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Physical training

A comprehensive knowledge of the physicality of tai chi is required, and necessary. However, training qigong, form and pushing hands is not enough for the student.
An equal amount of time and study must be committed to understanding Taoism and its literature.

Beyond intelligence

Intelligence is important. Not merely the intelligence promoted by academic institutions or the problem-solving encouraged by Mensa.
The ability to adapt, change and improvise is necessary in all aspects of living.


Taoism and Zen study are designed to take you beyond the limits of intelligence. To the realm of
metacognition... They do this by encouraging the student to unlearn, to set aside what you think you know.
This involves recognising the drawback of words, concepts, ideas, conventions, habits and thought itself. By dismantling how your mind perceives reality, you begin to see things in a different way.
The process of seeing involves consciousness, not intelligence.

The range of awareness and efficiency of the Taoist adept is unnoticeable, imperceptible to others, because their critical moments take place before ordinary intelligence has mapped out a description of the situation.

(Thomas Cleary)

What is consciousness?

This is a good question indeed and worth researching further. The nature and existence of consciousness has been debated for centuries.
In simple terms 'consciousness' is concerned with how our mind interacts with the world around us. How we regard, interpret, understand and relate with our existence.
Taoism and Zen maintain that intelligence is far less important than consciousness.
By altering your state of consciousness, awareness can be expanded and your capacity to live harmoniously with the world is improved.

Shackled consciousness

Society has implemented many devices that serve to shape our consciousness, to encourage our minds to see the world in a narrow way. This is akin to looking, rather than seeing.
We actively filter out extraneous concerns and focus upon what we have been told is important to us.
Language, advertising, marketing, media, fashion, trends, fads, gossip, cultural traditions, customs, education, parenting, religion, peer pressure, government, business, literature, art, architecture and academia all structure your experience of the world. This process of training consciousness ensures that people are obedient, cooperative and predictable.
It establishes rules and regulations. People are taught to desire commodities, to compete, to consume. Many religious teachers across millennia have sought to free humanity from their indoctrination.

Open your mind

To start the healthy process of freeing your mind:

  1. Read the amusing stories of Chuang Tzu

  2. Study The Way and Its Power

  3. Unravel Zen koan

Set some time aside each day to study Taoist and Zen literature. Supplement your reading with meditation exercises.

Heightened awareness

In time, you become more aware of yourself, your relationship with others, and the world around you. This will profoundly affect your understanding of tai chi.
Your everyday life will change in ways you cannot currently imagine or comprehend. It is not possible to fully grasp how a Taoist martial art operates unless you start with your mind.
Reality is experienced in our minds. Begin there.

Taoist literature

Taoist literature is written in a deliberately ambiguous manner. This ensures that the meaning, interpretation and comprehension of the material says as much about you as it does about the text itself.
Taoist martial arts are the same. Each practitioner brings something unique and this should ultimately be reflected in how and what you practice.

Zen koan

Zen koan serve to provide stepping stones for the unravelling of consciousness. Solving each koan involves a fundamental change of perception. The koan are not riddles or puzzles.
The apparent contradiction resides in our own minds, in our thinking. When clarity occurs, a koan is suddenly obvious and transparent.

What you bring to the art...

Historically students did not practice a fixed, codified style as is encouraged these days. They would learn various approaches and ultimately develop their own bespoke way of applying their tai chi.
This was their style. Your own contribution is an important part of learning and unlearning.


A student is responsible for their own development. Expanding your consciousness, practicing and studying... these are matters that each student should address for themselves.

Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old.
Seek what they sought.


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Page created 21 May 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023