Time to open up the old mail bag and see what questions have been asked this week. A Mr Richard Feder of Fort Lee New Jersey writes “Dear Angus, Why do you call your classes Guerrilla Tai Chi? Are there large monkeys involved? And why Tai Chi? Isn’t a lot of your experience in other disciplines?” Good questions, Mr Feder. I shall endeavor to provide you with a long winded answer.
Let’s look at the phrase ‘martial arts’. Martial- of or relating to war, warriors, or a military way of life (dictionary definition). Art- The repetition of basic forms to create something either beautiful or transcendent (my definition). So in other words, dudes who find spiritual or artistic beauty in preparing for war. But that’s not how we use the term. We almost never apply it to modern day warriors. We call them ‘soldiers’. Sometimes we call movie actors or combat sport practitioners ‘martial artist’ as a quick shorthand even though they’re clearly not in the military and are competing in highly regulated, artificial arenas. They might be popular, and even admirable, but they aren’t martial or even necessarily artists. Instead we use it to mean someone who studies martial techniques from hundreds or even thousands of years ago for personal rather than national or competitive reasons.
I like to think that a ‘martial artist’ is someone who immerses themselves in traditional combat techniques and practices in an attempt to transcend their own demons and ego, hone their honor and integrity, and gain a deeper spiritual understanding of the universe. The martial history of the arts must not and cannot be ignored, even though I never expect to use my skills on a field of national combat. And, finally, that’s where the term ‘Guerrilla’ comes in.
Modern martial arts systems and schools are set up along traditional military lines. There is a codified set of ‘correct’ techniques taught in a specific, regulated way. There is a belted hierarchy and seniority is strictly enforced. One starts the class with a line up and salute (bow) and uses that salute (bow) when addressing senior members. And that’s cool. It just ain’t me.
Fortunately in every modern military there must be room for some misfits. The Guerrilla unit. The one that engages in irregular warfare as an independent group. The one that pops up in non traditional places and uses non traditional tactics. That’s more my style and that’s why I call it Guerrilla Tai Chi.
Why Tai Chi if I don’t follow any traditional style? I like the forms. I think they provide a near perfect forum to teach basic martial arts principles. They can be practiced alone, without any equipment. I’d rather avoid the ego trap of claiming to invent my own system. Tai Chi seems broad enough to include Aikido and pure self defense. And I believe that it was likely the first true martial art and should be honored as such.
A painter draws. A musician practices. A martial artist trains. Why? Because that’s what we do. Part of my training is teaching free classes. Why free? Because the founder of Aikido said it was important to separate one’s livelihood from one’s art. I’ve done it both ways, well paid and free, and he was right. It is, as I understand it, my path and my prerogative.
To be a ‘martial artist’ is a funny thing. Strangely anachronistic and yet most of the lessons have crucial modern applications. They are, like most arts I suppose, useless in any practical way. A dance, a piece of music, a bit of poetry or a well executed painting won’t get you a job or pay the bills. But, as humans, aren’t we more than that. God, I hope so.
Guerrilla Tai Chi is my art. Drop by if you’re in the neighborhood and I’ll teach you a little of it. It isn’t well regulated, it isn’t normal, and it sure as hell ain’t formal. But it is fun. And besides, I do like monkeys. Saor Alba, Vaya con Dios and Viva la Revolucion.