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Interview with Grandmasters Ip Tai Tak and Chu Soon Gin Part 2

What other aspect of training would you give to Tai Chi Chuan practitioners to help them improve their standards?

Grandmaster Ip Tai Tak: There are another three important principles that people need to be aware of: a. Yuen ( Circular ) - Tai Chi movements are usually circular. However within this circular nature, the shape could change for instance, smaller and large circles, oblong shaped, etc. b. Wan ( smooth/flow ) - Movements practiced need to be smooth and in a flowing momentum. There should not be a break from the beginning to the end i.e. like the Yin-Yang symbol, one flowing into the other. c. Tuen ( united ) - Here the movements practiced should be coordinated and balanced.

There are many interpretations of how Yang Style should be practised. How important is it to practice the right way? Does it matter as long as the principles are applied?

Master Alan Ding: There are many interpretations of Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan long form. Examine two very close lineages and you will find many similarities but also differences between their postures, movements and forms. The question will always arise from junior practitioner “Which one is the right way?” ; to which the reply has historically been one with another question, “Does it really matter?”. The reply is not designed to divert attention or to circumvent the answer, but instead to make the junior think for themselves. The Tai Chi Chuan form was designed as a vehicle to hold, utilise and demonstrate principles and concepts held within. It was never designed superficially as a simple a set of choreographed movements. To me it matters not what the form looks like, but more importantly the forms should follow the principles and concepts that are at Tai Chi Chuan’s core. The right way may have many superficial forms, but all are correct, as long as they can incorporate those ideals behind the movements.

What are the essential points when practicing Tai Chi Chuan?

Master Alan Ding: There are plenty of essential points in Tai Chi Chuan, whether they be practical – like posture testing or theoretical – for instance Hau Kou (verbal transmission). I don’t think it possible to summarise them all in any text. Firstly the vast quantity of information requires years of study, but also the significance and interpretation of them are different depending on where you are on your Tai Chi Chuan journey. When learning Tai Chi Chuan and any of its important points, try not to expect to be able to fully understand what is being taught on first pass. Often transmissions may make little sense at first, but instead will reveal themselves later on as you mature as a student. Further still, you may find, as I have, that Hau Kou’s interpretations will change, alter and modify to mean something increasingly profound as you develop and grow in your Tai Chi. I had always been taught that Tai Chi Chuan was a discipline that cannot be ‘spoon fed’ nor given to me 100%. I had been told time and again that Tai Chi Chuan was a path that I would be shown but it is I, that would have to walk it. But whilst this is true, an able teacher can signpost and verify interpretations and meanings you discover on the way – something I have found invaluable. What I have realized on my own continuing journey is that there is no final goal that can be bought and there is no definable end. Instead there is a process that is its own reward and through it you do not possess something new but become something new.

As a leading authority on Yang Style Tai Chi what advice would you give to practitioners at different levels?

Grandmaster Gin Soon Chu: Beginners - Be patient. Learn a few movements at a time, do not try to take in too much information at once, it just becomes confusing. Spend time practising what you have learnt already. To build a tall building, begin with a strong foundation. What you have already learned is the most important thing. Intermediate - do not hurry, spend time doing it right. It is very important at this stage to have correct posture. This will lead to correct energy circulation and set the way for future growth. Advanced - people are into number games these days. They think, the more Tai Chi routines they know, the better he/she is. A practitioner should fully understand the how and why for each posture. One should spend more time to understand Yang Cheng Fu’s Ten Points.

