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Thursday, July 30, 2009

"How to frustrate your Martial Arts students"

In a previous blog post, I took a tongue-in-cheek look at how martial arts students can frustrate their to frustrate your martial arts coach
Let's turn the tables and look at it the other way around....

Now granted, most Martial Arts teachers will indeed put their student's goals and progress on their priority lists...but unfortunately there are those few that make martial Arts training very unsavory, leaving a bad taste in student's mouths, and maybe affecting a person's outlook on martial arts training as a whole. If you're a martial arts coach or teacher and you're looking to rile your students, this guide is for you.

1) Charge exorbitant fees, make contracts impossible to get out of, or drop a 'bait and switch':
--- As professional teachers, we know we should charge what we are worth....after all, we are sharing our life's study with people that (most times) join our classes without any martial arts experience whatsoever, right? While I believe its fair to charge class fee based on the quality of our classes, let's not get unrealistic. I mean, unless you are a well known Master, $200 per month for 1 class a week, sounds a little steep to first timers. Why, that's $50 per class!...I charge that for *private* lessons! Anywhere from $65 to $95 per month for once a week attendance sounds fair (depending on subject matter and class length), as does $85 to $140 for twice a week(again, depending of subject and class length). Family discounts, cross training discounts, and referral discounts are good ways to make it affordable for students, families and friends to gain the benefits of martial arts training.

Contracts are great tools, but to make it fair, do include a way to break the contract, and if you do include clauses for students to cancel the contract, honor it and note it in writing, for gosh sakes. Some contracts will require and early termination fee, and that's fine so long as you honor the termination of contract. It doesn't look good when your automatic draft service keeps charging a student who quit 2 months ago, and it also doesn't look good if you use the non-modified contract as an excuse to keep withdrawing fees from a former student.

Students, stay away from "bait and switch" tactics. I've heard horror stories of people that join clubs, then 1 week later, being told that the school's Headmaster thinks you have great potential (although you've never seen the Headmaster yet), and that you've received special invitation to the "black belt intern's club", whatever else its called. Nevermind that the club is a separate fee from your regular class, and that you will be required to attend monthly mandatory workshops at high prices...don't attend the workshops, and you're disrespecting the school and headmaster. Next thing you know, your automatic bank payment for classes is hovering over $300 per month, not including workshops.

There's nothing wrong with teacher's seeing potential in you and offering the suggestion that you join a special class, but in the end, its your decision...don't let the claim "we need your answer in 2 days, or headmaster will revoke the invitation because you'll appear indecisive...and our black belts are better than that, we need an answer now", be the determining factor.

2) Keep classes the same, day after day...students won't understand anything about your art if you do fun, interesting and novel activities. Stick to predictable rote exercises.

---While I think its important that students observe the traditional aspects, drills, and ceremony (for traditional arts), I believe its important to keep classes unpredictable, interesting, and to include activities that are fun. Bring in a guest teacher from another art to teach something interesting or different. Invent fun ways to use your equipment. Invent games that allow the practice of your required techniques but are fun and promotes classmate comraderie. Keep things fresh, Keep it interesting!

3)Dole out punishments to new students for minor infractions
-- I'm a supporter of discipline in my classes, however I will not give a 1st day student 50 pushups for not saluting at the door properly. Nor would I have a senior student show a new student just how tough we are by having the senior smack the student really hard at self defense drills. Yelling at new students to move faster at a technique they learned 5 minutes ago probably isn't going to endear me to them. Show patience in teaching the rules and regulations of your school, and have your senior students show the same patience while showing newbies the ropes.

4) Refuse to answer questions, or not help students if they ask for assistance.... because they should be practicing not asking questions! Weren't they paying attention while I was teaching??
-- "Sifu, can you help me with this technique? I feel like its not working right, can you help me?"

"What? You don't get it? Keep practicing, you'll figure it out"

-- The quickest way to get students to quit, is to not help them. Most people don't come into class already knowing martial arts. Even if they have previous experience in another art, chances are their techniques might be a little different than yours. Explain the differences, point out the similarities....let the student of prior experience know that their experience is helpful in their learning. Let new students ask questions. Of course, if you're a teacher, keep a handle on the atmosphere....if students think they can talk and discuss and ask questions all day, they won't practice anything. Part of discipline is to have students practice to see if they answer their own questions....if still confused, then they should not be afraid to ask you for help.

