Monday, August 24, 2009

The Future of Tai Chi

After reading Matthew Honan's article, Meet Online Friends in the Real World (Beware: It Will Be Weird), in the August '09 issue of Wired Magazine, I was super reluctant to meet people in the Meatspace (I believe David Maguire coined the term) that I have met in Cyberspace.

"Often, the trouble isn't what you're saying but how you're saying it. Language is more than words. It also includes kinesics (body language) and paralanguage (pitch, tone, and wordless noises)"

Having had one positive experience meeting with a local maven I met on Twitter, thanks again @Lacouvee, my reservations for future meatspace meetings was, and remains, low; however, that meeting was about business, and networking. Also, having not read Honan's article, I was unaware of the awkwardness that can occur. In the article Professor Nancy Baym said, "Often, the trouble isn't what you're saying but how you're saying it. Language is more than words. It also includes kinesics (body language) and paralanguage (pitch, tone, and wordless noises)".

When I found myself in the exact same situation Honan presents, traveling to a city where a longtime (in Internet time) Tweep (person who tweets) lives, my confidence in tweetups was ruffled. To be safe, or possibly not, neither of us talked publicly about the possibility of meeting up, but talked behind the scenes about meeting up for a Tai Chi workout.

"The purpose of our meeting was to discuss and practice kinesics and body language: only we call it Tai Chi"

We both practice different styles of Tai Chi, him: Yang and Cheng Man Ching styles, me: Chen Style Practical Method, but we both have had limited experience in the other's style. Politics and titles aside it is all the same Tai Chi, but with nuances and distinctions noticeable to the trained eye. Referring back to what Professor Baym said, the main purpose of our meeting was to discuss and practice kinesics and body language, only we call it Tai Chi.

"the man with the magic hand"

One of many stories about Grandmaster Hong Junsheng's life that resonates with me is about the Japanese students who called him "the man with the magic hand", because of his ability to bounce opponents away without using what we normally consider to be strength. Grandmaster Hong was among the first Chinese Tai Chi Masters to indiscriminately teach the art to those from outside of China. From 1956 to 1988 master Hong developed a reputation in Japan, and elsewhere, of being of incredible skill. These years, however, were a dark time in Chinese history. Hong, and many others, suffered at the hands of political oppression, war, disease, and famine. Two of his best students, twin Japanese women, died of Scarlet Fever, and Grandmaster Hong was isolated due to poverty. The art that he saved, and shared with the world, almost died with him.

"There will be no lines of Tai Chi bras or stretch pants"

Today, Tai Chi's future is threatened again. This time by the isolation caused by an increase of media consumption. Tai Chi has to compete with Video games, Television, the Internet (sorry Radio you do not make the list), and a overworking generation of people. Tai Chi is hard, believe me, and not sexy, there will be no lines of Tai Chi bras or stretch pants. This is why the art is threatened.

"Sorry Myspace: not on the list"

On a positive note, Social Networking sites like Twitter, and Facebook (sorry Myspace: not on the list), are bringing the community together in ways that are astounding. On Youtube, every style of Tai Chi are represented, and tutorials are available at your convenience. On, a group of local Tai Chi people are inviting those who live in the West Shore/Landford, BC, with any experience level to come practice with them. On Twitter, there are people meeting fellow practitioners everyday, and some, like @Vanadia, and @Jordan_Keats, who are taking online discussions into the meatspace, traveling from Victoria, BC, to Portland, Oregon, and doing our best to ensure Tai Chi has a future.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

The Tao of Communication

Two mysteries:
What is a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Communications, and what is Tai Chi?

Mention Prof. Comm., or Taiji, those two questions arise, followed by: "What can you do with with that Tai Chi practice?", "Chi is like Zen, right?", or "What can you do with an degree in Communications?".

The most common assumptions are that Professional Communications has something to do with telemarketing, and Tai Chi is something like yoga or pilates: only magical, meditative and mystical. There are many people feeding the superstitious reputation of Tai Chi, and many greasy snake-oil salesmen marketers out there giving the name of communication a black eye.

In everyday communications, and in professional communications, there are negative and positive aspects. There is a damage control side, where the aim of communication is to save face for ourselves, or a company, and a promotional side aiming to gain face or respect.

In other words, there is a positive, and a negative aspect to communications.

The foundational exercises in the Practical Method of Chen Style Tai Chi are called positive and negative circles. In these drills, the elbow moves in either a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction, while moving inward the hand moves reluctantly, and on the outward the elbow moves reluctantly forward.

Elbow in - No Hand in. Elbow out - No hand out.

For a More Detailed Explanation:

The idea of positive and negative should not be confused with an idea that in communicating, or in Tai Chi, all actions are black and white. Think of the Ying-Yang symbol, there is a small white circle in the large black wave, and a small black circle inside the large white wave. The same theory applies to communications, there can be a dot of hesitation in your celebration, or some pride in wallowing in the mire: a bit a doubt in your love, or a bit of enjoyment in your hatred.

In Tai Chi class we laugh, and have all round good time with friends, while practicing movements with quite horrible applications with the intention to defeat opponents without mercy. This opposition is natural, and a thread throughout life.

I am not a Taoist scholar, and much of the theory is beyond me; however, the value of practicing to communicate, or learning a skill like Tai Chi or Qi Gong, becomes more obvious upon reflection. These are skills like any other, the more time spent on task the more effective and efficient you can become.

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