Martial art, movement art

On the surface, some posts seem to have little or nothing to do with tai chi. But martial art practice is an awareness-enhancing exercise system that generates insights into the nature of being in general. To examine one’s position in relation to other beings in a martial, or fighting, exchange, can evoke a more philosophical, or thought-provoking, view of the world. It can lead to a philosophy of tai chi or a cultivation of knowledge. This comes naturally to the practitioner with the practice of tai chi and qigong almost of its own accord. Practice arouses an awareness from out of the subconscious. Moving meditation that tai chi is stimulates perception not based on battle with an opponent, but rather on the struggle to perceive who and what we are in this place and time. Practice expands the range of observable phenomena available to us as human beings, not just as martial arts practitioners.

Most people who practice nowadays are not in it for fighting in battle with an opponent, only to maintain and improve health. What we do is not based on the art of war but on the art of living, or of simply being alive. This movement forms a basic foundation like an edifice for learning without physical walls. The mind-body and the energetic body-mind are the landscape of learning. Carry the notion of “martial art” to “movement art” and the focus shifts to different outcomes that were always there, just not always as obvious with the focus on martial purpose.

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.

A key to tai chi: Don’t move like that

One key to tai chi as simple as it sounds is to move differently than you are accustomed. I am convinced that most if not all have almost no concept of what I refer to. The opportunity that tai chi offers to learn the depth of how differently you can move to your benefit is practically unimaginable. That is unless you have experienced the difference yourself. Even a little exposure to that new awareness is uplifting in the freshest of ways.