I suppose it all came about when I began to learn Tai Chi back in the 1980’s. In my first year I learnt 3 different styles - since then I have forgotten all but one (before you ask me to demonstrate all 3) . I loved the diversity of the Forms, the range of techniques and the manifestation unique to each.
Yet within each style, there was, and still is, an unwritten law: You don’t change the Form. Of course, history has shown this to be utter nonsense. With every new generation there is at least one student who alters either the number of postures, the order of the postures, the name of the style, the font on the calling card, the cut of the satin suit or the angle of the tache worn by sifu. But, this is generally hushed up. Lineage, tradition and reverence to the past is reinforced by a wall of silence.
But being a bit of an irreverent mOnk I like to play around when I hear the deafening sound of silence, I want to explore the borders, dancing over demarcations and fixed steps to see what lies on the other side.
Last month I released the short Course on Udemy, teaching what I call the Flexible Form. A Form that start with just 10 steps and grows, according to time, energy and space you have to practice. I was surprised at the number of people keen to take a look, to try it out.
It made me think: Perhaps creativity in the martial arts is not yet over. Perhaps, there remains an interest in something other than the hotly debated martial interpretations, the denial or dependency on the presence of Qi (yawn). It matters little if the application of a internal energy strike using Heel Breathing can cure your kidney stones or disarm a knife attack. The debate misses the bigger question, is the art alive any longer or is it only a flickering display on the wall of Plato's cave?
Im not knocking any of those practices by the way, you can practice for martial or health. It's all the same to me, but I do think we should address the question of how we maintain life in the art beyond the formulae of teaching Form, beyond the subjectivity of the single lethal strike. What are we doing about affordability, availability, time-tables, space-issues, memory muscles, choreography, balance? Quoting succulent passages from the Tao Te Ching or being able to locate the Chen village in google maps isn't going to hack it.
So I've released a book on the subject - yup it'll be out on Amazon next week - called the Beginners Guide to the Tai Chi Form - hardly original I know, but blame the algorithm Gods for that. Make no mistake, however, you won’t know my Form - as its not one from the major schools - but, thats the point.
Do you see?
I hoping, just maybe, you'll be inspired to create a Form of your own. To take my little example and with it create something of beauty. There I've said it. An admission to the Internal Arts Capital Crime. If you never hear from me again, you’ll know Ive been executed by a Chen Village ninja for daring to speak the unspeakable, to utter the words banned for centuries in the Tai Chi World: Go and make one up yourself!
In the meantime, get inspired to create your own patterns. Use your experience, use your intuition, use your spirograph if necessary - but create and in the act of creation push back the boundaries of what we know. Let me know what come up with.
Find out more about learning Tai Chi with the teapotmonk in the 21st century here.
You can find versions of these posts as podcasts here.
If, like me, you have ever raised a quizzical eyebrow when Sifu Simon preached about his teaching of the one true interpretation, the one true, authentic, verifiable, unalterable, untouchable Tai Chi Form...then listen on.
Because if, like me, as you listened to Sifu's World Wide-claim their heritage, you pondered on the 120 Form variations that now exist - and asked yourself - how can there be a single one true Form? Is the Form as sacrosanct as we are made to believe?
This month - the teapotmonk Investigation Crew explore the contradictions and vagaries of the Tai Chi Form and ask if we should not boldly go where no one has gone before. (This article is also available as a podast)
What is the Tai Chi Form & is it always the same?
When anyone thinks of learning Tai Chi, they generally think of the flowing, harmonious sequence of postures called The Form. These are not exclusive to Tai Chi - though the emphasis, pace and attention to body synchronisation is perhaps more focused, but similar Forms do exist in all martial arts, In the Japanese arts of Karate, kendo, Judo and Aikido for instance, the sequences of moves are called kata. In the Chinese arts they are called Forms, and irrespective of the martial art you practice, you will see many postures that resemble those we practice in Tai Chi.
What are the differences between the different Forms?
