Journal Posts

Learning and the martial mind

pushing hands

As a tai chi instructor, I find that beginning tai chi learners almost always find even the slightest amount of new information a lot to absorb. I tell them to trust that it will come, because it always does, and they are always amazed when it does. Even after a few practice sessions they see a difference. The mind becomes more clear on what the person is learning. The feeling is one of satisfaction and optimism for the future of practice.

At an early stage of learning tai chi, I started to think that my teachers were going too fast in class. I thought they were asking too much too quickly. At first it seemed that they were not taking into consideration the limitations of the students. They were not sensitive to the needs of learners. How can a person learn if the teacher goes too fast for them to integrate the information being transmitted?

But as time passed and training continued, I came to see a lesson in it. To reason this out, I thought they must know something that I don’t and there is a legitimate teaching methodology there. They have not conveyed that, but I never asked either. Maybe it doesn’t matter. I have had to figure things out for myself and that is a good thing for every student of tai chi. Sooner or later you must be your own teacher.

The lesson in the teaching, I concluded, was that the fast delivery of new information flooded my senses so much that in order to make room for the new knowledge, I had to let go of habitual mental positions I had been harboring. The experience was hectic, but I eventually realized the value of this flood of data for opening my mind to new possibilities of movement and awareness. I had to make room for new knowledge in mind and body.

Whether my teachers intended this consciously or not, I cannot say. Perhaps it was purely intuitive. Maybe the trick is in how the student chooses to see the opportunity being offered despite intentions—take the path of a true martial art mind and work through the obscurity of learning.

Eventually, the idea of seemingly rushing students through learning tai chi became a another lesson in how one must be quick in an actual martial setting. You must be fast and explosive in threatening situations. Maybe it’s a good thing when the teacher presents information faster than you are able to assimilate it. There will be time for absorbing afterwards. In the moment, one must act, let the body absorb the experience and preserve that knowledge for analysis later. Don’t think. Don’t feel violated. Don’t feel unfairly treated. Act with a martial mind.

The beginner always, curated

Perpetual learner, deliberate practice, repetition without repetition, intellectual humility, openness to new ways of learning. … They don’t mention taijiquan, but in fits the bill in this BBC article.

“How a ‘beginners mindset’ can help you learn anything”

We are not so resilient as we age

We are not so resilient as we age. Yet we try to do the same things as when we are young. Thinking it will pass. The pain and discomfort. But our older bodies don’t recuperate as they once did from the beatings we gave them. We are compelled to rethink our strategy. One thing we have at our disposal is to approach movement from new angles. To head off the damage before we do it so we have less to recuperate from in the first place. That means changing habits and habitual practices that cause pain and damage. I insist tai chi is a way to that. It doesn’t get the acceptance that it deserves. So what do you do? Or don’t do? Don’t get up in morning? Couch bomb on off days? Move differently? Eat differently? What works?

Tai Chi: Habit Killer

The old cliche of “breaking a (bad) habit” has outworn it usefulness. Instead, focus on creating a new habit. A habit has been described as a “psychological loop,” which is like a self-perpetuating pattern. Create—learn new patterns, new habits, of movement doing tai chi. This creates potential to overcome obstacles to progress along the path of learning and change, and yes, maturing beyond entrenched, unwanted habits.

Purpose in tai chi

To remember is a purpose. To learn is a purpose. To become aware of what is there to learn is purpose. And to remember. To do it, to be it, to be there in evermore circumstances. Begin with the simplest. Build familiarity. Return more quickly than the time before. Align a string of memories and returns. Then you will find the more complex moves play out as though you have been doing them for a long time. You have in truth because the task is to learn, practice, remember, and then learn more, practice more, and remember more.