21ST CENTURY TAI CHI
Ideas to bridge the space between thought and action
What is the next step for teachers and students of mind/body practices such as Tai Chi, Qigong, Yoga and many of the martial arts? Faced with restrictions on traditional class sizes, locations and with a "hands-off" curriculum how is the community responding to these new challenges? After six months of experimentation there are two broad responses - the first has been to try and reproduce the classroom experience, using all the new technology available, and the second, to listen to our hearts and rethink it through from scratch.
A short history of technology and the arts
Not too long ago, "serious" Tai Chi instructors spat on the screen of online schools, mocked their methods and swore that only marketeers would dane to step in front of camera. These critics felt that they should only teach in the same way they had been taught - unwavering from the original 18th century scrolls, or engraved tablets by grandmasters from generations long passed. Consequently, new schools were created based on a photocopied list of attributes, copied and then pasted onto the lives of new students,
However, it was only ever the expression of an art from another time, another place. Some of course loved it, others questioned it, asking themselves, "where is the beating heart of this ancient art?"
That Was Then
Now, of course all has changed for everyone has to adapt. These schools still hope that yesterday will return tomorrow, but in the meantime, they reluctantly offer Zoom classes or private Youtube channels. But is it a worthwhile effort? In trying to simply reproduce the classroom online, are we missing something important? Could we not rethink not only how we do the things we do, but also why we do them the way we do? After all, our arts are meant to symbolise the notion of change. It is, let's not forget part of the lifeblood and energy of everything we teach.
When everything fragments
Even before our present dilemma, some argued that Tai Chi practice had stagnated. This was due mainly to teaching methods culturally and chronologically appropriated that proved incapable of responding to the needs and circumstances of diverse communities. What was relevant in 17th century feudal China, may not be so relevant in an urban 21st century city.
So now is a good time for revaluation. Now, when we can no longer simply reproduce the old structures, we have time to ask ourselves what were are trying to teach? What are the lessons behind the forms and can they now be taught in other, more creative and relevant ways?
If ever there was evidence that something needs changing, you'll find it in the ferocity and defensiveness of the old order. When concepts are tenaciously clung too irrespective of changing circumstances, then that is the red warning-light. If our training methods, teaching practices, language, means of communication are not updated with each new generation, then complacency and stagnancy inevitably creeps into the art.
This doesn't mean ditching the old, rather than engaging with an ongoing process of evaluation. And let's be honest, arts like Tai Chi have a tendency to wallow in such pools, shrouded by mysticism, shackled by rigid structures of lineage and styles for a simple reason: it sells well on these very qualities.
But now times they are a changing.
It is no longer valid (if it ever was) to judge competency by the ability to emulate someone further up the hierarchy of authority. The closer you resemble Sifu, should not be a shortcut for obtaining that sash or teaching certificate. Unless you get your kicks from authoritarian regimes and practices cleverly concealed as ritual and tradition. Let go of the nonsense. Diversity and individual expression are the new kids on the digital block and it is this that will feed the spirit of the curious practitioner. in these challenging times.
Opportunities in Teaching Online
Evolution is long overdue.
Let's not wait for the return of yesterday, but instead grasp the moment now and make that the best of it. Let's do it with enthusiasm, energy and a sense of play. For who amongst us, be honest now, ever wanted to teach or Ward off Left, ad infinitum? (insider tai chi joke).
Now, technology enables us to record it once and let our students play it back as and when necessary. And the time that is restored - can be invested in sharing knowledge, skills or exploring in greater depth the idiosyncrasies of our practice. We can connect with each other, spend more time with new students, dismantle the walls between schools and slowly learn to build new bridges.
Where lies the beating heart of Tai Chi?
Listening to Your Heart
If you are like me and see more benefits in cooperation that competition, then there are no limits to what we can do together. There is a wealth of ideas and practices springing up everywhere that we can all benefit from. Join the FB group or add your contact details below and I'll get back to you with details of how we can connect. One of the first proposals is to bring people together in an online conference to hear how everyone is adapting to the new times. Real strength was never found in individual campaigns, but in the sharing of ideas, help and support given to one another. If this is you, and you want to connect with a wider and more diverse world, then get in touch.
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