However, martial artists do like to define and categorise things, they like to put things into styles and sub styles, and variations and derivations. They generally like to pigeonhole things and so have decided to place all the arts into two camps - external and internal. What is meant by these is often a little vague, the truth being that all arts draw on as many sources of energy and strength as possible - muscular and tensile, straight and circular, fast and slow, soft and hard. It is in the nature of things, at least the 10.000 things that comprise the universe - according to Taoist theory. (But that's not saying a lot).
However, Tai Chi is still seen as “different” by other martial artists, partially because it is taught as both a system of health and ideology as well as a system of selfdefense, but also because of its emphasis on a single Form . This may be either a long or short Form, old or new, large or small frame. Whichever it is, most styles concentrate on a single empty-handed Form for several years - whereas in karate, you may learn a dozen Forms in the the same time a Tia Chi practitioner learns one.
Are there many different Forms?
And in Tai Chi it is not a universal Form either. Amongst the main half-dozen styles of Tai Chi Chuan practised throughout the world, there exists over 120 different Tai Chi Forms each with their own number of moves ranging from 4 to over 200.
Over 200?I'm wondering if I have time in this life?
It’s a complicated scenario for the new student to make sense of and one that results in a lot of beginners never finishing their course. This is why I, and other teachers teach a variety of Forms that help new students - for example by teaching beginners a simple 10 step Form as separate postures - and then linking them together in a flowing and harmonious way
Are Tai Chi Forms changeable?
But how far can we play with the existing structures? How far is it permissible for teachers to adapt or change a Form?
If we look at one of the most closely traced lineage systems - that of the Chen style - we can see that even this Form has changed with the times. Introducing different lengths, variations, frames…whilst the globally popular Yang Style appears to have undertaken a path of consistent adaptation and evolution since its onset.
How does this happen?
Usually, upon the death of a head teacher, the students are under an obligation to begin squabbling immediately as to how best to continue the lineage - falling into two usual camps: those that wish to remain faithful to the teacher (errors and all) and refusing to change a single thing, and those that see the head teacher as a human being with personal bias, failings and somewhat blind to the changes needed to bring the art into the present century. After many attempts to reconcile the two, they always agree to then go their own ways and the style proceeds to split into smaller and smaller camps, each with styles that - to an outsider - vary only in pronunciation or colour of satin suit.
This is a process that has gone on (and on) and continues up until the present day. And although on the surface this appears to be the result of ego and petty in-fighting, it is, upon further consideration, perhaps an inevitable consequence when any control-freak dies as head of a powerful family. Children will argue and will go their own ways.
To beginners - and this is something those immersed in these arguments forget - it all sounds like children arguing - which in a sense it is exactly that. To outsiders - or to beginners - it appears at best nonsensical or irrelevant, at worst incestuous and ultimately off-putting.
Yet, we are left with a dilemma: the number of postures in a Tai Chi Form, the order of postures or even the intention behind the postures varies so much between schools, between practitioners of the same school, between students of the same teacher - that any claims of exclusive application or interpretation are - as Chuang Tzu would say - increasingly laughable.
Does this mean I can make up anything I like?
Clearly not, though looking back at some of the divisions and manifestations that have appeared over the last century some people think so.
We do have for reference, what is known as the Tai Chi classics - that compilation of writings by teachers and students over the years that describes the principles we should aspire to. However the classics are extremely vague and suffer from ambiguity leaving us all free to interpret what we want and how we want.
For me there is another reference that I would suggest and that is the Tao te Ching - now some of you may say - hold up Mr teapot - thats not Tai Chi, and even were it so, its equally as vague as the Classics. And I’d agree to so extent, but it has a longer history of interpretation, especially into English and consequently it has had more time to adapt and apply it self to a western audience. Just take a look at the versions by Ursula le Guin or Ron Hogan.
Personally, I would go there for my source material. Some of you, know doubt, would disagree. And thats as it should be.
I'll leave you with one last thought: go forth and create, but bear in mind a couple of additional factors (of my own:)
The Teapot List
For more on The History of the Tai Chi Form - look out for the new book due out next month by Paul Read on Amazon or nip over and explore the new Online Short Course : The Tai Chi Form - at teapotmonk.com . Grab a code and of course, take a look at the video below.
