At last the results are in for this years Tai Chi Survey. Want to know what style is the most popular? Which class elements are disliked the most? Why do people start Tai Chi? How do they train? Well, read on as we skim over the highlights of the 2017 survey.
New Book: Take Your Skills Online
Before, we look at the survey, I have two quick announcements to make since I last posted. The first is that I shall be releasing a short Breathing Course on Udemy in the near future. I have space for a couple more subscribers to beta test the material during October. If you are interested then let me know.
Secondly, this week saw the release of the Take Your Skills Onine ebook, that was inspired by the Medium Series I wrote earlier in the year.
The New Book
The book is a big-rewrite on this material, taking a more detailed look at the world of online tuition and seeing how it is disrupting the exisiting teaching market places - for good or for bad - and what we can do about it. The book adds lots of extra material including more chapters, more graphics, more links and a rather novel glossary that redefines many of the terms we generally use in the world of Tai Chi. And on that note, don't expect anything too dry or academic, as usual with my books, the benefits are to be found in learning to chortle more, rather than levitate.
I hope you enjoy the book, its available on Amazon here for a paltry $2.99 or as part of a special Teaching/Studying Pack on Gumroad that includes 2 books and a video for less than a fiver. Find out more here.
Tai Chi Survey Results 2017
For those of you that completed the online survey, here are the major questions and a summary of the results:
Q1: What style of Tai Chi do you Practice?
In first place comes good old Yang - 50% of you state that you practice some version of the Yang style. In joint second place came Cheng Man Ching and the Chen style. It appeared that some people were a little confused with the naming of styles, believing Cheng Man was of from the Chen style, whilst others classified him as a Yang practitioner - which was clearly his origins. Others rightly attributed him to having developed his own style.
So why are people confused about names. Or are the names too similar sounding? Why do people get confused about this issue and if so can we make it clearer in our teaching? Who isn’t explaining the different styles clearly? Is it me? Is it your teacher? Perhaps the only answer is - does it matter? Do names have much significance really or is it that we like to think they do? Leave a comment if you have any thoughts on the subject.
In 3rd place, limping behind the others came Wu, Sun and then, finally, Lee style - nothing wrong in coming in last though - just look at the meaning behind Step back to repulse the monkey , and the Taoist idea of leading from behind and you'll soon realise that charts have little significance in the great order of all 10.000 things.
Meanwhile, back to the survey - 2% of those responding admitted to not practicing Tai Chi at all. Interesting. Others styles mentioned were Beijing short form, two more versions of Chen - this time added as separate styles, which makes it all very confusing indeed - and others said they practised only Qi Gong. Finally, someone added the Northern Wu is the Bambi style - which - though Ive never heard of - sounds the sort of style i wouldn’t mind learning.
Not being familiar with any of these means nothing of course - however if you are making it up or you are combining different styles let me know - I'd be keen to interview you for a future post or podcast.
Q2: Why Do you practice Tai Chi? In order of selected importance…
Can we conclude anything of significance from this question? Well it was no surprise that the majority of respondents replied with health as their primary reason for practising, but Philosophy as the second - that did throw me. Plus, only 1/3 of respondents replied that they practiced tai Chi as a martial art.
This may be simply that those that completed the survey were less interested in the martial aspect, or it may reflect a wider movement away from the martial, something that has been borne out in other studies - perhaps in the face of the popularity of MMA or Instagram, Im not sure which.
Q3: Which aspect of the class do you enjoy most/which Least?
Not surprisingly, in first place for poularity of class aspect is the Form. This was followed by breathing and then partner work - which doesn’t surprise me as I base so much of what I teach on partner work, but I do know many others that don’t. So maybe this will send out a message to teachers everywhere to include more of this in their classes. Why? well, there is a tendency to move inwards with Tai Chi, to retreat within yourself and your practice. This is often seen in Form practice as people go off at their own pace irrespective of where others are in the sequence. Partner work challenges this notion of the the importance of individuality and reminds us that we are only really testing out or skills when we work with others.
