Sunday, 28 September 2014

How Long Does It Take to Learn Tai Chi? (And Other Silly Questions)

How long does it take to learn the form? Why are there different length forms and what does the elusive notion of time tell us about supermarket shopping, radioactive apples and the legacy of Steve Jobs?


In the Supermarket

Sometimes, when I'm  in the supermarket, pondering the short shelf life of vegetables, wondering what they may have been sprayed with, to make them glow from such a distance - someone will come up to me and say: "Hey Teapotmonk, I'd like to learn Tai Chi, but i've heard that it takes forever and a day to learn. Tell me," they say, "How long does the Form take to learn? And is it true that you remain a beginner for the first twenty years of your practice?"

So I usually push my trolley to one side, return the radioactively bright red apples back into their lead containers and nonchalantly throw the question back

"In how much of a hurry are you to stop learning? For you see, the process of learning is a gift, not a chore. You see, when we stop learning, we stagnate. And this isn't just my crazy idea. I teach languages too, and there's a ton of research that says if you learn a new language as you get older then, your mind continues to develop, create new connections between neurons and help prevent mental degeneration. This is true also for the body and the practice of  Tai Chi."

"So, I ask again, exactly why are you in such a hurry for this process to end?" And then I glance back at the radioactive vegetables and ponder some more.  


Whats the Rush?


And this brings us on to today's subject: What's it all about? Because on the surface we are talking about time, duration and the slow steps towards acquiring another way of life. And lets be honest here, Tai Chi is not simply a martial art, an exercise for rejuvenation, a method of mediation in movement....these are all attributes of many other disciplines. What distinguishes this art is its profound depths and potential to change the very direction we are heading in. And if we don't change the direction we are heading in then we may just end up arriving there. And we wouldn't want that now would we?
If we so let it, if we are truly open to changes in direction, if we know how to interpret the language of our intuition..

Steve jobs said it well: “Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Each step in the form is a wonderful transition, for each step opens us to another way of interacting with the world. So I ask again....Whats the rush?



 The Wing Chun Rush 

I once had a student who came to me from a Wing Chun class. He wanted to incorporate some of the lessons of Tai Chi into his fighting style and said that he wished to learn the short form within just three months. We trained early in the mornings in a park in London, and over those three months he learnt the form. His form was a reasonable copy of mine, he had used - what I call the tracing paper Method and duplicated more or less the appearance of my form. But it said nothing about him. And if you looked closer,  it was neither soft or circular. Instead, it was linear and tense and punctuated by too many stops and starts.   For he could only see the postures, he was blind to the transitions.

We had no time to explore what lay underneath the surface. That's which oozes out slowly, and only through the patient study of the subtleties and the recognition of the importance of transitions. Only then, after that depth of study can you claim to know anything about Tai Chi. 

The greatest lesson that TC teaches us is that the benefits are in the doing, not the achievement. If it takes you a lifetime to learn, if you stay a beginner for 20 years, then you are indeed lucky, as the benefits will stay with you that long. If you speed-learn the Form, then you will only end up skipping the slow detail, and it is in the slow awakening of detail that you will find the real treasure. 

Watch this video on Speed Tai Chi if you really want to rush your practice.



The Bakers

Sometimes, when I'm in the bakers, someone will stop me and say, hey Teapotmonk, before you disappear with that packet of croissants, tell me: Which Form is best to learn? Is it the short form or the long form? The old-form, or the combined form, the weapons forms or partner forms?

I tell them that the only form they need to concern themselves with is the one they will sign to learn tai chi. Worry about that one, not any of the others. Make sure you don't sign anything silly, like ...I agree to only buy my Chinese slippers from Sifu when he deems it necessary. Or Yes, I will purchase a new satin suit every new moon, here is my deposit. 



The Mobile Phone Shop

Sometimes, when I'm in the mobile phone shop, queering why - in this day and age - my unused data allowance cannot be carried over to the following month, someone will come up and say, Hey arnt you the Teapotmonk...and I say....I might be? then tell me this..they say...
Why bother with the Long Form when the Short Form is shorter?

