There's an Aesop's Fable about a King of the Bullfrogs trying to impress it's fellows by blowing itself up, bigger and bigger, to impress its subject amphibians after they described at length how big an ox was that had accidentally stepped on their nest. The King keeps inhaling more and more to try and seem larger than the descriptions it is hearing... until it bursts from its efforts to seem bigger.
That Fable seems apt to me on days like today when watching many of the "experts" who have posted videos of themselves on sites like Youtube™. It's hard to avoid the feeling that many of them haven't bothered watching a lot of the clips of better experts to see what real taijiquan expertise [insert the Family style of your choice] looks like. Is it because they can't tell the difference between mediocrity and excellence or is because they refuse to see the difference between what they are advocating in their own clips and what is available around them? It also often seems to me that those with dozens or hundreds of clips on their channels are trying a little too hard to metaphorically blow themselves up in the viewers eyes.
This also seems particularly true for the martial side of taijiquan and part of the problem may well be that many such experts never train martially with anyone except their own students and it is difficult to get a real appreciation of how difficult and perhaps painful "having a bit of a tussle" [to put it politely] with a stranger can be. Ignorance is bliss, as the saying goes, and many such teachers are only familiar with push-hands or choreographed martial drills with those who they teach who are presumably deferential to your abilities.
Another factor that often causes the "bullfrog syndrome" is the general low quality [in martial terms] of the average recruit to a taiji training environment. It's true that generalizing like this is dangerous but I have been teaching for 30+ years in my city and training for over 45 years and have seen this time-and-time again. For example, Teacher A has 20 students and only five are interested in push-hands and of those only one or two have any relevant martial experience or want to study anything that requires, sweat, effort and perhaps even a little blood and bruising. It is equally true that many teachers think that training actively with their students leaves them open to appearing as if they can make mistakes or be defeated so they avoid doing so... in part to maintain a mystique that allows them to keep paying customers rather than promoting excellence.
Does any of this matter in the long-run, probably not, as long as whatever instructor you choose is honest about his or her martial ability and history and doesn't try to inflate their status as a martial artist to the point that they explode like our froggy friend!
P.S. There are lots of good reasons to do taijiquan besides developing martial ability but, if you want to train that side of it -- make sure you have what it takes physically -- or can develop those attributes, if you don't when you start -- and make sure that the teacher has something to teach besides how to run a financially successful cult.
All text and photos on this website is copyright protected by Michael A. Babin ©2018 [with the exception of the photo at the top of this page which was taken by Helen Kriemadis ©2010]