About Mushin

Wing Chun researcher and teacher.

To Be Aware

Awareness is important when training Tai Chi. Many know this.

But did you know you need to train yourself to be aware?

If you think this sounds silly, it is.

You would think what’s so difficult about awareness. You tell the trainee to take note of something he’s not doing properly and that’s it.

Except it does not work out quite this way in real life. 99% of the time I would point out to a student something he is doing wrong, get him to correct it and in the next instant he goes back to doing the movement the same old, wrong way.

Maybe a solo movement is too conceptual and the student catches no ball, to use a local phrase for someone not getting a point. So I would use examples of application to explain – what makes a good application, what the principles are, how the application fits in with the solo movement, how the application can fail, how to vary the application, etc. Can’t get any clearer, right?

Wrong.

Turned my head for a second and its back to the same problem, like the last few minutes did not happen. Or perhaps it did but in the Twilight Zone.

Mastering Tai Chi is not easy but it is not impossible, at least not if you apply yourself to studying it and of course, with tons of awareness as to what is really happening with the way you move.

Just thinking that you are doing it correctly does not make it right. You have to know what you are really doing. And it goes without saying that awareness comes with the territory.

As my teacher said easy to learn, difficult to master. Some of my better students are those who think nothing of doing the same movement over and over again though I prefer if they do the repetition at home. This is because though its good to see them take the learning seriously, however, they need the time to digest what they have learned as there are many things to take note of when playing the form.

The key is to go for a minor permanent correction rather than try to correct too many things at once. Get one thing right, then the next and the next and before you know it you have made a lot of headway. But try to get everything right and you may end up getting little right.

Tai Chi can be an exacting and demanding mistress. You need to put in time daily to practice, lots of it. You need to be dedicated to improving what you do, a bit at a time. If you are overly ambitious, wanting to progress fast then chances are you end up making little headway and become frustrated instead.

Learning Tai Chi is not simply a matter of studying it linearly. Many times the learning is non-linear. You get many bits and pieces. As you learn you store the knowledge in your mind, then sort them to build up a picture of the art, until you can see what it is about though the reality is that many things will never really be clear until you can really do it. Kinda chicken and egg issue.

The form is actually a useful tool for putting together our learning by providing a common point of reference. You can think of it as a book with a title to which you use to organize your content. For example, the 108 form can be a book about Tai Chi principles. Or it can be a book about the techniques. Or a book about the tools for doing push hands. It can also be a book about leverage. And so on.

Being aware is actually an easier, less frustrating way to master Tai Chi. Don’t rush, take your time, practice to get things right rather than to become a master. Put the expectations aside and your efforts will take care of the mastery. Step by step, persistently, single-mindedly and we will get there eventually.

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To Be A Tai Chi Teacher 3

A *ming* teacher is not just a teacher who can remember forms and perform them back to you like a video recorder.

Being able to remember forms helps you to master Tai Chi but its not enough. You must penetrate to the essence of the forms and live them to be able to say you understand them. Otherwise, your movements will be souless and tasteless. You will not be able to use the techniques freely within push hands not to mention combat.

To know a form is not to just know the movements. To know a form means to know :-

a) The principles on their own and as a whole

b) The nuances and details of each movement

c) The obvious, hidden and derived applications of the movement

d) The ways of neutralizing and issuing

e) Able to express innumerable changes

f) Concealing complexity within simplicity, concealing intent

 

Take an example – Cross Hands :-

a) What are the principles at play in Cross Hands

b) What are the nuances and details to express and cultivate in our practice?

c) What are the many ways to use Cross Hands?

d) How can Cross Hands be used to neutralize and issue power?

e) How can Cross Hands express innumerable changes?

f) What is the intent in Cross Hands? How to conceal it?

 

So, do you *ming* (understand) Cross Hands?

If you can give good, consistent and comprehensive answers as well as able to apply Cross Hands, even in push hands then you can say you at least understand something about Tai Chi.

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To Be A Tai Chi Teacher 2

What does it take to be a *ming* teacher?

Step 1 – take out your mental saber.

Step 2 – sharpen it.

