Monday, July 27, 2015

The Question of Succession




"Do we have a weakness? Do we have a challenge for the future? Will there be a problem? The answer is yes, but not for a long time. Something that is the devil or the hounds of Annwn for any druid order is succession.We have had four magnificent, charismatic chosen chiefs through the line of succession from the Edwardian period, in the order that gave birth to OBOD, and not once, in that time, has it been possible to pass on the succession from one chief to the other smoothly and directly. Every time, there has been a civil war or a temporary collapse of the order. I don't think it will in the future, not least because, looking at Philip, I assume you have plenty of time on your hands!."
-Ronald Hutton, OBOD 50th Anniversary

    
 I went to the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids last year in Glastonbury. The celebration marked so many highlights, successes, and accomplishments. In OBOD's spirit of truthfulness, one subject came up that resonated with me. I don 't know how many really heard it among the cheers and applause, but it struck a chord in me and, after seeing the video of the 50th, I'm ready to address it.

The ugly problem of succession.

Whether it is a family, a spiritual group, or a martial arts lineage, the history is not favorable to a smooth, agreed upon, transition. The battles today between Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims are from a dispute over succession 1500 years ago! Having seen first-hand three separate, what I would call, divisive and un-successful, transferals of authority, I would like to weigh in on the subject.

In martial arts, the title "grandmaster" is used so frequently that its original meaning seems lost. Being the grandmaster had nothing to do with how many years you have practiced or how many schools you own. There was only one grandmaster and they were the head of that style's lineage. The grandmaster set the standard for the style's curriculum and training. They were the final authority for changes and innovations.

A grandmaster was chosen for their knowledge, ability, and leadership. Not all grandmasters were champions and not all champions were grandmasters.Chinese martial arts always looks at the sum total of a style's history and lineage, and does not judge by one practitioner or master, but by generations of practitioners.

One of my teachers, who IS a world champion fighter, was chosen by his master to lead their style. My teacher has a calligraphy giving him leadership and an official photo to document the transition. As soon as the teacher died, killed tragically in a motorcycle accident in Hong Kong, the other students of the style said the succession is a fake and that they have similar calligraphies. My teacher said two things: produce your calligraphy, and call me a fake to my face.

As I always say, the pen is mightier than the sword, unless writer and fencer are standing face to face!




 Another example is the succession of my Sufi Order. While alive, the grandshaykh, who had a clear succession himself, taught and traveled, and waited to designate the next grandshaykh. At the end of his life he choose his son, and it was filmed and distributed on you tube. Still, after he died, there was much dissent and people saying the grandshaykh had made a mistake, or that they were chosen, or that the previous grandshaykh made a mistake! The dispute is raging and the whole Sufi Order suffers.Ego raises its ugly head. It is really sad to me.



My own story, though not as grand, is filled with people claiming I never passed a formal ceremony with my teacher, or that my  calligraphy is fake. One of my classmates told the story that I forced my teacher to write my disciple-ship calligraphy in the airport! Have you ever tried to do calligraphy? It's messy! Plus, how can I force my teacher, or anybody, to do anything. Not to mention his son witnessed the writing of my disciple calligraphy in Tampa FLA. When the time comes for me to retire, I will make sure that IF I have a successor at the Studio, all will know. And if I don't designate a successor, all will know that as well.

So now I come to OBOD. Let me say that the question of succession is clear when there is no power, glory, or prestige. When Philip Carr-Gomm was asked to lead the Order, what was going on then? Very, very little compared to today. Lots of work, organization, and the momentous task of creating the home study course that has changed thousands of lives, mine as well. No glamor being "Chosen Chief" back then. Who wants to lead when the leadership role is filled with work, worry, and stress? So many years of planting before the crop started to look good!

It's different today. The Order is up, running, and has amazing momentum. Philip, Stephanie, and Dave, may they have long life and good health, look good for decades to come. But, there is still the question of who leads after. How does the Order choose? What if there is dissension? Rivals for the leadership role? Challenges to choices? Can our Order survive?

