In Tai Chi Chuan, all knowledge comes from doing. As I wrote here, Tai chi is a very different art from all western arts of body movement, It needs time to understand. It took me about two or three years of practice before understanding what it really is. The key is practice.
One of my favourite Chinese quotes comes from Wang Yangming (1472-1529), a philosopher and great thinker from the late Neo Confucian “school of Mind”, or “Xin Xue”:
People don’t know this, well no one knows who this person is, but Wang Yangming had in fact a great influence on the Chinese teaching system in general and especially on how martial arts are taught in East Asia. Without him East-Asian martial arts might have looked quite different today.
What he thought was that no knowledge is valuable if it hasn’t gone through the body by doing. All real knowledge comes from doing. How isn’t this true about Tai Chi! If you haven’t learned enough about this art by doing, you can not even explain for yourself what it is. At least some of it must become the property of you own body. And still you won’t be able to explain properly to others and even if you did they would still not understand, because they have no practical experience in the art by themselves.
It’s a funny thing to compare, but everyone know that you need to practice an instrument for quite some time before you can learn how to play good. And still people can’t understand that it’s the same thing with Tai Chi, you learn by practicing. People still keep asking about this or that. They want answers they can not get. They see things and want logical, intellectual explanations. Mostly, their thinking is too complex, too complicated to understand what most too often is all too simple and obvious for them to understand. Sometimes I can understand and have sympathy for teachers who often talks about qi, yi, jin and all sorts of mystical mumbo-jumbo. This is exactly what many people wants to hear, and students especially. They are all too complicated and have studied too short of time to understand that most of what their teachers say is all rubbish. Many of the teachers know this as well, but they don’t have any other way of communicating. Many students just won’t accept simple, logical explanations. This talk is a way to reach students even if it’s the wrong way and mostly means a detour of practice and learning.
I know very good teachers and practitioners who have complained on their own teachers about their lack of instructions, their lack of teaching capacity. They complain about why they wasn’t taught this or that. I remember myself, when I already had about 6 or seven years of practice, asking a senior student to one of my teachers something, how he did something and he refused to answer. “You need to figure it out for yourself.” I was frustrated back then and thought he was dishonest. But he was correct. Some things just needs to grow. You need to find your own way to discover things, finding your own way to be your teacher and learning by doing. There is just no way around this.
I asked the only person I’ve met that I would consider calling a “master” about my practice, how I could become better. He smiled and said. “Just practice.” He was correct. Time will work for your advantage if you are just stubborn enough and you will learn and become better. By putting more things to do into your body and refine them by practicing, you will gain more and more understanding of the art. If a good “understanding” of Tai chi as an art is your goal, you will eventually come to the understanding of all of the mechanics behind every single performance feat or trick you can see in Tai Chi videos on the Youtube. But you need to walk the road first by Doing. “Knowledge is the beginning of practice; doing is the completion of knowing.” Just practice.