What I Bring to the Table

I think most of my Facebook friends who teach and study Tai Chi and Qigong don’t know what to make of me, and my search for the New Dharma Bums. In truth, I haven’t been very clear, since the journey has not yet taken shape. But my ultimate goal is to promote the Taoist martial arts in America, focusing on the practices in communities today that are helping people cope, get healthier and find inner peace.

That’s the story that will help Tai Chi grow and prosper here, why an ancient Chinese martial art gets any play in the U.S. media today. The health and emotional benefits of Tai Chi and Qigong are being documented every day, and local reporters are taking notice. It’s not the competitions, or the refinement of fighting skills, that will make Tai Chi and Qigong a cultural and business success, even though that’s exciting enough for many practitioners.

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More seniors and community centers are looking for training in Tai Chi and Qigong to improve fitness and balance.

The martial aspects are essential to understanding and experiencing Tai Chi (and Hsing-I and Bagua), and we can’t ignore them. In my blogs, I explain the importance of martial training to structure, rooting and focus, and how Tai Chi masters astound with their martial abilities. But I also want to show Jane Doe and Joe SixPack that this is something for them, and maybe even for Aunt Mabel. You don’t have to be Chuck Norris to benefit from the practice.

Here’s what I know based on decades of work in public relations, surveying audiences and seeking to meet their needs: You want a message that connects to the general public. If you want to win friends and influence people, to grow your business, you first need to pique their interest, to show them what’s in it for them. Connect your work to their needs and interests.

With this project, I’m offering my services to promote the work of Tai Chi teachers in their communities, and even nationally. I can be a communications utility wherever I go; you can plug me in. So, while I am meeting new people and learning from them, I expect to apply my journalistic skills to promote their work, including:

  • Wherever I visit I will analyze the media market, review previous reports, and gather the contact information for the primary reporters/editors.
  • I will send a press release out ahead of each visit, and follow up with personal calls. I will tweet and send Instagrams.
  • I will help teachers create events to draw in allies in the community, to help them tell their story.

Regular push-hands exercises in the park, for example, can be opportunities to connect with the wider community, including health advocates and organizations. For local TV news, you’re offering interesting visuals and an educational message. Before long, you might be filling the park with new students and those who would recommend you.

My career in public relations has involved selling ideas rather than soap products. For nearly 30 years I worked with unions to promote worker rights and economic justice. It was a labor of love right up to the time I retired from the business this year to pursue another love, Taoist martial arts and philosophy. They both involve helping the little guy gain power and equilibrium.

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From my Kickstarter video, stepping into Single Whip.

I’ve focused on writing a blog and eventually writing a book about Tai Chi in America, and haven’t talked enough about the communications assets I bring to the table. As I near the end of the Kickstarter fundraising campaign, and nowhere near the starting blocks, I ask you to consider how I can help you. We should talk.

I recognize that very few people teaching Tai Chi and Qigong today are getting rich from the practice, and some tell me they have resorted to teaching for free, or for next to nothing. Many have regular jobs that pay the bills, and their martial arts practice is a sidelight – something they do for the pure enjoyment of it. That is part of the story, too.

The point is that too few Americans are aware of the power and scope of the Taoist martial arts, and I want to change that. I want to put Tai Chi and Qigong into the national discussion about health and vitality, particularly for older Americans looking for ways to stay active and fit. The New Dharma Bums, the blog and the tweets, could help in this regard – especially when combined with a local media strategy.

A New Dharma Bums national tour would be good for Tai Chi. It would expand public interest, and the market for teachers and practitioners. Make it happen by contributing here.

Applied Wisdom

Picking up our previous thread, we were at a crossroads  looking for the Way across America that tells the Tai Chi and Qigong story, at both the mastery and the mass levels. The road map is beginning to take shape, although we are still trying to summon the resources. We have a deadline.

Meanwhile, my preparation includes more literary adventures, reading and viewing the latest creations that promote the art of the Tao, both martial and meditative. Most recently, I’ve enjoyed reading Jennifer St. John’s Ten Zen: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times, and I offer a review here. But first, I have a clarification for a previous blog.