Enough of that!

First let me say, I have full confidence in OBOD. The Order is so much bigger and magically empowered than humanly possible. When the time comes, I believe the Order will have a succession that works for all of us, just like the Order works for us, just like the gwersu works for all of us, and the Office works for all of us. and the website works for all of us, and the...

Also, I would point to the leadership we now have, and say that we have been fairly "spiritually drama-less" for 50 years! We have the kind of leadership that brought us here. One that let's us be our own guide and conscience. One that encourages and teaches with a keen eye to our own wisdom and experience. A standard has been set.


“Leadership works when we get out of the way. I see my role as supporting the Order in where it wants to go, rather than telling it where to go. In other words, I see myself as ‘beneath’ the membership acting in this supporting role, rather than ‘above’ it in some way.”
-Philip Carr-Gomm, OBOD East Coast Gathering  2012

 If I were to suggest a way to make a smooth transition, I would say that the next chosen chief needs to be decided somehow, maybe by election, before the current chosen chief retires or moves on. Then the current chief could work with the transition so there is no doubt that the next chief has the blessings and confidence of the present chief. And of course, with all the great  "Rites of Passage, Initiations, and Celebrations of Cycles, Renewal, and Change,"  I'm sure the Order will come up with a meaningful and powerful ritual of succession for a Chosen Chief!

 So where to begin?

I asked Philip and he wrote: "The suggestion you make in your last paragraph is exactly the solution we’ve come up with (with me choosing the person unless unable to do so, in which case an election process has been developed) and when the time is right we will announce the successor and I will work with them over an extended period to ensure a stable transition." (7/28/2015 e-mail)

Can you hear my big sigh of relief??

 
"Ronald Hutton, in his Golden Anniversary talk (see Touchstone’s September Issue 212) pointed to the trajectory that previous Druid groups seem to have taken, from the radical to the staid. He then went on to say that he saw no danger of this occurring in OBOD."
- Philip Carr-Gomm  



Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Some Reminiscences from over 20 Years of Twin Cities T'ai-Chi Ch'uan Studio




Twin Cities T'ai-Chi Ch'uan Studio has been a full-time, not for profit, T'ai-Chi school for over 20 years. As a Studio, we have existed for over 30 years, that's some longevity! Ushered in from a for profit to a not for profit Studio by the generosity of Phil and Joanne Von Blon, two long time practitioners, they also donated our amazing floor!

I have seen many lives enriched, impacted, healed, improved, deepened, empowered, awakened, validated, informed, refined, educated, nourished, inspired, challenged, rewarded, touched, affected,and changed forever,

starting with mine...

The Studio has offered classes in the complete system of Yang Style T'ai-Chi Ch'uan and has taught many levels and aspects of that style to the public for decades. Both inside and outside the Studio, we have taught T'ai-Chi to thousands of students. We have also offered these other styles and practices:

Hsing-Yi Chuan
Pa-Kua Chang
Northern and Southenr Praying Mantis
Northern Shao-Lin
Eagle Claw
Eclectsis
Lama
Liu Ho Pa Fa
Ch'in-Na
Yi-Chuan
Wu Dang Sword Fencing
Taoist Meditation
8 Brocades
Micro-Cosmic Orbit



We have hosted many Masters, Teachers, and even a few Grandmasters for workshops, seminars and on-going classes:

Master T.T. Liang
Grandmaster Wai-lun Choi
Grandmaster Gin Foon Mark
Master William Chen
Master Paul Gallagher
Terry Dunn
Heintz Rottmann
Li Wang
Bob Modaff
Beth Peterson
Craig Johnson
Michael Pilla
Nancy Giguere
Mary Wynne
Bob Smith
Mike Cain
Anita Ryan
Dr. Wen Zee
Lorretta Robb
Ying Liang




We have hosted over 20 Chinese New Year Celebrations and Demonstrations and over 13 Annual Retreats.

