5 Keys to Achieving Through Taichi Practice
The degree of success you achieve with Taichi is not entirely up to your conscious will, but may seem to depend on subtler forces at work.
Having a job and home life that allow you time to practice, avoiding injuries that could interfere with training, finding a teacher who is teaching a deeper Taichi… these factors might make success with Taichi easier for some people than for others.
There are also a number of factors that are directly under your control.
I have practiced alongside hundreds of taiji students in my education so far and I have witnessed enough successes and failures to observe some common patterns that are common among both groups.
I have also experienced my own peaks and valleys in my internal martial arts training, and I recognize some of the differences in what I have done to cause my taijiquan practice to feel great versus what has caused my practice to at times feel like a struggle.
Below is a brief outline of the obstacles that students face and the actions/attitudes that function to support success instead.
Key to Success: Practicing Your Taijiquan at Home
Taiji is a daily practice, and if you practice with your teacher 2-4 days a week, you will benefit your practice immensely by doing some practice on your own.
The primary reason that people don’t do this could be procrastinating and the thought that it would be much more comfortable to watch TV then change into workout clothes, head out into the cold and push themselves to do a grueling workout all by themselves.
The good news, is that grueling is not a requirement 7 days a week.
Forget the workout clothes, the cold and the gruel and instead treat yourself to a gentle 20 minute practice on your kitchen floor.
Do that everyday, and you’ll learn a lot more and a lot deeper than those who only practice in taichi class.
Key to Success: The Open, Beginner’s Mind of a Taichi Student
Learning is about learning new things and achieving new depth.
Unfortunately, for many people, opportunities to learn are diminished in value when people show up and instead focus on showing that they already know something.
It is odd how often this happens in the context of learning tai chi and qi gong, considering that these practices are meant to open minds.
You already know a great deal. You’ve had many valuable life experiences.
Big deal. We all have.
When you show up for class, do you want to learn something that you don’t already know or instead celebrate with us what you already know?
Get excited about the mystery of learning something new.
The world is big.
Our conscious, analytical minds are quite small by comparison.
There is more out there that we do not understand, and opening ourselves up to that can be very freeing.
I know one individual who has practiced taichi well for 37 years, but when a younger, less experienced practitioner has something to offer, he expresses only curiosity as he enjoys an opportunity to learn something new.
Key to Success: Laughing at Yourself
Taking your practice seriously is great, but Taichi practice is not a context for taking yourself seriously.
Much better to realize that compared to all the wisdom available to us in this vast world, we’re all quite foolish in some entertaining ways.
Having realized that, dive deep into practice, knowing you have nothing real to lose, and everything to gain.
Having an ego to defend will mess you up in all stages of practice.
As a beginner, you may not love being told to do things differently that you are accustomed to, especially if your teacher is younger than you.
As an intermediate student, you may not enjoy the fact that there is someone who is learning faster than you due to whatever set of talents you may not have been born with.
As a life-long practitioner, you may not be a huge fan of how some newly popular practice method is giving people skills you never gained.
The vast universe promises many gifts, but not all of these gifts will make your ego feel good.
You may be the best among a certain few for a certain amount of time, but who cares?
Let someone else be the best while you enjoy being awesome.
Key to Success: Letting a Good Taichi Teacher Find You
I have received instruction from 4 exceptional taiji teachers.
All were skilled practitioners and generous, wise individuals with real senses of humor.
I have also seen and practiced with teachers with far less reliable levels of skill, wisdom and kindness, and they reminded me to feel grateful for the force that brought really good teachers into my life.
After learning the basics of Guangping Yang Taichi from Shifu Harrington in Tokyo, I moved to China where almost everyday as I practiced in parks, I’d be approached by someone who wanted to teach me who did not have the qualities that I would expect from a mature teacher in these arts.
After six months of living in Beijing, I went to the park at a time different from usual to do some standing meditation.
A man approached me and very matter-of-factly told me to modify my posture slightly. I followed his instructions.
Then he showed me another posture to practice. I enjoyed that posture.
I went back the next day and he gave my posture some feedback as he tended to his owns students.
I enjoyed what he was teaching me, so I kept going back.
I became his de facto student simply because I enjoyed learning from him and he was willing to teach me, before we even exchanged names.
Perhaps this story illustrates that finding a Taichi teacher depends on knowing the qualities you look for in a teacher, and staying patient and true to what you know is important. It also depends on being there for the ideal teacher to find you.
Key to Success: Know Why You are Learning Taichi
This can be a challenge.
Taichi is a martial art, but if what you want is to kick ass this year, a more aggressive practice may be better for your short-term goals.
On the other hand, only studying the philosophy or using Taichi as a health-booster can mean you don’t really learn the masterful self-protection qualities that do arise through authentic Taichi practice.
Not knowing what you want can lead to challenges, and I know this because it took me 20 years to get clear on what I want to get out of martial arts practice.
Knowing what you want will prevent you from being the wrestler who worries that life might be about more than dominating other humans, or being the Taichi practitioner who is preoccupied with how effective these moves would be against a dangerous attacker.
I want my life to be an experience of ever-opening.
I want to support others in mind-opening.
I want to help people cultivate their personal power from the inside-out as we get to know ourselves and the nature of this world together.
I want to feel great, and when I don’t feel great, I want to know what to do in order to feel great.
I want to have the energy, strength and resourcefulness to live a strong life and make good contributions to the lives that I share the planet with.