21ST CENTURY TAI CHI
Ideas to bridge the space between thought and action
Cycles of rest and activity are built into our DNA, yet it appears that we spend our lives fighting such confines. Is it time now, as we collectively teeter on the edge exhaustion, to finally embrace the Yin?
Why do we fear nothingness? Why do we avoid the hollow man, the dark and unknown places where non-doing and stillness reside? Why do we crave distraction from the emptiness outside and the emptiness within?
Some would argue that is more EFFICIENT to fill every moment, to be always occupied. It is an oft heard mantra: Better to be Busy, than be Bored. Yet, there exist cycles and rhythms in the world that show us another way. Rhythms that tell us another story of productivity, efficiency, balance and fulfilment. Because, though the odd choccy biscuit has its place on the dinner table of life, an exclusive serving of such sweets would challenge even the Board of the Sugar Industry (then again, maybe not).
But for those of us not dependant on the price of sugar stocks, only moments of nothingness can fulfil. For only in emptiness can we see the cycle of giving and taking.
GIVING AND TAKING
Whilst nature takes out time to rest, to incubate, to absorb, to reconnect with its own nature; we the wise ones, resist. Resistance, we tell ourselves, defines us, enables us, and reminds us that we, Homo Sapiens have the divine permission to rise up and challenge the rules nature dictates.
But in moments of silence, when the dark descends , when the battery-light fades, we are reminded once more of our our cosmic size and vulnerability. Only then, in the dark and the quiet, can we take out a moment to embrace the Yin.
WHERE DREAMS ARE FORGED
Olive trees do not fruit thought the year. An olive tree spends most of its life being quiet, resting, absorbing and then when ready, it flowers, fruits deliciously and then in an act of incredible generosity, gives everything it has away. Once it has achieved this, it returns to a state of rest once more. Perhaps that is why Olive trees live so long?
In this state of rest, the world is perceived afresh. Over time, new seeds are created and new dreams are born. Though an Olive tree may be within view of the sprinting Pine, it is never tempted to compete, instead it surrenders to the process and dictates of its own rhythm.
If we do not surrender to our own rhythms of stopping, of non-doing, then we live eternally craving distraction and we forget what and who we are. We imagine we are Pines when we are Olives. We forget our purpose. We forget our relationship with our own self as we are carried away, bobbing up and down helplessly on the stream of data that follows us into our thoughts. We lose the strength to turn down the eternal light, the notification hungry for our attention, even during our most intimate of conversations , even during our darkest of dreams.
Resist not this dark and quiet place when it comes knocking at your door, for it is what we have been looking for. It is our rhythm of breath and creativity, and with it, the breeding ground for new life.
SO EVERY NOW AND THEN CHOOSE
...to be quiet when others shout.
...to reach out, when others fall.
...to yield when others push
...to soften and unclench your fist
Do so, and in doing so others will learn they have nothing to lose
For the world will still turn
WHAT IF...THE VIDEO
We are a small group exploring these cycles of light and dark, rest and activity, in the new online course with the teapotmonk. Find out more - take a look at the intro vids and course details here and join us.
WHAT 10 RULES DO YOU LIVE BY?
There has been considerable talk in some circles of the relevance of Yang Chen Fu's 10 Essential Principles. Some people argue that they embody the essence of living fully in the moment, whilst others put forward the theory that they are nothing but pure gobbledegook. No-one, however, has yet contributed to the debate in a way that has moved the discussion into a contemporary setting. That is, until the discovery last week of a treasure, unearthed in the forgotten dusty cellars of the teapot temple. Recorded on an old VHS tape, and now digitalised for the very first time, this new, ground-shaking perspective offers us all, the chance to reevaluate where we are going, the means of getting there, and whether by making the destination so important, we miss out on being where we are Right Now.
FIRST EVER PUBLIC SHOWING
As the appointed archiver for the mOnks archive during his absence from the world of dust, I have taken it upon myself to release to the general public, for the first time this waist-wiggling message. As the mOnk would often say, 'tis not our role to only interpret the word, but preferably to change it.'
So, here I present for the first time: Yang's Top 10 Tips (as re-defined by the mOnk). Enjoy and share as widely as possible.
