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, it is said, of sunshine, siestas, bullfights and corrupt politicians. 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 sharing knowledge and skills through social media, Meetup groups and exploring online channels such as Teachable and Udemy.
All this has meant redefining what is meant by teaching , not because the technology has advanced to the point I can teach holographically or in a way more authentically than in a class room, clearly this is still not the case. It has, however, meant I can devote more time to other content, another curriculum, and another audience. 3 things not to be sniffed at in the repetitive world of classes, workshops, classes and more workshops.
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 etc. With space and distance, you can explore other aspects 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 complexes.
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?
All of this has brought me round to thinking about not only what we convey when we teach, but how we convey it. You see, traditionally one conveyed skill, experience, knowledge by displaying in prominent areas of your dojo, certificates, belt colours, uniforms, hairstyles, adopted names, initials, and family tree charts. Sadly, many still rely too much on this method.
Although this did give newcomers some point of reference, the Chinese arts just don’t do this too well. Without certificates, the Chinese arts have had to rely more on lineage and tradition. Yet even here, these values have been questioned. Often, an over reliance on lineage and inter-school traditions 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 over the history of Tai Chi will show dozens of such cases.
Take a look 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 parallels?
Badges of Honour
This is why I've little time for lineage, for family names, for titles in the world of Tai Chi and martial arts. Though I understand why teachers cling to the cliches of Sifu, Sensei, Master, Guru, I'm not one to participate.
Usage of these terms denote for some students, a certain smugness. I know I'll be shot down for saying it but you just don't get this elsewhere. And that's the problem with titles: Adopting titles separates and 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 to form a class of people who benefit from their use. They exist because of the benefits thier use provides. Labels and titles and badges do this. But 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 once did when there was no alternative, but now we have other tools, and anyway, they have long since been hijacked by social media and every corporate organisation, 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 be taken 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 (as if it needs pointing out): 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, see how clichés can so easily slip 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 offerings to people in your Area.
And watch out for the new Udemy course on the Tai Chi Form. 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
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.