Step 3 – look for your sacred cows and start killing.

 

What sacred cows should we kill?

1) Style cow

2) Lineage cow

3) Master cow

 

Do you know why we should kill the above three cows? That’s homework for you.

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To Be A Tai Chi Teacher

What’s your long term goal for learning Tai Chi?

One students wants to teach and I agreed to allow her to do so but on condition that she should know what she is doing.

From my point of view knowing what you are doing is more important than just possessing a certificate that purportedly attests that you are competent. This is because in reality a certificate does not really say as much as you think it says.

I have seen enough incompetent teachers put out by cookie cutter schools to know this. Instead of promoting the art, such teachers end up killing interest in the art when students realize that the art that they are learning is not what it is passed off to be down the road.

To be a proper Tai Chi teacher is not just a matter of being accepted as a disciple, of having a lineage, a piece of scroll, certificate, tons of photos taken with masters and so on. Such things are necessary to be a famous (ming = Chinese word for famous) master but not sufficient to be an informed (ming = Chinese word for understanding) master.

So when picking a teacher to learn from ask yourself whether your teacher is one who is “ming” (famous) or / and who is *ming* (understanding Tai Chi) because ultimately you don’t want to be the blind following the one-eyed master.

So what does it take to be *ming* teacher?

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Talk About Chi….. Not

If you have nothing better to do on a slow day you may be interested to take a look at this video that a student asked me to see.

I found it an interesting talk but it does nothing for me as far as mastering Tai Chi is concerned. The reason – it fails to address the most important part of the process for mastering Tai Chi which is how to use the intention.

Granted the topic is on Chi and not mastering Tai Chi but the speaker talked about flow from the research of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi which I guess is why my student thought is related to what I wrote about in this blog post on Movement. I have read about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work. However, what we do in our Tai Chi is more than just flow. To us flow occurs when the variables are finetuned to work optimally with each other.

Perhaps Flow is a good explanation for non-Tai Chi experiences. But does it really apply to Tai Chi? Perhaps. Somewhat. Totally? No.

If you don’t know your Tai Chi well enough you would think that Flow is a good explanation. Here’s a poser – if you think you understand what Tai Chi is about try explaining what the Tai Chi Classics are about and better still demonstrate their meaning in practice. If you can’t give a consistent and rationale explanation then you know where your level of mastery really is.

So that’s as far I would go where flow in movement is concerned. If we are talking about flow in the face of resistance and pressure from an opponent that’s a different matter. In this case Chi is not as important. Instead, the intention and what our mind is doing is more important. As the ancestors in our Tai Chi lineage says “No Yi, No Chi”.

“No Yi, No Chi” should be self-explanatory and most readers would think they understand what this means……….except they don’t really understand it until they can actually do it by proving that they can clearly differentiate the use of Yi versus what I would term murky movement i.e. movement in which the intention is not clearly distinguished.

Another problem I have with this talk is ……….. too much talk. Anyone can talk, going round and round the bush, throwing in lots of buzz words that ultimately doesn’t leave you any clearer to begin with before and after listening to it.

It would have been easier to do a demo, perhaps get the participants to try out and go around to show them what they think and what really is Chi. This talk kinda reminds me of those authors who write Tai Chi books who write tons of words and its fine………… as long as they don’t actually try to show you a demo at which point you can see who really knows their stuff and who is really talking about something they think they understand but not really.

Listen to the part beginning at 45:29 where the speaker mentioned about circle and square with the circle being soft and square being hard. Then the speaker went on about word pairings in this vein instead of explaining further on how the use of Yi can actually render a square soft and a circle hard. This is what my students would consider the non-intuitive aspects of Tai Chi. However, as much as I would like to claim credit for it I am not the first person to write about this paradox of principles.

If I want to put it mystically I would say that the Yi renders the square soft by infusing and surrounding it with Chi. If I want to draw the religious crowd I would maybe draw a parallel with some ancient goddess coming to earth, bestowing magical powers on Tai Chi practitioners who worship her by dancing the form under the rays of the full moon (clothes optional for the nudist New Agey crowd), transforming their Chi as it flows and courses through the major pathways and acupoints to breakthrough the chakras (yeah, while we are at it attract the Yoga feel good crowd too), moving the power through the serpentine spine to exit the crown of the head, soaring through to the heavens and unifying us to the mother earth <pant, pant, I am breathless from merely reading this>.

