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A lot of people still believe in the notion of 'natural talent'. According to scientific research detailed in a number of books published in the 21st Century, there's no such thing.
Ability begets ability
People who excel, do so because they put in more time and commit to greater practice than other people do. They also receive regular feedback, learn from their mistakes and get better (continuously).
Read Grit, Smarter Faster Better, 5 Elements of Effective Thinking and Peak... Find out for yourself.
From coarse to refined
In order to learn tai chi, it is necessary to have your practice regularly corrected. Initially, the student can only approximate the required movements.
With many years of practice they slowly begin to use their body in the internal way. Nobody starts class with good body habits.
If you slouch and the instructor told you not to slouch, most likely you would over-compensate. This now creates a new problem; equally as bad as slouching. Habits are deeply ingrained.
When wrong feels right, your own nervous system will provide unreliable information. You gauge how your body feels in terms of what is familiar, rather than what is correct.
How can you do right when everything you do and feel is wrong? This is a good question. The trick is to relax; physically, psychologically and emotionally.
Relaxation will not remove your bad habits, but it will help your mind and body become more receptive to change.
The training methods taught in class were designed to gently encourage you to use your mind and body in a different way. Your existing habits will actually impede you.
Instead of performing an exercise comfortably, you will find the drill awkward... until you relax and do something unfamiliar. Slowly, you learn to recognise the benefit of moving in the internal way.
Obviously, this process takes time. It also requires the student to engage physically and mentally with the art.
One of the obstacles facing a student is the experience of being corrected. A good teacher can easily illustrate how one methods works and how another method does not.
It is their duty to help you to recognise the difference.
You are not required to take the teacher's word for it. The tuition of tai chi should be extremely scientific and methodical; with every skill demonstrated in detail. Feel free to poke holes in the teaching.
Pressure test what you are learning; it will only serve to enhance your understanding. Theory is not good enough. Students require observable facts; evidence.
Corrections are not criticism. An instructor corrects the student because they care about the student's progress.
Suggestions, possibilities and alternatives all serve to broaden your horizons and open the mind to new possibilities.
A reminder encourages the student to remember the basics, to focus upon the underlying principles.
The student should be grateful when corrected, because the correction offers an opportunity for change, for improvement.
Accuracy develops through corrections and awareness. The instructor highlights mistakes in all aspects of your training.
Your capacity to understand and implement those corrections is directly linked to how receptive, observant and attentive you are.
If you are prideful, stubborn or lazy, you will not make changes to your tai chi.
Awareness is something that needs to be cultivated. It involves having an eye for the art, for perceiving what the instructor is actually doing. Not what you think they are doing.
Some people look unhappy when they are corrected. Others look irritated. It is important to consider why you are being corrected...
Tai chi is not competitive or petty. Your instructor corrects you because they care about your wellbeing. Uncorrected practice can lead to injury.
Accept the correction with good grace and courtesy. You can learn from it.
Tai chi practice can always be improved; there is no conclusion to the training, no place to rest. You will never reach a 'plateau' unless you stop the discipline.
Do not become arrogant, defensive or emotionally-invested in your practice.
Students are corrected in class during the course of an ordinary lesson but this is not in-depth. More detailed assessment is necessary.
In order to encourage progress, we offer our students individual help throughout the year. The instructor works one-to-one with each student; offering insights, corrections, tips & pointers.
Being assessed in this way is tremendously beneficial. The student has many new considerations to work on and they can see what their owns strengths and weaknesses are.
Movement through the grades is quite slow in the internal martial arts. The required quality is high. Patience and practice will assure steady progress.
Workshops & private lessons
Workshops are an excellent way to receive corrections. Smaller groups mean more time spent with the instructor.
Private lessons entail extensive tuition and thorough ongoing assessment. It is very difficult to hide faults in your practice when training directly with the instructor.
Getting it right?
Students occasionally ask: "When will I get it right?" or "Is this right?" after only a few short months of training. This may seem like a reasonable question.
Unfortunately, the student is yet to realise that they are missing about 99% of the syllabus. Given that there is still so much to learn, how can even the most simple exercise be correct?
Everything must be refined. Again and again and again and again.
Pleasure in success
This process of correction and refinement may seem tedious to a new starter but it actually becomes enjoyable as you progress. Students want to be corrected. They want to improve their training.
"I don't want to train bad habits"
The student argues that home training is pointless because their knowledge of the exercise is incomplete. They claim to be worried that they will simply be practicing bad training habits.
Be realistic - unless you are an expert, your knowledge of tai chi is bound to be flawed. Consider:
When a child learns how to write stories at school, do they quit because they make spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and cannot express their thoughts skilfully?
When a person learns a new language, do they expect to be fluent immediately? Do they quit because their French is not as good a natural-born French person? Or do they persevere and improve?
Correction requires humility and the earnest recognition that you have much to learn. It can be tempting to resent your instructor.
After all, they have the skills, they have the knowledge and they make it all look so easy.
But remember; those skills were earned by hard work, money, time and sacrifice. Skill cannot be given. It must be taken. Your instructor is giving you the benefit of their own experience.
They are offering numerous opportunities for learning. Are you stealing their art?
At some stage a diligent student may become capable of self-correction. This is a major step forward in terms of progress. It does not mean that correction is unnecessary.
Rather, it indicates that the student has begun to take responsibility for the quality of their own practice. They are now capable of determining to some extent what is correct.
Awareness, self-evaluation and the ability to see other possibilities is essential. The ability to self-correct will speed-up the learning process.
Students who fail to receive corrections throughout the syllabus inevitably go astray. This cannot be avoided.
Emphasising the wrong material, misunderstanding the significance of certain principles... inaccuracies... slowly it all crumbles to dust.
A slight error grows over time and leads to a monstrous deterioration. Only the instructor can see the entirety of the curriculum, and see how it all fits together and operates.
our most basic actions, such as sitting, bending and standing, we have
developed habits which lead us into an inaccurate assessment of the effort
(Michael J Gelb)
An amusing insight regarding 'corrections' is this: in real terms your teacher doesn't actually correct you...
They merely point out what you are doing incorrectly and provide an accurate example. It is the student themselves who does the correcting.
After all, the teacher cannot make you practice at home between classes, can they?
Once the teacher has highlighted a mistake, it is the student's own responsibility to implement and practice the correction.
created 17 April 1996
Last updated 13 January 2020