Saturday, 15 August 2015

Titles and Tai Chi

When do people call themselves 'Master', what are they actually saying? The Mandarin for 'Master' is 'Shifu' (or Sifu). It means 'accomplished worker' or 'skilled person'. Generally, it is used as a respectful term for people in skilled manual trades - particularly where there is a relationship between apprentice and teacher. Apprentice monks can also refer to their teachers as 'Shifu'.

When asked about how to call them, most Chinese 'Grandmasters' that I have come across prefer the term - 'Laoshi', which means 'Teacher'. To me, this applies not only to humility, but also acknowledges how the terms 'Master' and 'Grandmaster' have come to signify almost mythical status.

So when a person is granted (or grants themselves) a title, what are they saying about themselves? I can't possibly answer that, because these words mean different things to other people. The titles they choose reflect their understanding of their martial art, perhaps their position within a hierarchy, the relationship they want to make with their students - many things.

To me, using the titles of 'Master' etc. elevates my position, and makes my skills seem unattainable to my students. I don't want that. I want to put the least amount of impediment between my students and their success. The term 'Teacher' - to me brings up too many bad memories of school and mandatory work. I want my title to imply success and enjoyment. I want to say that anyone can attain and exceed my level of skill. This is why I prefer the term 'coach'.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Keeping calm

When the American author - Josiah Gilbert Holland wrote, "Calmness is the cradle of power", he uttered a truly profound statement. This is a valued state of being within many cultures across the world, yet has been lost in our modern lifestyle in a subtle and pervasive way.

'Busy' is the new 'happy', and calm has been submerged in a torrent of emails, text messages, to do lists, social media posts, manipulative media, telephone calls, businesses and conflicting demands. The promise of technology setting us free has largely removed a lot of the physical effort. For many people, that reduction of manual work has been replaced with a barrage of information overload.
Many people's only contact with martial arts are through films and TV shows, so they can be forgiven for thinking that martial arts are only about fighting and stomping your opponent into the ground! Nothing could be further from the truth. The meditative approach to Tai Chi is not necessarily about being calm for calmness' sake. It is a valuable tool for self defence.

When the mind is calm, the body movement follows intention better. You are able to defend yourself better. When there is confusion in intention, there is confusion in movement.Therefore, it is vital to be calm at all times. Without calmness, you cannot effectively comprehend the movements of your opponent. Without calmness, you cannot discern the correct and appropriate action.

So how do you embrace calmness? It must be a total lifestyle approach.

Meditate
Discover meditation, or any gentle focusing activity that makes you calm. Do it at least once per day. Treat it like your 'reset' button.

Exercise
Choose an exercise that calms you as well as making you fit. Make sure you have genuine useful goals, rather than goals that are based upon vanity and insecurities.

Rest regularly
If you work, split your day up. Take regular breaks. Ensure that your sleep is undisturbed and restful.

Do the right thing
When your values are not in line with what you are doing, you will experience enormous conflict. If you are in a job that is against your beliefs, stop it. Examine what goals you are chasing. Are they truly your own? If you are not living your values, find the right way of living.

Learn the danger signals
There are clear signals that your calmness is being disrupted. Learn them and watch yourself keenly for any signs that you are slipping:
  • Physical tension (everyone keeps their tension in particular places. Learn where you keep yours and watch out for it.)
  • Agitated thoughts
  • Repetitive thoughts 
  • Headaches
  • Increased eating and drinking
  • Tiredness that rest does not solve
  • Inability to just sit without thinking "I must be busy".
Above all else, calmness is the first step on a transformational journey
that will affect you on multiple levels.