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Zen or Tao-influenced arts - whether martial or otherwise - require the student to cultivate an eye for subtlety.
There is a deliberately obscure quality to these arts.
Much is left unsaid.


Seen in this way, tai chi is akin to an Asian joke.
Hidden within dance-like forms and playful partnered exercises, a deadly martial art lies unnoticed by most people.
To approach the art, you must let go of tension and fixity; physical, emotional and psychological.
This makes tai chi especially inaccessible to people who have an aggressive or forceful character.

Beyond money

Some things cannot be bought with money.
They require a serious commitment and a willingness to sublimate the


Modern culture does not really promote introspection, contemplation or spiritual inquiry.
People are led by money, advertising, television, fashion technology and superficial interests.
Few people possess the patience or the interest to delve deeper.
It simply isn't fashionable.


Slowly, things coarsen.
Manners, politeness and courtesy are neglected or seen as being old-fashioned and pointless.
Good diction, eloquence and intelligence are valued less, and school exam standards are lowered to compensate.
Pursuits that require
time, effort, tenacity and self-sacrifice only appeal to a shrinking number of people.

His delicacy resonated in that gentle place in me that I had blocked off for my adult life because I feared it wasn't manly. One of the many gifts he gave me was the way he led me back to the best part of myself.

(Wolfe Lowenthal)


When you listen to how people communicate, there are many words but little substance.
Words are spoken sloppily or shunted out urgently; with an undercurrent of anxiety in order to emphasise their importance.
Swearing is commonly employed in preference of eloquence.
There are few ideas and feelings in life that cannot be better articulated with a good vocabulary.
Then, there is that which exists beyond words...

Showing off

It is quite common for a person to advertise their financial prosperity by purchasing symbols that serve to broadcast their wealth.
Chuang Tzu strongly argues against this approach.
What purpose does showing off serve?
It attracts the interests of thieves and malcontents, it generates resentment and bitterness. It invites challenges. For what reason?


There are many other ways to show off.
Tai chi
competitions are a good example.
Despite some earnest practitioners - eager to share their insights - competitive events attract all manner of people.
Taoism encourages the individual to remain quiet, obscure and understated.


The beauty of being understated is that nobody notices and nobody cares.
This means freedom from attention.
Tao and Zen arts relish obscurity.
There is no reason to be in the spotlight and certainly no need.


Tai chi was once practiced in secret.
The skills of the art were closely guarded.
Even today, most tai chi people are privy to only a very small fraction of the potential contained within the art.
To really understand the tai chi, a student must undertake a long and difficult journey.
There will be many pitfalls, obstacles and setbacks.


In order to appreciate the wonderful genius of tai chi and the many Zen and Tao arts that exist, a student must refine their sensibilities.
They must learn to see, feel, touch, and even think differently.
Every aspect of their being is transformed.


By slowing down and really paying attention to things, the student becomes aware of their own motivations, opinions, emotions and impediments.
They notice relationships between everything.
Details become significant.


Refining your sensibilities does not mean acquiring a taste for high-class living.
The Zen monks of ancient Japan could not afford expensive Chinese tea ware and sought another option.
Instead of lavish, expensive goods... the humble, rustic simplicity of Korean tea cups were purchased and appreciated.
A new, humbler, more modest sensibility was formed.


Everything concerning the Japanese tea hut and its associated ceremony was re-designed to cultivate just the appropriate condition of quietude, dignity, ease and reflection.
Nothing was arbitrary or careless.
High ranking people from all over Japan sought the compassion, beauty, simplicity, humility and purity of essence associated with the tea ceremony.
It centred them and brought life into focus for a brief moment, an interlude.
We seek to bring this same mood into our tai chi.

 Tai chi is now evolving into a sport of tawdry tournaments and trophies in which an internal form of moving meditation is judged by the criteria of external dance.

(Robert Smith)


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Page created 2 March 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023