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.