"How Tai Chi Lured Me In"
by Noreen Wessling
My students are good for asking question! Lately, a number of them have been pumping me for more background on the lineage of our Wu Tai Chi. My Tai Chi partner, Jim and I, studied with Master Lau Mok for 16 years and we have both been teaching for almost 6 years now, so you'd think I'd know a lot about our lineage. Wrong! But I'm learning.
You must realize that I got into Tai Chi 'kicking and screaming' at Jim's insistence. "This will really be good for you," he assured me. Back then, hardly anyone knew what I was talking about when I said, "I'm studying Tai Chi." "What?" they'd say.
I was not a brilliant, natural student. In fact, I was awful. I would have quit instantly if Jim had not kept encouraging me. For the first few months of my arduous Tai Chi learning, I forget most of what I learned in class (there were only three of us
two guys who both knew something about martial arts, and me
who had only had 6 weeks of ballet as a child but, hey, I was graceful!) So you see, I spent all my energy simply learning the Tai Chi movements and had little interest at that time in 'lineage.' Actually, Master Lau didn't talk about lineage much anyway, so I figured it wasn't that important.
What saved me in these early days of my Tai Chi training was this. Jim and I drove together and we'd stop in the K-Mart parking lot every week on the way home after class and Jim would catch me up on what I hadn't learned. This worked. A few years later, when Master Lau was teaching a select few students the Sword Form, I had the same problem and this time Jim tutored me behind Thriftway supermarket so we wouldn't be so conspicuous as we slashed and swiped our swords around in the air. This worked well for many weeks until one evening some guy came out to dump the Thriftway trash and spotted us in action. He ran back inside rather quickly so we thought, "That's it, folks," and practiced in my driveway or living room from then on.
Part of the reason I tell this personal story is to encourage those of you who think you are not a 'natural' for Tai Chi and have misgivings. PERSEVERE BECAUSE THE REWARDS ARE IMMENSE. I can't imagine my life without this wonderful discipline. Tai Chi is my Great Friend who comes everywhere with me. It's fun to do your Tai Chi all around the world on your travels and I encourage my students to strike their favorite Tai Chi pose, get their photos taken on holidays and I'll display them in my studio along with lots of other photos of students. My students are to be honored.
Now back to that Lineage question
there is only one Tai Chi book, it seemed to me, that Master Lau had any respect for. He would occasionally tell us to wait while he went upstairs to get the book to illustrate some point he was making. This book was about Grand Master Wu Chien Chuan (1870-1942) and it contained fascinating photos of this Master doing the whole Tai Chi form. Master Lau has made a few modifications from this original form yet essentially it is the same as what I learned from Master Lau and what I teach my students.
Noreen enjoys Tai Chi in Amalfi, Italy
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Click here to see "Tai Chi Students in Action"