Studying Tai Chi With Bruce Fertman
My profession entails teaching people about their human structure, how it is naturally designed to work, and how to prevent injuring it. Over 40 years of practice, I became aware, within the Tai Chi form, of the exact movements that create strain for most people, and that, over time, often result in injury. These are the parts I have modified ever so slightly.
While many people benefit profoundly from Tai Chi, most are never able to solve their postural problems. Most never figure out how to stand effortlessly upright, a key requisite for the practice of Tai Chi.
I have cultivated, slowly, a refined use of my hands to help people release the chronic tensions that interfere with easy uprightness, and with moving flexibly, powerfully, and naturally.
Students find this an enormous help, not only for their practice of Tai Chi, but also for their sense of comfort and confidence in their everyday lives.
As the pace of life has grown faster and faster, I find that my students have a hard time slowing down, neurologically, and this prevents some from getting the most out of class. Often they are ready to begin class just as it ends.
This motivated me to design a pre-tai chi class. This class consists of a series of simple movements, discovered slowly over 40 years, that introduce the internal principles of tai chi, not just philosophically, but profoundly physically. After this class, students are ready to learn a form that is far more than beautiful choreography.
There is a tradition of preparing students before they begin learning the form. As the legend goes, a student who wanted to study tai chi would one day knock on the teacher’s door. No one would answer. The student would leave, and bright and early the next morning, he would try again. No answer, and so on for days, for weeks. One day the door opens but it is not the teacher, merely one of his students. The senior students tells the determined student that if he wants to study tai chi with his teacher he first has to practice, daily, standing on one deeply flexed leg, with all his weight shifted onto that leg, while remaining perfectly easy and upright, until he could do so comfortably for one hour both on his right leg and his left leg. This, the senior student said would take about a year. He told the new student to come back one year later and knock again. A great story, but not my style.
Personally, I prefer to begin with new students immediately, but I begin with remedial, preparatory practice. This helps enormously. Learning the form, and then the sword, form is a joy. It takes two or three years to learn them cleanly and clearly. The time flies by.
Wanting my students to be able to practically apply the principles of Tai Chi into their everyday lives, I will sometimes end class, showing them how they can make real use of these principles when outside of class – for example, when out walking, when sitting at a computer, or when interacting with people.
The “everyday application work” I consider an essential part of tai chi practice, especially if a tai chi student is to train with me to become a tai chi teacher. One of my teachers said that our job is to make people sensitive, and to help them to bring their sensitivity into every aspect of their lives. No small task.
Very few people practice Tai Chi as a fighting form. Most people practice Tai Chi to learn how to stop fighting – against themselves, and against other people. They study to learn how not to hurt themselves, or others. They study for their health, for their wellbeing, and to be able to move naturally and comfortably throughout their lives.
My form has changed subtly over 40 years. I didn’t decide to make these changes in my form. I am not interested in being original. These changes evolved out of a lifelong seeking of the truth as to how we are functionally, naturally, designed to move. They are founded upon movement truths that you can see expressed in great athletes, and movement artists. These minute, but significant changes in the short Yang form, emerged as my practice deepened, as I observed my own problems, and the problems of my students.
These changes are made with deep respect to the long tradition of Tai Chi, which remains alive and changing, in accordance with its own principles.