I wrote a post a few years ago: “Learning by Doing“. I believe it’s one of the most important things I’ve written here about the art of Tai Chi, but so far it has received little attention. Anyway, I didn’t really address the problem enough of trying to understand before doing. People try to understand things intellectually, and they shape things into fancy language, before they really understand things practically. Or as teachers, they rather teach those fancy words before teaching how to understand the art practically.
This is a great problem inherited in our own brains, how they work, we want to understand things intellectually, and sometimes we believe that this is enough. But still, we don’t really understand things in Tai Chi before we have a practically understanding of something by doing and experience. We understand things in Tai Chi by turning words and theory into practice and make practical sense out if what we read.
I know, I am a theoretical guy, I write long, theoretical things in my posts. But I don’t write for my readers so they should have more things to think about. I always try to create bridges between theory and practical practice, so you will have a chance to implement practical things in your own training.
Just came of think of something as I am writing this: I used to teach film theory. As I have studied both film theory and practical filmmaking, I had the chance of teaching theory at a film school. You see, film theory is built on, and comes from, practical knowledge about filmmaking, mostly written by filmmakers. If you can reverse the theory into practice, and teach it to aspiring filmmakers, you will give them the practical knowledge of those filmmakers and others who wrote the theory. And, to brag a bit about myself, which is something I usually don’t do, my classes always got the highest score from the students, and some of them even told me that what I taught them, was the best and most useful they had learned, throughout the whole education.
Personally speaking, I use those memories to cheer me up a bit when I think about filmmaking and miss doing it. At least, I have done something right. Anyway, theory in Tai Chi should be used in the same way, as reverse-engineering. You need to understand it from a practical point of View. If it remains as theory, you are doing something wrong, you don’t understand it. So you need to use it in your actual practice, and understand it from the experience of your own practice. Otherwise, the knowledge of the theory remains as intellectual property only, and to be frank: it remains as useless junk.
So, my advice is: whenever you read something about Tai Chi, as theory, proverbs etc, try to turn those words into something practical. Try to understand how it impacts your practice and implement it practically in your training. There’s really no other way to understand theory in Tai Chi: Practice and understand what you practice by your own experience. The only value of theory comes from how well you can implement it practically in your own training. Practice always comes first. The intellectual understanding of theory comes later, when you have experienced the meaning of it, inside of your own body by your own practice.