Saturday, 25 October 2014

Teaching Tai Chi with Rhythm and Not Language

The Tricky Practice of Teaching with Language

It's a funny thing. Teaching weapons can either excite or alienate students. But the physical handling of some external tool can enable a sense of rhythm otherwise unreachable. It's worth giving students the chance to find this out at the earliest possibility.

But watch out for language. Trying to describe the benefits, applications and practical uses of weapons training can often backfire. Teachers end up engraving their views on the class rather than exploring and discovering. After all, the art that can be described, is not the art.

The Art in Martial

The Art in Martial Arts - lets remember -  is not necessarily literal. Trying to explain a Picasso or Seurat may satisfy some the wordsmiths amongst you, but for others it may remove the passion, the texture, the subjectivity and beauty.

Words carry more than definiton. They are weighty tools to employ with an agenda engrained in culture. It is worth bearing in mind. Words are not neutral. They carry cultural and temporal meanings: Particularly if you insist on using Mandarin in class, wearing shiny clothes from another culture and selling bean curd to a class hungry for simple icons.

So forget the past. Be inspired by it, but then let it go. It's how we evolve. 

So What of Tai Chi? How Then Do we Evolve? 

Do we trace back the origins of Tai Chi history in order to replicate it's original purpose and training methods - an arguable end in itself some say - or do we track it's migratory movements, it's skips and bounds, it's trips and stumbles and see where it leads us?

It's an important question.  

For if we step back, apply a little vision and insight, something new may still arise. Something that speaks the language of a new era, something that speaks with another language than words.

And so we return to the use of weapons. An extension of ourselves. A step away from the ego-centric practices that surround the "art". 

My health, my form, my skills, my beliefs, my traditions, my school, my lineage, my, my my....

Extend outwards and let go of yourself. Swing and flow, said Cheng Man Ching. And in so doing, watch and follow. 

In the exercise seen above in the video -  we do no more than just that. Move and watch. Open a dialogue and see where it leads. Only we use not words, but spirals of movements, breath and the conversation of dance. 

Ways of Learning
Ways of Learning is all about promoting these ideas: the chapter on rhythm that you can find in the book, now has an accompanying video. The first in a new series. Enjoy the video.

For more explanations and exercises, see the accompanying book here or the audiobook here - Ways of Learning. Missed out on the "Ways" freebie last week? Sign up to get a notice in your inbox when this stuff goes free.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Have You Heard? 24 Hours remains to get the audiobook free

Ways of Learning Audiobook 

Subscribers to the Bean Curd Boxer awoke to the notification that WAYS OF LEARNING was being offered FREE on both AUDIO and E-BOOK version for 48 hrs. Still not a subscriber? Then sign up here for monthly notices on new releases, free books and more.

As a fine follower of the this uncarved blog, you too have  the opportunity to grab the WAYS SPECIAL before it expires tomorrow. 

What's the catch?
Well, firstly I hope you get something from the book. And I mean that in a horizontal sense, not a vertical sense.

What does that mean?

Wisdom comes from below, said Alan Watts and for too long has the centres of learning being focussed on the Teacher and less on the student. The more a teacher rattles on about lineage, tradition and the crease of his/her satin suit, then the less Tai Chi can listen to the demands of a new age. Thus, teaching is about starting where the student is at, not where the teacher thinks he/she should be. Its about listening more than talking, its about a dialogue and not a monologue. It's about recognising that wisdom nutures in a horizontal teaching structure, and is stifled in a vertical organisation. Want to now more? Then read or listen to WAYS OF LEARNING. 

And leave a review. (Please)

I'd love you to leave a review if you do download either and feel you have got something from the book - be that on an educational or entertainment level. There is a huge debate right now about the future of teaching and whether it ought to be more responsive and less dogmatic. If you want to join in the debate, then leave a review - on Amazon, Goodreads, iBooks, etc. Anywhere you can to keep the debate alive. Even a simple one line review such as "enjoyed it" or "listened to the audio version" - would be nice. 

It's good to get feedback when you work a lot on your own, or when there is an ocean or two between me and my readers. 

So, the audio is the same as the written version. It's all valid when it comes to your opinion. So please, leave a review somewhere public. It's nice to get an email from you, but it's better when those ideas are shared publicly.. 


As I don't host the files, you'll need to share the link on Twitter or FB to get the download for free. And then, as one friend reported to me last night, "I've just cleared some room on the iPod for the audio - and it was well worth the sacrifice"

Grab the ebook here in ePub and PDF formats
Grab the audio here as either mp3 or m4b files. 


Saturday, 11 October 2014

Living At a Slower Pace

The Slow Route Home

This weekend, take it easy. Slow Down. Breathe deep, adopt a more gentle rhythm and take a moment out, to just look about you.

It's not so difficult. It's what Tai Chi teaches. It's what life teaches should we stop for a moment, and take account of how things are flying by. The Slow Route Home is a short story free this weekend on Amazon. Get a copy from the links below, and then...

Put your feet up, take a sip of tea and savour another way of life. Based on Gandhi's idea of Living the Way You Wish The World To Be - 'The Slow Route Home' describes how one man's example of living a simple life, can resonate in this hectic and fast paced world.

Grab the free ebook now! And Share!

Watch the mini video here, listen to the audio sample and grab the free book just this weekend, and learn to take the Slow Route Home.

Grab the book for free from the Amazon Uk, Amazon USA, Amazon Ca.

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 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 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.


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.


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 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

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...