21ST CENTURY TAI CHI
The merging of creativity, passion and technology in the movement arts
21ST CENTURY TAI CHI
The merging of creativity, passion and technology in the movement arts
We talk a lot in Tai Chi about theories. Theories on this, theories on that. Theories on how to disarm a rampaging rhino with Ward-Off Left. Theories on how to disarm a nuclear North Korea using just the Tai Chi Fan Form. Some may rightly point out, that this means Tai Chi people talk too much, that they should learn to listen more. Others point out that learning a martial art is only viable, when you live in a society that is founded on fear. But are there other ways to combat fear that learning to overpower others?
Mencius and Living Without Fear
"Make time, act and always reward people for the things they do, - for this is how to implement change. It’s easy and you can begin right now."
So how do we live without fear? How do we:
These qualities depend on as much as what you don’t have, as what you do,
Forget grand gestures, grand donations - focus instead on the small moments.
For we are small people after all, on a small planet, in a rather small solar system. Recognising our smallness can help in taking action. Taking small steps in showing people we care, showing how to share, showing how to engage in this life of unpredictability.
The unpredictability of life
The Chinese philosopher Mencius wrote that every day, events happen to us. These events are often outside our control, despite our best plans, despite writing a most thorough to-do list, despite designing the most detailed of spreadsheets. Some things just happen. And these things don't always turn out well.
Mencius called this the unpredictability of life, and although, we cannot always control these events, we can control how we respond and how we interact with such endless streams of unpredictability.
Unless we learn to do this, he said, we will live life controlled by the things that happen to us - the things we cannot always control or predict - and “our fate will be to die in shackles".
Lets look at an example
In most martial arts we learn that when someone strikes out, we block, parry or we instinctively strike back. It's the trained reflex. The conditioned response: If you press your nuclear button, I'll press mine. This training - to respond in kind - Unleashes the worst in ourselves, and in turn unleashes the worst in others. But in Tai Chi we are taught something else, we are taught a 3rd option - and that is to yield.
Yielding is an interesting concept. It doesn’t mean, that when someone strikes you accept it, It doesn’t mean you take a blow to your head by absorbing a punch with your teeth or eye. But neither do you strike back, unhesitatingly, instinctively, as a reflex.
These responses are what Mencius called standing under a falling wall and then saying it was your fate to be killed by that wall. Instead. He suggests we learn to step out from beneath the falling wall. To step out from its shadow and live in the light. In Tai Chi that is called yielding.
Now....combine the element of Yielding with the philosophy of timing, known as Wu Wei, and you get to choose not only how to respond, but how to live.
Mencius said. Learn to work with everything that comes your way.
Make time, act and always reward people for the things they do, - for this is how to implement change. It’s easy and you can begin right now.
Mencius said we must resolve to become the best human being we can be - not because of what eventually we will get out of it, what we will earn, or for the thumbs up we will receive. But simply in order to do good, and in the act of doing good, set an example to others around you. Little by little - small token effort by small token effort - nothing grandiose - just small actions we can take each moment of each day - and turn that moment into a general good,
For Mencius, one person can indeed affect change: think Martin Luther King, think, Gandhi, think Jon Snow
And together - well together - by choosing unity over division, by seeing what we have in common over what separates us, we can choose a life without fear.
3 MORE AUDIO DELIGHTS
1. - Virtual Not Distant Podcast
Listen to the Interview on 21st Century Work-life with the mOnk talking about Teaching, Online Activity and Tai Chi.
2. - 50 Questions Audio (and ebook)
Why listen to a book on Tai Chi? Surely it should be read, studied, analysed for postures and elbow angles? Not with the mOnk, -better to forget about the geometry until you have mastered the concept.
3. - Second part of the podcast: Don't Die in Shackles
Finally, the long-awaited 2nd-part to the podcast series on FEAR - in which the mOnk scratches the surface of Mencius and his ideas on the unpredictability of life and how to live with generosity. Listen to Part 1 here and Part 2 here. - or (if you insist on using your eyes) read the abridged summary below.
Join us this year in Birmingham UK.
