Martial Arts and The Establishment
They claim that a GOOD TAOIST should confine themselves to posting Lao Tzu cliches on Pinterest, accompanied by photos of a tree or some autumnal leaves floating down a stream. This is an attractive sanctuary, a safe path, that sits outside the debate or moral, political and social responsibility.
The problem with both these approaches, is that it does little than prop up the existing order, maintaining the established structures, ensuring that they continue exactly where they are - RIGHT NOW (cue toe tapping taoist tune). It does nothing to question, to prod, to even to encourage debate about how things could, or should change outside our own personal training diary. Wu Wei, I hear echoed and embraced across the mindful internet - who are we to challenge the practice of non-action?
Taoism as a tool to question the existing order
One of the key themes in my work is to challenge this interpretation of Wu Wei and all structures built on the antiquated scaffolding of hierarchy and ritual. When deference and adherence to such structures drown out the voices for change, social justice and equality, then we need to speak out. Yes, I admit to those that know me, I trivialise such debates by mocking the art on its uniforms and certificates, but this is not just being controversial for controversy sake, but rather a reminder that such dusty approaches to learning are inaccurate and unhelpful, and at worse, ingenious devices to maintain control in what Alan Watts has termed: "a wiggly world".
Inter-School Politics, Rivalry and Language
We seem to have collectively forgotten that Taoism teaches that true strength is directed to helping each other up, not knocking each other down.
Such myopia is evident too in the unspoken politics of each school - where for one school to be right, another must be wrong. For one style to be better, another must be worse. For one school to claim it is the “real thing”, implies all others are false. Have we conveniently forgotten that true strength is directed to helping each other up, not knocking each other down?
And this goes to the heart of the issue with the wearers of costumes, badges and belts, for in paving the rigid steps of progress through the reenactment of ritual, we undermine the tremendous plurality that students can bring to the arts, with their potential for evolution, their ripe tendency for tolerance and the coexistence of opposing ideas. Instead we enforce a rigid repetition of order, with a subtle, but strong condemnation for those that do not walk the same path.
Taoism gives us the tools for doing better. And we can do better.
The Tao Te Ching shows us that everything is in change and flux. There is not, and there never has been a uniformity of perspective. Those that advertise most extensively, that shout loudest, that claim they possess the one truth, the correct lineage, the one true transmission - display an inflexibility at exactly the moment we need diversity and plurality.
Chuang Tzu: The many-v-the Few
In the writings of Chuang Tzu (Inner Chapters) we see a clear political affinity with the lowlands rather than the high peaks for it is there, we are told, that the Tao dwells, in the bottom of the valleys and in the streets rather than the embellished and righteous courts of the Confucians. In the 95% not the 5%. Amongst the many, rather than the very, very few.
And so to politics - and in the UK an abysmal electoral system that effectively gags all but two voices, a system that ensures such plurality and diversity will remain excluded from the corridors of power.
Yet, without plurality, diversity and multiple forms of representation - we foster the unhealthy belief in the one single path, the single political body, the one religion, the one form of democracy, the one tai chi authentic form (ha ha), the single cake recipe, the one unique sandwich filling, that leads - as always - to competition, violence and war. Okay, maybe not over sandwiches but you get my point.
The Interplay of Taoism and Anarchism
So what organisations can reflect ideals of flexibility, simplicity and plurality? Are there any organisational forms that foster the dust-free path, where not only is the exploitation of man by man opposed, but the dominion of man over man too?
Well, certainly there are seeds to be found in the collective ideals within the voluntary simplicity movement, there are interesting ideas in the downsizing movement, the occupation movement and of course - now hold on to your incense sticks here - the Anarchist movement. And before you call out the counter-terrorist police and issue them with my phone number, first look up something of anarchist history and the writers that have expressed parallel ideals, such as Henry David Thoreau who wrote that government is best which governs not at all.
Anarchism has a rather fascinating and extremely rich, creative history with pragmatic well organised proposals for a possible future. And this is not just an academic discussion - look at the Spanish experiment in 1936, recorded by George Orwell and later espoused eloquently by Noam Chomsky in which a new society came about that offered free non-politicised education, free health care, transport, homes, work for all etc etc. An example, unfortunately crushed by an international opposition. (See links below for references to these books, as well as novels and a version of the Tao Te Ching by Ursula Le Guin.)
4 Books on Taoism and Anarchism
So, to my point. Well, society has always been evolved through challenges to old ways. History has been forged by people who learnt from it, but were not chained to it. Have you read the surreal and Time travelling account of the history of the martial arts? We just forget it in our rush to revere the past masters, methods and rituals. Don't get me wrong, Taoism is great for bite-sized quotes, cloud watching commentaries and observations on nature, but lets not forget it also has an organisational side that leans - in my humble opinion - towards a 'libertarian' (UK not USA meaning of the word) localised form of representative politics that the world is in short supply of, Right Now.
So what do you think? Are these writers wildly wrong? Have they misunderstood the Tao Te Ching and the role of past masters? Are we liberated from or chained to past ideals? Whatever you decide, take a look at the video and book links below. Leave a comment here, on twitter or FB and I'll get back to you. Oh, and yes I Know that Anarchists don't believe in voting, but times necessitate, and all that.
Watch the video on A Revolution for Every generation
Read the Best Books on Tai Chi and Taoism.
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