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To get something you must give something. In tai chi this simple equation will directly determine your degree of progress and your ability to apply the art.
The more you give, the more you will get in return. If you want tai chi to work at all, you must invest in loss.
Invest in loss
All spiritual endeavours require the student to lose their ego. Memory, second-guessing, opinions, comparison, emotions, habits, preferences... it all gets in the way.
A student must strip away everything that occludes the real.
The Way and Its Power presents another equation: if, then... This one is simple. If you follow the Way (the Tao) precisely - without embellishment or deviation - you will get to use the power (Te).
It sounds pretty straightforward.
The problem lies with the ego. People want to self-promote, to receive awards, recognition, validation, approval... Getting the power is not enough; they want even more.
They also want to think, to analyse, to give an opinion. They want to include themselves in the equation; to make their mark. And this prevents them from acquiring the power. Catch-22?
The prayer of the monk is not perfect until he no longer recognises
himself or the fact that he is praying.
Self-consciousness is not the same as self-awareness. The former is about vanity, pride, ego. The latter is about being actively aware of what is taking place; around you and within your mind.
In combat, self-consciousness will get you killed.
No time to think
Actual combat presents the individual with situations where there is no time to think. Spontaneous, appropriate, powerful and effective action is mandatory. Dithering means death.
Conviction and focus mean victory. The only way to accomplish this clarity of mind is to take the 'self' out of the equation...
A person must lose all self-consciousness. Sensitivity must replace thinking, and thought must give way to physical sensation. The divide between themselves and the activity must end.
Repetition of movements
One facet of any spiritual discipline is the repetition of a form or pattern; the accurate reproduction of a deliberate sequence of actions. The aim of this practice is to lose the sense of self.
No thinking, no worrying, planning or anxiety. Just being.
Martial arts classes
In a martial arts class the student is expected to follow instructions without second-guessing or expecting an explanation. Following instructions is good for your brain.
Instead of confusion, each task is approached in a clear, simple, distinct manner. Personal chaos is reduced. Your mind is exercised, your emotions are calmed and mental resilience is cultivated.
You learn to act decisively and with purpose.
Just do it
When instructed to do something in a tai chi class, just do it. If the directions are unclear, ask for confirmation. But refrain from argument, discussion or debate. Just act.
Voltaire wrote: Men argue. Nature acts.
Making the exchange
A tai chi student must do far more than just train in class. If they want to gain real skill, they must give up some of their 'life'. Time = life.
Time spent doing tai chi will make the life you have richer and more complete.
Why is the root of wisdom so deep?
Because it must be planted in our lives.
The road to the precious capital
is not for the inattentive.
(Loy Ching Yuen)
Before you balk at the idea of giving up time/life training tai chi, ask yourself how much of your life have you invested in:
• Watching TV (years?)
• Sitting on your backside
• Drinking alcohol
• Getting lazy
• Failed relationships
• Doing a job you do not enjoy
• Getting tattoos done
• Expensive meals in restaurants
Many people are quite happy to travel the world or have a tattoo done, yet stand stooped over with neck, back and knee problems that afflict them every day.
Few people make the effort to look after their mind and their body.
Why not be a bit more choosy?
The time you invest in tai chi will pay long-term dividends.
An earnest student is willing to trade:
- attending class
- home practice
- workshops, boot camp etc
- extra training opportunities
- set the time aside to attend class and practice at home
- make tai chi part of your life
- train thoroughly between lessons
- meditation, awareness, clarity, composure, metacognition, constructive reading, memory and rest
- loss of ego
They know that excuses will not
produce results and talking is
Working the brain is the real key to success.
A strong, pliable, flexible, adaptive brain is required for learning this art.
The self cannot be shed if you are unaware of the workings of your own mind.
As you like it
You only get out of tai chi what you put into it.
Your tai chi is only as good as you make it. The choice is yours.
This is an exchange.
Money cannot buy tai chi
Maybe this is not what people want to hear...
Tai chi skills cannot be purchased.
You must use your mind and your body. And you must practice.
The trouble is,
you think you have time.
This modern Age of Narcissus makes it very difficult for most people to understand the cost of doing a spiritual endeavour.
So many people want to be famous, to be somebody, to be recognised.
Tai chi promises no fame whatsoever.
There is no financial reward and no celebrity.
But you will be healthy, martially skilled, youthful, anonymous and happy.
Lose yourself and gain the art
If you want to get really good at tai chi you must get rid of what hinders you: ego, self, vanity, pride...
This is the exchange.
23 March 2001
Last updated 16 June 2023