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Are No Secrets
Wolfe Lowenthal wrote an excellent book called There Are No Secrets. It is about learning taijiquan. The title is intriguing for a beginner; after all, the art seems filled with secrets...
The answer lies in a lesson from The Way and It's Power in which Lao Tzu explains that his teachings are simple but no one will actually do them. Tai chi is not so hard to learn.
People just need to make the effort.
Success with learning any subject ultimately comes down to you. To your attitude. Are you looking forward to the challenge? Will you actually do the work? Is talking more your style?
In many martial arts schools
the practice was carried out in secrecy and the school's very existence was
frequently concealed from the authorities. For example, taijiquan is based
on body of principles known to be around 2000 years old yet it was not revealed
Nothing is hidden
The secrets of the art are not hidden. Anyone can attend lessons and purchase countless books today. The secrets are all there. Can you understand them? Are you able to put them into practice?
This is the real question...
When you begin a new course of study, you cannot possibly expect to have high-level knowledge and insight from the onset. This is too naive for words.
Understanding requires time, experience, context and patience. Most people are not even paying attention to what is happening right in front of them. Right now.
How can they possibly hope to understand taijiquan?
Chinese circus performers can certainly demonstrate some amazing feats of physical skill. Acrobatic displays of suppleness and stamina. But is this really combat at all?
The balletic gymnastics of such people present a misleading picture of taijiquan and combat. It is hard enough for most people to choreograph form, let alone barrel roll through the air.
The public displays, competitions and acrobatic performances all seem to be missing the point. If their role is to entertain, then enjoy the spectacle.
If their role is to show martial arts, they are not doing this.
By the time you make some headway with the syllabus, you should have shed many of your preconceptions concerning combat.
Unrealistic dreams should have been replaced by a more mature commitment to regular practice. Tai chi is not necessarily found in China. It exists in your practice.
Your skill is down to you. Nobody else can give it to you. Sifu Waller offers material, training partners, tips and pointers. But you do all the work.
A common desire amongst new starters is 'power'. Students who possess almost no coordination or sensitivity seek to expel great energy discharges and defeat a whole room of assailants.
The real power of taijiquan does not lie in how much, how far or how many... but rather in the 'how'.
Do the work
If you want to employ effortless power, be prepared to do a lot of work. Behind the mystery and the fancy oriental words is a very clear series of steps for you to work through.
There are no secrets as such. The apparent power of taijiquan is all about balance, timing, awareness, presence, composure and perception. Real things. Tangible things.
Things that anyone can be trained to cultivate.
Since the Taoist concepts are rooted in the most
distant past with the most
ancient beliefs of the
Chinese, it is difficult for the
Western mind to
understand them. Therefore, before you can investigate the
internal martial arts, you must first
back to the very origins of thought in ancient
Not the right secrets
We once read an account of neigong that spoke of self hypnosis, "being lost in the light", "sharing the light" and "inner spiritual work".
Whilst the teacher may be a really nice person and well intentioned, the narrative had no bearing whatsoever on whole-body strength.
Other accounts of neigong suggest excruciating exercises that really strain the body. This again seems unnecessary and misguided.
'Neigong' refers to the cultivation of an integrated body. All body parts move as one, with softness, relaxation, with mind/body awareness. It is not exotic.
There are no mystical rites or extreme tests of endurance. You will not be 'sharing the light'. The path is simple and straightforward. It just requires a lot of patience and many years of practice.
Internal martial arts is no more magical than a TV. You know that the TV is simply technology. It was built by someone. Is it magic? No. Yet, you cannot build your own TV.
So what? The TV still is not magic.
If you were keen enough, you could learn how to build your own TV. It involves science, not magic. Tai chi is no different. Instead of wires, nuts and bolts, taijiquan works with physics.
A teacher has a pretty good sense of anatomy, spatial relationships and the appropriate application of force. Physics and biology. Science. Awareness.
High level taijiquan combat skills are not remotely showy. They are impossibly understated. The attacker is felled without any real sense of what happened.
They may not even recall being touched at all. But they were touched. They simply did not notice. This is not magic. But it looks like it.
The dark arts?
In the distant past little was known about Taoism. Many of its adherents belonged to sects and esoteric schools. Others were hermits who lived in remote places.
Teachings from books with curious names such as The Way and Its Power, Book of Changes, The Art of War and The Book of Five Rings were treated with suspicion.
Secrecy, rumours of great power and deliberate obfuscation led to taijiquan being regarded with considerable fear and superstition.
A few so-called Taoist groups erroneously interpreting the teachings as being 'religious' rather than science e.g. in Borneo, Taoism has been mixed with Indian 'fakir' practices.
In China, Taoism was blended with Confucianism, Buddhism and Ancestor Worship to form a ritualistic hybrid featuring strange costumes and deities.
These misconceptions and ignorance arose from a complete lack of understanding.
What about the things in taijiquan you do not understand yet or cannot explain? Ignorance is commonplace and perfectly acceptable. After all, everyone is ignorant of something.
If you fail to understand something, there is no reason to conclude that the answer is the supernatural... Just be patient. Find out.
With internal martial arts, you control your whole
body, and bring its entire power to bear with each movement. That is the
internal martial arts way of thinking.
(Luo De Xiu)
27 June 1996
Last updated 13 January 2020