Learning the Tai Chi way

Published on 2012-07-31

Learning the Tai Chi way
Several weeks ago I was in Beijing delivering a public demo on Connecting Through Diversity. Afterwards one of the attendees came up to me to ask me about the section on personality differences that I talked about.
[quote style=”boxed” float=”left”]”What should I look for when I meet people to tell which type they belong to?”[/quote]
“What should I look for when I meet people to tell which type they belong to?”
I thought for a minute about how to answer this question. I could have given lots of examples of the types of behaviour different types of people would demonstrate, and several tests you can do to help you decide what they are, but I came to the conclusion that actually this would mislead this person. Should they have focussed on looking for behavioural differences and trying out these tests that I could have recommended, then that is exactly what they would have done…At the expense of much more that they could just notice without me having told them these things.
In the end, I recommended that they instead focus on what they can notice and try to make sense of it. Actually, when we talk to people we can notice a lot about their behaviour, but what we should really focus on is what we notice about our unconscious feelings. Our unconscious mind really is the most intelligent part of us, and it holds a lot of mysterious secrets, all of which are extremely useful to us. If you stop trying to focus your conscious mind on specific details, you may notice that your unconscious mind is sending you signals telling you to say something specific, or to that this person is probably really interested in a certain subject. You probably can’t explain why it’s telling you that, but it doesn’t matter, your unconscious mind is always right. It’s when we stop and listen to ourselves that we can really notice our surroundings.
Recently I’ve been learning tai chi, and am really enjoying the health benefits of it! When I lived in England, I tried learning tai chi and several other martial arts there, but the way they were taught left me feeling very uncertain about their use. The instructors were teaching me things like “If they hit you like this, then you move your left arm like this, your right arm like this and then take a step forward like this”. But try doing that in a real fight! There’s not enough time to think that much! So when I was practicing the lao jia yi lu form in tai chi recently, I asked my instructor what one of the movements was for. She told me to throw a punch at her, and she demonstrated the movement. I had memories of when I was learning martial arts back in England and so said to her “But in a real fight, I’ll forget all of that!” to which she replied “Exactly!”
The tai chi way is actually a very practical way of learning. First you learn the form and perfect it. The form teaches you all the movements you need to know for combat. After the form, you practise pushing hands. Pushing hands develops the sensitivity and reflexes you need for combat. Finally you practise the combat applications of each movement, to get you used to actually using these movements. Then, you go into a real combat situation and you forget everything you have learnt!
Yes, you just completely empty your mind and do what your unconscious makes you do. You don’t think consciously at all, you just leave all the work to your unconscious mind. They throw a punch at you, and suddenly they are on the floor rolling in pain and you have no idea what just happened!
What tai chi does is step by step consciously teach you all you need to learn, until it becomes unconscious. Once it is unconscious, then the most important thing is to empty your conscious mind and trust your unconscious ability.
It’s the same with learning a language. At first we repeat grammatical exercises and flashcards over and over again, consciously trying to force ourselves to memorise everything. Then one day, suddenly we see a newspaper and without reading word for word we just know the meaning of an entire sentence. The language has become a part of our unconscious ability.
This means that we overestimate science somewhat. That’s not to say science has it’s advantages, I really don’t need to mention those, they are all around us. But we shouldn’t put too much trust in theory, especially trusting that the theory can explain everything. Science is essentially trying to explain the unexplainable and there will always be something missing to a theory that we can’t quite put words to. So use the theory as a base to accelerate your learning, but then empty your mind and let your unconscious do all the work for you.