Direct Experience: Tai Chi
like some peace and tranquillity? Yes, well why
not go out and buy a book about it, study it,
find out where it comes from and go and get some?
Can't be done, can it?
There may have been many books written about it but unfortunately
none come with a free sample or any guarantee of you yourself
will ever actually getting any of it.
No use either trying to follow the examples of any
or all of those the most peaceful or tranquil that have
walked this planet before us. Their way was their way;
it will not be yours. Never was - never will be.
or unfortunately (depending upon how fortunate you might
consider yourself to already be) - 'peace' and 'tranquillity'
are not transferable commodities or items of trade.
Peace, tranquillity etc. - these things are not possessed
or dispossessed. They are not gained or lost; they are
simply and directly 'experienced'.
So what about asking one those more 'ordinary' even
'humble' people around right now who appear to have
some of this elusive 'it'? They can't help much either.
These ordinary people are simply happy to have it! Few
seem to have any idea about where they got it from,
what it is and even what it does, how or why!
Is This for You?
Tai Chi may help you someway towards some peace and
tranquillity, I don't know. I like those books by those
far wiser I offer no guarantee. As far as Tai Chi is
concerned it is not for me to say what it will bring
you. I only know what it has brought me, and I guess
that only I will ever know what needed to go or be taken
away to 'make the space and time' in my life for it.
The practice of Tai Chi has in the past brought many
people many wonderful things and it could perhaps bring
the same or similar to you, again I don't know. What
you get out of Tai Chi is at least proportional if not
entirely dependent upon what you put into it.
The Deal = Nothing
to put in - Nothing to take away
I would be very happy now to pass on to you the few
pieces of advice that have (in time) provto be the best
advice that has ever been given to me.
One: "Always be prepared to put more into your
practice than you will ever expect to take out"
and Two: "Expect Nothing".
If these two pieces of advice sound as preposterous
to you now as they did when they were first related
to me - well - maybe its just the same point being made
again? And as for my own most considered advice - for
what its worth?
Give it Time. Please.
Essential ingredients are 'the person' and the 'intention'.
What you put in the oven has a direct and fundamental
bearing on what comes out - and what comes out is something
that depends entirely upon yourself. I hope that this
statement is very clear. It must be the intention and
practice of any person wishing to 'gain' anything from
Tai Chi to ensure that what he or she studies is Tai
Chi and not simply what he or she wishes or expects
it to be.
Some people come to Tai Chi hoping to learn how to
defend themselves against physical attack. These people
have little or no interest in Tai Chi as a method of
relaxation or (different thing) meditation. They will
unfortunately never learn Tai Chi. They may learn how
to fight (and one day they may have to prove it!) but
they will not learn Tai Chi.
Some people come to Tai Chi hoping to learn how to
relax and see no need to learn a 'new' way of defending
themselves. These people will also not learn Tai Chi.
Some people do realise that the more they learn to
relax (or 'yield') the more able they might be to defend
themselves. These people are on the way to learning
Tai Chi and therefore in a position to begin reaping
the legendary results.
Those two - self defence and relaxation could be said
to be the materials and the inspiration for the type
of Tai Chi capable of providing these legendary results.
However the best materials and greatest inspiration
is still sadly not enough - at least not enough for
legendary results! Still required are correct or skilful
intention and a person wise enough to discern and enact
it. Mindful Meditation is the only frame that can contain
all of this. It also provides the individual with a
form of expression and creativity that can go far beyond
words. This is the 'Art of Tai Chi'. Without application
Tai Chi at this stage is simply waving arms, swaying
body and occasionally standing on one leg. Nothing wrong
with that, but it falls someway short of Tai Chi and
mountains and rivers away from the Martial Art of Tai
Chi which has profound applications. Nothing added and
nothing taken away.
The practice of Tai Chi remains virtually unchanged
since ancient times passed on through each successive
generation forever-new thus re-born everyday.
