18 October 2018

Classes in London next week

Monday: Short Form at Hampton Court 7-9pm
Tuesday: Tuesday class in Tooting returns to normal and Mark teaches until Christmas.
Wednesday: Holly Road senior student study group.
Thursday: Class at Hampton Court, Long Form, Partnerwork, Dance.

See you there.
Had a great time teaching the class on Tuesday, I will post a picture tomorrow. We mentioned keeping ward-off rather than letting it be intermittent, constantly having to re-instate it after it collapses. I was put in mind of the band name 'Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly' ( I don't know their music).

So, in the spirit of Tuesday's class: Get Ward-off, Keep Ward-off, Sink!

16 October 2018

'Empty gestures are declarations of indifference.'

Catherine David in 'The Beauty of Gesture - The Invisible Keyboard of Piano and T'ai Chi', 1996.

Late sun


I am on the train home. We had a wonderful sunny last day of the workshop and it was a joy to work outside for a good couple of hours in warm sunshine, with Pax the dog roaming in the trees like a guardian wolf, and the Fetterear rooks cawing their way through our form. I am off to teach the Tuesday class in Tooting. See you there.

Bright sun for form at Fetternear.

Accompanied by the famous cawing rooks. 
Someone should write an air 'The Rooks of Fetternear'

15 October 2018

Workshop over

Thanks to all who came to the 13th Annual Autumn Intensive. Well done especially to the newer students. Enjoy your 121s next week, and see you all soon. More photos tomorrow.

Yesterday at Fetternear Hall

Thanks to Mark and all the students for a great second day. Impossible to list what we were doing but it included some deep sticking, cracking uproots, a bit of sword-play and some profoundly settled forms. See you shortly for the final day.

Deep 'heavy' resting-in style sticking, transforming into a lighter touch yet keeping the same level of deep listening and connection.

Sword partner work- Mark's wonderful 'Ta Lu' for straight sword. High spirits from me in this photo, nice sunk posture from Marie. I take great pleasure arming women and disarming men... and vice versa, obviously. 
I shall strive to remain an equal opportunities offender :)

Why we don't post on Youtube

Mark and I teach T'ai Chi to the people who attend our classes in rooms and outdoors, over periods of hours, weeks, and years, sometimes decades. I know this is old-school. We were both taught at a time when the only resources available as aides memoires were books, the occasional hand-out sheet and perhaps a photo or two. I have friends who are excellent, even famous, T'ai Chi masters or teachers, and they create video resources, DVDs, web channels, many hand out sheets, (but rarely books). The most popular way to show anything these days is of course YouTube. It is possible for anyone to upload any quality of T'ai Chi and for you to 'learn' from it. I have used videos online to remind me when to cork the charcoal burning tin to make artist's charcoal, or how to tie the knots for sword tassels. I have a friend who has refurbished her boat with techniques she learned online with videos, and it has saved her a fortune, this is a great use of an excellent resource.

Mark and I have actually filmed many videos, and there are resources available for any student who needs them. Some students who have emigrated have been able to carry on with their practice with this help. You can bring a USB to class, or I can send a link. The reason you won't find our videos online, and why we don't make a channel with all these resources are numerous. We ask all students not to put our videos or photos online, even though this means perhaps fewer students would hear of us, or we would 'lose out' on advertising revenues... We do not wish to 'enter the competition', a great phrase from the T'ai Chi Classics. Apart from the nice die-cast brooch and a embroidered patch for the annual workshops we have never had any merchandise to sell, though perhaps one day we may make a T-shirt, said Mark, yesterday. The amount of spurious comments about any T'ai Chi content online, indeed anything online, is vast. We would rather folks just did some practice rather than cultivated opinions. Videos of one's T'ai Chi Forms are great to remember what you have already learned, for many people. For me they don't really help at all, I do better with lists and notes, and going to class frequently. So we will not become 'influencers', and gain followers, sell products and be asked for endorsements. Hey ho. We have superb students, who turn up in real time and do actual T'ai Chi, who are a pleasure to teach, and who transform inwardly and outwardly.

The best advice for T'ai Chi, as it is for any truly deep physical instruction where touch is required, is this - find a local class that you like and go along. Compare a few if you can. Go to the one that seems best for you. If there are no local classes, organise one, or get books and videos to start with. T'ai Chi is a martial art, and if studying boxing, you need to get in the ring. Because T'ai Chi forms have become so popular as solo activities, and have benefits as such, there is the illusion that T'ai Chi can be learned from a screen. This may indeed have health benefits, so I will not disparage it. It is possible to learn to move differently without ever being touched by one's teacher. Gerda Geddes, the first Yang Style T'ai Chi teacher to teach in the UK was never once touched by her T'ai Chi master, due to the cultural taboos of her time and place. She had great T'ai Chi, and sent people to John Kells for partner work. However, the full art, which means partner work as well as solo practice, can only be learned with a good teacher over time though touch, pushes, yielding, posture corrections... and as I found out yesterday, a punch in the face (gentle, but I got the point). Some will disagree. Luckily, I am not on Twitter!

