The Darker Side of Taichi
A GLOBAL BACKDROP
All of this is understandable in light of the unstoppable expansion of the capitalist economic order, globalisation, the hegemony of the market place, the dominance of the economic and the parallel collapse of any alternative vision from the progressive movements. The cult of individualism at last could reign supreme, finally breaking out on a national scale when Britains voted to go it alone, and Trump promised to make America great again - by building a wall.
Tai Chi in the west has hardly been immune to such changes. It has, on the contrary, played its part in propping up, reinforcing and mirroring such tendencies. Initially embraced as part of the alternative culture, Tai chi in the 60's and 70's promised not just personal change, but the potential for doing collective good. Its deep philosophical roots were entangled and entwined with the world. It sought not to withdraw but to engage with it, not retreating from it but actively changing it.
However, these concepts and practices were left on the sidewalk of the 60’s and 70's. Politics had proven an unworthy companion for an art that could be sold in so many different ways, and like Yoga, Tai Chi could sell a slogan to embrace any new movement:
Be the change you wish to see
All change starts from within
Become who you are
Start with yourself.
If you can’t stop the waves, learn to ride them.
It all sounded so good, so refreshing, so individualistic. Who wants to wait for world change, when we can change ourselves instead? Learn to leave things the way they are, concentrate on your personal mantra and retreat inwards. Settle for a life of personal goals. Tick off your todo list, speak to your personal assistant. Just do it.
But movements are never constructed by talking to yourself (even if that self is called Alexa or Siri or Google Home). The suffragettes didn't retire after convincing themselves of the need for universal suffrage. Nor the Black Lives Matter movement. At some point we all have to talk to someone else.
I know, this is difficult these days, as we leap consciously and enthusiastically into our own echo chambers. It is so much easier to abandon the politics of the street for an online petition.
SO HOW DOES TAI CHI FIT IN TO THIS?
At present, Tai Chi does very little to counter this tendency.
Cyclical debates on the practicality of pugilism versus the practicality of living well, drive us back into the realms of individualism again: Styles and masters, grandmasters and schools, prowess, skills-sets, internal strength, internal energy emissions, challenges, slogans, Trump’s red-buttons, the length of a Steven Seagal pony-tail, colour of a silk suits….
SO WHAT CAN WE DO?
So what could we do? Where could we go with this art if not up our own back-sides, bobbing inanely on the flotsam and jetsam of a Facebook timeline?
Well, here's a few ideas. But, don't get too excited, they’re not for everyone…
What's yours? Where do you find the purpose in what you do, the challenges in what you learn, the currents that run agains this age of complacency? How do you engage with something more than your own self, how do you escape the reverb of your thoughts? How do you touch and change the world around you through your art? Leave a comment on the FB page, web site, or on twitter and let's talk. (This article is available from the 10th of Feb as a podcast here)
MORE QUESTIONS ON TAI CHI: