The nail

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Will to power

Tai chi skill is not about will. 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. Acknowledgment.

Actions speak louder than words

In a tai chi class, the only thing that matters is how good you are at tai chi. What can you pull off martially? 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 brag or boast.


I do not promise you ease. I do not promise you comfort.
But I do promise you these hardships: weariness and suffering.
And with them, I promise you victory.

(Giuseppe Garibaldi)

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 martial arts 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 good instructor 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 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.

One is taught in accordance to one’s fitness to learn.

(The Silent Flute)


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Page created 18 March 1997
Last updated 16 June 2023