I am surprised and pleased to report that Gary Snyder, the poet who inspired the Japhy Ryder character in Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums, is not the last of the living Dharma Bums. In fact, an original, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the poet and Beat publisher at San Francisco’s City Lights, is alive and well, at 97, and writing his memoirs. Ah, the stories he might tell!

Ferlinghetti inspired many aspiring poets and philosophers, including Jennifer St. John, who is both a Tai Chi master and a corporate consultant, principal of House of Taiji and The Fusion Group, LTD, co-located in Weston, Florida. She was so impressed with Ferlinghetti’s unconventional poetry that she chose as her University of Washington senior project a performance arts piece based on his work.

I never met Ferlinghetti, although I wandered his City Lights bookstore looking for a Kerouac volume (Visions of Gerard, found it!). But you’ve got to love his irreligious take on American society, and life in general. Here he is with his “Loud Prayer” in Martin Scorsese’s 1976 film, “The Last Waltz.”

St. John’s martial arts journey began when she was 8 years old, bullied coming home from a birthday party. To defend herself, she turned to judo, karate and Kung-fu, and then Aikido before finally finding her home with Tai Chi (taiji). The change to internal martial arts came just after she moved her business to South Florida from New York City. She sought out Sifu Ron Hoffman, who influenced many martial artists in south Florida with his Temple-style Tai Chi, taught by Master Waysun Liao and with further training at a Taoist monastery in Taiwan.

“Ten Zen” is an eloquent synthesis of knowledge and insight that St. John has gathered over the years, as she has applied Taoist philosophy in advising corporations about leadership and management. Like other “Zen stories,” these each conveys a moral – deep truth about life. St. John extends each story with a discussion about the lessons, which you might apply individually, in your home, or at work.

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As St. John tells it, “Ten Zen” began as a single story, “Learning is Letting Go,” about a man who has gathered all the things he has learned, each another stick in the bundle he laboriously carried through the village. He would not relinquish any of the sticks “that represent a lesson I learned along my path since childhood.” However, through good fortune and design, the man loses his entire bundle of sticks and learns a valuable lesson about letting go of the past.

The 10 stories are easy to digest, helped by the editing and design touches by the “editorial team” at The Fusion Group. But they’re also fun to read, as St. John infuses each chapter with life and character. In “When the Master Calls, Go In,” she introduces her story by setting a colorful scene at the “Temple of the Perennial Wisdom”:

“Zen Temple. Massive Formal Gate. Much traffic, dusty itinerant priests arriving from far away. Muscular warrior monks practicing martial skills in the courtyard, and the “kat, kat, kot” sound of martial practice with wooden staves in furious contact. Nuns in gray shirts and tightly wrapped pant legs carry out the business of the temple, their shaven heads indistinguishable from their brothers, but for the softer, delicate, more fluid grace of their carriage.”

It is easy to be carried along by the fluid grace of the stories, but also a pleasure to return and reread, for the language and for the lessons. I am still trying to get in touch with my “Kitchen Tai Chi,” after reading “In the Great Hall,” the final story. Apparently my Tai Chi should enable me to move “smoothly, silently, gracefully at work – moving from wok to kettle to cauldron in a beautiful demonstration of ‘Moving Meditation and Kitchen Tai Chi.” This may take more meditation and much practice on my part..

This slim volume would be a valuable addition to your Zen/Tao collection. You can order it here. You can also get a sense of how St. John applies Taoist principles to workaday complications of corporate life by checking out her blog, “Cornerstones.”

 

Finding Your Path

“The Dharma can’t be lost, nothing is lost on a well-worn path.”

— Jack Kerouac, Dharma Bums

Dharma Bums is a relentlessly optimistic book, where enlightenment is there at the top of the mountain, just over the bend. The hard work it would take to get there was an unplanned byproduct of the journey, and Kerouac didn’t linger long over these challenges. Sit and meditate, maybe pass around a cheap bottle of wine, or a joint. It was all good. They were on a mission from god, after all.

