Thursday, February 26, 2009

Back To School; And Hat Tip To Pat At Mokuren Dojo

In an interesting turn of events, I have been asked by our local rural High School to help teach a physical education class. This will be a short series, four Friday classes on Tai Chi as part of a "Fit for life" program.
This is not the first time the school has asked for my contribution, I gave a talk to a civics class on "The Freedom of Information Act", and how to file requests for information with a Government agency.
Now here is where I find myself having to really re-think my teaching approach:
Several months ago I had a Blog discourse with Patrick Parker over at Mokuren Dojo. Pat's discussion about how to teach kids a calming meditation technique without calling it "meditation" was at issue. His point was that in the deep south of Mississippi parents would pull their kids out of his Dojo if he was to teach anything close to "meditation". This was obviously due to deeply held religious values and suspicion of eastern concepts. I was critical, in a polite way, and I chastised the ommision of "eastern thought".
Well, now I have to chew on a very small corner of my hat, and acknowledge that this is a difficult issue to approach with other people's kids in a public school.
I have not been cautioned against any form of presentation, but I am going to practice a form of self-censorship.
In my written and oral presentation, I will describe practicing the Tai Chi Chuan form as providing three benifits: Quiet introspection, a unique exercise, and a practice based on ancient Chinese martial arts that can improve ones ability in other sports.
The two issues that I must tread lightly on in public school are meditation and martial art. That almost guts what my normal presentation is to other students who attend my Thursday evening TCC class. No concept of "Chi", Taoist philosophy, even fighting skills. Public High School is not the place to approach anything resembling fighting skills, so this is going to be an interesting series of classes for me to teach. I do however, think it will be possible to bring in another adult student at the end of the last class and do a demonstration that will include some push hands and self-defense applications, just for the students to view and to further inspire. There may be a few students that will want to research and pursue these other issues on their own, and hopefully have a more complete understanding of the art. I should also say there is a yoga instructor in another class at the school that is taking a similar approach.
-- So Patrick, I owe you a partial apology because, at least for this series of classes, I find myself in the same situation that you are dealing with.
I'm sure I'll have more to say on this later...

Here is the link to Patrick's original post


Patrick Parker said...

Ha! Cool ;-) Sounds like fun. I look forward to reading about how your class goes...

The URL for the article where we had that discussion is here:

Dan Prager said...

I am sure that there is a lot of fun to be had in this "re-branding" game where-in

* Fighting skills -> self-defence
* Meditation -> techniques to reduce stress and learn to concentrate
* Yoga -> stretch and strengthen class

Good luck!

Simon Leon said...

Hi Dojo Rat,

I've been enjoying your blog for a while now (since first discovering it). I've not posted a comment before, but felt the urge this time.
Sounds like you've got a bit of a tightrope walk ahead of you.
Your choice of "Quiet introspection" has a neutrality to it that might work. Not so different from 'prayer' really.
The words "Self enquiry" and "Self discovery" also spring to mind (from where? - oops, meditation was in danger of occuring!)
I often feel that Taichi is really 'Meditation in disguise' anyway. Through the deep enquiry into the nature of ourselves through martial arts practice meditation is occuring whether it is realized or not. In fact, it's probably more likely to occur if we're not caught up on the idea that 'we' are meditating.

BTW - I believe I have had the honor of pushing hands with you over at Michael Gilman's place a few years ago.

Hope you have fun with the classes. Good luck.

Dojo Rat said...

My old buddy Simon! You missed a couple of years of practice at Gilman's studio (and pints of Beer after), I sure would like to see ya back there in the future. Check his website, there is still a first Saturday of the month workshop and I will be there!
Yes it is frustrating to play the word games. I will see how it develops, you can bet the kids aren't stupid - they'll get it...

Toldain said...

I just read Patricks's original post. I have done something like that with the kids I teach, only not nearly as well thought out as he did. But what we said we were doing was working on being quiet and concentrating. Which we are.

I think these are good words, and kids (and adults) will relate to them better and get a better idea of what we are trying to accomplish from those words.

One thing I have done to some good effect is a sort of yang-yin alternation: Have them run in place or do pushups or something and then, on command, stop in place and take up a stance, holding it without moving. Hold for 15-20 seconds then back to moving.

It seems more like a game to them, so they will be more willing. But you can explain the value of learning to be still, in the appropriate moment. I consider that a life skill, not just a martial arts skill.