What can you expect when you come to the an open access class for the first time? The school is run from a 'traditional', Northern Chinese 'old fashioned' perspective, so what does this mean?
CLASSES ARE SMALL. You can expect personalised tuition and an understanding of your physical and mental condition. Classes are small and friendly but very focused. You will not find yourself one of many in an enormous sea of bodies. Some people think that small classes are a sign of failure; what would you rather have, personal tuition or someone just seeing you as a means of making money? Classes are not run on the basis of the instructor being a martinet (standing on a pedestal and saying "one day if you work hard you might be like me") but rather from the perspective of that we're all in it together but some people have more experience than others. In this way information is shared between everyone in the class; everyone (including the instructor!) learns together. It's in this way the School is more like a family. Respect is there for all those in the class not just the chosen few.
WE WORK WITH PRINCIPLES. This means that you can use these principles to examine any martial technique or in fact any movement system whether it's a martial art or not. There are no secrets. We're laid back about most things but not the principles. The 'Tao' is all about laughing when you're happy and crying when you're sad (the vinegar tasters come to mind...). We're not in the business of producing disassociated, lonely, emotionless 'killers' - there are enough miserable people in the world.
THE CLASSES ARE FUN BUT ARE PHYSICALLY AND PSYCHOLOGICALLY DEMANDING. Many people come to the classes and have a very steep learning curve as working with principles rather than just learning forms is new to them; in other words, most people who are new to the School just don't know what the classes are really about until it hits them. Funny enough it's usually the absolute beginners that have the easiest time figuring out what's going on... as well as old timers who have been doing martial arts for a while but know that something is just not right or something feels like it's missing from their own system. It's for this reason that the majority of students who attend the School's classes usually have anything from 10 to 15 years of martial arts experience already. It's the people that have some or a little martial arts experience under their belt that often have the most difficult time understanding exactly what the system is about. So, please be aware of this! If this kind of thing isn't for you then that's ok...it's simple: go try another system. It's probable that another system would be more suitable for your character or for your current understanding...go fish elsewhere! Don't bother with the School manuals or purchasing videos as you probably won't be able to understand or perceive what's going on. If, on the other hand, you want to learn something in an environment of mutual respect and sharing of knowledge, then the School's probably for you. As Miss Li used to say, we have no time for people who are ignorant and arrogant in equal measure. It's probably for this reason that approximately 20% of the current student body is educated to Masters level and 60% to PhD level! Also note we have no rituals and no unifoms to psychologically help you to 'become the martial artist' and no grades or gradings either. You are being graded and tested as soon as you set foot into the room. See here for a little background.
LANGUAGE IS IMPORTANT. We don't use fancy Chinese terms and don't wear uniforms. The instructor is called by their first name. But the language you use is important. Concepts are understood and constrained by the language you use, so part of the journey of learning is to experience this. Also, part of the learning experience is actually figuring out things for and by yourself; the instructor will always be there to give you the answer (providing a 'safety net') but sometimes giving you the answer straight away steals your discoveries.
CLEAR PAYMENT POLICY: YOU PAY FOR CLASS BY STANDING ORDER. If you think you want to see what a class is like you can register and get a free taster session. If you decide the School is for you, you then have to apply for School membership. On a successful application you fill in a direct debit mandate and pay a one off £75 membership fee. You pay the drop in fee rate for each class you take (£10 for Tai Chi and £15 for the other open access classes) until the direct debit kicks in. All open access students pay by direct debit, pay the one off membership fee of £75 and get money off class the more classes you attend. If you have to miss class then, unfortunately, you still have to pay class fees (I still have to pay the studio rent even if no one turns up!). If I have to cancel, then you get a refund for the class. Paying by standing order means that you don't have to worry about paying for class every week, sending cheques through the post etc, and it means I know that the monthly studio rental fees get covered. I've attempted to make the fee payment policy as transparent as possible so there's no embarrassing issues about money - everyone should be clear where they stand.
Regarding fees. The fees that we charge are high in comparison to other schools. (In fact the charges for classes have not changed in over ten years). We charge high fees in order to separate those people who are serious about martial arts and those that are not. The School is not looking for transient students. The School ethos is to provide as high quality tuition as possible, so we think that our students are getting good value for their money. The School is run on an old fashioned ethos - you get reductions in fees the more classes you attend. As you get to be a senior student, your fees are even further reduced. In the case of people who have been with the School for a number of years and are teaching, the School provides them with payment for their tuition. Again, if this kind of thing is not for you, then there's no shame in going to learn from someone else.
THERE IS NO 'RIGHT' SYSTEM. We believe all systems are aiming to do the same thing: to make a fully realised human being. In this sense, you could use any 'Way' as a vehicle to do this (yoga, meditation, flower arranging, football, whatever). We just use Nei Jia. This means that once you have some insight, you can see what's real Nei Jia and what's not. If I see someone and they say they do Nei Jia, then I'll see if it's true. If they do then I'm happy for them, if I think they don't then I'll be honest enough to say so. I don't know much but the little I know, I think I know well. This is not criticising others but rather having the ability to discern. We practice Nei Jia, others practice something else, so how does what they do affect us?
TRADITION IS A GOOD THING. We don't believe that roots make you a vegetable. Our martial arts ancestors were good people and what they gave us is an incredibly sophisticated, beautiful but simple gift. We cherish this gift. This gift also makes the School unique. This doesn't mean that you make a religion out of the System either. We don't rely on faith, we use cold, factual logic. This means you can cross train and still remain faithful to the system. It also means that you don't chop and change teachers as you can see what the system is all about and it just feels right for you. We're serious about practice (you have to practice every day even if it's only a few minutes) but realise that people have lives and priorities outside the School and have to make a living somehow. You are what you are; you don't have to be Chinese to be a member of the 'family', but a member of the family you will become.