Tai chi as a practice to train the mind

Renown Zen master DT Suzuki writes in the introduction to the little book entitled Zen in the Art of Archery that describes something that I’ve discovered about tai chi. He writes that a significant feature of the practice of archery is not “… for utilitarian purposes only or for purely aesthetic enjoyments, but … meant to train the mind; indeed, to bring it into contact with the ultimate reality.”

This is la raison d’etre for tai chi for me—to train the mind. Training the body is equally key to balancing the dynamics of yin and yang in motion, of course, but Master Suzuki touches on a very core notion of tai chi practice that takes a little extra effort to grasp. Technique and application are subsumed by training the mind.

“If one really wishes to be master of an art, technical knowledge of it is not enough,” he continues. “One has to transcend technique so that the art becomes an ‘artless art’ growing out of the Unconscious.”

He intrigues the reader with this rather abstract statement, but his next statement, for me, speaks directly to what I try to arrive at in my understanding of taijiquan, qigong, and Chinese internal martial arts, in general.

“The archer ceases to be conscious of himself as the one who is engaged in hitting the bull’s-eye which confronts him. This state of unconsciousness is realized only when, completely empty and rid of the self, he becomes one with the perfecting of his technical skill, …”

This may still appear rather abstract to most tai chi practitioners, but it does speak to what you experience after practicing long enough. That is, when you seek and find silence in your thoughts, the act becomes one of balancing thought with non-thought, or the “unconscious.”

Master Suzuki writes, “As soon as we reflect, deliberate, and conceptualize, the original unconsciousness is lost and a thought interferes.”

If you experience this in tai chi practice, then please share your thoughts with me and others. I recommend reading Zen in the Art of Archery (Eugen Herrigel, 1953) if only to read the introduction by Master Suzuki. I found a copy at White Rabbit Books on the River Trail in Durango.