This month things have been a little hectic in the teapot temple. I've been rethinking how to connect with people both locally and from a distance and come up with some new ideas about Ways of Learning. I've written before about the shortcomings of the traditional teaching methods, and we all know about the limits of Online Learning - but it's an evolving scenario and one that shifts and flows every time I glance over at it.
So whats been happening? Well, a new course has gone up on Udemy - focussing on the Tai Chi Form. Rather than try and reproduce a standard version from one of the major schools - I've opted to extract 12 universal postures, break them down into footwork and arm patterns, then reconstruct them in a short and simple sequence for anyone to practice, irrespective of time, space or memory limitations. To this, I've added 4 - PDF downloads as reference material and 2 audio guides for practising away from the screen. This will be backed up by a Live FaceBook session next month and other stuff (to be announced). It's by and far the most complete offer beyond a class-like situation.
Download the sample audio file above ( If you have problems, email me and I'll send you a copy) or play it in the player provided. It may not make too much sense away form the course, but the idea is to supplement your video training with an audio file that you can download to your phone, plug in your headphones and and have it with you for the moments when you are in the park or on the terrace, in the garden or just at home and want to practice, but do not want to turn on a screen.
So what else? Well, I'm also offering FREE Saturday Morning Tai Chi classes on the beach in Devon if you are down this way. All you need to do is find me on the Meetup app or website and RSVP a place. These sessions will reproduce the Short Form and the Breathing exercise Courses that you can find on Udemy - but add a real-time class situation to your training.
So if your'e interested in taking a look here are the links - (including a discount code for the course).
DEVON CLASSES VIA MEETUP
NEW UDEMY COURSE ON TAI CHI FORM
For more training ideas, come over and browse at Learntaichi.online
The Use and Abuse of Titles in the Arts
Since my last post - I've been working on a whole series of things, distracted as usual, by events in Spain. As some of you know, I’ve lived and worked a good chunk of my life in Spain - the land of sunshine, siestas, bullfights and corrupt politicians and although at the moment I am in the UK, my heart and spirit still resides overseas. Particularly this week as a particular crop of dodgy fruit got booted out of the Olive Press.
But I digress,
What I want to say is that adopting two countries, languages and cultures is an interesting balancing act. And one that keeps me always thinking about ways in which I can still do the things that are important - from a distance.
Since I stopped teaching a regular Tai Chi class 18 months ago, I’ve been putting that energy and time into finding alternative ways of teaching - exploring online channels such as Teachable and Udemy.
All this has meant redefining the teaching of the art, not because the technology has advanced to the point I can teach holographically or in some way more authentically than in a class room, clearly this is still not the case. It has however meant I can explore other content, another curriculum, and another audience. 3 things not to be sniffed at.
This last month for example, I’ve been compiling a new Udemy course on learning the Tai Chi Form - exploring not only the postures, but why its taught the way it is, the length it is, the format and the process. Eventually, asking myself questions about its adaptability and relevance in these times. This is something I would never have done, if I’d carried on teaching the same way these last 25 years: following the same format - going to a class, working posture by posture alongside the same level group. With space and distance, you can explore other ways of teaching and introduce new forms of content
So online teaching has been one area of work, but other formats challenging the classic weekly session appear more and more. Let me tell you briefly about 1
Most of you will have heard of Airbnb - the online accommodation alternative to rip off hotels, smelly old B&B’s and monopolistic tourist chains
Well, at last in the Uk Airbnb, the newest monopolistic digital platform - have introduced the Airbnb experiences, you can now book time with people, learn their skills, soak up a little of their energy and enthusiasm. And this has given me an idea as to another way of teaching.
I’ll explore this concept more in future podcast that will focus on technology and teaching , Meetups, Experiences and Online platforms - but for now, anyone interested can do a search on Airbnb Experiences, or the MeetUp website and track me down in, Devon and see what sort of stuff I’m playing with. All very beta, but curious.
An Incestuous Complacency?
Anyway, all of this has brought me round to thinking about not only what we convey, but how we convey it. You see, traditionally one conveyed skill, experience, knowledge through certificates, belt colours, uniforms, hairstyles, adopted names, initials, and styles. Many still do...sadly.
