I had the most amazing and enlightening experience recently, when I was asked by our Rock and Water coordinator in Taiwan, Shiow-Chyn Chung, to conduct the three day training at St. Johns University in Taipei. Apart from the obvious problem that I could not speak Chinese, there was also the sense that I was “taking coals to Newcastle”, in that so many of the wonderful games in Rock and Water are drawn from the Chinese arts of Tai Chi, Chigong and also other “harder” forms of martial arts. I assumed that all participants would have a sound understanding of the principles of centring through breathing, a good feeling of the course of vital energy through the body, and a propensity for introspection to seek ones way forward in difficult or perplexing times.
The first problem, of language, was actually easy to overcome, through the splendid ability of Shiow to translate simultaneously. I only needed to slow my speech a little, and to take slightly longer sentence breaks, and the wonderful Shiow was right there with her translations to Chinese. She even moved with me, and when I found myself on one knee making a hilarious lampoon of a histrionic child ( abandonment of one’s centre), I glanced around to see Shiow mimicking the very same gestures and facial expressions. She was superb and I am grateful to her. What I really learned though, is that language is a very small part of our communication, and we could all connect, relate, laugh and learn together though our primary modality of physical movement. Rock and Water teachers all know this, but for me it was a wonderful endorsement of the efficacy of the psycho-physical didactic.
The second assumption needs explanation. The participants were teachers, some from Beijing, and although many were very well grounded, and some even had extraordinary knowledge of Tai Chi and energy control, all expressed the same frustrations we feel in Australian schools. Bullying is becoming an increasing problem, children are disconnecting from their culture, young people don’t know what they want or where they are going, families are changing and culture is shifting. The education system has been “Westernized” and there is less time to explore the really important things that all educators know intuitively that children need; self reflection, self esteem, self control and internal and external communication to allow one to navigate a way forward. Social and emotional development are the foundations of resilience, and all educators know this. The frustrations of the Chinese participants were the same as those teachers express in Australia, and their epiphanies were the same. So many of the participants were delighted to find a program that offered permission to teach the very things they intuitively knew about the importance of developing physical, mental and emotional skills in order to develop the resilient child.
This journey in Rock and Water is a wonderful experience, and I am ever grateful that Freerk Ykema was coaxed to Australia nearly twenty years ago to share his program, that is now taught all over the world. And a big thankyou to Shiow for her amazing hospitality.