The Mistakes are Part of Understanding

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The Taiji forefathers have always been kind to leave us their wisdoms. Many have cautioned us against some common mistakes we tend to make as we journey along the Taiji path.

To some of us, we need to make these common mistakes in order to learn from them. I recall when I first started learning pushing hands, I would dread to lose to my practice partner. As a result, I would just focus on pushing my practice partner, rather than focus on my own balance and sensation. My teacher would recite the Taiji literatures on the common mistakes, but somehow while intellectually I know I should not be doing what I was doing, emotionally and physically I was not able to comply.

It was not until I began to get “toyed” by my seniors that I began to learn from my mistakes. No matter how hard I pushed my seniors, they were able to “lead me on”, redirecting my attacks to render them totally useless, and sending me flying at the same time. Thankfully, my seniors explained to me where my mistakes were, and gave me some tips to overcome these mistakes.

It is alright to make mistakes. Making mistakes is part of our progress when we learn from our mistakes.

It is Never a Waste of Time

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A teacher once told me that he had practiced what his teacher taught him for twenty-five years before he began to realize what the teachings are about. Applying his newfound understanding, he is now in a different league from his peers.

This teacher was kind enough to share with me his learning. At the end of our training session, he gifted me a few words of wisdom. He told me that his twenty-five years’ of hard work was not a waste of time. If not for the kungfu that he accumulated over this long period of training, his newfound understanding would not have the foundations to apply from. Thus even though his newly attained knowledge and skills have made the earlier years’ training seemingly irrelevant to his current accomplishment, he is still thankful that he had the determination and perseverance to practice every day for the past twenty-five years.

It is never a waste of time to put in the time and effort to practice.

Joining The Dots

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Our pasts influence our presents, and our presents affect our future. Most of us arrive at our present selfs taking different paths.

We could be learning Taiji from the same teacher, practicing the same routines, and yet even though our Taiji look similar, they are not exactly the same. We have different physiques, different cultural backgrounds, different value systems and different pasts. Depending on the paths we have earlier chosen, or the decisions we have earlier made, they have an impact on our Taiji. By joining the dots of the different decisions we have made so far in our lives, we could have an insight into how they affect our Taiji.

To take this point further, it would also mean that we can never be the same as our teachers. We could learn from their wisdoms and teachings, but we can never be “them”. We have to make our Taiji our own.

It Takes Time

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Wine connoisseurs understand the importance of time in the maturity of a good wine.

A guitar luthier is willing to wait twenty years for the good piece of spruce top to dry naturally.

Cheese maturation takes anything from three weeks to two or more years.

Whisky lovers are willing to pay top dollar for a thirty-year-old scotch.

I am sure all good things are worth the time and effort that are put into them. To look at it in another way, we need to put in the time and effort in what we value as good things.

A teacher once told me this,” I have taught you the method and principles, now you only need to put in twenty years of practice.”

I can’t wait to see the fruit of my practice twenty years from now.

Losing Direction

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A fellow practitioner shared with me recently that he felt he was going nowhere with his current practice. When we discussed this further, it appeared that he was currently spoilt of choices in terms of the different schools of internal martial arts he was in contact with.

My advice to him was to stick to a core style that he was most comfortable with, and any learning from the other schools can be added as an insight to his core style.

I have long come to terms that there is no such thing as a complete internal martial art. While the principles are mostly similar, the ways to practice these principles tend to vary. We just have to keep an open mind and learn as much as we can, whenever the opportunity arises.

However, having said that, it helps to keep ourselves rooted to a core style, so that we have a generally consistent approach in our pursuit of the internal martial arts. Without the foundation of the core style, there is a risk of the practitioner losing direction. This is what my fellow practitioner is currently going through.

Winning the Push Hands but Losing the Taiji

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Every now and then, when I push hands with my fellow student, I find myself fighting hard to resist the temptation to use brute strength to throw my opponent off. There were quite a few times I gave in to this temptation, and although I “won” that bout of pushing hands, but when the euphoria of winning subsided, I felt like I have actually lost the match.

