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Emptying my Cup

I remember my first session quite clearly. I had been practicing martial arts for around 10 years. I had even done a little Yang Tai Chi before. I had a head full of knowledge. I wanted to learn the set, because this was the aspect of martial art training I enjoyed the most.

Throughout my first and second sessions I was comparing and judging. I was surprised at the speed with which the moves were taught. I thought you should be “perfect” at each move before learning the next. I wasn’t convinced about the 3-3-3 teaching style. We were rushing onto the next move before anyone was ready. I wasn’t convinced the moves were “correct”. I did not trust anything.

Week 3 came along and we got to the brush knee sequence. The instructor asked the class to do lines of brush knees. First, just getting the shape of the move. After a few lines he said to focus on pushing from the feet and standing all the way up. Then after a few more lines, to make sure we did the twist step. Then, whilst still focusing on all the other things, to really open up through the arms.

My entire attention was now focused on my own body and what it was doing. I could not hold all the things in my mind together. I had never, ever, worked on one move so deeply. It gave me a different feeling. If you had asked me at the time, I could not have described it. I think it was a glimpse of the feeling of flow, the sense of stillness in movement. In that moment, I was hooked on his teachings.

Reflecting back, with what I understand now, I can see that I came to my first session with a very full cup. Working on the brush knee sequence and having to focus so completely, as well as giving me a glimpse of the feeling, emptied my mind for a moment. Since then, it has been an ongoing process, learning how to come to a session or event with my cup a little emptier each time.

Western culture values accumulating knowledge, rather than developing understanding. As a Leader in Training with the organization, I have had to let go of the idea that I am teaching what “I know” about Tai Chi. I have seen that putting forward my “knowledge” gets in the way of clear transmission of Master Moy’s teachings.

Looking back, I can also see how learning to value understanding over knowledge has made me a more open person in other aspects of my life. For example, without his teachings, I suspect I would have a fraught relationship with my teenage son, rather than an (mostly) easy, open and communicative one. When he was young I would lecture him with my “wisdom”, which caused arguments to explode. Because of my training, I was able to notice this pattern and to replace lecturing with empty-cup listening to what he wants to tell me. This is very easy to say, but it has been the work of many years of practice, and I still sometimes fall back into the trap. However, it has been worth it, because the result is precious harmony at home, even with a 17-year-old!

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