Welcome to The Palace Guard, the tai chi chuan and martial arts blog for intelligent martial practitioners. As the blog develops, I hope to feature other writers with a fresh take on the martial arts and related subjects. For now, I hope you enjoy my posts: feel free to leave comments, or email me at the address available on the profile.

Thursday 29 April 2010

I'm on holiday for a bit...

Howdy martial arts fans! For the next ten days or so I'll be in the Big Apple, so you'll have to think of your own witty and trenchant observations about tai chi, thus making your own entertainment. You could even email them to me if you like, and maybe I'll post them, or maybe I won't. Bye!

Tuesday 27 April 2010

My favourite waste of time

"When I was young I studied books and
and rode off with a shout to the Capital,
where, I heard, the barbarians had been driven off
there was no place left for heroes.
So I came back to these crested peaks,
lay down and listened to the clear stream flow.
Young men dream of glory:
monkeys riding on the ox's back."
-Shih Te (8th century), trans. JP Seaton

Recently I have been pondering the great uselessness of the martial arts. However much we can say that they increase confidence, health, co-ordination and the like, this is all a smoke screen. We don't really know why we practice them. It is one of those Taoist truisms that the value of the vessel lies in its emptiness, but until now I've never really appreciated this. As I get older, I am guilty of using my martial arts to beat up one person and one person alone: myself. I have recently become atttached to training for some purpose: to become a better teacher, perhaps to earn a living one day,perhaps so I can write some killer martial arts book and become the big cheese. But this approach has caused me no end of strife. Basically, I need to lighten up, and remember that the martial arts at their best are play, mere play. A good friend of mine who is a Tang Soo Do practitioner, put it like this: "When people ask why I do the martial arts, I tell them that I do them so I can stand on one leg and do up my shoelaces, or so that I can place a mug on a table and have the bottom of it touch the tabletop all at once." How utterly useless the martial arts are. How lucky that for us there are no barbarians left to kill.

Tuesday 20 April 2010

22nd British Open Tai Chi Competition in Oxford

Mr Ricky Trott, a member of our Monkey Army, took a silver medal home from the 22nd British Open Tai Chi Competition in Oxford for the Fixed Step Pushing Hands: hurrah! Consolations to Mr Smith, no less deserving of a hurrah!


Saturday 10 April 2010

spatial awareness vs MP3 (the rant remix)

Amongst my fellows I have a reputation as somewhat of a Luddite-technophobe: when I produce my mobile phone, people actually laugh, but she only needs charging once a week and you could bury her in the sand, dig her up three months later, scrape the gunk off and she'd work just fine...
Remember Walkmans (or should that be Walkmen?) and how cool they were? Generally, it was just your teenage music afficionado who was in possession of one of these, and quite frankly, they were so bulky that you had to really want to wear one, you know? Then came personal CD players which were actually rather worse because they skipped and were larger than their predecessors which again meant their use was fairly limited. Now of course, there are MP3 players, iPods and all those tiny gizmos...
You can tell when someone's wearing one. Not right away though. You're walking along the pavement, maybe in a bit of a hurry. Someone is dawdling in front. Normally, by dint of hearing, the slow-lane type is able to detect your coming, and can shift over a bit, I can nod and say "cheers" and on I go. But now,  you can practically be breathing down someone's collar, bobbing about behind them like like a wallaby looking over a high wall, trying to get past and of course the old "excuse me" goes completely unheard...
Spatial awareness people. It's necessary to our survival to be able to hear stuff coming along, muggers, big trucks, angry dogs and the like...and it's kind of nice to hear the world don't you think? Rather than being forever coccooned in noises of your choice on "shuffle"?  Unplug a while, I say, and give your ears a break. And me. Rant over.

Saturday 3 April 2010

A Touching Performance

"I might have a go at this tai chi lark" a prospective student said to me, "But I don't hold with all this touching business..."  I'd really never considered this before: having played rugby for years as a youngster, with my head stuck amidst the muddy posteriors of my team-mates, body-contact really held no fear for me (the wonders of an English boarding school education hem hem...). But it's true: some people are scared rigid of being touched. I am quite sure that this explains 99% of those bar-brawls which start with an innocent nudge whilst waiting for the barmaid. Those beer-fuelled lads who stalk through town with their shoulders wide and unyielding as moose antlers are just begging for someone to bump into them so they can get all, well, touchy.
Tai chi chuan is an instrument par excellence for the honing of one's sense of touch: through contact in Pushing Hands one can learn all sorts about the intent, skill and mindset of the opponent. We tai chi folk like our oppponents up close and personal-like, so we can feel what they are about. We listen with our limbs, with our very skin. Learning by feel is not  so popular these days: learning has become all about intellectualisation, but perhaps Tai chi chuan shows us that this is not the only way.