Ever since coming back from a workshop in Taiji i did in the UK I have received questions about what the correct way is to do a certain movement or the correct way of practising this or that is.
My take on this is that there is a right way but the right way is not the same for everyone. At the same time, this does not mean that whatever I think is right is correct – actually most of the time it is wrong. The thing though is to keep trying and to learn from ones mistakes. The last couple of years when I was training with Sun Jian Yun was very different from the how we practised before (which was essentially learning the details of the movements and how they worked as well as listening to lots of stories about her father, Sun Lu Tang, and his other students). More and more teacher Sun would ask me a question (many times a phrase from the taiji classics or her fathers “the true meaning of boxing”) and then send me to the park to research it myself. I would then come back after 3-4 hours and tell her about what I had come up with. Sometimes she would say that I was completely wrong and have to start over again but most of the time she would give me hints about aspects or areas that I had not considered and I would continue to work on it. This way the dialogue of the topic i.e. the question, my own research and practise and my teachers input and hints would continue and deepen until we got to a point where she would be satisfied enough to move on to the next question. She said to me at one point that she did this because she was now in an advanced age and being from Sweden I needed a way to keep progressing even when she was not around. I am immensely grateful for these last years and they have proven to be one of the most important things I have learned in the study of martial arts.
There is a paradox between Taiji as a system and Taiji as an embodied experience in the sense that there is really no Taiji outside of you and yet you are in a constant dialogue with it. Focusing only on question of “the right way” without understanding this dialectic makes the pursuit shallow in my humble opinion. I mean, on one hand there is such a thing as “the spirit of Sun style Taiji” which guides you and informs your practise, on the other hand Taiji is nothing outside of what you have found in your research to be true and which you can do.
One of the ways to look at the role of the teacher is to help students to find a productive way to relate to this – sometimes pointing to the classics or to high level practitioners of old, other times encouraging the students to look into themselves, to question and to research what works and what is true essentially acting a kind of mediator holding this paradox live and present as it is the doorway to progress and deepening in this wonderful martial art.