Why do people begin a class of Tai Chi? Over the last 25 years I've had people come to my classes for all sorts of reasons: wanting to learn to fight like Donnie Yen, wanting to learn to walk over rice-paper like Kwai Chang Caine, wanting to be able to hum 'Give Peace a Chance' whilst cooking an omelette, wanting to levitate, gravitate or salivate in front of relatives... the list goes on and on. But most people, if I'm honest, amble in through the hallowed doors of the teapot-temple in search of useful ways to help them find better health and to deal with stress. They may not call the issue stress, they may refer to it as insomnia, nerves, lack of confidence, poor balance, an absence of coordination or a sense that life is passing them by and they are watching from the sidelines. So they begin a class and thats when they discover the true power of Tai Chi.
SO WHAT IS STRESS?
Is stress something new that requires modern tools, or is it something that has been around awhile and that were we to look back over time, we would find a whole series of interesting answers there? In Michael Puett's excellent book: The Path, he explores many of these questions regarding the applicability of Chinese ideas and thoughts to the 21st century and concludes that, surprisingly, a lot of our modern day aliments have have actually been circling around for centuries.
It was after reading his book that I thought how useful it would be to organise a short course dealing with something we think of as a new phenomena, but in truth has been part of work pressure and home life for as long as we can remember (and as long as our antecedents can remember too). Hence, I set out to create a new short on how we can use Tai Chi to find better health and to deal with stress. Because the answers were already out there, centuries ago.
The course is structured over 5 Sections:
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Unlike many practices that focus exclusively on re-thinking or changing our attitude, Tai Chi backs up it's ideas and philosophy with practical exercises that have been used for centuries. These exercises, like many of the practices in Tai Chi, have been gradually developed for dealing with all types of conflict, and it is the conflict we find each day in our work or home environment that places such demands on our mind and body.
Each of the 5 sessions consist of 2 approaches. The first is an emergency first aid kit: A series of exercises and approaches to dealing with stress - as and when it arises. Something useful for the moment that can be drawn upon immediately.
The second approach works by selecting a few of the postures from the Tai Chi Form that incorporate measures for balance, co-ordination, posture, rooting and yielding and all serve to build our capacity to deal with stress over the long-term.
GIVE IT A SPIN
Like to take a look? Curious as to see how it could be incorporated into your practice?
Watch the video below, or nip over and take a look at the course structure.
Or check out all the teapotmonk courses over at Tai Chi Online.
Download One Book Here the Other from Amazon.
Sometimes people say behind my back - "that teapotmOnk - he's all words and no action". Am I bothered? Not really, because in a way they have a point. I write, I podcast and I do lots of video work. But, when I say something I like to back it up.
Last week I released a new podcast on the Way of Laughter. (Not heard it yet? Listen here). It was an introduction to the role of humour in the teaching and practicing of Tai Chi.
I recommended reading One Last Thing to grasp the essence of what I was saying. Today I want to go a step further and give you a copy of One Last Thing (ebook version) for free - for 48 hours on Amazon. If you prefer a paperback, I'm afraid you'll still have to pay for that, but the ebook is yours. All this weekend: 17th and 18th of March 2018.
There is a second book too. The Accompanying Book of Images from One Last Thing - with quotes, links to videos and excerpts. Its another ebook - a PDF - and you can download it here and now for free.
Just my small way of going a bit further than just talking about things. Enjoy.
The Subversive Power of Comedy in Tai Chi
“The only honest art form is laughter, comedy. You can't fake it...try to fake three laughs in an hour -- ha ha ha ha ha -- they'll take you away, man. You can't.”
Let’s just get one thing straight from the beginning. I don’t mean comical in the Frankie Howard, Carry On up the Kyber, Bennie Hill, Fawlty Towers, Monty Python sense. Well, maybe a bit of Monty Python
Nor do I mean in the "2 Taoists and a giraffe walk into a bar and one says to the other…" No, not that sort of humour either.
