The Darker Side of Taichi
A GLOBAL BACKDROP
All of this is understandable in light of the unstoppable expansion of the the economic order, globalisation, the hegemony of the market place and the parallel collapse of any alternative vision from the progressive movements. The cult of individualism refined 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 not been immune to these changes. It has, on the contrary played its part in propping up such tendencies. Initially embraced as part of the alternative culture, Tai chi in the 60,s and 70s promised not just personal change but offered the potential for collective good. It’s 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.
But these concepts and practices were left on the sidewalk of the 60’s and 70's. Politics had proven an unworthy companion, and meanwhile there were better, catchier slogans to embrace a 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 smacked of the old arguments from the ancien régime - the lame trickle down economy get-out clauses that always brought tax cuts for the wealthy but little for anyone else. So we all retreated inwards. Settling for a life of achieving little else but our own personal ends. Just do it.
But movements are never constructed by talking to yourself. The suffragettes didn't retire after convincing themselves of the need for universal suffrage. Nor the Black Lives Matter movement. At some point we have to talk to someone else.
I know, this is difficult these days, as we leap consciously and enthusiastically into our own echo chambers, abandoning the politics of the street for an online petition.
At present, Tai Chi does very little to counter this tendency.
Cyclical Debates on the practicality of pugilism versus the practicality of living well, drives us back into the realms of individualism again, styles and masters and 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 own own back-sides, bobbing inanely on the flotsam and jetsam of a Facebook timeline?
Well, heres a few ideas, but don't get too excited, they’re not for everyone…
Whats 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, 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 lets talk. ( This article is available from the 10th of Feb as a podcast here)
Whilst You Are Here...
You'll never guess what!
Like everyone else and their dog, I've created a Patreon Page. YUP, shiver my timbers the rumours are true!
What does all that mean? Well...what it means for you is that instead of lounging about in your dressing-gown awaiting the odd podcast, live video or article, YOU can now play an active role in producing it. If you’ve enjoyed the previous 2 series then now is your time to disrobe, fling the dressing gown of passivity into the bin and step boldly forward with a pledge to support the monk throughout 2018.
This will now be my 3rd podcast series I’d really like to do something more with it, develop it in new directions and go further with the aims and ideas that underpin its content.
Go visit patron.com/teapotmok and see what an amazing year it could turn out to be and check out the intro video below:
My chequered history of podcasting has been plagued by hosting companies going under. First it was Posterous that sent my first series of podcasts: Talking tai Chi with the teapotmonk off air. Then Opinion, the second company ceased functioning last year, leaving the Empty your Cup series with no home to speak of.
This year, though I may be down, I'm far from defeated. So I'm launching a new series called 10 - starting next weekend. In fact each episode will be released on the 10th day of each month, at 10am - for 10 months. And, it will be approximately just 10 minutes long.
What will it be about? Well, I think a podcast explaining in detail how to perform Diagonal Flying or the best 5 ways to breathe through your spleen might be a little dull in these days of short attention spans and the need for an accompanying Instagram image. So, I'm going to focus on other stuff - on the applications of certain Eastern principles to our daily lives - how to live the art rather than just practice it. Listen to the sample intro below, subscribe and the first episode will be shooting your way next week.
- WAYS TO GET THE PODCAST (OTHERS TO BE ADDED SOON)
* Itunes Podcasts
First in a new series of uninhibited and totally unjustified rants on the state of 21st century Tai Chi from the monk in the pot.
If I hear any more of this nonsense I’m going to have withdraw to planet teapot. Why is it that the Tai Chi world is still so divided over it’s martial and health benefits? Why are so many schools or individuals dismissed for emphasising one side over the other?
As someone who came to Tai Chi from other martial arts, I initially came looking for fighting techniques, but I soon discovered that it was a superficial and rather silly search in an age of 'smart' bombs, 'intelligent' warfare, cyber-wars and drone strikes. I found something far more significant than a fighting method. I found something more powerful and deep within the art that had little to do with prowess, speed or explosive energy techniques. I found a deep training in rooting, grounding, yielding, structural strength, breathing, co-ordination and balance that had little to do with competition nor winning nor combat. I found an art rich in philosophy and an art that epitomised cultural diversity whilst offering tools to embrace change and evolution.
Tai Chi is such a diverse and historically broad discipline that it’s impossible for it to be all things to all people. Ever since the early 1900’s the art has been evolving, seeking an audience for its many variations. Now, whether your school has still not evolved, whether it has frozen in 19th century China or migrated to other lands, whether your school has chosen to employ Tai Chi in the exclusive field of martial, health, spirituality, environmentalism, politics, growing-sprouts, surfing, stamp-collecting or Cartesian philosophy - hey, it's down to you.
Seems a bit of a shame to me though if your'e still in the 19th century combat mode. Bit like spending years developing callouses on your knuckles in order to gain an 'Iron Fist' only to find yourself getting lasered in your first fight. At some point you have to ask yourself, is there a more productive way of spending your time? It's a big broad universe out there - so much that there is room for everyone. So let’s put the endless debates about one interpretation being better than the other to one side shall we? Call it a new year thing if you will.