Interestingly, philosophy and history comes next then sword, then push-hands, martial, stick, fan and finally - in last place - as though it were an unwanted growth on the skin of the art - competition. Perhaps because competition is seen as antagonsitic to the concept of harmony that this element is placed at the end of the list. Perhaps, because it has not been explained well or demonstrated effectively outside a winning/losing scenario. What do you think? Comments below please.
Q4: How do you improve your knowledge?
Other than regular classes, reading books and watching youtube videos was by far the most popular choices. Workshops and online training was in joint second, whilst in 3rd place, meet ups and practice with others. Finally, someone insightfully mentioned that they learn most by teaching others,
This was an astute reply, how soon did you begin to teach your art? Some claim that 20 years apprenticeship is still the minimum requirement, but generally, these days we start a little earlier. I like to give my students responsibility for showing newcomers some basic techniques as early as possible. Nothing quite encourages them to digest a lesson if they have to show it someone else. They might even adapt it or improve it. Now, wouldn't that be interesting?
One respondent added that “I commune directly with the TAO! I dig into the genetic memory of all living things to retrieve lost fighting styles, and recipes for tapas! Not sure what we can learn from that other than Tai Chi is clearly a broader church than even I had thought.
Q5: What brought you to Tai Chi?
These answers were difficult to categorise. Many people came from other harder martial arts, some from Aikido, some from meditation classes, others straight from their GP’s surgery. Somecame with a desire to do some movement art that would aid balance, co-ordination and spirit, others simply because they accompanied someone else and got hooked by watching the class.
Other reasons quoted were - Watching others performing the Form, watching kung fu movies, or reading a book. Overall,the answers were many and mixed. We think we can categorise newcomers into those ineterested in health, martial or spiritual, but the many reasons people take it up are clearly broader than we imagine.
Conclusion (It's ongoing)
So what can we learn from this survey?
Well, it was hardly a massive survey, but what makes it useful is that it is global - results came in across the time zones and were not confined to a style, a school or a specific teacher. I have deduced 3 clear conclusions.
Tai chi is clearly changing in the 21st century. How far the traditional schools reflect these changes is debatable, but we shall see how they play out over the next few years. Thanks to all those that contributed to this years survey, and lets look forward to the next survey in 2018. If you want to participate in that survey, subscribe to the mOnk and get on the list.
A new series of articles was launched today on Medium about setting up and running a Tai Chi school. It traces the ups and downs of planning, promoting and running the school over the first year. You can read the first instalment here or listen to an abbreviated audio version on the Empty your Cup podcast show (to be released 10th of June).
When I ask that question about why someone practices Tai Chi, people enthusiastically volunteer their reasons:
"Boosts Energy levels, relieves asthma, soothes arthritis, improves balance, co-ordination, helps fight dah dah dah, helps relax my spleen and Urinal Meridian, helps send me to sleep, helps keep me asleep, its good for my constitution, its good for my white blood cell count, its good for me myself and I….
As World Tai Chi and Qigong Day has recently passed, I'm reminded that there is another side to the practice that is less self-orientated - and that is the communal side; the collective side; the side that entangles and engages us; the side that encourages us to learn together, mutually understanding and mutually supportive.
In the Havard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi Peter Wayne writes that Interactions with each other help create a broad sense of belonging to a community - and this in turn has hugely positive benefits for health, disease prevention, recovery rates and simply makes you healthier and happier.
Don't get me wrong - learning solo forms and emphasising personal development is fine, but in these times of individual goal-setting, it would be interesting to see how Tai Chi can enable us to work closer together and counter some of its more isolationist tendencies.
So Why Do You Practice Tai Chi?
For me, Tai Chi is not just a martial art, a form of inner health, nor just a meditative practice. Tai Chi give us an exceptional opportunity to engage with one another in a non-competitive, mutually supportive, healthy and yet still challenging way. It shows us another way of being together. In a world in which we are ever more persuaded to inhabit only our own echo chambers, the old texts of the the tao te ching can show us how to break out of the padded-cell and forge links, search for what connects us and dissolve the superficiality of difference.
