Posted by: Mike Ferruggia | June 27, 2009

The Female Taoist

The danger of being subsumed by the collective culture, speaking about here in America, I think is more for women than men. The iconic archetype, not to mention the iconic stereotypes, have changed significantly in the last 60 years, since the 60’s I guess. The ideal of equality for women was and is a wonderful thing. It’s incomprehensible to us in the weastern world to see women in other cultures treated as second class citizens, as property in some instances. But I think many women are in danger of losing their way as they adopt the masks and personas deemed necessary by the society, by the corporate world, by trying to be successful in business. The masks and personae alienate us from the true self, the true identity.

I know there have been many female martial artists throughout history. Do I know their names? No. Are there models for women to take on as mentors, as heroes, in taoism, in tai chi? I know there are, but I don’t know who they are. I am more familiar with iconic women in the catholic faith, women like Dorothy Day. I admire the counter culturalism that presents the mystery and truth of being connected with the ineffable source of our true identities.

The pop culture icons, the collective conscious of society in business, is misleading a lot of people, men and particularly women. As a wannabe monastic taoist, tai chi practitioner, I would like to see more women exposed to the Way, to find practices that bring them in touch with their true inner self, that offers a life of fulfillment, development, and growth. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy reading fellow bloggers who are female, to follow their journey as women on this road.

There have been many women throughout history who have been groundbreaking, iconic women in search of truth, art, and creativity, and also in social justice. It’s interesting that many of them came up in that era of Dorothy Day, in the 30’s and 40’s. I think educating oneself, particularly as a woman, on these people’s lives is important.

Yoga has done a good job at reaching women. I don’t think taoism and tai chi have done as good a job. Who are the taoist female heroes, who are the female martial artists, who are the female tai chi people? Yes, there are many women practicing; my first teacher was a woman. But I think it needs to grow more and more.

So, finally, as an invitation, I’d love to hear from women who are on the path of self development, of pursuing a contemplative life, of pursuing the tai chi way, the taoist way, the way of enlightenment and personal self development and truth.



  1. Boy, do I know that feeling! I am currently nursing a couple decent bruises from one of those overly-aggressive students. Its kind of a shame, the student seems to put a lot of effort into Forms practice, but won’t let go of the need to win long enough to be polite during Push. I’m honestly a bit baffled by that sort of mind set… There’s only so much I can do to counter that sort of force at my present skill level, without hurting the person, so avoidance seems to be the best solution at the moment.
    There are few things better in life than those moments of quiet before beginning Taiji.
    I study at the Tai Chi Boxing Association of Colorado Springs in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

    • At Ying Jow Pai in NY, we learned wu style two handed push hands. It is important the players understand that they are cooperating with each other in order to develop listening jing, or power. After a while, like in aikido, the players can have one person be the “agressor” and the other person can attempt to execute a tai chi move out of the push hands. This practice, still, is very cooprative. At the school, we practiced several moves such as brush knee twist step, snake creeps down and on and on in the push hands.

      On the flip side of the coin, I have not experienced practicing with some serious agression coming at me, so I think much later on, it would help develop skill obviously.

      Anyway, rock on the tai chi in Colorado!

  2. Hi!
    Bringing a really old post to light, but it was nice to find and fell like I should chime in!
    I’m a female Tai Chi practitioner and taoist. I treasure my practice, respect my teacher, and learn a great deal from my fellow students. But still, as one of the only 2 female students studying the martial/boxing applications of the art, it gets lonely. As non-competitive as my school is, its still a martial focused school, and that means ego and testosterone, which I just find hard to deal with. We have many women who attend the forms and qigong classes, who leave as soon as push hands rolls around, for this reason. It really is unfortunate.
    Even today, people seem to be impressed that I meditate/practice Qigong/etc, but as soon as I mention boxing, or any sort of martial application… I’m suddenly un-feminine, aggressive, and violent. It really gets old sometimes.
    In the not to distant future, my school will be hosting (hopefully) Elaine Waters, who is one of the more prominent women in Tai Chi that I’ve heard of. I am really looking forward to learning from her!

    • Hi Kirin,

      Thank you for your comments. It’s exciting, as I said, to know women following the path. I encountered one guy who was very aggressive at push hands. He really pissed me off. I refused to work with him and he eventually left the school. Most of the teachers and students got it though and it was so worthwhile.

      I think it’s so cool to see a woman sit in her tai chi stance, hands up with the inner smile, ready to defend herself and do some tai chi magic!.

      What school do you attend? Where is it?

  3. Your collages are amazing. I love them. I will check out more of your posts on my day off. I’m always excited to find fellow travelers on the path, and am glad to hear that women are finding means of expressing inner self and creativity. It’s so special, to have a glimpse of that spark of the Source of Life…

    Rock on!