Then, I put to one side the rather lickable phone case that I had been considering and say....Certainly the tendency these days is to focus more on the Short Form. This may just be a reflection of our waning attention spans, or perhaps just a reflection of our multifarious commitments in this increasingly networked and interconnected world. I then wave a smart phone at the questioner to reinforce my point.

Whatever the reason, the popularity of the shorter Forms has permitted people with less energy, and with less time to learn some aspect of Tai Chi. These shorter Forms essentially remove much of the repetition present in the longer versions. Cheng Man Ching said that you should practice his short form for between seven and twelve minutes to get the full benefits and I think this probably touches upon the real debate about Long - versus - Short: about time, intuition and our slow passage through this worldly paradise....it is really about concentration and focus, not the number of postures. 



The Art of Not Concluding

You can practice the Long Form quickly and without focus, or the Short Form slowly and with concentration. Any instructor would rather see more of the latter than that of the former. 

In short,  focus your practice on quality rather than  the number of minutes or the postures in your form. Leave others to debate such trivia. Focus, and in focusing you will find the depth of insight you seek.

As for The long Form is well worth learning, but not at the expense of quality over duration. Always remember that Tai Chi is a tool that you adapt to where you are, and who you are. Start, and let the circumstances and energy roll you forward until the time is right to stop.

Download/listen to the full podcast below or.....



Want More on the Teapotmonk Approach to Tai Chi? Read the Tai Chi Trilogy and sign up for notice on new podcasts, new articles and new videos here

Monday, 22 September 2014

Don't Listen To Yourself: The Benefits of On-Spot Teaching

Last week I gave, what is called in Spanish a 'Clase de Prueba'. It's a free class organised by the local council to encourage people to try out something new. In this case a class of Tai Chi.

30 people came along, as well as a couple of my faithful students from the last few years.

With 30 complete beginners, I couldn't make myself heard, so I split the group into 3 smaller groups of 10 students each. Then I introduced the exercises, gave vague directions in my vague Spanish and asked my two senior students  - Paco and Tere,  to take each group through some basics.

At the end of the evening, Tere approached me with a red face: " You ask me to do things I find so difficult Paul," she complained.

"What was so difficult?" I asked.

"Speaking and trying to convey what Tai chi is to a group of people I don't know" she replied.

"But how else will you ever become a teacher" I said.

"Me! A teacher! No way! Maybe Paco, but I haven't got it in me to be a teacher." 

Paco, who had strolled over, joined in: "I may have learnt the fine details of the movements Tere" he said. " But I wish I could transmit some of your serenity! your calm". 

"Ojala" She said. (If only this were true) " You are imagining it Paco" 

Now, when I was learning. tai chi (who ever really stops?) I never considered that one day I would be teaching the art. It was only when my teacher returned to Chile (her home country), that she suddenly asked me to take over her classes. Was I ready? No way. Was I trained and prepared to take over? No way. Did it matter? Not really, because I would learn as I did the work.

Life, at its best moments works this way. It throws out opportunities to grasp enthusiastically - or -  to run and hide from. Some may argue that a good teacher is trained up to the task, others that this just creates copies of old patterns and it is much better to work at being "good" by getting on with it.

Sometimes, events tell us that the time is fast approaching.

As the 'clase de prueba' finished, a young couple came over to ask about details of times, days etc. and for general info about tai chi. 

"What do you want from Tai chi?" I asked. The woman turned to look at Tere and said: " What I'd like to get out of a class would be some of the tranquility and inner calm that this women here transmits".


For more stories on Teaching Tai Chi - approaches, techniques and attitudes see Ways of Learning: A Handbook for Teachers and Students of Tai Chi and the Martial Arts. (ebook, paperback and now Audio book too) 



Saturday, 6 September 2014

Speed Tai Chi: A New 46 Second Internet Course For Aspiring Sifus.