Play, discovery and interactive learning together in class are profound tools that offer their riches to those prepared to let go of their individual goals. All the partner work is subtly directed towards this end - Push hands to 7 Stars, 4 Corners etc: Learn through loss, gain only by giving. For what else could richness mean if not the realisation that what you have cannot be bought by money.
World Tai Chi Day 2017
Which brings me back to the 29th April this year, when I had the great fortune to meet up with 140 Tai Chi millionaires in the beautiful botanical gardens of Birmingham in the UK. This was indeed a gathering of the super rich for unlike the material millionaires of the world, these people had come not to to flaunt their wealth, but to GIVE IT AWAY. And share they did, workshops for beginners, for intermediate students, for students of different forms and styles, for practitioners of fan and staff.
140 separate spirits arrived. But it was one-unified spirit that left. I arrived as an outsider to the event and the locality, but I left feeling an honorary member of the community. A community of different styles that came together to practice and share their skills. People came to look, to watch, to try of all ages, races, genders and skill levels. They gathered together and in their gathering found their common identity.
Then, as clouds gathered and the morning slid unobserved into the afternoon, when we all drifted away and returned to the great source from which we had emerged, we took with us the gifts that had been offered: a lighter footprint, a deeper root, a tendency to laugh at complexity and a deep bond with all those that had travelled to experience something greater than themselves. Even if it were just as single move, a new posture, a weight-shift, a thought-shift or a lightness of being upon contact with others, we came as 140 people by car, bike or on foot - but left together on a single breath.
So What Next?
But it shouldn’t stop there. We learnt that day of the importance of sharing once more. Now we have an opportunity to take that further. All of us, wherever we went that day. please mention something of your weekend: describe it, write about it, phone someone and tell them, show something from it to someone who never made it.
In this way Tai chi can spread beyond it's own inwardly spiralling circle, it can move out and into new pastures where the curious and the observers graze: those that still see the world as divided, those that breathe by themselves, as separate detached individuals. Touching another person with a tale, a story or by showing the simplicity of a breathing exercises can often be all it takes to breach the divide.
Who knows what might happen if we were to talk less to ourselves, and more to strangers, to share our wealth amongst the many and to give away that which - lets not forget - can never be possessed. For the more we let go of, the more we shall have to give.
1: "I shut my eyes in order to see"
Paul Gauguin whilst performing Grasp the Sparrows Tail
One of the most beautiful and practical exercises with a partner is this routine in which one person adheres to another, follows or sticks to another person.
Aim: Not to hold on but instead to "feel" the direction, tension, breath, angle of movement and pace through softness and yielding.
Rules: Minimal finger-tip contact and keep your eyes closed in order to see.
2:"Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens"
Jimi Hendrix whilst pondering over which strings not to bite.
We talk a lot about listening energy in Tai Chi, and therein lies the problem.
PROBLEM: Talking rather than listening.
When introducing the art, instructors explain it away, demonstrate the minutiae of the move until every molecular change has been annotated and there are no longer any spaces between all those words to squeeze in a question, to draw a breath or even to pause and wonder why.
AIM: Less agendas, more blank slates and more string biting please.
3:If you hold on tight you will lose your grip.
Lao Tzu whilst searching for wifi cover.
You can't keep a fist tight for long before it returns to an open hand.
A frown eventually dissolves, a shoulder drops after being hunched all day.
Clouds gather, rain falls and then the sun returns.
One day you have good cover, then the next you can't pick up a signal.
The wise one works alongside the direction of nature and not against it.
4:It is not our abilities that show us who we really are, but our choices.
Professor Albus Dumbledore before issuing wands.
Demonstrating a complex or advanced technique isn't always the right thing. Don't stay on the stage.
If you want to help someone understand, then learn to step back, forget the theatricals.
Choosing to engage rather than to impress may just be the better choice when new students are looking for someone to learn from.
5:It's not where we get it from, it's who we give it to that matters
Jean Luc Godard upon being told the idea wasn't his (Whilst eating a scone and jam)
Who judges a book on the cover alone?
