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TCUGB Judges’ Seminars - Report by Anthony Stadlen

The Judges’ Seminars were the initiative, in 2005, of Sifu Gary Wragg, the Director of the Original Wu’s Tai Chi Chuan Academy in London and, at the time, Chairman of the Tai Chi Union of Great Britain. The seminars got into their stride in the last six months, with seven all-day seminars by leading international experts in a variety of styles. These experts taught the principles of their styles, the practice of their forms, and their criteria for judging them.

The principle of the seminars is that any competitor at a Tai Chi competition should be, and should be seen to be, fairly judged. This has not always happened, despite judges’ painstaking efforts and integrity. Judging, at times, seemed arbitrary or inconsistent, or even ignored the criteria for judging a given style. The Judges’ Seminars are designed to remedy this.

The seminars make it possible for anyone who aspires to be, or is already, a judge to work towards, and achieve, rigour and consistency in judging. After a trainee has attended six seminars, he or she will be eligible to sit a test to qualify as a TCUGB judge. The first test will be held this autumn. Qualified judges will be able to deepen and refine their knowledge by attending further seminars.

When someone is a great master, in any style, his or her mastery will no doubt be obvious. A woman warrior named Yüeh Nü told the King of Yüeh in the third century BCE (Douglas Wile, Tai Chi’s Ancestors: The Making of an Internal Martial Art, 1999, New City, NY: Sweet Ch’i Press, pp. 3-4):

The art of swordmanship is extremely subtle and elusive; its principles are most secret and profound… You should look like a modest woman and strike like a ferocious tiger… Your skill should be as obvious as the sun and as startling as a bolting hare.

When skill is obvious and startling, judging may seem superfluous. But to see it as obvious, even as startlingly obvious, is still to judge that it is obvious: ob (in the way of) viam (the way, or in this case the Way, or Tao).

The in-between cases, where someone is on the rocky path between stumbling and mastery, are truly difficult to judge. It needs proper training for judges to achieve consistency even in judging their own style. All the more do they need training in judging a style not their own. How can judges evaluate even such a basic and simple point as a competitor’s weightedness if they do not know whether it should be 100% single-weightedness, as in Wu style, or 80%–20%, 70%–30% or 60%–40%, as in other styles? How can they assess a competitor’s keeping the back heel in contact with the floor or bringing the back foot up with heel raised behind the front foot, if they do not know which is correct in the given style? They can make an intelligent guess, but the guess may simply be wrong.

The danger of judging that does not recognise the distinct styles is that judges cover their uncertainty by evolving a set of implicit or explicit eclectic, homogenized criteria. Gary Wragg has pointed out that competitors are then tempted to compromise and corrupt the distinctiveness of their own style by, as he put it, ‘pandering’ to the judges. Tai Chi degenerates from internal art into external, quasi-aesthetic display.

This is the situation that the Judges’ Seminars are intended to remedy.

The founding seminar was in Nottingham on 13 February 2005. In 2006 there were six seminars: in Nottingham on 19 February, four in Caledonia on 11 and 12 June, and in Rickmansworth on 11 November. In 2007 and 2008, Mark Peters, Faye Yip, Gary Wragg and Liming Yue have between them given seven all-day seminars, in Birmingham, Coseley, London and Old Trafford respectively, each devoted to one form and to the criteria for judging it.

Gary Wragg’s vision of a rational, consistent and fair system of judging has been vindicated by these seminars. But only a very few of the more than six hundred TCUGB instructors, let alone their students, have participated so far.

It may sound a formidable task to train as a judge. Isn’t the discipline of cultivating one’s own style more than enough? Why confuse things by dipping into other styles? Some of us hesitated before taking the plunge, but we were all, I think, captivated by the riches of the other styles, by their subtlety, gentleness, power and rigour based on principles and criteria some of which are quite other than our own. And we were moved by the presence, dedication and mastery of the experts in these styles, and by their confidence that we could, with study, become worthy to judge their trainees.

It is serious and responsible work, but it is fun. It is a revelation, and even a shock, to be exposed to new masters and new, lively, interesting Tai Chi colleagues for whom Tai Chi means a different style entirely from what we are used to. It is exhilarating to have one’s assumptions turned upside down. It is a joy to be taught by these unique teachers.