WhatsApp Tai Chi Learning

The internet age is upon us, and let's face it -  it is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, we are exposed to an endless stream of dubious content, whilst on the other, we have a unique opportunity to develop ourselves in a new and radically different way than before.

The latest fashion is learning Tai Chi On-line: No longer is it sufficient to buy a book, DVD, or go to a class - instead the fashion is to learn via Skype or a Google Hangout.


The 1 Minute Speed Tai Chi Course

Well, the Teapotmonk goes one step further by launching his Whatsapp Online Sifu MasterShip 1 Minute Course: Speed Tai Chi.

Yes, that's right folks, join the whatsapp group and learn to become a Satin Sifu: Devote just over a second a day to your training for 1 Month and you too will be able to spout eastern cliches and wear baggy satin clothes .

Just a second a day for a month and you will not only have mastered the 46 second Short Form (Amended by Cheng Man Ching, William CC Chen, Dr. Chi and Dr. Seus) but you will also get a genuine certificate of Sifu-ness to hang on your wall (and a detailed set of ironing instructions for getting the creases out of that satin jacket).


Practice for just 1 Second a Day!

Forget spending a lifetime becoming an immortal - we live in an attention deficit world where we crave distractions every 46 seconds. Why not spend just one complete minute and you will get:

  1. Immortality, 
  2. Tai Chi 'Sifu' Status
  3. The Iron-Shirt Ironing Instructions
  4. Common Meaningless Phrases to utter about lineage, history and tradition.
  5. Essential for all teachers! Comparison chart of the different styles so that you can pooh-pooh the inadequacies of other schools.  


Remember to join the whatsapp Sifu School today, and study for just one second a day. Send your bit coins to the Monks Mad Master Program and become an immortal by this evening!

Catch the Speed Tai Chi Technique in Practice below, pausing every second for 1 Month and hey presto...welcome to the Wonderful World of Sifudom. 



Want More Of An Alternative View? Read: One Last Thing here or here for the definitive Approach to the Martial Arts. 

Monday, 11 August 2014

The Form Part 2: How Best to Learn the Tai Chi Form


The only thing that interferes with my learning - said Einstein - is my education. Does your education get in the way of how you learn the Form?

In the last episode of the podcast we looked at the structure of the Form, it's roots, it's history and the way it is taught. In this episode, I want to focus on something else...one of my favorite themes: Teaching and Learning, because its too easy to say to students, "you must learn the Form, or... I will teach you the Form"...but students have major difficulties not just with the techniques  -  but with the process of learning too.

Now who said:


Ways of Learning the Tai Chi Form*The more we think we know, the less we can really see what have to do.
 
*If the body is free of all tension, free  of all expectation and the mind is free of all distraction, then true learning can take place.

*If the mind is stagnant, the postures assimilated through the lens of an earlier session, then the form will never be truly be learnt, it will only be poorly copied.

Nope. It's wasn't just the babbling nonsense of a crazy man in the south of Europe, its also the thoughts of Krishnamurti, Bruce Lee, Thoreau, and host of other creative minds.



Trust Your Body

When learning the sequence of moves, don't try too hard to grasp the facts and the details of every sequence. The worse method is to over analyze the process. As a teacher try to avoid giving out handouts on foot angles, weight distribution or a 10 step check-list for attaining the correct angle of the eyebrow.

Instead, rethink Ways of Learning and try to trust your body. Allow the body to learn by simple repetition. And focus on the pattern and the feeling of flow from one move to another. It is these factors that make a practitioner competent, not simply the repitition or shadowing of another's moves. 

I believe a good instructor of Bean Curd Boxing should try to emphasise the fundamental rules rather than the strict geometrical positions. i.e. move with empty weight, keep the spine straight, when one part moves, all parts move etc. These basic rules can be found in what is known as the Tai Chi Classics, a set of principles (though sometimes rather vague and abstract) that define the basic underlying movements of Tai Chi.

HOW NOT TO LEARN THE FORM

The most common way of learning the Form is to try and memorise it. This is also the worst way. "It is only when we forget all our learning" said Henry Thoreau - "that we begin to know."