What I mean is a style of humour that enables or liberates. Humour that dispels tension, breaks down stuffy and artificial boundaries between people and ideologies, a humour that dislodges stances and unbalances staged postures. Thats what I mean. Thats the humour I’m referring to. Thats the subversive power of comedy.
Because a world without humour is a world without lightness of being, a world without self-effacement, a world dry and barren occupied by a zombie race with a serious face, a serious expression, a serious stance, a serious shirt collar. And what happens when people and places take themselves too seriously? What happens when the shirt collars of the world are in charge? Well, I’m glad you asked. You get people like Boris, Donald or that M Rajoy in control of your life. You get the Dead Walking. You get stagnation of movement, stagnant waters beneath your feet and ideologies that have become far too starched to do anything with. Thats what you get (so thanks for asking).
So Why are Tai Chi People So Serious About Themselves?
"I recognise that some of you probably went to China and studied with a grandmaster in some monastery or hermits cave for 15 years and survived on just donkey-pooh and panda air"
It doesn’t help if all you read is the Tao Te Ching. You see, everyone and their dog can insert Lao Tzu into their manifesto or class curriculum - thats the attraction of the book - but you don’t chuckle much when you read it. It’s not a page turner. For that you need to visit the comical genius of Chuang Tzu
When I say “comic genius”, bear in mind everything is relative and when you are chatting to a Taoist, you have to have a pretty broad range of reference points.
Now I do know what you are thinking - Taoism and Tai Chi are serious, subjects, so it isn’t fair to treat them in this superfluous manner. I hear you, honestly I do. I recognise that some of you probably went to China and studied with a grandmaster in some monastery or hermits cave for 15 years and survived on just donkey-pooh and panda air. At home these days, you wear white robes (and not after having just stepped out the bath). You proudly sport a pony tail and are growing your eyebrows as long as you can, just so everyone knows how radical, yet reliable, light-hearted yet wise you are when you teach. I get it I really do.
But, and heres the thing: This eyebrow thing - and calling yourself master this, sifu that- it's not doing a lot for the future of the art, and, well, to be frank, it's a bit comical. .
For those of you suffering from unwanted bouts of seriousness, I’d suggest going to live in Andalusia and try teaching Tai Chi there.
For 8 years, thats what I did. The people there embody noise, disruption, and chaos in all its glory. There is an absence of respect for hierarchy and hair styles - all very sound qualities for a people with long anarchic roots. As a teacher you must learn to adapt.
For example, you may try to explain the concept of sticking or the duality principle behind yin and yang, and whilst you are pondering over a simple translation of wu wei into Andalou’ you become aware that most people have wondered off to the loo, broken open a packet of choccy-biscuits and are handing them around whilst someone else is showing the rest of the class a YouTube video of their 3 week old kitten. Worse still they are not even looking at you. You - the enlightened one! You up there on your stage, you, with your pony tail neatly tied back and your satin suit ironed just that afternoon.
Under such very un-northern cultural conditions, you must learn to yield, and you must learn, above all else, to laugh with people and to step off your pedestal - for they are there to teach and well as to be taught. Stepping off your pedestal is greatly advised. Get down there amongst everyone and get your hands dirty. Embrace the fact that it doesn't make much sense, but then again, it doesn't have to.
THE POWER OF COMEDY
“Life doesn't make any sense, and we all pretend it does. Comedy's job is to point out that it doesn't make sense, and that it doesn't make much difference anyway.”
Comedy is far a greater tool to demonstrate in a class than a lethal front kick. Comedy is a disruptive force. For Comedy says: ‘hold on a moment, just listen to yourself - none of this is real, it’s all just one way, one perspective, one stance. As much as you might think what you are teaching or learning is of global importance, it isn’t. Most people in the world will never try a class of tai ch, especially with you - no disrespect - but statistically it ain’t gonna happen.
And, you know what. they’ll get by just fine as they are.
But comedy is not just a means to lighten an atmosphere. Embracing Comedy enables you to commentate from another angle - Comics see the tragedy of their times. Shakespeare used comedy to critique the establishment. Think Jon Stewart. Think Russell Brand. Think Monty Python.