The predominant experience is not confusion. We are not tempted to import characteristics of other styles into our own. One doesn’t unlearn one’s mother tongue by learning another language. But in a subtle way one’s own language is enriched. One marvels at Tai Chi’s unity-in-multiplicity.

The website Judging Points of Tai Chi lists, under ‘Judging Points of Tai Chi’, score systems and pointers for judges, with criteria for Chen, Cheng Man Ching, Sun, Wu and Yang styles. The differences between the criteria for different styles are striking. But these guidelines are no substitute for attending the Judges’ Seminars. The differences are even more striking in practice.

Judges Seminars lists the seminars from 2005 onwards, with the names of all participants.

The following seven all-day seminars were held between September 2007 and March 2008:

29 September 2007

Cheng Man Ching style

Mark Peters

Birmingham

13 October 2007

Sun style

Faye Yip

Coseley, Wolverhampton

11 November 2007

Wu style

Gary Wragg

Bethnal Green, London

8 December 2007

24 Step Form

Faye Yip

Coseley, Wolverhampton

26 January 2008

42 Combined Form

Faye Yip

Coseley, Wolverhampton

17 February 2008

Wu style 54 Competition Round Form

Gary Wragg

Bethnal Green, London

8 March 2008

Chen style

Liming Yue

Old Trafford, Manchester

Gary Wragg also conducted two short Judges’ Seminars, on judging points and on Wu-style sabre, on 5 April 2008 in Oxford.

In his seminars, Gary explained that Wu style has some features not found in any other style. It is single-weighted. It uses small circles and spirals, not large dramatic ones. It is not flamboyant. It is generally a high style. The feet are mostly parallel, at shoulder’s width apart. In forward stepping, the heel goes down first, then the foot is rolled down until flat, testing the ground, before any weight is applied to it. Only then does the weight shift forward onto the front foot, 100% single-weighted. In the bow stance the body makes an angle of 45 degrees with the ground. These are just a few of the differences. It is difficult for judges to do justice to Wu style without explicit training.

I shall sketch the five all-day seminars on thenon-Wu styles. My perspective is that of a Wu-style instructor. (Ten of us from the Original Wu’s Tai Chi Chuan Academy in London attended some or all of these seminars. I thank Gary Wragg, Richard Davies, Nicole Lomas and Steffi Sachsenmaier for their helpful criticisms of, and contributions to, this article.) I hope non-Wu practitioners will report some of the Wu-style seminars in due course.

Mark Peters has direct lineage to Grandmaster Cheng Man Ching (1902–1975). He trained intensively with Masters Tan Ching Ngee, Ko Ah Tee, Wu Chiang Hsing, Liang He Ching and Tan Seow Theng in Singapore and Malaysia. With Nigel Sutton he set up the Kai Ming Association for Taijiquan (Kai Ming means open-minded). He has developed a ‘Tai Chi for falls prevention’ programme, and presented it to Primary Care Trusts across the Midlands. He has appeared on a number of television programmes. He is the only westerner to have been elected vice president of the World Tai Chi Federation (Taiwan). (See his autobiography on Mark Peters - Tai Chi Biography.)

Mark gave the seminar of 29 September 2007 in Birmingham out of doors, which suited his (deceptively) relaxed style. He taught us the principles of Cheng Man Ching’s development of the ‘simplified’ 37-posture Yang-style form. Stances should not be ‘shouty’. One moves ‘as if getting up from a chair’. ‘Only use four ounces against your opponent and only let your opponent use four ounces against you.’ ‘Tai Chi is not all circles. It is rotation – linear – rotation. Think of brakes stopping the wheels of a car.’ There should ‘not be too much expression in the pushing hand’ in Twist Step Brush Knee. Golden Cock and Repulse Monkey are markedly different in this style. The basic principle of this style is ‘potentiality, not actuality’. Even Mark’s easy, laid-back way of teaching somehow conveyed that there was more in reserve, more than he was letting on.

It would be impossible to judge this remarkable style fairly if one did not know that its central intention is this holding back. The lack of expression in the pushing hand would be marked down as a failure of intent by the criteria of other styles. Mark showed us the secret rigour and precision in the apparent laziness. The focus is on ‘cross pumping’, the connection between opposite hand and foot: if the weight is on the right foot, then the focus is on the left hand. An acronym, BURST, helps to remember the principles: Beautiful lady’s hand – Upright body – Relax – Separate the weight – Turn the waist (i.e. hips and waist).