However, this did give people some point of reference, but Chinese arts don’t do this so well. The Chinese arts have had to rely more on Lineage and tradition. Yet even here, these are values that have been questioned in themselves. Often, an over reliance on these results leads to an incestuous complacency, a stagnation of ideas and techniques that freezes an art in time and space until - an outsider emerges to nudge things on, to encourage a little evolution. Any brief look back over the history of Tai Chi will show dozens of such cases.
Take a look back at images of Tai Chi grandmasters, satin suits, pony tails, collections of adoring students at their side - and then look to see how Tai Chi is marketed today. See any similarities?
This is why I've little time for lineage, for family names, for titles in the world of tai chi and martial arts. I've no time for those that even cling to their cliches of: Sifu, Sensei, Master, Guru…
It denotes for many, a certain smugness. I know I'll be shot down for saying it but you just don't get this elsewhere than in the eastern arts. And that's the problem with titles you see, adopting titles divides people. It creates distance between people, it seeks not to bridge differences, but to highlight them. Now this is perfectly fine if you are an aristocrat, Senator, Ambassador, Councillor, Your Majesty, Professor, Doctor, Captain, General, Your Holiness…these titles, ranks, hierarchies all bind together a class of people who benefit from their use. They exist because of the labels and titles and badges. Take them away...and what . have you left?
It's this fixation on names, titles, certificates, family lineage that -in theory - is meant to denote competency, but these days means little at all. Such terms have long since been hijacked by social media, hijacked by every corporate organisation in its training and advising fields, by every new-age group, blogger, alternative cafe or whole food library in town. They have become sad cliches of the 21st century,
If you really must use another name, use one that no-one will take seriously. Such as teapotmonk. No one is going to think that such a lineage really exists, and for anyone unsure, let me set the record straight : I'm neither a teapot, a monk, a Taoist or a Tai Chi master (sifu, sage, Sensei, guru etc).
Drop the titles. Drop the cliches. Become who You Are. (Oops, that one just slipped in. Apologies.)
Nonsense or no sense?
Feel free to disagree and tell me why I'm an upstart. Leave a comment on any social media platform, and I'll attempt to defend my position. Without being defensive ... if you know what I mean.
In the meantime, do take a look at the Airbnb Devon experience, or the Meetups - it's an interesting slot that has opened up, and although you may not wish to come and train with me for a morning, it might give you some ideas about how you can vary your Tai Chi to people in your Area.
And watch out for the new Udemy course on the Tai Chi Form out, in less than 2 weeks! If you've done my Complete Immortal course, then you'll qualify for a free code. Otherwise it’ll sell at some ridiculously cheap price that only other monopolistic companies like Udemy and Amazon can get away with.
But what can you do in these days of digital globalisation
Time for another book review. I know I have included it in with a list of others, during a live FB video, but I think this one deserves an extra plug.
The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life by Michael Puett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There just aren't enough books out there that convey the practicality of early Chinese philosophy to English readers. Most are swimming in mysticism and caricature, doggy-paddling frantically in all directions in their attempt to stay afloat in the eyes of the unsubscribed.
Puett manages to do what others have failed, partly because he leapfrogs between Confucious and Mencius, Laotzi and Zhuangzi and in so doing breaks our preferences for one over the other, and partly because he chooses a language that resonates with the healthily sceptical.
In his leap-frogging, his doggy-paddling and his sewing of conceptual threads, he transports us back and forth between an abstract cultural and historical point centuries ago and the practical needs of the 21st century citizen. If scrumptious could be said of a book on philosophy, then this would be that book.
View all my reviews
We talk a lot in Tai Chi...in fact some say we talk too much. Theories on this, theories on that. How to disarm a rampaging rhino with Ward-Off Left. How to disarm a nuclear North Korea using just the Tai Chi Fan Form. Some may rightly point out, Tai Chi types talk more than listen.
I've spoken before on this topic. Perhaps too much. So today, I wanted to encourage the use of ears, rather than tongue. Your ears that is. So here you go - 3 opportunities to listen rather than speak (or read). Give your eyes a break from all this screen time and explore the world of Audible Tai Chi
3 AUDIO DELIGHTS
1. - Virtual Not Distant Podcast
Listen to the Interview on 21st Century Work-life with the mOnk talking about Teaching, Online Activity and Tai Chi.
