21ST CENTURY TAI CHI
Ideas to bridge the space between thought and action
ORIGINS 1: THE ERA BEFORE BEAN CURD BOXING
Back in the hazy, unruly days of the 1980’s when the Eastern arts had finally settled down in the West, martial arts teachers were under an unspoken obligation to imitate the sage-like expressions and postures seen in early Kung-fu flicks. They grew long, grey and wispy eyebrows; they sneered (or even snarled) were anyone to ask the point of wearing a tunic from 17th century China. They seethed when anyone pointed out the arthritic consequences of bad squatting techniques and developing callouses on the knuckles, forehead and on the eye-lids. They stomped their feet when asked why students should learn to absorb a front kick to the solar plexus, or head-butt an assailant in the buttocks. "Surely", students asked, "there are other life-skills were more demanding in the era of Thatcher and Reagonomics? Surely", they continued, "in the run up to climate breakdown and Trump we should be equipping ourselves with more relevant tools?"
But the Sifu's of the 1980's merely adopted an aloof gaze and warned of the dangers of revealing “truths” too early to those that were clearly not ready.
The Era of Monotheism
Yet, for western students, it was not an easy jump to go from wearing drain-pipe jeans and leg warmers, to bright silky and baggy uniforms. It was a follicle challenge to wear eyebrow hair at such lengths and it was an unusual request to only receive cryptic answers to direct and practical questions. Even when considering which school to train with, they felt confused if each teacher claimed to offer an exclusive truth and authenticity; an indisputable lineage and an unbeatable system of defence. How was it possible, they whispered to themselves in the changing rooms, that every school and every system could be equally true?
ORIGINS 2: LIMITED TRAINING RESOURCES
The 1980's was a confusing decade for those forced to live through its turbulent years. resources were limited in this analog era, an era for those born in the digital age difficult to conceive. There were no online resources to check out, no Youtube videos to search, and as for publications, 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 more vague martial applications and an endless list of sketches of men with numbers below them and training instructions such as:
“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.
ORIGINS 3: THE ARRIVAL OF THE BEAN CURD BOXER
I began to write down some some these ideas about how this art might resonate with a wider group of people (other than the seekers of definitions) and in 2009 I published the first edition of The Manual of Bean Curd Boxing.
THE BOOK RELEASE
So here we are in 2020, and looking around, I’m not convinced things have changed so much. There are some positive signs that different Tai Chi schools have begun to reflect the place and time in which they live, but others still seek refuge by “dangling dangerously” as Chuang Tzu wrote, from threads of lineage, sash colours, certificates 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 skill/mind-set of those that are teaching. It is now, the medium needs to move beyond the traditional formats of class locality, class leadership, and beyond the anachronistic definitions of “Masters”, "Gurus" and the terminology of other times. It is 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, fluid, accountable and a less hierarchical structure.
Rising to this challenge and after 25 years on the merry-go-round of giving classes locally, I stopped teaching this way. 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.
Interested in the ideas and soft philosophy of Bean curd Boxing? Check out the links here for more details and explore the range of courses from Sword to Form, Breath and more with the mOnk.