Tai Chi – Questioning

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I always tell my tai chi students not to believe what I say, to not believe anything that I teach, to hold in their heads a big question mark over it. Also not to believe what they read or are told about tai chi from others, this may sound a little insane, but I tell them this because it sets up a strong foundation for their tai chi practice to progress. If they always believed what I said as truth, then this would limit them to the level of my progression, because their knowledge would only be based on what I have experienced. They then would not be able to reach their own potential; this is the downside of unquestioning belief and how it acts as a hindrance to the depth of our practice.

Blind Belief

Belief in a system or teacher is a good thing, it is necessary to stay on one path; studying one technique avoids confusion and is needed if you are going to progress. Travelling from one lineage to another, from teacher to teacher only leads to you running in circles, like running around the base of a mountain, never climbing it. You end up knowing a lot of techniques but have no depth about what you know.

Techniques are like tools, if you do not understand how to use them most efficiently it doesn’t matter how many tools you have in the box, nothing much will really happen. A good teacher shows us how to use these tools; a good lineage shows us the context in which they are to be used. To have belief and trust in a lineage and teacher is good, it makes us more accepting of what we are being taught and allows us to be conditioned into a certain way of thinking and moving.

The downfall of blindly believing what we are told is that we always assume that what we are being told is correct; we accept it as truth. Blindly accepting can have a negative affect on us, it stops us from looking and questioning what we are doing. In this way we become dependant on the teacher and never really understand, for ourselves what is happening. Following this path our progress is slowed down and we cannot reach the depth of understanding and skill that we otherwise could have.

The Big Question Mark

Information or knowledge that comes from others is not actually knowledge; it is information that has no experience base to it. With this type of knowledge we can fool ourselves into thinking we know when we don’t. Real knowledge that we can call our own comes from experience, only when we have experienced something for ourselves, when we know its taste, can we truly say that it is something we know. This is where we need to step beyond a solely belief based practice and into one that is investigation based if we are truly going to understand.

Whenever I am taught a new form or movement I place a big question mark over it in my head, this doesn’t mean that I don’t believe or trust the person teaching me. It means that I hold that question mark against it until I investigate it for myself, once I have thoroughly practiced it and pulled it apart, only then I can come to truly understand it. Only then do I either say, this doesn’t work and throw it away or yes it does work, and make it my own. This is the only way I can truly convert someone else’s knowledge into mine, experienced based knowledge is the only true knowledge, it transforms us.

Learn to question everything, Why are we told to move this way? Why is this posture before that one? How can I move in each posture in the most efficient way possible? Ask, question, investigate and you will improve, blindly accept and your progress will slow down or even stop.

Experience based Belief

In this way a new type of belief arises, belief not based on blind trust but experience; because you have investigated for yourself and seen that it is right. Your trust in your teacher and the system you are studying under now deepens and becomes unwavering because you have verifyed for yourself that it is correct. In this way real belief, belief based on investigation and knowledge supports and helps you progress, then if someone says what you believe is wrong you feel no need to argue that it is right, because based on your own testing, not someone else’s you know what is true and what is not.


Investigate everything in your tai chi practice, don’t believe look, experience, feel, and get to know each posture deeply, get intimate with each movement. Try to do things in the wrong way, so you know what it feels to do it right. Put yourself in unbalanced positions while practicing so you know what it feels like to be balanced. Push, probe, poke, question, pull apart everything, taste it, feel it, make it your own. Investigate and know so that it is no longer someone else’s knowledge, but your own.

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This article was written by Stephen Procter, instructor from Tai Chi Health for Life, Australian College of Tai Chi & Qi Gong and Meditation Instructor from Meditation in the Shire, Kirrawee NSW, Australia. If you wish to post this article on another website or in a publication please respect the author and reference / link back to this website, thank you

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