Blog: Sifu Stephen Britt

Sifu Stephen Britt is the technical director of the Michigan Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan & Chi Kung Institute.  Born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in 1975 Sifu Britt began an apprenticeship with the Wu Chien Chuan family, creators of the Wu style of Tai Chi Chuan, which lasted for 30 years.  He is the first Western student to be given the rank of Sifu and to take on disciples of the art for the family.  

In response to a request from enthusiasts of the art form in Michigan, Sifu Britt was asked by his teachers to establish a school for them in the United States.  His Institute now offers classes in over 30 centers across the metropolitan Detroit area through local area hospitals, community centers, schools and seniors centers.  Students of the Institute have toured and demonstrated the art as representatives of their country in China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan.  

Gov. Jennifer Granholm has recognized and given a letter of commendation to his Institute for its significant contribution to culture, education, and the promotion of health to residents of the state of Michigan.  In 2007, Sifu Britt's work with Western medical professionals earned him a place in Who'sWho in America.

Sifu Stephen Britt - Most Recent Posts:

Post 3: Why Are We Handicapped?

There is a cultural aspect to Michigan and in particular, the metropolitan Detroit community, which I feel works greatly to the disadvantage of the residents. People in this area do not seem inclined to want to travel any distance for services.  Once people finish their work day and return to their homes, that is where they wish to stay.  There are a few municipal areas where people congregate for entertainment and shopping.  As a result, you see a gas station on every corner, a CVS at every intersection, and a population widely dispersed over a huge geographic area.

How this affects our Institute is we cannot establish a central school.  Our instructors have to travel out into the community in order to reach the people.  This is a tremendous handicap.  Not only to our Institute, but also to any small business that tries to open their doors in Michigan.  Unwittingly, Michigan residents leave themselves open to be at the mercy of the big box corporations.  Only big box corporations can set up shop on every street corner.  A small business that opens can only hope that there are sufficient numbers of the population within a small geographic area of where they open that are interested in utilizing their services.  There may be a small Indian restaurant in Madison Heights, that persons in Royal Oak might be interested in visiting if it were not for the geographical separation.  This is a very serious problem.

For Michigan to recover economically and socially, businesses must diversify.  We can no longer count on the Big Three to keep us all going.  Smaller engineering firms and manufacturing firms that are highly specialized and connected to the international manufacturing community will fare better in times to come.  Michigan needs to become small business friendly.

If people do not interrelate and communicate, problems that need to be addressed are slow to surface and solutions are slow in coming.  There is a vast amount of talent available in this state.  People in Michigan are tremendously capable of working together to solve problems.  We cannot rely solely on the government to take care of every issue we face.  It is neither workable nor possible.  We also can no longer rely on large corporations to solve all of our problems.  We are a community.  We need to act as a community.

The situation in the city of Detroit is heartbreaking.  We have done many programs in the inner city, working with children and families in need.  Just as we get these programs up and running and start to see the results in the minds and hearts of the participants, funding gets cut, people get fired, and the programs close.

This has happened over and over during the past three years.  If you have a challenged community and take away the resources that that community needs to have in place to encourage the residents to grow and to participate, you set up a situation where things may never improve.

Teachers are the most vital part of any society.  Without proper instruction, people are crippled in life.  The phrase 'those who can, do; those who can not, teach' is ridiculous.  Not only do teachers have to know how to do what they teach, they have to be able to transfer that information to others who may have a completely different frame of reference.  This requires tremendous skill and patience.  The United States is far behind other nations in the support of their teachers.  In fact, teachers are often ridiculed in this country and seen as second-class citizens.  What better way is there to ensure that the next generation will not be properly prepared for the challenges of life?

A change of consciousness is necessary.  We are all talking about how handicapped Michigan is.  But why is Michigan handicapped?  We have remarkable people.  We have remarkable resources.  We have remarkable personal energies available.  We have experience.  Why can we not set all of this into motion to create a new day?

Perhaps part of the reason is the amount of debris Michigan has left behind during its years of growth.  So many abandoned buildings, both private and commercial, exist  that the landscape seems impossibly tainted and polluted.  We need to go back and clean up our garbage.  If your kitchen is dirty, you do not feel too inclined to cook.  You do not plant new crops until you have plowed and tilled the soil.  You cannot bring new business into a land of devastation and decay.

I'll be the first one to admit that I do not wish to lift a finger personally to clean up anything.  It is extremely unattractive work.  There is, though, a profitable market that can be tapped in the cleanup process.  As the work of demolition continues, many recyclable materials become available.  Redistribution of these materials helps to offset the costs of demolition.  This process is seen in other countries such as India, which imports old ships, barges and so on, to tear them down and then sell the scrap.  People speak of how India can do this successfully, because of the size of its potential workforce.  How many people do we have unemployed in Michigan?  How many new technologies and techniques can be developed in Michigan as new ways of restoring old demolished industrial areas?

I feel it is time for Michigan to streamline.  The problems that we are experiencing are our problems.  It has taken many years for the situation in Michigan to develop and no doubt it will take many years to reverse the situation.  What is certain is that the work needs to be done.  If not, I do not see how things can improve.

