Hindsight in Tai Chi Learning

…because we think we see what happened clearly – hindsight being 20-20 and all – we often aren’t open to knowing more.

“We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it – and stop there,” as Mark Twain once said, “lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again – and that is well; but she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.” The cat’s hindsight, in other words, distorts her view. The past should be our teacher, not our master.

Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation, writing in Creativity, Inc.  Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Have you practiced Tai Chi for years and still stuck trying to do simple things like push hands with a degree of skill instead of using brute strength pushing or being able to issue crispy, penetrating internal force instead of blunt force?

Blame this on the mindless, blind worship of master, lineage and style. Most practitioners equate master, lineage and style as being able to give them the skill. This is clearly wrong. In general, many practitioners will find out eventually that I am right in this respect. I am not the only one who is saying this. Many times I have watched others and silently say to myself that there by the grace of God goes I.

A master can be skilful but be a terrible teacher; and many clearly do not teach properly, if at all. Many are more interested in womanizing, gluttony and collecting money. They just aren’t interested in passing their skills along, sometimes, not even to the highest bidder but they will pocket the money anyway thank you very much.

A lineage also means nothing because it is easy enough to pay a master to take a photograph with him and even buy a certificate of discipleship. This practice is quite common in the West but it happens in the East too.

And styles can be an impediment to progress. If you get caught up in secret styles, hidden styles, oldest style, original style and whatever the next Tai Chi marketing guru comes up with then you are in for a rude shock when one day you realize you have been had.

To Master Tai Chi Today we have to look beyond the obvious. The Tai Chi Classics is a written record of the experiences of past attainment of master practitioners; a record, albeit limited, that can hopefully allow future generations to learn from and a means to verify that they are trodding along the same path. The Classics never say you cannot improve on what you do, merely if you are practicing a style that is transmitted from the past then you should be able to demonstrate similar and consistent insights if you are to claim lineage. Once you are there you are now a master and can develop in any direction you see fit.


Want to learn Tai Chi? At Singapore Yang Style Combat Tai Chi lessons covering forms, weaponry, push hands, fajing and applications are offered. Lessons are conducted in English. Send enquiry today at the link here.

Sit All Day

Yantou Quanhou and Xuefeng Yicun were two main disciples of Deshan Xuanjian whom I mentioned in this post. Despite being younger Yantou mastered Zen earlier than Xuefeng.

Once they were both caught in a blizzard and sought refuge in an inn where they stayed for a few days. Xuefeng meditated whilst Yantou slept. Seeing Yantou asleep Xuefeng shook him awake and insisted that he too mediate saying “It’s said that when monks are on pilgrimage, they must make profound knowledge their companion and be ever vigilant. And yet you spend all day sleeping.

Yantou replied that sitting like a clay statue all day won’t help Xuefeng to be enlightened. Instead he should try to follow the advice of Zen Master Linji Yixuan who famously said “Eat when hungry; sleep when tired.” otherwise he (Yantou) would just frighten the simple-minded by sitting still all day.

I would rephrase the above advice as “Follow principles when practicing Tai Chi” otherwise the efforts spent on zhanzhuang, practicing forms and push hands whichever your choice of poison would avail to nought and though you may fare better than someone who has learned little Tai Chi you are still basically on the path of trying to be stronger to beat someone strong. In this case learning Tai Chi is a waste of time.

To Master Tai Chi Today you should reexamine and rethink your learning strategy of standing still like a clay statue, play form by waving the hands and push hands like two buffaloes. Remember to “Eat when hungry; sleep when tired.


Want to learn Tai Chi? At Singapore Yang Style Combat Tai Chi lessons covering forms, weaponry, push hands, fajing and applications are offered. Lessons are conducted in English. Send enquiry today at the link here.

No Ancestors, No Buddhas

I don’t hold to some views about the ancestors. Here, there are no ancestors and no buddhas. Boddhidharma is an old stinking foreigner. Shakyamuni is a dried piece of excrement. Manjushri and Samantabhada are dung carriers. What is known as “realizing the mystery” is nothing but breaking through to grab an ordinary person’s life. “Bodhi” and “nirvana” are a donkey’s tethering post. The twelve divisions of scriptural canon are devils’ texts; just paper for wiping infected skin boils. The four functions and the three virtuous stages, original mind and the ten stages, these are just graveyard-guarding ghosts. They’ll never save you.

Deshan Xuanjian
Zen Master


Many readers may not be familiar with Deshan but he is well known for burning the sutras the next day after he was enlightened by Lungtan Chongtzin saying “I now know that no matter how deep and profound the writings are, in comparison with awakening they’re like a single hair compared to infinite space or like a drop of water compared to the vast ocean“.

Why I brought up Deshan is because his experience in being suddenly awakened by Lungtan Chongtzin can apply to our attempts to Master Tai Chi Today. If you have a problem grasping the principles of Tai Chi or think you already got it but there is a disquiet feeling in you that something is missing perhaps in understanding Deshan’s journey you could make a breakthrough.

Deshan was initially like some of these folks I see on social media happily arguing away on what Tai Chi is or isn’t, happily carrying their lineage / style / master banner and proclaiming that their path is the one true one. They remind me of Deshan’s proud attitude before he was enlightened as he thought he knew a lot due to his scholarly studies of the Diamond Sutra and commentaries as well as his understanding from penning a commentary himself.

However, Deshan was stumped when he stopped at a rest house on the way to challenge Lungtan Chongtzin and was tested on his understanding of the Diamond Sutra by old woman who ran the rest house. The old woman offered Deshan cakes known as “mind refreshers” free of charge if he could answer a question about the Diamond Sutra. However, poor Deshan had to go without the cakes when he failed to answer the question of “In that sutra, it says that past-mind is no more, future-mind is not yet; and present mind is beyond comprehension. In that case, Reverend Sir, which mind is it that you seek to refresh with these cakes?

When we think we know a lot there may be a day when we can be stumped when we least expect it. Today’s learners and teachers of Tai Chi carry a lot of baggage with them; they have a lot of ancestors and worship a lot of Buddhas. However, I now know that in attaining the 4 keywords passed down by Grandmaster Wang Yongquan there are no ancestors, no buddhas. If you still have ancestors and buddhas then you are no different from Deshan with his pack containing the Diamond Sutra and its commentaries when the old woman’s question caught him out.


Want to learn Tai Chi? At Singapore Yang Style Combat Tai Chi lessons covering forms, weaponry, push hands, fajing and applications are offered. Lessons are conducted in English. Send enquiry today at the link here.