Posted by: Mike Ferruggia | April 12, 2010

Tai Chi Decision Making

In Mike Murdock’s television program, he talks about how the bible is a book about decisions. It is a book in which people participate in theire destiny by making decisions. Our daily lives could be seen as series of ones and zeroes, just like a computer, yes and no, this or that. We are constantly making decisions, some seemingly inconsequential, some major. Whichever they are, it takes us down a particular road each time we decide something, and before long, we’ve gone a long way that contained so many other possibilities.

How do we decide? A lot of times, there is no wrong decision, just different. Sometimes we gather as much information as we can, weigh the choices,and try to do what is best or most expedient. We try to use logical reasoning. Buying a car is a perfect example. Getting married even better, because in addition to logic and reason, we also tend to use our intuition and our hearts. I buy a particular car because I like the way it looks, not necessarily because of its gas mileage.

In all of our decisions, we participate fully in creating and directing our own lives. Those who consult the I Ching look for age old advice on what to do in particular archetypal situations.

In tai chi, the training is geared towards developing wisdom and wu wei–intuitive decision making. We train to learn what works best in particular situations, and while we are talking primarily about fighting in this aspect of tai chi, the training extends itself to our entire lives. One who trains tai chi develops a sense of knowing what to do, which is one particular translation of the term “gong fu.” For example, we may practice, if our opponent were to throw a right jab, we might counter with a brush knee twist step or single whip followed by slant flying to throw them. But in a real confrontation, when the opponent comes, there is no thinking involved. One decides what to do by letting it happen and naturally responding with the best counter, whatever that turns out to be. The moments will become very fluid with rapid changes, requiring rapid autpmatic decision making–no time for thinking. Can a computer do this, or does it just do ones and zeroes really really fast? Here, we are not just computing really really quickly, we are relying on the developed skill of intuition and “non-action.”

A taoist is also called to right, or correct action–always striving to do the right or moral thing. I know for some, morality can be relativistic, but let’s assume we can agree on some major things of right and wrong. We can start with the ten commandments.

Choose to do good, to be holy, to love, to have compassion, to develop virtues and not vices. Then the decision making process in a lot of things become simple- no need to obfuscate or manipulate. Tell the truth.

In a fight or confrontation, if you’ve trained hard, if you have experience, if your gong fu is good, then trust yourself and let go and let yourself just do it. More often then not you will make the right decision automatically. Being spontaneous and trusting your intuition are key to doing things the tai chi way.

But there are no short cuts. You have to learn first, you have to train and practice. A person who has never been in the water before ought not to rely on spontaneous intuition or they might drown pretty quick. Learn to swim first.

One of the marks of good leadership is the decision making abilities of the leader. A person capable of making decisive moves with confidence is a god leader. Wrong decisions or mistakes don’t necessarily become bad things, just part of the process. A wise person has few of these, and knows how to turn them into opportunities or how to recup faster.

Who we are, every day, is a conscious decision on our part. Choose to be a person of responsibility, a person of high moral character, a defender of truth and justice, and on and on. The rest then can be a creative, spontaneous joy ride.

And perhaps the most taoist and zen thing to do sometimes is nothing at all, but to allow the “bad weather” or “thunderstorms” of life to pass by, allow the chaos to settle, allow things to arrange themselves. Too often, we feel we have to be agressive, make lots of decisions to manipulate a situation in our favor. In taoism and zen, this is wrong thinking. There are ways we can establish the parameters, creage a culture, in which the things, people, and events inour lives kind of are almost compelled to bend the way we want, but this is an amazing skill that takes a lot of time and experience to develop.



  1. Excellent story. Thanks Rick! So many times we hack our way through life instead of finding the easy joint!

  2. Prince Huei’s cook was cutting up a bullock. Every blow of his hand, every heave of his shoulders, every tread of his foot, every thrust of his knee, every whshh of rent flesh, every clink of the chopper, was in perfect rhythm — like the dance of the Mulberry Grove, like the harmonious chords of Ching Shou.

    “Well done!” cried the Prince. “Yours is skill indeed!”

    “Sire,” replied the cook laying down his chopper, “I have always devoted myself to Tao, which is higher than mere skill. When I first began to cut up bullocks, I saw before me whole bullocks. After three years’ practice, I saw no more whole animals. And now I work with my mind and not with my eye. My mind works along without the control of the senses. Falling back upon eternal principles, I glide through such great joints or cavities as there may be, according to the natural constitution of the animal. I do not even touch the convolutions of muscle and tendon, still less attempt to cut through large bones.

    “A good cook changes his chopper once a year — because he cuts. An ordinary cook, one a month — because he hacks. But I have had this chopper nineteen years, and although I have cut up many thousand bullocks, its edge is as if fresh from the whetstone. For at the joints there are always interstices, and the edge of a chopper being without thickness, it remains only to insert that which is without thickness into such an interstice. Indeed there is plenty of room for the blade to move about. It is thus that I have kept my chopper for nineteen years as though fresh from the whetstone.

    “Nevertheless, when I come upon a knotty part which is difficult to tackle, I am all caution. Fixing my eye on it, I stay my hand, and gently apply my blade, until with a hwah the part yields like earth crumbling to the ground. Then I take out my chopper and stand up, and look around, and pause with an air of triumph. Then wiping my chopper, I put it carefully away.”

    “Bravo!” cried the Prince. “From the words of this cook I have learned how to take care of my life.”

    ZhuangZi (Lin YuTang)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: