Paradigm shift (2)

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In taijiquan the exponent must adhere to certain requirements that differ from other martial arts:

  1. The limbs and the torso move together

  2. Yielding to force is paramount

  3. Creating space facilitates greater movement

  4. Flexible of body and mind offers more choices and possibilities

  5. Working without tensing-up increases speed and reduces physical resistance to movement in the body

  6. Remaining composed means that fight, (freeze) or flight doesn't kick in

  7. Moving the whole body means that you offer a mobile target and your blows/leverage contain greater mass and unified strength

  8. Being loose and heavy means that gravity can add considerable power to your actions

  9. Going with the flow enables you to deal with what is taking place rather than get caught up in an idea/concept

  10. Responding without thinking is faster than planning and evaluating; and taps the subconscious mind

New students

When people start tai chi lessons they have all kinds of poor physical habits and notions pertaining to the experience of fighting. This is to be expected.
On what basis is the new starter assessing the tai chi? 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 is measured relative to their expectations. It is compared with what they want to see or might imagine they will see.

Discover the truth

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, taijiquan 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. People argue that the end justifies the means... Yet, the end cannot be separated 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. Wrong means = wrong end.


Taijiquan’s neigong is like a spring; the hard in the soft, the needle in the cotton.
It is relaxed and not a matter of muscular effort.
Nor is preparation needed.
When you want it, it is there.
This comes only after hard and diligent training

(Cheng Man Ching)

Words and ideas

Modern culture perpetuates the misconception that anyone can understand anything providing it is properly explained to them. And that the failing of the individual is caused by a shabby explanation.
This is absurd. If a concert pianist patiently taught you how to play the piano, could you hope to match their skill? A ballerina? An airline pilot? A surgeon? A chef? A tailor? An engineer? A mechanic?
Words have severe limitations.

Blind and lost

To understand anything we need context. Reference points
. Case examples. A comprehensive mental representation. A knowledge base.
We need experience, parameters, guidelines, limitations, applicability. We need to know where the pieces fit together, how and why.
A novice does not and cannot possess this. No matter how eloquent or detailed the explanation nor how thoroughly they study.

Bad habits

Many health problems are caused by the way in which we stand, walk, sit and use our bodies during everyday activities.
fatigue, stiff neck, bad knees, back problems are usually caused by our own bad habits.
Incorrect muscle use, imbalance, poor physical awareness, work and many forms of exercise only serve to perpetuate poor fitness and muscle

Conventional training

As you grow older, hard-style martial arts, sport and conventional exercise become increasingly difficult to perform. Many exercises promote muscle tension; resulting in a stiff neck and immobile joints.
Injuries are common. The slogan 'no pain, no gain' is often used in conjunction with exercise. Being healthy sounds like an ordeal.

Exercise expectations

People expect to sweat their way to fitness and good health but is this really necessary? Not all forms of exercise are necessarily good for you.
For example, running may improve cardiovascular health but is also very hard on the joints.
Lifting heavy weights can cause significant tension to accumulate and - if the muscles are large enough - adversely affect the skeleton. Most forms of exercise have pros and cons; especially sport.


Tai chi is concerned with re-training the body for optimal functioning. To use the body skilfully, you must dynamically balance muscles within the body and use the bone structure in a healthy way.
We teach people to become incredibly aware of their own bodies.
It is so tempting to stretch, to extend, to reach. To force, to push. Don't do this.
Just do what you need to do to accomplish the result and nothing more. Aim for this ratio: minimal effort achieves maximum results.

Physical intelligence

A tai chi student acquires knowledge and skills by following a clearly defined tried and tested syllabus. The training methods instil muscle memory, cultivate awareness and encourage mindfulness.
Throughout the early stages of their learning process the student must simply do what they are told. Without alteration, improvisation or real understanding.
The student may have modest glimmers of insight but these are partial and fail to reflect a more comprehensive grasp of the material or its true nature and purpose


The body use principles and rules employed in taijiquan often run contrary to what people expect. They are very surprised to discover for themselves that system actually works.
No belief, faith or qi magic was involved. Just good biomechanics and physics. Often, students remark that taijiquan is "counter-intuitive". This admission is quite telling.
The art is not counter-intuitive at all. Taijiquan follows nature. The problem lies with the individual student's major misconceptions. And their lack of 'physical intelligence'.
e.g. the taijiquan
teacher didn't discover the folly of bracing and blocking... Sir Isaac Newton did. And before him, the ancient Taoists. The knowledge is old and it is publicly available.

The energy of an object in motion increases with the square of its velocity. Or in even simpler English: when you’re hitting something, speed is more important than mass. If you double your mass, you’ll hit with twice the force. But if you double your speed, you’ll hit with four times the force, and so on. Quite handy to know when you only weigh 140 pounds.

(Anna Spysz)

Back to The Matrix

So, is taijiquan bending or breaking the rules? No. It follows them. The rules of nature. Physics. Human anatomy. In fact, it is the other arts that are not following the rules... Get it?
e.g. taekwondo is based on concepts. Concepts and ideas that are not in accord with either nature, physics or human anatomy.

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Page created 18 April 2005
Last updated 13 January 2020