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 here - but add a real-time class situation to your training.
The Use and Abuse of Titles in the Arts
Adopting two countries, languages and cultures is an interesting balancing act. It is one that keeps me always thinking about ways in which I can still do the things that are important - from a distance.
Recently, I've been 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 - a country, 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,
Teaching in New Formats
Since I stopped teaching a local Tai Chi class a while back, 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 this resource for all things tasty and downloadable.
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 course on learning the Tai Chi Form - exploring not only the postures, but why it's 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, 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 one.
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.
The unreliability of Lineage and Tradition
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 hanging or displaying in prominent areas of your dojo, certificates, coloured belts, 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, they have had to rely more on those dubious friends: lineage and tradition. Yet even here, these values have been questioned. Often, an over reliance on lineage and inter-school tradition 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?
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 labels of Sifu, Sensei, Master, Guru, I'm not one to participate.
You just don't get this antiquated language elsewhere in the arts. For a number of good reasons. 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, these hierarchical labels all bind together to form a class of people who benefit from their use. They exist because of the benefits they provide. 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). I reject labels or any other description that separates people.
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 wrong. 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. But I really don't see what is wrong in using instructor, trainer, coach. It may mean your students will bow less, and perhaps not sweep the floor before you arrive, but maybe you should be paying for a cleaner?
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 course on the Tai Chi Form. If you've done my Complete Tai Chi course, or the Tai Chi Sword Course, you'll have an idea of how these things work.
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.
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