Yang 10 Points
And so we bid farewell to the the spirit of the moment with this final climatic episode. On the eve of the monks departure, I discover a dusty, tea-stained document left on my desk: 5 Secrets for Living a Purposeful Life. This, I have recorded as an audio file.
Little remains now but to leave his words to settle, like wind blown snow flakes on an empty landscape. As I look around the quiet training halls of the temple, there is little evidence of his presence, other than Yak prints in the snow.
I even find myself questioning the very existence of the Bean Curd Boxer. Was it all just a figment of our collective imagination, a projection of our collective hunger? A poignant reminder to simply Leave Things Alone?
Who knows? Who can tell these days in this time of transition and dust, what is real and what is fake, what is substantial and what is imaginary . We must all make of it all, as we will.
As for the notion of secrets - are these really secrets? I'm not so sure. People talk a lot in the internal arts about secrets from within the inner-circles, family styles, private transmissions. They are referring to special techniques passed down in the dusty corners of training halls between masters and select students - sworn under a swirling cloud of incense or kneeling alongside a miniature gifted zen garden - secrets that are blood bonds, secrets that were meant to be kept hidden.
This manuscript belongs to another history. These are the secrets that hide in plain site - revealing only what is uncarved, the simple, the obvious, the overlooked.
WHAT TO MAKE OF IT ALL?
Ultimately, what you or I make of this document is not important. Left here in the spirit of transparency it is no more than a passing farewell from a man and his obsession with tea, as he prepares to leave behind The World of Dust.
And so I fulfil my part. I give you the Top 5 Tips for Living a Purposeful Life amidst the fakery of the 21st century - given here not in exchange for an email address nor a Paypal donation - but as something to laugh at, to prod, to share or to step over, depending on your point of view and style of walking. As the mOnk would often remind me, we were meant to play with them, not study.
Secret No 1: Remove Borders
Do not obsess over styles, Forms, names, borders, currencies, accents or allegiances. The arts depend on such artificial perimeters about as much as Donald Trump depends on a dictionary before tweeting.
Secret No 2: Put Away your Toys
Secret No 3: Comic books are fine...but have their place.
Secret No 4: Let it go
Secret No 5:Do Good
So is that it?
So it seems that is that.
I was left with a dusty and coffee stained document laying on my desk this morning, with the telltale warmed teapot left to one side.
Subtitled: Ways of living for the 21st century - it occurs to me that it may speak of the obvious, but - at the same time, I feel it is a message that still resonates. When the lines between neighbours are clear one day, but intentionally blurred the next, it is a time of concern. Where yesterday we resided in Oceania, today it is, surprise surprise, Eurasia.
As I now peer outside the window of the Temple, I can still see the tell-tale Yak tracks in the snow, but I am not sad - for he leaves in his wake an abundant and fertile crop upon which you may harvest. An inner temple of goodies….
Looking around the teapot temple I can see he has been a busy mOnk this last year. He has produced 4 online courses - he released all his books from the stranglehold of Amazon and distributed them to all digital platforms - iBooks, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Gumroad, and to libraries everywhere - he wrote another book or two - recorded 3 audiobooks - organised a summer of free classes in Devon England, Celebrated World Tai Chi Day with the excellent people from Central Tai Chi in Birmingham - and completed this series of 10 podcasts -
For context, best visit the home of the mOnk: https://www.teapotmonk.com/
This month three items of interest to anyone wishing to firm up their bean curd: the long-awaited return of the irreverent Bean Curd Boxer in this special audio-book form, who also appears as a special guest on this month's podcast in the 10 Series. Finally, the give-a-way book of the month - something special for everyone interested in the development of the Tai Chi Form. Read on...
Finally, The Manual of Bean Curd Boxing has been released as a 4 hour audio book. The Bean Curd Boxer was enticed out of retirement to star in this final 4 hour performance. It's working its way out onto Audible and iTunes slowly, but in the meantime you can hear a sample on this months podcast here, or grab the whole delicious 5 item audio pack on Gumroad which includes:
The Beginners Guide to the Tai Chi Form - teapotmOnk's new and deliciously brewed new book will be offered free to download this weekend from Friday the 12th October on your local Amazon store. If you prefer the paperback version that came out last month, you can get that on the same page, and if you'd like to the online course for the Form, you can do that for a special price here. The following week it will be prised out of the grubby hands of Amazon and onto the iTunes store, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and every other ebook store in the known universe. (You may have noticed that all my other books have appeared on these platform these last few weeks as I attempt to disentangle myself from the Bezos tentacles.