Oh and One Last Thing
Think One Last Thing - that classic philosophical parody by the teapotmonk (in all good ebook stores). A comical look at the martial arts - a book that takes our cherished Tai Chi history and blows it up into small ludicrous pieces so we may reinterpret personal histories, distorted timelines, and regurgitated words.
One Last Thing was my attempt to debunk the frowns and scowls from certain quarters of the Tai Chi community. Debunk the movement of serious internet memes and slogans because only though comedy can you do this. Only though comedy can you show it’s ok to let up, to relax. And If you’ve lucky enough to have enough hair on your bonce, to let it down a little.
So learn to laugh with your class, its a precious tool to pass on to others, they will love you for it. It shows that they don’t have to always be right, always be correct, always be on time, always be in attendance, always be attentive to your every word,
And neither do you.
ONE LAST THING is available here.
This article is also available as a podcast here.
Watch the series of fictional interviews with tai chi masters here.
The History of Taichi Going West
A WILD WEST BACKDROP
First we need to forget Tai Chi for a moment. Instead we need to look at the backdrop to what was happening in the West by the time it began to arrive in a significant way. Yes, there had been the odd teacher demonstrating Tai Chi moves and even teaching classes before the 60's, but they were few and far between. Bruce Lee arrived onto the shores San Francisco in 1959, to a world that had never seen Gung Fu. The west was not quite ready for the East. It would have to await the arrival of two more factors: The global phenomena of the Little Dragon and the parallel interest in the exoticism of the East.
By the early 60’s, liberation movements had been gathering pace across Western Europe and the USA and by the end of the decade and the beginning of the 70’s such movements had become so widespread and so popular that their original message of liberation and empowerment, disarmed became dissipated - replaced and displaced by a surfeit of meditation retreats, vegan weekend escapes and personal development courses. Turn on, tune in, drop out said good old Tim Leary in 1967 to a gathering of 30,000 hippies in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.
In the 1970’s this shift away manifested itself into the cult of measurability - physically sculpting one's bodies in a desperate need to experience change against an indifferent consumerist society. Body building, aerobics, hot-yoga, hot-pants - we all became obsessed with how we look and feel, rather than who we were or where we were collectively heading. (And you thought Instagram was to blame?)
By the time we had transitioned into the 21st century, the idea of seeking collective answers to social problems changed direction once more, moving ever further from the exterior to the interior manifesting itself now in personal salvation, spirituality, mindfulness and the search for the perfect downloadable app to give us a sense of balance in a world careering onwards and out of control.
From the 1980's to 2016
All of this is understandable in light of the unstoppable expansion of the neo-liberal economic order, globalisation, the hegemony of the market place, the dominance of the economic and the parallel collapse of any alternative vision from the progressive movements. The cult of individualism had won, culminating in Britain's referendum, and Trump promised to make America great again - by building a wall.
The Arrival and Neutrality of Tai Chi
Tai Chi in the West has hardly been immune to such changes. It has, on the contrary, played its part in propping up, reinforcing and mirroring such tendencies. Though initially embraced as part of the alternative culture, it shared a philosophy for doing collective good. Its deep philosophical roots were entangled and entwined with the world. It sought not to withdraw but to engage with it, not retreating from it but actively changing it.
However, these concepts and practices were left on the sidewalk by the 70's. Politics had proven an unworthy companion for an art that could be sold in so many different ways, and like Yoga, Tai Chi could sell a slogan to embrace any new movement:
The Top 5 Pinterest/Instagram Messages
AND WHY NOT?
It all sounded so good, so refreshing, so individualistic. Who wants to wait for the world to change, when we can change ourselves right now? Learn to leave things the way they are, concentrate on your personal mantra and retreat inwards. Settle for a life of personal goals. Tick off your todo list, speak to your personal assistant. Just do it.
But movements are never constructed by talking to yourself (even if that self is Alexa or Siri or Google Home). The suffragettes didn't retire after convincing themselves of the need for universal suffrage. Nor the Black Lives Matter movement. Extinction Rebellion came about partly because recycling your cardboard alone, just didn't hack it. At some point we all have to talk to someone else.