Soon, I may make a few Chi Kung clips for a doctor who wishes to make resources available for menopausal women on a new online portal. I am keen to help, as this issue is close to my heart, but I am still thinking it over. One's moving image, online for ever more... I was in bands, but mostly before the era of ubiquitous video of performances. Thank goodness in the one or two that exist I am actually in tune. For most folk I am sure it is no big deal, but tact and the desire for privacy are factors in my ambivalence. I will be interested to know what students think. So let me know your experiences.

Life drawing classes

I will be teaching regular life drawing classes every month or so at Café Canela in Hampton Court. No experience is necessary. Details are here. Come along 30th October and 27th November, sadly these clash with Tuesday T'ai Chi classes, but you could come on Thursday instead...

3 minute warm-up sketch

No Turriff class tonight

There's no class at Turriff tonight. Term restarts 29th October.

14 October 2018

Drawing the wild

One of the students on the Wild Twins course I taught last year was Amory Abbott. He has just sent images of the work he made inspired by the course and his travels in Ireland afterwards. They are superb. Have a look here.
Cliffs of Moher by Amory Abbott

Good design

I am proud that my nephew Christopher Short has been the lead designer of Global Clinic, a modular structure that can be inexpensively and easily fabricated, assembled and used all over the world, indeed already has been. Details about it are here, and you can go see it at Living With Buildings at the Wellcome Collection.
Chris installing the show


My friend Dougald Hine was speaking yesterday at the Design Museum regarding convivial tools. I didn't get round to posting about it here in time, but there are great resources online about this and Ivan Illich. Dougald is also talking on 15th October at Stroud at Finding A Way Home.

Sir, it's long.

Or 'Are we there yet?' (Thanks Davina)

My siblings have both been secondary school teachers for many years. A few years ago one was telling me about students who when asked to read a chapter of a book for class, or do a complicated task and write it up, often complained, 'Sir, it's long.' Coming from a school kid that may be normal, indeed may even have been something a young William Shakespeare thought silently while at Grammar School, but did not voice, fearing the cane. But for an adult it's a default position that does not serve us well.

Last week my bushcraft instructor complained how the attention span of students over the last 5 or 6 years has deteriorated, so that tasks that would have been an ordinary part of a workshop are now seen by folks as too long, too hard. 'We're never going to use that in life, what's the point?' Speaking with other well-known and respected instructors, he found they had experienced the same thing. All were reappraising their courses and dropping some topics, making them accessible for the bite-size tastes of the current customer, making sure there were plenty of Instagrammable photo opportunities... Having paid many hundreds of pounds studying wilderness skills, maybe a couple of thousand over the years, every last bit of information and training I could get I would suck up, even if the end result was not success (yes, fire by bow-drill, I am talking about you...) This is not a rant about the better moral fibre of the older generations, you can get a webful of that elsewhere. I think folk of all ages are being badly served by our lack of trained concentration, powers of attention and physical stamina. My neighbour asked me why I was slowly carrying a 20 kilo container by hand last month, rather than using the trolley, and I told him it was so that I could still do it if I needed to. I wanted to retain the strength to do it as I got older. Boat life and gardening are much more fun and cheaper than the gym. Machines, services and devices that make things so easy for us, if routinely used by default, rob us of the ability to do difficult things, which is a form of self-disablement. It is not a reactionary view to suggest doing difficult or time-consuming things for their own ends, it is a view of people who wish to retain and nurture human skills, it is what I will call 'the craft view'. (I am aware of the neo-Luddites, by the way, having met some through Dark Mountain, but they take this further than I would.)

It is essential to fail. It is absolutely critical at a young age to get over failure and learn to carry on. This does not have to include humiliation, bullying and trauma, as several of my Aberdonian older students report from their school days with less than kind Calvinist teachers. In the context of T'ai Chi it is failing to get an application, technique, topic or entire area of study, for however long. It is laughing at oneself and having another go anyway. It is realising everyone is pretty busy worrying about their own T'ai Chi and didn't notice you went wrong. At school I was a perfectionist, I had to get something right, as being 'right' was 'good'. It was debilitating, and meant I gave up what I was not good at to avoid the 'shame' of getting something wrong, missing out on so much. Many people will have their own version of this, and their own psychological roots of fear of failure, disinclination to do difficult things or aversion to the unfamiliar. However all can be met with kindness and persistence to great effect, in the present moment of the practice, and with a teacher who is compassionate and encouraging. (One does not necessarily have to pick apart the tangled roots of the issue, but if inclined, of course, therapy, certain kinds of insightful introspection or counselling are good safe places to do this.)