Master John Ding: Beginners – Initially, visit a number of clubs and find out as much about the instructors as you can – his/her lineage, type of Tai Chi taught; talk to the students as well. Do not be attracted just by low tuition fees. Good teaching often costs more - it’s a fact of life. In addition, Tai Chi is not just about learning movements. It is about the harnessing and circulation of Chi for health, self-healing and self-defence. Tai Chi when taught should be holistic. The instructor should always be able to show you how these postures can be used. By testing, you will have a framework to work with after each class, so that when you practice at home, you will not divert too far from the correct posture. Intermediate - Try to get each posture right. It is better to master the basic principles than just to keep learning more forms. Basics are the rudiments of all advanced training. Keep testing your posture. Do not expect quick results from your training, the basic principles take time to master. Do not be disillusioned with your progress. Be patient. If you are taught correctly and practise regularly, you will achieve results. If you do not, you have either not practised correctly or have not been taught correctly. If the latter is true, check out other clubs for an authentic instructor. Advanced - You should have a good understanding and be able to apply the ten essential points as listed by Master Yang Cheng Fu. Movements should be practised with a flow together with the Yi (or Intent). If you look at a lion stalking its prey, watch how the lion is always focussed on it even. When the pry is caught, the lion’s paw effortlessly sticks to it, even when it twists and turns trying to escape. If you use a lot of effort to maintain your postures or in pushing hands, you need to stop and think whether you are learning Tai Chi Chuan correctly or being taught only the external aspects. You should be aware that some instructors can only take you to a certain level in your training. The dedicated student wanting to achieve high level needs to seek out advanced instructors. This may involve travelling a long way for training! To get the teacher’s knowledge you must demonstrate that you are worthy of such transmission- this can only be achieved by staying with the master for a long time. No master will ever teach the students everything. You have to earn it. Master continually assesses the worthiness of the student’s attribute, commitment, loyalty, honesty, trustworthy and so on. Within the Chinese martial arts circle, when a student is accepted as a disciple, he or she treats the master as more important than his/her own father – such is the bond between them. To achieve a higher level in Tai Chi Chuan, you need to train in the following three important aspects: Chi Kung, correct form practise incorporating the ten essential principles and dynamic push hands. If these do not form part of your training, you will not progress. High level instruction is a must. The subtlety of Tai Chi Chuan is such that a small error in the beginning will take you a long way from the end goal. Getting the right instruction will save you time and effort. Often I have seen students with as much as 10 to 15 years’ experience come to a realisation that their previous training would never help them achieve a high level. This can be a very demoralising experience so people should always be aware of what they are studying.

Master Alan Ding: Beginners – look at quality above quantity. Be content with the movements that you learn week by week, and try to refine the movements by practice. You have a lifetime of learning to do, so there is absolutely no rush. Once you finish the form, its back to the beginning anyway! Intermediates – begin to seek independence by working out postures and movements by yourself. You would have learnt by now multiple principles that can be used and extrapolated to other movements. Try to self-correct by using the principles you know and by using posture testing. Then ask your instructor for verification of the movement. Your teacher will only be impressed as you begin to show initiative for your own learning. Advanced - never forget the basics as they form the foundations of everything that you build on. The simplest movements and testing are always the most difficult and challenging to achieve. Time gathers moss and bad habits, as I know too well, so don’t be alarmed when all of a sudden there is a big change – it was probably something you missed early on! Most importantly don’t get to big for your own boots – try to be open to all your peers - senior and junior. We are all here to help each other and extending a hand to help all others will only serve you well for the future.


Tai Chi Classes Dublin is a member of the Master Ding Academy. Master John and Alan Ding are visiting Dublin twice a year for open Tai Chi workshops. Find the workshop dates here.

******* Grandmaster Gin Soon Chu 5th Generation Yang Tai Chi Chuan and Second Disciple of Great Grandmaster Yang Sau Chung, 4th Generation Yang Tai Chi Chuan. (He was interviewed by Master John Ding in 1994 for Tai Chi Alternative Health magazine Issue 2) Born in Hong Kong, he was a rather weak young man who took to Tai Chi Chuan to improve his poor health. Following his Tai Chi teacher’s death in 1963, he began to study under Master Yang Sau Chung, the head of the Yang family style at that time, son of the legendary Yang Cheng Fu. Due to his great diligence in training, Master Chu was accepted as second disciple of Grandmaster Yang Sau Chung . The other two being Master Ip Tai Tak ( first disciple ) and Master Chu King Hung ( third disciple ). Grandmaster Chu later left Hong Kong for the USA and settled in Boston, assisting in the management of a restaurant. In 1969, urged on by enthusiastic friends, he established the Gin Soon Tai Chi Club. Through this he began the promotion of classic Yang style Tai Chi Chuan in the USA, for both health and self-defence. Grandmaster Chu was the past Chairman of the Eastern United States Kung Fu Federation and one of the founder members of this organisation. As a leading authority on Yang style Tai Chi Chuan, He was frequently called upon to give seminars around the world, a task he sees as part of his on-going responsibility to continue the Yang family Tai Chi Chuan tradition. Grandmaster Chu’s Tai Chi club is located at 33 Harrison Ave Boston, MA 02111, United States. Tel: +1 617-542-4442. This club is taught by both his sons - Sifu Vincent Chu and Sifu Gordon Chu (Note: Grandmaster Chu passed away on the 18th March 2019)

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