|The false self|
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A good martial arts class works on the character of the student. Ego is sublimated, arrogance is dismissed. The student learns to observe the rules of the class, and studies the teachings of the art.
Their own opinions, expectations and feelings are not important.
Quashing the ego is hard for a modern person to accept. We are a pampered culture, used to instant gratification. This is the Age of Narcissus.
Pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth are treated as virtues.
The biggest impediment facing a student is their own self-image. Consider: A person imagines themselves to be hard working, committed and earnest...
In reality they prefer to chit-chat. Their lack of progress will reflect the truth rather than the idea they have of themselves.
An even larger self
Fearful of their own insignificance in a world of billions, some people seek to project a bigger self-image.
This may be a big dog (their canine avatar), a large car, a personalised number plate, a large house, a fancy job title...
Various symbols of status and prestige serve to advertise their own importance and hide their fear.
These emblems of importance are often accompanied by an 'attitude' cultivated to reflect the required image.
People like to identify with something larger than themselves; typically it involves some sort of image or lifestyle statement.
They are a 'football fan', they are into politics, religion, yoga or taijiquan. By imbuing the external interest/pursuit with added significance, the individual feels more important.
The message is blunt: this is important, therefore I am important.
Arrogance is poison
The ego must be tempered. An arrogant person cannot learn tai chi. They never penetrate the depths of the art because their pride makes them stupid.
They fail to see things clearly, and make assumptions based on incomplete understanding.
Only a person who has the benefit of hindsight can offer comment on the tai chi. Such an exponent would be expert level.
Fundamentally the marksman aims at himself.
Vanity makes a student self-conscious and conceited. Do not be impressed with yourself. An integrated person has no need to show off, whereas an insecure person requires an audience and approval.
Let go of your pride and your vanity.
People often are quite proud of what they have studied or accomplished. They imagine that their past experience somehow translates into skill in other disciplines.
Sometimes this may be the case. At other times, it may prove to be the opposite. Preconceptions and habits often hinder progress.
A matter of degree
A good cure for egotism is the concept of 'degree'. University education inclines the student to believe that a degree means more than it does. Literally speaking it is 1/360th of a circle.
The circle may represent a subject or even a facet of a subject. i.e. '20th Century Literature'. A degree is a slither of knowledge.
A masters degree is an even finer slither, a doctorate finer still and a professorship is very limited.
Out of all the subjects in existence, what does one degree amount to?
It is a small amount of knowledge applied within a limited field of expertise. The same would apply to any area in which there are specialists who know a lot about just one area.
If somebody praises your tai chi, you should not feel pleased. Consider instead the nature of the compliment.
A conceited person is inwardly smug and prideful, but a humble person knows they still have far to go. When an inexperienced person compliments a student, what does the flattery mean?
Comparison assumes that you are judging like with like. Yet this is seldom the case. Tai chi schools are apt to be quite different from one another.
The underlying principles being taught should be the same, but the application and exploration of these will vary relative to the ability of the teacher.
Comparing taijiquan to other martial arts is pointless.
We read the world wrong and say that it deceives us.
An arrogant person tends to be very controlling. They push, they force, they manipulate, they bully. This attitude is not tai chi.
It stems from fear. From insecurity. From a realisation of personal insignificance.
Tai chi way
Tai chi is all about flowing, harmonising, yielding and changing. If something does not work, you do not push harder. You try something else or you walk away.
Self-consciousness will ruin your combat skill. Your attention should be on the opponent. Instead, it is on yourself. See the problem?
Is your instructor arrogant?
This is a tricky one because you have no real way of telling for sure. The main means by which you can assess an instructor is by their capacity to do the art.
If your teacher is soft, powerful, insightful and offers a thought-provoking, challenging syllabus, then maybe they are skilled.
If they can teach abilities that are internal and effective, maybe they do know what they are doing.
Can you assess your instructor?
Ultimately, a student cannot assess their instructor's ability in any meaningful way. An assessment would require knowledge and experience. A student - by definition - possesses neither.
Being self-referential is stupid.
If the instructor is blocky, forceful and external - they are clearly unskilled at tai chi. But if the instructor can use the art, then you have no way of gauging the length, breadth and depth of their skill.
What can you see?
An instructor might well seem arrogant to you, but to a more seasoned student they may seem to be remarkably modest and understated. The novice student simply sees what they want to see.
What they are capable of seeing. Only a fool would imagine that they are seeing the entirety.
Dumb and dumber
The irony here is that 95% of all new starters never get far enough into the syllabus to even work with our chief instructor. On what conceivable basis could they judge his skill?
They are afforded only glimpses of the man across the training hall.
What about you?
If you think that your instructor is arrogant, ask yourself whether or not you are fit to make such an assessment.
Maybe you are the arrogant one, and your perceptions of the world around you are slewed by your ego. Remember that taijiquan is an internal martial art. By its very nature it conceals the truth.
Martial arts classes attract all kinds of people. The absolute worst is the person who trained a martial art at some stage in their past and is seeking recognition or acknowledgement from the new teacher.
20 years may have passed by... The former martial artist wants to 'pow wow' with the new instructor and share their 'insights'. This is truly absurd; bordering on a mental health issue.
The prayer of the monk is not perfect until he no longer recognises
himself or the fact that he is praying.
• The Outward Show (YouTube video)
1 February 1996
Last updated 25 April 2019