2. - 50 Questions Audio (and ebook)
Why listen to a book on Tai Chi? Surely it should be read, studied, analysed for postures and elbow angles? Not with the mOnk, -better to forget about the geometry until you have mastered the concept.
3. - Second part of the podcast: Don't Die in Shackles
Finally, the long-awaited 2nd-part to the podcast series on FEAR - in which the mOnk scratches the surface of Mencius and his ideas on the unpredictability of life and how to live with generosity. Listen to Part 1 here and Part 2 here. - or (if you insist on using your eyes) read the abridged summary below.
"Make time, act and always reward people for the things they do, - for this is how to implement change. It’s easy and you can begin right now."
Living Without Fear
Summary of full podcast:
So how do we live without fear? How do we:
These qualities depend on as much as what you don’t have, as what you do,
Forget grand gestures, grand donations - focus instead on the small moments.
For we are small people after all, on a small planet, in a rather small solar system. Recognising our smallness can help in taking action. Taking small steps in showing people we care, showing how to share, showing how to engage in this life of unpredictability.
The unpredictability of life
The Chinese philosopher Mencius wrote that every day, events happen to us. These events are often outside our control, despite our best plans, despite writing a most thorough to-do list, despite designing the most detailed of spreadsheets. Some things just happen. And these things don't always turn out well.
Mencius called this the unpredictability of life, and although, we cannot always control these events, we can control how we respond and how we interact with such endless streams of unpredictability.
Unless we learn to do this, he said, we will live life controlled by the things that happen to us - the things we cannot always control or predict - and “our fate will be to die in shackles".
Lets look at an example
In most martial arts we learn that when someone strikes out, we block, parry or we instinctively strike back. It's the trained reflex. The conditioned response: If you press your nuclear button, I'll press mine. This training - to respond in kind - Unleashes the worst in ourselves, and in turn unleashes the worst in others. But in Tai Chi we are taught something else, we are taught a 3rd option - and that is to yield.
Yielding is an interesting concept. It doesn’t mean, that when someone strikes you accept it, It doesn’t mean you take a blow to your head by absorbing a punch with your teeth or eye. But neither do you strike back, unhesitatingly, instinctively, as a reflex.
These responses are what Mencius called standing under a falling wall and then saying it was your fate to be killed by that wall. Instead. He suggests we learn to step out from beneath the falling wall. To step out from its shadow and live in the light. In Tai Chi that is called yielding.
Now....combine the element of Yielding with the philosophy of timing, known as Wu Wei, and you get to choose not only how to respond, but how to live.
Mencius said. Learn to work with everything that comes your way.
Make time, act and always reward people for the things they do, - for this is how to implement change. It’s easy and you can begin right now.
Mencius said we must resolve to become the best human being we can be - not because of what eventually we will get out of it, what we will earn, or for the thumbs up we will receive. But simply in order to do good, and in the act of doing good, set an example to others around you. Little by little - small token effort by small token effort - nothing grandiose - just small actions we can take each moment of each day - and turn that moment into a general good,
For Mencius, one person can indeed affect change: think Martin Luther King, think, Gandhi, think John Snow
And together - well together - by choosing unity over division, by seeing what we have in common over what separates us, we can choose a life without fear.
Join us this year in Birmingham UK.
Why do people begin a class of Tai Chi? Over the last 25 years I've had people come to my classes for all sorts of reasons: wanting to learn to fight like Donnie Yen, wanting to learn to walk over rice-paper like Kwai Chang Caine, wanting to be able to hum 'Give Peace a Chance' whilst cooking an omelette, wanting to levitate, gravitate or salivate in front of relatives... the list goes on and on. But most people, if I'm honest, amble in through the hallowed doors of the teapot-temple in search of useful ways to help them deal with stress. They may not call the issue stress, they may refer to it as insomnia, nerves, lack of confidence, poor balance, an absence of coordination or a sense that life is passing them by and they are watching from the sidelines. So they begin a class and thats when they discover the true power of Tai Chi.
