After 32+ years teaching (and 40+ in the art) my online friend, the always insightful, polite and charming, Michael Babin of Ottawa, Canada, has hung up his double-edge jian and taught his last Tai Chi class.
This is a pic of his last class. Michael is in the centre with the beard. Note: the five students in his class all look in good shape, which is the sign of a good teacher, and sadly in contrast to what you’ll find in many Tai Chi classes(!).
Teaching mainly Yang style barehand and sword (and some Sun style Tai Chi), Michael has trained with a who’s-who of the Tai Chi scene in North America, including notables such as: Sam Masich, Dr. Yang Jwing-ming, Liang Shou-yu, Eric Chew, William C.C. Chen, Carol Mancuso, Erle Montaigue and Tim Cartmell, among others.
When Tai Chi first arrived in the West information about it was scarce – there was no Internet, there were very few teachers and it was hard to tell the real from the fake, because there was literally nothing to compare it against. As it is for any pioneer, times were exciting – you were amongst the first wave of Western people to experience a martial art from a different culture on your own soil – but life was also tough, and only the strong survived. Your main sources of information back then were magazines like Inside Kung Fu and T’ai Chi Magazine, in fact Michael contributed articles to both.
Michael wasn’t one of the ‘New age’ style of Tai Chi teachers, either – always looking to keep his art martially effective. But now it seems that old age has caught up to him and he’s shuttering his Tai Chi classes. In his own words, ‘I don’t want to be one of that legion of sad old farts you see on youtube relying on “tricks” to look as if they are still the “bee’s knees“.’
You have to admire the man’s candour.
I wish Michael good luck as he enters this new stage of his life. (But I bet his old students manage to drag him back to teach a workshop or two!) As we practice this art we all add to it, and his contributions have become part of its history on the American continent.
If you peruse his website you’ll see there are all sorts of Tai Chi-related articles, but one thing caught my eye in particular – his PDF anthology of blog posts from over a decade of writing on the Yang-style and swordsmanship. It’s effectively a great free book on Tai Chi. Here you’ll find informative, funny and down-to-earth accounts of the ups and downs of being a Tai Chi teacher. Enjoy.
I’ll leave Michael with the last word:
“Good luck with your journey. Mine has lasted 40+ years and I am still both delighted and frustrated by the depths of this discipline and art. Studying it seriously is like having children and getting older — rewarding but not for the feint of heart!”