Please note that until further notice, Joanna is not currently taking on any new students (as of Feb 2011)
Download our classes leaflet in PDF format.
Firstly, we should point out that in keeping with the Classical Kung Fu tradition, the purpose of this page is to put you off. Talk about shooting ourselves in the foot! We know that these days everything is geared towards the hard sell, but we don't want you to come and give us money while it is all new and exciting to you, only for you to get bored and go away, which is what most people do in EVERY martial art. The reason most people get bored of martial training after a while is because it is difficult, strenuous and rarely as romantic as it looks in the movies or sounds in books.
Everyone has their own hurdles to overcome. For a gifted student, suddenly discovering after a few months or even years that there is something they can't get right quickly might demoralise them and make them think it is time to move on. They might conclude they have already learned everything useful they are going to learn from the style. In reality they may have been about to make the most important breakthrough they could have ever made in their martial training and moving on to learn another style will only confuse their body. If they do this in a number of martial styles, they will probably only ever scratch the surface in all of them. They may never conquer that aspect of themselves that most needs conquering if they are to truly excel.
Other students find it difficult from the start and it never seems to get any easier. They just might not be as good as other students at co-ordinating their bodies or understanding the principles and concepts they have to learn. The solution to this problem is to train harder than the other students and they will have to do this if they wish to keep up. The good news is that if they train hard, they may well get ahead of the students who find it easy and don't feel the need to train so often. I used to struggle, so I trained 25 hours per week and did get ahead of my fellow students as a result, which is why I am a teacher now. Students who struggle can make better teachers because they don't necessarily expect their students to get things right away. They may be more sympathetic towards a struggling student of their own and they may also have more ideas about how to overcome difficulties based on their own experiences.
The crucial thing is that Kung Fu requires you to conquer yourself. Although we all inevitably compare ourselves to our fellow students and gauge our successes on how well we are doing in comparison to them, it is better to focus solely on your own progress - on whether or not you are managing to make any headway with the areas you find difficult. You must recognise that however long it takes, you must overcome those hurdles if you are to succeed. It isn't enough merely to be better than your classmates.
Comsumerism vs Kung Fu
Our consumer culture encourages people to move on to new pastures when they stop enjoying something. No one would ever stick at martial training if everyone did this: there would be no martial arts because no one would ever have stuck at them long enough to develop them. The consumerist mindset encouarages you to play to your strengths and do only what you enjoy, placing the onus on service providers to make their "activities" or "products" more enjoyable in order to meet the wishes of the consumer. Within the marketplace, the most successful martial arts will not be the ones that produce the best fighters, but the ones that manage to make their classes most enjoyable. As fun as martial training can be, pleasure can't really be allowed to become the primary factor in determining the success of a martial style.
The Kung Fu mindset could not be more different. As I stated above, Kung Fu requires you to conquer yourself. It is not about doing what you find easy, but about overcoming what you find difficult. The meaning of the words "Kung" and "Fu" are as follows. Kung (gong in modern pinyin) literally means "hard work" or "meritorious skill", referring to skill acquired through hard work over time. "Fu" actually means a man or person, so Kung Fu refers to high human achievement acquired through dedication and can actually refer to any kind of skill, rather than any explicitly martial skill. A more usual Chinese term for martial arts is "Wushu" which translates literally as "martial art". But whether you call it Kung Fu or Wushu, martial training is not about doing only what is fun - ask any soldier. Kung Fu is about sticking at the things in spite of the fact that they are most certainly not fun: the pain of sore muscles and bruises; the mind-numbing repetition of drilling movements until they become second nature; the dented pride when you do badly at a competitive practice such a sparring or sticky hands.
Most martial arts schools survive by charging high start-up costs such as insurance, heavily marked up uniforms, gradings, kit etc. They also teach children's classes. There is generally no shortage of children, so it doesn't much matter from a commercial standpoint if you have a high drop out rate. We do neither of these things. We actually have very low start up costs, because you are covered by our insurance, you don't need to buy an offical uniform from us and there are no grading fees. Oops - I'm forgetting myself - I'm meant to be trying to put you off from coming. OK, pretend you didn't just read that. It's horrible and so are we and you're going to hate it.
If you are a real glutton for punishment, you might like to see our article aimed at new Tai Chi students to gain some extra insights into the less fun aspects of martial training: 3 Things You Are Going To Hate About Tai Chi
Well if the above blurb hasn't got rid of you, let's try the direct approach, in the time-honoured tradition of the traditional Kung Fu teacher.
Still here? OK, let's try again.
One more time.
And.... you're still here. That's a good sign - you've shown some determination! So with that little formality out of the way, let me explain that we do not accept absolutely everyone as a student. The material we cover is of a very martial nature and requires a fairly mature attitude to deal with. We try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and we like to give people time to settle in, but if it becomes apparent that you are not emotionally mature or stable enough to participate in martial training, you will be told to leave the class.
