Means and ends

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The art of living

The skills being trained in tai chi are multifaceted. Some pertain to martial situations, others to daily living. They challenge the student to consider the art of living as well as combat.
Instead of blindly forcing our way through life, we must learn how to respond with care and skill.


People who attend a good tai chi class for the first time are often surprised to find themselves exploring body use.
They expected to be memorising a beautifully choreographed sequence and walking away with a feeling of bliss. Instead they are invited to discover how they are currently using their own body.
This usually proves to be an eye opener.


Unlike most martial arts, tai chi is more concerned about the process of combat rather than simply the outcome. Yes, nobody wants to be harmed.
However, the means by which the result is achieved is not separate from the conclusion.

The means

People argue that the end justifies the means... Yet, the end cannot be divorced from the means. Means and end are part of the same process. Without the means there would be no end.
The means is the vehicle or mechanism for the production of the end. Sadly, in our world, the means is usually considered only in terms of time and money.

Wrong means, wrong end

If the way in we do something is not examined thoroughly then the end result has unforeseen side effects. Our world is filled with pollution, toxic waste, garbage and redundancies.
We kill the animals and the forests and then complain about the weather changing. We automate the workplace and take away people's income.

Tai chi as a process

In tai chi we are interested in quality not quantity. It is better to do one thing well than many things badly. Tai chi has no conclusion - the practice and the refinement will not reach an end.
By removing the end, the process becomes our only concern.

Wrong path

Some beginners train tai chi in order to compete with others. These people have wandered down a path of their own making.
Tai chi cannot have a path because it does not have a destination for you to reach. Tai chi is to be found in the doing.
fitness benefits and combat skills are a direct outcome of the process, rather than goals in themselves.

Living skilfully

Taoism and tai chi require a person to develop a growing awareness. This requires immersion in the present moment and a calm mind.
By slowing down we can see and feel more, become more sensitive and alert. To live skilfully we must accord ourselves with what is happening and be fully awake at all times.
If our mind is dreaming of some distant goal, we are not rooted in the immediate and it is only the here and now that can produce any outcome.

How we are

In this culture, we are all encouraged to compete and further ourselves; often at the expense of others. Taoism advocates a different approach.
It asks us to pay attention to what we are doing, to how we interact with others and the way in which we do things.


We may have an image of ourselves that we cling to -
"I am a nice person, I am caring" - but is this really how we are?
The quality of our relation to others tends to stem from our wants, appetites and desires. If we do not want something from another, consider how this affects our treatment of them...
Whose interests are we serving? Our own or theirs? Do we act from love or friendship, or do we gratify our own self image?
Are we being genuine and honest or simply using the other person to fulfil our needs?

Led astray

In the student's quest for tai chi skill, it is very easy to be led astray. Gimmicks, short-cuts and secrets will promise you everything you desire. The danger lies in the fact that you are inexperienced.
Your quest is based on your perception of what is important, of what is necessary. To a more experienced student, those same concerns may seem irrelevant or misguided.


Tai chi hides its secrets in the open. Your inability to comprehend them is a reflection of your own occluded nature. To unlock the art, you must change yourself.
If you are not discerning and scientific in your study, years may be spent practicing material that conflicts with The Tai Chi Classics, and does not really follow the Way of tai chi.

Wrong means

Some wrong methods you might encounter involve shouting and aggression, with abrupt jerky actions that may cause tension in the body and problems if you are prone to migraine.
Although the muscles remain soft, there is a definite jarring element to it. Why would people pursue such approaches? Impatience, confusion and laziness.
These approaches sacrifice the means to justify the end. With your emotional, mental and physical wellbeing in the balance, can you afford to ignore the process?

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Page created 18 March 1997
Last updated 16 June 2023