Appropriate Touching

When I was applying for the job of Taijiquan instructor at the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine six years ago, they asked me to put together a curriculum for 44 hours of class (which eventually got shortened to 22 hours). So naturally I asked a group of my friends who were already acupuncturists what they thought I should include given that 44 hours is a very short time considering all the possible things I could teach under the title Taijiquan.

The answer I still remember clearly was, "Most people enter and exit acupuncture school too filled with timidity. Include as much two person engagement, joint locks, throws, and general rough-housing as you can. Students need to know, and develop confidence about, what the body can handle."

Perhaps my acupuncturist friends were teasing me. I quickly found out that with a class of about 80% women who were there to learn "alternative" medicine, not martial arts, any physical contact has the potential to be controversial. Even the appearance of roughness required a preparatory lecture and a debriefing. The amount of talking I have to do just to get people on board with the idea that gongfu and medicine are part of the same subject is a real drain on actual teaching time; But it's necessary so I do it.

Even cutting out most of the martial aspects, I still include lots of sensitivity, discovery, and body exploration exercises. There is a percentage of people who are tactile learners, they will only learn the basics if they get a chance to touch. There are also aspects of Taijiquan which simply can not be taught any other way--these transmissions must be felt.

Historically, male teachers in China were very reluctant to accept students, period! Female students usually had to be members of the family. If the Master had a wife who also trained in martial arts, then it was possible for him to accept female students because he could direct his wife to do physical corrections and give direct transmissions. There are certainly exceptions to this, like men who studied with female masters for instance! China isn't one culture, and relations between men and women and their various gender roles have been constantly changing (not necessarily progressing). But more often than not, male sifu's did not teach non-family members who were female their "indoor" secrets!

My solution to this age old problem took four years and a few anonymously delivered vague claims of impropriety. So with no more further ado, I give you the...

Class Participation Agreement

I understand that this class, Taijiquan CM555, involves the development of palpation skills and physical manipulation sensitivity.
I understand that these skills, which are of a social, physical and emotional nature, are essential to the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
I will always ask and receive permission before touching anyone.
When I ask permission I will make it clear where and how I intend to make physical contact.
If I do not wish to be touched during class for ANY reason, I will say so.
I understand that I am responsible for setting my own boundaries.
I understand that I never need to give an explanation for choosing not to make physical contact.
I understand that setting boundaries is a skill just as important as developing palpation skills, and that making these choices will be considered full participation in the class.
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