SO WHAT IS STRESS?
Is stress something new that requires modern tools, or is it something that has been around awhile and that were we to look back over time, we would find a whole series of interesting answers there? In Michael Puett's excellent book: The Path, he explores many of these questions regarding the applicability of Chinese ideas and thoughts to the 21st century and concludes that, surprisingly, a lot of our modern day aliments have have actually been circling around for centuries.
It was after reading his book that I thought how useful it would be to organise a short course dealing with something we think of as a new phenomena, but in truth has been part of work pressure and home life for as long as we can remember (and as long as our antecedents can remember too). Hence, I set out to create a new short Udemy Course on how we can use Tai Chi to deal with stress. Because the answers were already out there, centuries ago.
The course is structured over 5 Sections:
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Unlike many practices that focus exclusively on re-thinking or changing our attitude, Tai Chi backs up it's ideas and philosophy with practical exercises that have been used for centuries. These exercises, like many of the practices in Tai Chi, have been gradually developed for dealing with all types of conflict, and it is the conflict we find each day in our work or home environment that places such demands on our mind and body.
Each of the 5 sessions consist of 2 approaches. The first is an emergency first aid kit: A series of exercises and approaches to dealing with stress - as and when it arises. Something useful for the moment that can be drawn upon immediately.
The second approach works by selecting a few of the postures from the Tai Chi Form that incorporate measures for balance, co-ordination, posture, rooting and yielding and all serve to build our capacity to deal with stress over the long-term.
GIVE IT A SPIN
Like to take a look? Curious as to see how it could be incorporated into your practice?
Watch the video below, or nip over and take a look at the course structure, try a lecture or two to see if it's of interest to you and should you be tempted, then I'll even offer a special priced code for you. Use this code here - WEEB2STRESS - and get the course reduced from 35 pounds to just 11 (just for a short while guys, sorry it's got to go back up).
Find out more A Beginners Guide to Managing Stress with Tai Chi | Udemy
Or check out all the teapotmonk courses over at Learn Tai Chi Online.
Download One Book Here the Other from Amazon.
Sometimes people say behind my back - "that teapotmOnk - he's all words and no action". Am I bothered? Not really, because in a way they have a point. I write, I podcast and I do lots of video work. But, when I say something I like to back it up.
Last week I released a new podcast on the Way of Laughter. (Not heard it yet? Listen here). It was an introduction to the role of humour in the teaching and practicing of Tai Chi.
I recommended reading One Last Thing to grasp the essence of what I was saying. Today I want to go a step further and give you a copy of One Last Thing (ebook version) for free - for 48 hours on Amazon. If you prefer a paperback, I'm afraid you'll still have to pay for that, but the ebook is yours. All this weekend: 17th and 18th of March 2018.
There is a second book too. The Accompanying Book of Images from One Last Thing - with quotes, links to videos and excerpts. Its another ebook - a PDF - and you can download it here and now for free.
Just my small way of going a bit further than just talking about things. Enjoy.
The Subversive Power of Comedy in Tai Chi
“The only honest art form is laughter, comedy. You can't fake it...try to fake three laughs in an hour -- ha ha ha ha ha -- they'll take you away, man. You can't.”
Let’s just get one thing straight from the beginning. I don’t mean comical in the Frankie Howard, Carry On up the Kyber, Bennie Hill, Fawlty Towers, Monty Python sense. Well, maybe a bit of Monty Python
Nor do I mean in the "2 Taoist and a giraffe walk into a bar and one says to the other…" No, Not that sort of humour either. What I mean is a style of humour that enables or liberates. Humour that dispels tension, breaks down stuffy and artificial boundaries between people and ideologies, humour that dislodges stances and unbalances staged postures. Thats what I mean. Thats the humour I’m referring to. Thats the subversive power of comedy.
Because a world without humour is a world without lightness of being, a world without self-effacement, a world dry and barren occupied by a zombie race with a serious face, a serious expression, a serious stance, a serious shirt collar. And what happens when people and places take themselves too seriously? What happens when the shirt collars of the world are in charge? Well, I’m glad you asked. You get people like Teresa May, Donald Trump or that Snr. M Rajoy in control of your life. You get the Dead Walking. You get stagnation of movement, stagnant waters beneath your feet and ideologies that have become far too starched to do anything with. Thats what you get (so thanks for asking).
