There are many reasons why tai chi standards have lowered every year. Some of these trace back to generations ago and some were during the last few decades.
Tai chi principles are very complex. It is the combination of Yin Yang principles, Chinese medical theories, ‘tuna’ (breathing techniques), ‘Dao-yin’ (mind control), and various essences of Chinese martial arts.
For many generations, there were very few writings to explain the truth about Tai chi. Most writings added confusion to the followers because it was written in abstract, ambiguous and mysterious language. It was also Chinese tradition that good martial techniques were only passed down from father to son, within the family or only to a few ‘closed-door’ disciples and thus outsiders had nowhere to learn the essence. This hindered the progress of the art. In ancient China, martial art teachers would hide certain advanced techniques from their students to prevent the students from betraying or challenging them later.
For the past 3 or 4 decades, Tai Chi was popularised only as a health art and was deliberately ‘softened’ to suit the general public. The majority who joined Tai Chi classes were sick, weak and elderly people. Even in Asian countries, when someone was joining a Tai Chi class, the first question on everyone’s mind was: “Is he not well?” With all those students who were physically disadvantaged as ‘student-base’ for the past few decades, how could standards be elevated?
Because Tai Chi was promoted as a “health art”, many students just learned the form for a few years and felt that they were qualified to be teachers.
These ‘new’ teachers did not even know the principles, body mechanics, six harmonies and energy (chi) movements, etc, before they began to teach and thus their students could not benefit from the complete training of Tai Chi. Many classes did not teach basic movements or the foundations. As in the Chinese saying, “Lian chuan pu lian kung, dao lao yi chang khong.” It means, “Practicing martial arts without practicing the basics, it will be empty till you age.”
Since communists took over China in 1949, the Chinese government has tried to raise the health standards of the Chinese people, hopefully to reduce medical expenses. They created a simple form in the 50s and called it the ‘Beijing 24 Official set’. That simple Tai Chi set was to encourage ‘quantity of practitioners’ and not ‘quality of the art’. People who learn that form alone can never have real ‘kung fu’. After more than 50 years, recently the Chinese detailed the harm and flaw of this official set. Unfortunately it has spread all over the world.
For the past 2 decades, in order to internationalise Tai Chi, the Chinese government created many competition sets which were the combination of aerobics and gymnastics with dance-like graceful movements. This completely destroyed the essence of Tai Chi. It also created misconceptions to the general public that Tai Chi is a ‘Chinese cultural dance’ and is despised by many martial artists. Those who learn these competition sets alone will never achieve high level ‘kung fu’ as stated by many great tai chi experts.
However the simplified form from China is not the simplest. Nowadays there are forms that have only 6 movements or 9 movements, etc. It is a real insult to the art of Tai Chi. Chen Wan-Ting and Yang Lu-Chan would be very sad to see the art being destroyed by the irresponsible ‘creators’ of all these simplified forms!
Every practitioner knows that in Tai Chi practice the ‘base’ is very important but nowadays there are new forms that you can do while sitting on a chair, table, or lying in bed. It is another ridiculous Tai Chi creation! How could standards not go downhill after all these unfavourable factors?
All Tai Chi forms are good for health and as my Sun style teacher told me: “Sun style Tai Chi is especially ideal for older people and people who suffer from joint pain (or arthritis) because of the nature of its footsteps.”
Yet there are so many new creations of forms. Some claim that certain forms are good for certain diseases (even going as far as naming the form after a disease), certain forms are good for young people, certain forms are good for old people, etc. is there any real proof in all these claims or have traditional styles and respect for generations of Masters been replaced by marketing and salesmanship? Some of them are so commercialised that you just have to attend a few days of workshop training and you will be a qualified Tai Chi instructor. We hope it is not like many drugs produced by those commercial drug companies who admit the side effects after a few years from being in the market.
It is fortunate that in recent times, proficient teachers such as Grand Master Chen Xiao-Wang and other instructors from the Chen village, Beijing, etc and many others from Yang, Wu, Woo, Sun and other styles are not selfish with their knowledge and tirelessly spread their art to the whole world. There are also many new generation practitioners that train very hard to improve the art and who are also scientific enough to apply the old methods or techniques to “modern ways” to suit the present social structures and environment. This may help to elevate Tai Chi standards in the future.