There are plenty of books about Tai Chi but it is 'practised'
or 'done' much more than it is read about.
It is a direct experience.
The Same but Different Phenomena
So what then is a Direct Experience? In short and clinically
it is any personal experience that is experienced independent
of the opinion or guidance of any other person as to
how, when, where or why the experience could or should
Sometimes when it rains and sunshine is in the sky
at the same time we may see a rainbow. It is an odd
fact but true nevertheless that according to certain
laws and principles (therefore by definition "the
truth"), that each individual who looks at a rainbow
sees not the same rainbow as anyone else but his or
her own rainbow. That's a Direct Experience - Tai Chi
is like that. So are other things.
Elsewhere (including the SCD website) can be found
numerous descriptions of Tai Chi postures, applications
and sequences in which to perform them. Please do not
mistakenly believe that any of those lists can provide
you with any 'experience' of Tai Chi or for that matter
- anything else. They can't. Remembering lists is another
thing for another time. The first step of true Tai Chi
is to try to forget all about 'concepts'.
A dream can be perhaps the most beautiful of direct
experiences, and as far as I know the only person who
can experience a dream is the person that dreamt it
and the only dreams that will never come true are those
not dreamt. A concept of a dream is what a psychoanalyst
has; what you have is a dream.
The Way of the Body
It should remain clear that the full process of the
development of Tai Chi began with the need for a method
of unarmed self- defence. There was massive and oppressive
forces ranged against these common or peasant people
of China in these 'primitive' times. This situation
was neither unique to China nor restricted to primitive
times and extinct since. It was suggested by those instrumental
in the development of Tai Chi that a possible tactic
or strategy that might have a chance of success would
be to turn the power and strength of an attacker back
onto themselves; thus transforming strength into weakness,
advantage into disadvantage and so on.
The Way of the Mind
This way of self defence based upon a way of thinking
was not developed in isolation of all other aspects
of these peoples daily life. It was based upon already
made observation of the way of Nature and natural events
as they occurred all around them. For instance it was
noted that a Willow survived the gale whereas the upright
Oak may be snapped or toppled.
It was further noted that following the axe-mans doings
in the forest the most stout, straight and robust trees
were gone yet the twisted, bent and ugly remained.
It was further noted that apparently 'hard' rocks were
eroded by apparently 'soft' water. Essentially it was
noted that that there is a natural order to nature and
that includes and accommodates the strong and the weak,
the large and the small and the fast and the slow.
The Way of the Spirit
The place and the people directly affecting creation
of this formative period of Tai Chi into a unified way
of fighting, thinking and living that was 'in accord
with nature' was China. This distinguishes Tai Chi as
unique amongst Martial Arts. It is the only Chinese
Form. Comparison is unnecessary, however these differences
should be acknowledged as existing because this is The
Nature, The Essence of it. Like floors that grow in
a particular climate the organic roots of Tai Chi are
nourished in the soil of China.
Confucius is rightly known as "the greatest sage
of China". He described and taught a system of
ethics that had an enormous effect on the people of
China. The precepts of Confucianism can be surmised
The universe is regulated by order.
Mankind is basically good.
People do wrong through lack of knowledge, and from
lack of example.
Government must lead by good moral example.
Development is inward and outward.
Inward development is acting in private as if under
Self-sufficiency and high honour reveal outward development.
Confucius was no doubt a great and wise man and his
study and exposition on the Taoist Classic 'The I Ching'
is second to none. However at this point there can be
detected a divergence in the people of China in general
and those that practised (particularly those that developed)
Tai Chi. I would not suggest that Tai Chi is anarchic,
however whilst unity is certainly encouraged it is I
also so that the individual is urged first to understand
him/herself so as to enable this harmony with others.
The anomaly here is that the 'internal' aspect of Tai
Chi has more in common with Buddhist precepts than it
does with Confucianism.
