Maybe you can help or advise me on a matter that concerns me about what will happen to our future having no Masters !
For my own curiosity, I have seen the title of master for years in the martial arts. Can you answer my question, what is a "Master." What do you have to do to obtain this title and who appoints you to the position of Master? This is very unclear to me how this process takes place. Can you please help me understand how a Tai Chi person becomes a Master?
I have a lineage in the Wu Tai Chi Style that came from Master Wu Jian Quan to Mr. Wei Xiao Tang to Mr. Tzeng Yu (Tom) Huang. These people are now all dead and there are no masters. How do you appoint a master, do we have that right to appoint a master? Please direct me to someone that might know.
My teacher Mr. Tzeng Yu (Tom) Huang learned Wu Tai Chi in Tiepei Taiwan from Mr. Wei Xiao Tang who in turn learned from Master Wu Jian Quan while in Singapore. Tom said never call him master, he felt there was still too much to learn and he referred to his teacher as Mr. Wei. I know Mr. Wei Xiao Tang was a master in the 8 Step Mantis system, I don't know if Master Wu Jian Quan ever gave Mr. Wei a title.
What are the requirements and areas that must be achieved for the title of Master, where can we go to make this happen? Is there a committee or organization that we need to approach?
Who would be the next "Living Lineage Holder"? Does it go by seniority or the person who perfected the system even if they have less seniority, or would there be a living lineage holder at all? How is the next lineage holder selected?
What is now happening is older student is teaching younger student, older student is teaching younger student, older student is teaching younger student, etc. What is to become of us?
Dear Mr. Rosul,
The word "Master" varies in meaning as it is used in different cultures and languages. In the Taoist/Zen traditions, a "Master" is one who is enlightened, highly respected, venerated, a great contributor to the tradition, especially wise and insightful, and possibly possessing special and extraordinary powers of mind, body or spirit. If you had a relationship with such a "Master" it would often be one of a Guru and disciple, a Father and son, an Authority and learner, or a Superior and inferior ranks relationship. At some point, after many years of study and practice, such a "Master" would make a decision, based upon your abilities and performance and your face to face relationship with the "Master", to grant you authority to teach, or certify your enlightenment, or otherwise acknowledge your advancement into the ranks of a new "Master." One aspect of the philosophical Taoist tradition also tends to downplay the importance of titles, honors, degrees, and rank; and, instead, tries to bring more of a focus on natural living, simple living, committed ongoing inner practice, and having the heart-mind realize the Tao as more important than social status. Some of these Taoist/Zen practices are part of the Tai Chi Chuan teaching style.
As a general rule, Tai Chi Chuan internal martial arts schools do not award degrees, levels, ranks, or belts as do other martial arts systems. Many excellent and experienced (10 years +) Tai Chi Chuan teachers are also very modest, and prefer not to be called "Master." They may ask to call them "Sifu" or "Teacher," or simply refer to them as "Mr. Surname."
Many Tai Chi Chuan schools are also autocratic and non-democratic in their organization, do not have a formal and written curriculum, and are not coordinated with activities in other Tai Chi Chuan schools. These Tai Chi Chuan schools are a business, operated by individuals, do not provide for leadership changes; and, as such, are not interested in cooperation or sharing with competitors.
As for my personal preference, I favor a standardized Tai Chi Chuan curriculum, written, and coordinated with other schools teaching the same style of internal martial arts. I would prefer a clear, written, and standardized system of testing and grading by ranks, levels, or degrees of proven expertise as is found other external martial arts (e.g., Aikido, Karate, Kenpo, Judo, Tae Kwon Do, etc.). I'd like to see Tai Chi Chuan practitioners wear belts, specialized clothing, sash markers or other symbols to show their proven rank based on passing standardized tests. I prefer to see the curriculum of Tai Chi Chuan structured and orderly, written and published, leveled, and accredited by an outside administrative authority. Yes, I'm more of a Confucian or Legalist rather than Taoist on this subject.
