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.

Dharma Bums kickstarter

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.

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.

 

Tai Chi Books

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.