My colonizer tongue speaks for me now. The emeritus beauty of Old Irish is now retired to texts and those faded few who can speak it still. Modern Irish has suffered a butchering from the grimly shrill goons in charge of the fois gras method that passed for my school days. English was my first love, from the days I read Henry IV and onto Hamlet and Lear, and my mind melted under the magical vowels of Shakespeare, and I love it still. My wet Atlantic celtic culture lacks a living tongue beyond those clinging, lichenwise, to the western cliffs. I mourn my endemic deficit, my Gaelic autism, but must needs make do with Cromwell’s greatest legacy, the Queen’s English, the which I wield like a supple blade to tattoo “aha” into student minds.

For most of my teaching life, I talk the walk, as well as attempting, in my personae as huckster, to walk the talk. By this I mean that I spend much of my teaching time explaining human movement via words. Spoken language defines us as a species, Homo Logos. Those who are mute or autistic are cut off from the sonic dialectic. I use the left brain to give the right brain clues. It often fails. Concepts of spatiality, attempts to place limbs in positions that are strange or new, often fail when asked to differentiate between Left and Right, when such concepts are meaningful only when familiarity with the axis of presentation has gelled. I often stumble, dumb, over the fusing of movement and speech, my movement brain clashes with the speaking one, and commands clash with directions.

In space, such concepts are without reference. Speaking while moving, even when it is old turf to me, still causes me problems, yet students almost always clamour for the commentary. Silence means a cutting of the mooring ropes, and I drift away like a Zeppelin from them, and they resort to ad hoc limb jinking while rubbernecking to see where I am in the sequence. Hence my tongue is employed with a repertoire of commands designed to goad, amuse, flatter, cajole and admonish gently the hesitant neophytes. Watching and Following is still the dominant method of teaching Tai Chi, so far as I know, or else there are general commands with a flaccid lack of specificity, all the more urgent given the diversity of phenotypes that present in the average class.

Those who inhabit head space need the head to lead them down the dark steps into the abyss of their bodies, up to now a peon serving the taste buds and gonads, an annoying appendage that requires exercise, a tedium chore executed with the head still too grand to take part, consciousness occluded by the white glare of a relentless earphone pulse. Clean emptiness now needs to flood the mind, the dulled nerves need rousing by alert sensing, hologrammatic awareness of the entirety needs to replace pleasure-centre hogging.

The conjoining of listening without and within is the mark of the initial classes, mostly listening without, until the self-corrective awareness can take over. A point is then reached when remembrance of the physicality has plateaued, at which point, to progress further, a descent into the darkness of the deep is required.


Of the dark space that blind people inhabit, I know nothing. That some of them do not live in perpetual darkness, but a kind of “visual tinnitus”, was a revelation to me http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-ouch-31487662.

There are creatures who live in caves or underground that have dispensed with eyes, other senses taking over the task of transmitting information of their environment, of prey and predator. There is a comic book hero, Daredevil, whose extra-sensory skills amount to a virtual infra-red capacity to see in the dark. Synaesthetes merge sound colour; some report seeing orange when they hear a trumpet for example.

Seeing people rarely listen with their nerves ( we will overlook the auditory nerve for this argument). The suite of neuronal stimuli that babies must receive in order to function effectively, from the endless sticking into mouths of objects to the fingers into sockets, triggers the brain and creates new pathways.” Developmental delay is often seen in children receiving inadequate or inappropriate sensory stimulation. For example, orphaned infants exposed to the bleakest of conditions in eastern European institutions exhibited impaired growth and cognitive development.”   http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2865952/

 This is the point at which I ask students to do the Form with their eyes closed.

This completely removes the lazy habit of “following the leader”, which they will do even if they are practicing as a group; invariably they will seize upon someone who seems to know the whole sequence well. I catch them watching this corporal and not remembering. When the group level is fairly uniform and the whole sequence is roughly comprehended, then we turn the lights off inside. This way, they are forced into muscle and mind memory. It is almost always a revelation. Besides balance, which is impaired due to lack of proprio-receptive signals, they are forced to feel their way with their limbs, rely on memory, and the feedback loops are shorter with no attendant distraction from visuals. The inside leads the out. Sensory horizons mushroom and the waiting brain can be almost heard to lean forward in his chair, cocking an ear.

Thus, from my larynx to their cortex, the stages of learning are set. The goal is to groove the cerebellum via repetition, from the intense crucible of looking and listening intently to the more spacious cockpit of self propulsion, and then, cruise control so that the mind can hover easily between in and out, “an artist of the floating world”

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