Many people in the USA, are used to question/answer, and academic information....some people want the "who-what-when-where-how" right NOW....a difference from many Asian arts, where you practice and practice until you feel the technique mature and start to work for you. The teacher will help you, but not hold your hand and coddle you.

The key to mastery, I believe, is in self discovery, self research, and most importantly, self practice. However, it IS indeed helpful to have your teacher answer a few of the obvious questions. The other fine points, you'll discover if you trust your training and teacher. Don't disrespect them by asking "too" many'll miss out on the self discovery if the teacher hands you everything on a silver platter. Besides, even if they answered every question for you, you'd never understand the answers until your put in the practice!

5) Make classes too long.
-- Not everyone can attend a 3 hour class. Its one thing if a student stays for one 90 minute class, then decides he/she has the time and energy to attend the next 90 minute class, but regular classes being 3 hours? Come on....leave those kind of classes to high intermediate and advanced students. Keep class times age appropriate.......a 90 minute class for 7 year olds just won't cut it. An adult's attention span does fine in 60 minute or 90 minute classes, and 2 hours is almost pushing it....anything more than 2 1/2 or 3 hours on a regular basis results in mere imitation of techniqe or brain drain. Have you ever attended an all day seminar? After lunch, what happens? You're still excited about the seminar but your mind is getting tired, you're not retaining information, and you're hoping to remember just enough to write in your notebook when you get home.

6) Don't teach according to rank levels.
-- If your intermediate or advanced students are doing lower level routines or techniques all the time with the beginners, their interest will wane. In mixed classes, it can be sort of difficult to get all ranks their appropriate routines and rank requirements, but it can be done with proper planning and with senior student assistants or black belt assistants. Periodic "intermediate only" or "advance only" sessions are helpful, if you don't already have those as regular classes.

7) Treat students as income, not as people.
-- You've worked hard to do your hobby and passion as a income generating job, but don't sacrifice customer service and human interaction for the dollar signs. Marketing your business is good, but don't make it so much of a priority that you forget about your students.

Many schools use martial arts billing companies for this reason....the billing companies take care of collecting monthly tuition, and the teachers can concentrate on what matters most...teaching good classes and focusing on the student's progress. Remember birthdays, kid's parent's names, even pet's names and what foods or things they're allergic too. I make it a point to remember people's food allergies, so that if I hold a special event for kids or adults, there's always something available safe to eat or drink, and labeled clearly if it has allergens.

Give students a pat on the back if you notice them trying hard in class. Congratulate them on getting that elusive self defense technique down pat. Genuine concern for your students progress, and speaking to them as people, as well as students, will result in long standing students. This, in turn, will help grow your business.

8)Be serious all the time. Smiling is an infraction worthy of the bamboo spikes torture.

-- Each martial arts instructor has their own ways of balancing discipline, hard work, and fun into their classes. Many colleagues of mine, say that if the class doesn't smile at least once during class, they wonder what they've done wrong in teaching that class. Personally, I love hard grueling workouts, but I also enjoyed it when my teachers and classmates would be able to put in a lighthearted fun comment or two. Laughter or a smile breaks tension, it frees the mind from "I gotta do this right or Sensei will give me pushups", and it allows corrections to be taken and retained more readily.

So....if you really want to frustrate your students, or if you want students to quit, charge outrageous fees, don't have fun, and force them to attend 5 hour classes. Its the "tough love", right? Or, if you want to be a "wimp", grow your business, have loyal longstanding students and strong black belts, just wimp out and have fun, teach them accordingly, be patient but with a firm hand, and be fair in your monetary practices.

I was a toughie at one time early in my career....but I "got soft", and now I have strong, loyal students that have been around for years, if not decades. I'm not saying that we should dumb down our art or be too lenient just so students don't quit...what I'm saying is that too much punishment, too much hard discipline, and too little carring, will result in the student not learning the art you so love and value. If you value your art, value your students.

Monday, July 27, 2009

"That was easy".....

At my martial arts studio, I have an "Easy Button". Its a red button that came from the office supply store "Staples" press it, and a voice says "That was easy". Strangely, the Tiny Tigers (3 to 4 years old), Mighty Mites(5 to 7), and juniors (8 an older)classes are the only ones that press the button during breaktime or at the end of class!

