10 Questions with Glenn Hairston
What brought you from the “harder” styles, the security work to the softer style (i.e. Tai Chi)?
Actually it really wasn’t a conscious decision to switch to the “soft style(s)”. To make a long story short many years ago I sustained a serious injury. I was constantly in a lot of pain and had difficulty just making it through each day. The doctors suggested surgery but stated that I would most likely have limited mobility as a result. At that time I found it impossible to continue with my training in the “harder systems”. Actually it was difficult just getting out of bed on most days. By shear accident I found out about a Tai Chi class that was near me and I decided to go and watch. I never intended to participate but figured I might enjoy watching and gaining insight into something new. The teacher Master Yung-Ko Chou was a little old man who basically forced me to participate despite my attempts to decline. I discovered that because of the slow relaxed nature of the movements I could perform the Tai Chi postures on my own terms without risk of further injury. Because the moves were foreign to me they required my total concentration this proved to be a distraction from the pain I was experiencing. So, at that time I found the practice of Tai Chi to be a good method of diverting my attention from the pain that was consistently with me. As time passed, my teacher introduced me to the martial aspects of Tai Chi Chuan. This required structural changes to my postures and gave me a whole new outlook on Tai Chi altogether. Because of these changes I progressed in my training, began grow stronger and experience less pain.
I then began to understand what my teacher meant when he would say “It is not the practice of Tai Chi that promotes health, but rather it is the correct practice of Tai Chi that promotes our health” Although my pain has never gone away completely to this day it is quite manageable and as long as I am not foolish (and don’t pretend that I am twenty years old) I can do pretty much as I please. My professional History consists of such areas as Executive Protection, Witness/Dignitary Protection and Law Enforcement with the last Twenty Plus years working as an undercover Narcotics Detective. These are areas where physical encounters are inevitable and regular. I believe incorporating the principles of Tai Chi Chuan have been quite instrumental in the longevity of my career.
What is your favorite form or (exercise to practice) and why?
I can’t say that I have a favorite form or exercise. I enjoy strength, flexibility and endurance training. I also enjoy and benefit greatly from sitting meditation and various breathing and Qi Gong exercises. I believe it is important to exercise in a variety of genres. No matter which Martial Art System you subscribe to good health and fitness is paramount. You should always seek to be as fit as possible. Life is better when you are not hindered by pain and physical limitations. Regardless of your Martial Art system, if you are out of breath after one or two minutes of punching and kicking then how can you defend yourself? The streets are unpredictable. Many times there is more than one attacker. Your ability to fight is sometimes not as important as your ability to run. So even fleeing requires fitness. I personally find all forms of exercise to be enjoyable with my only complaint being a lack of time. I find that the secret to enjoying exercise is moderation. Do not over train, do not under train. You should find a level of exercise that allows for development but does not cause injury or render you unable to train the next day. Your level of exercise should allow you to maintain a positive attitude about working out each day. If you do not find enjoyment in exercise then you will most likely not remain consistent and consistency becomes even more important as you get older. I divide my training into different categories such as: Health, Fitness, Self defense, Strength and flexibility. It’s sort of like eating something from all of the food groups. Just as one food cannot not provide all the nutrients you need one type of exercise has its (nutritional) limits as well. For instance certain exercises are good for health and others for fitness. Health and Fitness are not the same thing. One can be fit (like an athlete) having strong muscles, good flexibility, superior agility other attributes but may have poor health such as problems with liver, kidneys, spleen, colon, stomach etc. This is why in order to get the most from your exercise you must understand the difference between health and fitness. Then you can train accordingly.
How do you get the most out of you training?
1. Consistency. Working at it all the time and when I’m not working at it I’m thinking about training and when I’m not thinking about training I’m dreaming about it, and when I’m not dreaming about it I’m….well you get the picture…. LOL
2. Thinking outside the box. By thinking outside of the box I mean not getting stuck in repetitious viewpoints and other people’s theories. You must make room for creativity in your training. Don’t just rely on teachers, books and videos. Seek to get information first hand, Experiment. In order to really excel at Tai Chi you have to get into your training, get dirty, dig deep, experiment, experiment, experiment. You are responsible for growing your art.
Do you think there is anything under emphasized in the world of Tai Chi?
I believe that the Martial aspects of Tai Chi have been under emphasized. Martial application is an area where not only the most intricate lessons are discovered but an increase in good health is developed as a by-product. Tai Chi is taught in stages. In the beginning one is taught a series of movements or postures (the solo form) with no further explanation as this would be a distraction to learning the moves. Solo form practice helps us to understand ourselves; if we slip we can recover. If we drop something we may catch it before it hits the ground. After one has become proficient at mimicking the moves then applications are assigned to them. Martial application gives purpose to the movements and movements with purpose are no longer just movements. In this world we must relate to outside forces. Understanding Martial application is being able to adapt to outside forces that are not acting in concert with us; and in truth isn’t that all fighting really is. Do not misunderstand me I am not saying that one must be a fighter in order to study and benefit from Tai Chi. I am saying is that the movements have meaning and that by understanding the meaning you can practice correctly and benefit to the fullest. In Tai Chi our health comes from striving to bring our movements into accordance with Tai Chi principles. These Principles have theory but they also have function. In order to fully benefit we must graduate from Theory (form) to function (application).
Do you stress the importance of Qi development? Why or why not?
I do stress the importance of Qi development but no more than on the other areas of development. I feel that balance is important. Why spend all of your time developing your internal Qi and neglect the physical. I have known individuals who have spent all of their time doing internal Qi training exercises. However they couldn’t run two blocks to escape danger if they had to. That is not practical. The idea of training is to enrich your life. I have found that Balance = quality. Develop your Qi but develop your endurance, your strength, flexibility. Improve your diet and develop a good sense of humor. In my opinion this is the way to good health and longevity. If I would emphasis any single word pertaining to our practice it would be balance.
What has been the biggest obstacle for you as a teacher?
Time. Never enough time with my students and never enough time to improve myself.
What do you think is the best way to bring people into the study of Tai Chi Chuan?
To actually be “That”, which we claim Tai Chi has to offer.
Is it best to separate Tai Chi for Health and Tai Chi for Combat?
There is only one Tai Chi; to ignore the Martial is to limit the Health benefits. When you visualize applications during solo practice the body makes subtle adjustments. With the idea of encountering an opposing force the entire body alignment is changed causing everything to work harder. It’s the difference between just standing and standing with the knowledge that someone is going push you backward. Just the knowledge that you will be pushed is enough for you body to make subtle adjustments in its structure in preparation of the incoming force. The mind makes adjustments as well. These ongoing adjustments are what over time promote health by strengthening and toning the muscles, increasing blood and oxygen circulation, improving mental focus and more.
In your Law Enforcement work, how does your experience in Tai Chi help you?
In every way imaginable. Other than the obvious self defense training the increased sensitivity of being in tune with the intent of others is the greatest factor.
What is your message to people “on the fence” regarding the internal styles of martial arts.
I would first suggest that they write down the reasons for apprehension. Then they should seek out a competent Tai Chi instructor and present these reasons to him/her giving them the opportunity to address them. I realized the Internal Arts still have a lot of myths and mysticism surrounding them, but in reality when the smoke clears you’ll find strong Martial Arts with sound science behind them.