I know, this is difficult these days, as we leap consciously and enthusiastically into our own echo chambers. It is so much easier to abandon the politics of the street for an online petition.
SO HOW DOES TAI CHI FIT IN TO THIS?
At present, Tai Chi does very little to counter this tendency. Cyclical debates on the practicality of pugilism versus the practicality of living well, drive us back into the realms of individualism again: Styles and masters, grandmasters and schools, prowess, skills-sets, internal strength, internal energy emissions, challenges, slogans, Trump’s red-buttons, the length of a Steven Seagal pony-tail, colour of a silk suits….
CAN TAI CHI STILL DO GOOD?
So what could we do? Where could we go with this art if not up our own back-sides, bobbing inanely on the flotsam and jetsam of a Facebook timeline?
Tai Chi is not necessarily an impotent force. It' not genetically predisposed to non-action. It contains within itself the seeds for change. Sol, here's a few ideas. But, don't get too excited, they’re not for everyone…
What's yours? Where do you find the purpose in what you do, the challenges in what you learn, the currents that run agains this age of complacency? How do you engage with something more than your own self, how do you escape the reverb of your thoughts? How do you touch and change the world around you through your art?
Interested in Applying Tai Chi outside the confines of the classroom? Try reading more on the the subject....
My chequered history of podcasting has been plagued by hosting companies going under. First it was Posterous that sent my first series of podcasts: Talking tai Chi with the teapotmonk off air. Then Opinion, the second company ceased functioning last year, leaving the Empty your Cup series with no home to speak of.
This year, though I may be down, I'm far from defeated. So I'm launching a new series called 10 - starting next weekend. In fact each episode will be released on the 10th day of each month, at 10am - for 10 months. And, it will be approximately just 10 minutes long.
What will it be about? Well, I think a podcast explaining in detail how to perform Diagonal Flying or the best 5 ways to breathe through your spleen might be a little dull in these days of short attention spans and the need for an accompanying Instagram image. So, I'm going to focus on other stuff - on the applications of certain Eastern principles to our daily lives - how to live the art rather than just practice it. Listen to the sample intro below, subscribe and the first episode will be shooting your way next week.
- WAYS TO GET THE PODCAST (OTHERS TO BE ADDED SOON)
* Itunes Podcasts
First in a new series of uninhibited and totally unjustified rants on the state of 21st century Tai Chi from the monk in the pot.
If I hear any more of this nonsense I’m going to have withdraw to planet teapot.
DIVISIONS IN THE UNITY
Why is it that the Tai Chi world is still so divided over its martial and health benefits? Why are so many schools or individuals dismissed for choosing one side over the other? Haven't we outgrown this debate yet?
A MARTIAL BACKGROUND
As someone who came to Tai Chi from other martial arts, I initially came looking for the fighting techniques, but I soon discovered that it was a superficial and rather silly search in an age of 'smart' bombs, 'intelligent' warfare, cyber-wars and drone strikes. I found something far more significant than a fighting method. I found something more powerful and deep within the art that had little to do with prowess, speed or explosive energy techniques. I found a deep training in rooting, grounding, yielding, structural strength, breathing, co-ordination and balance that had little to do with competition, it even questioned the notion of what it meant to win in combat. It was an art rich in philosophy and an art that epitomised cultural diversity whilst offering tools to embrace change and evolution.
Tai Chi is such a diverse and historically broad discipline that it’s impossible for it to be all things to all people. Ever since its creation, the art has been evolving, seeking an audience for its many variations. Now, whether your school has still not evolved, whether it has frozen in 19th century China or migrated to other lands, whether your school has chosen to employ Tai Chi in the exclusive field of martial, health, spirituality, environmentalism, politics, growing-sprouts, surfing, stamp-collecting or Cartesian philosophy - hey, that's fine, but it's down to you.
Seems a bit of a shame to me though if your'e still in the 19th century combat mode. Bit like spending years developing callouses on your knuckles in order to gain an 'Iron Fist' only to find yourself getting Tasered in your first fight. At some point, believe me this will happen, you will ask yourself: Is there a more productive way of spending my time? Of all the world's challenges - poverty, housing, climate change, corruption - In my training am I focussing on the real enemy here?