The penultimate episode in the 10 series, looks at all the above items, offers up chapter 9 from the Bean Curd Manual (with a little one-off percussion) and discusses plans for life beyond podcasting. Download the podcast from your usual podcast source or get it here. And let me know if you think a remix of the Book with a musical accompaniment would be a good idea - a sort of Moby-esque version. I'm sort of tempted by not convinced but nor sure it would be worth al the effort....
"We need to learn how to move through conflict, violence and tragedy, for this too is part of the Tao." -Anthony Guilbert.
In this short, but fascinating conversation with writer, Anthony Guilbert, about his new book: Notes From the Drift, the teapotmonk discusses travel, fluidity, movement and how we can both interpret and employ the concepts from Taoism into our own lives.
Anthony Guilbert may be a name familiar to some of you. As well as being a writer, lecturer, poet, spiritual anarchist and martial-artist he is well known for his successful online journal - Into Mountains Over Streams.
This month, Anthony launched a new publication - Notes From the Drift - a beautifully interwoven collection of observations and reflections on travel, time, change and adaptability. Anthony kindly gave me a little of his time early one morning this week (5 a.m) to talk about the book, his thoughts on 21st century Taoism and the importance of what we each can give to the world.
You can listen to the interview here or download it from your fave podcast app. You can also catch the unedited video interview on Youtube and of course, you can track down his book on Amazon or from his web site (listed below with discount codes) for the gorgeous paperback version.
*Links: Web Site for Anthony Guilbert
*Get 15% off the cover price when using this special code: BT3SPJ and ordering from this site:
Translated into 4 languages, released over 7 years ago and voted by many as the best book that contains the number 50 in its title, "This is Tai Chi - 50 Questions and Answers" still enjoys enthusiastic support and appreciation by many new (and not so new) to the fascinating art.
An Audible Update
Perhaps because of its longevity, I kept wanting to update the book, but felt if I were to tamper with it too much, like Lao Tzu's fried fish, it'd begin to fall apart. With some things it's better to step back and leave things well alone. Yet...I wanted to do something, I felt I needed to reconnect with the book and so, decided that I'd release the audio version to see if that satisfied my creative needs.
Well, it was fun, I'll say that. Unfortunately, I couldn't release it with the sound effects or backing tracks I wished as the distribution companies were not keen. Yet here it is in all its vocal splendour - you can listen to a sample below.
It's available on Audible, Scribd, Kobo and most online audiobook suppliers. However, if you want it direct from the mOnk you can get it on Gumroad, here - bundled with the ebook together for less than $10. (Bargain of the century).
Anyway, back to the main reason why I expect you are reading this. The main distributor for the audiobook - Findaway Voices - has given me a bunch of codes to give away. I've already sent out some to subscribers on my list (What! You didn't know? Well, join the list here and don't miss out next time!) Findaway has these codes to give away. I have a few left if you would like one - perhaps in exchange for a review on Amazon or another platform? One thing: You'll need to be based in the USA I'm afraid, as the codes only work there at the moment. If you'd like one, shoot me an email here and I'll send you your personal downloadable code.
Last month we traced that abstract movement. This month, it has returned to the physical level as my new Form course appears and the accompanying new book arrives on Amazon. The question on everyone's lips is: Will the mOnk be expelled from the Internal community, excommunicated by schools across the globe? Why? Because he’s gone and devised his own Tai Chi Form!
Tai Chi Evolution
I suppose it all came about when I began to learn Tai Chi back in the 1980’s. In my first year I learnt 3 different styles - since then I have forgotten all but one (before you ask me to demonstrate all 3). I loved the diversity of the Forms, the range of techniques and the manifestation unique to each.
Yet within each style, there was, and still is, an unwritten law: You don’t tamper with the Form. Of course, history has shown this to be utter nonsense. With every new generation there is at least one student who alters either the number of postures, the order of the postures, the name of the style, the font on the calling card, the cut of the satin suit or the angle of the moustache worn by sifu.
But, this is generally hushed up.
Lineage, tradition and reverence is reinforced by a wall of silence.