I have lost the opportunity to reinforce the Taiji principles I have learnt so far when I started using brute strength. Taiji is not about simply pushing the opponent off. It is also about being mindful and aware of the mental state, as well as being able to remain calm and maintaining balance under any circumstances.

More importantly, Taiji is not about winning. Thus pushing hands, whose principles are built on Taiji, must be more than just winning. If all we care about is winning in push hands, even if it means using brute force, then it is a case of winning the push hands but losing the Taiji.

Win-win Situation

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Imagine we are now pushing hands with an opponent. Do we seek to win by pushing our opponents off their balance?

If that is the definition of winning, then between my opponent and I, one of us has to lose.

To lose means a bruise to our ego. Bearing in mind how painful it is when our ego is hurt, we want to avoid losing.

Hence tension rises, and muscle stiffens.

A pushing hands practice becomes a pushing match. In the end, both opponents lost.

Thus having the right mindset before going into a pushing hands practice is very important. If we find that we cannot accept losing with grace, then perhaps we could look at re-defining the meaning of winning.

Winning is no longer simply pushing the opponent off.

Winning could now mean being able to put into practice the Taiji principles even though we are thrown off balance by our opponent.

It could mean being mindful of our weaknesses, and continuously working on overcoming them.

Now we have a whole new approach to a pushing hands practice. We can no longer be distracted by the fear of losing.

The Importance of Standing Meditation

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One of the most important exercises of Taiji training is the standing meditation, or “Zhanzhuang”. It basically entails maintaining a stationary posture over an extended period of time.

So why is this seemingly effortless exercise so important? Well, to give a simplistic answer, when we are practicing standing meditation, we are spending quality time with the most important person in this world: ourselves.

This is the time when we rein in our mind and focus on the present moment. There is no other activity to distract our focus and attention. We begin to learn how our body works, how our muscles tighten and relax alternatively, how we become more sensitive to minor movements of our body.

So why are all these important? There is a Chinese saying: know yourself and you will know your opponent. We are after all sharing the same anatomy. Our bodies more or less work the same way. Thus if I have a better understanding of how the body works, I would have an advantage over my opponent during pushing hands.

It is quite sad to know that most Taiji practitioners do not include standing meditation as part of their daily practice. Should they spend just ten minutes a day doing this exercise, I believe they would discover for themselves how important standing mediation is.

Taiji Routines and Taiji Push Hands

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Ever wonder which is more important, Taiji routine or Taiji push hands?

I have asked my teacher this question, and he told me both are equally important.

When we are doing the Taiji routines, we are actually learning about ourselves. We would realize how our body works, how the energy transfers from the feet to the leg, then to the waist, and finally from the arms to the fingers. We would find out how fickle our mind is, how the mind moves from the past events to the future, and bypassing the present.

When we are pushing hands with our opponent, we are learning about others. Because we have already known much about ourselves from all the hours we put into our Taiji routine practices, we can understand why our opponent reacts in a certain manner. We share the same anatomy after all. This is the time we put our understanding to the test.

Thus the two trainings go hand-in-hand. However if I really have to state which is more meaningful to me, I would pick Taiji routine over pushing hands, mainly because I believe the former is where foundation is built upon.

The Wandering Mind

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Our mind has a habit of wandering. Even though we think we can multi-task, what actually happened is that the mind merely moves from one activity to another, creating an illusion that we are doing many things at the same time. We fail to realize that at any one given moment, our mind can only focus on one activity only.

An untrained mind moves like a butterfly, fluttering from one point to another. A trained mind stings like a bee, focus on one point only.

When we practice our Taiji routine, it is important we also train our mind to focus on one point, and that point is the here and now. We would soon realize our mind simply thrives on the past and future, and rarely settles down on the present. It would soon drift to an event that happened some time ago, and the next moment it starts thinking about the things we have to do after we have finished our Taiji practice. It would take a trained mind to focus on only the one thing that is most important to us now, which is the present. Are we practicing correctly, what is the sensation on the arm, is our posture correct, are we maintaining the balance……

When we are able to rein in the mind from the past and future, and force it to face the reality, which is the here and now, we would have created a positive condition to make a big breakthrough along the Taiji journey.