur, get to the level where you can teach others or become the equivalent of an international rock star/concert pianist? Each requires a different approach and degree of commitment.
So how will I know that I am making progress? Do you have a belt/grading/ranking system?
The Chinese martial arts have traditionally not used belt systems. You will gauge your progress by the way that you move through the curriculum and from the feedback that you are given. Grading or ranking systems can result in ego-driven competitiveness, in my view, and, as an instructor friend of mine once said, belts are for holding up your trousers.
Do I have to learn lots of Chinese to learn Tai Chi and/or Qigong?
No, but there are some terms that are useful to know because you will see them in books and some of them are difficult to translate fully into English without a lot of explanation. I'll keep them to a minimum.