Tai Chi: The Greatest Qi Gong
By Erle Montaigue
In this article we discuss Tai Chi and Qi Gong, and how they are related.
Back in the seventies, it was Taiji (T'ai chi ch'uan) that was the greatest new thing since sliced bread. All of a sudden we had in Sydney alone what seemed like hundreds of new ethnic masters of this art. Just about every Chinese person and even some Malaysian, Singaporian and Japanese people over night became experts in this field mainly to cash in on their nationality. They did not have to be good at it of course, they just had to be oriental and people flocked to their classes. Some were very good at it and stuck around. Others were found out by their students to be frauds and eventually had to stop teaching. Some of the frauds are still hacking a living out of it, fooling some of the people all of the time and some have even perhaps learnt a little over the years. But nowadays, the big bickies are gone and the Taiji business has settled down into one where someone is able to just scrape a meagre to poor living out of it. Overseas, there is a much larger population base and the good 'masters' are making quite a good to high living out of teaching and franchising.
It could have been a much better business however, had the charlatans not stuffed it for the ones who knew their stuff. Those who use simple tricks to fool students into believing that they are superman. Eventually, those students found out that their teachers were not supermen and left the art in disgust. Many left for good, others took up other martial arts. But those who should have benefited from the great healing aspects of this art were left with nothing and many would never return to it because they had already tried it out (with some charlatan) and found that it did not work.
Only a handful of real teachers remained from that first euphoric explosion of mystery and wonder. Plus a few of their students who eventually left to make their own dollars with their own schools. Those like the Rocky Kwong people in Melbourne , like Old Mr Mak Po-sun and his students. They have been around since the beginning and have seen it all, I have seen it all too, and consider myself as a mere youngster when compared to some of these great oldies like Mr Mak Po-sun.
But others who 'needed' to have a superhuman master as their guides for life and remain a student themselves for life, went overseas to find that old monk (or monkey) on a mountain top, he had to have a long wispy beard and move very slowly. Then a new age of fraudulent happenings began. Now, we get them from all over the world coming to the antipodes to rip off the unsuspecting Aussies, and I am told British, Americans and any other western part of the world who will have them. Always, oriental looking and wearing a white nicely pressed silk suit, these 'masters' are the new breed of oriental mystics who are fleecing the Australian public once again. But still, the good ones from that first faddish era are still hacking it out, and nowadays only look and smile with a knowing grin.
Right now we are seeing the newest 'fad' enabling Orientals to once again rip off the Australian, and western world public. A fad, by the way is something that has been with us for yonks and is usually a good thing, but then someone discovers that he is able to make a quick buck out of it and markets it for a time. This person does not have to actually know anything, they just have to look as if they know something. An oriental looking face in this instance also helps greatly.
This new fad is QIGONG. Now, it has taken over as the greatest thing since the nappy pin, with masters claiming that it is able to heal anything from a nose bleed to cancer. And all you have to do is part with huge amounts of your hard earned cash to receive this healing. And if it doesn't work? The standard answer, "well it worked with everyone else, so there must be something wrong with you"! In the U.S.A. and advertised in very up front magazines, is an ad for a chart that will enable you to heal anything, stop any pain, move objects without touching them etc. etc. When you write or phone to complain that it didn't work, they tell you that there is something wrong with you as it has worked with everyone else! Another stock standard answer given by all of the 'supermen', these little chaps in beautiful Chinese looking suits who are able to throw twelve people away without moving or touching them, or like one chap in the U.S.A. who controls his students' bodies by putting them into some sort of trance etc, is, when asked to, 'please show me, on me'; "my students are trained, my Qi will kill you as you aren't trained". "But please sir," I ask, "I've been doing this stuff for 25 years". He replies, "Oh but not the real stuff, my stuff!" Give me a break! They must think we're bloody idiots!
Qigong of course has been with us in Australia and the whole of the western world for about the past twenty years, probably more, but not taught publicly. I have in fact been teaching it since I returned to this great country in 1977. The health benefits are great but it is not a miracle cure-all. The postural meditation gained from these postures and moving postures gives the body and mind a chance to relax and so call upon its own internal self healing functions. So it's not the qigong that heals, it's your own self and always has been. You can gain the self healing by other means and never go near a qigong master, however, with qigong, you are able to understand more readily your own self healing mechanism. Providing you go to someone who knows what they are doing of course. Someone who has been doing it for at least fifteen to twenty years, and that's the very least amount of time. I have known of so called masters of qigong who themselves are only in their mid twenties! How could they possibly know about qigong when they don't know about themselves! And we, who are getting on a little know that it takes many years of knocks and losses to even begin to understand oneself. We thought we knew it all when we were twenty five. But when we are forty five we begin to know that we knew nothing back then and perhaps we only know a little now!