Rant over. As you were. You can go back to the punch bag, the incense stick, the mantra.
2017 was by any account a remarkable year - globally forces realigned themselves as many of us watched in awe from the sidelines, disempowered, both politically & economically, yet technologically experiencing a sense of greater engagement and hope. Perhaps it was in vain, but still we lived in hope. Hope that somehow it would all lead us towards a less fearful, more tolerant and sharing world. And now, as it closes we must decide:What's it to be - the red pill or the blue pill Neo?
I wanted to mark this 12 months in a memorable way. So I bathed off the negative traces and washed away the blues as my feet froze in the cold Devon sand and my joints ached at the prospect of entering a cold Boxing Day sea. But hey, you only live once.
So How was Your Year?
Did you manage to spend time with the people that matter to you? Did you get to be in the place that you wanted to be, doing the stuff you wanted to do? I'm not saying I did, but it feels that I inched nearer. A few incidents stand out in the life of a teapotmonk - and so I thought I'd recap and share them with you.
However your year ended, take strength from the knowledge that a new one is almost upon us. Of that, we shall have to see how it unfolds. I wish you well and that should you be seeking a metamorphosis, it all turns out well.
1: The End of the Podcast
Once more the hosting services for my podcast series - in this case a company called Opinion - pulled the plug on their platform, meaning that the Tai Chi series - Empty Your Cup - no longer had a home. Some of you may remember that this happened a few years back with series 1 - Talking Tai Chi with the teapotmonk. Perhaps now is the moment to rethink the podcast. So for fans unable to now access either series, I shall be uploading them all to this website later this year - fear not, they will be available for reasons of posterity, if not applicability.
2: The Online School
2017 was the year that I began to explore life outside the traditional teaching platforms. I released my Tai Chi Breathing course in November, and although the process is slower and in many ways more demanding than on other platforms, I hope to extend the course selection over the year on this new platform.
3: Books etc (Grab one below)
Most of the year I was engaged with other writing, scripts for videos or work related to Spain. But, I did get out the series of articles on Medium and the Teaching and Learning Online ebook as well as the short introduction to Tai Chi: 10 Things About Tai Chi.
All these were added, as I customarily do, to the Gumroad package each year, so if you haven't yet checked out the complete library of Tai Chi - its got even better of late.
4: Going Live
Facebook grew to become an interesting venue for Live work this year, as both a supplement for those working through my online courses and as a source of discussion for anyone interested in the principles of the art. Having previously tried Periscope and Google hangouts without a great success, Facebook live enabled sessions that would reach a wider and more diverse audience than any previous platform. Expect more of this in 2018 - but you'll only get notified if you are a subscriber of have liked the page on FB. If you missed the mini series I ran throughout November, you can catch up over at the Youtube channel here.
5: Video Work
Other than the new Breathing Course - see video below - It was mostly Live sessions and playful shorts - expect more of this in 2018 and if you want something more regular, come over to Instagram (teapotmonk) where you will see even shorter snippets and static images uploaded weekly.
And so to 2018
And who knows, perhaps another elusive appearance - not unlike the World Tai Chi day in Birmingham - as well as the many Online ones.
As I'm now around Devon in the UK as well as Andalusia, Spain, maybe, our paths might even cross? Wouldn't that be good?
The First Session
November 2017 was the month in which the mOnk went LIVE. If you have followed any of the developments on the Facebook page you will know that a series of talks began at the beginning of the month on different aspects of learning Tai Chi. This was to coincide with the launch of the new Tai Chi Breathing Course on Udemy and the release of the 10 Things ebook.
Now the series is over, you can still catch the live sessions as they have been uploaded to the teapotmonk Youtube channel here.
If you haven't already done so, then go visit the Facebook page as I'll be starting a new series of LIVE sessions again soon. Liking the page means you¡ll get a notification when I'm going LIVE. Hope to see you over there soon.