Jack Kerouac and his Zen adventurers were looking beyond the dreary world of work, reflecting the disaffection the Beat Generation felt toward the consumer society they were inheriting. Kerouac wrote dismissively of creeping commercialism, and the worship of shiny new things:

“Dharma Bums refusing to subscribe to the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming, all that crap they didn’t really want anyway such as refrigerators, TV sets, cars, at least new fancy cars, certain hair oils and deodorants and general junk you finally always see a week later in the garbage anyway, all of them imprisoned in a system of work, produce, consume, work, produce, consume…”

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Dharma Bum poets Gary Snyder, Peter Orlovsky and Allen Ginsberg in India in 1962.

Obviously the Beats’ protest didn’t rally a nation, since the consumer society is alive and well. We’ve produced and consumed all those products and more. The same market that underpins this consumer society also is at work in the Tai Chi and Qigong fields, which is why more practices are springing up in communities around the country. Approximately 3 million Americans now practice Tai Chi, according to government surveys.

Still, it’s a lot more difficult to find studios for Tai Chi than for yoga, its energy exercise cousin, which caters to some 10 percent of the U.S. population and has created a $27 billion industry. The search for training has created a new kind of Dharma Bum, Tai Chi enthusiasts who, plugged into social media, are looking for the nearest training program. A recent fellow student in a Qigong workshop in suburban Washington, D.C., had traveled from North Dakota, and previously had moved to Oregon to find a teacher.

Thus, there is a spiritual quest among the New Dharma Bums similar to that experienced by Kerouac and his friends as they rushed up the mountain for certain enlightenment. Where will I find a teacher to guide me to the top of the mountain, to find the inner strength, balance and peace promised in the literature of this Taoist martial art, this moving meditation?

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Tai Chi may have originated on WuDang mountain in the 12th century when, according to legend, Taoist sage Chang San Feng witnessed a deadly fight between a crane and a snake.

In communities across America, Tai Chi teachers are seeking to meet this demand by building practices that straddle the rec centers and the senior centers, balancing the martial art with the exercise and breathing therapy. Some even couple their training with yoga and pilates, or acupuncture and herbal treatments. Tai Chi and Qigong are different things to different people, depending on their goals.

My training was focused on Tai Chi and Qigong for health, and not on the martial qualities of the art. But as my Internet friends remind me repeatedly, the internal strength and vitality that comes from Tai Chi were developed in the context of the martial art. To get the most benefit, you must transform your body through regular and rigorous exercise drawn from centuries of martial arts training.

For those interested in using Tai Chi for self-defense, the simple application from a Tai Chi posture (shown in the video below) gives you an idea of the potential of the “soft” martial art.

My journey in search of the New Dharma Bums will focus on many directions, even as we settle on a path across the country. I hope this blog will serve as a resource and gateway to training no matter what your specific interest. You will learn it all on this trip — Tai Chi and Qigong for health, self-defense or consciousness-raising. Like the original Dharma Bums, we will leave no stone unturned.

Find out how you can get involved here.

 

 

 

Call of the Wild

Ah to be alive
on a mid-September morn
fording a stream
barefoot, pants rolled up,
holding boots, pack on,
sunshine, ice in the shallows,
northern rockies.

Rustle and shimmer of icy creek waters
stones turn underfoot, small and hard as toes
cold nose dripping
singing inside
creek music, heart music,
smell of sun on gravel.

I pledge allegiance

I pledge allegiance to the soil
of Turtle Island,
and to the beings who thereon dwell
one ecosystem
in diversity
under the sun
With joyful interpenetration for all.

– “For All,” Gary Snyder, Turtle Island

From the literary tradition of Tai Chi, which goes back many centuries, we take a step forward to the literary tradition of the 1950s Beat Generation, which was celebrated in Jack Kerouac’s novels – and in the books and poetry of his fellow road wayfarers, including Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso and Gary Snyder.

Snyder, the inspiration for the lead character in Kerouac’s Dharma Bums, Japhy Ryder, was a charismatic poet and outdoor adventurer equally drawn to Native American and Zen Buddhist cultures. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1975 for his collection, Turtle Island, which celebrated his beloved Mother Nature and the ecosystem we inhabit.

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Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder is alive and well as a teacher and environmental activist.

