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 tamper with 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 moustache worn by sifu.
But, this is generally hushed up.
Lineage, tradition and reverence 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, excuse me!). It matters little if the application of an 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 still alive or is it only a flickering display on the wall of Plato's cave?
I'm not knocking any of those practices by the way. You can practice Tai Chi for martial or health reasons. 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 tired 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 and 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 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 it's not one from the major schools - but, thats the point. Do you see yet?
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 real beauty. There, I've said it. An admission to the Internal Arts Crime Investigation Board. 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 something 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.
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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