What books, videos etc. do you recommend?
Anything written down is a double edged sword. Whilst on the one hand it can inform, it can also confuse & mislead. Other than the classics, I would be very hesitant in recommending anything written by anyone say, under the age of 70 (i.e. likely to have some real wisdom). I certainly cringe at the recordings of myself doing Tai Chi, which, rightly, are not available for the public domain! You may wish to see my pages on the classics and tai chi books for some background reading.
What about Meditation?
Tai Chi and Chi Kung are excellent tools for meditating with. Whether the movements and postures are flowing or static they emphasize clarity of mind, tranquility and inner cleansing. The labeling of anything immediately restricts it, so I'll simply say, my Tai Chi classes include meditation, movement, relaxation, stretches, healthy exercise, and Chi Kung.
Is the breathing important?
Yes as water always flows downward, you should always breathe. When attacked, holding ones breath is dangerous and weakens any counter you may apply. Only dead people don't breathe!
Can I defend myself with Tai Chi?
Eventually. Learning Tai Chi is about learning to improve. The first role of self-defence is to improve ones health. Sick people cannot defend themselves as well as healthy people. The martial side of Tai Chi, is most difficult to master, and time is often wasted by people trying to rush their skill-set. It will take years to perfect, so if you don't want to wait that long, go learn something else e.g. how to run. However, if your attitude is peaceful then you will more than likely avoid troubles, and therefore Tai Chi will be working for you from day one. I am reminded of trying to re-build a tree with pieces of paper.
Are you saying Tai Chi Chuan is not a Martial Art?
No. Tai Chi Chuan is a superb Martial Art. It's the learning of it that it is not quick and easy. Yet, one of the nicest things about learning Tai Chi's martial side, is that people often smile with Happy Chi as they lose and then come back for more. To ensure that safety is paramount, great care and respect is required. This means that the classes are never used as brawling rings. This may be why church halls and gardens make the best backgrounds to work in.
Do you ever give straight answers?
It is traditional only to give grey answers to straight questions and straight answers to grey questions. Basically it depends on what the subject is, and how the question is raised. Taoism tries to teach us not to decide what we want but to follow the nature of things.
What should students focus on?
Practicing the principles.
Why should we flow like a river and be still like a mountain?
Because, it's a quote from the Tai Chi Classics. The Chinese characters Mountain implies Stillness and River implies Flowing, which gives be Still to Flow & Flow to be Still.
The real thanks go to the Yang Family for sharing Tai Chi with us.