I had some sad news in the mail today from my former publisher, Paladin Press, which sent letters to current and former authors saying they would be closing shop after 47 years in the publishing business. Another death-knell for small publishers in a world that values electronic convenience over the printed word.
Studying a recreational martial art of any kind is usually a game of chance in that the skills one gains might work in a self-defense situation... if one has the basic requirement which is the "Heart" for the fight. Or the Will to fight, if you prefer. Even with that being present during class time; there's no way of knowing how anyone will react to a real attack -- with or without martial training.
Experience builds ability as well as confidence; but it's also very true that mindset can change dramatically in that moment that you realized that you are not "training/playing" and that the danger is real. Some of us seem to be genetically programmed to keep fighting even while dying or being maimed; others go into shock when struck once; others surrender too easily.
Taijiquan can't turn us into supermen though I have met one or two experts over the decades who certainly seemed "extraordinary" in their body mechanics and martial abilities even though they were no longer young or even middle-aged. While having good genes, on-going hard work and plain good luck in terms of avoiding injuries are sometimes deciding factors as well, on-going hard work is probably the most important factor after competent instruction!
This attitude is still surprisingly absent in those who think they want to learn Yang-style taiji. For example, I was eating lunch with one of my senior students in a restaurant and the man at the table next to ours had obviously been eavesdropping on our conversation about taiji training. As we got up to leave, he blurted out "You guys do taiji? I just started taking lessons with so-and-so and love it but it's hard to remember the postures. Do you think I should practise on my own between classes?"
I think of myself as a Yang style "generalist" in recent years rather than someone who follows a particular teacher. Thinking that way can have its dangers and its limitations but so can being a devoted follower of a particular lineage or teacher. For someone who values history and archaeology as much as I do, somewhat surprisingly, I'm not interested in turning my taijiquan forms and martial methods into museum pieces or slavish copies of someone else's material. That kind of stuff is essential in the formative years but can easily become its own trap as the years and decades roll by.
On the other hand, I don't see the value of creating a mish-mash of ingredients so that my Yang taiji looks like nothing I originally learned much less like bad xingyi or bad bagua. Nor have I been a fan in the past of modifying the solo forms taught by the men and occasionally women with whom I have studied. Perhaps this is because I have an old-fashioned approach to copyright issues and don't want to feel as if I am radically changing someone else's interpretations just to pass them off as my own.
More About Me
I graduated from university in the early 1970s and went on to work in a variety of fields (archaeology, Federal Government civil service and IBM Ottawa) before becoming a magazine editor with the RCMP for a decade. From 1985-1996, I was the main caregiver for my two sons while also working as a free-lance writer and teaching Chinese martial arts in the evenings.