Exponential development

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Your mind is agitated and you have a bad nights sleep. Because of your bad nights sleep, your mind becomes agitated.
This seems to be a loop. Catch-22. To break the loop you must introduce a new factor, a change.
For example, you may lie down for 30 minutes before bed, or eat less in an evening or allow more fresh air into the bedroom, or you may wear less clothing for bed.


Without a conscious, deliberate change, the loop may well continue indefinitely. You plateau. Some changes occur by themselves. Sometimes a new element needs to be introduced.


Your tai chi progress is like this. Training a fault will perpetuate the fault. Improvements need to be added and practiced. Not all change is involuntary.



Zen helps our students to drop their baggage and realise that they don't know. Shedding past experiences, opinions and preconceptions is a vital first step.
Beginners find this to be very difficult. It entails change.


Tools such as Zen koan are an invaluable aid. They challenge our pre-conditioned ways of regarding the world and invite us to see the essence, the true nature of things.
Until you have unlearned what you think you know, progress is difficult and slow.
People to cling to their notions for security, never realising that freedom and mobility come from letting-go, rather than holding-on.

How frightened we are of the unknown! We like to remain enclosed in our daily habits, routines, quarrels and anxieties. We like to think the same old way, take the same road, see the same faces and have the same worries


Intuition rather than knowledge

Taoist/Zen precepts, insights and principles are not easy for the modern, rational mind to cope with.
People want to get a 'grasp of it' or 'get their head around it'.
It is hard to accept that we cannot truly understand very much about existence. It is fundamentally too vast and too complex to be comprehended.


This is why unlearning is so vital. Not only do we want to lose clutter and memories, we also need to lose our way of looking at things.
Not all things can be held, fixed and comprehended. Some things are too big to be understood.
And perhaps we do not even need to understand in order to make progress...
Perhaps all we need to do is feel it. Tai chi cannot be learned in a step-by-step way.

Linear progress

We offer a very detailed syllabus, with many topics, modules, and a clear path of progress. Yet, we also realise that progress is sporadic.
Students are individuals. They all learn differently.  There are sometimes great leaps of insight and ability.
At other times, people fall back into old habits and are required to review the basics once more. Everyone is different.


There is no linear progress. Tai chi is not logical. It is not like a conventional martial art. You cannot understand tai chi in terms of something else.
Most of the exercises and drills are about unlearning, about realising that what you think is so is not necessarily so. We teach new insights. We also take things away.

Connections and associations

When a student begins to put the pieces together, one insight can spark off many more.
Instead of seeing the new insight in isolation, the student realises how it pertains to many other aspects of the training.
Neigong is Iike this. If you can manifest a quality all the time, it underscores everything you do.
Jing is the same as well. When you look at the form you notice similarities and differences between movements. You see variations on a theme.


The insights cause a chain reaction, sparking an ever-widening growth of awareness and curiosity. Instead of knowing more, you see more.
You realise that there is more to see, to explore, to uncover. Your vision does not narrow, it widens.
Everything is seen in a new light. Huge spurts of comprehension and insight occur constantly.
You find yourself making connections and associations between previously unrelated parts of the curriculum and your abilities increase unexpectedly.


Creativity is a natural offshoot of this way of exploring tai chi. You have new ideas all the time and continue to see things differently. Nothing is static. Everything is changing.

Zen in the Martial Arts by Joe Hyams...

The chapter called Lengthen Your Line is very important. The author is failing to make headway when fighting against more skilled opponents in class. His solution is to be an 'arse'.
The instructor (Ed Parker) asks to speak with him after the lesson.

Short line

Ed draws a short line on a piece of paper and asks Joe how to make the line shorter. The author provides a few suggestions. Ed draws a longer line alongside the first line. Now, the first line looks shorter.

Improve your own line

Ed Parker explains "It is always better to improve and strengthen your own line or knowledge than to try and cut your opponent's line".


Joe realised that in many different areas of his life he was investing a lot of effort attacking other people and trying to make life difficult for them rather than seeking to improve his own skill.

What about you?

If we take the principle from this story and expand it... Consider that your current skill level can be represented by a 2 inch long line.
During a lesson Sifu gives you the opportunity to extend that line another inch or two. But do you?

Are you making the best of the opportunities?

The student who goes home and thinks about the lesson, practices the skills and then applies them will come to the next lesson with a 3 inch line.
By contrast, others will still have a 2 inch line.
Which type of student are you?

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023