I wrote about this phenomena before in one of my most popular blog posts called The Tai Chi Magician, but these guys keep coming back for more, so here we go again!
I’ve just watched another YouTube video where a ‘Tai Chi master’ makes his student hop all over the place at the merest touch. I was going to link to it, but after talking about it with a friend I’m considering that might be unnecessary – maybe these Tai Chi masters that do this don’t need to be taken down – if the student is happy being made into a jumping bean, then maybe there is some sort of valuable social function being performed… even if I don’t know what it is.
As an aside, philosophically it could be strongly argued that Chinese martial arts have always had a strong performance element (via Chinese Theatre), both culturally and historically, and that the magic show is part and parcel of the deal.
But at the same time, I feel I have a responsibility to the general public about the perception of what Tai Chi is, and to the beginner looking to start learning Tai Chi, so I’m going to say something.
So, let me just say, for the record, these reactions are not what you can expect without a high degree of co-operation from your push hands partner. Tai Chi will not give you superpowers like this against a determined attacker. These problems are not unique to Tai Chi, obviously Aikido springs to mind as suffering the same ‘dive bunnies’, but somehow the vibe is different in Aikido – because of the different setting – in a Dojo, with uniforms and mats – people don’t automatically think it’s quite as ‘real’ as it is in Tai Chi superpower demonstrations. The even more dramatic flips and somersaults of Aikido Uke’s also indicate that there is compliant training going on. At least that’s how it appears to me.
These videos are done with the same tricks you find in stage hypnotism – the power of suggestion. And it you look at all these videos you start to see common traits. Here are a few you’re going to need if you want to set yourself up as a Tai Chi Magician:
1. Physical cues are important. Adopt a slight air of arrogance. Look beyond the opponent, into the distance, as if they are not there. In fact, this whole enterprise is beneath you, so remember they are nothing to you. You are looking beyond this physical realm into the spiritual, where you are dancing with the immortals. They need an enlightened master to follow, so act like one.
2. Condition your partner to be ridiculously over compliment. Maybe tell them that if they don’t ‘go with’ what you are doing, by hopping away to dissipate your force, then they will injure themselves, probably severely! This conditioning process can be subtle and take many months until they are ready for a primetime video. A few cold stares when they resist here and there, a few subtle shakes of the head when they don’t fall correctly. That sort of thing. After a few weeks or months you’ll notice they start to understand their role and act accordingly. Having a cult you’re getting them to join helps too! Get the group to reinforce your position as leader and ensure their subservience.
3. Your narrative is important – remember to say what you are about to do before you do it – key words here being things like, “down”, or “away”, so they know which direction to throw themselves in. Also say “I” a lot – remember, it’s all about you, not them.
It’s interesting that he says in his YouTube comments that he’s not very interested in fighting. (Guys that do this stuff never are, are they?) Of course, that line of reasoning is always a convenient excuse for getting out of a situation where they are asked to demonstrate these powers on somebody who is not as compliant!
The Tai Chi customer needs to treat these videos as valuable warnings. I can see how a beginner could easily start out looking to learn “Tai Chi”, not knowing what it is, and ending up in something that’s a bit cult-like with a teacher who subtly conditions and directs you to fall over at the merest touch. Trust me, manipulation is subtle and you wouldn’t even know it’s happened to you.
Don’t be that guy.