Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tai Chi for sale???

Bruce Lee is the ultimate kung fu icon, so much so that decade after his passing, people come far and wide to Hong Kong to breathe the very air he breathed.  Love him of loathe him, you can't deny that without him, Hong Kong's status in the global film industry would be much less significant.  Bruce Lee was very much the first kung fu action hero.  His films sold, they still do and there is a certain mystery about his personality.  Sadly, Bruce Lee died young, he was Hong Kong's James Dean.  Each year thousands of locals and tourist pose in front of the famous statue on the waterfront in Tsim Sha Tsui.  To many people both East and West, Bruce Lee was the inspiration that lead to people taking up Chinese kung fu.

Without going into the East meet West clichés, Hong Kong is a very unique place.   Over the last hundred of so years, people have migrated to Hong Kong for a number of reasons.  The unique way the British Colonial government worked, meant there were many things that survived and flourished, but could not on the Mainland.  Martial arts was one of these things that took hold in Hong Kong.  Hong Kong, then as it is now is very much a dog eat dog society.  The weak will be bullied and those that had resolve went to learn kung fu to protect themselves.  The martial arts community thrived and tradition meant something.  As the colony prospered, the interest to train in kung fu waned.  

What people now seek and want have change.  Young people might idolise Bruce Lee, but how many of these actually practice kung fu?  The answer is very few.  Kung fu is hard work, it takes time, it hurts and you get dirty.  But I suppose to advance in any profession or field, is it any different?  Are Hong Kong people getting softer?  Not really, the drive and energy is still there, but its just geared for something else.  Its ironic that only a few decades have passed since Bruce Lee's passing, the kung fu landscape in Hong Kong has changed.  Kung fu is not so about fighting, but money.  The Bruce Lee brand is still highly profitable, its all about the art of making money.

People are now interested in health.  So let's do some Tai Chi?  Well Tai Chi might be best known as a health exercise, but in actual fact, Tai Chi started off as a style of kung fu.  Over the years, Tai Chi has been diluted. In Mainland China, Tai Chi has been transformed into a wushu set.  Yes, traditional forms do exists, but you perform the national set routines for certain events.  And of course, there is the Tai Chi that virtually all elderly Chinese people do in the parks every morning, without fail.  Hong Kong in her former glory also had representative from all the major Tai Chi styles.  Yet today, for various reasons, the spirit has been much watered down.  Elderly people still head to the parks every morning and the health benefits are still respected.  But the true meaning is somewhere else.

Are outsiders to consider Tai Chi an exercise for old people, where we meaninglessly wave our arms in the air in a slow manner?  There are many teachers, perhaps more so than an other style of kung fu in Hong Kong.  However the quality needs to be properly assessed.  Anybody who can do Tai Chi can call themselves a teacher, master or grandmaster.  Whether they can teach anybody beyond arm waving is another matter.  But it doesn't matter, so long as people pay to learn.  But it should do.  Because just because I can whip up a pasta and boil an egg, that doesn't make me a candidate for a Michelin star.  Kung fu masters need to be assessed on quality, knowledge and skill.  There are too few young people coming to train in Tai Chi.  Too many believe in the clichés and don't have any faith in the practical aspect.  If they considering practical fighting, they'd train in Karate or Taekwondo.  Young people don't want to lose face in front of peers when they tell them about Tai Chi.  In many ways, Tai Chi is probably the most abused, misunderstood  and most poorly taught of all styles of kung fu.  

Just because it is slow and looks easy, it doesn't mean everybody can master it.  Yet, there are those who learn form a DVD and only properly trained martial artist could tell.  The Chinese sword is the king of Chinese weapons and the hardest to master, yet many Tai Chi people in Hong Kong do sword play.  Some have even invented the Tai Chi guitar form.  That is somewhat eccentric and unless you have a high level of skill and experience in Tai Chi, its not going to work.  Tai Chi can even suit you if you can't stomach the original theories.  There has been a subtle trend in Hong Kong where practising Chinese Christians find it necessary to culturally vandalise or whitewash the traditional meanings.  By doing this makes things easier to swallow.  This is a bit like in the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864), where Confucius was demoted from sage to just a learned man.  So Tai Chi is no longer a martial art, its not an exercise, it is a philosophy and just a philosophy.  Tai Chi now has no connection with Taoism.  But then again, there are those who won't train in other styles of Kung Fu, because of their links to Buddhism.  That is just bizarre.  It is like saying, I'm not a Christian, so I can't celebrate Christmas (Santa won't give you a present, but there's nothing stopping you enjoying the festive spirit).  Its silly and it is shallow.  So come on people? Tai Chi now comes in all shapes, sizes, colours and flavours.  There is a Tai Chi for you.