So, now it's qigong therapy. Why does everything have to have the word 'therapy' tagged to it? I guess it makes it sound more medical. In fact if we were to investigate many of these new masters of qigong, we would probably find out that they are really drop outs from medical school or those who did not have the time to do it right but would liked to have done. Dr. is also a tag that many of the new qigong masters give to themselves, or professor. However, the Taiji teachers who stuck with it over the past twenty years or so and whose expertise was more than based upon a few lessons from a video or film or six lessons from the local Academy, (another word given to Taiji schools to make them sound more important!), are still out there, Australian or British, French, U.S.A. etc, bred and nurtured. And if the truth was known, Taiji is the greatest of all the qigong arts.
One of the reasons that Taiji has lost some of its lustre and people are discovering the new qigong, is that people now mistrust Taiji teachers, having been burned once already and after having shelled out a lot of cash, ended up with nothing but a set of slow movements. If the art is not taught correctly in the first place, then you might as well go for a good swim or walk each day which will give you more healing than any bunch of slow movements.
The art (Taiji) has to be taken to its highest levels before the great healing benefits are able to be felt. In fact, you don't just do Taiji, you become Taiji. Everything you do is Taiji and this only comes after many years of practicing in the correct way with the correct teacher. The movements must become so small that someone watching would not recognise that you are doing Taiji. In fact, I'm trying to get my Taiji so small, that I don't have to get out of bed in the mornings! But then this would be no good for many, as most people like to show people that they know Taiji and like to be seen as performing Taiji movements.
So once we come to a higher level of understanding and training, the form becomes not a form, it's nothing, it has become internal. The movements are done internally with only a slight resemblance of their former physical glory.
I used to see some, only a few, old people (who I now realise were real masters) doing Taiji and would scoff at their movements. They were not actually bending their knees, they were not actually taking large open steps with very defined postures, they would shake and seem to be too loose. Now, I realise that these few, one of which became my main teacher, Chang Yiu-chun who taught me that I should not have a teacher, were the real ones, the ones who had risen to such a high level that they did not give a damn any more. Did not care whether people watching them would know that they were doing Taiji. They had come to the level of 'hao ch'uan'. This is the name that Taiji had before it was named 'Taijiquan' back in the late 19th century. Hao ch'uan means loose boxing, and these masters were loose, like rag dolls. But their power came from this looseness, not from the low postures, not from the breathing, but from the looseness and especially not from the relaxation. That word has probably been the worst mistranslation that has come from the Chinese language. The word should be 'loose'. And power they had, seemed to come from nowhere. I can still hear myself saying "but you didn't seem to move and yet it felt like you have taken a fifty metre run up". He had moved of course, but his body and mind were so finely tuned that he seemed as if he had not moved.
When one has this upper level of Taiji or hao ch'uan, this is when it becomes the greatest qigong. A qigong that is happening all the time. We no longer have to set aside a special time to do it. We no longer have to think of it as something special that we do, it's just a part of us, of our lives, it becomes us. And this is the level that no 25 year old master will ever attain to, because he thinks that he knows it all right now and is afraid to 'do it wrong' in order to maintain his 'master' status. I have seen so called masters putting out videos of their Taiji. Because they call themselves master, they are afraid to show that they are making mistakes to the cameraman and sound engineer etc. So they just continue on and it's all there in colour for the world to see! When I do a video, I sometimes do hundreds of takes until it's correct, I don't call myself 'master' I never have, others call me master by mistake or through respect. Just because some old masters in China saw fit to give me a 'master's degree', doesn't mean that I can call myself master. I still feel like Erle Montaigue, a lad from Wollongong , Oz born and bred! So, I can make as many mistakes as I bloody well wish. But as soon as you set yourself up as 'master' so and so, you must do it right every time, and this means doing your forms on video in one continuous take, no cuts. And so if you aren't really a master, then the mistakes are quite evident.
When you have real Taiji, you don't need qigong. Qigong is only there in the beginning when our Taiji is not at a high level and we are not gaining the great benefits from it that we should. It takes many years of course to gain this high level and I am glad that we have qigong to cover us during this period. But once the advanced stage has been reached, you no longer need your standing or simple qigong, all you need is your Taiji which is your life and becomes you.