My how times have changed!!! Remember how it was even 20 years ago where Tai chi was still largely unknown, still a novelty. I remember learning Tai chi in the mid-1980s and being labeled "kooky", and getting odd looks from passersby. Indeed, how times have changed!!
The New York Times ran an article in August 2010 titled Tai Chi Reported to Ease Fibromyalgia and another in September 2010 titled A Downside to Tai Chi? None That I See. Both of these articles reference the NEJM study.
The August NYT article also mentions the instructor of the study participants as being a Boston tai chi instructor, Ramel Rones. His site provides a pdf version of the NEJM article in case you're not an NEJM member and you want to read the study.
Even though this is a HUGE milestone, I found a sentence in the Discussion section of the study to be very informative of the current perceptions of Tai chi:
"Our study had some limitations. We did not use a double-blind study design, since this would have required the use of sham tai chi, for which no validated approach currently exists."And the September NYT article also echoed the above sentiment:
There is no “fake” version that could serve as a proper control to be tested against the real thing.Well . . . .
I think that the participants in the study actually learned the fake tai chi, or sham tai chi.
(Note: in the real internal martial arts community, the term "Tai chi" typically refers to the fake stuff and the term, "Taiji" typically refers to the real stuff.)
Based on my past experience as a beginning tai chi student and as a former tai chi instructor, I know that most students aren't capable of learning real Taiji with only 24 hours of Tai chi instruction. (The study indicated a 1 hour session, twice a week for 12 weeks.) I'm sure the study participants could roughly imitate several basic external movements with that amount of exposure, but probably not much more.
To me, real Taiji is played with internal connectedness, which is experienced by an opponent or partner as "internal strength". Remember, Taiji is an internal martial art.
IF Taiji is not played with this unique kinesthetic quality, then it is fake Tai chi, faux Tai chi, sham Tai chi, Tai chi dance, Tai chi exercise, moving meditation or whatever you want to call it, but it's not real Taiji.
I am discovering through personal observation and experience at the Wujifa school that developing a basic level of internal strength seems to take about three years of serious, focused zhan zhuang work along with other specific practices tailored to the individual.
Therefore I conclude that it is highly improbable that a group of beginners would be able to perform REAL Taiji after a mere 24 hours of instruction!
So where are we? Fake Tai chi has been popularized complete with its own propriety language. And now a distinguished medical journal is lending a new level of recognition and credibility to fake Tai chi without knowing their mistake. And that's OK. We are where we are and that's where we start.
If the perspective expressed in this study is any representation of the population as a whole, I think that most people cannot distinguish sham Tai chi from real Taiji. Why is this? Because the only "Tai chi" that has been popularized and adopted by the masses in the United States is the sham Tai chi. So of course, people get fooled into "thinking" they are "seeing" real Taiji and consequently make misguided statements that there is no fake version of Tai chi.
Here are excerpts from an excellent article by Ken Gullette titled: There is No Such Thing as Easy Tai Chi
This is one of the reasons I get annoyed when I see ads that promise "easy tai chi." Those who have studied with the true masters can tell you that there is absolutely no such thing. Fake tai chi might be easy. The health type of tai chi for "moving meditation" might be easy. Tai Chi for senior citizens might be easy.
Real tai chi is a powerful martial art. It is very difficult and takes years of practice to even begin to see proper body mechanics. No pain, no gain. That's a phrase you don't hear in the "easy tai chi" classes.
I've had students come to me after studying other styles of martial arts. Most of them don't last long. They see how difficult it is, and they can't adjust to the fact that THIS TAKES YEARS, not months or weeks.
Read other articles by Ken Gullette at articlesbase.com .
My hope for the future of "Tai chi" in the U.S. is that over the next 20 years we see the development of the recognition of the difference between real Taiji and the watered down popular version. I personally do not see real Taiji ever becoming as popular as nor replacing fake Tai chi because I think developing real Taiji requires far more commitment than most people are willing to put in.
What would be interesting would be a longitudinal study of the effect on fibromyalgia on a group (of dedicated souls) learning real Taiji as compared to a group learning the popularized fake Tai chi. You can do a double-blind study. You just need to know where to look to find the real stuff.