Is it factually correct but uses a really bad font, single spacing, and is devoid of even a single picture?
Does it send you to sleep, does it come with crayons? Do you have to colour it in?
Will it tempt you to underline a phrase or scratch it out?
Will it make you laugh or cry?
Choose your method of learning accordingly.
The solution lies not only in what is conveyed, but how.
HISTORY, BUTTER & THE WORDS OF OTHERS.
Ever wondered about the history of the martial arts if he greatest teachers of all time could talk to us now?
Blending fact, fiction, a little butter and lots of subjective history this book fills in all the gaps your history teacher left out.
Sample or get a copy on Amazon here or as part of the Tai Chi Book Bonanza here.
Curious to learn the art? Get your Free Tai Chi Starters Pack here.
New students to Tai Chi often tell me that they find themselves in a Catch-22 situation when they seek clear and direct answers about Tai Chi. What is the problem new students encounter and what can they do to counter the vague answers they often get? How much is this the responsibility of the school or the teacher? Read on and discover the top 5 tips for new students starting a Tai Chi class.
For most new students the different names and variations between styles are at best academic and at worst dogmatic. When students ask about styles they are looking for simple answers. Instead they get something like this:
"In our Tai Chi school we practice the Modern 57 Big-Small, Yang-Chen, Traditional but Modern Style. This is characterised by our practice of the 8 Pieces of Brocade/Bit-Coin Farmers-Set of Animal Play Qigong. As for weapons, we train in the broad-narrow-sabre wooden 32 Beijing nunchaku. And as regards our illustrious Teacher, you should know he was taught by the top student of the last teacher who learnt from the inner-temple disciple from the final generation of the last descendent of the eldest cousin of the man who once lived next door to the Soup Stall that sold outside the Shaolin temple"...and so it goes on.
For the certain teachers, these answers are perfectly clear, but for new students such details make as much sense as a holiday greeting in Vulcan. New students want to be reassured and told about the benefits they can expect and how the classes are conducted. It’s very simple really, but few schools offer such clarity. So what can a new student do to find out this information if all they get are messages in Vulcan?
First up is to understand that some Tai Chi teachers do like to talk about themselves. You will find this out pretty quickly if you meet one, and they can be spotted by their tendency to adopt other names than that which appears on their birth certificate: Bob or Fred my be scratched out and replaced with Sifu Simon or Guru-Gary. This is a big give-a-way and should send warning shots across your bough. Of course, they may or may not call themselves gurus, some plumb for the more humble title of “master” or equivalent. But try not to get distracted by titles. You can always undermine such nonsense by refusing to acknowledge them. For example, when in a doctors surgery, instead of calling him/her Doctor, try calling him/her by their first name. Say “Well, Bertrand, I’d still like to show you my boil….” and see how they react. If they go all wobbly and point to their name plate on the desk and insist on the use of Doctor, you can rest assured you have found a genuine guru and someone who’s sense of themselves is truly grounded in superficialities.
If your suspicions have been aroused by the adoption a title, you can move on to asking a question about your training. If the answer starts off fine by referring to your question but quickly reverts to an anecdote about his/her childhood or a demonstration of a lethal neck hold, this may be another warning. S/he will of course try to convince you that such techniques are essential to understanding Tai Chi, but truth is most of the time they just like showing their favourite moves as this brings the subject back to themselves.
3. WISE SKILLS
If the subject has moved on to skills, then you can try the following two-prong approach to discover what sort of teacher you are dealing with. Ask for a demonstration of a Form posture - a complicated one such as Snake Creeps Through Grass. See if it is demonstrated to you as you might hope to learn it during your first few months of training - or - see if it is demonstrated to you as though s/he was entering a World Tai Chi Form competition and you were a judge. If the former, then good news! S/he is doing their best to adapt and refine their response to your level and expectations. If the latter however, they are just showing off and now might be a good time to back out the door before you sign anything.
