Becoming Pat

At the core of our beings, Pat and I are the same per­son.

What sep­a­rates us is our emo­tion, or lack there­of. Pat’s the log­i­cal one, I’m the emo­tion­al one. I’ve always looked up to him — his strength, his morals, his per­son­al­i­ty — with­out real­ly under­stand­ing why.

It’s only in the last year that I’ve come to real­ize Pat is a Taoist. This comes with the real­iza­tion that I’m a Taoist myself, and explains why I try to be more like him.

The inter­est­ing part is that he does­n’t even know that he’s a Taoist — sort of like Winnie the Pooh — which is exact­ly what makes him a true Taoist.

One of Chuang Tzŭ’s para­bles illus­trates this point. In an abbre­vi­at­ed ver­sion, Knowledge seeks a con­scious reflec­tion to know the Tao, and asked Silent Do Nothing and Reckless Blurter, before ask­ing The Yellow Emperor (ahhh, the Romantic per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of Chinese fables):

Knowledge said to The Yellow Emperor, “I asked Silent Do Nothing and he kept qui­et. Not only did­n’t he answer me, but he did­n’t even know how to answer. I asked Reckless Blurter, and though he want­ed to tell me, he did­n’t, and even for­got my ques­tions. Now I’ve asked you, and you know all about it. Why do you say that you’re far from it?”.

The Yellow Emperor said, “Silent Do Nothing was tru­ly right, because he did­n’t know any­thing. Reckless Blurter was near­ly right, because he’d for­got­ten it. You and I are far from right, because we know far too much”.

The same is true for Tai Chi1, or any mar­tial art for that mat­ter. Dissect it too much, and you lose the mean­ing. Think about it too much, and you don’t react. As Michael Babin wrote in his arti­cle on self-defense train­ing:

It is sad but true that real skill comes from seem­ing­ly end­less drilling of the basics and then learn­ing how to transcend/forget most of what you have so patient­ly learned.

In oth­er words, learn­ing struc­ture is essen­tial to learn­ing to react to a com­plete lack of struc­ture (i.e. a real fight); but if you focus on struc­ture for too long it becomes counter-pro­duc­tive to “being with­out struc­ture” in mar­tial terms. One of the many annoy­ing para­dox­es in the inter­nal arts.

One of the many para­dox­es in the Taoist phi­los­o­phy as well. As much as I try to study it, learn it, and apply it, I find myself think­ing about it too much. As a result, I occa­sion­al­ly stray from being cen­tered, and lose my bal­ance.

It’s the con­scious reflec­tion which Knowledge is seek­ing that pre­emp­tive­ly dooms his search. This is my prob­lem as well. I buy Taoist books with a thirst for knowl­edge, but they’re all telling me the same thing now. Not that the books haven’t helped at all, but I feel like I’ve reached a lim­it. Perhaps even the sim­ple act of writ­ing about this is counter-pro­duc­tive.

I have the under­stand­ing, but I can’t apply it with­out think­ing about it first, and it’s the attempt to apply it that ruins the point. I’ve yet to reach a stage of pure reac­tion and spon­tane­ity, like Pat.

But I’m get­ting there.

  1. Yet anoth­er exam­ple of how Tai Chi is the phys­i­cal expres­sion of the phi­los­o­phy. Or per­haps this could be reverse-gen­er­al­ized, and said that the Taoist phi­los­o­phy is reflect­ed in every­thing, such as mar­tial arts. []


  1. At the height of a dance, the mind becomes blank. It stops telling the body what to do. Instead, there’s only the emo­tions which we want to con­vey. The mind feels and the body shows.

  2. You know exact­ly what I’m talk­ing about.

  3. May be you haven’t reached a lim­it, you’ve just reached the next phase. In nov­els about Chinese swords­men, they say, the true swords­man does­n’t car­ry the sword in his hand because the sword is in his mind. Again, it’s the case of essence over form.

  4. I think you’re absolute­ly right. I feel the same way with cer­tain aspects of Tai Chi, where it feels like I’m not learn­ing any more, until I dis­cov­er that there’s one (of many) small details I’m miss­ing.

    I love the idea of the sword in the mind. You’ll have to let me know which book this is from so I can read it one day.

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