The (lit) most down to earth people of China
were (naturally) the workers of the land - millions
of dispersed individuals in a vast country under feudal
rule. These are the particular people and it is their
view of nature that created Tai Chi, and it is their
ancestors that developed the Yang Form. It was the held
belief of these people that the way of nature to fight
or more correctly 'overcome' was to not fight at all.
This 'spirit' eloquently manifests itself again in the
words of Cheng Man-ch'ing when he advises: "When
you practice the form - imagine that you have an opponent
before you. When you have an opponent before you - imagine
that you don't." Nevertheless it is a matter of
record that by no later than BC.500 the vast land of
China was host to:
The 'original/mystic/Shamanistic' Taoism;
Chan - forerunner to Zen Buddhism; and
The Teachings of Confucius. (551-479 BC.)
The first recorded or ordered belief systems of Japan
was Shinto. To savagely surmise, central to Shinto is
Ancestor Worship. It might now also be construed that
often the most savage aspect of Ancestor Worship is
the westerners pre-conception of what that is! Whatever;
the ancestors of these Japanese people were numerous
Spirits and Gods, people and objects all in a perfusion
of guises, material and mythical. It might also be reasonably
assumed that any image embroidered on the flag of a
nation would represent something rather important or
at least respected by the people of that nation. We
need look no further than the image of the Rising Sun
to appreciate at least one thing that obviously was,
or still is, respected by the people of Japan. Furthermore,
any study of Buddhism would inevitably lead the enquirer
to a study of Japan, for it is this country that has
become the Treasure Store of the entire major Buddhist
Sutras and text. Many forms of Buddhism flourish there
although many of these 'imported' forms have in fact
all but vanished from their country of origin. For instance,
the form now known as Zen Buddhism was first evident
as Chan in China. By the same token - the form of Chan
that was developed in China was imported and adapted
from its original Indian form. This in has other religious
and spiritual roots - including Yoga. I will not debate
or even try to define the different cultures of different
people from different lands. The art of comparing things
is to assimilate and integrate rather than simply or
instantly discriminate. We should seek common ground.
In this respect Japan must be acknowledged as being
profoundly integral to present day Buddhism and Martial
Art. Whilst doing so we should however recognise the
independence and individuality of Tai Chi. A true understand
of true or original Tai Chi is only so when a certain
level of understanding of basic Taoist and Buddhist
beliefs is attained for it is this that is its essence.
It is erroneous to believe that true Tai Chi can be
'learnt' in isolation or with no regard for fundamental
precepts or the conditions that formed it. The purpose
of this part of this article has been to simply document
what Tai Chi has been in the past and I have tried only
to indicate how or why it became what it is now.
Fundamental to Tai Chi is the necessity to except all
things, exactly as they are. This is not always the
way one wants them to be! At its core is a person, you.
The future of Tai Chi is in your hands, try to respect
it for what it is, and not what you would like to imagine
it to be.
Having acknowledged some of these other influences
upon Tai Chi I shall without further ado focus upon
a figure absolutely intrinsic to the development of
The person generally agreed to responsible most for
a major flowering in the development of early Tai Chi
and Buddhism in China was Bodhidharma. The seed had
sown itself long before. Artefacts made as early as
BC.500 have been found in China that display evidence
of both Taoist and Buddhist influences. By about 500AD
there was apparently more than ten thousand Buddhist
Temples throughout China and several emperors are identified
by their given name to being sincere Buddhists. Buddhism
declined in later years. Taoism continues, as does Confucianism.
Conveniently for our needs the oldest, most reliable
records of ancient China still intact are those of the
Shaolin Temple founded in the East/Central Province
of Henan in 495.
The Shaolin Temple
Bodidharma was born about 483 AD. He came to China
527 and died in the Shaolin Temple 536. Bodhidaharma,
this immigrant Prince of a small Southern Indian tribe
was once summoned by the Emperor (526/7) and was asked:
"Whom do you represent and what do you teach?"
