The Challenge (2)

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Coping with doubt

After an initial spurt of enthusiasm, even the most ardent student may suffer from doubt. The mere promise of tai chi skills, good fitness, flexibility and martial prowess are no longer as meaningful. There must be something else. Other interests and commitments may begin to encroach. It becomes easy to miss lessons. To stop training. And to consider the possibility of quitting. No instructor can guide you through this period of doubt. You will either come to see the art as being something you want to persevere with, or you will simply quit. You may see that the art is more than the sum of its parts. That it has changed you in ways that you may not be able to explain. Students who choose to stay often recognise that they have lost faith and become half-hearted. They train harder, attend more training opportunities and quietly make space in their lives for the art to flourish.

The obstacle of laziness

It is raining outside and cold. You are tired from working all day long. You haven't trained since last week's lesson. There is a warm fire in your living room, a beer in the fridge and your wife is looking forward to your company. Going out to class is not always easy. Laziness can cripple anyone. We all have a compulsion to stay where we are. To stop extending ourselves. To stagnate. This is human nature. The only cure for laziness is work. Not necessarily your actual job, but any activity that demands something of you. That requires you to make an effort, to take risks, to extend your realm of interest beyond the safety of the familiar and the comfortable.

The effort

And what price did you really pay for all that training? Where was the hardship? How did it hinder your life? You missed a little TV. You spent time training rather than idling. So what?

Black belt and beyond

Many people labour under the illusion that the black belt symbolises some sort of martial arts graduation. This is most odd. Passing a black belt simply means that you have a firm grounding in the basic precepts of an art. It is not the pinnacle. It is the end of the beginning.

Becoming experienced

When you become more experienced, everything you know so far must be dismantled and reconsidered. Many new
fighting skills must be acquired. Each movement you make has to imbued with countless neigong concerns. The journey is now suddenly far steeper and vastly more interesting. Your skills will expand in directions you never imagined. Refinement and subtlety will reveal unseen facets of the art and you will explore wholly unanticipated new concerns.

Those who can do, teach...

Having gained experience in tai chi, you will discover that the art is deeper and richer than you expected. As you learn how to break down the art, you may be encouraged to consider teaching. If you are keen, your instructor will offer you new goals and challenges, testing your sincerity and your compassion, seeking to determine how earnest you are. It will take a number of years for you to become a competent tai chi teacher. To become a skilled instructor you must be very committed to the art, possess great skill and be genuinely interested in the wellbeing and progress of other people. Your ego must be quiet and you must have no desire to promote yourself or show off. A martial arts instructor needs humility and insight, not a desire for fame and attention.

The way and its power

To bring the art full circle you need to study the manuscripts that led to its creation. This will involve research, discovery, reflection, prolonged contemplation and a lot of soul searching on the long road to wisdom. It will be the final leg of your journey. Reading these ancient insights is a fascinating endeavour that changes your consciousness in ways that cannot be described.

In conclusion...

There is no conclusion to the practice of tai chi; simply an ongoing exploration of existence, relationship, mind, body, balance, movement... Nothing is completely mastered. You simply keep on training. Continue studying. The passing of the years will bring you good fitness, martial skills (that require very little physical effort), calmness, insight, clarity, humour and humility. You know that there is so much that you do not know. You have the wisdom to see that the world is vast, and we are all so very small. In quietude and obscurity you find an ample measure of peace, and realise that the journey was worth the effort. You have gained extraordinary insights and enjoyed the mystery of it all. The challenges and the obstacles were not impediments at all. They helped you to grow. They kept things interesting.

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Page created 11 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023