When I first got the button, I didn't tell anyone about it. I just put it on the window ledge that looks into the training floor from my office. Normally, hand sanitizer and hackey sacks are the only things that sit on that window ledge. After class, one of my Mighty Mites asked "Sifu, what's that?"

"Its an Easy Button!" I said with a chuckle.

"What's it do? What's an Easy button?"

"Push it and see!"

The little girl pushed the button...she squealed in delight as the button speaker belted out "That was easy". Soon, all the kids were pushing the button and laughing.

"Now now....we can only push the button when we feel we've done our very best in class, even when something seems hard to do. If you think "I can't do that" or if you whine about something being to hard, you won't get to push the "Easy" button at the end of class! What d'ya think?"

"Yeah! Yeah! Only if we try our best in class, right Sifu?"

"That's right!"

A little boy piped up: "But Sifu, do we hafta do perfect in class to be able to push the easy button?"

I thought for a second. Wow. Apparently he thinks the phrase "try your best" means "be perfect"....

I knelt down in front of him, smiled, and snipped his nose with my fingers playfully. " don't hafta be perfect. Ya just hafta try your best. Remember the roundhouse kick?"

"Yah! My favoritist kick!"

"Well, Remember that you once thought it was too hard, and you thought you'd never get it? Remember how frustrated you were that Johnny got it down before you did, even though he was a white belt and you're a higher yellow belt?"

"Yeaaah...." he said as his voice trailed off.

"Well, do you remember what I said to you?"

"Yah, kinda. You said that giving up won't make learn the kick....And ya said that practice makes positive...."

"Positive WHAT?" I asked.

"Positive results!" he laughed. "Positive means good, and results is something that happens after ya do or say something, right?"

"That's right. you feel you tried your best to get some positive results today?"

"Yeah Sifu!"

"Well that button!"


So I'm wondering....why is it that the "Easy button" isn't pushed by adult students? I've pressed it a few times just to let them know it was there. "Wow cool, where did you get that?" is what I was asked. I told them that I got it to see who would push it, and the kids push it if they feel they've tried their best in class. The majority of the Kung Fu and Wushu adults thought it was a great idea for the kids, not one has pushed it yet. Its sitting right there by the hand sanitizer!

Is it because its childish to push the button? Is it because they would prefer to think that they would know if they tried their best or not? Would the other adults laugh at them for pushing a button on a kid's toy? Oh come on, its not a toy...the thing came from an office supply store, not a Toys R Us!!

Personally, I think its a great idea for the adults too. Many times, we tend to talk to ourselves with self depracating thoughts or worry about "looking our rank" and being frustrated when we don't live up to what we percieve are acceptable skill to rank ratios. We might wonder "I've been doing this self defense course for 3 months now, why can't I fight"? We might take it personally if a teacher or coach corrects our form. Some people are so busy talking to themselves in class, they can't hear me giving instructions...then they get frustrated when they don't know what's going on when its time to practice what was just taught and demostrated. Why,I've been to seminars where a participant or two would sigh or roll their eyes when the seminar instructor would correct them. Disrespectful behavior to the instructor?....yes, in a way it is, however such behavior many times hints at the disrespect they have for their own abilities.

All my teachers have always said "If martial arts were easy, everybody would be a black belt". Of course its hard....its a discipline! However, with time, effort, acceptance of one's own abilities, and realizing that their own teachers had to go through the same toil and frustrations....they'll eventually master what they once thought was impossible to achieve.

I think, that's why those kids are so eager to press the "Easy Button". nothing seems impossible to children. Given the motivation, they will try and try....even though we as martial arts instructors may chuckle when kids are punching with their wrist cocked the wrong way, or trying to use the top of their foot to do a side kick, they honestly believe they're doing their best and doing it right. Watch a young child at play, and you'll see the physical awareness and genuine interest in whatever they're playing with...even though they might quarrel with other kids for that special toy.

Okay, about start pushing your own Easy Buttons, instead of whining about how everyone else or work or school is pushing yours? You might find, that the very act of trying, even when it doesn't get you the desired result right away, is easier that trying to get it perfect the first time around.

That was easy.....

