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Daily exercise

Dr Michael Greger (author of How Not To Die) recommends 90 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every day.
Dr Bradley Willcox, Dr Craig Willcox and Dr Makoto Suzuki who wrote The Okinawa Program maintain that tai chi - with its ancient origins and incredible health benefits - is the ideal form of exercise for modern people.
If this sounds like a lot of exercise, why not chop it up into smaller increments spaced throughout the day?

No time?

A common excuse that tai chi students make is that they don't have time to train at home between classes. This notion is based on a false understanding of yin/yang.
In order to get something, you have to give something. Our entire society is based on this, isn't it?
If you want a loaf of bread, you give up money. You want to watch a movie, you set aside the time. If you want to get good at tai chi, you will need time to practice at home.
Therefore, if you want to practice tai chi at home, you will need to give something up. Make space. This may mean less TV. Less internet. It's your choice...

Don't waste another year. Wake up early and make it happen.

(Arnold Schwarzenegger)

We get good at what we do

If you want to get good at form, practice form. If you want to become proficient with weapons, then practice with weapons. The more often your body undertakes the practice, the more familiar it will be.

A commitment to health

If a person was overweight and sought to diet, would one healthy meal per week enable them to lose weight?
It seems unlikely. There must be a daily commitment. Tai chi is no different to this...

5 mins = 100

Imagine if you were told that 5 minutes training would earn you 100... Would you do the exercises? Of course you would.
Yet, people are told that daily home practice = good health, fitness and better quality of life... and they dismiss it. Curious?
This illustration shows how many people value an obvious monetary reward but are unwilling to appreciate the value of health, vitality and fitness.

Daily training

Tai chi was designed to be practiced daily. This is why the exercises are so mild: no strain, no pushing. Gentle effort. Little and often is the mantra.
Tai chi students should be aiming to build strength carefully and progressively.

Ease and play

Tai chi training is not like being at the gym, lifting weights, running, swimming, cycling or circuit training. It is not meant to be unduly arduous.
The training should be mild and pleasant, but gently challenging.

In most mathematics classes, the only opportunity for students to practice the ideas and techniques at hand is through regularly assigned homework.

(Edward B Burger & Michael Starbird)

Standing is not easy at first

At first, standing qigong will feel difficult, but this quickly passes and the exercise becomes pleasant and energising. The more regularly you stand, the more enjoyable it gets.

5 repetitions per arm

This is the standard number of repetitions.

10 repetitions per arm

For the highest yield, each qigong exercise, stick and sword drills needs to be done 10 times. If you do an exercise with the right hand and then the left, the overall count will be 20.
With exercises such as 'torso circles', 10 repetitions will take forever, so sticking to 5 is more prudent.


Leg stretches should be held for at least 30 seconds per leg.

Muscle memory

One major advantage of consistent on-going home practice is the cultivation of muscle memory. Rather than having to recall every movement, the exponent's body knows where to go and what to do.
This is the first step in moving in a tai chi way... What's the catch? To accomplish this, frequent, mindful practice is needed. There's no other way to attain this skill.
The more often your body performs tai chi movements, the more likely it is to remember them automatically.


High repetition of qigong and tai chi movements results in muscle memory. The muscles are familiar with how and where to move and the brain directs the action.
It will feel as though they moved by themselves. This is essentially no different to what happens when you drive a bicycle or a car.
However, with tai chi you are learning long, complex sequences of movements/combat drills/applications, so the challenge is greater and more diverse. The advantage of muscle memory is habit.
You do not have to think as much. You can become immersed in the event itself.


Drills and forms should be repeated relative to need. If you know the pattern well and can skilfully perform the requirement, then fewer repetitions are necessary.
If less familiar, repeat more in order to develop muscle memory.

How long should a home training session last?

Duration is determined by knowledge. If you only know 15 minutes worth of material, then there is only 15 minutes of training to do.
If you know 36 hours of training, you will need to stagger the practice across the week.

Little & often

Rather than train for a lengthy period of time, aim to practice little & often. 20-30 minute increments, with rest breaks in-between is ideal.
Instead of pushing your body hard and putting it under duress, just do a little exercise. Resting will keep your concentration sharp and offset fatigue.

Limit how much you do

Recommended duration for strong progress:

  1. Beginner - up to 30 minutes per day

  2. Experienced - up to 2 hours per day

Insufficient practice may make it hard to remember things whereas excess training puts undue duress on the body and uses up your day.

Nothing can substitute for serious practice. Practice seriously, correctly and patiently. Use your brain, not just your body. Don't hide weaknesses in your training. Don't lie to yourself. If you cheat, you only cheat yourself.

(Adam Hsu)

Quality, not quantity

Instead of doing a lot, do less but do it well. Even 10 minutes a day is worth doing... If you are short on time, why not stagger the training across the week or do more on a weekend?

More qigong

Since an exponent is not adept with tai chi, they need to do a lot of qigong. It will provide the necessary fitness benefits by serving as a stopgap pending higher level tai chi skill.

Invest in form

Students normally severely underestimate the significance of form. Bad form = bad tai chi. It is that simple. Your form reflects and determines how you move, how you use your body.
Invest as much time as you can in form practice. The better your form, the easier all aspects of the tai chi will be to pull off.

Meditation, reading & rest

Beginners commonly neglect meditation, reading and constructive rest. These 3 aspects of your training will great enhance the quality of your tai chi and your everyday life.

Reading is essential

Studying a book from the reading list (or this website) may not be as exciting as a weapons form, but it is necessary. Please do not think to replace actual physical work with reading.
You need to do both.


If the effect of tai chi upon your life is mild, then this is down to you. It is a choice you have made. You make the art what it is. You determine how much it affects you. You manifest the skills.

Natural talent?

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.

You only get out what you put in

Beginners often wonder how much they should train at home. Ultimately, it is up to you. The aim is to combine work, rest and exercise in a way that feels harmonious.

Students of the Tao must appreciate one thing:
Every day, mindful practice.
When the mind is disciplined
then the Way can work for us.
Otherwise, all we do is talk of Tao;
everything is just words;
and the world will know us as its
one great fool.

(Loy Ching Yuen)

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Page created 2 March 1995
Last updated 29 January 2011