As Kerouac’s Dharma Bums ends, Snyder has set sail for Japan and a decade-long odyssey in the Far East, where among other works he translated the Cold Mountain Chen (Zen) poems of Han Shan, a Chinese monk from the Tang Dynasty. At 86, he’s the only one of the “Bums” still alive, a professor emeritus of English at the University of California, Davis, and an occasional lecturer.

Years after the Dharma Bums split in California, and after Kerouac’s sad self-destruction, the literary lights of the Beats got together at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Ginsberg and Snyder were on the faculty for a while, and Ginsberg was instrumental in founding the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, naturally.

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Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac in 1955.

In 1975, William Burroughs brought his trippy take on literature and poetry to Naropa in a lecture that has been transcribed and posted in The Ginsberg Project, a fun blog I recommend. In the first installation, Burroughs encourages the students to experiment with language, to conduct exercises that stretch the boundaries of words and images. He invokes a “cut-up” style that might skew Rimbaud’s poetry at random, creating images of a different order.

Being a seminal literary light on the Beats, Naropa Institute is a natural destination on my national search for the New Dharma Bums. My friend Lee Fife is teaching Tai Chi there, and I have a good friend whose son, a student at Naropa, has promised a VIP tour. I’ve talked with other teachers from across the country who are doing innovative work, and I hope to visit many of them.

Much depends on the success of my Kickstarter project. The contributions are trickling in, and I hope to make the trip by the fall, maybe sooner. With $1,430 pledged, the project is now 29 percent funded. Under Kickstarter rules, the project does not receive any funds unless the full $5,000 goal is fulfilled by the deadline – Sunday, July 10. I hope others will want to join me as I answer this call of the wild, and contribute to the project.

Inevitably, my final destination in this saga is California, scene of so much past dharma bumming. Ideally, I will be able to track down Professor Snyder for an interview, to find out more about his lifelong search for dharma. Still reading and writing poetry, Snyder speaks out today as an environmental activist.

With a degree in anthropology, Snyder concedes that, “as a poet, I hold the most archaic values on earth. They go back to the late Paleolithic: the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth; the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe. I try to hold both history and wilderness in mind, that my poems may approach the true measure of things and stand against the unbalance and ignorance of our times.”

Here’s Snyder reading his poem, “Riprap,” now 54 years old.

 

The Backgrounders

Before setting out to cover the story of America’s evolving Tai Chi adventure, I am filling in information gaps in the history and philosophy of the Taoist martial arts, of which Tai Chi is one. I welcome any suggestions from fellow travelers, and those busy reading on the sidelines.

I recommend building on a literary tradition that includes good translations of Tao Te Ch’ing, I Ch’ing and The Art of War, as well as the Tai Chi Classics that lay out the principles of the practice. Other important works are available in English, reflecting the American experience.

 

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Some of the essential Tai Chi books in my library.

My old school in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, The Tai Chi Center, used a text written by its founder, Robert W. Smith, a student of the legendary Cheng Man-Ch’ing, who brought his simplified Yang form from Taiwan to New York in 1964.

Cheng is featured in a new film documentary, “The Professor: Tai Chi’s Journey West,” originally a Kickstarter project like this one. The film is in New York this week for a one-night showing, and premiered in Los Angeles last month. The Professor was a poet, calligrapher and a healer practicing Chinese medicine. He considered Tai Chi, the martial art, his greatest accomplishment.

 

Robert Smith worked with the Professor in co-authoring “T’ai-Chi: The ‘Supreme Ultimate’ Exercise for Health, Sport and Self-defense,” which takes you through the Cheng Man-Ch’ing form, step by step. While there is no substitute for a hands-on teacher, “T’ai-Chi” lays out the principles and practice of Tai Chi as well as any text I’ve seen.

I was assigned other books written by the Professor’s students, including Ben Lo’s translation of “Cheng Tzu’s Thirteen Treatises.…,” Cheng’s principles for marshaling energy (qi) for martial arts applications, and Wolfe Lowenthal’s “There Are No Secrets,” showing how Cheng had broken down the “closed door” teaching that cloaked Tai Chi with mystery in China. Ben Lo was a key editor in an excellent translation of the Tai Chi classics, “The Essence of T’ai Chi Ch’uan.”