Wushu Museum in China....

Many thanks to Twitter friend @Love_KungFu for this article!! Click the link below for the full article....

Wushu museum packs a punch by -- WATCHING 3D virtual humans perform an ancient story around you is a lot of fun. And this wasn't in a cinema but at a museum - the only wushu (martial arts) museum in China.

Chinese Wushu Museum, which was founded...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Quotes of the week...

"You have a very powerful mind that can make anything happen as long as you keep yourself centered." -Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

"Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will." -Mahatma Gandhi


I teach my students that the mind is the greatest has the capacity to bring peace to conflict or create unrest in others. Just as we can train the body to be stronger and more coordinated, we can train our minds to do great things.....willpower and determination are the keys. However, it is how we use this willpower that determines the outcome. Our willpower is very strong, whether it is used for beneficial or harmful effects....the way our willpower and determination are trained allows us to either be strong in the ways of good, or strong in the ways of destruction. Believe it or not, while there are those that set themselves up for success, there are also those that are so determined to set themselves to fail.

With that in mind...which would you rather be strong in: Strong in creating and maintaining positive space, or strong in maintaining negativity?

(Like quotes like these? Follow me on see more great quotes every day!)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Short series Tai Chi workshops: Can you really benefit from them?

It is common for some Martial Artists to attend periodic seminars or workshop series to enhance their skills or to learn from well known Masters. Usually, these workshops will most likely have a relationship to the art they're already studying, or have a subject that the student has been interested in.

Seminars are meant to present a bulk of information over a specific period, be it hours or days. Most times (but not all times), seminars are meant to enhance skills in a field you're already familiar with.

But what about workshops that your teacher recommends, on a subject you've never done before? Namely, if you're used to the world of "ground n' pound" of MMA, or if you're a staunch believer in heavy workouts every day (running, weights, etc.), will these workshops on subjects you have no familiarity with, actually do you any good?

Let's take....TAI CHI, for example....

I teach a program called "BreatheTao-Taiji on the go", a 6 session series made specifically for very busy professionals, stay at home parents, and martial artists who are interested in the stress-reducing, body aligning, low impact exercise, and yes, even the self defense benefits of Tai Chi. The series is not meant to teach a full curriculum of Taiji, but instead to give busy people tools for stress reduction and self awareness that they may use in their everyday lives. It gives them an introduction to solid Taiji principles, should they decide to study Taiji in a formal manner under a qualified instructor.

On more than one occasion, I've been met with comments such as: "Can you really defend yourself moving so slowly?" or "How is Tai Chi a workout? It seems too easy to do me any real good".

Well folks, that's where the benefit IS easy...on the body, that is. Many of us are so into the belief that if exercise doesn't hurt, its not doing us any good. Proper Taiji practice, however, focuses on good structure and alignment, so as to not cause undue strain to joints and muscles. Through the seemingly "too easy" movements, the deeper muscles of the legs and core come into play, and our sense of proprioception and self awareness is enhanced. However...this is not to say that real Taiji practice is a walk in the park either. Like all martial skills, Taiji is a form of "Kung Fu"....."skill gained through time and hard effort".

In all the series I've presented, people ask me how I can remember all the movement of such "long" Taiji routines. Some people have mentioned that they wouldn't be very good at Taiji, because they wouldn't be able to remember all the moves and the names of the forms. However, the true benefit to a short series of Taijiquan workshops is not necessarily having a rote curriculum to remember, but rather allowing the body to "feel" movements that the body naturally attunes to, and to let oneself move with those freely and with relaxation and no stress about forgetting something. :-) I don't care if people remember the 10 form or long as they walk away with even ONE movement to practice and fundamental breathing and de-stressing techniques. After all, if you're taking only 6 lessons, don't expect to be a Taiji master. You'll need to actually find time to commit to studying under a good teacher for years to get really "good" at Taiji and to discover all its other techniques, applications, and benefits.

When thinking about undergoing a short series of Taiji workshops, first think about the main benefits you'd like to gain (stress relief? Physical therapy?A break from hectic schedules? Did your doctor advise Taiji for a physical ailment?). I am teaching a friend right now, that if she benefits from the body alignment to help her back pain (and in trickle down effect, helps her knees, quadriceps and hamstrings to aid her back), then wonderful.....doesn't matter if she remembers the whole yang 10 form or if she's even really interested in Taijiquan itself for further long as she can get some beneficial tools to work with, that's the benefit.

