One of my goals with Qialance is to connect with other Taijiquan and Qi Gong enthusiasts around the world. And I like blogging. Obviously I had to create a list of the Top 15 Tai Chi Blogs! But I want to go further and learn more about those bloggers. So I hope you are just as curious as I am because I interview them. And this is the talk with Scott M. Rodell from Steel & Cotton.
Could you please tell a bit more about yourself?
I began studying martial arts at the age of nine and just kept going. Then I started studying Taijiquan with Robert Smith while I was at University and through him I met many accomplished teachers who helped me get where I am today, including my principle teacher, Wang Yen-nien. I also studied with T.T. Liang and William C.C. Chen.
Which style are you into and why?
I practice Yangjia Michuan Taijiquan (楊家秘傳太極拳) which I studied under Wang Yen-nien. Though today Taijiquan is often presented as either a health art or a martial arts, suggesting that it is one or the other shows a basic misunderstanding of the art. This is the result of contemporary repackaging of the Taijiquan. One only needs to read any of the period literature left behind by the Yang Family for it to be blindingly obviously that Taijiquan is a martial art. It is also clear from the writings that the meditative and health aspects are an integral part of and the result of a solid martial approach. As Cheng Man-Ch’ing wrote in Master Cheng’s New Method of T’ai Chi Self-Cultivation: “Taiji form practice that ignores functional application bestows health benefits that are artificial at best.”
You focus a lot on the Jian and Chinese swordmanship. What fascinates you about the sword?
Something that can not be put into words. I suppose it is the same feeling a surfer has when he or she rides a really powerful wave or a musician jams with other great artists. I hope that in our time we will see more students rediscover this wonderful art and leave behind the practice of simply waving their weapons around as if it is Harry Potter’s wand and treat it with the respect it deserves.
If I may add one more thing… Through my company we offer real Chinese swords that are the size, weight and as sharp as Qing and Ming period swords. Occasionally we have had calls from practitioners who self described themselves as “teachers” who then asked if our swords are sharp? I reply, certainly, swords are sharp. (You don’t call a gun store and ask if their guns shoot bullets do you?) The next question is do we have any that aren’t sharp, because this “teacher” is afraid of cutting him or herself. No. I then in return ask, no offense, but if you are afraid of cutting yourself with your own sword, what is that saying about your skill level? Remember, these are people who have announced themselves as a “teacher.” Next is either, you are right and an order, or more commonly, “yeah but… “
I have to admit I am not into swords, my weapon of choice is the fan. But I totally get that at a certain level one could and should start practicing with a sharp sword!
What is the biggest benefit you get from your practice?
A good, well practiced martial art benefits every aspect of life. When practiced in the fashion the founders laid out for us, Taijiquan is no different. It is only the limiting of the art by ignoring these instructions that the art is less, as in when it is presented as an only health or spiritual art. It is ironic that practitioners take up such a holistic art only to ignore its core aspects and disregard the teachings of Yang Luchan.
Which piece of advice would you give a beginner in Taijiquan?
Don’t pick your teacher based on who is closest and most convenient to get to. Find one who really teaches the entire art rather than watering it down because he or she hasn’t the skill or courage to practice sanshou.
Who are or were your most important teachers?
Is there any teacher or master you would like to learn from in the near future?
No. There must come a point where a student must stand on his or her own feet and stop relying on teachers. The false humility that is popular in martial arts is as much a delusion and egoistical as is false bravado, both equally hamper students. Better to be clear and honest about where you are. This is not to say that I am not always looking to learn. I find that teaching pushes me to constant learn and look more deeply into my practice. As does training with other skilled practitioners of any martial art.
Is there a book you recommend? One you often like to pick up and refer to?
Most books on taijiquan are pop culture fluff. For the most part, it is best to stick with the classic works. I recommend Douglas Wile’s translation of the Yang Family Manuals: Tai Chi Touchstones: Yang Family Secret Transmissions*.
And Louis Swaim’s translation of Yang Chengfu’s book, The Essence and Applications of Taijiquan*.
I hope that my next work, “The Taijiquan Classics – A Martial Artist’s Translation*” will also be of use to students of the art.
So I will make sure to keep an eye on your books at Amazon*! Thank you Scott for this interview!
If you want to read more from Scott M. Rodell have a look at his blog here!