Are you eager to learn more about qigong, tai chi, and meditation? Are you struggling with discipline? Want to know more about the history and theory of these arts?
Then ask questions, grasshopper!
The human brain functions better when using questions. All teachers know this. They know that presenting information is only half the battle.
Maybe less than half the battle.
Getting students engaged with the information is the real battle.
And the best way to engage students is to get them to ask questions and start discussions.
Hence, my Ask Me (Almost) Anything series. Here are the ground rules:
- Click here to submit a question. (Anonymous questions will be given a pseudonym.)
- I’ll answer your question in an upcoming Ask Me (Almost) Anything.
- Click here to read more about why asking questions (not just reading answers) is so crucial.
- Comment below if you have follow-up questions, even if the original question wasn’t your own.
- Comment, like, or share this blog post if you’d like to see more of the same in the future.
Let’s dive in!
Dear Sifu Anthony,
Have you ever gotten the “feeling” that your teacher did not care about your development or progress in Tai Chi/Qigong? During the last one-on-one session I had with my teacher, he told me that I “embarrass him”. How do you go on teaching and advising others?
I’m sorry to hear about your difficulties with your teacher. It’s awful to have someone you admire hurt you with their words. That must have been painful for you to hear.
The truth is that traditional Asian teachers can be extremely harsh.[Note: I emailed Alicia to ask a few follow-up questions, which is how I know that her teacher is Asian.]
I have the rare honor of having been harshly scolded by about a half dozen different Asian masters!
In any other setting, the scoldings I received would have been labeled as verbal abuse. But for some reason, we accept this kind of behavior from martial arts teachers.
I’m not entirely sure that’s a good thing in the 21st century.
Here’s the crazy part. I have near perfect recall for every technique I’ve ever been taught, I practice diligently, and I’m generally considered to be pretty talented at these arts.
All that — and I STILL got yelled at.
So don’t feel bad. This isn’t about you. It’s just how some of these Asian masters work.
Your job is to decide if you want to work with them or not.
If I were you, I would speak with my teacher, and ask for clarification. Communicate as honestly and clearly as you can.
It’s hard to have this kind of conversation with a good friend, so expect it to be 10x harder with your teacher.
If your teacher continues to verbally abuse you, or gives you an unsatisfactory answer, or can’t somehow frame his answer in a traditional context – then you might consider leaving.
Good teachers are hard to find, but not THAT hard. I’d rather travel 500 miles to learn from a good teacher than be abused by one around the corner.
Dear Sifu Anthony,
In tai chi practice, there is intent and focus. When I do a qiqong set, I feel like I am just waving my arms around. What is the intent and focus I should be putting into my qiqong to get benefits other than just exercising my muscles and joints?
I get question this question all the time. In fact, I wrote an entire article about this here
In a nutshell, you’re paying way too much attention to the external aspects of qigong, and not enough attention to the internal aspects.
Qigong is an internal art. The important stuff happens on the inside.
If you feel like you’re just waving your arms around, then you’re not going deep enough into a meditative (or Zen) state of mind.
That focus that you crave — that’s what we call the Monkey Mind.
The Zen Mind is the antidote to the Monkey Mind. It doesn’t crave focus because it is already focused – on the present moment, on the breath, on even the simplest physical movement.
For example, I’ve been practicing Lifting The Sky for nearly 20 years. It’s a ridiculously simple exercise.
But you know what? I still don’t feel like I’m just waiving my hands in the air, even after 20 years.
That’s because the Zen Mind doesn’t have room for boredom.
The Zen Mind is one of the big themes of my 101 workshop. I strongly recommend that you take it, either in person or online.
Within the workshop experience, I can answer your questions not just by giving you intellectual answers, but by giving you the experience of what I’m talking about.
You can also download my free stuff for an audio that will give you a glimpse of the Zen mind.
Like you, I previously studied Karate and moved on in my case to Tai Chi and Qigong due to back issues. Now, 2 years into the Chinese martial arts, I struggle sometimes to stay motivated.