Faye Yip (née Li) comes from a most distinguished Tai Chi lineage. She trained from a very young age with her father, Professor Li Deyin, and subsequently with Bagua Grandmaster Sha Guo Zheng, Sun-style Grandmaster Sun Jian Yun (whom she called ‘Great Nan’), and her great-uncle Grandmaster Li Tian Ji, the creator of the 24-step simplified Yang Tai Chi Chuan and the 32-step Yang Tai Chi sword form. She won many gold and silver medals for Tai Chi and sword routines in China, before leaving for the UK. With her husband, Master Tary Yip, she founded the Deyin Taijiquan Institute for Wolverhampton and the West Midlands, and more recently the Deyin Taijiquan Institute Spain. She is a leading teacher of traditional Yang style and Wudang sword, and one of the highest European authorities on Traditional Sun-style Tai Chi with direct lineage to the founder Grandmaster Sun Lu Tang. On top of all this, she was the first person to learn and promote the Taiji Kung Fu Fan created by her father, which is now practised by tens of millions worldwide as well as in China. (See Background and history of Deyin, Faye & Tary's martial arts journey, Li Yu Lin, Li Tian Ji Li Deyin's background and history.)

At Faye Yip’s seminar on Sun style on 13 October 2007 at Coseley, we discovered what an unassuming, warm and friendly person this great teacher and authority is. Soon she had taken us through some warm-ups and was starting on the form itself. She wanted us constantly to change position so that all would have a chance of seeing her close up. ‘Start with feet together, toes out at a right angle. When you step forward, the foot has to be straight ahead, not at an angle. You step up immediately, the stances are not long. Leave a little bit of a gap between feet to allow space to turn. Don’t step up too close to the other foot. When turning, pivot on the ball and toe of the foot. Don’t drag the foot up. It must be a quick step up. Knees are bent. Step up, other foot released, move immediately.’ Weight distribution is 80%–20%. There is an important stance, or rather three of them, known as ‘t-stances’, with three positions for the toe, all different from anything in our style. Most steps in Sun style are t-shape. We must not step at shoulders’ width, but more like two fists’ width. ‘Stepping up always means you are nearer the centre.’ When we extend the palm, it’s the index finger, not the thumb (as in Wu style) that should be on the centre line. We are having to move in a way quite unlike our familiar Wu style. Yet, like a foreign language, we start to get the feel of it, and to enjoy trying to ‘talk’ it. Faye explains criteria for judging Sun style at different levels. She provides a fine Chinese lunch, and at the end of the day we feel we have being doing the form for much longer than a mere five hours.

On 8 December 2007, we were back in Coseley to study the 24-posture Tai Chi form with Faye. She explained that this form had been in existence for about fifty years. In 1949, after the communists took power, the government saw Tai Chi as a means to improve health by building up people’s immune systems when medical facilities were lacking. But the traditional schools were divided, and required a lifetime’s commitment to a traditional teacher. How to simplify Tai Chi for the masses? Experts from all styles came up after lengthy discussions with a form made up of bits of each style. This turned out to be even more difficult for ordinary people to learn. Eventually a 24-posture form based on Yang style was created, and repeatedly refined in the light of experience. After initial resistance from traditional schools, here and in China, it became very successful, and is now practised by millions, not only in China. It was simplified by Faye’s great-uncle, the late Master Li Tian Ji in 1956.

She said that many people go through the motions of the form without understanding the intentions of each of its movements, and without following the ten principles laid down by Grandmaster Yang Cheng Fu. She said that we as judges must always ask: what is the posture for? What is its intention? We need to understand breathing technique, direction of energy and martial intent for each form. Each form should be clear and telling, showing that the competitor knows the how and why, the purpose, of each form. The judges cannot judge this unless they know this too. Again she stipulated precise criteria for judging.

At Faye’s third seminar in Coseley, on 26 January 2008, she took us through the 42-step Combined Form. This is a form introduced in 1989 by experts of the different schools who succeeded, under the chief editorship of Faye’s father, in creating a single, flowing form which integrates aspects of Chen,Yang, Sun and Wu styles and has been much used in competitions. Faye took us through the principles and practice of this form in an exemplary manner.