The kicker is....with the workshops series I've done for several venues, I tell all participants to not worry about not remembering form. I ask them to "feel, breath, experience opening the body to the odd activity of not thinking about work,... experience total focus on self, nevermind the project due in 5 days or where you'll get your next latte." You'll be surprised at how many people prefer to dwell in their little cacoons of overactivity and stress...many thinking they're being productive if they multitask and feel the stress. I called some people out about their stressed out sense of productivity at a series at a local YMCA, saying "You're so addicted to the feeling stress in multitasking, and what happens? Lots of stuff gets started quicly but never gets done as quickly. Is that really productive?? Just because you're in downtime doesn't mean you're being less productive."

People even get stressed out about their recreation! Can you believe that? They feel they have to do something "recreation wise"..., tennis lessons, gym, bridge club, basket weaving 101...whatever. I had a student so stressed out he'd freak out if he was late to tai chi class! He'd speed through the streets in his car just to get to Taiji on time...we could hear his car screeching to a halt in front of the studio, and he would come bursting through the door gasping "Sorry i'm late!". Wow. Stress out to be on time for a class meant to de-stress you. What's wrong with this picture?

In a nutshell, you can reap benefits from short workshops. Keep these points in mind when at a workshop.

1) What benefits am I looking to gain?

2) Can I relate any of this information to things I'm already familiar in?

3) Am I willing to say "I will not overwork to retain every bit of information"? (Relax!)

4) Am I willing to attend this workshop without preconceived notions? (Come to seminars with an open mind)

5) Am I ready to have fun and enjoy myself? (seminars can indeed be fun, you know!)

6) Can I refrain from being over analytical and asking too many questions? (Being overanalytical just occupies the brain to think up questions and prevents the brain from listening to the real information.)

7) Can I take just one or two aspects of this seminar, and practice it on my own? Even if its merely a new way of breathing or a new way of looking at the definition of "self awareness"?

8) Am I willing to look "not as skilled" as others in the seminar? (come on now...if everybody else if trying concentrate on their own movments in a Taiji seminar, they're certainly not going to be judgemental and snicker at your "less-than perfect form" )

If you can think about and apply these things to your attendance at a Taiji workshop, then you'll gain many benefits!

Good Qi to you!!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The art of being a student, the art of being a teacher

".....Get clear about exactly what it is that you need to learn and exactly what you need to do to learn it. ....." - Miguel de Cervantes

"The art of teaching is clarity, the art learning is to listen."-Vanda Scaravelli


About 13 years ago, on my second day at a new martial arts class, I was inadvertently a few minutes late to class due to traffic. I quietly entered the Dojo, proceeded to the dressing room, and promptly changed into my Gi. Because I was late, I knew it would be rude for me to just walk onto the mat, so I knew to ask the Sensei's permission to join the class....however, I was never shown the proper protocol in doing so. I knelt in seiza near the "low" end of the mat, and waited for Sensei to wave me onto the mat. Sensei made eye contact with me, smiled and motioned me onto the mat. In the middle of a technique practice, I waited in seiza until the technique was over, Sensei taught a new technique, and only when he commanded us to practice did I approach another student to request to be his partner. "Onegaishimas", I said as I bowed. Practice went on enjoyably.

After class, another student (of 2 months) admonished me for waiting on the side until sensei taught another technique. "Don't you know that when Sensei brings you on the mat, you find a trio or a pair and wait to be asked by those students to practice with them? You don't wait on the side! You'd look lazy!"

"I didn't know that, I'm sorry. But, I did not want to to be rude and just walk amongst the students as they practiced." In my mind, I told myself "Gaah, this is only my 2nd lesson, I haven't been verbally taught any of the protocol other than the usual ettiquette of bowing on and off the Dojo floor!"

All I'd been exposed to up to that point, was Karate and Kajukenbo protocol....while much was similar, I knew Aikido's protocol might have slight variations....I just didn't know them yet.

The student saw me again as we retrieved our shoes near the entrance. He wouldn't let up....he said: "so I hear you've taught martial arts...I figured you'd have a clue, but I guess not..."