If unsure, you could always try the second approach which consists in asking for a little wisdom on Tai Chi. If you get oodles of data about Form positions and meridian channels try not to look disappointed. If you get data about personal lineage and years of practice under specific grandmasters, try to look interested as best you can and fight the tendency to yawn. Sadly, this sort of “Knowledge” is too often mistaken as “wisdom” when it is merely the memorisation of dates and names. Not the same thing at all.
You could of course cut through all the “facts” and go for the final real test. Try to see if your Sifu or Guru stops talking when you you begin to speak. Don’t be fooled by appearances, for proficient Gurus have mastered the art of appearing to listen when they are in fact only rehearsing what next to say. Want to know what to look for? Read on…
5. THE POSTURE
You can check if your guru is really listening by looking at his/her stance. The Non-Listening Guru-Stance is easily recognisable for one finger will most likely be cleaning an ear whilst the other hand drums on a table top. The mouth is generally open and closing, issuing words and sounds that for all purposes appear relevant, but constitute nothing but pure gobbledygook. Eyes tend to hold a far-away, other planetary look. Possibly Vulcan. The head is either fixed to the clock on the wall to check how many minutes are left in the session, or nodding, as though riding a bouncy train, whilst simultaneously checking their phone for retweets or Instagram hearts.
THE POWER OF SILENCE
So to recap, what you are looking for as a new student to Tai Chi (or any other skill for that matter) is the presence of the secret skill of silence. It is a secret because it is hidden in the word. Rearrange the letters of the word SILENT and you get LISTEN.
Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom, said Francis Bacon and it is in this contemplative moment that we discover the value and the meaning behind words. Now, I’m not talking here about the silence of a monastery, or a meditation room. No, I’m merely referring to the silence of a quietened mind. One that stops for a moment the eternal process of thinking of what it is about to say.
Now, at last you can go armed into the world of Gurus and Sifus with your list of 5 checkpoints, no longer defenceless but ready and prepared for the power of silence. Good Luck. Peace and Long Life as someone with rather shapely ears once said.
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DEADLY BUTTOCK BLOWS & THATCHERISM
Back in the hazy, unruly days of the 1980’s when the Eastern arts had finally settled in the west, teachers felt obliged to copy the sage-like expressions and postures seen in early Kung-fu flicks. They raised eyebrows, sneered or even snarled were anyone to ask the point of wearing a tunic from 17th century China, or why building callouses on the knuckles was more important than keeping them arthritic-free. Why, for instance, students should train themselves to absorb a front kick to the solar plexus, or head-butt an assailant in the buttocks when, perhaps, other life-skills were being called for in the era of Thatcher and Reagonomics? When pushed on the subject for an answer, they merely returned an aloof gaze and warned of the dangers of revealing “truths” to early to those not ready.
Yet Western students were in the habit of receiving less cryptic answers. Even when considering a school, they felt confused as each claimed to offer an exclusive truth and authenticity; an indisputable lineage and an unbeatable system of defence. Was it possible that every school and every system could all be equally true?
GEOMETRY & TAI CHI
Before the onset of self-publishing, Tai Chi books followed a standard pattern: A chapter on family histories and lineage, some old photos of wispy beards, a few vague health claims, even vaguer martial applications and an endless list of sketches of men with numbers below them:
“16d: Now let us move on to the posture called Extract the Stale Loaf from the Bison’s Bladder: Begin by raising your right elbow and place it against your left ear-lobe. Breathe out twice whilst spinning 360 degrees to land with 29% of your weight on your right big toe.
16f: Look North, to North-East, but don’t turn your neck whilst both hands remain in your pockets. Recite thrice “I am plucking the monkey’s knee from the moon”. “
BEAN CURD & TAI CHI
This emphasis on teaching by geometry was part of a general movement in the martial arts to find meaning through definition. The more a subject could be analytically deconstructed, the more it was hailed as a "scientific" fighting art. And so, definitions were lusted after as enthusiastically and as importantly as someone may lust over a shiny new mobile phone or an influential and good-looking follower on Instagram. Styles and teachers adopted names, histories and coloured uniforms to help define themselves and it all got very silly. After having trained in the martial arts since I was knee-high to Lao-Tzu’s Yak, and having taught Tai Chi since the end of the 80’s, silliness was in my blood stream, but I fought against its desire to engage in comparisons and in the categorisation of the arts, particularly when new students would arrive at class:
Classical Student: “ Excuse me, I want to to learn a style of Tai Chi".