Secondly, you will need to be very keen to train martial techniques in a martially realistic manner to participate in our classes - if you were just hoping to get fit, or cure some nagging health problem, you will not enjoy what we do. Frankly, you shouldn't even do it for the "feelgood factor" - while it is great fun, martial training is precise, difficult and often painful. We're never reckless, but properly applied martial techniques do hurt and you need to get used to that - you need to become emotionally desensitised to pain and increase your stamina and pain thresholds.
Learning a martial art is like learning a new language: you will constantly need to build on what you have learned in previous lessons, so it is essential that you practice between classes. To do them well, martial techniques require plenty of repetition and refinement - patience and concentration are necessary. We also ask virtually all of our new students to start at the beginning of our syllabus, regardless of any previous experience, because every school understands and teaches the fundamental principles a little differently and you will need to understand our foundation material before you can move on to other things.
While we endeavour to make our students into effective fighters as quickly as possible, it is important that students have realistic expectations. If you can't get a technique to work the very first time you try, it is more likely to be because of something you are doing or not doing, rather than meaning the technique is flawed. You should also remember that while our techniques are powerful and versatile, no technique is is right for absolutely all occasions, which is why we need to teach you an entire system. A degree of co-operation and trust is necessary while you learn the basics - we will teach you more advanced material that will build on your basic skills, as you progress.
If you think you'd like to come along, please continue to our class details page >>
If you're not yet sure whether our classes are for you, you might want to take our "Kung Fu Test" below.
Kung Fu Test:
Question your commitment.
Ask yourself the following 5 questions:
1) Are you prepared to work hard and practice regularly between classes in order to develop good fighting skills?
If your answer is "well I'm not that bothered" or "look - I was just looking for something to do of an evening and I thought this might be fun, but I could just as easily do something else" or "well I'm not that bothered about being particularly good at it," then martial arts classes are probably not the right choice for you.
If just reading these words makes you indignant - if you think "well that's ridiculous - I couldn't possibly make every week" or "I don't have time to practice between classes!" then again - martial arts are not for you. We understand that people might have to miss the occasional week due to ill health, or because they have a holiday booked, but students should always come to classes if they are well and able to do so. That doesn't mean that you have to be young, strong and healthy to participate, but you must not have an aversion to becoming as strong and fit as possible. If, for example, you are a woman and you think that developing muscles is an undesirable or unfeminine thing, then our classes are not for you. Or if you are obese but you don't actually want to lose any weight, again - our classes are not for you.
2) Are you prepared to be taught by women and younger people?
Trust us - we know what we are doing and we know how to teach it. That said, our two main instructors are both women, one just into her forties, the other in her thirties; our other instructor is in his mid-twenties. We may, at times, ask our students to help you when you get things wrong. These students may be younger than you and may even be less experienced at martial arts, but if we have asked them to help you it is because their knowledge of the combat techniques and principles we teach and how we teach them is better than yours. There can be no room for false pride here - if you are prepared to take instruction from us, we can teach you, if you are not, we can't.
3) Are you prepared to be tested?
As with most martial styles, to learn with us, you need to be prepared to take grading exams. We need to know that you have fully grasped certain skills before you can progress to the next level and these skills need to be tested under pressure. The pressure of a grading is generally considerably less than that of a real-life assault and there is a lot less at stake, so we don't consider it much to ask.
4) Are you prepared to endure pain and hardship?
If you ever want to be good at fighting, you will have to endure the pain of physical and mental development - building stronger and more flexible muscles for one thing, especially in your legs. You will also have to learn how to hurt people and how to put up with being hurt. In training you should try hard not to cause or sustain any kind of lasting injury, but you will need to emotionally and physically condition yourself to be able to withstand and deliver pain. A well-rounded fighter needs to be able to take knocks, kicks and punches; the pain of joint locks; and the pain of being thrown around on hard surfaces.
You will also need to develop the self discipline to practice when you don't want to and to work dilligently on things you find difficult, boring or unpleasant.
5) Will you recognise your responsibilities?
Martial artists are taking on a big responsibility. As your skills develop, you will learn in ever greater detail how to hurt other people. With this knowledge comes the responsibility to never use your skills without very genuine justification. You will also learn how not to injure people with ever greater degrees of accuracy. You should generally err on the side of caution and only use reasonable or appropriate levels of force. The severity of your response should be proportional to the threat.
Lives could depend on your fighting skills - yours, that of an attacker, or maybe those of other people under your protection. This isn't a responsibiltity to undertake lightly. If you had the attitiude of "well, I'm not bothered about being a good driver, I just want the bare minimum required to get me through my driving test," you'd be a menace on the road.