The primitive side of my brain screamed: "Helloooo! I teach a different art! Gimme a break here, and how about you teach me 'why' instead of telling me how stupid I am for not reading your 2 month student mind!"

I got into my car, and was a bit shocked and actually sort of angry that another student would berate me like that. I'm no stranger to hard discipline, but I was used to receiving such admonitions from much higher ranked members of a class, and usually, the corrections were accompanied with a reason for "why", so that I would not merely follow a rule without understanding it. Knowing that the student was probably just spewing things out to affirm that he's learned something, I shook off the irritated attitude and drove back to my own studio to teach classes.

In kids class that night, I thought about ways to clarify my instructions, to simplify them. I wanted to be sure that their progress was something they could be proud of understanding, not just imitating.

In martial arts classes, sometimes teachers will show you a technique, and have you practice it without fully showing all the applications.....the idea is, to get the student's bodies to become familiar with the technique, without the distraction of all their "how is this applied??" questions. The teacher will correct the movement and then introduce the applications and variations. When applied correctly, this teaching method works great, because students learn to fully understand the technique through their own practice, research, and experimenting.

This is where the "get clear about exactly what it is that you need to learn and exactly what you need to do to learn it" part of Cervantes' quote comes in. The martial arts teacher, in having you practice the technique only (without giving you a truckload of "and you can use this technique this way, that way, and that way" dialogue), gets you familiar with what (concept)you need to learn, and the tools (movement) to learn it.

A teacher's guidance and desire to nurture the student's evolvement of the technique, prevents a technique from being merely a physical movement, devoid of meaning. However, the student also, must learn to "listen" to the teachings instead of just following blindly. Academic knowledge itself, can still leave people ignorant.....I believe, that if one wants to gain a good education, that you have to delve into and explore the teachings, not just repeat or imitate things without trying to understand them.

I've forgotten the name of the student who loudly admonished me in that class years ago, but he taught me an all important lesson about being a teacher, instead of merely carrying the rank of a teacher.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Teaching patience, and the reward of hard work....

"Flaming enthusiasm, backed up by horse sense and persistence, is the quality that most frequently makes for success."- Dale Carnegie

One of my senior students, Lisa, taught a 5 year old member of my "mighty mites" class (Lilyanna), how to tie her own shoes today.....It was the cutest thing ever!

It started with me checking Lilyanna's belt, which was tied incorrectly. (although we do a Kung Fu amalgam, our youngest members wear karate belts because its difficult for the young ones to keep a 9 foot sash from coming loose and unraveling around their legs).

I asked "Did you tie your belt all by yourself?"

"No, Miss Lisa did". I giggled and looked at Lisa as if to say: "Get with me to review belt tying!". I then turned to Lilyanna and asked "Wouldnt it be cool to tie your own belt" She nodded, "Yeah! Just ike a big girl!"

"Can you tie your shoes?"

Sad face by Lilyanna. She made a half frown and in a low voice "No......"

"That's okay! Well, if you can tie your shoes, tying a belt is no problem!"

"Will tying my shoe make belt tying easier?" Lillyanna asked.

"Sure it will! Its a little difficult at first, but with practice you'll get it."

Lisa stepped in and the picture was so cute. Lisa and Lilyanna sitting in the lobby, Lilyann's foot perched on Lisa's knee, and talking about bunny ears and wraparounds. Lilyanna had her tongue sticking out in that "I'm concentrating sooo hard" fashion. 15 minutes of pure concentration and effort...she was not distracted, even with her younger sibling asking Mommy about ice cream!

Her Mom winked at me, gave me a thumbs up, and whispered "Thank you...we've been trying for months to teach her and she didn't want to do it".

"I guess, sometimes, we just need a another reason to want to learn something, other than merely keeping our shoes from falling off our feet".

Motivation, persistence, and enthusiasm are a wonderful things, yes? I'm sure that by next week after some practice over the weekend, that Lillyanna will be able to tie her shoes "like a big girl". The belt tying will now be less frustrating for her, I think.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"New Age" it really "new"? Stereotypes of the New Movement of Spirituality

One day at a demonstration, an audience member approached me after my Taiji sword routine. She asked: "Does one need to observe any of the Buddhist faith in order to do Tai Chi?"