Me: Uh huh.
Classical Student: "Yes, a style that is Classically-Authentic, Real and Genuine, Traditional-yet Modern, Uniformed and vertically structured. What style do you teach SIfu-Master-Guru-Sensei?”
Me: First up, the name is Paul. Second, although I have learnt different styles over the years, If I have to come down on one or the other, I woud say I’m drawn to the softness and and non-knee dislocating stances of the Cheng Man-Ching style.
Classical Student:“But, that's not real Tai Chi,(turns and spits on floor), that's a poor westerners version of the real thing taught by a Chinese immigrant to New Yorkers. That’s tantamount to... Bean Curd Boxing!
Although thrown out as an insult, it occurred to me that Bean Curd could be seen as the ultimate yielding material. In fact, a Bean Curd Boxer was the perfect description for someone who could absorb anything thrown at him/her.
A Bean Curd Boxer should fight with other weapons than just clenched fists, perhaps by Softening Their Glare, Banishing Frowns and Slowing Down when asked to speed up. Perhaps a Bean Curd Boxer would not toss shurikens (hidden circular blades tossed like Frisbees at approaching enemies) but instead toss smiles, and perhaps, when backed into a corner come out fighting with well-aimed tales of nonsense and contradiction.
After a while, people would cross the road when they saw me coming, but I wasn't deterred. I began to write down some some these ideas about how this art might resonate with a wider group of people (other than seekers of definitions). In 2009 I published those ideas as The Manual of Bean Curd Boxing.
THE BOOK RELEASE
So here we are in 2017 and looking around, I’m not convinced things have changed so much. There are some good signs that schools have begun to define themselves by the place and time in which they live, but others still seek refuge by “dangling dangerously” from threads of lineage and secrecy, uniforms and uniformity.
Even as we slide blindly into this amorphous digital landscape, it is clear that our tools for imparting "knowledge" need updating as well as the mind-set of teachers. Perhaps now, the medium needs to move beyond the traditional formats of class locality, class leadership, and beyond the anachronistic definitions of “Masters” and Gurus. Perhaps now, new technologies can offer the study of Tai Chi - with all its colourful philosophy and inherently supple and flexible nature - in a more interactive, transparent, accountable and a less rigid, vertical structure.
Rising to the challenges of the age, last year after 25 years of teaching, I stopped teaching local classes, I began to move around and travel more and in the process explored the notion of teaching an online Tai Chi course based on the ideas from the book.
How that first year panned out, will be the subject of a follow-up post. Don't miss the sequel. Subscribe and get notifications here.
THE BCB BUNDLE: 5 FREEBIES OVER 48 HOURS
Help celebrate Bean Curd Boxing this weekend by claiming your 5-part bundle and spreading the bean-curd message across the known universe. Let’s see if we can distribute the bundle to the outer regions of the solar system and back, calling in at the Pink Ice Palace on the Moon (the Home of the Immortal Gods) - so they too will have something to read over the weekend. Go on, Share the bundle with a friend (or enemy) ...
Want more than just words? Who Can blame you? Come over to the Teapot Temple and test-drive a little Tai Chi today. Take the FREE Mini Course and get these 3 ebooks to help you decide of Tai Chi is for you.
The festive season throws up difficult questions for the student of enlightenment in a digital age. What to gift your favourite Guru when s/he already embodies universal wholeness and satisfaction? Well, fret no more, for the teapotmOnk has researched what most Gurus still lack. Just slip a ball-point pen and this handy suggestion list under your Guru as s/he is levitating so when they return to Earth they can circle the item that appeals the most.
Read the TOP 5 Gifts For the Guru in Your Life before it's too late.
Read the whole post on Medium here.
Want to know more about medium?