Sparring and self defense was enjoyable in karate but so is Qigong and learning martial aspects of Tai chi.
I guess the repetitiveness of training has got me in a bit of a rut.
Sorry to hear about the back issues. I can certainly relate.
I had terrible back pain in my Karate days. And my recent psoas injury has caused some issues to resurface. No fun at all.
But I’m not clear about something. Are your back issues preventing you from sparring? Please feel free to clarify below.
Regarding motivation — it’s a problem for all of us. Including me.
People think I must have tons of motivation. I really don’t.
I’m just lucky. Long ago, I happened to learn an important lesson: You don’t need motivation as long as you have good habits.
Training in qigong and tai chi is repetitive. That in itself shouldn’t be a problem if you’re in a meditative state of mind. (See my answer to Dave above.)
Nevertheless, if you’re plodding through the same old practice routine every time, then it’s time for some variation.
I like to show my students new and creative ways to practice. For example:
- Take your Tai Chi form, and practice it twice as fast as normal.
- Or practice it backwards.
- Or without hands.
- Or without the stances.
- Or do it out of sequence.
- Or do it in a confined space.
- Or do it with power.
- Or do it on uneven ground.
I could go on, but you get the point.
That said – when it comes to the martial path, there’s no replacement for dynamic, two-person training. I’m a big fan of Pushing Hands because it is a lot safer, and arguably more fun that sparring.
If you haven’t learned Pushing Hands, then go do it. It’s not hard to learn the basics. But there’s a lifetime of learning (and practicing) in those basics.
I would like to ask about a number of things (one at a time, of course) that pertain to “spiritual” matters. In the past I have shied away from doing so because I had the impression that you only wanted to field a certain scope of inquiries and that you wanted to avoid being perceived as that kind of teacher. I really appreciate your attitude in that regard and I think it sets you apart from teachers in the best of ways, so I preface my question acknowledgement of that stance and the wisdom thereof. That being said, I would like to explore some possibilities with you: is there any way that we can talk about things like reincarnation? The ultimate purpose of these arts we practice? Psychic phenomena, their availability and relevance to us? Anything in that range would be very interesting to me. What do you think?
Hey Charles. Good to hear from you!
It’s totally fine to ask questions like this. Don’t worry. The answer is always, “Yes, let’s talk!”
Here are my thoughts, one at a time:
Reincarnation: Yep. I believe in it, mostly because I happen to find the paradigm useful.
See, I tend to make lots mistakes in life. So the idea that I don’t have to get it all right in this lifetime is comforting to me.
Plus, pieces of me were forged in the center of a star billions of years ago. So I’m already a reincarnated star.
The Ultimate Purpose of These Arts: Are you talking about spiritual aspect of these arts?
Personally, that’s an important aspect of my training – but it’s not for everyone.
The older I get, the more I think that everything – from back pain to anxiety – is ultimately a spiritual issue. But how you phrase things really matters.
Many people come to me just wanting to get rid of chronic pain and have more energy. They’re not interesting in that “spirit” stuff, and I can’t blame them.
A few years later, once they get out of pain and have more energy, maybe they’ll become interested in mindfulness and spiritual training.
Also, I’m really wary of the whole “guru” thing. I think I can help a lot of people with their spiritual cultivation — but I’m no Buddha.
Maybe I’ll talk more about enlightenment once I reach it. What headline should I use for my blog post once I reach enlightenment?
Psychic Phenomena: To some people, feeling a little qi in the hands counts as a psychic phenomenon.
To me, transmitting qi without touching doesn’t even count.
I’m not sure how it works, whether it’s an electromagnetic field, or what – but I don’t consider myself a psychic just because I can transmit energy.
That said, I’ve seen some weird shit in the qigong world. I believe there are people with powers that even I would label as “psychic”.
The Zen traditional typically ignores all psychic phenomenon and encourages students to focus on meditation. The Taoist tradition, on the other hand, cultivates these powers in a holistic way.
Which path will you choose, grasshopper?
Sifu Anthony From the heart, Sifu Anthony