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New starters usually see physical coordination, poor fitness and age as being the major obstacles to learning. These may be factors. However, personal demons are the biggest problem by far. Part of learning qigong & tai chi for health & meditation involves challenging your personal demons. Most demons are deeply ingrained habits and behaviours that we are completely unaware of.
How can you be taught successfully when you are already wrapped up with the confusion of inner turmoil? Are you even listening?
I have crossed the horizon to
I know your name
They have stolen the heart from inside you
But this does not define you
This is not who you are
You know who you are
The biggest impediment to learning is yourself. The challenge of learning tai chi means that you will inevitably come up against things that you do not like (or necessarily agree with). This is to be expected. We are all different to one another. The question is: how do you behave in the face of this challenge? Do you eat humble pie, accept where you are in the syllabus (relative to Sifu Waller) and carry-on training in the hope that your perspective broadens? Or do your demons consume you? It is easy to be happy and enjoy class when things are going your way. But how do you handle adversity?
One obvious demon is the ego. It is tempting and common to imagine that the world revolves around you, but it is also a mistake. No one person is the focus of existence. To the individual this may sound unappealing yet it is the truth. You must address your own concerns/faults before attempting to control or manipulate other things.
The fascism of force
Learning tai chi can be immeasurably frustrating for some people; their impatience causes suffering. They push and push, yet make little progress for all their additional effort. Tai chi cannot be willed into being. The difficulty lies not with the martial arts but with you. It is you that must change, grow, develop. The tai chi has no life beyond you; it is you that performs the movements, you that must relax and you that must let-go. If you decide then to push yourself, ask: who is it that is doing the pushing?
Some people may have prior experience in martial arts, tai chi or body work. Their knowledge of other systems is carried with them like unnecessary baggage. With only a limited exposure to the syllabus, they seek to assess the tai chi in terms of what they already know (or think they know). By comparing, they somehow hope to understand. This is like looking at Tom in terms of Harry, or chocolate in terms of pasta...
In moments of darkness and
remember all is cyclical.
Sit quietly behind your wooden door:
Spring will come again.
Will to power
Tai chi skill is not about willpower. It is not about aggression, strength or pretty performances. To be skilled at tai chi you need to be aware, to be present, to be peculiarly sensitive and to listen to what is occurring in this very moment. Instead of willpower, you learn to accord yourself with what is happening.
Your mind must unlearn. You must let-go of the past, of your opinions, of your preconceptions.
An empty can makes the most noise
Some people love to talk and talk. Every breath and movement is an act of self-promotion. There is a quest for recognition, for prestige. Esteem. Acknowledgement. In a tai chi school, the only thing that matters is how good you are at tai chi. What can you pull off? This means that your life outside the class is irrelevant. What you can do inside the class is all anybody cares about. If have prior experience in the martial arts and expect special treatment or recognition, then show your superior skill by passing smoothly through the grades. Do not simply brag or boast.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease
A modern attitude common in society involves an elaborate game in which the individual courts attention. Exuding an air of self-importance, they require fuss. Everything must be tailored to suit their requirements. Bespoke. Various niggles and concerns are articulated.... The individual expects to be persuaded. They play hard to get. This kind of insincere nonsense has no place in a tai chi class.
"The nail that sticks up is hammered down" is a Japanese proverb advising modesty and humility. True humility is not a poise, an act, an image. It is not speaking softly and smiling a lot. Many people profess humility but practice arrogance. Their eyes never smile. Being genuine requires insight, self awareness and an awful lot of soul-searching. Humility comes from knowing - in the very centre of your being - that you are not significant. That you do not know. That you are just passing through this world.
An instructor cannot give you something that you are unwilling to give yourself. Many students like the idea of tai chi, Taoism and Zen but are not receptive to change. They are fixed in stubborn old habits. Their rigid outlook is a hindrance. To make real progress, you need to do a lot of soul-searching. You need to get to know yourself considerably better. It is essential that you are honest, and look at your behaviour and your thoughts without judgement, without drawing any conclusions. Just see how you are. See what you are really like. See what lies behind your image. You may be surprised. This is not an easy journey, and for a while you may not like what you discover about yourself.
Looking, not seeing
An arrogant person is very controlling and fearful. They like to manipulate things. They try to push people around, use force, bully, intimidate and coerce. This kind of behaviour is well-practiced and familiar. The individual may not be aware that they are even doing it. It is not easy for such a person to see any faults in their behaviour. They are usually quite defensive. You cannot simply tell them how they are. They do not hear it. They think you are talking about someone else. Your words do not correspond with their own self-image. They see what they want to see, not what is really there. It may not be possible to change this from the outside.
A very common modern demon is the desire for continual self gratification. What's next? What's next? What's next? This childish behaviour echoes the Krishnamurti insight: "Immaturity is the carving for greater and wider experience." It indicates an emptiness within. Tai chi is not there to entertain the ego. It serves to temper the ego, to encourage the loss of self-consciousness, to increase your capacity for sensitivity and awareness. Gratification simply does not come into it.
A good teacher will do their best to integrate arrogant students into their class, to demonstrate humility, to offer an alternative way of behaving. They aim to temper the student's ego. To cultivate a change of attitude. But one or two hours a week simply does not add up to much. Ultimately, the influence of the teacher is mild. The responsibility for change rests with the student. If the student does not want to change - or becomes argumentative and defensive - the teacher may eventually ask the student to leave the class.
is taught in accordance to one’s fitness to learn.
(The Silent Flute)
18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023