This is my Tai Chi literary base, which I’m always trying to expand. I am thankful for my friends in Facebook forums, and supporters of my journey in search of the New Dharma Bums, who have suggested different books that would serve as good background, or inspiration, for my trip. Some are translating obscure works, while others have written books, which they naturally recommend.

I recently finished Bruce Frantzis’s Taoist meditation classic, “Relaxing into Your Being,” and am ready for Volume 2, “The Great Stillness.” I’m just starting Jennifer St. John’s “Ten Zen: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times,” while also reading Rick Barrett’s “Taijiquan: Through the Western Gate,” both of which promise to help bridge the gap between the Eastern and Western philosophies.

Barrett’s work is particularly intriguing in how it parses the Western cultural barrier to communicate the philosophies and practices of Eastern people. We each have our own “Gate” of perception, and it’s not easy to penetrate those traditions with genuine innovations. Fittingly, Barrett begins his book with a quote from Marcel Proust: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

Indeed. Discovery requires seeing things differently, and I will be challenged to communicate the differences. Unlike Barrett, I have the advantage of studying the Chinese language and living for a period in Taiwan, but I do not have his expertise and training in Tai Chi. I am learning much from his approach in “Through the Western Gate.”

A book can take you only so far on a voyage of discovery, and I realize I will be challenged to feel things differently, not just see them, and communicate those feelings in language that can be understood. But the literary tradition is very much a part of Tai Chi, as well as the odyssey of discovery, as in Kerouac’s Dharma Bums. There is always the mystery of what will happen next:

Any journey begins with a single step, but eventually I expect to be bounding down the mountain like Japhy Ryder.  With the support of readers like you, there will be many more stories to tell, more mountains to climb. I deeply appreciate any and all contributions, suggestions and advice, and I hope to meet many of you along the way.

 

 

 

The Mind Is the Controller

“Good Tai Chi is rooted in the feet, develops in the legs, is directed by the waist, and is expressed through the fingers. … Tai Chi hinges entirely upon the player’s consciousness (yi) rather than upon his external muscular force (li). … all parts of the body must be threaded together, not allow the slightest severance.”

— Tai Chi Ch’uan Classics, “The Body as One Unit”

The principles of Tai Chi, handed down through the Classics, are the ABCs for visitors of the Kwoon, a fine Facebook forum that communes in real life – like its recent 5th anniversary party and Push Hands demonstration at Hontoon Island State Park near DeLand, Fla.. David Carr, the proprietor at the Kwoon, is a stickler for the Classics, and is apt to start the chats each day with some quote he’s pulled from a classic publication.

Thus, as I prepare a journey across the country to seek the New Dharma Bums, I figured a good place to start would be Hontoon Island, where the free spirits of Florida’s Tai Chi teaching combine threw a birthday bash. Carr works hard as an ambassador for the Tai Chi practice, connecting players all over the world, but especially in Florida.

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Details, details: Reggie Kincer, right, discusses the form for “pulling silk” (not “reeling silk”) with Bob Messinger at the Kwoon birthday party in Florida. (Photo by Michael Byrne)

Bob Messinger brought his contingent from the Tampa area, and other teachers and students came from Orlando and Daytona Beach. I traveled from the Washington, D.C., area, and Bruno Repetto came all the way from Nebraska. The always-ebullient Karen Font-Garcia, brought her Reiki vision from Great Britain, where she is Royal Navy through and through. These days she is splitting her time between England and Florida, where her lectures are in demand.

The Push Hands play in both David’s and Bob’s camps focused on letting go of the muscular power and letting the mind move the mass. Again and again I was schooled in how internal strength is a different animal from the traditional muscular model. Stop flexing and let the mind command the strength you need to move the opponent.

In Tai Chi exercises, the waist is considered the director, since it sets the direction of the action of the legs and arms and fingers. But it is the mind, the yi, that controls it all. It is not the muscles that flex this power; it is the mind.

