How can you tell?

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A new starter watches the tai chi in class and remarks upon the quality of the material. A reasonable reply might be: "How can you tell?" This simple question is extremely penetrating.

What is your criteria?

On what basis is the new starter assessing the tai chi performance? How are they measuring the skill? What criteria are being applied? Which qualities do they consider to be valuable?


The new starter assesses the quality of the tai chi on the basis of their own opinions, values and judgements. They draw the criteria from memory and experience.
The tai chi performance is measured relative to their expectations. It is compared with what they want to see or might imagine they will see.
It may be compared with other performances they have witnessed. In all cases, the assessment and ultimate determination is based upon the application of memory.

Are you qualified to judge?

Is a new starter qualified to comment on the quality of tai chi? No.
Any such commentary must surely be based upon a limited understanding of what tai chi constitutes. Qualification is not a matter of academic prowess, certificates and exams.
It is about perception.
Can the new starter see what is taking place? Are they capable of discerning the subtleties? Is the person aware of the underlying principles of tai chi?
Without an earnest grasp of combat, The Tai Chi Classics and the Taoist Classics, what possible judgement could be made?

How you are

Often our perception of things says more about ourselves than the subject of our assessment. A person passes comment, and in so doing reveals the inner workings of their mind.
How we see things and what we take the information to mean will vary from person to person. In truth, we do not see things as they are, but as we are.
Our perceptions are coloured by our upbringing, our education, our memories, our bias, our opinions, our culture, our desires and expectations.


We are also inclined toward things that please us and away from things that do not. This is called gratification. Yet, there is great danger in assessing/dismissing things on the basis of gratification.
Not everything in life is there to please us. Indeed, much of existence is not about us and has no bearing on us.
We are not the centre of the universe. Embracing the unknown inevitably means doing things that are not necessarily pleasurable.
This is like drinking green tea. The taste is bitter and unpleasant, but you drink anyway, and eventually the bitterness no longer concerns you.

We take refuge in pride because we are afraid to tell the truth to ourselves.

(Kakuzo Okakura)

Passing judgement

When a person passes judgement without criteria, they reveal a certain ignorance and arrogance. They presume to know and as such cannot be taught.
Only with humility can they begin to learn. Lao Tzu said that a person who is ignorant but thinks they are not ignorant is truly ignorant.
Whereas a person who knows that they do not know is not ignorant at all.


Understanding arises from doing; from training tai chi properly over many years.
Partaking in lessons with a skilled teacher will furnish the student with the aptitude necessary to genuine appreciate what they are studying.
The teacher will explain the how, the what and the why... You will physically feel the difference between high quality training and a preliminary grasp of the art. Opinion will not enter into it.

Learn more

In order fully appreciate what you are learning, become acquainted with:

The Tai Chi Classics
The tai chi principles
The essence of the art

The photograph features our patron Mr Andrew Yeo of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023