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Some people spend years doing tai chi and never read a single book about the art, learn any real skills or do any practice at home between classes. This is not the way to make progress in tai chi.
Enthusiasm alone should drive the person to learn more about the art.
In order to learn karate, judo or the piano you must become a student. The same is true of tai chi for health. A student attends lessons every week, makes progress and enjoys their training.
More than a student
Taijiquan requires a lot more of the student... The art is based on ancient insights, principles and practices that require a deeper level of study and exploration.
The student who wants to penetrate the mysteries of this art and gain high-level skill needs to become 'a seeker'.
The seeker wants another
level of mind
and strives for it without distraction
like a grandmother shopping at market.
The Silent Flute
Inspired by Krishnamurti's teachings, Bruce Lee developed a story which eventually became a film called The Silent Flute.
Although the final film bore little resemblance to Lee's original script, it presented an intriguing message. If you enjoyed David Carradine in the 1970's TV series Kung Fu, the film should be appealing.
Don't expect awesome martial arts scenes or great acting. Instead, focus on the journey and what it means.
In The Silent Flute, the seeker undertakes a perilous quest to find a 'book of knowledge' which is said to contain truth. A series of lessons help the seeker to realise that the journey is an inward one:
Conformity can stifle the individual
The chattering of conscious thought is a distraction
Fear is unnecessary
Find your own rhythm
Living requires change
We often create our own problems
See rather than think
Nobody else can show you the Way
Throughout The Silent Flute the seeker would hear a tune that no one else heard. Each time he followed the music, the seeker drifted further away from the path he had believed necessary.
Instead of finding 'truth' he found himself.
Do not get caught up in looking far for your answers. Lao Tzu emphasised the importance of awareness - you can know the whole world without leaving your room.
If you want to get good at taijiquan, pay attention to your every thought, feeling and action. Experience it all intensely. No one else can tell you who you are.
The 'silent flute' symbolised an inner rhythm; an inexpressible essence within each of us. It is our own harmony with Tao. Beyond words and thought, there is something that makes you uniquely you.
The film teaches us that the journey is what matters; the journey within. Everyone is different and we each must find our own way.
Contained with the movie were insights drawn from Zen, Tao and Krishnamurti's talks:
Each moment that
passes changes you. You do not, cannot posses even yourself.
How can you hope to posses anyone or anything else?
(The Silent Flute)
Tie two birds together and though they have four wings, they cannot fly.
(The Silent Flute)
The way of the monkey is to play the fool. While you laugh at his antics, he bites you from behind. Unmask his ego and you expose a coward disguised as a monkey.
(The Silent Flute)
One is taught in accordance to ones fitness to learn.
(The Silent Flute)
Each morning when I awake like a scholar at his first class I prepare a blank mind for the day, to write upon.
(The Silent Flute)
Cord: Who are you?
Blind shepherd: Whoever you think I am or want me to be, I am.
(The Silent Flute)
Steal my art
A student needs to learn from a skilled tutor for many years before heading off alone. It is necessary to learn the technical skills of the art.
If your teacher offers a good curriculum, then it will encourage you to explore, discover and invent. When the time is right, both you and the teacher know that it is time to part.
Should you leave too early, you will possess partial knowledge of the syllabus and harbour many misconceptions.
But if you leave too late, you may have been unduly influenced by your teacher and run the risk of being an 'acolyte' rather than an individual.
It is quite common for taijiquan people to become rather eccentric. Taoism and Zen appeal to the individual. The quest for self expression was a common theme in Bruce Lee's writings.
The potential danger with eccentricity and self expression is that the taijiquan may come to be about 'you'. This is the trap facing every martial arts master: conceit and vanity.
Humility must be maintained, no matter how successful or popular you become. A teacher must make sure that their lessons are for the students and that serving the art remains their utmost priority.
You do the work
Formal tai chi tuition is akin to being taught at University; the teacher introduces each topic and the student goes away and fills in the blanks. The teacher can only do so much in a 2 hour class.
Becoming a seeker has always been encouraged. After all, we value what we discover for ourselves.
Taoism has never advocated following the example of other people. It suggests instead that you examine the nature of things and learn from that. Rather than do what others do, you find your own way.
People have difficulty coping with the reality of freedom. They want reassurance, support and guidance. Freedom is not a reaction or response to something.
It is not a rejection of the rules, it is not rebellion. It is a realisation.
Freedom is knowing that you are a part of everything else; it is an understanding that all of the conditioning and barriers built throughout your life mean nothing.
'Wu tze' means to be 'without law and yet orderly'. It is how the Taoist sages regarded nature. A wayward person has their own moral code.
They are unpredictable and different, yet inwardly balanced and comfortable with themselves. This is how a seeker must be - finding their own way.
Water follows its own course; without management or assistance. It just wanders. It is wayward and spontaneous. Taoism adopts a similar attitude; you can find your own way through life.
Eccentricities, character and humour are common amongst Taoists. When you see the world with different eyes... culture and convention seem amusing.
Money, politics, prestige, fame, reputation, tradition, success, acquisition and relationship are all put in perspective. The seeker walks through life with a grin; unbound and mischievous.
Somebody else's shoes
Every tai chi form out there was invented by somebody else. Not by you. The form(s) represent the sensibilities, preferences and insights of another person.
It is important to remember that the taijiquan will not come to life for you until it feels to be your own.
This does not mean changing the sequence of the form, but it does entail a change in how you perform the material.
Unless your taijiquan becomes an expression of you, how can you possibly hope to employ it in combat?
It is essential to practice to a point where form has been lost in the merging of taijiquan and you, and the freeform expression is natural and comfortable.
By definition a seeker has a goal in mind. This goal reflects their initial perspective and is likely to change many times as the journey develops and unfolds.
What once seemed important ceases to matter and a growing humility emerges with the passing of time.
Become a seeker...
The silent flute plays for us all. At any given moment we can choose to follow our own intuition or remain on the orthodox path.
It takes courage to wander away from the known and the familiar. Nobody will help you. You are quite alone. Only you can decide what happens next...
The freedom that comes from shrugging off external influences, traditions and beliefs is quite liberating. Just starting a tai chi class is your first step, for you must leave a lot of baggage at the door.
Soon the child's clear eye is
clouded over by ideas and opinions, preconceptions and abstractions. Simple
free being becomes encrusted with the burdensome armour of the ego. Not
until years later does an instinct come that a vital sense of mystery has
been withdrawn. The sun glints through the pines, and the heart is pierced
in a moment of beauty and strange pain, like a memory of paradise. After
that day... we become seekers.
The people who attend class with you have something in common. Something that you cannot explain to your friends, your family, your spouse or your colleagues.
At some point you may become 'a seeker of the way'... This is not hokey, imaginary or religious (in the contemporary sense). But it is a wonderful experience.
Others around you may find their lives flat, disappointing, frustrating and empty. But not you. For you have something more.
The rare student becomes introspective, physically aware and emotionally attuned to themselves. They take an active interest in their own development.
Instead of being self-indulgent and gratification-seeking, they recognise their own shortcomings and undertake the challenging task of working on these.
You get out of the art what you put into it. For the earnest student, taijiquan is a lifelong journey: a fascinating adventure of discovery, insight, fitness, longevity and martial power.
The floating world
A life less ordinary
The Old Ways
The road less travelled
21 May 2002
Last updated 29 September 2019