Sunday, October 04, 2009

Taiji For Health, Fame or Money?

There is a recent taiji boom in Singapore. Not just any taiji boom, but rather, a boom regarding a set of taiji routines developed by a group of doctors, supposedly good for people with arthritis, osteoporosis and even diabetes. I guess doctors, being professionals, know what they are talking about and I don't doubt the results of their research. After all, we all know that taiji, besides being an effective martial art, is also very good for health. I mean, nowadays, taiji is known more for its health benefits rather than its original use as a martial art.

So if you have arthritis or osteoporosis, it may be a good idea to start doing some taiji. Now that research by a group of doctors has proven that taiji is good for those ailments.

What I do not agree with is the method it is being introduced in Singapore.

The People's Association is introducing these sets of taiji routines into all community centres. I applaud their noble goal of making taiji available to the masses, in trying to help the masses overcome their ailments. However, what we have now is a new group of taiji instructors teaching these sets. Till now, in order to teach at community centres, PA required taiji instructors to be qualified by the Singapore National Wushu Federation. To be qualified, would-be instructors have to attend a week-long course, coupled with oral, written and practical examinations by a board of examiners (renown taiji masters). This ensured that all taiji instructors meet certain standards. Yet with this new group of instructors, there is no need to be qualifed by the SNWF. All these new instructors need to do is attend a 2-day training session with the group of doctors and at the end of the session, they are given a certificate authorising them to teach the set of routine for 2 years.

First question is, will this dilute the quality of taiji instructors in Singapore, now that SNWF is no longer the single body handing out qualifications?

Second question is, how well does the new instructor know taiji, to be able to teach taiji to students? After all, he/she only attended a 2-day training session. If taiji can be learnt in 2 days (even if it is only less than 10 movements), no one would spend a lifetime trying to master it. And if taiji cannot be learnt in 2 days, then what makes the new instructors qualified to teach? Won't it be a case of the blind leading the blind? If taiji is not taught properly, won't it hurt the students instead of help them? If that is the case, ethically, shouldn't we stop these new instructors from teaching taiji until they are ready?

Third question is, who authorised the doctors to authorise these new instructors? Doctors, being doctors, are professionals in the medical field. They are obviously subject matter experts on things medical. I have no problems with them authorising people to teach physiotherapy. But doctors are not professionals nor subject matter experts in taiji. It is one thing to share their research with people (so that people are aware of the benefits of taiji proven by research). It is another thing altogether to charge a fee to teach someone something that they have no right to teach. After all, are these doctors qualified instructors certified by the SNWF? How do we know if what they are teaching is even correct?

If the doctors conducted seminars (even charging fees for them) to share their research, I would have no issues. After all, they are sharing the results of their research so that people know the benefits of taiji in helping relief those ailments. People can then find the right teachers to learn taiji to aid their ailments. As doctors dedicated to helping people, this would have been a good approach.

But now, they are charging people to learn from them, and allowing these people to teach others. First, as far as I know, they are not the authority on taiji, so they have no right to charge others. (Maybe the descendants of Sun Lutang should charge these doctors a fee, since the movements are from Sun-style taiji.) Second, as far as I know, they have no authority to authorise others to teach, so they shouldn't charge fees for those as well. Third, how ethical is it to allow just anyone who has attended a 2-day training session to teach taiji? This could cause more harm than good. As doctors having to uphold their set of professional ethics, they may want to seriously relook at how they want to help those with these ailments. It is one thing to have a large following, it is another to have them all doing the movements correctly so that they can benefit from it.

A proposed approach would be for the doctors to share their research results through a series of seminars, target audience being taiji instructors, plus those interested. Participants can then be given a certificate of attendance. Those who want to teach this set of routine can do so, but only if they are already qualified instructors certified by the SNWF. Those who are yet to be certified by the SNWF can of course get themselves certified when they are ready. This way, we ensure that the instructors have a certain standard in taiji and proper understanding of taiji to know what they are teaching, and thus be able to teach it properly to students. The doctors probably won't earn as much directly from this, and are likely to be less well-known, but helping patients is their aim, not fame or money, right?


Anonymous said...

What is this type of por lumpar tai chi? Are there any online videos to show? Recently there is one western teacher visited here and conducted a short taichi course to treat medical ailments.
Although there are medical studies on taichi, we need be careful not to misrepresent the findings. It takes a long time to see the benefit of taichi, if someone believes that taichi can cure the sickness, then he would probably be dead before he sees the benefits.
In martial arts, there are hidden dangers in wrong practice. So an unqualified teacher will do more harm than good. Perhaps these doctors are thinking of getting more regular visits from his patients complaining of new problems.
There are many teachers who offer to teach all sorts of rojak taichi to unsuspecting public. Serious students will soon find out more, with time and money wasted, and go back to the true roots of taichi.

Varuna said...

Hi! I think these doctors have the idea taijiquan can be learned in 2 days because they see it just from the physical and external view, as if the external movements themselves have the "power" to give good health. The western medicine does not accept the subtle concept of energy, as well it can't undertand this concept, which works with the principle of internal energy.

Terry said...

I think you have every right to be outraged on this matter. It is a slap in the face of everyone who works at gaining some level of Gongfu in Taijiquan.

Nice piece of writing by the way. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Surprisingly I know of physiotherapists learning this tai chi set and teaching it in an old folk's home.

From a tai chi practitioner's view , their tai chi is at most beginner's level. But when I inquired how the progress was at the old folk's home, they said that ya after teaching these old people tai chi, their balance and health becomes better. Can you imagine that even beginner's teaching beginners there are such benefits.And these programs are sponsored by the govt.I think that gave me a different perspective on this so called "unqualified" instructor issue.

Well personally I think if you want to teach tai chi you should be SNWF certified. But if you want to teach this so called tai chi set to the common people, I don't see the harm as long as the tai chi set they are doing is as it was taught with a high frame and slow movements.