The Beginner's Mind
When we go about learning something new, we often using our previous knowledge and experiences to relate to what what we are about to learn. The learning of Tai Chi is no different in this regard. Some of us have never done Tai Chi before, but have watch kung fu movies. Others have done Wing Chun, Shaolin kung fu or another style of Tai Chi. This knowledge can be of help, but it can also be a hindrance. The reason being is that you may have certain expectations and end result isn’t as it seems. Take for example the horse stance. Pretty much every style of Chinese martial arts has this, but every style does it differently. Likewise, for those who have never done martial arts, you will find the horse stance hard work. Each has their own challenges. When you start learning the hand form, you will find that the things you do with your hands in what you used to do is not going to be the same as what we do in this style. This becomes an obstacle and some might never go beyond what they know.
In Zen Buddhism there is a concept called “Beginner’s Mind”*, where we approach something as like it was your first time. This is called chūxin (初心) and it was a coined by the famous Zen Master Suzuki Shunryu (鈴木 俊隆). This is a mindset that requires you to keep every attempt fresh and approach the
task as it was your first. Remember when you started Tai Chi and the effort and concentration you put into what you did? Now fast forward to where you are now? Do you notice how the perception has changed. The first attempts were sincere, but years later on when you have completed the hand form, you just do it. You know it is right, but how is the way you approach your practice? Sure you can do it well, but you’re on autopilot and to the untrained eye it would look good. However, if you’re mindful, you’d know where you are or are not. Self reflection is an important part of Chinese philosophy and cultivation. If you are not aware of your faults, so how can you improve?
“In the the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
The practice of Tai Chi isn’t simply a physical exercise or just a set of arm and leg movements. It would be so much easier if it was the case. However, Tai Chi is more than that. After all, where does the meditation part fit in? After completing the syllabus, where do you go? Your practice will not stay the same, without regular practice, your abilities actually regress. The concept of beginner’s mind keeps things fresh. With beginner’s mind, the forms you have done thousands of times can be done like it was your first attempt or you can look at it from a different point of view. With beginner’s mind, you can actually improve or expand your practice and your art. This way, you expand your knowledge, keep things interesting and have fun. Experience matters, but don’t let experience rule your instincts. I can say that, over the years, there have been no two years where my forms have been the same, in the look, the technical aspect or how I feel when I do them. I can still find room for improvement.
Tai Chi can be a vehicle for greater realisation and if you can utilise the attitude towards your practice to other aspects of life. Then this is change and change is good. In Daoism, nothing stays the same, change is all around you. Embrace change and move with it.
Thank you for reading my blog article.
*In Chinese, the character for the mind and the heart are the same. The concept of thinking with your heart or your head are Western concepts.