Why is it that when new students seek to learn Tai Chi, they cannot (find) get it?
Please have a cup of tea, take a seat, drink all of your tea…then I will tell you at least one big reason by way of a “Zen Koan” or in Chinese it is “Chan Gong’an”…a very sophisticated riddle or saying.
In other words, the teacher is not looking for a specific answer, the teacher is looking for evidence that the student has grasped the state of mind expressed by the “Gong’an” itself.
The author Joe Hyams was a syndicated columnist who also studied martial arts. Probably his most famous teacher was the martial artist Bruce Lee. A little known tidbit about Bruce Lee is that he is reputed to have studied the Wu Style of Tai Chi early on. Here is an excerpt from Hyam's book "Zen in the Martial Arts".
“Do you realize you will have to unlearn all you have learned and start over again?” he asked. “No,” I said. Bruce Lee smiled and placed his hand lightly on my shoulder. “Let me tell you a story my sifu told me,” he said. “It is about the Japanese Zen master who received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. “It was obvious to the master from the start of the conversation that the professor was not so much interested in learning about Zen as he was in impressing the master with his own opinions and knowledge.
The master listened patiently and finally suggested they have tea. The master poured his visitor’s cup full and then kept on pouring. “The professor watched the cup overflowing until he could no longer restrain himself. The cup is overfull, no more will go in.’ “‘ Like this cup,’ the master said, ‘you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?’” Bruce studied my face. “You understand the point?”
“Yes,” I said. “You want me to empty my mind of past knowledge and old habits so that I will be open to new learning.”
Joe Hyams, "Zen in the Martial Arts", p. 9
Here is the "Gong'an" in entirety: "Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. "It is overfull. No more will go in!"
"Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"
Mr. Hyams gave the mere “answer” to the “Gong’an” but where is the evidence that he “emptied his mind of past knowledge and old habits so that he would be open to new learning that his teacher had for him? How can Hyams provide the evidence and not merely provide lip service?
Here is “evidence” that Grandmaster Young Wabu (teacher of Stephen Hwa who is teacher of James Roach) “emptied his mind of past knowledge and old habits so that he would be open to new learning that his teacher had for him. This is a small font, so the rest of this can be seen at Master Stephen Hwa’s website in the "Biography of Grand Master Young Wabu"
“In 1937, with the outbreak of war with Japan, the legendary Tai Chi Master Wu Chien Chuan left Shanghai, seeking the safety of Hong Kong. Young was then in charge of the martial art section of the South China Athletic Association and organizing a martial art exhibit. Hearing about Wu’s arrival, Young invited Wu to participate in the exhibit. The two men immediately found much in common. Young tested his martial art skills with Wu and found that he was completely dominated by Wu and unable to maintain his balance, no matter which kind of external martial art he used. At that point, Young gave up all he had learned before and became Wu’s student. He started from the very beginning.
Young remembers the difficulty in trying to forget the deeply ingrained external martial arts he had learned and switch to the very different internal martial art. He dedicated four years of fulltime study with Wu before Wu returned to Shanghai in 1941. For a period, Wu stayed with him at his residence with the teaching and learning sessions going on day and night, everyday. The photograph of him and Wu was taken at his home in July 1938.
During that time, Wu bestowed upon Young another one of Wu’s treasure-the art of treating human ailment with internal energy, or Qi. The foundation of this treatment technique are internal energy, techniques of imparting energy (broad) and penetrating energy (focused). All these are originated from Tai Chi’s internal training and its martial art application training.”
Hyams, Joe (2010-04-23). Zen in the Martial Arts (p. 10). Random House, Inc.