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Don't take our word for it
Find out for yourself. This is an important lesson that Sifu Waller highlights again and again. Be scientific. Rigorous. Search for answers.
Tai chi is often shabbily taught
A lot of what passes for taijiquan these days is not martial in any way; and a student would be naive to take taijiquan instruction at face value.
Do some research. Be sceptical. Find out more. Many taijiquan schools don't follow a syllabus or offer the full spectrum of combat skills.
Ask for proof of competence, a syllabus, grading structure...
Test it out
Watch your instructor in action. Gauge the effectiveness of what you are being taught:
Did it work?
Did they compromise themselves? Were they over-committing?
Was there any adverse feedback?
Did they allow for multiple attackers?
What did it do to the opponent?
Were they forcing an outcome? Or did it flow?
Was it easy to perform? Did it look natural/comfortable?
Smooth or jarring?
Was it hurried and quick? Were they calm and composed?
Can they evade an armed opponent?
Now, see if they teach
you how to do the
skills for yourself...
The true science of martial arts means
practicing them in such a way
that they will be useful at any time,
and to teach them in such a way
that they will be useful in all things.
Stop thinking. Become a martial scientist and take nothing for granted. Opinions have no bearing or value because they are not substantive - belief is martially meaningless if it cannot be proven.
Be harsh with your thoughts and discard anything that takes you away from the science of taijiquan.
Observe what is, rather than look for what you think should be there. Rather than listening to your mind, explore your senses - see, feel, experience.
Students frequently fail to see the truth, even when looking directly at it. They see what they want to see.
Reject metaphysical speculation and keep your attention on the real. A scientist finds principles through methodical experimentation, practice and patience.
Tai chi is riddled with lessons but you will fail to learn from them if you are unwilling to explore thoroughly.
Accept nothing, reject nothing. Find evidence in your practice, in partner work, in the way your instructor does the art, in Taoism and in The Tai Chi Classics.
Is it substantive? Can you reproduce it consistently? Do you understand it? Could you articulate or demonstrate your understanding under a variety of conditions?
Self-doubt is good
Be careful to doubt yourself. Failure to prove something may be a reflection of your own abilities or perception, rather than the art itself.
Some knowledge simply takes time, and impatience may lead you wildly astray in the search for what you consider to be important. Ultimately, you may only see the truth of your learning in hindsight.
Nothing is fixed in taijiquan; your practice and approach should be constantly under revision and reconsideration. If you feel to have 'got it', think again.
There are no plateaus or stopping points - there is always a deeper layer of subtlety to uncover and comprehend.
Taoists were natural scientists and they learned a lot about the world by simply watching it and garnering the underlying principles in operation: 'the laws of nature'.
Tai chi is the product of such knowledge: it is the outcome of martial principles, Taoism and qigong.
Your taijiquan rests on science: the physics of relationship, the biology of human anatomy, the chemistry of our bodies...
If you do not keep your practice grounded in the substantial, it will become meaningless and flawed.
Modes of thinking
Once, people thought in terms of magic and superstition. This was later replaced by religion and then eventually science. Yet, this model of progression is simplistic.
Taoism and other ways of thinking existed alongside superstition, religion and science. These alternate modes of thinking were often based on loss of self/ego. Not implicating oneself in everything.
Scientific thinking has its merits; especially when people talk about qi (superstitious thinking). However, we don't need to know or understand in order for something to work.
Just avoid jumping to conclusions? Not knowing is fine. If you can discover the answers, then do so. If not, be okay with that. Ground your thinking in what is, not in what you already know.
When you read a sentence in Tao Te Ching, ponder it. Then look to the reality of your training, and discover what it means. The Classics have meaning, and if you are thorough, you will find it.
18 March 1997
Last updated 26 January 2020