Archive for February, 2013


Bill Elwell

On our youtube channel “zookinesis49” I have a sample video of the “Native American Sacred Sweat Lodge Ceremony”. Several comments by Native Americans have expressed the view that this ceremony is only for Native Americans and other races should not be allowed to participate in this ceremony. This is my response to those comments.

I am a teacher of Tai-chi-Chuan. In my efforts to become a better teacher of this system I spent many years studying the teaching methods of traditional cultures. Each of these teaching methods had a common goal – to help the student become more aware of the world of spirit both within him/her and in the world as a whole. Each taught how to participate in the common spirit of humanity, with its many expressions.

While my goal was to specifically teach Tai-chi I realized that the other cultures I experienced had the same goal, although at the surface the paths to getting there were very different. Even different Tai-chi teachers have very different ways of expressing the same principles.

When you become more aware of your spiritual nature, you become more aware of the common bond of all humanity on that level. You tend to become more open to and appreciate the diversity of humanity. Anger towards those who express their humanity in different ways seems ridiculous.

There is a tendency in Tai-chi to just memorize forms or push hands techniques rather than to understand the underlying principles. In other cultures there is the tendency to emphasize the mechanics of a ceremony rather than the underlying spirit. (Not to say this is necessarily the case with those commenting on the Sweat Lodge video).

I understand the desire (and need) to maintain the individuality of one’s culture and the pride in one’s culture, but at some point, doesn’t the awareness of the common spirit of all people play a part in the practices?

Everyone who practices Tai-chi understands that it is of Chinese origin. No one thinks they are going to become Chinese by practicing Tai-chi. But people are attracted to this method for improving their health, their spiritual awareness and yes, their self defense. I don’t know of any Chinese person who says that only Chinese should be practicing Tai-chi.

When my Jewish family and friends have our Passover ceremonies, we welcome anyone to the ceremony. We don’t expect them to become Jewish but are happy just to share the tradition with others. Their participation increases our pride.

Both Native Americans and Jews faced a holocaust (although the Native Americans lost so many more millions) and I remember the anger my parents had towards the German people. But should a person of German descent want to participate in the Passover they would be judged as individuals – not on the basis of their background.

The teacher on the Sweat Lodge video is a close friend of mine of Indian background who loves his tradition so much that he shares it with others. His behavior is not guided by anger but by love and I believe that he has truly learned to express the principles of his Indian heritage in his everyday life.

Certainly those who have known him and who have joined him in his tradition have benefited greatly. Some have been “stopped in their tracks” in the sense that they have suddenly understood how our society’s way of conflict and aggression have affected their lives. And their lives have changed for the better.

Bill Elwell teaches with gentleness and humor. There is no pretense in any bone in his body. There is no reason to be angry with him.

Certainly most cultures in the world have experienced violence against them and it is anger that perpetuates the violent feelings, if not the violence itself.

Can we remember the common humanity that each tradition tries to teach us and not turn each tradition into another reason to separate ourselves from that common bond? There can be diversity AND unity.

I would suggest that the central conflict in our society is not between the many cultures, but between those who would destroy the earth for their individual profit and those who would protect the earth for all creatures. It is not so much about protecting tradition against “outsiders” but of all people protecting nature. If we fight each other and hide our wisdom from each other, how are we to have the wisdom and strength to protect the earth?

Many conflicts between cultures can be traced to small groups of people who profit off of that conflict. Let us not fall prey to that game! It is common, when an outsider visits a village, to “break bread” with that person; to offer them some of your food. Is the sharing of a ceremony any different?

When I approach a person I am looking for the qualities of his humanness. Is he nasty and violent or is he kind and relaxed? Is he comfortable with himself or is he filled with unease? If he is a beautiful human being I want to know him and will enjoy spending time with him.

When I see a ceremony I look for the same things. If it is a beautiful ceremony, expressing the best of the human spirit, I want to spend time with it. I don’t view a ceremony as a roll of money, to be hidden and kept away from others lest it be stolen. Its value to me is in what it expresses and how it leads us to our own humanity.

To those who have made comments on the Sweat Lodge video on youtube – do your practices lead you to your own humanity and to the connection of your humanity to our common bond?


Bob Klein in chi-gung posture.

I am putting together a dvd series on How to Teach Tai-chi. It will focus on the basic principles of Tai-chi form practice and how to convey those principles to the students. While someone may be skilled at a Tai-chi form, they may not be aware of the issues of teaching. I think this series will be helpful and may inspire people to dedicate themselves to teaching Tai-chi.

I like to say, “I’ve been around the block a few times”, meaning that at 64 years old and teaching for almost 40 years, I have become familiar with how to express Tai-chi to students in a way they can grasp and to appreciate their difficulties in learning.

First of all, each student comes to the class with his or her load of tensions, misalignments, emotional fears and mental programming. Tai-chi has to be taught to each individual differently, considering what they come in with. The teacher must develop methods to become aware of the state of the student in order to fashion a teaching approach for that student.

When you are teaching a group class and are correcting postures, for example, you have to remember what approach you are taking with each student as you move from one to the other. It is like playing multiple games of chess. You can’t make too many corrections at one time because the student will become frustrated and won’t remember what you did anyway. So you have to stick with a theme of correction (e.g. “relax the hips”) throughout the class, for that student.

You realize that the real benefit of Tai-chi training is not memorizing a form or chi-gung set, but that the student has worked through all of his or her issues, whether physical, mental or emotional and come out as a truly free and powerful individual. That is what the teacher should be going for, not just to teach people to memorize yet another thing.

The teacher must know how each principle of Tai-chi achieves that. While all the students will arrive at that same free, powerful state, they are each taking different paths through Tai-chi training. If you force them to take only the path you yourself learned, then they will never really learn.

And so you not only have to learn chi-gung, forms, push hands, fighting etc. to be a teacher; you also have to learn how to teach. You have to leave the limited path of your own journey to see the whole landscape and appreciate the many ways students can travel through it. In doing this, you gain a greater insight into the magnitude of the training itself and of the genius of the thousands of teachers who contributed to it.

I am a bit fearful of embarking on this project, which would include videos and writing, because I don’t really have the time for it. But I think it could make a positive contribution and will be worth pursuing even if I accomplish only a little of it.

In my book, “Movements of Power”, I introduced this subject in the last third of the book. I will also be putting up some videos about how to teach a Tai-chi form on our youtube channel “zookinesis49”. I would appreciate your comments about whether you think this will be a worthwhile project.