Lily the Pink

Some of you may be old enough to remember the song by the group Scaffold - Lily the Pink. "She invented a medicinal compound efficacious in every case".  What you may not know is that the song was about Lilian Pinkham who was an American "Snake Oil Seller" in the latter part of the 19th century. She did indeed invent a "medicinal compound" and sold it all over America as a miracle cure for everything. Whether it was or not, is open to debate.

Unfortunately in T'ai Chi we also have "Snake Oil" sellers! Not as many as there were during the major upsurge in T'ai Chi some 10 years ago, but they are still there. The "New Agers" who learn from books and videos/DVD's and then begin teaching with absolutely no knowledge of the inner aspects of the art. I remember some years ago asking a student who claimed to have done T'ai Chi for 2 years, what form did she learn? She had no idea of the form name, but they did some dancing and stood around in a circle with a teddy bear in the centre! The only martial art I know that is based on dance is  the Brazilian art of Capoeira. Martial Arts were banned in Brazil in the 16th Century and of course slavery was rife. Most of the slaves came from West Africa and although rebellion by the slaves was a possibility, Capoeira was developed by the slaves as an acrobatic dance form which the authorities did not recognise as a martial art.  The slave who was proficient in Capoeira was able to fend for himself in the hostile world that was Brazil at that time. Capoeira as it is practised today is a beautiful acrobatic form with the martial aspect based on kicks.

But back to the "Snake Oil" sellers of today. In my last blog I mentioned three forms of this, but there are many, many more. Being able to do the form, is not doing T'ai Chi. Yes, it is essential that we know the form, but only as a skeleton on which we can hang a knowledge of the inner aspects of the art. I used to ask students what they were thinking about when they went from "Step Up to Raise Hands" to "White Crane Spreads it Wings". The usual answer was that they were concentrating on correct hand and foot placement. Of course that is a good answer in so far as it goes. The real answer is that it is a transition from energy to energy. "Step Up to Raise Hands" uses Ji energy which changes to Kao (Shoulder Stroke) which transitions into Lieh (Split) for White Crane. This would be a foreign language to the "Snake Oil" sellers.  The next time you do your form, see if you can work out which energy or energies (you can use more than one energy at a time) you are using and how and what they transition into. 

Enough for today. Watch out form my next blog.   

Alistair Sutherland
Principal Instructor.

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