2017 was by any account a remarkable year - globally forces realigned themselves as many of us watched in awe from the sidelines, disempowered, both politically & economically, yet technologically experiencing a sense of greater engagement and hope. Perhaps it was in vain, but still we lived in hope. Hope that somehow it would all lead us towards a less fearful, more tolerant and sharing world. And now, as it closes we must decide:What's it to be - the red pill or the blue pill Neo?
I wanted to mark this 12 months in a memorable way. So I bathed off the negative traces and washed away the blues as my feet froze in the cold Devon sand and my joints ached at the prospect of entering a cold Boxing Day sea. But hey, you only live once.
So How was Your Year?
Did you manage to spend time with the people that matter to you? Did you get to be in the place that you wanted to be, doing the stuff you wanted to do? I'm not saying I did, but it feels that I inched nearer. A few incidents stand out in the life of a teapotmonk - and so I thought I'd recap and share them with you.
However your year ended, take strength from the knowledge that a new one is almost upon us. Of that, we shall have to see how it unfolds. I wish you well and that should you be seeking a metamorphosis, it all turns out well.
1: The End of the Podcast
Once more the hosting services for my podcast series - in this case a company called Opinion - pulled the plug on their platform, meaning that the Tai Chi series - Empty Your Cup - no longer had a home. Some of you may remember that this happened a few years back with series 1 - Talking Tai Chi with the teapotmonk. Perhaps now is the moment to rethink the podcast. So for fans unable to now access either series, I shall be uploading them all to this website later this year - fear not, they will be available for reasons of posterity, if not applicability.
2: The Online School
2017 was the year that I began to explore life outside the Teachable platform. I released my Tai Chi Breathing course in November on Udemy, and although the process is slower and in many ways more demanding than on Teachable, I hope to extend the course selection over the year on this platform.
Those that are enrolled on any of the Teachable courses - expect a new year code finding its way to your inbox in the new year. Not sure what the difference is or why I would work with two different platforms? You can read the articles on medium here or the ebook here.
3: Books etc (Grab one below)
Most of the year I was engaged with other writing, scripts for videos or work related to Spain. But, I did get out the series of articles on Medium and the Teaching and Learning Online ebook as well as the short introduction to Tai Chi: 10 Things About Tai Chi. (WANT A COPY? GRAB A FREE COPY BELOW IN EPUB FORMAT)
All these were added, as I customarily do, to the Gumroad package each year, so if you haven't yet checked out the complete library of Tai Chi - its got even better of late.
4: Going Live
Facebook grew to become an interesting venue for Live work this year, as both a supplement for those working through my online courses and as a source of discussion for anyone interested in the principles of the art. Having previously tried Periscope and Google hangouts without a great success, Facebook live enabled sessions that would reach a wider and more diverse audience than any previous platform. Expect more of this in 2018 - but you'll only get notified if you are a subscriber of have liked the page on FB. If you missed the mini series I ran throughout November, you can catch up over at the Youtube channel here.
5: Video Work
Other than the new Breathing Course - see video below - It was mostly Live sessions and playful shorts - expect more of this in 2018 and if you want something more regular, come over to Instagram (teapotmonk) where you will see even shorter snippets and static images uploaded weekly.
And so to 2018
And who knows, perhaps another elusive appearance - not unlike the World Tai Chi day in Birmingham - as well as the many Online ones.
As I'm now around Devon in the UK as well as Andalusia, Spain, maybe, our paths might even cross? Wouldn't that be good?
The First Session
November 2017 was the month in which the mOnk went LIVE. If you have followed any of the developments on the Facebook page you will know that a series of talks began at the beginning of the month on different aspects of learning Tai Chi. This was to coincide with the launch of the new Tai Chi Breathing Course on Udemy and the release of the 10 Things ebook.
Now the series is over, you can still catch the live sessions as they have been uploaded to the teapotmonk Youtube channel here.
If you haven't already done so, then go visit the Facebook page as I'll be starting a new series of LIVE sessions again soon. Liking the page means you¡ll get a notification when I'm going LIVE. Hope to see you over there soon.
Last week I began a new experiment on Facebook. The idea was to do something once a week during November and to do it LIVE. The idea is that podcasting and video work and even writing are great ways to broadcast, but each of them require massive amounts of editing, composing and promoting. At the end of which the spontaneity of it all sometimes gets lost.
So I wanted to return to something more stimulating, challenging and - if I'm honest - more difficult. It's all well and good making mistakes in the privacy of your home - you can always take it out in the edit or do it again. But what if you can't? What if, warts and all, it goes out as it is with the blunders and the trip-ups. What if people could reply at that moment, letting you know they like or don't like what you are doing? What if they could type a question to you in the moment to put you on the spot? On the teapot spot?
Well that's what it is all about. Check out the first in the series below. And catch me live on FB - teapotmonk each Wed afternoon. Make sure you have LIKED the page to get notified when the LIVE stream begins and do participate - react - share. For that's whats its all about.
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.
Contrary to popular belief, the teapotmOnk (paul read) is neither a mOnk nor a teapOt. He is, however, a writer on Tai Chi, speaker, course-creator & teacher with more than 25 years of experience. He can be found wandering between Andalucia (Spain) & Devon (Uk). More here.
Contact him here or keep in touch, subscribe for some great Tai Chi stuff delivered to your inbox.