21ST CENTURY TAI CHI
Ideas to bridge the space between thought and action
Is there a way to learn Tai Chi without the mysticism? Is there another vocabulary not dependant on jargon, to help us interpret its rich benefits? Why has Tai Chi refused to update its vocabulary? Read on to learn the 12 Guidelines to practising a jargon-free Tai Chi for the 21st Century.
THE ORGINS OF CONFUSION (AMONGST THE CLASSICS)
But first, where did all this jargon come from?
As some of you know, I've been researching for my online courses on tai chi, in which I'm trying my best to go back over all the old texts and make some sense of them for the 21st century. This week I was reading some of the Tai Chi classics, a series of collected writings by different tai chi "masters", and "recognised" authorities of the art.
I was reading one in which, It advised, "Sink your chi to your tan tien."
It reminded me of an old teacher of mine: Sifu Simon. In his beginners class he would tell us: “Sink your chi to your tan tien”. (See Sifu Simon explaining the Yip Man Bubbling Pipe Orbit in the video below)
Everyone would nod, and then fiddle about and wait for someone to start first.
Come on”, said Sifu Simon, “on the count of three, all together now....sink that chi…” Eyebrows would be raised, people would cough and pretend they had to scratch a bunion or remove an ant from their shoe. Frowns appeared, eyes flickered nervously across the room as some people tried squatting, others jogged in circles whilst a couple of people began to chant whilst lighting an incense stick.
WHAT IS CHI? PART 1
More importantly, I realised, I had no idea of what skills we were we trying to accomplish? I felt like I was re-living the emperor's clothes, as people grunted and strained or chanted and meditated until they would suddenly stop, peer with one cautious eye across the room and exclaim loud enough for others to hear: "Well thats my chi good an' sunk. What's next Sifu?"
At which point, I remember pulling Sifu Simon to one side and asked: What is Chi? And this is what he said...
Sifu Simon: Chi, he replied, is an energy that circulates through...
mOnk: Yes, but other than what it does and where it likes to go, what is it?
Sifu Simon: Chi is the life force behind our movements and…
mOnk: Never mind what it's behind, what is "it"
Sifu Simon: ”It"? Said Simon, Well, it's chi, that's what it is...
And herein lies the problem: anyone trying to define it, always starts by presupposing its existence.
As when Descartes famously uttered his phrase that was intended to conclusively prove our existence, "I think therefore, I am". He forgot that if he uses the pronoun I, he has already presupposed existence.
So when Sifu Simon commands his class to direct their chi to the tan tien, he’s asking quite a lot: That his students understand what chi is, what and where the tan tien is. Finally he is asking students to command their chi to move to a specific point in the body. At will.
It seems to me, in my mumble opinion, that's quite a lot to ask of someone new to the art. It's quite a lot of to ask of someone who's been practising a while too, but that's subject for another debate. Could jargon, ancient terminology, mystical terms and the tendency to offer vague answers to specific questions be one of the reasons why students leave classes in such high numbers? Have Tai Chi teachers been collectively mystifying their students to death?
In other disciplines, such vague and obscure language have long been banished for reasons of exclusivity, mysticism, elitism - yet in the field of internal arts these terms are not only still in use, but celebrated, embraced, protected jealously, defended in inter-school rivalry and ultimately, kept at a safe distance from the harsh investigative light of the 21st century.
As a teacher, I've found that choice of language in the classroom has one of two effects: it is either inclusive - ie it engages and empowers people, or it is exclusive and alienates them (or sends them to sleep).
Unfortunately, (and, apologies if this may sound sacrilegious to some) I have to say that the Tai Chi Classics is not a good bed-time read, and advice from it's hallowed pages tends to fall more into the latter than the former category.
6 (JARGON FREE) RULES TO TEACH BY
Is there a way to define these terms, making them relevant to people who want to learn and are not happy to merely substitute an unanswered question with a Chinese ideogram? I have tried to follow these 6 simple guidelines to ensure clarity and simplicity of language when teaching a class:
WHAT IS CHI? PART 2
12 GUIDELINES (JARGON FREE) TO STARTING THE FORM
Instead of stumbling out of bed in the morning, half awake, dragging yourself into the kitchen or garden for a speedy-form, so that you can stumble back into the house and tick off "done form in morning" from your daily to do list, try this instead. The 12 guidelines for morning practice:
THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON IN TAI CHI
If Tai Chi teaches us one thing, it is the inter-connectivity of our lives - to connect what's inside with what's outside. There is nothing more important that we can teach, nothing more important that we can learn.
And - it doesn't require any jargon. Nor any words in mandarin. Nor any guru-speak.
Just a freshly brewed 21st century practice.
Learn more about 21 st century Tai Chi. Check out how to start learning Tai Chi at home with your very next breath.
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