If we only use our heads to understand, imitate and then reproduce the movements we will have learnt little else other than how to effectively copy.

Although this might give the impression of learning, it is in fact no different than learning how to draw by using tracing paper.

Instead feel for the pattern of the moves. Watch to see how your own body interprets these movements. Yes, of course copy your teacher, but ingest the moves. Absorb them, make them yours. Your teacher will probably we hoping for you to imitate him or her. Do this is you have no choice, but don't let it become a habit.

It may sound obvious, but remember to keep your eyes open and alert to what is happening around you when practising. Dont go all other worldly, don't go off in search of another planet somewhere, stay on earth when practicing tai chi. This is not a short cut for astral projection, if you're looking to travel amongst the clouds, try paragliding.

DONT ALWAYS DO: SOMETIMES JUST STAND ASIDE


Finally, one last tip for learning the Form - and that is to simply observe. Do not always try and do it at the same time. Stop copying for a moment. Stand or sit to one side of the class and watch the rest of the group go through a complete Form. Watch how the other students cope and how they interpret the moves and transitions. See yourself as part of the whole process and not something separate. Do this regularly, even if the other students get a bit huffy with you for staring at them and spending inordinate amounts of time sitting to one side and examining their transitions. It's a worthwhile exercise and you will gain an overview for your learning that will feed directly back into your performance.





Listen to the whole audio version above, or download it to your mobile device. Subscribe free to the series on itunes: Talking Tai Chi with the teapotmonk.



Find out more about different approaches to teaching tai chi and learning this incredible art in the paperbook, ebook or audiobook versions of: Ways Of Learning.  



Saturday, 21 June 2014

Simple Steps to Challenging an Expert

Empower Yourself Today: Challenge an Expert

Experts are notoriously biased. Not because they are necessarily wrong, rather they think they are almost always right. But experts are as susceptible to errors as anyone. 

Ways of Learning audiobookIn this audio book chapter: The Illusion of Certainty - the teapotmonk is back exploring the issue of "certainty" and asks: How do we ensure that the information we are given by 'experts' is in our interest and not theirs?

It's time to question the pillars of knowledge once more, in the usual bean-curd multi-media style. Listen here, download the file to your portable device or just share it with everyone using the options below

This crazy audio chapter is taken from the new Audiobook - Ways of Learning. Find out more here. 





Ways of Learning: Audiobook

There is just so much time to take in a never diminishing quantity of information. Our eyes are constantly at work: read this post, read this article, read this tweet, read this book...at times the screen appears to be permanently in front of our face. For a more balanced life - and to discover another WAY OF LEARNING - try your ears instead of your eyes.

18 Challenging Chapters narrated by the mOnk with music, sound effects and subtle asides that challenge our Ways of Learning and Teaching and send rebellious ripples through dojo's across the universe 

Find out more here. You'll be surprised...

And after all of that...for the studious ones amongst you - watch the TED Watch the Noreen Hertz video on the Problem with Experts




Sunday, 15 June 2014

Apps For Teachers:

Keeping up-to-date

Once upon a time, you flicked through a paperback; asked around; bought the latest magazine that promised to reveal the whole sequence of the un-ironed shirt internal qi exercises. You generally chatted in coffee shops to other interested (or not in many cases) parties to keep your finger on the pulse of what was happening in the world of martial arts.


Now we have other means at our disposal. Now technology has given us the smartphone and the tablet. (Well, not given exactly, but you know what I mean). With these devices - and more specifically the apps you can download for free or 1€, your class can become a hotbed of news, gossip and they can help form a loose network that will bond members together in ways unthinkable just 5 years ago.

Research and Communication Apps for Teachers

Today I'm going to look at two areas of apps for teachers and students of the martial arts: Research and Communication. Other areas, such as organisation and structure, I will cover in a future post.