I love this state.  I love the people that reside in the state.  They have become my family and my friends.  We have everything we need to move forward.  We even have the will to move forward.  What we need is direction, and direction comes from communication.

Post 2: Tai Chi Chuan: A Cure?

The Western medical practitioners in Michigan have been remarkably receptive to adding elements of the Tai Chi Chuan curriculum to their rehabilitative care modalities.  Alternative medicine has become an important part of what Western medical professionals offer to their patients.  While medical care can assist those facing challenges, preventative care is essential and somewhat lacking in the consciousness of the population.  Good dietary and exercise practices go a tremendous distance in eliminating the need for medical care down the road.  Unfortunately, it takes discipline and effort to take proper care of oneself.  Doctors do not have the time to teach people how to exercise.  

As a result, local area hospitals set up various classes in different forms of exercise for the general public to help the public in two different ways.  Firstly, where a person's personal physician may suggest exercise, the hospitals can have a direct hand in making such programs available to their population.  Secondly, by bringing people to participate in such exercise programs, the door is kept open for the population to build a better relationship with medical professionals, and in this ongoing relationship, to establish better lifestyle activities, leading to better preventative care.

What attracts medical practitioners to Tai Chi Chuan is the ability to adjust the workload involved in the training to suit any person's level of physical conditioning.  The training can be adapted to suit any age group or any level of physical limitation.

I am very impressed with how the Western medical professionals we deal with assess new alternative medicine programs prior to implementation.  In many cases, we teach the doctors and nurses first, so they can see for themselves what the art does for the student and how it does it.  In this way, they can develop the confidence to recommend the program to their patients.

We have developed programs in the areas of oncology, cardiology, pulmonary care, and occupational therapy.  Each patient population has a different set of needs and separate curriculums have had to be developed to suit those needs.  This has been a fascinating challenge, as any work with Western medicine and Tai Chi Chuan is in effect groundbreaking as it has never been done before.  

It is my hope that before long, formal research will be established in Michigan to properly assess the form's efficacy. We have also developed programs for people with specific health challenges working with support groups in areas such as diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and autism. With the receptivity of the Western medical professionals in Michigan, research into Tai Chi Chuan could easily lead to the development of programs that could be implemented on a national basis.  I see no reason why Michigan should not be the place to spearhead these types of programs.

Post 1: "Sifu" means "Teacher"

The title 'Sifu' means 'teacher' in Chinese.  Discipleship in Tai Chi Chuan refers to an agreement of commitment to the study and promotion of the art that exists between the teacher and the student.  It should not be confused with a religious form of discipleship.  Through discipleship agreements, the martial arts of China have been handed down through many generations.

The syllabus of Tai Chi Chuan is vast and can take as many as 20 years to complete.  As a result, teachers have to make very careful decisions as to where they will place themselves to begin the task of handing on the knowledge given to them by their teachers.  The teacher must seek out an environment where there are students with the potential to learn, the desire to learn and change, the cultural maturity to be able to learn, and the capacity for honest self-appraisal, which marks students as being capable of developing and growing beyond the current state of their egos.

Upon meeting those interested in Tai Chi Chuan in Michigan, my first impression was that I was speaking with people who were looking for something real.  In all honesty, the people that I met with seemed somewhat jaded when it came to their opinion of teachers and what those teachers teach.  To the Michigan resident's mind, the art form of Tai Chi Chuan was seen as being a method of training closely associated with the holistic community and new age therapies.  In the development of the holistic community in Detroit they had seen hundreds of methods propounded since the 1960s.  Each person espousing a method spoke of his or hers as being the correct way.  Often their own knowledge of what they were trying to bring forward was inadequate.

The end result of this is a kind of 'show me' attitude.  The potential students were ready, willing, and able to challenge the potential teacher, requiring proof every step of the way.  While this may sound like a bad thing, to a teacher it's actually an excellent thing.  The cultural and environmental circumstances set up a situation where the students were willing to work hard and probe and question deeply, provided the information given to them was consistent, logical, and sensible.

As a result, the students have progressed very rapidly in acquiring skill in the art form.  Several times over the past few years, the Michigan area students have traveled with me to Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, Singapore, and Taiwan to demonstrate the art to the international Wu style Tai Chi Chuan community in Asia.  Their performance and demonstrations earned great acclaim in the international community.  Needless to say, I am inordinately proud of the local students and their achievements.

With their efforts and acquired skill, it has become possible to expand classes to over 30 locations across the metropolitan Detroit area.  These classes fall into three basic categories: classes for senior citizens, for the general public, and for those facing specific health challenges through local area hospitals.

There have been many challenges along the way.  It is amazing to me how people in Michigan can assess a problem, develop a plan of action, and bring together the necessary resources to solve the problem.  I find a tremendous will to succeed in the Michigan population.  Without this, my job would have simply been impossible. I must take this opportunity to thank all of those who have helped me over the years in so many ways.

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