Inspirational quotes are a great source to help us stay motivated to practice. The best quotes are the ones that act as gentle reminders for the principles of breathing, movement, and keeping a mindful attitude while training.
On the subject of T’ai Chi, one author who really seems to speak to me is Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and Peace Activist who has written extensively about the philosophy, practice, and art of Mindful Meditation. It’s a bit odd that I choose Thich Nhat Hanh for T’ai Chi inspiration because his personal philosophy admonishes any kind of violence, either in thought or action. It’s doubtful that he would advocate the practice of a martial art in relation to any of his teachings.
Thich Nhat Hanh was born in Central Vietnam in 1926. As a young Buddhist Monk, he was confronted by the war that engulfed his country during the l960’s. He opposed the war and traveled the throughout the world, calling for peace and exchanging ideas with writers, scholars, and the activists of the time.
He met with the Civil Rights Leader, Dr. Martin Luther King and discussed the ways non-violent action could be used to change political thought and oppose injustice in the world.
He eventually led the Buddhist delegation at the Paris Peace talks in 1969 in the hopes of ending the hostilities in his Homeland.
After the war, Thich Nhat Hanh continued to travel and teach, opening monasteries and meditation communities so that he could spread his message of peace. He has written well over 100 books and articles on meditation, mindfulness, and Buddhist practices. He continues to be a voice for political and environmental injustice, as well as a Spiritual Leader in the Mindfulness Movement.
While age and an unfortunate stroke in 2014 prevent him from traveling and speaking, Thich Nhat Hanh continues to practice mindful meditation at his Plum Village communityy in France.
It’s difficult to reconcile the non-violence philosophy of Thich Nhat Hanh with the martial aspects of T’ai Chi; However, both adhere to a mindful approach and a reflective awareness that is difficult to ignore.
I’d like to share some of Thich Nhat Hanh’s quotes that speak to me and my practice of T’ai Chi Principles. You should know that most of his teachings are about expressing love to everyone and everything, including our enemies. He believes that the only way to full happiness and enlightenment is to release all violent thoughts and actions.
With that understood, here are some of the quotes that I like to reflect upon while practicing my form.
Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.
-Peace is in Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life
This was the first quote from Hanh that caught my attention, though not at first for T’ai Chi practice.
When I first began Barefoot Running, this quote seemed to capture the soft, gentle stride that I was trying to capture. – A version of this quote is also found in his poem, Kiss the Earth:
Kiss the Earth
By Thich Nhat Hanh
Walk and touch peace every moment.
Walk and touch happiness every moment.
Each step brings a fresh breeze.
Each step makes a flower bloom.
Kiss the Earth with your feet.
Bring the Earth your love and happiness.
The Earth will be safe
when we feel safe in ourselves.
For me, Thich Nhat Hanh describes the way T’ai Chi practitioners must stay connected and grounded to the Earth while also maintaining a light, mobile stance. This works as much for our physical body as it does for our thoughts and emotions.
Smile, Breathe, and Go Slowly
–Thich Nhat Hanh
This could be the mantra of anyone who practices T’ai Chi. Smiling helps you to relax your body. Breathing helps you stay present and focused. And going slowly helps you maintain your concentration.
I used to bar tend while in college. Some nights it would get pretty hectic behind the bar when there were a lot of customers. It was easy to make mistakes, spill drinks, shortchange customers, or mess up orders. A veteran bartender gave me a great piece of advice; “When you get busy… Slow Down!”
When we feel hurried or stressed out, our natural tendency is to speed up and work faster. Unfortunately, this usually leads to more mistakes and greater setbacks. It’s a much better idea to ‘Smile, Breathe, and Go Slowly. (See Hanh’s advice works for bartending too!).
Keeping your body healthy is an expression of gratitude to the whole cosmos -the trees, clouds, everything.
–Thich Nhat Hanh, Touching Peace: Practicing the art of Mindful Living
Let’s face it, most of us exercise because we want to be skinnier and look better. Maybe, some of us workout to perform better at a sport, get stronger, or live longer.
Whatever the reason, it’s usually a bit self-centered. The goal of our exercise is always to improve ourselves in some way.
What if we thought, “Hey, I’m pretty lucky to be alive right now. Maybe I should try to take care of this body to show how much I appreciate having it.”
The best way for us to show someone that we appreciate their gift is to take good care of it, to keep it safe and beautiful. Does your body deserve any less?
T’ai Chi is one of the best, holistic ways to maintain your health. You appreciate and honor the body you’ve been given by keeping it as vibrant and healthy as possible.
To Be Beautiful means to be yourself
–Thich Nhat Hanh
I’ve talked about this before. There is a tendency in T’ai Chi to try to imitate others and be secretly jealous of their ability. The truth is, we have to make our art our own.
There’s always room for improvement and there’s always more to learn, but our art and practice have to come from the center that lies within us. Your art has to come from you, it’s an expression of your own ability and understanding. Every person’s T’ai Chi is as unique and personal as our fingerprints.
If you practice long enough, you might be able to perfectly imitate another person’s form, but it will always lack that certain something that makes it special. It will always be an imitation of something else.
However, if you search within and train diligently, you will find the beauty and creativity within own form; your own T’ai Chi.
When you have peace within, real peace with others is possible.
–Thich Nhat Hanh
One of the best aspects of T’ai Chi training is that it causes you to stay calm and centered while performing your technique. Anger, rage, and frustration have no place in the practice because they all lead to stress and tension. When we are emotionally upset, we can no longer effectively control our energy and quickly find ourselves burnt out and exhausted.
T’ai Chi helps us stay emotionally clear in our interactions with others, especially in the midst of conflict. By maintaining a calm mind, we are better able to respond to a provocation or an attack. And, with our mind is unclouded by emotions, we can often find a solution to a conflict without resorting to force.
Only your compassion, your attention, and your gentleness are invincible and without limits.
–Thich Nhat Hanh
People often wonder how T’ai Chi can be translated as “The Ultimate Way.” Certainly, there are flashier arts that take more strength, flexibility, and power to perform. How can T’ai Chi be the ‘Ultimate’?
For me, Hanh’s quote sums up the reason perfectly.
You can only be so strong, so powerful, or so angry for a finite period of time. Sooner or later, we all burn out. We become tired, weak, old, exhausted. While it’s impossible to constantly become harder and harder, or stronger and stronger, it’s actually quite easy to become more soft or more gentle.
You can always be more compassionate. You can always concentrate and focus more. You can always be more gentle. These are attributes that do not steal our energy. (In fact, some might argue that they actually restore our energy!)
When you tie your training to resources that are infinitely available you will always continue to improve and grow. This is a radical change from the way most people train in the martial arts, but it’s a great method for anyone who wants to stay strong and effective despite their age or health.
In this way of thinking, T’ai Chi is truly the ‘Ultimate Way.”
Thich Nhat Hanh and T’ai Chi may have opposing philosophies with regard to using force to defend oneself, but they share many important principles. I actually believe that of all the martial arts, T’ai Chi best uses the concept of mindfulness to stay clear-headed and hopefully, compassionate during a conflict.
It’s really amazing how the ideas from one art can appeal and have great significance to another.