How can we make progress?

by Khamserk on 2010/08/13

I was having a conversation over dinner with my Taiji brother Nicholas Fung about the frustrations of learning Taiji.  He was wondering aloud about the method for learning.  As he put it, “is it understanding or is it habit? If it’s habit then we don’t need to understand it, and if that’s the case then does Master need to explain it to us?”

This was a really big query that reminded me of a question that I had while trying to reconcile what seemed to be a contradiction between Master’s advice and his teaching method.  On the one hand he told us not to ask questions, not to think, and that there was a danger that if we had  a concept explained to us before we were ready that we might develop a wrong idea which we could reference incorrectly in our practice.  The problem being that as soon as we hear something it makes us think of something else and we begin to develop our own ideas and that they are inevitably wrong.  But, on the other hand, Master Chen sometimes lectures us and introduces advanced concepts which we certainly do not yet understand.  One day I asked him “do you mean to say that if we listen to you lecture that it could hinder our progress?” To which he replied “No, as long as you are inquisitive and continue to practice and strive to understand then it will be OK.  It’s like an academic who goes to listen to a lecture: as long as you go home and write a really good paper it is fine.”

Now that I am writing I am reminded of two other conversations that I’ve had with Master Chen about learning which seem related.  The first was about note taking.  He said it’s very important to make two separate sets of notes: in the first set we must record very carefully what he said right down to the exact word usage.  For example if he used the word cup but you can’t remember it, and you only remember that it was some type of container that holds liquid, do not substitute the word jar.  In this case the meaning is different and it may make the teaching incorrect.  It is better to not remember a lesson then to remember it incorrectly.  It does not matter if you understand the teaching, but it is crucial that we do not attempt to interpret what he has said.  If we must interpret, that is what the second set of notes is for.  In this set we can freely write our interpretations and beliefs about the teachings as we understand them at that point.  This way, later on we can look back and compare the two sets to see how our understanding has changed: gradually we will begin to understand the verbatim notes and gradually we will realize how our previous interpretations require revision or scrapping.

The other conversation was about avoiding theorizing.  As Master put it, when we do something and it works, we automatically develop a theory about why it worked.  Next we try to do more using our theory as a basis but we inevitably fail.  The problem is that we are not privy to the things that made it work, we cannot understand.  As he said, it worked because of fate, although he emphasized that it was not exactly fate in the English sense of the word.

So this leads back to the question “how can we make progress?” and “how can we understand without asking questions and theorizing?” and so forth.  If we turn to Master Hong’s writing for guidance there are several passages in his book which talk about these problems.  Here are two that we can contemplate while trying to make progress.  Good luck everybody!


If you want to learn the routines

You must first know the theory

You must be civilized

You must also be courteous

In addition to that

You also need to know about science

Learn some dynamics

And human physiology

The methods of leverage

And spiral energies

The emptiness and solidity of energies

Are connected to blood and qi

Strengthen your body

And enhance your [martial] abilities

To know the theories

You need to find

A teacher who understands

If the teacher does not understand

He only misguides the students

The teachings of the teacher

You must record carefully

The demonstrations of the teacher

You must watch closely

From physical understanding

To mental understanding

Contemplate frequently

Practice regularly


Follow the rules

Seek progress

Don’t rush

Without knowing

Ability has increased

You also need

To have good friends

With friends

You can help each other

And experiment with each other

Ponder it

Right or wrong

All becomes clear


Follow the rules strictly

Through osmosis

You will be enlightened

The heart and hand

Will both be forgotten

At this time you are the rules

The real expert

Is Baoding the Butcher

Leaving no trace of his knife work

The movements

Are purely those of the spirit

The wonder of nature

Comes from hard training

Persist without stopping

At the higher level

You must strive to go still higher

About Khamserk

Edmonton Instructor for the Practical Method Academy. Kham Serk studied with Master Chen Zhonghua at the age 15 and thorough many full time courses and other learning methods, became a disciple in 2012 on Daqingshan in China.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Timbalasian August 13, 2010 at 9:04 am

I think it is time to revisit Master Hong’s book!



Tim Duehring August 14, 2010 at 6:19 am

Well recorded Khamserk, good things will follow if you stay on this path.


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