‘But if you’re a good T’ai Chi school why don’t you have tons of videos for us (for free) on Youtube?’
Here’s a few answers.
1: I would prefer to produce an online course that is of real benefit to people, rather than procure a scattergun selection of the best -looking clips. Both myself and my teacher have always had plenty of students at in-person classes and only since Covid-19, when our regular students have been unable to attend class, had we considered teaching online. Self-promotion is quite boring and too much time on screen can be antithetical to a settled mind. So it is with care and thought that I’ll be making courses, and continue to teach the few classes online via Zoom that I do. However, it is good for me to adapt, and to offer classes to those I will not necessarily meet in person, so I welcome the opportunity to mindfully share what I love with people who cannot get to a class right now.
2: T’ai Chi is a touch-based, real-life martial art and that is how it has been taught since it began, (either 200 years ago in Chen Village, arising out of Taoist arts at Wudang Mountain, or mythically from legendary Master Chang Seng Feng or all three, or none of these…) I never really look at videos myself, I am an in-person and book learner. So I am happy to produce clips for the students when they ask, but myself have never found screens to be that helpful. Yet I know screens help so many people to learn so much, so while we won’t be part of ‘the marketplace’, we will start to share good courses for those of you who are starting T’ai Chi without the possibility of a real-life class. But even if you study with us online, I really recommend you find and in-person class once circumstances allow, even if that means you stop studying with us! Nothing beats doing T’ai Chi in a real room, or outdoors, with living people, who will soon also become your friends.
3; In reality, what looks great on screen bears no relation to whether it is ‘good T’ai chi’ or not. Some profoundly superb T’ai Chi looks like barely anything. It is a martial art and moving meditation. Both these aspects are to do with actual feeling, being present, the sense of touch. Is someone yielding when you place your hand on them? Do they have a root? Are they in fact performing a nicely choreographed display of dynamic tension? You cannot know by looking. Just as the biggest most colourful flowers in the garden are rarely (though occasionally) the best for nectar for pollinators, and the inconsequential ‘weeds’ or herbs actually produce the best forage for bees, similarly, grand visuals are no guide as to whether or not the practitioner has good kung fu. They may do, they may not. Videos are good for seeing the general atmosphere of a workshop or class, say, and for seeing the general posture of a teacher, for instance, upright or leaning style. One can also hear how they tend to communicate: chatty, terse, meandering, to the point, kindly, rudely, etc.
4: The T’ai Chi Classics say: ‘Don’t enter the competition‘. I could spend a lifetime uploading all the great instructional videos and clips we produce for our regular students, but instead we have a designated Dropbox that all of them have access to, for their personal study. In return they promise not to post them on the web. If we posted forms or practices out of context for general viewing it would make no sense, but would certainly generate lines of comments from people who did not know us. We are an in-person school, or at least we have been for almost 20yrs. To be part of the opinion cycle online would be counterproductive. All that time posting / reading / refuting opinions would be better spent in practice! Or as my Grandmaster John Kells used to put it, ‘It’s just dogs barking.’ I am not knocking Youtube particularly, or mindfully learning things from videos. I am just keen not to be part of the churning media of attention distraction.
5: T’ai Chi is best studied one style / teacher / topic at a time. A good teacher will have spent half a lifetime refining how and what they teach, adapting to special needs of students, finding new metaphors to explain things, getting better at their art. A pick and mix way of learning is rarely good for anything, whether music, traditional crafts, fighting arts, or dance, for instance. There is a really beautiful rhythm to teaching, when one sees what the student is ready for next, and then there is a great joy in sharing the new skill or insight. In our tradition, famously, ‘there are no secrets’, however, this does not mean we teach everything to anyone or all at once. Timing is crucial to understanding. Trust develops over time between student and teacher. This way misunderstandings and overload are avoided, and instead, real depth of transmission of the art is possible. I owe it to my master and grandmasters to teach the very best way I can, neither to make things falsely difficult nor to over-simplify complex things.
6: Life’s too short!
Talking of which, this was going to be a short post, but it got longer. There are plenty more reasons I could give, but you get the gist. Soon I will get filming for the online course. But if you are already a student of T’ai Chi, then I encourage you to ask your own teacher for videos about what you are studying. Or ask them to provide you with recommended books or links by other teachers from the same lineage. Or have a Skype 121 with them. It will not always be pandemic time. We can meet again soon. Take heart.