But being a bit of an irreverent mOnk I like to play around when I hear the deafening sound of silence, I want to explore the borders, dancing over demarcations and fixed steps to see what lies on the other side.
The Flexible Tai Chi Form
A little while back, I released a short Form Course, teaching what I call the Flexible Form. A Form that starts with just 10 steps and grows, according to time, energy and the space you have to practice. I was surprised at the number of people keen to take a look, to try it out.
It made me think: Perhaps there is still room for yet more creativity in the martial arts. Perhaps, there remains an interest in something other than the hotly debated martial interpretations, the denial or dependency on the presence of Qi (yawn, excuse me!). It matters little if the application of an internal energy strike using Heel Breathing can cure your kidney stones or disarm a knife attack. The debate misses the bigger question: Is the art still alive or is it only a flickering display on the wall of Plato's cave?
I'm not knocking any of those practices by the way. You can practice Tai Chi for martial or health reasons. It's all the same to me, but I do think we should address the question of how we maintain life in the art beyond the tired formulae of teaching Form, beyond the subjectivity of the single lethal strike. What are we doing about affordability, availability, time-tables, space-issues, memory muscles, choreography and balance? Quoting succulent passages from the Tao Te Ching or being able to locate the Chen village in Google Maps isn't going to hack it.
To accompany the course, I released a book - Beginners Guide to the Tai Chi Form - (yes, an online course and book together!). Hardly original I know, but blame the Algorithm Gods for that. Make no mistake, however, you won’t know my Form - as it's not one from the major schools - but, thats the point. Do you now see what I'm saying?
I hoping so, because just maybe, you'll be inspired to create a Form of your own. To take my little example and with it create something of real beauty. There, I've said it. An admission to the Internal Arts Crime Investigation Board. If you never hear from me again, you’ll know I've been executed by a Chen Village ninja.
It wasn't that long ago that Chinese teachers were forbidden to teach non-Chinese. Things changes slowly - and it took the effort of many brave individuals to prise open the schools to other races. (read Charles Russo's excellent book Striking Distance). Now-a-days the argument is all about what you can tamper with and what is is sacrosanct. 21st Century practitioners started with the uniforms, the haircuts and the jargon. Now it's time for the Forms - that organised mess that Lee described.
So get inspired to create your own patterns. Use your experience, use your intuition, use your spirograph if necessary - but create and in the act of creation push back the boundaries of what we know. Let me know what come up with.
TWO MORE POSTS THAT WILL SPARK YOUR CREATIVE ENERGY...
There are plenty more posts here to spark your creativity. Find most here in the articles section, and in particular:
If, like me, you have ever raised a quizzical eyebrow when Sifu Simon preached on the one true interpretation, the one true, authentic, verifiable, unalterable, untouchable Tai Chi Form...then listen on.
Because if, like me, as Sifu continued his monologue, you pondered on the 120 Form variations that now exist - and asked yourself: How can there be a single one true Form? If so, then like me, you may have concluded that the Form is not as sacrosanct as we are made to believe.
This month the teapotmonk explores the contradictions and vagaries of the Tai Chi Form and asks if we should not boldly go where no one has gone before.
What is the Tai Chi Form & is it always the same?
When anyone thinks of learning Tai Chi, they generally think of the flowing, harmonious sequence of postures called The Form. These are not exclusive to Tai Chi - though the emphasis, pace and attention to body synchronisation is perhaps more focused, but similar Forms do exist in all martial arts. In the Japanese arts of Karate, kendo, Judo and Aikido for instance, the sequences of moves are called kata. In the Chinese arts they are called Forms, and irrespective of the martial art you practice, you will see many parallels amongst these patterns.
What are the differences between the different Forms?
However, martial artists do like to define and categorise things, they like to put things into styles and sub-styles, variations and derivations. They generally like to pigeonhole things. They like to know - that others know - where they sit on the great hierarchical table of life. So they enthusiastically don belts of certain colours, satin suits with sashes or headbands with the logo of the school. As a result of this top-down organisation, they have decided to place all the arts into two camps - external and internal. What is meant by these is often a little vague, but whats novel about that in the martial arts?
The truth about categories is that all arts draw on as many sources of energy and strength as possible - muscular and tensile, straight and circular, fast and slow, soft and hard. It is in the nature of things, at least the 10.000 things that comprise the universe - according to Taoist theory. (But let's not go there, for that's returning us to the land of vagueness once more).