Failing, having another go, doing difficult things, getting past frustration, boredom or confusion are the heart of learning. No great craft is achieved by avoiding any of this. I care about the craft of things, whether this is dance, song, writing, painting, handcrafts, engineering, martial arts, medicine... Really, all the important and excellent things humans ever do could be termed 'craft'. Working with commitment and steady intent, and taking the protestations of the mind with a pinch of salt, gives such deep benefit to the whole organism, makes us resilient and also anti-fragile. It means that we can be much more present for others, because we know we can rely upon ourselves. The side effect of all this slightly difficult sounding advice though, is beyond wonderful: a sense of humour! Reader, more recently than I care to remember, I did not have one. Luckily for all my students, and via some classic Taoist 'false cultivating the real', I now can laugh at myself and my predicament and stop taking everything so personally. I take the work very seriously, but my own sometime-foolishness is beyond doubt. 'Progress' may well be a myth, but change is real.

Right, off to get ready for day two of the workshop. Perhaps I will post photos later.

13 October 2018

In appreciation of difficulty

I am writing this before the first session of The T'ai Chi Centre's 13th Annual autumn workshop. For 13 years I have been inviting Mark to Scotland to teach my students and we spend our time doing increasingly difficult, challenging, or sometimes even initially baffling things together. Each year at some point we will say or hear: 'I can't do this!', or, 'It's difficult!'. And we all smile because we have all been there. Then we remember to look back and recall when Talu seemed an impossible task, or when moving our bodies in figures-of-eight made our brains turn to porridge and our limbs seem like cooked spaghetti. Over the weekend I hope to write a little about the practice of difficult things and about how it enriches our lives, and makes us anti-fragile, keeps us in good health, mentally and physically, and enables us to look beyond the small self and our inner toddler's protestations.

I would also like to write about the haptic desert of contemporary life, the frictionless surfaces and voice activated and wave-on world in which we are sleep walking. I do not think the sense of touch is given anywhere near as much import as is necessary and have an inkling this is impoverishing our learning environments, our living spaces, even our metaphorical choices and language due to the physical ruts our bodies are being funnelled towards. ('Haptic' is a useful word and is to touch what 'visual' is to sight, or 'aural' is to sound).

Swipe left, swipe right, click here for more pics, only a three minute read. Tl;dr...

Unlikely on this blog. So, today I will mostly be putting down intrusive thoughts, for the 21st year, whilst attempting to stay connected, attentive, relaxed and in motion or stillness, as appropriate, with 15 or so other wonderful people who have also chosen to come to Fetternear Hall and do this strange, difficult paradoxical thing. I shall write more later.

Sword exercise to train awareness to the end of the sword.

Staff practice, adjusting the supporting hand with pressure from the partner.

12 October 2018

Workshop ahoy

We come to Scotland for the workshops this weekend, starting with weapons tonight at Fetternear. We are looking forward to seeing everyone.
Energy lives in the present moment.

11 October 2018

Autumn Intensive

We'll kick off the Autumn intensive with a weapons session 7-10pm on Friday. The workshop itself starts 2pm Saturday with an end time of around 9:30pm each day. All the details are available by  clicking here but get in touch if you need any more info.

Turriff class

There will be no class at Turriff on 15th & 22nd October. The term will restart on the 29th and continue until 10th December. For those paying in advance, the next 6 week block starts on 5th November.

10 October 2018

T'ai Chi and nature

Over many years I have found out by doing, that the famous 'correct touch' for T'ai Chi as spoken about in the Classics, and the correct touch for making things with natural materials, are so similar as to be the same thing, just in differing contexts. Both require sensitivity, joined-up-ness and the ability to change moment to moment, rather than imposed fixed ideas upon the situation at hand. The correct mind for T'ai Chi and working with nature are also the same: expanded open awareness, concentration, connection, absorption, and importantly, humility. Ah, the last one will get you anyway, the bop on the nose, the ungainly trip, the bruised pride: as likely in the woods as in the T'ai Chi Class. Also, sudden moments of grace and natural movement, something ineffable glimpsed, a great push, surprising groundedness, an application settling into the body, also common to both realms. I am very lucky to be able to work in both these arenas, and sometimes simultaneously.

Here's a couple of photos from Joe's FB site. He's such a great wilderness skills instructor, go have a look at his site. There's an ever-present theme in my life since I was 5 years old: great teachers. I'll never stop being grateful for that, or aspiring to embody the same range of beneficial qualities in my own teaching.

Atlatl target practice last Thursday morning.

The Hunter Gatherers return to a slap up breakfast.

09 October 2018

Two sides of the mountain

The Chinese pictogram/word/term 'yin' originally had just one meaning: 'the side of the mountain in darkness'; and 'yang' meant: 'the side of the mountain in sunlight'. Inherent in this strong image is the implication that yin is always in the process of transforming into yang, and vice versa. 

06 October 2018

Next Short Form study group session

Monday 22nd October, 7-9pm, at our studio near Hampton Court. £10, all students welcome.
warm-ups, Short Form, applications, with Caro.