The Future of Tai Chi

After reading Matthew Honan’s article, Meet Online Friends in the Real World (Beware: It Will Be Weird), in the August ’09 issue of Wired Magazine, I was super reluctant to meet people in the Meatspace (I believe David Maguire coined the term) that I have met in Cyberspace.

“Often, the trouble isn’t what you’re saying but how you’re saying it. Language is more than words. It also includes kinesics (body language) and paralanguage (pitch, tone, and wordless noises)”

Having had one positive experience meeting with a local maven I met on Twitter, thanks again @Lacouvee, my reservations for future meatspace meetings was, and remains, low; however, that meeting was about business, and networking. Also, having not read Honan’s article, I was unaware of the awkwardness that can occur. In the article Professor Nancy Baym said, “Often, the trouble isn’t what you’re saying but how you’re saying it. Language is more than words. It also includes kinesics (body language) and paralanguage (pitch, tone, and wordless noises)”.

When I found myself in the exact same situation Honan presents, traveling to a city where a longtime (in Internet time) Tweep (person who tweets) lives, my confidence in tweetups was ruffled. To be safe, or possibly not, neither of us talked publicly about the possibility of meeting up, but talked behind the scenes about meeting up for a Tai Chi workout.

“The purpose of our meeting was to discuss and practice kinesics and body language: only we call it Tai Chi”

We both practice different styles of Tai Chi, him: Yang and Cheng Man Ching styles, me: Chen Style Practical Method, but we both have had limited experience in the other’s style. Politics and titles aside it is all the same Tai Chi, but with nuances and distinctions noticeable to the trained eye. Referring back to what Professor Baym said, the main purpose of our meeting was to discuss and practice kinesics and body language, only we call it Tai Chi.

“the man with the magic hand”

One of many stories about Grandmaster Hong Junsheng’s life that resonates with me is about the Japanese students who called him “the man with the magic hand”, because of his ability to bounce opponents away without using what we normally consider to be strength. Grandmaster Hong was among the first Chinese Tai Chi Masters to indiscriminately teach the art to those from outside of China. From 1956 to 1988 master Hong developed a reputation in Japan, and elsewhere, of being of incredible skill. These years, however, were a dark time in Chinese history. Hong, and many others, suffered at the hands of political oppression, war, disease, and famine. Two of his best students, twin Japanese women, died of Scarlet Fever, and Grandmaster Hong was isolated due to poverty. The art that he saved, and shared with the world, almost died with him.

There will be no lines of Tai Chi bras or stretch pants”

Today, Tai Chi’s future is threatened again. This time by the isolation caused by an increase of media consumption. Tai Chi has to compete with Video games, Television, the Internet (sorry Radio you do not make the list), and a overworking generation of people. Tai Chi is hard, believe me, and not sexy, there will be no lines of Tai Chi bras or stretch pants. This is why the art is threatened.

“Sorry Myspace: not on the list”

On a positive note, Social Networking sites like Twitter, and Facebook (sorry Myspace: not on the list), are bringing the community together in ways that are astounding. On Youtube, every style of Tai Chi are represented, and tutorials are available at your convenience. On, a group of local Tai Chi people are inviting those who live in the West Shore/Landford, BC, with any experience level to come practice with them. On Twitter, there are people meeting fellow practitioners everyday, and some, like @Vanadia, and @Jordan_Keats, who are taking online discussions into the meatspace, traveling from Victoria, BC, to Portland, Oregon, and doing our best to ensure Tai Chi has a future.

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  • John Crewdson

    Great post Jordan. It's not easy to practice with someone who plays a different style of taiji. Although Yang Style was born from Chen, Yang Luchan hid the energy releases to honor his word to the Chen Family.

    I admire that you're reaching out to other styles too. My Master grew up with Masters of other styles around him all the time, and now his is good friend with the Masters who have come of age with him.

    I like your perspective and enjoy reading your blog.

  • Shang Lee

    I haven't tried meeting with people to deal with the different styles, but push hands seem to be a "more" common denominator.

    I too am a bit wary when meeting people I've never met physically. As people may have different philosophy with push hands, it's difficult to push "out there". You have to really take care of yourself and prepare for the worst. It sounds a bit scary yes, because bones may break, and with that, so will the virtual friendship. However, sometimes, it may be a necessary experience to test yourself. Always remember to take care of yourself. Need to live to fight another day.

    Meeting to practise together is a great motivational activity. There's always someone to keep you in check. Like your perspective Jordan. Added u to my reading list. 🙂

  • chris bennett

    I think the future of Tai Chi is in safe hands. There are enough people out there. like yourself, spreading the word on the benefits of Tai Chi.

    The focus on what is good about Tai Chi will overide some of the problems Tai Chi encounters.

    Every Tai Chi player can help by introducing Tai Chi to newcomers and sharing their enthusiasm and knowledge.

    So, Tai Chi is here for the long term, just as it has lasted for centuries.

    Jordan, keep up the good work in spreading the positive chi!