    • Thanks for your kind words. It is a meditation of mine and one of the practices that keep me sane and centered with 3 kids, a dog and a husband who works out of our home!

  4. Hey Kathleen, I’m really glad you stumbled onto my site. Thank you for your inciteful comments. I have to admit the contemporary teachers you mention I don’t know a one. So my education is lacking. But you brought up some names that stir the heart like merton, thich nhat hahn, and david steindl-rast!
    i struggled for a long time with the idea of a catjholic vocation, and ultimately decided against it. But when I speak of spiritual things from the tai chi perspective, I find I’m still using the catholic terminology, the aspects that hold true across religions.
    I know the spiritual path should be similar for male and female, and I look forward to the day men and women are free enough to do that. It’s why the no women priests thing never made sense.
    As for the taoist thing, you know, I surfed the web a bit after writing the post and found all this “nonsense” about white tiger sexual practices and achieving immortality. It’s that cultish, sect side of taoism that exists, the kind of folkloric stuff, the superstitious stuff. So there’s nonsense in every tradition.
    Finally, you know I spent a few hours watching ewtn, which, I know, God, how you could you do it, but man was padre pio the ultimate modern day “wizard” or is it all made up stories. And as I said, there’s a lot, as you know, in catholic theology that holds great truths.
    So, I hope we can carry on our conversation as we both walk down our own paths.

    • Ahh, Padre Pio, one of my favs! I love the mystical traditions of the Catholic Church. (I think it humorous that many of them are founded in Pagan beliefs and rituals INCLUDING Communion. Eating a body and drinking blood? Hello?!) I have written many essays on religion and some are posted on my blog. I think the latest is my Holy Thursday post for Easter.

      Anyway, I noticed in your original post your concern with women not finding their true identities because of business and social indoctrinations. (I know I am paraphrasing and may not be wording this correctly.) I understand your concerns but I have had a totally different experience. I find the seminars, workshops, classes and the like to be abundant and FULL of woman seekers from many different traditions. In my area, the choices are amazing! And there are enough different levels of expertise of student and teacher for everyone to find their perfect fit. I teach workshops in a process called SoulCollage(R) and I am always in awe at the amount of women (and men) who are willing to open themselves to new and spiritual experiences. It blows me away! I also think our very “life” is a spiritual experience whether we recognize it and label it as that or not. We are each on our own and unique path which cannot be compared to anyone else’s. I have a plaque in my office which reads “VOCATVS atquenon VOCATVS Deus aderit” It is Latin and means,’Bidden or not bidden, God is Present’. It was said to have originated at the Oracle at Delphi, which is as mystical, magical and Holy a place as I have ever visited. It always soothes me and melts my concerns away. What can I say; I’m easy!

      P.S. (Another of my favorites is my beloved Joseph Cardinal Bernardin. His book “The Gift of Peace” is wonderful.)

  5. Very interesting questions you raise here Michael. Over the years I have longed for a mentor, a wise woman, to help me find my way. Especially when I was in the soul wrenching process of leaving the Catholic Church. I prayed and prayed for a crone. She never appeared in the physical form I was expecting but as I look back I realize I found nourishment and support every step of the way. The nuns in my own children’s school showed me how real, everyday woman deal with the atrocities of a ancient patriarchal institution and work for change from within that very institution instead of leaving. They were and still are a shining inspiration in true Christianity. And as for my Taoist leanings, Stephen Mitchell and his fabulous translations will always have a special place in my heart. His wife, Byron Katie, has her own distinct voice that she raises quite readily to instruct and guide. The mystics of my own tradition, Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, Hildegarde of Bingen to name but a few are always close at hand in spirit as their words spring to life in their many books and prayers. Contemporary woman teachers include Caroline Myss, Jean Houston, Marian Woodman, Clarissa Pinkeola Estes’, Carole Flinders, Sue Monk Kidd, Pema Chodron and Jean Shinoda-Bolen to name but a few.

    But I don’t really think of the spiritual journey in terms of “male and female”. While I have yearned for a feminine soul mate to help me along my path, I know these steps must be solitary and taken by me alone. I find much spiritual truth in many men teachers, some ancient, some contemporary. Meister Eckhart springs to mind immediately as does John of the Cross. Thomas Merton, Anthony De Mello, Henri Nouwen, Joseph Campbell, Bede Griffiths, David Stendl-Rast, Matthew Fox, Thich Nhat Hahn, The Dali Lama, John O’Donahue; the list goes on and on.

    We live in a very magical time. Each one of us has the opportunity to explore our own spiritual depths through the many different paths of the world’s great traditions. The knowledge and wisdom of the ages is right before our eyes. It is up to each of us to commit to the path and begin to wander our way home. How cool is that?

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