Liming Yue studied martial arts as a child in China. He was so impressed by a young student, Li Xianming, who showed him authentic Chen style, that he travelled to the village of Chenjiagou, Wenxian County, Henan Province where Chen style has been kept alive for more than three centuries since General Chen Wangtin, who created it in the late Ming Dynasty, retired to the village. The Chen art was practised secretly in the village until, in the mid-19th century, Grandmaster Chen Changxing taught it to a servant, Yang Luchan, who went on to found the Yang style. Liming Yue studied with the 11th generation Chen Masters in the village, and then with Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei, who has told (Issue 10) how his own teacher, his uncle Chen Zhaopei, was beaten and tortured by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. After 1969, Chen practitioners managed to survive by, for example, changing the form ‘Buddha’s Warrior Attendant Pounds Mortar’ to ‘Mao Pounds Mortar’. ‘As we did the form we would also recite the Thoughts of Mao.’ In 2005, Liming Yue was recognised as 7th Duan Wei Master by the China National Wushu Association. He studied Chi Kung with masters from the monastery on Nanyue Mountain. He moved to the United Kingdom where he founded the Chen Style Tai Chi Centre in 1995. He has taught Tai Chi as a lecturer at the University of Salford, and now teaches at the University of Leeds Medical School and the Confucius Institute of Manchester University, and for many private companies and schools. (See Master Liming Yue.)

As soon as we entered Liming Yue’s Chen Style Tai Chi Centre in Old Trafford on 8 March 2008, it was clear that he is an extraordinary person. This energetic, ambitious, but modest man says (Issue 24) that ‘the Tai Chi yin–yang philosophy points the way in your life to deal with people and society’. His courtesy and humility exemplified this. His mastery of Tai Chi was instantly apparent. In Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei’s words (Issue 10):

These are methods, which help us to get rid of the post-natal, stiff force in our bodies, and access our pre-natal, natural energy (Xiantian ziran qi)... In our Tai Chi training there is this process, which we must explain to learners, that helps us to get rid of this stiff force.

Liming Yue was a master at explaining to us learners. Again, we had to adjust to a completely new ‘language’, which enhanced rather than interfering with our own. He took us through ‘spiralling, twisting, and silk-reeling energy movements, jumps, leaps and explosive energy releases’. He stressed ‘balancing spiritual breathing with movement’. He showed us amazing stamping-down movements. He accelerated and decelerated in dramatic, unpredictable ways, which nevertheless seemed right. But how could we have known, without his explaining, that these were legitimate spontaneous improvisations within the form? We might have thought this was the way to do Chen style, and marked down a competitor who accelerated and decelerated at different places.

Future Judges’ Seminars include Gary Wragg (pushing hands) on 11 May 2008 at Bethnal Green, and Faye Yip (sword) on 30 August 2008 at Coseley.

The TCUGB and the Original Wu-Style Academy in Bethnal Green invite members who have attended any of the Judges’ Seminars since 2005 to our London Competition for Traditional Tai Chi Chuan in Hackney on 7 June 2008. There, they can have actual experience of being judges, under the expert guidance of the Head Judges of the different styles. There will be six tables, with three judges at each table, one of them a Head Judge in the style being judged. The judges at a table are permitted to confer. Judges’ Seminars participants can then take turns at different tables. There will be individual and group hand and weapon forms (sabre, sword, spear, fan) to be judged within each style, and push hands (fixed feet, restricted step and moving step) in all styles. The Head Judges are:

42 step,
24 step &
Sun style

Wu style

Chen style

Cheng Man Ching style

Yang style

Wudang style

Faye Li Yip

Gary Wragg

Liming Yue

Mark Peters

Shelagh Grandpierre

Dan Docherty

I want to emphasize again the sheer fun of learning together from these great teachers. The Judges’ Seminars go beyond the need for fair and consistent judging. They give us the beginnings of insight into other styles, and renewed respect for our own. They reveal all styles as aspects of the multifaceted proliferation, but underlying unity, of Tai Chi.

Anthony Stadlen, Spring 2008.

Tony Stadlen pictured with spear
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