personal awareness

Tai Chi and world subcultures

Seen world-wide it is observable that special interest groups have their own mores, practices, language (jargon) and social norms which are often quite foreign to outsiders who occasionally enter them, either out of need or curiosity. We see this in our interactions with the professions of medicine, teaching, law and so forth – when visited at need these micro-cultural schools of expertise justify high fees often sustained by this very separateness and the enforced barriers to understanding which they promote.

Elsewhere, we see a similar situation with areas of personal interest – clearly the one considered here is that of martial arts.

Once we understand Tai Chi/martial arts as a specialist niche culture like the professions, then we can begin to expect some challenging issues in comparison to mainstream culture. Certain practices for example, or ways of perceiving human interaction are just as “foreign” as any medical training (complete with dissections, intimate examinations, drug ingestion, etc) or legal conversation replete with tortuous thought experiments and Latin notation.

Compare for example with dance and its suppressed sexuality (a vertical expression of a horizontal desire), its intellectualised definition of physical expression and its pre-linguistic emotional expression through wholly committed physical action. Consider also the physical, psychological and linguistic worth of sports.

So, when you join a Tai Chi class consider that you have entered a very old sub-culture based on millennia-old ideas and practices, many once common but today lost except to some specialist areas. Perhaps consider what it means to join such a group and allow for the fact that you are the (albeit welcome) outsider who needs to make allowances for the conflicts which may come about from your own expectations. Even for those of us with many years as part of this sub-culture we continue to find that the thinking and habits we were brought up with continue to hold us back in developing our Tai Chi skill set.

So we are all beginners and all seeking to find our place in this world of multiple sub-cultures.

Many worlds Tai Chi

27/02/2020

Tai Chi practice at the Shefford Festival

Tai Chi is a bit like one of those online computer games where you start in a small world and need to work out what it is all about so as to open up another level after level on an apparently infinite journey. But this is real and you need to find and to learn to use all aspects of your body, mind and emotional spirituality. The exercises and a teacher offer tools for you to explore and to motivate.
Or perhaps like buying a jigsaw puzzle with a vague picture on the box and only a few pieces. Once you have assembled these you gain some more pieces, gradually you find gaps without pieces, you have to make pieces which fit and make sense of the picture. But the fit of each piece depends not just on the shape or image, matching other elements like texture, smell, squiginess and attitude are just as important.
At no point is it ever what you think it is, it is never the same, everybody experiences it differently, new doors open frequently. Age enables the integration of beneficial experience and learning – you get better as you get older.

Tai Chi - martial arts culture for beginners - some issues raised for students and teachers as observed from personal experience

It is my hope that the following will help “first timers” better understand and enjoy their early Tai Chi classes since I frequently come across beginners who attend Tai Chi sessions with absolutely no knowledge or understanding of what it is or how classes work – and it seems that this sometimes can lead to an unnecessary disappointment, and that the problem is really about expectations brought into the class – perhaps this piece will help align those expectations with the reality of a class without scaring anybody off – there is no reason to be put off, Tai Chi really is a gentle, caring activity – but it is important to understand that Tai Chi is “what it is” and not what you expect it to be coming from the outside. One might reasonable expect that by going to a class one is going to learn about Tai Chi and indeed of course one will – but the subject is so large and the range of expectations/behaviours so great that it cannot all be encompassed in an introductory class – or possibly a lifetime.

Perhaps the best single piece of advice I can offer is to “learn to look after yourself” in all the possible ways that implies and learn to work within your comfort zone – but that is a lesson in itself.

I was reflecting today on my (arguably variable) abilities as a teacher of Tai Chi – wondering how to better “get it across” to my classes of likewise variable ability, age and education – and was struck by the observation that actually the biggest problem I have is with students who think they know it all. They may exhibit this immediately or it may take a year or two.

I recall advice from one of my teachers in Hong Kong to “be humble” and finding that being humble simply means to have a realistic understanding of ones ability. Such otherwise closed mindedness is a sure barrier to learning on a personal level but worse it can poison a whole class if only by taking up excessive resources and creating distraction – if you are bored or think that the teacher doesn’t know what they are doing then please leave and seek another teacher – or preferably keep quiet, then stay and seek to understand by redoubling your own efforts, rather than blaming someone else.

 

When change happens………..

26 October 2018

Over the years I have from time to time noticed changes in the way my body moves – recently I have noticed some small changes. Interestingly these changes have begun with very small perturbations in existing patterns – so small I could not properly describe them until a while later after more relaxed practice when […]

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Don’t expect praise in a Tai Chi class!

12 October 2018

I have noticed many cultural differences between studying Tai Chi in the east and in the west – perhaps the most difficult for beginners to understand is the completely different approach to the relationship of teacher to student – a good example is the lack of praise – westerners like to be told they are […]

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Partner work – why don’t people like it until they try it?

5 September 2018

I have learned through painful experience that partner work and physical corrections make up a potentially very sensitive subject – martial arts people will probably wonder why I am bothering to write about this at all – whereas beginners or people with no experience of interpersonal physical activity may well recoil that I even dream […]

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Tai Chi – important behaviours

10 August 2016
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I was talking one day with a student about the behaviours that might be considered advantageous in a physical conflict – and gave him a homework project to think of a list of 5 or 6 – then to write about them – and of how they might also have positive aspects in constructive relationships. […]

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Feedback and Education in Tai Chi and the human experience

26 July 2016
Thumbnail image for Feedback and Education in Tai Chi and the human experience

As a child in a post war western society of the 50’s feedback was a very hit and miss affair – sometimes literally – but rarely was there useful guidance. It is only in recent times that the growth and popularisation of western psychology has led to study of human behaviour in anything like scientific […]

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A good back for a long life!

29 April 2016

One of my students has a long standing lower back condition which flared up recently to the point that his doctor thought he had slipped a disc – after a couple of weeks rest he came with a few others of the group to my teacher Karel Koskuba for a 3 hour seminar. Before we […]

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