Blog: Sifu Stephen Britt

In a nutshell, Tai Chi Chuan is the centuries-old art of breaking force with softness. Sifu Stephen Britt is technical director of the Michigan Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan and Chi Kung Institute. He calls for Michigan to be a national leader in research into the efficacy of employing this art form into alternative medicinal therapies.

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.