So Why are Tai Chi People So Serious About Themselves?
It doesn’t help keep reading the Tao Te Ching. You see, everyone and their dog can quote Lao Tzu into their manifesto or class curriculum - thats the attraction of the book - but you don’t chuckle much when you read it, it’s not a page turner. For that you need to visit the comical genius of Chuang Tzu
When I say “comic genius”, bear in mind everything is relative and when you are chatting to a Taoist, you have to have a pretty broad range of reference points.
Now I do know what you are thinking - Taoism and Tai Chi are serious, subjects, it isn’t fair to treat them in this superfluous manner. I hear you, honestly I do. I recognise that some of you probably went to china and studied with a grandmaster in some monastery or hermits cave for 15 years and survived on just donkey pooh and air, you wear white robes and have a pony tail and are growing your eyebrows as long as you can, just so everyone knows how serious you are when you teach. I get it I really do.
But, And heres the thing. This eyebrow thing - and calling yourself master this, sifu that- its not doing a lot for the future of the art, and, well to be frank, its a bit comical. .
For those of you suffering from attacks of seriousness, I’d suggest going to live in Andalusia and try teaching Tai Chi there. For 8 years, thats what I did. The people there embody noise, disruption, and there is an absence of respect for hierarchy and hair styles - all very sound qualities for a people with anarchic roots. As a teacher you must learn to adapt.
For example, you may try to explain the concept of sticking or the duality principle behind yin and yang, and whilst you are pondering over a simple translation of wu wei into Andalou’ you become aware that most people have wondered off to the loo, broken open a packet of choccy-biscuits and are handing them around whilst someone else is showing the rest of the class a YouTube video of their 3 week old kitten. Worse still they are not even looking at you. You! The enlightened one! You up there on your stage, you, with your pony tail neatly tied back and your satin suit ironed just that morning.
Under such very un-northern cultural conditions, you must learn to yield, and you must learn above all else, to laugh with people and to step off your pedestal - for they are there to teach and well as to be taught. Stepping off your pedestal is greatly advised. Get down there amongst everyone and get your hands dirty. Embrace the fact that it doesn't make much sense, but it doesn't have to.
THE POWER OF COMEDY
“Life doesn't make any sense, and we all pretend it does. Comedy's job is to point out that it doesn't make sense, and that it doesn't make much difference anyway.”
Comedy is far a greater tool to demonstrate in a class than a lethal front kick. Comedy is a disruptive force. For Comedy says: ‘hold on a moment, just listen to yourself - none of this is real, it’s all just one way, one perspective, one stance. As much as you might think what you are teaching or learning is of global importance, it isn’t. Most people in the world will never try a class of tai ch, especially with you - no disrespect - but statistically it ain’t gonna happen.
And, you know what. they’ll get by just fine as they are.
But comedy is not just a means to lighten an atmosphere. Embracing Comedy enables you to commentate from another angle - Comics see the tragedy of their times. Shakespeare used comedy to critique the establishment. Think Jon Stewart. Think Russell Brand. Think Monty Python.
Oh and One Last Thing
Think One Last Thing - that classic philosophical parody by the teapotmonk (in all good amazon stores). A comical look at the martial arts - a book that takes our cherished Tai Chi history and blows it up into small ludicrous pieces so we may reinterpret personal histories, distorted timelines, and regurgitated words.
One Last Thing was my attempt to debunk the frowns and scowls from certain quarters of the Tai Chi community. Debunk the movement of serious internet memes and slogans because only though comedy can you do this, to show it’s ok to let up, to relax. And If you’ve lucky enough to have hair, let it down a little.
So learn to laugh with your class, its a precious tool to pass on to learners, they will love you for it. It shows that they don’t have to always be right, always be correct, always be on time, always be in attendance, always be attentive to your every word,
And neither do you.
ONE LAST THING is available in digital form here or in paperback here or as part of the teapotmonk Gumroad bundle here.
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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.
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