Research; Zite and Pocket

Zite (Free)  - http://zite.com
Yes, you can build a list of RSS feeds, bookmark favourite sites or blogs and follow your fave writers (such as that strange quirky guy called the Bean Curd Boxer) - and this is of course advisable. But if you want to keep abreast of the tai chi world as a whole, you will need to employ an aggegator of news. My fave is Zite, as it works on Android, Apple phones as well as Amazon tablets. You easily set up the search terms you are intersted in: Chi Gung, taichi podcasts, taoism, punch-bags, wifi-enabled nunchaku offersDonnie Yen, tai chi flash-mobs, bean curd, becoming an immortal - to give a few juicy examples - and then let Zite do the rest. 

Every time you then look at the app, it refreshes the categories and delivers news to your phone or tablet. From there, you can share via a tweet, FB etc or - and this is where it gets interesting for Teachers - send the file to Pocket.

Pocket (Free)  https://getpocket.com/
Pocket is a store house for all the articles on the web that you would like to keep for future reference. Download it for your desktop, phone and tablet for free. You can tag these articles for easy future reference and once read, either keep them or share them via social media sites. Perhps even share them via a social messaging app like Whatsapp.

Class Cohesion Style 2014: Whatsapp

Whatsapp - http://www.whatsapp.com

Of course as teachers, we all are told to get a Facebook page up and runing, set up a Youtube channel, open a twitter account  or create a Pinterest board.

But I'd like to focus today on a social messaging app called Whatsapp.
Whatsapp is a individual or group communication application that works on all smartphones. The first thing you need to do is encourage everyone to download the app and join the group you have created for your class.Then everyone can share text messages, images, videos or even voice messages.

In my class, we use the taichi group we have set up to send out messages that inform each other of who is coming, or who will be absent from a class. Whether today you need to bring in the sword, the stick, the tofu or the sandwiches. Who is in need of a lift home after, or who may need a lift to get to the class. Absent students can ask for updates from other members of the group, exchanging photos or videos of postures or techniques.

But more importantly than any of this, is the cohesion and bonding that is created outside of the class time-table. 
Students arrange sudden practice sessions at a location and invite everyone to participate - sending a map and times to meet for example. They share concerns of techniques, questions, they share news and videos they find on the web and they share their excitement and pleasure at being part of a new social group.  

When we began to set it up last year, people were initially reluctant to join "yet another group" and be bombarded with yet more "information". Yet very quickly it grew to become the first point of consultation for everyone, and has enabled a sense of connection that the class alone could not achieve.

Try it. Use any app that works for you. Don't just take my list as gospel. Open a dialogue and leave it open. You might be surprised how much it is appreciated.   

Monday, 9 June 2014

Why are Tai Chi Teachers Hung-Up on Detail?

Meaning is not in the Detail

Is it just me or have we been taking ourselves just a little too seriously lately? Every time I do a search for some Tai Chi info on the net, I feel inundated with dogma and detail. I feel swamped in minutiae as one "expert" after another discloses some previously "secret" technique or revelation that promises to revolutionise my practice. Revolutionise? 

Well, I can only conclude two things:

1. Details do not convey meaning: I'm reminded of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy in which the Answer to the "Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything" is 42. Maybe its because I'm a cynic, but I've never been convinced that the answer to improving my tai chi practice is to be found in the angle of my eyebrow or the GPS location of my Tan Tien. 

2. If an "expert", "teacher", "sifu" or "guru" can't laugh at him/herself, doesn't know the importance of a smile or can't even perform a simple shuffle when explaining the the necessary steps for acquiring immortality, then I'm don't want it. 

Wanna know why?

Because as Emma Goldman said: If there won't be dancing at the revolution, I'm not coming. 


Want more Non-secrets of Tai Chi? Want to know the obvious rather than the obscure? Want to practice your form without the need of calculator?
Read 50 Questions and Answers: Now at the revolutionary price of just 99c. Get it from Amazon, iBooks, Kobo or direct from here.





Sunday, 1 June 2014

An Interconnected World: Where Art Defines Itself in the 21st Century

 

Mark Ronson and A Musical Mash-Up



The Greatest Fighters and Writers in A Martial Mix-Up


Images from  - One Last Thing: 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...