We had our T'ai-Chi Altar opened by Master T.T. Liang and our Southern Praying Mantis Altar opened by Grandmaster Gin Foon Mark.

We held 6 years of Kid's Kung-Fu Classes for the metro Homeschoolers.

We've had a few local celebrity students:

Sage Cowles
Morgan Grayce Willow
Jim Cunningham
Lynne Warfel
Jane Shockley
Dean McGraw

For our 10th Anniversary as a non-profit we produced a book, String of Pearls, and held a huge demo and banquet on the St Paul campus of the U. of M. Grandmaster Wai-lun Choi attended and performed two demonstrations and presented the Studio with a hand written calligraphy of congratulations and inspiration from his own hand.

We produced over 10 years of our studio newsletter, "Wu Dang,"  in paper format. Published monthly at first, then quarterly, and now in an on-line format.



In the early 90's, Master Liang came to the Monday night classes and gave corrections, told stories, and added to the experience of those classes.  I cannot remember a time that Master Liang entered our Studio without remarking on many of its aspects.He truly loved it. Grandmaster Choi always remarked on the size and space of the Studio. He loved it as well.

Numerous demonstrations outside the studio as well, to spread the Tai-Chi gospel.

We helped train two tournament champions, Mike Sauter who won in forms, fighting and weapons, and Dominic Veldman in forms, weapons, and pushing-hands.

We held two Art Galleries, one for Master Gin Foon Mark and the other for my son, Yaseen.

Two of Master Liang's children, Joseph and An-Le visited. An-Li came for vacations as well as for New Years demos, and for her father's memorial service.



We held two CD releases and concerts, one for local Lute player Rick Griffith and the other for The Idisi. The Idisi recorded a CD at the Studio as well. Morris Dancers have flash-mobbed our Studio and delighted us with song and dance.

Two groups made field trips to N.J. for two different celebration of Master T.T. Liang's 100th birthday.



We've had one wedding proposal, during a Chinese New Year Demo, and two weddings using the Studio.

There have been many babies who were being nourished in the womb during classes, and many have returned to visit after they were born.


 

After Master T. T. Liang's death at age 102, we hosted a complete Buddhist funeral service, setting up a full altar with monks and nuns chanting sutras, led by Thic Hanh Duc, the roommate of Thic Nhat Hanh, who said it was the most peaceful funeral he ever presided over.  An-Le Liang flew back from a vacation in Taiwan to attend the service. At the end, 65 people did one round of the form to the music.




Too many seminars, workshops, and presentations to mention, all to help beat the Winter Blues.

11 years of seminars with Grandmaster Choi, as many as three a year for while!



Group and single Disciple Ceremonies and initiations have been conducted.

Visits from Diane Cannon and her students from Ming Tao Tai-Chi, Richard Roy from J R  Roy's Martial Arts Academy, Bryan Davis from Twin Willows Tai-Chi Chuan, Mike and Kim Cain from Med City Tai-Chi,and Alan Tillotson from Chrysalis Natural Healing Center, to name some who have come to visit and participate in Studio life and enriched our experience.



Visiting masters and teachers include Ken Cohen and Chuc Chin.

Field trips to Arms and Armor, and the Minneapolis Art Institute, deepened our knowledge of swords and Chinese Culture.

Fundraisers of many styles and kinds have been tried, some fun and successful, others fun...

Wow! Amazing! Now that I sat down, took a breath, a tan-t'ien breath, and started to think about what has transpired in our humble space, it's pretty incredible if I do say so myself. I know I've missed many events and people, but for now, let this serve as just my first reminiscence of the Studio.

I am planning for a 25th Anniversary demo, maybe even make another book, who knows? More has happened at the Studio than I ever planned!












Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Pa-Kua and Modern Dance....

Many connections, similarities, and feelings about the amazing moving arts of Pa-Kua Chang (BaGua Zhang) and Modern Dance...

My great grandmaster Jiang Rung-chiao





Isadora Duncan