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interview with practitioners

Ploutarchos Vlachopoulos, Chen Style Taiji Instructor based in Athens, Greece



Q : When did you start Chen Style Taiji?
I did Kung Fu for about a year and a half when I was
15 but it was not anything serious; I did it mainly for
the exercise. I used to be a track athlete. I did track for
about four years, the 200 m and long jump. In other
words, I always used to do some form of exercise. But,
Taiji was the first discipline I have gone into seriously.
I started Taiji in 2001 with Master Liming Yue who
was my first teacher. Now that I come to think of it, it
is a bit weird because I always wanted to go seriously into martial arts. But of all the
martial arts I know, I never really liked any, so I did a small research in internal
martial arts and I came across Taiji. Also, at that time, I met a lady who advised me to
go into Taiji ifI had the luck to find a good teacher. So, for me, meeting Master
Liming Yue was more than luck. It was fate.

Q : Is it key to find the right master?
It certainly is. Master Liming Yue is probably the best teacher in UK and Europe and
one of the best in the world.
Q : So you are highly committed to Chen Style Taiji?
yes I am. I started doing Taiji discipline, as a discipline, as an art, for its health
benefits and for its physical training, but I ended up doing it for many more reasons.
After my first trip to China, in 2002, I decided to go fully into Taiji and prepare
myself as an instructor. I was in the university at that time doing my Mphil, but Taiji
had gotten my full interest. I took the decision to work as a fulltime instructor in
Athens.
Q : What is your opinion of the health aspect of Chen Style Taiji?

The one specific I can tell you is that, during the time I have been doing Taiji, I have
become calmer. People who do not know me and people who do have told me, quite a
few times, that I emanate calmness. I was not like that when I was younger. I used to
be more nervous, more tense. Taiji has definitely helped me to relax, physically and
mentally. So, I can personally speak for relaxation. If you practise Taiji, you are
definitely going to relax.
Q : How would you summarize the broad benefits of Chen Style Taiji?
The thing is, when you start practicing Taiji, depending on the person, sooner rather
than later you start to feel the Qi inside your body. It can improve your physical
well-being without you noticing it: Things like agility, joint suppleness, flexibility,
balance and coordination of movements. Your body becomes more aware of
positioning, such as the placing of the hands and feet. And all of that simultaneously
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train your mind because it is a mind exercise as well. Once you start feeling
something, you have to think about it. If you do not think about, it is gone. You have
to concentrate on what you are doing. So, Taiji also helps concentration. As you can
see there are many aspects to health. For example, if you have a particular problem
like a bad knee or a waist problem or a neck problem, all these can be eased and made
better with correct Taiji postures. Also, if you have sleeping problems, or if you suffer
from headaches or migraines, again Taiji can help.
Q:Has your experience of a more intensive training schedule led to acute
developments?
I ndeed it has. I mean, I started as everyone else doing Taiji once a week. But even
with that, I saw some difference in the first few months. It depends on the person
basically because someone might be more physical so he can take more exercise and
thus he will feel the effects and benefits of Taiji sooner rather than later. In the West,
people often think about benefits and how soon they can attain them. So, for example,
when someone starts going to a gym, it is about how fast he can lose weight, or build
a better body shape, etc. Taiji is not like that. The short-term benefits come as soon as
you start feel the energy inside your body. Then as time goes by, depending on your
training and your effort, the longer-term benefits can grow substantially and
exponentially.
Q : What sets Chen Style Taiji apart in your estimation?
A lot of people do not realize that Taiji is actually Kung Fu. It is the original style of
Kung Fu, I mean it is one of the earliest, basic forms of Kung Fu. Chen Style is the
original style of Taiji. From Chen Style, all the other four branches of Taiji -- Yang,
Wu, Woo and Sun -- have been developed. I have to admit I have not done any of the
other styles, but I have seen people perform Yang Style and spoken with people who
did Yang Style and Chen Style. They claimed there are big differences between the
two and most of them preferred Chen Style. For me, the basic difference is that, with
Chen Style, you can feel much more the martial art application. And you feel like you
are doing martial arts together with, how can I put it, health exercise. Again
depending on the person, you can put more emphasis either on the health or the
martial arts aspect of Chen Style Taiji. Someone who puts more effort on the martial
side gets the benefit of the health as well because it is the same exercise and vice
versa. Another main difference is that the energy releases are missing in the other
styles. With Chen, and maybe this is because it is the original style, you can feel the
energy, the Qi, sooner and stronger.
Q : Could you shed some light on the internal side to Chen Style?
The internal side of Taiji is like a separate category of the martial arts. You can learn
Kung Fu, the moves, the kicks, the spins and all that in quite a short time if you really
put effort into it. But internally, manipulating your energy, your Qi, is a whole
different thing. You can do it by practicing Silk Reeling exercises and Qigong, but it is
also something that in order to achieve it you have to use your mind. Thus, Taiji is a
lot different than the external martial arts only because of that internal aspect of Qi
and how you can manipulate it in order to help youself or others.

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