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Sometimes when students are performing drills or form you can see a battle being waged within. They are seeking to will their way to skill.
Faces are contorted, the jaw is set, the eyes narrowed. Often people look quite troubled.
At war with yourself
Why? What is the point? Who is it that you are trying to will? Surely it is you. But then you are you. Can you not see the folly of this? Who is doing the willing? This is the wrong kind of concentration.
Rather than be anxious, be calm. Rather than try so hard, relax and allow. Tai chi is not about forcing. If it works, it works. If it does not it does not. Getting uptight will not change anything for the better.
You must concentrate upon and consecrate yourself wholly to each day, as
though a fire were raging in your hair.
Focussing is necessary when striking somebody. You need to hit the body, and you need to be accurate. You need to concentrate your power.
However, you do not want to focus your gaze or reduce your awareness.
In combat, if you shut out general stimuli and focus exclusively on one thing, you expose yourself. Your awareness cannot narrow. You cannot focus your attention. You must remain in the moment.
The instant you switch from wide perspective to narrow, you will cease to see what is going on around you. And you will be hit.
You must be able to deliver a concentrated strike without diminishing your expanded state of consciousness.
Focussing can cause anxiety. You address one concern and ignore another. The more concerns you have, the harder it is to address them all skilfully. This approach is like juggling.
Instead of going with the flow and feeling what is happening, you are trying desperately to catch one ball whilst keeping all the others still up in the air. What is the answer? There is no fixed answer.
Sometimes it is beneficial to look at the individual details and address them in depth. At other times, you must consider the overall event and feel the essence of what is happening, the flow.
We are checking our smartphones on
average 221 times a day. Recent research found that 80 percent of
millennials look at their phones upon waking; this addiction is a strong
one. As a result, our cognitive processing has become shallower and we have
become so distracted that we play directly into the hands of the autopilot.
Digital devices are the modern day equivalent of tranquillisers. They instil
a trance-like state almost immediately as they are anchors for our
subconscious to take over.
Students need to feel the overall nature of what they are doing and address the essence. Once the essence has been understood, the lesser details will make more sense.
The practice will fall into place once the body is allowed to move naturally and comfortably.
Concentration is a flexible skill, and there are different kinds of concentration:
- your time is limited. Spend it wisely. Limit your options and train the essentials
- refinement, understanding and depth emerge when you have fewer concerns
- train a specific detail. Improve an isolated skill
- avoid spreading yourself thinly
- the more topics you address, the less you know about each of them
- establish the purpose of an activity and place your attention upon that concern
- the fine details make more sense in the context of the essence
- in order to learn a tai chi movement, you must train it without distraction
Sometimes life can be quite overwhelming. Try ignoring everything else and just breathing. Concentrate solely on the action.
The more one concentrates on
breathing, the more the external stimuli fade into the background. They sink
away in a kind of muffled roar which one hears with only half an ear at
first, and in the end one finds it no more disturbing than the distant roar
of the sea, which, once one has grown accustomed to it, is no longer
18 March 1997
Last updated 15 May 2020