How do you describe the Tai Chi Mindset?
Wu Tai Chi master Wang Peisheng said that when you have understood Tai Chi Chuan you become lazy.
How true isn’t this?!
Laziness is very much the attitude and expression of Tai Chi as a martial art. Tai Chi method is based on doing as little as possible to achieve maximum results. We don’t want to do more than necessary which means that we tend to not move more than necessary, not show more than necessary, not make more damage than necessary. We are a lazy bunch of people.
In teaching, I myself have used the word lazy to describe Tai Chi Chuan. If you believe that lazy has bad connotations, you might instead explain Tai Chi as a modest system. Its expression is not fancy, bold or extravagant. True Tai Chi is honest in its appearance and never shows off.
My first teacher used the word “nonchalant” to describe Tai Chi, a word that should not be confused with arrogance. Tai Chi is nonchalant because it doesn’t acknowledge the opponent’s aggression or strength. It doesn’t care how strong the opponent is or how hard he tries to punch. My teacher demonstrated this by letting me attack him however I wanted. He defended with no effort, like he didn’t care what I did and as he hardly looked at my direction. I felt humiliated.
When defending, Tai Chi acts like it handles nothing, one evades punches as it is nothing more than waving away a fly. The opponent though will feel helpless and confused. Though the Tai Chi practitioner seem to not care, not doing much as all, he feels as being a leaf caught in the wind.
Being on distance, the Tai Chi stylist shows nothing on the outside. Li Yaxuan said that if something is spotted, if the opponent suspects anything, then you should hold back and show nothing. And if the opponent believes that there is no threat, then Tai Chi practitioner attacks “from nothing” without anything being telegraphed or suspected. Master Li said this was the meaning of “Suddenly become visible, suddenly become invisible.” William Chen expressed it as “creating something from nothing, bringing something to nothing.” It’s suddenly there, it’s suddenly gone.
But even if nothing is shown on the outside, the Tai Chi practitioner is aware about everything around him, plans ahead and follows and adjusts to his opponent invisibly on distance. Tai Chi practitioners might act as lazy or being nonchalant. But Tai Chi is also fast, active and foremost pro-active. It will teach you timing, not only in self-defense situations, but in life as well. To do things when it’s necessary and to deal with problems when they are small, or to deal with things before issues have become problems. A good Tai Chi player might seem to do little and should be good in hiding his intentions. But in combat he (or she) follows an opponent on distance as “a cat about to catch a mouse” and “an eagle aiming for its prey.”
In life, through Tai Chi practice, I believe the practitioner should become very much aware of what is happening around him or her, and become able to easily adjust to circumstances. Maybe there can sometimes be an appearance of being lazy even in daily life, but this is in fact the expression of being in control of the situation at hand.
There is a story about a circus bear, if I remember correctly told by Jacques Dropsy. The bear was chained, standing on its two legs as a fencer was asked to attack with his sword. The bear stood there stable and parried each attempt using its paws lightly and with precision. What really impressed the fencer was that the bear didn’t even move if the fencer feinted or didn’t attack properly against it. The bear knew exactly what the fencer did, just as he could read the fencer’s intent just as good as looking at an open book. (ok, I know. Bears can’t read.)
I like the story of the circus bear very much. It depicts a great picture of the type of laziness that can be developed through Tai Chi practice. Be that bear.