“Practice the technique and learn how to learn”. This was the mantra of my teacher Grand Master Tsai, during my intensive training with him in Arkansas.
“There are many philosophers of Qi who can talk about it all day with eloquent words, but they don’t know how to do Qi”. “We are farmers of Qi. We do Qi”, said Grand Master Tsai.
I don’t think that Grand Master Tsai meant that statement as an insult to scholars. He was emphasizing that to truly understand Qi you must be able to feel it and cultivate it. GM Tsai was a national champion and is a Grand Master of Shaolin Kung Fu and Mei Hua Qigong. He was written up in Kung Fu magazine as a coach of coaches. He has many accolades attesting to his skill and ability to produce high ranking competitors and instructors.
In the arena of competition one cannot fake Qi or imagine it to be there. It either is or it isn’t. I can appreciate the practicality of GM Tsai’s teaching. He taught from a base of embodied knowledge. Not a ‘do what you know’, but a ‘know what you do’ model. When someone had a question about a technique, instead of trying to intellectually help a student understand, he’d have them come to the front and practice the technique 20 times. Somehow the student always got their ‘aha’ before 20 or GM Tsai would adjust their technique.
During my four year apprenticeship with GM Tsai I spent hours a day doing Qi under his guidance. After a while my questions became fewer and my dedication to the techniques became more focused. I was encouraged by the unshakeable confidence he had for the results of his training. As soon as I was taught something he had me leading and training others. Teaching another is twice learning and that is how, after four years as GM Tsai’s chief instructor, I know what I am teaching.
What is ‘learn how to learn’? This way of training is circular or like a spiral actually. Superficially we can express it this way: Practice the technique the right way with complete focus, as in meditation, and fully experience the results. Practicing the technique the right way requires guidance of one who has already received and integrated the results. When you practice this way there is a feedback loop that occurs when the perceived changes from your training elevate your awareness. With a ground of new awareness you may practice the same technique, but it will take you to another level and experience of learning. New experience brings new feedback from the loop.
That is pretty much how we all learn new physical activities like sports, dancing, etc. Some forms of qigong like nei gong are internal practices, so the information exchange can be subtle until you are more advanced. In some cases, it can take practitioners many years before they can feel a strong internal sensation of Qi in their body. This may be the case if they are not guided by a master who is willing to connect them internally. Many systems of qigong, yoga and tai’ chi teach with forms first. Practice the form over and over with constant corrections until eventually internal alignment is found. Internal alignment will then alter your form, but still may not produce a deep awareness of Qi flow or cultivation.
Alternatively we could learn internal alignment first through the cultivation of Qi and allow the expression of Qi and our breath to inform the movements. Learning from the inside we gain so much more benefit from the forms immediately. Our forms may not look perfect right away, but as we practice we are building and refining Qi throughout the body. Perfection now becomes an act of surrender to the natural and organic expression of our present manifestation. We stop forcing and begin remembering by harmonizing energy and essence. Qi flows out organically and with great pleasure. I have spoken with many frustrated practitioners whose only input from their instructors is a correction to their posture or movement. We can learn by copying and not know what we are doing or we can learn by feeling the presence and movement of Qi internally and know what we are doing. ‘Do what you know or know what you do’.
I teach my students to ‘learn how to learn’ by guiding them on an internal journey that leads them to their intuitive and innate knowledge. This is accomplished by a series of connections to lay the foundation of learning. It is my joy and vocation to pass on this knowledge as a service to human beings.