FESTIVE READ FOR THE HOLIDAY SEASON...
intro: video: holiday OFFER
It's almost the end of the year and the end of a tremendous series of workshops from deep within the teapot temple. This week, the penultimate workshop goes live focusing on Energy Exercises, including self-massage techniques, a review of the Energy Exercise Series including a powerful new exercises called: Draw the Energy From the Earth, and finally - an investigation into Qi: what it feels like, what it looks like and how to practice the qi exercises on the street. Take a look at the sneak video preview below.
And as promised, a final end of year holiday offer to all my readers: Check out the details below or go straight to the temple and enroll now, before the limited number of coupons run out!
Interested in learning online with the mOnk?
Know someone who has always wanted to learn Tai Chi? Why not gift the entire course as a present to someone this holiday? Until the end of December 2016, you can grab $50 off the price of the 12 month course - down from $150 to $100 - (Which includes 12 workshops and 12 full colour instruction manuals). Take a look at what the course offers HERE and then use the holiday promo code below. Happy Holidays.
It may sound obvious to you (hopefully), but increasingly I’m having to repeat this sentence to those enquiring about online activities, social media, email subscribers, learning courses: The acquisition of anything worthwhile is not purchasable in itself - you can’t just downloaded a skill, in the same way you can an app or a digital song. Followers, insights, clarity and membership of tribes must be earned. As much as it may be marketed to the contrary, none of these things can be purchased on PayPal.
Yet, I suppose I should not be surprised. Everywhere such promises are made:
THE NUMBERS GAME
The numbers game sucks us all in. Who doesn’t want instant and indefinite numbers of thumbs-ups? More little Instagram hearts? More Retweets? More followers? But before you succumb to the promises of marketing “experts” and social media “gurus”, pause a moment. For at its best, acquisition for the sake of acquisition fools no-one (hopefully) and may deter genuinely interested followers. Secondly, simply copying and pasting the route others have taken, may help show you HOW a new skill is acquired, but at its worse, such actions will do little else but contribute to the tidal wave of derivative nonsense that we are all slowly sinking beneath.
WHAT WORKS FOR YOU PROBABLY WON’T WORK FOR ME
Yes, I know you are an eager new entrepreneur, impatient, and driven by the promise of shiny toys. You are of the generation where new Internet Guru’s promise Online (sexual, social, political, anthropological, nautical, geopolitical, ecological, astrological and of course financial) success by merely trading-in an email. Who wouldn’t be tempted? After all, if it works for them, it can work for me.
But if history has taught us one thing, it’s that we chose not to learn from the lessons of history. We’d rather sign up to a newsletter, flick through an instantly forgotten time-line, await the next Instagram heart rather than pursue the attainment of any long-term beneficial skill. In fact, we would rather do anything in order to defer having to sit down and face a blank screen, and in silence, watch the blinking cursor taunting us: “Come on now, you know there is no shortcut here, move me to the right. You can do this”.
Languages and Tracing Paper
For 22 years I’ve been living in Spain. Outsiders always say - hey you must be fluent by now! Well, no, thats not the case. Language proficiency doesn’t come about by osmosis or geographical location. It comes about by persistent hard work. You learn the verb-tenses, the moods and you learn the vocabulary. You listen, you read, you engage. There are no short-cuts. If we truly want to develop language skills, we need to go through those difficult , tricky moments, stumbling and getting back up again when we fall. That’s how we learn.
An artist once told me that he learnt to draw comic book heroes with tracing paper. He said that he thought he was learning, but all he really learned was how to hold the paper down with one hand, and follow a series of lines with the other.
Using tracing paper is a practice that produces a generation of artists that can paint by numbers, that can produce by imitation, but are at loss as to what to do with a blank canvas.
TURN DOWN THE VOLUME
So try this: put down the tracing paper, the Google translate-app on your mobile phone or the painting by numbers kit and instead try picking up a pencil. Look out the window and do nothing. Maybe tap the pencil in rhythm to a random thought. Watch the dog snore. Just listen to the patter of rain on the window. Stop trying to do anything specific, stop trying to be anything and stop trying to achieve anything. Just listen for a moment until you hear the sound of your own breath. If you give yourself a little time and space, when the digital flotsam and jetsam have drifted past, you may just hear your own voice and not that of your guru.