In discussing a difficult topic like Tai Chi it is a common practice to conceal one’s lack of understanding by talking about the topic sideways, preferably pull in a lot of different threads to distract us from the fact that the main topic was not really addressed. Classic self perception disorder as to one’s actual level of understanding is rife even amongst so-called masters. Fortunately, for them most people don’t know enough about the subject to catch them out. Thus, it is true that in the kingdom of the blind the one-eyed man is king.

After 30 minutes of listening to the talk the speaker has still not clearly defined what Chi is, how to know that Chi is real, what it feels like, how one can cultivate it, how long does one need to train to get it, and so on. As it is the talk is like taking a cruise to nowhere, just sail out to the high seas somewhere and come back. Yet, the best explanations I have heard will hit the bull’s eye within minutes, not meander round and round after 78 minutes. Towards the latter part of the video the speaker even touched on neural networks to which I would still want to know how is this related to Chi?

I know some people would like this talk but it does nothing for me. I actually learned more reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Albert Einstein, not so much about Chi or Flow but about academic life, thinking, physics, stuff that can help move you along in understanding Tai Chi.

Consider the following examples :-

Example A from the chapter The Light-Beam Rider (page 3 – 4 in my copy) :-

Gravity, he figured, was a warping of space and time, and he came up with the equations that describe how the dynamics of this curvature result from the interplay between matter, motion, and energy. It can be described by using another thought experiment. Picture what it would be like to roll a bowling ball onto the two-dimensional surface of a trampoline. Then roll some billiard balls. They move toward the bolwing ball not because it exerts some mysterious attraction but because of the way it curves the trampoline fabric. Now imagine this happening in the four-dimensional fabric of space and time.

Example B from the chapter The Lovers (page 83 in my copy) :-

The essence of Mach’s philosophy was this, in Einstein’s words: “Concepts have meaning only if we can point to objects to which they refer and to the rules by which they are assigned to these objects.” In other words, for a concept to make sense you need an operational definition of it, one that describes how you would observe the concept in operation.

 

Can you see the parallels between what Einstein talked about and Tai Chi. I have used Example A to explain Tai Chi to one of my students.

Conclusion and recommendation – if you have but 1 hour and 18 minutes to spare (that’s the length of the video) you are better off reading about Einstein than listening to this babble about Chi that was not really. As Donald Trump would say – Sad.

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Relatively Speaking

In terms of skill in Tai Chi it is all relative. This means that the better you can do something than the other person the more you can feel what the other person’s skill is like.

For a long time X’s hands are like the unsettled rooster in Zhuang Tzu’s story of the Fighting Rooster. At the slightest touch X’s hands would resist. It took years of training before he let go of his strength more and become less resisting and more settled enabling him to adhere and listen better.

Now X has reached a level where he said when he felt Y’s hands he could feel it resisting and he could use the resistance against Y. Before when X’s hands were strong and resisting he would not be able to say this because he can only use strength to overcome a weaker person.

With the passage of time he can feel another person’s hands so much better, so much so that relatively speaking the other person, in this case Y, seems to be resisting a lot. This is why in learning Tai Chi time put in leads to the acquiring of kung fu, meaning you can makes theories and debate all day and all night long but without putting in the practice over years the skill won’t grow.

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Meeting Standard of Performance

Last week I had the pleasure to inform a student J that he has met the minimum standard whereby he is competent to give public demonstration of the first section of the form.

This is not the same as saying that he can also go out and play hands with people because push hands is one area that we have temporarily put aside as he was not getting the most benefit from doing it initially.

However, now that J has attained the minimum standard learning push hands should proceed smoother and faster. He has already picked up GM Wang’s waist bowing method of fajing within a few minutes of learning. Now he only has to work this into a few fundamental techniques to raise the level of familiarity and competency in using it.

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