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When you begin a University or College course or start driving lessons do you honestly expect to understand everything (anything?) from the onset?
No, of course not.
Understanding is the outcome of the course of study. It is the entire purpose of learning. You study in order to learn. Learning eventually furnishes you with knowledge.
Contemplating that knowledge leads to understanding. This seems quite straightforward and apparent doesn't it?
Most tai chi new starters expect to understand the training instantly. This is in direct contradiction of the learning process that applies to any/every field of knowledge.
For some unfathomable reason the novice imagines that a well worded explanation will produce immediate comprehension.
Isn't this a tad naive?
Upon reaching what is perceived as an ideal goal, the artist
discovers something entirely different. The artist is suddenly confronted
with the fact that what was thought of as perfection of technique was merely
the introduction to it.
An entirely new vista has opened. The artist must be prepared to turn his
gaze from the heights that have so recently been gained, and prepare for the
ascent of the peak suddenly found beyond them.
The main impediments facing a tai chi student are their bodies, their emotions and their minds. All of which are undisciplined, untrained and unruly.
Despite possessing very limited control over themselves, new students are frequently over-confident and believe themselves more adept than they actually are.
They also fail to grasp the simple truth that understanding necessitates experience and when it comes to tai chi they simple don't have any...
Sifu Waller's approach to tai chi asks that students simply get on with the training, regardless of whether the exercise makes sense or not. Understanding is not always immediate.
Sometimes it takes time for the pieces to fall into place. Context requires hindsight. This means just doing - in contrast with thinking, interpreting, comparing, assessing, then doing.
Thought is the product of memory and is seldom applicable to tai chi. The immediacy of the moment robs thought of its value.
We offer a wide variety of exercises that challenge your ability to think clearly and act appropriately. Your mind is just too slow. It is filled with everyday clutter: news, work, TV, politics, gossip...
It is only when you stop trying to control the situation and just respond to the physical stimuli, that the exercises begin to make any sense.
We are training your nervous system to act in a very specific way.
When your mind is disoriented and confused, it eventually gives-up and this is when you start to understand our approach to tai chi. A thinker dithers, doubts and hesitates.
Their very thoughts separate them from reality; from the truth of what is happening. In self defence this is useless. In life, this is useless.
At some point in the training, trying ceases and you just be. Your tai chi stops looking contrived and exaggerated; it almost looks like normal, everyday movement.
The division between tai chi training and daily activity fades. At this point, the system feels natural and easy to use; the tai chi becomes your own. Life changes. You find it easier to get along with people.
Conflict no longer resides in your heart and mind. Your motivation is high and depression never occurs; you live each day fully.
Unwanted chores no longer upset you - you just get on with them - or you leave them be.
Trying is sentimental. Instead of doing, you attempt to make your actions fit an idea of how it should be. The idea is not the real.
It is like Krishnamurti's example of seeing a flower and finding it beautiful, or seeing a flower and thinking that you are supposed to find it beautiful.
The latter is sentimental, the former is real. When you act rather than try, there is no sentimentality.
In terms of you?
A student who over-thinks the training is effectively trying to understand the tai chi in terms of their existing knowledge and experience.
The problem here is obvious: they don't have any relevant knowledge and experience. You cannot understand tai chi in terms of yoga or karate or football. It is completely different.
Stop wasting energy/time trying to see the training in terms of yourself. Accept that you don't know and open yourself up to the new, the unfamiliar.
Increase your knowledge
Tai chi, Taoism, biomechanics and martial skill are huge areas of knowledge.
If you want to build a more comprehensive 'mental representation' read the books from the reading list and work through the syllabus.
The answers will only get closer if you are prepared to climb towards them.
There is only one way to truly gain skill in any endeavour... practice. The more familiar it is, the less you need to think about the basics. You can focus upon corrections, refinement and improvement.
Improve your mind
If you want to work on your brain, there are many things you can do. Your idea of 'thinking' may not be very evolved...
Try reading The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking by Edward B Burger & Michael Starbird or Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool...
Rather than draw upon what other people have said, or your own conditioning and bias, why not step outside your comfort zone and work on building a comprehensive mental representation?
Some students take every opportunity to break off the training and talk. This is bad news. It reflects a highly distracted, lazy, undisciplined mind. These people are time wasters.
Traditionally, the solution was to have students undertake immensely boring challenges: prolonged standing qigong, drilling, form practice. The aim was to bring the mind home. To the immediate.
But also be taught by each
The blind, with eyes dark but minds bright, are guided at first by obstructions.
18 April 2005
Last updated 13 January 2020