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In order to perform tai chi skilfully, knowledge is required. The more knowledge you can draw upon, the more informed your practice.
If you read an article about tai chi but have no interest in tai chi - and no foundation knowledge - then your ability to make sense of what you read would be limited.
Most likely you'd quickly lose interest and you wouldn't remember much. In order to make sense of what you read, you need context.
Imagine a bookshelf in your mind filled with books, folders, resources and information about tai chi... The more densely filled your bookshelf is, the more relevant and useful new information will seem.
You will be able to cross-reference, discern, add to existing knowledge and challenge any preconceptions or misconceptions.
Ideally, your bookshelf wants to be filled with anything and everything that might conceivably have a bearing on tai chi.
Katz: How do you know
all this stuff?
Bryson: Well, there's these things called books. They're like TV for smart people.
(A Walk in the Woods)
What do you need to know?
Tai chi is a complex art. To perform it well, there is a lot to you need to know:
The teachings of Taoism
The Tai Chi Classics
All 13 areas of study
Yang's 10 Essentials
An understanding of what constitutes medically-sound body use
The ability to functionally apply the art in a skilful 'tai chi' way
The tai chi principles
Jing (whole-body power)
Chin na applications
Shuai jiao applications
Self defence applications
Partner work drills
An awareness of various types of tai chi, their similarities and differences
Asian culture & history
Spiritual exploration (self-discovery)
How other martial arts approach combat
How other martial arts are taught
This is not an exhaustive list...
Look at the A-Z. There are many pages on this
website alone and it is far from comprehensive.
A student of tai chi needs to voraciously increase their knowledge. Read the books from the reading list (repeatedly). Explore the web. Ask your teacher questions.
The more you read, the more comprehensive your grasp of the art will be and the more it will make sense to you.
Not everything you discover will be useful. The internet is filled with junk. A lot of people are simply promoting their own agenda; selling their own services.
This is fine. Finding out about this serves as a lesson in its own right. Learn from the bad as well as from the good.
Your teacher can steer you away from wasting time watching YouTube clips and reading potentially toxic websites. Trust their judgement.
They know what they are planning to teach you, how the pieces fit together and what the final product will look like.
Don't be afraid to ignore your teacher's advice and look anyway. You won't turn into a pillar of salt, but you may come to appreciate their advice.
There's a lot of junk to rummage through. Recognising that your teacher knows what they're talking about should renew your respect for them.
One danger with acquiring knowledge is that it can lead you to believe that you know far more than you actually do.
For example, when our students complete the beginner's syllabus it is tempting to become complacent. But what does the individual really understand? Not much.
They have only been exposed to no more than 1% of the overall tai chi chuan curriculum.
Impatience is another outcome of over-confidence. The student watches a skilled performance and over-estimates their own capacities.
Seeking instant gratification, they become quickly frustrated and resentful. Their lack of knowledge hinders their ability to understand what they are witnessing.
Attempting to make sense of information without sufficient knowledge will only result in confusion and failure. Knowledge and experience are vital to success. Understanding requires context.
Context is the outcome of wisdom and hindsight.
To understand how things operate, a student must combine different areas of knowledge. There are many items on the list at the top of this page.
By combining different facets of knowledge, the student gains a far more comprehensive picture of what is taking place.
A beginner cannot conceivably understand advanced level material. How come? Their frame of reference is that of a beginner.
In other words; they understand everything from the viewpoint/perspective of a beginner. The factors they take into consideration reflect the values of a beginner.
The only way to understand advanced material is to become advanced yourself through the acquisition of applied knowledge.
Ignorance is fatal
The biggest impediment facing tai chi on a global scale is ignorance... Modern people seem disinclined to dig deep. Tai chi is a fascinating art. There is an enormous amount to learn from even one style.
Commit the time and the effort to the art and you will be rewarded with a far richer training experience.
Knowledge is power
Consider this: if you have not studied martial strategy extensively, combat skills, self defence and fighting applications... how can you use tai chi as a martial art?
There is no way you can use the art without the requisite knowledge.
An earnest student has only one direction before them - upwards. They need to climb and climb hard. Read, practice, study.
Visit other classes
It is easy to assume that your martial art is 'the best' and to dismiss all other arts. This is also naive. Have you been to other classes? What are they teaching? How are they teaching it?
How skilled are the students? Is their technical knowledge advanced or simplistic? Go find out for yourself.
Read about other things
There are many terrific books that have nothing to do with tai chi but will serve to enhance your understanding of what martial arts constitute, how the human mind works, what motivates people and how to learn more skilfully.
Don't limit yourself to tai chi books. Read anything that grabs your interest.
Take an interest
Instead of just doing what your teacher tells you to do in class, invest in the art.
Take a much deeper interest in how the human body operates, Asian history, culture, martial arts in general, biomechanics, fitness, strength, health, nutrition, meditation...
The list is endless. Don't assume anything. Continually question what you know and find out more.
Beyond reading and study there needs to be an immense commitment to productive, mindful daily practice. Tai chi is a physical art.
A well-cultivated mind is essential, but it must be complimented by an equally adept body. Nothing beats informed practice; both solo and partnered.
Gain useful information, possess functional skills. The greater the storehouse of knowledge you can draw upon in your tai chi, the better your training will be.
What your body
remembers is what is important for you at this particular stage of
What your mind forgets, your body is telling you it couldn't use anyhow at this time.
8 April 1995
Last updated 30 November 2023