Asking Why and How

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Do you know that we ask ourselves thousands of questions every day? It could be a simple question like “what time is it?” to more profound question like “why am I doing this?”. We typically ask ourselves a question before performing an action. It is important that we ask ourselves the right question, because when we ask ourselves a powerful question, we set our mind to look for a powerful answer.

It is worth taking note that our mind tends to be unrestrained, thus it is important that we ask questions that are relevant and empowering to us. For example, if we were to ask ourselves “Why do I always lose in pushing hands?”, then we are setting ourselves to justify why we are “losers”. Similarly, if we were to ask ourselves “What can I do to win in push hands?”, we then find ourselves looking for empowering answers to improve on ourselves.

There are typically five areas of questioning, namely, Why, How, Who, When and What. To simplify the questioning process, I tend to focus on Why and How. Asking “why” would typically give us an emotional answer, while asking “how” normally gives us a logical one. By alternating between asking “why” and “how”, we would be able to understand the underlying principle, as well as to map out the next action to be taken to achieve what we want.

Gratitude

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Over the weekend I was exchanging some views with a fellow practitioner on certain aspects of our Taiji journey. There was this very interesting observation which we both find thought-provoking.

There are many ways to learn Taiji, and there are many Taiji teachers whom we could learn Taiji from. Some of these teachers charge varying amounts of fees for their lessons. Some do it for free.

I have known of many Taiji students, who, after paying for the Taiji lessons, expect the teacher to spoon feed them into successfully mastering Taiji. Just like any daily transactions, they pay some monetary considerations, and they expect a full delivery of what they had paid for.

Unfortunately, learning Taiji is not just another daily transaction. We cannot pay someone else to put in the hard work on our behalf. In fact, we not only have to put in our own effort to practice, we have to put in effort to understand what we are practicing, too.

I have also known of Taiji teachers who teach for free. They are always on the lookout for suitable students to pass on the knowledge they have gathered through the years of practice. Their mission is to transmit their Taiji wisdom, and that makes learning from these teachers a humbling experience. The students are there for the Taiji lessons not because they have paid for the class (the lessons are free, remember?), but to receive the transmission of Taiji from the teacher. A sense of gratitude is shared among these students, and it is this sense of gratitude that tends to spur these students on when they are met with any obstacle along their Taiji journey.

If we as the student can discard the feeling of entitlement, and adopt a sense of gratitude, when we are learning from our teachers, I believe it would make the whole experience more fulfilling.

Stupid Genius and Clever Idiot

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I was sharing with a fellow Taiji practitioner on some of the training methods for foundation building. He was very excited about learning the methods, and he promised me that he would be putting in his best efforts to “perfect” these basic exercises.

I was encouraged by his enthusiastic response, but I had to caution him against taking a narrow approach towards his practice. And to make it easier for him to understand my point, I shared with him some wisdom which I could not remember where I had heard from.

Someone once told me that he would rather be a slightly stupid genius, than to be a very clever idiot. To be a genius, no matter how stupid I am, would be more desirable than to be an idiot, no matter how smart this idiot is.

Similarly, if we overly focus on the really basic exercises, and miss out on the opportunities to open up our exposure to the more advance techniques, we could end up being able to draw a perfectly straight line, but unable to draw a masterpiece.

Just a Normal Person

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My teacher reminded me time and again that despite him achieving a high standard in his Taiji practice, he is still only a normal person. There is no special power or gift that is bestowed upon him to make him a cut above the rest. And it is this understanding that allows him to continue enjoying his Taiji.

When he is pushing hands, he accepts the fact that he may not win all the time. With such a mental state and mindset, he is able to remain relaxed throughout the pushing hands session, as there is no undue stress and pressure on him to win all the time. And the irony is that it is exactly because he is relaxed mentally that he is able to win most of the time.

When our mind is able to relax, most likely we are then able to relax our physical bodies. And when we are able to relax our physical bodies, our mind tends to be able to relax. These two conditions feed and grow on each other.

By accepting the fact that we cannot win all the time, we give ourselves enough room to enjoy the moment, and we would emerge as winners most of the time.

Can You Teach Me The Method

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Very often we get many advice from the senior practitioners regarding our Taiji and push hands. These senior practitioners may quote many Taiji literature, but so often stop short of sharing with us the methods they adopt in their own practice to achieve the requirements of such Taiji principles.

I know of a fellow practitioner who is confused by all these advice. He told me that he finds some of the advices being contradictory. To this, I can only suggest that he “confront” such advisers, “challenging” them to share with him the practice methods that they had adopted to achieve the requirements they advocated.