I will invoke the wry lesson of an old Dharma Bum, the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, in emphasizing the importance of the mind, the yi, in commanding the Tai Chi exercise. His reading of his poem, “My Kitchen in New York …,” is accompanied by a video of him performing the first section of the Yang-style Tai Chi form. “The kitchen is the only space in my apartment big enough to do Tai Chi,” he says as he ponders the millions of little distractions that surround him:

Clearly, the author’s mind is not on the moving meditation he has undertaken – it is on the poem and the distractions of his daily life, even the big questions of the day. “I wonder if they’ll blow up an H-bomb?” he asks in summation. “Probably not.” This is a classic example of how NOT to do Tai Chi, a prescription for an “empty form.” This fact did not sway Ginsberg and his inner search for the poetic form, but if you want to harness the internal power of Tai Chi, let your mind be the guide.

To gather the mindfulness necessary to “sink the qi” and animate the internal power, most practitioners begin with a set of Qigong exercises. At my school, the Tai Chi Ch’uan Study Center, we would start with standing Qigong, gentle breathing that might follow the “microcosmic orbit,” an energy flow that approximates a womb-like serenity and bathes the internal organs with healing breath.

On Hontoon Island, Bob Messinger showed me another Qigong exercise that combines the breathing with movements around the energy ball (“Am I holding the world right?” Ginsberg asks as he moves the energy ball to the front of him). Regardless of the movements, the most important part of Qigong is the breathing, the calming of the body and the focusing of the mind.

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The ‘ting jing’ dance begins: David Carr and Bob Messinger, still listening after all these years. (Photo by Bruno Repetto)

Messinger and Carr also gave me quick lessons in “ting jing” the ability to “listen” or sense the root of your opponent in Push Hands. Once again, this is done with the mind, even if it is your arm that is the instrument you use to “listen.”

“Do you feel my feet?” Carr asked and, indeed, the mental push into his arm gave me the sensation of his root. At that moment, I could move him from his spot. It takes the slightest bit of force – “use four ounces to deflect a thousand pounds,” the Classics say. Neutralize, stick, attach. Follow so that you cannot be attacked. Here is the “Song of the Pushing-Hands Practice,” from the Tai Chi Classics:

 

 

In Ward-off, Rollback, Press and Push,

You must find the real technique –

If he goes up, you follow;

If he goes down, you follow –

Then he cannot attack.

Let him attack you with great force,

And use four ounces to deflect a thousand pounds,

Neutralizing him until he becomes powerless,

And then use withdraw-attack.

Also adhere and lift, support from below,

Stick horizontally, and attach from the rear –

Without letting go and with no resistance.

I have much to learn, and I invite you to come along on this journey, as we seek the wisdom of the New Dharma Bums. You can help me get on the road here.

The Journey Begins

It was the mid-1950s when Jack Kerouac hit the road and produced some early new journalism – reflections on a movement of Beats, Poets and Prophets who followed a trail to the West Coast, sometimes through Mexico, in search of higher knowledge, higher purpose, or just higher. He was in the middle of the action, of course.

My favorite tale from the Kerouac library is The Dharma Bums, in which Kerouac rides the freights up from Mexico to San Francisco, carrying a torch for Buddhism and Zen artists, especially poets Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg. Eventually, he takes his meditation north to Desolation Peak in Washington, a fire lookout post near the Canadian border.

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Literary lions of the Beat Generation in infancy, at Columbia University in 1944, from left: Lucien Carr, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs.

Sixty years later, I have in mind a New Dharma Bums that borrows from Kerouac’s story and style but updates the characters and expands the search for “dharma,” an expression used in many Asian religions and philosophies that relates to the universal search for the “cosmic order.” I know many who are on this path, teachers and “grasshoppers” alike, trying to sync their inner being with the cosmic order. “Dharma” is something we all have in common.

The new dharma is tied to good health, vitality and inner strength, relaxation and central equilibrium — all key to the practice of Tai Chi. While Tai Chi is rooted in the martial arts of the Taoist tradition, it is also an application for healing, and part of the search for cosmic truth. I have identified a new breed of Tai Chi practitioners as the new Dharma Bums, hardly the hobo class but many dreamers and doers. They are teachers, at their best.