However, Tai Chi is still seen as “different” by other martial artists, partially because it is taught as a system of health care, as an ideology, and as a system of selfdefense. Additionally, it also emphasises a single Form . This may be either a long or short Form, old or new, large or small frame, caffeinated or decaffeinated. Whichever it is, most Tai Chi styles concentrate on a single empty-handed Form for several years - whereas in karate for instance, you may learn a dozen Forms in the the same time a Tai Chi practitioner learns the one.
Are there many different Forms?
There is no universal Form. You may be surprised to know that amongst the main half-dozen styles of Tai Chi Chuan practised throughout the world, there exists over 120 different Tai Chi Forms each with their own number of moves ranging from 4 to over 200.
Over 200? I'm wondering if I have time in this life?
It’s a complicated scenario for the new student to make sense of and one that results in a lot of beginners never finishing their course. This is why I, and other teachers teach a variety of Forms that help new students. For example, teaching beginners a simple 10 step Form as separate postures - and then linking them together in a flowing and harmonious way.
Are Tai Chi Forms changeable?
If we look at one of the most closely traced lineage systems - that of the Chen Tai Chi style - we can see that even this traditional Form has changed with the times. Introducing different lengths, variations and frames…whilst other styles, such as the globally popular Yang Style, appears to have undertaken a path of consistent adaptation and evolution since its onset.
How does this happen?
Usually, upon the death of a head teacher from one school, students start squabbling immediately as to how best to continue the lineage. They generally fall into two camps: those that wish to remain faithful to the teacher - maintaining all the historical errors and refusing to change a single thing, whilst in the other camp, those that see the head teacher as a human being with personal bias, failings and (most likely towards the end) somewhat blind to the changes needed to bring the art into the present century.
After many attempts to reconcile the two camps, they fail to agree so go their own ways, and the style proceeds to split into smaller and smaller camps, each with styles that - to an outsider - vary only in pronunciation or colour of satin suit. Cue the Judean People's Liberation Front debate.
This is a process that has gone on (and on) and continues up until the present day. And although on the surface this appears to be the result of ego and petty in-fighting, it is perhaps, an inevitable consequence when any control-freak dies as head of a powerful family. Children will argue and eventually go their own ways.
To beginners - and this is something those immersed in these arguments forget - it all sounds like children arguing - which in a sense is exactly what it is. It appears at best nonsensical or irrelevant, at worst incestuous and self-destructive.
Yet, we are left with a dilemma: the number of postures in a Tai Chi Form, the order of postures or even the intention behind the postures varies so much between schools, between practitioners of the same school, between students of the same teacher - that any claims of exclusive application or interpretation are - as Chuang Tzu would say - increasingly laughable.
Does this mean I can make up anything I like?
Clearly not, though looking back at some of the divisions and manifestations that have appeared over the last century, some people think so.
We do have, for reference, what is known as the Tai Chi classics - that compilation of writings by teachers and students over the years that describes the principles we should aspire to. However the classics are, as is the nature of Tai Chi, extremely vague and suffer from large doses of ambiguity, leaving us all free to interpret what we want and how we want.
For me there is another reference that I would suggest and that is the Tao Te Ching . Now some of you may say - hold up Mr teapot - thats not Tai Chi, and even were it so, it's equally as vague as the Classics. And I’d have to agree - to some extent. But, it has a longer history of interpretation, especially into English and consequently it has had more time to adapt and apply itself to a western audience. Just take a look at the versions by Ursula le Guin or Ron Hogan or take a look at this list of best interpretations.
Personally, I would go to the Tao Te Ching for my source material. Some of you, no doubt, would disagree. And that's as it should be.
I'll leave you with one last thought: go forth and create, but bear in mind a couple of additional factors (of my own:)
The Teapot List
For more on The History of the Tai Chi Form - look out for the new book due out next month by Paul Read on Amazon or nip over and explore the new Online Short Course : The Tai Chi Form . You may also be interested in these article on the Tai Chi Form.
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.
Thanks for visiting. Take a look at the best Tai Chi articles, introductory courses and complete courses, books and music videos. If you have a question, or looking for private classes, affiliate links, drop me a line here. or subscribe for some great Tai Chi stuff delivered to your inbox.