REALITY TESTING, MYSTIFICATION, AND LEARNING
Copyright H. Kurland 1998
T'ai chi ch'uan is an art form based on hard work to develop certain skills. That is why it is called kung-fu. To the casual observer it may seem like there is magic involved, when it is really just hard work and native ability. But occasionally this allows some teachers to pull the wool over the eyes of those who don't understand what is going on and also leads to some odd and possibly dangerous training methods. Bob Engel once said, "Some are just scam artists and use parlor tricks." Bob studied with Liu Se Heng in Taiwan and Bill Paul in San Francisco. Liu was Cheng Man-chings successor in Taiwan, Paul was a top rated Judo Coach. Bob taught the Cheng Man-ch'ing style at Cerritos College and in Redondo Beach for several years. He once told me "T'ai-chi ch'uan is too good to be left to the Crazies." He is referring to some of the weird trends and odd ball training which passes for some t'ai-chi ch'uan practices today, basically the methods that go against the classics and common sense. Mythology, preconceptions, magical thinking (mystification) and speculation overwhelm common sense and reason for some students. He stressed the need for clearing up misconceptions and magical thinking in this arena.
Joseph Campbell also warns of getting into the guru trap too. That losing oneself to a guru takes you off your path and onto the guru's path. How sometimes the student is looking at the wrong thing, seeing the clothes instead of the spirit. Or in our art we say mistaking the external trappings for the internal development. Just as when you point at the moon, a cat will look at your finger, not the moon.
Some psychologists believe, "Mystified people look for mystified answers", which makes them easy to be lead astray. The more needy they are, the easier they are to fool. Just as a certain master who sexually abused his students told them he was giving them "magical treatments". In reality he was just using them and the students being mystified, scared of, or trusting him they believed him and went along with the "treatments". Later some (not all) realized they were conned and felt like fools. Those who complained were threatened. Then the truth was apparent.
Bob sited other examples of this in "No touch throwing" and "Pushing from a distance" as well. Basically magic tricks. Well rehearsed skills but just tricks. These are all magical thinking based ideas that those who are "Mystified" gravitate toward, and the "Masters" who perpetrate these never seem to have a lack of willing "students". Maybe some of the Masters believe in it too, as they, themselves, may also be mystified. Maybe counseling would be more appropriate, but that is just my opinion.
Why do some students want a master to run their lives? A Master or Guru is a guide to help you along your path, but some of them can be manipulative. First question is, is it your path or the guru's path? Sometimes they are also a surrogate for a parental figure. Psychologists call this transference when dealing with patients. The role of a teacher can take a broader meaning to a student. If the teacher is truly evil (why not call it what it is) then the student may be harmed. Even if the master has the best intention, crazy methods can harm students. Sometimes students need a need a father/mother figure to guide them for a time. They may be shopping more for that parental role model than a technical teacher. And why do they gravitate to a dysfunctional parental figure. Calling a method a cult or scam is not easy as after all many of our established religions were once considered cults, that is a tough call.
Though cults are seen as negative, some can be helpful. In a world where the spiritual has lost its meaning and even many religious institutions seem to those looking for the spiritual as being mainly money making schemes with empty rituals, cults may fit in nicely. For some, cults may give some people a feeling of being part of a group of people who have similar interests and values. Though those with a lack of knowing "Who they are" can be swept away in the group process and find themselves being controlled and manipulated by those in charge. This may be a stage of growth for some seekers where one day they leave the group and carry on with their search for truth. I have met too many wannabe gurus who are all too happy to control other's lives. Some of them were just evil and others were trying to be helpful. Some needed more help themselves. They have one thing in common, they claim to have the only answer and are all to enthusiastic in controlling others. Here, I am only concerned about master to student relationships that can be toxic or dysfunctional. A benevolent teacher or guide type relationship is usually not a problem. This dysfunction can be found in all disciplines and can include Doctors, psychologists, University Professors as well as gurus, religious leaders, coaches and tai chi masters.
There is a lot of nonsense, folktales, superstitions and myths in the Asian methods that are simply cultural biases and baggage of their respective culture. Our culture has its own nonsense. Folktales, superstitions and baggage too. Most of us understand and discount it, but many are more accepting when looking at other cultures, that is part of mystification. This baggage has nothing to do with enlightenment, the study of the art, or anything to do with deeper meaning in life. It is interesting from an observer's perspective. Modeling a teacher is common for students to do, and can be helpful. But the extreme patterning of oneself with special clothing to mimic a teacher, as opposed to really liking to wear the outfits, (and can one really judge?) and going as far as mimicking the teacher's accent or pigeon English is just silly.
Master Andy Dale, who is a well known Internal Martial Arts teacher in Seattle, told us about some American born Aikido teachers do who talk in pigeon Japanese-English in aikido class. They spoke pigeon even though they were white, as well as born and raised in the US. This angered some third generation Japanese-Americans, even though there was no harm intended. It was just inappropriate modeling, that is one example of over doing the patterning behavior. Some NLP therapists believe patterning a highly skilled person while learning a skill is a good idea, but only up to a point. Beyond that point, it is pathological or just silly.
Joseph Campbell also warned about guru types. His view was that they replace ones father and keep students in perpetual childhood. He claimed that the Oriental system is based on this group orientation and is not concerned with the individual maturing or in individual growth, but rather following the master's path or a cultural based path. For example I know 50 year old men who after 30 years of training are still looking for a guru/sifu/master to give them the secret technique, i.e. to tell them what to do with their lives, in Campbell's model, they have not grown up yet.
Part of the "Internal" system is growing up, maturing and finding the truth inside. Your truth may not be the same as your teachers. The teacher is a guide, a coach, and a watchful eye to keep you on the path. As Grandmaster Tchoung told us, "I can teach you the method (techniques) but it is up to you after that. You need to think."
Be careful if the teacher wants to take over your life. If you have become part of their path, then you may not ever find your own. (If this article makes you uncomfortable, then you better take a long inward look)
"Fanciful thinking becomes reasonable speculation. Then reasonable speculation becomes truth." A.P. Thorne III