THE IMPORTANCE OF STUDENT’S NEEDS
By Brian Gregson
In this article I would like to focus on the various aspects of Tai Chi and why people join a class in the first place.
In a letter to the editor of "Tai Chi Magazine", Vol.21, No.2, one, Ralph Johnson talks about the deeper meanings and benefits of Tai Chi. He laments the fact that there is an "explosion on the fighting aspects of Tai Chi". He goes on…"why do we have all these so-called ‘experts’ writing about Tai Chi and telling everyone that unless you know the fighting aspects you don’t know Tai Chi?" ……. He continues …."As a teacher of Tai Chi, most of my students are just normal people that want to improve their lives, reduce their stress and feel better about themselves. Many of my students are in their 50s and 6t0s with health problems. I know the real Tai Chi when an older woman who has had high blood pressure for 20 plus years no longer needs to be on medication, and when someone that the doctors told to start walking with a cane because of a car accident can now walk free of pain and have a full life".
I agree with Ralph Johnson’s comments—indeed, many people who come to Tai Chi have health problems and need ‘something’ to calm them, make them feel better etc. As many teachers would know, when people first join a class, they have a job understanding the difference between Tai Chi and Qigong, let alone the finer points and martial aspects of Tai Chi. Therefore, if we are a genuine teacher, we first must assure the new person of the safety factor of doing such a skill, so as to retain their confidence. In the early stages we should, I believe, be spending more time on Qigong, which puts little physical demand on the student, but offers many benefits.
My new students don’t do any Tai Chi in the first term, but only do Qigong forms, which, as we know, help them to develop better posture, balance and co-ordination, all important aspects for Tai Chi later on. When my students advance beyond the first term and we start a Tai Chi form, I am very careful to ensure they are only extending as far as comfortable and when we get to the kicks, that they are acutely careful. Of course, in any given group of people, you will always have some students who want to focus on aspects that other students don’t wish to.
My philosophy here is this: If the students want to talk breathing, talk breathing; If the students want to talk posture, talk posture; If the students want to talk martial art aspects, talk martial arts… and so on. Last term (Term 4, 2004) I had in my class a person who had done a lot of martial arts including Wushu and some years ago had acquired injuries from doing his martial art forms. Now, here he was, learning a ‘quiet’ skill, including Qigong, which he thoroughly enjoyed. At the end of the term he came up to me and said how much he was enjoying the Qigong, learning how to slow down, quieten the mind etc. I was so pleased that he felt this, as I am sure he realised that where there is softness, there is also hardness, where there is stillness, there is strength.
In Ralph Johnson’s letter he used the very poignant word: "enlightenment", saying "Tai Chi is a door to enlightenment and the life of a Taoist". How true! We are all enlightened and often we don’t realise it. Ralph Johnson’s letter struck a key chord—a lot of what he said is important. I believe we should nurture our new (and established) students with great care. They will decide their path as they go through the Tai Chi journey—some may go the martial arts way, some the energy/breathing road, some the meditation path. Finally, it would be very interesting to hear other teachers’ thoughts on this subject.
Brian Gregson, Teacher, Tamworth