In my experience, being self-taught, once you have some relevant experience, is useful in terms of deepening or broadening one’s understanding. However, there’s no doubt that it can be tough for beginners to recognize real quality when they meet up with it. No matter what your level of experience, it ends up being the same problem for all of us trying to learn new material: figure out what you want and try to find a teacher who meets at least some of those needs and in a few years, you may be better prepared to recognize a better teacher if he or she comes along. Have fun along the way, work hard, be a good student and someday you may be a better practitioner, perhaps even a good instructor.
The traditional approach to learning the Chinese martial arts uses a lot of linguistic/cultural metaphors related to birds and animals and this is certainly true in their internal systems. A similar motivation can be found in the Western traditions in Aesop's Fables which is a collection of parables credited to a slave and storyteller by that name who is said to have lived in ancient Greece in the Sixth Century BCE. The stories associated with his name in which animals and birds act out short lessons with ethical morals have come down to modern times. In Europe, manuscripts in Latin and Greek were important avenues of transmission; and, on the arrival of printing, collections of Aesop's fables were among the earliest books printed in a variety of languages. Initially the fables were aimed at adults and covered ethical, religious, social and political themes. However, from the Renaissance onwards they were particularly used for the education of children.
It seems appropriate to reflect briefly on being in the Winter of my own martial career on this first day of Winter. As a senior citizen, I sometimes surprise myself by my continuing desire to train regularly in the interactive skills of both taijiquan and baguazhang. I am also aware that while the experience and modest skills gained from decades of teaching and training still give me an edge over my younger and fitter students; that Father Time is marching on and my physical ability at 66 is diminished even compared to when I was 56.
Days when I feel particularly stiff and useless I can console myself that I can still move smoothly and quickly [for my age] and that aspects of what I practise and teach are getting better [for my age]. Perhaps it's a shame in a way that anyone has to learn from a young master as the best of those will only improve with age and martial maturity so that his or her later students are more likely to get deeper instruction than their first such.
Conversely, older teachers like me, are less able physically and so don't become much of a challenge for the young and vigorous once they have past the essential stage of being beginners where all skills seem exotic and not just the products of hard work and long-term effort under the supervision of a competent instructor.
I will end by repeating the advice given to me by one of my teachers some twenty years ago "you should train to live well and you shouldn't just live to train". I would add that this is true no matter what your age and no matter what the activity! It's too easy to take any activity too lightly or too obsessively.
A most Happy & Healthy Winter Solstice/Yule to all today and a Merry Christmas in a few days time.
Copyright Michael A. Babin ©2018
The subject of Qigong is a difficult one to come to terms with on many levels though we live in a time in which it has become very popular again, both in the West and in China.
I won’t try to summarize any aspect of this exercise/meditative umbrella of practises except to say that many taiji teachers have said that our discipline is not a form of qigong and that such supplementary exercises are not useful to developing any of the six Family styles of taijquan and their attributes.
One of the exceptions to this is the practise of standing quietly for extended periods of time [5-30 minutes] before and/or after doing any of the traditional Yang solo forms. Since I am, foremost, a Yang style practitioner, I will let one of the acknowledged masters of that art voice his opinion on this from "The Essence and Applications of Taijiquan" by Yang Cheng fu  , translated in 2005 by Louis Swaim and published in 2005. It summarizes neatly the Yang Family approach to standing still as being an integral part of learning and practising that discipline
This is a very short article on a very complex subject and It’s not a topic I have usually addressed with either groups or individuals for a simple reason — the only way to defend against a knife in the hands of someone who wants to hurt you is to use another weapon against him or her. Sad to say even if you succeed you’ll be cut [or worse] and then you have to deal with the legal system afterwards as well as the ethical issues to be confronted.
You wouldn’t know this from the endless earnest offerings on the internet and on instructional dvd or short-term self-defense courses on offer by various combative experts all promising that their methods will ensure survival against attacks by edged weapons. I don’t like blanket statements about the value of most of what I have seen but I will use one for this topic — Nonsense!
Don’t believe me… take your best man [or woman] in terms of martial experience; put an untrained attacker into some decent protective gear and give them a magic marker and tell them to attack the ‘good guy’ as if their life, or the life of a loved one, depended on it. Afterwards, count the number of coloured slash marks on the martial artist’s uniform or t-shirt even if it looked as if they had succeeded in defending themselves.
So, don’t play with knives if you think that learning some techniques will allow you to use your empty hands to stop an armed attacker without getting badly cut, maimed or worse!
Copyright Michael A. Babin ©2018
N.B. In the interest of fairness to all the experts touting their unarmed knife defense methods; some are better than others though most offer delusions of safety rather than practical advice. It is also true, I will admit, that some training is often better than none, particularly if the training allows you to get used to the idea that someone is really going after you with potentially lethal results. In the end, it is better to die on your feet trying to defend yourself than to die on your knees in a panic.
Aside from the explosion of the availability of instructional martial arts cassettes and dvds in the last 25 years and now internet courses, the same period has seen the proliferation of workshops and seminars. The good side of this is that practitioners can spend an intensive weekend or week studying with like-minded students under a famous instructor with an international following. Deepening your understanding or contrasting how your style diffes from what is being shown can be very useful for an experienced practitioner. The bad side of this is that some participants will inevitably confuse a superficial familiarity with the material with competence. This can affect all levels of attendees and it is not uncommon to find teachers incorporating new material into their own curriculums based solely on what they were able to glean from a few hours or days with a master practitioner.
Training seriously in the Chinese martial arts since 1973; accredited and teaching Yang Taijiquan since 1985 and Baguazhang since 1994.