It will be to his benefit if the advisers could share with him a viable method to practice. If the advisers are unwilling, or even unable, to share, then it would also be to his benefit, as they may refrain from giving unsolicited advice moving forward.

Practice Does Not Make Perfect

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We always hear this piece of wisdom “Practice makes perfect”. While generally this wisdom is true, there are is an unspoken assumption which is, well, unspoken.

During a motivational course that I have attended, the coach kept reminding us, “Practice does not make perfect. Only good practice makes perfect.”

In our daily Taiji practice, if we were to practice a movement wrongly, we are simply reinforcing a mistake over and over again. We are practicing our mistakes. Through time, these mistakes become our bad habits, and we all know bad habits die hard.

So it is important that we are mindful of what we are practicing. If our Taiji practice is consistent with the requirements of the Taiji principles, then we are perfecting our Taiji skills. If we allow mistakes to exist, then we are reinforcing these bad habits.

So the wisdom in full is “Good practice makes perfect, bad practice makes bad habit.”

Fine-Tuning Is More Difficult

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There is this saying “To learn something is easy, to tweak something is difficult”. This is especially true when we want to tweak a certain movement in our Taiji routine. Imagine having to change and overcome a bad habit that has been reinforced through years of practice. It must be a difficult task.

So how do we then overcome this challenging prospect of having to iron out a bad habit? I think it has to start from how we view this exercise. If we were to keep reminding ourselves that we are changing a bad habit, then we have to work doubly hard; we have to overcome the bad habit and then cultivate a new one.

However, if we were to treat it as learning a new skill or movement, then we would not have to burden ourselves with the stress of overcoming the bad habit. We are just learning something new. Once we master the new skill, we simply replace the old habit with the new one.

Pushing Hands Pushing Egos

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Have you had such an experience?

There are opponents whom you respect after pushing hands with them, and the reason you respect them is not because they are highly skilled. You just simply feel that their personalities demonstrate the principles of Taiji.

And then, there are opponents that simply spoil your day after pushing hands with them. You somehow sense something unpleasant about your opponent. Regardless whether you have won or lost the pushing hands session, you just do not enjoy the whole process.

Why is there such a difference in both experiences, and what is the major cause for this difference?

If I could only list one major cause, I would think it is our egos at play.

When all we can think of during a pushing hands session is to win, then we not only make the session miserable for ourselves, we also affect our opponents as well. We most likely would lose our composure and mental balance when we focus too much on winning. A sad outcome of that pushing hands session, regardless of whether we win or lose, is that we are moving further and further away from the principles of Taiji.

It is only when we let go of our egos that we can truly enjoy the pushing hands session. Regardless of whether we win or lose in that session, our opponents and us emerge winners.

The Wind

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I often heard Taiji students asking their teacher if the various sensations they experienced during and after their Taiji practice were actually “qi”. I heard many responses given by the Taiji teachers when they were asked such question. So far the best answer I have heard takes reference to a very simple phenomenon; the wind.

We often enjoy a nice breeze brushing against our skin during a hot sunny day. While we can feel the presence of the wind blowing against our body, it is not right to conclude that the cool sensation itself is the wind.

Similarly, the sensations we experience during and after the Taiji practice are caused by the qi-flow; these sensations themselves are not qi. If we have the wrong idea that these sensations are qi, we would run the risk of focusing too much on certain sensations. The result would be that our mental balance may be affected, and Taiji becomes a sensation game.

So how do we know if our qi is flowing correctly during and after our Taiji practice? This is a good question, and the answer from the teacher is equally brilliant. Qi is present in all living things. As long as we are alive, our qi will continue to flow. This is the law of nature. So why worry about how our qi flows? The Taiji literatures passed down by our forefathers always remind us not to focus on qi. For example, the Ten Taiji Essentials focused on maintaining a balance posture, and not a word on qi.

So the next time we feel a soft breeze against our skin, we would be reminded not to focus on the wrong thing when we are doing our Taiji practice.

It Is Not About How Much You Know

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A teacher once shared with me a few words of wisdom. He told me it is not important how much you know about Taiji, it is whether you truly understand Taiji that is important.

And this understanding of Taiji, no matter how little the understanding is, would one day become your own wisdom.

We could spend many years practicing Taiji blindly, without proper understanding the principles. And we find that after all these years, we are not still unable to apply the Taiji principles that we know so well by heart.

It is only with true understanding that we would translate the Taiji principles into our own wisdoms. Given sufficient good practice, we would be able to apply these principles, whether in our Taiji routine or during the pushing hands sessions, or even in the way we conduct our daily lives.