Put your feet up. Get yourself a cup of tea. Get out the biscuits too. Read on as the mOnk goes into one of his diatribes on the hot topic of tai chi and martial arts...STAND BACK!
FREQUENT CONVERSATIONS IN THE LIFE OF A MONK:
"HEY, TEAPOT, WE THINK YOUR TAI CHI IS NOT GOOD."
"GOOD, BAD..THESE ARE ALL SUBJECTIVE TERMS".
"DON'T GO ALL MONK LIKE ON ME. YOUT TAI CHI IS NO GOOD BECAUSE WE PRACTICE FULL CONTACT CHI GONG FOR 17 HOURS EVERY DAY.
"WELL, THATS WHAT MAKES US AUTHENTIC AND REAL - NOT JUST SPOUTING TEAPOT NONSENSE LIKE SOME..."
"WE PRACTICE PROJECTING OUR CHI FROM OUR EYEBROWS TO TO STOP NINJAS, MODIFIED FOODS, NUCLEAR MISSILES OR EVEN A RAMPAGING RHINO - IF NECESSARY.
"AND WE PRACTICE NO-HOLDS BARRED PUSH-HANDS COMPETITIONS.
YOU MEAN YOU DO THAT SUMO THING?
NO, ITS PUSH HANDS. ITS NOT ABOUT STRENGTH...
BUT IT'S A BIT LIKE SUMO
NO, IT'S PUSH HANDS BECAUSE WE DON'T WEAR THOSE CLOTHS AROUND YOUR GROIN OR PUT OUR HAIR IN A BUNCH ONTOP OF OUR HEADS...OR THROW SAND ACROSS THE RING BEFORE WE START.
OKAY I UNDERSTND NOW.
Sound familiar? This eternal debate between the martial and health sides of tai chi no longer really helps students understand or perceive the full range of skills tai chi can offer. This narrowing of the agenda to suit the preferences of the teacher has had 3 negative consequences:
3 REASONS WHY THIS CONVERSATION IS NO LONGER RELEVANT
Arguing that Tai Chi is predominantly a martial art, a mediations technique, a energy transfusion exercise, or a short cut to nirvana says more about the person saying it than the art itself.
If your school promotes tai chi as a system for learning how to hit people, then I can only hope there is equal emphasis somewhere in the curriculum for healing, for techniques of tension diffusion, for learning to turn away or turn the other cheek because these are the tools we need as 21st century warriors. Learning to simply strike back may not always be the most appropriate response.
So why is this aspect to tai chi so energetically marketed, promoted and ultimately embraced? Well, many argue that this is the way tai chi was meant to be taught. This is a debatable point, but even if we accept it, blindly reproducing the traditional practices and power structures of another era and culture without any further explanation is at best short-sighted, at worse, serving the narrow curriculum of schools that are unable to adapt to a changing world and population.
TRY ASKING IF IT IS RELEVANT?
Lets put tradition into perspective. Traditions are just old ideas, ideas that can still retain value if they remain relevant. Note I say relevant and not effective. A technique or practice may be effective (it could possibly be used in self defence, healing or communicating directly with Lao Tzu) but this does not mean it is relevant.
So ask yourself if what you are practicing is relevant? Does it relate to the times in which you live, resonating with principles of unity - bridging differences rather than highlighting them, does the practice encompass accountability, and transparency - how inter-active is your learning? Do you learn by repetition an rote or discussion and engagement?
If you are just unconditionally swallowing the traditions of the past, then they ought to be discarded, as one would discard an overgrown toenail.
What is really on your agenda?
Look for how much we share as opposed to how much we differ
So the next time you see someone pointing an accusatory finger, remember it says more about the person on the other end of the finger, than what they are pointing at.
We live in the 21st century, where warfare is conducted by technology and governments with the connivance of multinational arms corporations. We no longer live in a feudal society whereby the local warlord will call yo and your farming implements up to defend the village.
Today we have other priorities. Classes that do not prioritise health, classes that do not address regaining lost confidence, classes that do not know how to restore purpose or hope, but instead choose to focus on how to expel 'qi' through ones nose during a multiple ninja assault, frankly...says little about their teachers contact with reality.
Perhaps the question is not whether you are learning tai chi as a martial art or a health art, but rather whether the art you are learning or teaching is rooted, grounded or inspired by the philosophical and spiritual practices that have shaped and given meaning to the art. Whatever the expression you chose - martial, health, "authentic" "real, traditional, "taoist", etc - does your practice resonate with these fundamental principles and does it connect meaningfully with the lives of those practitioners today?
For whatever your emphasis, whatever your focus, whatever shade of satin suit, whatever shade of name you are told to use: guru, sensei, master, sifu.. - tai chi offers offers something more than this fragmentation of its parts. It offers us all something in common - a unique insight into the principles of relaxation under duress. It offers concrete breathing techniques for remaining soft rather than hard, and for remaining alert and focused. It offers a source of energy and strength that does not rely on muscle size, protein supplements or hours spent lifting weights. And it offers a healthy cocktail of physical balance, open and active listening, sticking, rooting and yielding skills.
Taken together, this collection of life skills doesn't just amount to a few interesting kicks and punches, but rather to a radical formulae for coping with the rigours of 21st century living.
Don't limit your art.
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