People who come to T'ai Chi / Taiji, and the other so-called "internal" martial styles, often have (at best) a very half-hearted attitude towards developing fighting ability. This is because the arts have been so heavily promoted in recent years for their health-cultivating, aesthetic or some would even claim spiritual properties. If you were hoping that Taiji training would be less martial than the training of other martial arts, you are going to be very disappointed by our classes. To our knowledge, we actually practice quite a lot more contact work in our classes than people in many other martial styles. If you like careful and precise, hands-on martial training, you'll probably like what we do. If you prefer Forms / Katas / Jurus - you'll probably hate it, because we emphasise developing hands-on fighting ability first.
As a student we expect you to:
1) Attend classes and practice regularly between classes.
2) Be courteous and respectful to each other and to us. You must stay in touch with us and let us know when you can't make a class.
3) Always try your best to learn the skills we teach - don't just think "oh we'll probably go over that again next week." Try to leave each class with a good grasp of the techniques and skills we've covered, so that you will be able to practice them before your next class (this doesn't have to be with a training partner - you can gain a lot from practicing on your own, providing you imagine that you are performing the techniques with a real opponent.)
4) Commit yourself to the style we are teaching you, rather than just coming to Martial Tai Chi™ for a month or two in order to improve your abilities in other martial styles. You might be paying us for our time, but we do expect you to respect the arts we teach enough not to simply plunder them for a few snippets of useful information.
We generally ask students not to train with other martial arts teachers at the same time as learning with us, because every style has its own ways of moving and learning more than one movement vocabulary will confuse your body, reducing your abilities in both styles. We aim to train you to use Martial Tai Chi™ body mechanics as much as possible in your everyday life and any time spent moving or training to move in a different way will impede your progress. Without exception, this has proved to be the case in the past with every student we have taught who has tried to study other arts at the same time.
How did you score?
If you agree with the spirit of what we have said so far, we just need you to look through our School Code:
Our School Code
1) People take up martial arts for all kinds of reasons, but there is only one correct reason - and that is to develop fighting skills.
2) People develop fighting skills for all kinds of reasons, but there is only one correct reason - and that is to learn how to protect others and yourself from harm.
3) Train hard. The path to effortlessness is arduous - there are no quick or easy ways to success* If you train hard and push yourself beyond what you thought yourself capable of, you will discover that you are capable of far more than you imagined.
4) Study hard. Recognise that martial arts require commitment. Make great efforts to learn and practice everything that you are taught. Keep a training journal so you can make a note of everything you learn and write down any specific things you have been told to work on. Endeavour to practice every day and try to abandon bad or conflicting postural habits or movements. If you can make the physical principles we teach you part of your everyday life, you will not only be able to practice constantly, but your body will always be operating at its most efficient.
5) Cultivate a positive frame of mind and avoid negativity. Focus on building on your successes rather than being demoralised by your failures but always strive to do things better - there is no such thing as "good enough."
6) Avoid competitiveness. Seek only to be all that you can be. Don't compare yourself to others, nor they to you - avoid notions of superiority or inferiority.
7) Emphasise practicality, renounce embellishment and shun superstition. Martial arts were created and developed by soldiers and bodyguards, not by monks, hermits or "immortals". Gongfu / Kung Fu styles contain multiple cultural influences and utilise any ideas that are useful. Divisions around religious lines (such as Buddhist arts and Daoist arts) are essentially untrue. Additionally the modern division into external arts and internal arts or into purely hard or soft styles is fictitious and such notions are completely untraditional.
8) Martial contact practice is more useful than solo "Form" training. Contact work is far more efficient for training fighting ability and movement accuracy and is better for developmental / health & fitness training. Students should practice solo work as well, but should prioritise contact training as often as possible**
9) With greater powers and freedoms comes greater responsibilities. Never use your martial skills unjustifiably or inappropriately - any use of your martial skills should be proportionate to the threat. Furthermore, try to become a more useful and helpful person, ready to lend a hand to others for a worthwhile cause. Remember the School motto: "Safeguard Yourself, Protect Others." As your skill develops, you should grow increasingly prepared to protect the weak and vulnerable.
10) Work hard to adhere to a benevolent moral code. Cultivate benevolence, bravery and honesty in your thoughts, words and deeds. Selflessness is better than selfishness.
*Many martial arts promise their practitioners super-human powers. All are lying. Martial arts are a physical pursuit - not a path to enlightenment or a way of harnessing paranormal forces. Aim for such things and you will stray widely from the goal. Aim for fighting ability and you will accomplish many other things besides. The fighting arts are just that, but practiced diligently for their own sake, they award a great many other benefits.
**Some osteopaths recommend impact training / sports such as martial arts that involve being thrown on hard surfaces as this can help to improve the density and strength of your bones.
If you can abide by this code, you are welcome to come and meet us and watch a lesson or two before committing yourself to joining our school and having to pay your membership fee.