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Of itself so
When people desire to learn combat skills they are often looking for a 'bag of tricks'.
It is highly unlikely that techniques and tips will work in combat if the exponent has not changed at a fundamental level. Combat is more than application.
It is also about composure, clarity, perception, timing, balance, sensitivity and competence. These things do not emerge overnight.
We want the responses to occur by themselves. But we are not talking about 'reflex'. This may sound odd, but consider driving a car...
Do you direct your right arm to push up and your left arm to pull down in order to turn the steering wheel? Or does it feel to happen by itself?
Making the right movement at the right time is a tall order. But it is the heart of martial skill.
Given that combat involves an ever-changing situation, with an opponent(s) who is free to do whatever they like, it becomes even more difficult.
Respond rather than react
You need to be exceptionally sensitive. You need to be capable of 'listening' to what is happening. You need to adapt, change and improvise again and again and again.
Our drills cultivate these skills. If they did not, what purpose would they serve? As you become increasingly competent, you are less and less able to explain just how you defended yourself.
You just did it and it worked. This is tzu-jan.
Just do it
Trying does not work in tai chi. This is not endorsing apathy. It is an acknowledgement that progress cannot be forced. It cannot be pushed. It cannot be rushed. Instead of trying, you must let go.
You must allow.
Naturalness is everything in martial skill. In our ego-driven world of selfishness and greed, this is not so straightforward. It involves trust. It requires patience. Stamina. Endurance. Commitment.
Means & ends
You simply get on with the work and forget about results. You address the means, the how, the character, the essence, the nature. The end will take care of itself.
When your mind is calm and still, you will absorb information without forcing. You will see rather than look, hear rather than listen. An alert passivity exists. This condition takes time to cultivate.
Taijiquan fighting method
Whole-body strength has many qualities and attributes that simply emerge by themselves once the seeds have been planted. They cannot be forced.
Students suddenly find it easy to do things that were formerly difficult. The 'doing' fades and the outcome seems to happen by itself.
The doing is still there. You have internalised it and forgotten to try. You no longer stand in your own way.
Get a feel for it
Some things can be taught, whilst other things just occur. You cannot teach someone to ride a bicycle. You just cajole and encourage. You do not really teach anything.
The learner figures it out for themselves. They get a feel for it. Internal martial arts are like this.
Everything is filtered by mind
The Long Yang form is a bounty of information. You could study a single form for your entire life and still be amazed by its complexity and subtlety. As your training progresses, the form also evolves.
You see more. You express more. You change. How you think changes. What you do changes.
You do not see out of your eyes. You see in your mind. Your brain processes all sensory information. This data is also prey to your thoughts, opinions, beliefs, perceptions, memories and insights.
If you are studying tai chi, Zen and the Tao, your mind will unlearn. Your clarity of mind will improve.
Here & now
Instead of pursuing novelty, instead of looking far, you look near. You see detail. The most ordinary of things suddenly becomes fascinating. The simplest of things inspires wonder.
It is a child-like blossoming of curiosity and surprise. Every aspect of your life is touched by this change, it grows unexpectedly within your mind.
It is not enough to simply practice tai chi. You need to train the right material. You need to do it correctly. Otherwise, your time is wasted.
Committing time to the wrong means will never produce the right outcome.
Wrong practice is akin to ringing the incorrect phone number repeatedly in the hope that the right person will eventually answer.
You cannot progress from beginner to advanced by willing it to be. It happens in small stages, all by itself. Right practice is essential. The correct seeds must be planted.
Progress cannot be seen in material terms. It is not akin to purchasing something. You cannot buy your tai chi skills. A person makes progress when and if the skills emerge.
The abilities cannot be bought, forced or faked. It is not enough to simply attend lessons or train hard. You must also let-go.
A beginner slowly leaves other beginners behind. They become more experienced. The slow climb through the grades is marked by significant changes in the student.
The journey requires a maturing of the student, a growing into the tai chi. Taijiquan and self become one.
Hard work alone is not enough. Simply working hard will not necessarily lead to progress.
It needs to be deliberate, focused improvement designed to improve your practice by developing key skills outlined by your instructor.
The student must implement corrections, study the recommended books, undertake assignments and challenge their comfort zone.
The outcome of hard work
To reach the higher levels of the syllabus, the tai chi must flow spontaneously from you. The syllabus is all about tzu-jan. New skills emerge unexpectedly and old skills improve without effort.
You have no idea what is to come and your mind is quietly on the here and now.
The master aimed to teach
Herrigel humility and to be indifferent to the final outcome of the shot.
Whether he hit the bull's-eye or missed the target there had to be complete
equanimity, for it was not in fact Herrigel that was loosing the shot but
the unspoken powers that guide men's lives. It was only by accepting this
that Herrigel could then allow the arrows to be shot through him rather than
18 March 1997
Last updated 13 January 2020