My teachers taught me to build internal energy and find balance through the Tai Chi form, and to strengthen my inner core through Qigong, or Chi Kung, energy work. For the past 28 years, I’ve practiced daily Tai Chi exercises, seeking to build internal power and improve balance, both physically and mentally, based on the Yang style introduced to the United States by Master Cheng Man-Ch’ing.

The Journey

Kerouac made his way hopping freight trains and hitchhiking, but that’s a bum’s life hard to square today with modern transportation – and communications. Social media allows you to share video and literary traditions in Tai Chi, as well as to make friends among the community of practitioners across our nation and the world.

I’ve met many new Dharma Dudes on the Internet – I wouldn’t consider them Bums, just dedicated people very passionate about their art, but I think the shoe still fits. I’ve joined group chats across six or seven social network groups, all resembling each other. There is sharing and some disputes among friends and compatriots, with avenues open for further exploration.

But you can learn only so much in a virtual community – especially with Tai Chi, and the secondary stage, T’ui Shu, or “push hands.” To understand and feel the internal power of Tai Chi, you must work with a partner, which I’ve learned in theory but haven’t had much opportunity to practice. Sifu Mark Rasmus provided me with some practical applications a few years back.

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The New Dharma Bums: On the Road with Michael Byrne

I am preparing to set off on a journey to touch hands with friends and teachers, and to explore the metaphysical as well as the physical dimensions of this ancient Chinese art that has drawn many Western practitioners. I am pointing toward certain destinations on the West Coast, but I haven’t set a firm itinerary. In this case, I am the “bum,” with a hand out looking to hitch a ride.

I expect a Kickstarter campaign to provide direction for me, and funds that will allow me to raise awareness of Taoist and Tai Chi resources and experiences. This will be a New Journalism project for me, and I envision a gonzo-style book at the end that closes the circle on the Dharma Dudes. Publishers are welcome to contribute on spec, or contract. I have details.

The Journal

Kerouac kept a stream-of-consciousness journal on his Crown typewriter, feeding it rolls of paper, which he periodically ended and sent off to agents and publishers as his latest novel. Most did not sell until years later, when he had established himself with On The Road.

Today we can all self-publish, and I have been doing that for years with my own personal blog, when not working for paying clients. I’ve covered many topics, and the Tai Chi blogs have had the widest distribution. Every day I get “hits” on these blogs from seekers all across the globe, from China and South Asia to the United States and both Eastern and Western Europe.

Since my 2013 lessons with Mark Rasmus, I’ve expanded my experience with Chi Kung, learning to get in touch with my organs through Dragon and Tiger exercises, and Taoist breathing, from Master Bruce Frantzis and his Energy Arts associates Aaron Green and Paul Pallante. Richard Clear came in from Tennessee to conduct a workshop on chi healing. I’ve driven to Asheville, North Carolina, to touch hands and spirits with Lester Holmes and Bob Messinger, two Facebook friends.

This is a journey that is just beginning, with uncertain destinations. First up was a trip to Florida for a birthday bash for The Kwoon, Sifu David Carr’s fine Facebook forum for Tai Chi and other martial arts. We had two camps at Hontoon Island State Park in the St. Johns River near Deland, Fla., May 14-15, and enjoyed a virtual orgy of T’ui Shou and Taoist camaraderie.

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Sifu David Carr, left, observing the Push Hands fun and games at an anniversary gathering celebrating the Kwoon forum on Facebook.

The Score

I’ll be reporting on the Florida lessons soon. I’m going to stay on this story until I’ve got a good bead on it, so that you, the reader and participant, can digest it. Readers have too little opportunity to participate in stories in today’s media, dominated by talking heads talking down on the masses. This report, the New Dharma Bums, on the road with America’s Tai Chi masters and students, is asking for help to find the Way.

We will make space for ads on the blog, and distribute pieces to local media outlets. I expect to breed other reports with the blogs, including in local markets, promoting Tai Chi and other Taoist Chi Kung exercises. In the end, I want to portray a vibrant movement that is international in scope but alive in communities across the United States.

I am setting a modest goal of $5,000 to finance a trip that will yield regular blogs and other communications. Ad space will be available to larger contributors. In-kind contributions also will be welcomed, through other channels.

And so the Journey begins.