Intelligence (2)

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Social intelligence is all about:

  1. Quietly entering a new social scenario

  2. Setting aside your own notions, opinions, expectations and judgements

  3. Accurately observing the customs, practices and interactions of others

  4. Acquiring an understanding of how people interact

  5. Learning the dress code

  6. Listening to how people speak with one another

  7. Recognising how authority figures are addressed

  8. Adopting the necessary skills for successful and productive interaction with an unfamiliar group

Rather than standing out or feeling awkward, you smoothly harmonise with other people. You will be accepted and liked without undue effort.
It will be far easier to have a fruitful relationship with others because you are no longer an 'outsider'.

Applied social intelligence

In a nutshell: if you join a new tai chi class, don't try to stand out or draw undue attention to yourself:
- gain a sense of perspective first
- observe how the students interact with one another and the instructor
- learn what the etiquette and protocol translates to mean in practice
- ground yourself in the customs of the group
- learn the jargon, the rhythms and habits of the social network

After a very short space of time you will be part of the class.

Physical intelligence

Physical intelligence is the ability to move well, to listen to and acknowledge what your body is telling you. It is necessary to cultivate an understanding of:

Biomechanics (the study of the structure and function of biological systems)
Kinaesthetic awareness (knowing where your arms and legs, hand and feet, head, etc, are and in what position without having to look at them)
Proprioception (the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement)

This entails a great deal of physical sensitivity and awareness.

Paying attention

Rather than impose your will upon your body; learn how to listen to it. Is your body tense? Relaxed? Tired? Comfortable?
You must learn to distinguish between what you think and what is physically occurring. Your mind may desire and think certain things, in complete disregard of your body.
An example of this is people who claim to be happy as a couple yet physically demonstrate extremely aversive body language.

Physicality & thought

Many people fail to distinguish between the body and thought. They believe that the ability to speak about a subject denotes some level of comprehension and understanding. But talk really is cheap.
The body is concerned with the physical interaction with the physical world. This is processed and experienced by the brain. However, physicality is not thought. Physical is physical.
Physical intelligence is not about thinking in relationship with your body. It is not about thinking at all.

Applied physical intelligence

Feeling physicality how to perform a skill is entirely different to thinking about it. Usually thoughts simply get in the way.
This is why an apprenticeship focuses upon many years of doing rather than years of thinking or talking. Tai chi is mainly learned through the body.

Duke Hwan of Khi, first in his dynasty,
sat under his canopy reading his philosophy.
And Phien the wheelwright was out in the yard
making a wheel.

Phien laid aside hammer and chisel,
climbed the steps
and said to duke Hwan,
“May I ask you, Lord,
what is this you are reading?”

Said the duke: “The experts, the authorities.”
Phien asked: “Alive or dead?”
The duke said: “Dead, a long time.”
“Then,” said the wheelwright,
“you are only reading the dirt they left behind.”

The duke replied, “What do you know about it?
You are only a wheelwright.
You had better give me a good explanation
or else you must die.”

The wheelwright said,
“Let us look at the affair from my point of view.
When I make wheels, if i go easy they fall apart,
and if I am too rough they don’t fit.
But if I am neither too easy nor too violent
they come out right,
and the work is what I want it to be.

“You cannot put this in words,
you just have to know how it is.
I cannot even tell my own son exactly how it is done,
and my own son cannot learn it from me.
Se here I am, seventy years old, still making wheels!

The men of old took all they really knew
with them to the grave.
And so, Lord, what you are reading there
is only the dirt they left behind them.”

(Chuang Tzu)


Sensitivity is the main skill in tai chi. Nothing else will lead to any real progress within the art.
Your capacity to accurately determine what is happening will make the difference between success and failure. Applying the right thing at the wrong time is pointless. You need to be in the here and now. Awake. Aware. Observing. Detached. Composed. How can your mind be clear, receptive and responsive when it is filled with chattering thoughts?

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Page created 21 May 1998
Last updated 07 January 2020