My process of learning Taijiquan is not unique. I know this because one of my earliest inspirations in Taijiquan study, Jou, Tsung Hwa, said so. Now, Jou was not talking directly to or about me, but he shared his journey with Taijiquan in his books, and those stories spoke to me and my journey.
The title of this post paraphrases the Zen Koan: “First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.”
Learning a new art or skill is like this. First you see the mountain, and think that others have climbed that mountain, and you would like to follow them. You start climbing the mountain, and the trail goes up and down, back, and forth, and you are not sure if you are on the right trail, or even the right mountain. You think back to when you decided to climb the mountain, how beautiful it was in the distance, but now, when you look around, you cannot see the mountain because you are too close to it. Finally, you reach the peak of the mountain and looking back you can see all its peaks and valleys behind you.
Jou, Tsung Hwa shares this experience of learning as well saying “If you do not make progress, you cannot blame your teacher, because no teacher can transfer awareness to you.”
Jou did not have a teacher for most of his life. According to the introduction of The Tao of Tai Chi Chuan Way to Rejuvenation he was introduced to Taijiquan late in life, at about my current age, then moved away from his teachers and studied on his own. This self-study, and his desire to share it with us, that made Jou, Tsung Hwa one of the most influential teachers of the past century.
He had a significant impact on me. I understood his frustration with finding a good teacher and studying by yourself. Jou goes on to say “If you have no teacher, do not place your highest priority on finding the right one. None of my teachers were famous Tai-Chi masters, and for over ten years I have not had a personal teacher. In that time, I have discovered the only real secret: you must develop on your own.”
This is the Zen experience of the mountain, no mountain, mountain. The decision to climb, climbing, and realizing the summit, are up to you.