"No, actually.....many concepts in Taiji have Taoist philosophies...and no one needs to "convert" to Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, or anything else, if that's what you mean" .

"If you don't mind me asking, what is your personal belief.....??" she asked.

"Let's just say I'm a combination of New Age-Taoist ..."

"Ah..." The lady nodded as her eyes briefly darted back and forth. "You use crystals and stuff in Tai Chi practice?"

I chuckled. "Um...No, actually. (must've been the "new age" thing that made her think "crystals". I wondered if she thought I carried crystals around in a special silk pouch,if I had an I-Ching set in my backpack, or if I was vegan).....Although I do support the belief that certain crystals are molecularily aligned to facilitate healing, I don't carry crystals while I practice.

As I left the performance, I was amused at the lady's questions....very amused at many of today's stereotypes of "New Age" (or confused by some as the "new hippie").....the "Eco green, vegan, crystal healing, patchouli scented, birkenstock wearing, bohemian attire, incense burning, chanting, meditating, crystal ball gazing, holistic/naturopathic medicine, burning man attendees or wanna-go's, evolution-consciousness-be-one-with-the-universe.....the list goes on and on. I giggled to myself as I thought back to all the people that lump Taijiquan into New Age.

Although, in my honest opinion, I believe that Taijiquan is indeed a tool that fits well for this "New Age" lifestyle....but its been a tool in what we Westerners call "New Age", for thousands of years outside of the Western society. So, with that said....the new age movement is not really a "new" method of personal spirituality. A "new" movement maybe, but not a new method. Many cultures observe the aspects of nature, meditation, energy work, crystal therapy, naturopathic medicine, sacred healing, holistic massage etc. The Native Americans, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, a culture and chances are those countries that believe in naturopathic, energy, and herbal medicine, the Tao, Karma etc, have the same spiritual aspects as other styles of spirituality.

For those of you that know me well, you'll be reading this, waiting for me to put my 2 cents into a I won't disappoint you! Here goes..

So....what's my beef?

I'm amused at those who go so far as dressing a certain "woo woo" way (as some of my friends call it...woo woo.) Really, now, does new age have a dress code? Will we be "ostracized" for not wearing clothing with mandalas, and choosing not to chant the "six healing sounds" while on the bus?

I'm amused at those who think that all "Woo Woo'ers" are vegan, live in a compound, wear amulets and crystals all day, and are borderline 'nutty'.

I'm surprised at people that stereotype this lifestyle as all vegan people taking various drugs, using the lifestyle as an excuse to get high. I've even heard people talk about all New Agers being prone to bi-sexual "free love", or being polygamous people that observe no sexual safety whatsoever.

While there are so many stereotypes, I'll venture to say that if I had to describe myself, I'd say I'm a "New Agey, Taoist, Confucius quoting, Tai Chi player". I think, that some people just see the extremists, and assume that all New Agers are the same way. Although I fit some of the stereotypes, I would appear to most that I don't fit them at all.

I believe in expression of spirituality, and prefer to keep learning about the sense of street smarts, I don't wear the stereotypical stuff...I wear t shirts and jogging shoes, I ride a motorcycle, I drive a sports car, I eat meat as well as veggies, I drink martinis as well as fish oil, I listen to jazz and disco as well as Enya, Trillian Green, and Deva Premal, I love watching Yoga but don't prefer it as my main movement art, I quote the Masters but don't claim discipleship under any, I prefer to be monogamous as polygamy is not my bag, I observe ceremony but don't attempt to typify myself with them, I've never been to Burning Man but love art and all its expressions but I won't be mortally disappointed if I never get a chance to attend a Burning Man Festival, I teach people how to use violence if necessary, to protect their own safety and that of loved ones. I'm a supporter of Holistic, Naturopathic, and Energy medicine, but I won't run to an herbalist if I find out I have BET I'll see a Western conventional MD. Most people would see me as a non-religious, middle aged, martial arts instructor instead of labeling me as a "Woo Woo". But, inside, call me what you will.

I hope that with the "new movements" of spirituality, that there will not be the prejudices within them. Will I not be considered one of the "new expression", just because I don't "fit the type"?

Call it what you will. I call it Spirituality. New age, Old age, New expression, whatever.

Darn it....Now where did I put my crystal?