“Wrong”—or “Different”?

Over the years, I have come to realize that there are many ways of doing T’ai Chi. China is a very big country, and T’ai Chi has been around for a long time. So over the centuries, T’ai Chi has developed in myriad ways, and there are a number of different styles, the most common of which are Chen, Yang, Wu, and Sun. Whereas the main styles have very recently become standardized, there are still many people who practice the traditional T’ai-Chi forms, and within each traditional style there are many different interpretations.

As long as I can remember, there has been a tendency in the T’ai-Chi world for some practitioners to characterize as wrong what others do differently. If someone says that something in T’ai Chi is wrong, I ask that person to tell me the principle that has been broken. As long as no principles are broken I do not say that a way of doing T’ai Chi is wrong—just different. And if people do T’ai Chi differently from the way I do or have been taught, I ask them why they are doing it that way.

One possible response to the question, “Why do you do that movement that way?” is, “That’s the way my teacher does it.” In that case, I say, “Please ask your teacher why he does it that way.” Other responses often reveal some consideration of which I was unaware. More often than not, I learn something new by asking.

Next, if the different way does not break any principle, I try it—not just once or twice—but a sufficient number of times for me to experience the reason for doing that movement that particular way. Around 1960, when I was a college student at CCNY (City College of New York), I took a philosophy course with Prof. Irani, who was one of several brilliant and legendary teachers there. One student raised his hand and, when called on, said, “Professor, I disagree with everything you just said.” All of us wondered how Prof. Irani would respond. Irani calmly said, “I want you to think about what I said for a while—a long while—ten years—because that’s how long I have thought about it.” That reply has stayed with me.

Those who confidently and openly disparage new ideas, based on insufficient understanding or blind belief in the accepted view, limit their own growth and that of others whom they influence.

©Copyright 2009 by Robert Chuckrow

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