FEAR NOT THE PRESENCE OF NOTHING
Then, when your voice gradually becomes louder and clearer you can begin. There will be no signpost however, no map, no easy steps to a zillion followers or instant cup-a-soup wisdom, despite the advert. But there will be an absence of noise. And today, that is an increasingly rare thing. It’s a challenge for sure, but challenges are empowering, and these challenges might just nudge you along, your as-yet, unmapped, but personal path.
Many practitioners of the Eastern Arts tell me they have no problem with discipline. They are self-motivated gods who effortlessly arise each morning before dawn, jog down to their local park and for the following 3 hours stand immobile, concentrating on little-known techniques such as the Reverse Iron-Nose Breathing Set, or the almost forgotten practice of the Fainting-Cockroach-Eyebrow-Expulsion Moon Dance.
Then, satisfied they have taken sufficient selfies and merged with the Tao, they jog home to upload their morning activities. Then they knock-back a watercress and garlic smoothie, drop into a Plank position for 3 hours and simultaneously work through a self-study course on 17th century Mandarin, before heading off to work.
I’m always impressed when I talk to these people, for I’ve never been much of a example to others. I generally lack such discipline, I easily find reasons to postpone work, I get distracted and I hate getting up whilst it is still dark.
So how can someone with a routine like mine, keep up a motivational practice? How can I break poor habits and adopt new ones when I’m such an indisciplined lout?
After teaching Tai Chi for over 25years, I'm aware that the problem is not exclusively mine. Most new students rarely practice outside the class hours, much as they may be encouraged to do so. Most Instructors and regular students don't seem to understand the difficulties in maintaining a regular practice outside the class, because for them it is not an issue. But for most new students it is, and if its one they don't resolve, then they probably will give up the practice. Numbers show that most new students to Tai Chi do not stay around beyond the first few months.
To help my students at home, I did try to set up a Whatsapp group, that succeeded in getting them to organise socials together, but rarely to train. I've organised SLACK forums where questions can be raised and issues or practices discussed, but again, public forums are not always what is required with a private practice. So then I looked at private motivational apps and in particular one that could be used for trying out something new for a period of time (let's say 30 days) - for example to Read a book, complete an outstanding DIY job, contemplate a change of schedule or routine.
There are plenty of mobile phone apps that will help you accomplish this task - my favourite of the moment is called Streaks. It permits just 6 habits to be pursued, and I add to this a 30 day time limit.
Later, after completing the 30 days, you may want to repeat it or do more. But start with small habits. Small habits that are thoughtfully formed, become part of your daily work, and become part of who you are. Who you are is always alive and always open to change. This is why after 30 days you can decide what you want to do. Change is always an option.
It's a good idea to add habits that you find you have difficulty practising. For example, lots of people add “Walk the dog” or Clean my teeth”. Personally, I think these should be second nature if you are either a dog or teeth owner, but if in your case this is not so, then add them in the app until they become part of your daily routine. Then let go. Change, its all about absorbing routine in order to let it go.
Keep it varied to keep it fresh
I thought this was just me, but then I read this report saying that we achieve more when our routines are fresh and challenging. So, the goldfish has another 20 days to go. I’ll let you know how well he does.
Stand Like A Flamingo and Walk like a Cat are two techniques taught in the Teapotmonk Online courses. Want to learn more about Tai Chi? Check out the Free ebook and Tai Chi Course here.
Streaks app for Android or IOS - more info here.
Change Your Routine - There is a lot of research done on why varying your routines can be more effective than intensifying them. Try Googling the subject or read this as a starter.
WHO IS THE TEAPOTMONK?
Contrary to popular belief, the teapotmOnk (paul read) is neither a mOnk nor a teapOt. He is, however, a writer on Tai Chi, a podcaster & teacher with more than 25 years of experience. He can be found wandering between Andalucia (Spain) & Devon (Uk).
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