He, at the risk of his own life replied "Nothing"
and "No One". He then returned to the Shaolin
Temple to enter a legendary nine-year meditation.
The Shaolin Temple was built in 495 by the Emperor
Wei Xiao Wen and done so for the first chief monk Batou
to expound his Buddhist teachings. Batuo came to China
464AD. Nothing is known about this person's death or
Following his nine-year meditation Bodhidharma wrote
two Qigong (Chi Kung) classics: Yin Jin Jing, the Muscle/Tendon
Changing Classic and Xi Sui Jing, the Bone Marrow/Brain
nourishing Classic. The exercises therein were designed
to not only firm up the flabby bodies of the monks but
also to energise their brains, assisting them in their
endeavours towards enlightenment. Witness the "No
Thing and No One" statement as related above, the
methods of Bodhidharma were characterised by their 'directness'.
Concepts and to a great degree even words were avoided.
His nine-year meditation also bears witness to the greater
importance that he placed on silent and still meditation.
Bodhidharma is also therefore known today as "The
First Patriarch of Zen". Thus teachings of a person
of Indian origin made its way across China and elsewhere
East, North, South and West as also did Tai Chi.
I have gone to length here to describe the spiritual
content of the profound Chinese Martial Art discipline
of Tai Chi. I have gone to such lengths to try ensure
that whatever I pass on is as complete as it can make
it; not some cut down version that may be adapted to
suit changing whims. Fundamental to Tai Chi is the concept
that everything is exactly as it should be, i.e. everything
is what it is. This rule of course applies also to the
perception and practice of Tai Chi. It is right here
that words fail and become inadequate. Words cannot
convey spiritual liberation and lists do not lead to
I have decided now that the most fitting way to end
the article on 'true' Tai Chi with a brief re-telling
of my Direct Experience of it.
By the age of 40 and a bit I had already been divorced
twice, lost more jobs than I had had hot dinners, was
deep in debt, on probation, banned from driving (my
last job!) and unemployable anyway through mental illness.
Was I in trouble!
I had been practising Tai Chi for a few years by then,
at least I had turned up once a week for training. I
came to Tai Chi looking for 'serenity' and I had the
odd tantalising glimpse, but it always seemed to evaporate
as soon as I left the training hall. My crisis deepened,
I became clinically depressed and isolated. This isolation
paradoxically became my liberation. This would not be
the last paradox.
I had by this point taken three years to learn all
of the postures of the Yang Style Long form. Rather
than sign up for some other course of counselling or
medication I promised my Probation Officer and Psychiatrist
that I would 'apply' myself to something. I applied
myself to Tai Chi - doing the form a couple of times
a day whilst prodding tentatively at Buddhist Meditation.
It is hard for me to describe what happened next. There
are no comparisons to a direct experience. Like a dragon
in the clouds, you either see it or you don't. Sunny
side of the hill - shady side of a roof, you either
see it or you don't. Never mind 'applying' myself, all
that I can take credit for is applying the break on
myself! It was there all of the time, I was just going
to fast and passing it - lapping it. Obvious when you
think about it. You don't go bird watching on a motorbike!
1. Attention 2. Preparation 3. Beginning
These are first three postures of The Yang Form.
"Always be prepared to put more into your practice
than you will ever take out".
Prepare for what?
You are waist deep in liquid. It's your favourite liquid
at the best temperature. Make it your favourite colour
as well. Your arrival has disturbed the water and caused
ripples. For your reflection to become clear again -
you must give it time. Remain still; first still the
body and then still the mind.
Beginning. The Sun rises slowly over the horizon. Set
a higher goal. Breathe in. Everything is exactly as
it should be. From then on, things just happen to happen
one after the other.
At least that is my experience.
Forgive me; this is why also I am a bit of a stickler
about practice and why I ask you to -
Give It Time. Please.
Even if you think you have already put in plenty always
"Be prepared to put in more than you will ever
Nothing to put in = Nothing to take
Plenty to put in = Plenty.