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Your instructor tells you to remain soft and loose, that you can move somebody simply by shifting your weight and turning your waist... If you don't believe them, what happens?
You use local muscle tension. You seek to accomplish the task through the incorrect means.


Your lack of faith in the tai chi and the instructor can result in failure to apply the art. Half-heartedness - trying rather than doing - is caused by doubt.
If you believe in the art, you will use the tai chi. Second-guessing and over-analysing cripple your ability to act.

Failing from the onset

Your mind and body must join to create intention. If you commence a task with an attitude of failure, then you will fail because you have chosen to.
If you try and force an outcome, you still do not believe and you will fail once more. Set aside your own thoughts and just do as you are instructed.


If you become caught in the folly of doubt, you will dither. A person who wobbles cannot act. You must see the path and step firmly forward without fear and doubt.
This is the very heart of faith.


Doubt can cripple your ability to learn; maybe you think that the tai chi will not work. But - you could be wrong... Your instructor can manifest the skills, so they must be doing something correctly.
Put your doubts aside - and act.

Trial & error

Do the tai chi exactly as you have been shown and see what happens. If you fail, so what? Re-evaluate what you did, change what needs changing and do it again.
Trial and error lies at the heart of learning.

Luke Skywalker: I don't believe it.

Yoda: That is why you fail.

(The Empire Strikes Back)


Zen way

In Zen traditions, the student is required to emulate the instructor precisely when performing the art. No deviation is permitted.
No embellishments or personal interpretations. Aim to do exactly what the instructor is doing; to the best of your personal ability.

Lose yourself

The purpose of this Zen approach is to eradicate self-consciousness and just move. By doing exactly as your instructor does, you slowly begin to feel as they do.
Somewhere along the line, you stop thinking about yourself. Your mind is on the act itself.

Take yourself out of the equation

In order to gain confidence with the art, you must set aside any preconceptions, notions and opinions. Focus only upon the biomechanical concerns involved.
What are the principles being explored? How and why do they work?


Treat your martial skills as techniques initially. See them as being a method.
Adopt a step-by-step approach. Perform each movement in a careful, systematic way.
Pay attention to balance (yours and theirs), avoid hurrying and determine whether or not the application was successful.

Gaps & deficiencies

At each step you can ensure that the technique is working by inviting the attacker to pressure-test your body for weakness. If you are vulnerable to a counter-attack, address this


If you want skills to become familiar, you will need to practice them until they are second-nature. Frequency and long term repetition is important. As is mindfulness.


Once you can perform an application on your practice partner without error, encourage them to become more awkward. Ask them to deliberately and consciously mess up what you are doing.
This is an opportunity to further improve your skill.


Confidence is the outcome of putting principles into practice, ambition into fact. You accomplish. You attain. You achieve. You have skill.

Find greater challenges

Your ability to perform your art consistently and effectively against a variety of opponents increases your faith in the tai chi.
Instead of applying the art with doubt, you have the surety of purpose, the knowledge of success. Now, you seek to test your skills against more difficult opponents.
You learn harder aspects of the curriculum in the anticipation of employing these also once they have become part of your repertoire. Success begets success.


Conviction combines:

  1. Faith in the art and in yourself

  2. Confidence in your own ability

  3. Intention 

An exponent with conviction is a formidable adversary; they possess the quiet surety of repeated practice, frequent combat training and an in-depth understanding of the principles.
Their eyes reveal their faith. There is an absence of fear. Instead; a calm, deliberate, patient gaze. Unflustered, they wait for the right moment.
They are strong and they are ready.


To lift an Autumn hare is no sign of great strength;
to see the sun and moon is no sign of sharp sight;
to hear the noise of thunder is no sign of a quick ear.
What the Ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins,
but excels in winning with ease.
Hence his victories bring him neither reputation for wisdom nor credit for courage.
He wins his battles by making no mistakes.
Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory,
for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated.

(Sun Tzu)

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Page created 9 January 1996
Last updated 16 June 2023