I see the situation starting to change somewhat. For example, in the United States, the Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan Association now has a clear curriculum and ranking system. In China, the physical education curriculum at universities and colleges provides for a "wushu" (martial arts) curriculum and awards degrees accordingly, and does include Tai Chi Chuan in the curriculum. A number of Tai Chi Chuan schools around the world are now developing a specific written curriculum and rank testing. Traditional Chinese medicine, medical qigong, and acupuncture now have accredited programs, standardized curriculum, publications and textbooks, and ranking systems in the United States. I applaud these efforts.
If you can earn a "Master of Arts or Science Degree" in five years by taking classes and tests at an accredited university, and a Doctorate in 9 years, then you should be able to do the same in Tai Chi Chuan and be called, at some point of proven accomplishment, a "Master."
Tai Chi Chuan standardization of curriculum, and testing by accredited agencies, would give the prospective students, the consumers, a fair way to judge the qualifications of a potential instructor or "Master." Students would probably want a to employ and study with a formally qualified, intellectually and physically qualified instructor, not just a good fighter who asks you to call him "Master." This is not to say that there are not a few outstanding Tai Chi Chuan or Qigong Masters, great contributors to the art, who do not have any formal credentials or degrees, and who it would be an honor to study with; however, such people are rare and inaccessible to the millions of us who want to learn and practice internal martial arts.
If there existed a clear, standardized, and formal ranking system, there would be no question as to who were the most highly qualified teachers. Then, a committee of the most qualified teachers, could meet and elect a leader (i.e., top representative, president, chairman, spokesperson, lineage holder, etc.) of the Tai Chi Chuan organization. The leadership post is largely ceremonial, provides a focal point for acknowledging proven and respected authority, and helps with social organization. Leaders would probably be chosen for a variety of reasons including teaching skills, communications and writing skills, charisma, fighting skills, business organization skills, generosity of personality, commitment to the cause, etc..
As for the circumstances of your own Tai Chi Chuan situation and practice, it lacks all the elements I mention above for answering your questions. Your Tai Chi Chuan tradition seems to lack organization, standardization, ranking, testing, formal curriculum, or an orderly method for determining authority and leadership. Therefore, I don't have a good answer to your predicament.
I'm an older Tai Chi Chuan instructor teaching primarily older Tai Chi Chuan students. We don't concern ourselves much with titles and ranks, and instead try our best to enjoy ourselves, maintain our health and vitality, perfect our practice, and share. However, I would heartily welcome being able to learn more from a young Tai Chi Chuan Master, formally trained and degreed in Tai Chi Chuan, trained to teach, who could teach this old dog some new tricks.
Best wishes in your Tai Chi Chuan practice!
Reply from Sifu Chris Bouguyon on 1/8/06:
If you do not mind, I would like to comment on this question. I agree with what you have said regarding a lack of standardized curriculum in traditional Tai Chi circles, and I also agree that as we get older, ranks and titles matter much less. I did once hear a respected Grandmaster explain the titles this way - In order to be recommended for Sifu you must have at least 12 years of training experience in your style and show a proficiency at teaching the material. Once you have 25 years of training and teaching experience you can be considered for the title of Master. This by no means entitles you to the title, it just means you can now be considered. Grandmaster status takes no less than 40 years to attain and you typically need to have a minimum number of long term students to show your continued commitment to the art you train and teach.
In the western mind, this is almost an insurmountable concept for anyone less than the most passionate among us. Unfortunately, I have seen many teachers claim the title master or even grandmaster with little to no real background for their claim. This serves to water down the traditional ways and does little for our art's integrity in the public eye. It took me 12 years and a difficult Master and Grandmaster review board to even be considered for the title of Sifu. This was years after my Master Instructor gave me permission to teach the basics to new students in the first place.
Bottom line: If you feel comfortable with your instructor's knowledge base, enjoy his classes and grow personally from this training, then do titles really matter.
Best of luck on your chosen path.
Sifu Chris Bouguyon
Senior Instructor / Owner