Are You Enjoying Your Taiji

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I have this discussion with my fellow Taiji students during a recent training. We were updating each other on the status of our Taiji practices.

I was sharing with him how I enjoy the simple exercises which we were taught during our first Taiji lessons long time ago. Somehow after so many years of Taiji practice, I only started to really enjoy these exercises now.

In the past, Taiji practice was always about what I want to achieve at the end of the session. I was always “after something”; I was always wishing I would get stronger after all these practices.

As my age started to pile on, I begin to realize what my teacher has been telling me time and again, that at the end of the day, even with all his skills, he is only an ordinary person. We should strive to live in the “present”.

And when we live in the “here and now”, we would be able to begin to enjoy the simple things in life. Simple things, like a normal Taiji practice.

The Principles And The Methods

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Quite very often, when I walked past a group of Taiji practitioners during their Taiji class, I would overhear their Taiji teacher telling his students to relax. Predictably, the next question I hear from the Taiji students was “How to relax?”

We all know one of the key principles of Taiji is to relax, or “松”. We all know how important it is to relax. However more often than not we do not know the training methods that will allow us to achieve the ability to relax.

In fact, it would not be unfair to assume that many of those who are teaching Taiji do not know these methods as well. The reason why I am making such an accusation is because the principle of “松” is absent from these teachers’ Taiji, too

Of course, simply knowing the methods is not sufficient as well. A lot of time must be put into practicing the methods before we can begin to understand these Taiji principles.

The Wisdom Has To Be Your Own

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Many a times we find ourselves agreeing with the Taiji literatures of the early masters. While it is good to spend time studying the Taiji wisdoms of the past masters, it is more important to realize that whatever we are reading is the masters’ experiences. They will not become our own wisdom until we have experienced them ourselves.

Taking as an example, after I have read the travel guide on Japan, I would most likely agree that Japan is a wonderful country to visit. However I would still be missing a key piece of the puzzle if I have not visited Japan myself to experience how wonderful the country is.

We often hear other Taiji practitioners voicing their opinions on some Taiji principles, sometimes even debating fiercely when they cannot agree with one another. One good way of resolving such quibbles is to ask each party to demonstrate in their Taiji what they are preaching. If it is all talk and no substance, then we are better off spending more time in our practice to develop our experiential wisdom than to continue such intellectual debates.

To Be Better Than Our Teachers

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I was watching a documentary on martial arts, and there was this teacher who mentioned that he expects his students to strive to be better in the arts than he is.

Or else, we would never be able to bring the martial arts to the next level.

Many practitioners, especially those who are influenced by Asian philosophies, tend to think that having such an ambition is unbecoming of a student. We are fearful of overtaking our teachers, as that would mean being out of line.

Sadly, many teachers think the same way, and once they feel their students are catching up with them, they would hold back on transferring of the knowledge to these students.

The teacher featured in the documentary thinks otherwise. He believes that as a teacher, he has to invest in his students, so that some of them would have the chance to excel and overtake him. This is the only way to make sure the martial art would remain relevant to the practitioners, and not falter through time.

I think he is a wise man.

Mine Is Better Than Yours

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Have you ever come across a situation where some fellow practitioners are comparing their teachers against other teachers?

I have seen many in the forums. There was this contributor who was comparing his Taiji grandmaster against other famous grandmasters, to the point where it becomes almost rude.

I was wondering how that would help in his pursuit of the Taiji arts. Would the fact that his grandmaster, whom I am sure was an accomplished one, beat the other Taiji grandmaster, of whom I know was an accomplished practitioner, make this person a better Taiji practitioner?

The fact that Grandmaster A has beaten Grandmaster B does not necessarily translate into the student of Grandmaster A would definitely beat the student of Grandmaster B.

I guess this is a classic case of “My dad is bigger than yours”.

Like me teacher used to say,

“If Taiji is important to you, then shut up and start practicing”.

Theory and Hard Work

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When I was young, I was taught this nursery rhyme, which I now think is simply brilliant.

人有两个宝,双手和大脑,
双手会做工,大脑会思考。
用手不用脑,事情做不好,
用脑不用手,空想做不到。
要把事情做得好,要用双手和大脑。

“We have two gifts, our hands and our mind.
The hands can work, and the mind can think.
If we use only our hands, we cannot get things done properly
If we use only our mind, we cannot even execute our plans.
To do things well, we have to use both our hands and our mind.”

Very often we were caught in the trap of having too much knowledge and not enough practice time. The result of which is most often a lot of frustration, like a prisoner who has the idea to make loads of money, but is locked in the cell. So much for having the next-big-idea, but not able to execute the plan.

Some of us would put in a lot of hard work in practicing without understanding what we are practicing for. The end result of this blind practice is not being able to apply what we have learnt.

Thus it is important for us to balance both the internal and external trainings in order to progress along the Taiji journey.

Foundation and Technique

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Recently I read of an article on the topic of foundation and technique. Foundation is like the cash in your bank account, and technique is like investment skills.

If you have loads of money in the bank, you can afford to outspend against your opponent, and for how long, well that depends on how much cash you have.

If you have good investment skills, then you can get the same result as above, but by spending less of the money. This way you are more efficient and less likely to go bankrupt.

When we are doing pushing hands, if we were to rely purely on our foundations, then there will come a time when our “reserves” would run low. This is the time when we most likely revert to brute strength to hope to overcome our opponents.

If we were to rely purely on technique, then we may find ourselves not being able to “hold out” for too long, as we cannot affect our opponents as well as we would like to.

In the ideal scenario of having both the foundation and technique, we would be able to be efficient and effective in our push hands.

Being a Teacher

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My guitar teacher once told me the difference between a concert guitarist and a guitar teacher. As a concert guitarist, he must be a perfectionist and thus set a very high expectation for himself, as well as those people whom he works with.

As a guitar teacher, he has to learn to accept that his students cannot yet meet his high standards, thus he has to be able to tolerate the lower standards. In a long run, he would lose his edge as a performing artist.

I am sure the same sacrifice, in one form or another, applies to all teachers for all disciplines. And that is why we have to be both thankful and grateful to our teachers.

Control

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Most disciplines are concerned with masteries of the mind and body. Only when we can control our minds and bodies could we claim to have mastered the respective disciplines.

I have seen fellow practitioners losing their cool during the push hands sessions, relying on their rage to dislodge their opponents. There are others who cannot resist using brute strength to force their opponents off their balance.

I often wonder if these practitioners are truly happy after each “win” in the push hands sessions. Did they realize what really happened was that they have lost the spirit of Taiji even though they have pushed their opponents off their feet?

Power is nothing without control. If we cannot control our mental and physical states, then I do not think we can consider ourselves as true Taiji practitioners.

What You Are Practicing Is Not Yours

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A teacher was kind enough to share with me his method of practicing. I was pretty new to Taiji at that time, and I was concerned that my Taiji would not be “pure” as there are so many different practicing methods that I would want to add to my routine.

The advice from the teacher was quite a rude shock.

“What you are practicing now is still your teacher’s, and only when you have truly understood and mastered it would it become yours.”

I once thought Taiji is all about the Taiji routines. However I soon found out that even though I can perform the Taiji routines without forgetting any step, I was still unable to apply the Taiji principles during the push hands sessions. What I lacked was the true understanding and mastery of the principles behind the Taiji routines.