Arrogance | Thoughts On Tai Chi

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One of my Tai Chi teachers used to spew out generalizations. I mean this in a literal way, not as a critique, or with any kind of negative connotation. Sometimes I didn’t agree with him, but sometimes he said things that were totally on point. He could say things that sounded like idioms, and he always did it without any explanation or further comment. Sometimes you had to think about it for a while to really grasp it. Sometimes when you dissected it you discovered layers of meaning.

One thing I remember him saying for more than 20 years ago, is that If you want to achieve an advanced level in Tai Chi, you cannot be arrogant. Through the years I have understood more of what he really meant.

On one level, arrogance is a confrontative attitude, often a kind of radiating passive-aggressiveness, something which is counterproductive to Tai Chi Chuan. In Tai Chi we never seek confrontation, we don’t even acknowledge aggression. We always use Yin against Yang and Yang against Yin. We don’t let any physical strength attach on us. And we don’t let any aggression affect us.

But this is on a rudimentary level only. What I have understood in later years, is that arrogance is in fact a characteristic of immaturity. There’s indeed something weak, juvenile and insecure about people who always must look strong and be “on top” of everyone else, or want to look down on others.

And on the other hand, if you have life experience and feel secure with yourself, you should be able to treat anyone you meet with kindness and understanding. This is indeed a characteristic of maturity, and also something every big religion teaches about how to treat other people.

The thing is that personal growth, and development in Tai Chi, go hand in hand with each other. Tai Chi Chuan is a personal journey, a journey to self-discovery, self-growth. I believe this is what my teacher meant. If you look at, well, at least some of those who people praise as great masters, you will see that people with real skill are very humble and lack prestige.

So be aware and think twice if you feel that a “Tai Chi master” acts arrogant. Maybe he isn’t that skillful or knowledgeable as people claims? And on the other hand, if a long-time practitioner downplays his skill and say that he is isn’t very good, be curious and see if there’s something else behind his humble approach. If you are lucky, you might have just found someone with great skill who also is generous and willing to teach.