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Unrealistic expectations

Modern society perpetuates the
illusion that anything can be bought. This is simply not true.
Can money buy: Youth? Love? Compassion? Depth of character? Awareness? Respect? Work/life balance? Grace? Manners? Common sense? Purpose? Integrity? Friends? An open mind? Imagination? Insight? Creativity? Tranquillity? Calm? Stillness? Patience? Happy memories? Elegance? Talent? Wisdom? A sense of humour? Humility? Honour? Selflessness? Clarity? Personality?
Other people seem to think that simply wanting something means that somehow they will get it. Like a wish...


This modern Age of Narcissus makes it very difficult for most people to understand the cost of doing a more in-depth endeavour.
The cost lies not in money but in time, effort and commitment.
Wanting something is meaningless without an earnest, sincere attitude to pave the road to your ambition.

I know...

It is tempting to think that we know far more than we do. But this is also naive.
Even a highly qualified university professor knows next to nothing about everything that falls outside their own specific field of expertise.
Reading information in books, on-line or watching YouTube demonstrations is hardly the same as possessing real skills for yourself.
Being a spectator does not mean that you are well informed. Talking is not the same as participation.

Everyday life

Many people drive their car as though they were a Formula 1 racing driver. But they're not. The car is usually handled clumsily.
There's a terrifying lack of precision, poor concentration and inadequate reflexes. Being macho and cocky isn't the same as being able to drive the vehicle with skill.
Real skill requires discipline.
And few people have the patience (or the resolve) to really commit themselves to the arduous task of becoming truly skilful at anything in their lives.

Learning curve

If you want to learn any skill thoroughly and convincingly, you need to put in an awful lot of time.
Whether you are seeking to learn tai chi, Spanish, cook like a gourmet chef or play the guitar, it is just the same.
Practice, practice, practice. There are no shortcuts...

Done something before

Many tai chi new starters have practiced (something) before. It may be dance, running, gym, Pilates, karate or yoga.
There is often an underlying belief that tai chi will somehow prove to be easy to learn. As though prior experience with (anything) means a free ride through the syllabus.
This is somewhat naive.

Done tai chi before

Some people have attended tai chi lessons with another school. This is fine, but it offers no guarantee that what was taught was any good.
Not all tai chi is the same. There are many different styles, schools and teachers. Classes tend to have their own emphasis and some teachers are better than others.
An individual may have spent 10 years studying tai chi without the slightest grasp of the principles underpinning the art.

What you need to remember, with these guys, is that they don't know they're con men. They're wildly overconfident. Your guy can walk in the door and promise training in something he personally doesn't know how to do, and not even realize he's bullshitting about his own capabilities. It's a special kind of gullibility....

(William Gibson)

The dilettante

The dilettante is basically a tai chi/martial arts/alternative therapy/spiritual tourist. They drift around various classes undertaking whatever interests them.
Unfortunately, these people never stick any class long enough to gain skill, understanding or integrity.
In lieu of meaningful knowledge they possess titbits from various teachers and enjoy sharing their experiences with other dilettantes.
They know very little of substance but believe that they do.

Defending yourself

Most people are not capable of defending themselves, their loved ones or their belongings. This is a disturbing fact.
Although society still offers the same dangers it always has, the general public's attitude towards personal protection has changed.
People are unable to protect themselves yet imagine that a cocky 'attitude' and a big mouth will work against a real life assailant.


Combat is a misunderstood term. Lay people seldom distinguish between martial art, fighting art, sport or self defence.
Yet these are quite different things. Your expectations will be shaped by what you think you are going to encounter in a tai chi class.

Money cannot buy tai chi

Tai chi skills cannot be purchased. You must use your mind and your body. And you must practice.
If somebody has not exercised for 30 years and suddenly expects tai chi combat skills, they are going to be sorely disappointed.
Everyone must patiently develop the foundation skills, then work gradually up through the syllabus.


It is common for tai chi new starters to imagine that they are just going to flow around the hall in a fluid, beautiful manner on their first lesson.
Instead, they find themselves bluntly facing the reality of their own physical condition.
Most people are not balanced, have significant muscular tension, poor coordination, limited mobility and very poor footwork.
Instead of the anticipated ego boost, they are politely encouraged to address basic concerns.


Working the brain is the real key to success. A strong, pliable, flexible, adaptive brain is required for learning this art.
If your mind is stressed, thinking about current events, politics,work, family matters or your diet, then you are not exactly paying attention to what is taking place right now.
As such, your ability to learn is impeded.
To learn any skill carefully and thoroughly, your mind must be trained to pay attention to the immediate moment.


No one gets preferential treatment in a tai chi class. The teacher has an entire class to teach so there is no time (or reason) to play favourites...
Even if the teacher wanted to just gift you the skills, how exactly can they do this?

Health issues

Some people have obvious medical problems (e.g. a replacement hip), or are obese, have back problems, knee problems, arthritis, heart issues or chronic
fatigue-related problems...
Despite this, they somehow expect to be able to access all aspects of the tai chi curriculum without any difficulty - even combat...
Often, people lie on their registration form in the hope that their 'dicky legs' are not discovered.
Well, of course, all these problems sooner or later become apparent in a tai chi class because they actively prevent the individual from performing certain activities correctly.

Fragile ego?

Quite often students are affronted by the realisation that their physical ability isn't quite what they thought it was...
Instead of humility, they respond with vanity, ego, emotion, pride, arrogance and defensiveness.
Yet, a student is unfit to judge their own training.
On what basis is the student assessing their tai chi? How are they measuring the skill? What criteria are being applied? Which qualities do they consider to be valuable?
Do they really understand The Tai Chi Classics? Does their art embody the Taoist precepts?
Tai chi has measurable skills and clear standards. Opinions are irrelevant.

Martial practice

A student of judo may train 2-3 times a week in class. How many tai chi people are prepared to do the same?
Every martial art requires dedication and commitment. There are no shortcuts or exceptions. If you expect to use a martial art, be prepared to put in the time and effort.
Being complacent or lazy is a form of over-confidence.

Your speed

Tai chi beginners always try and do things faster than they can cope with. They put themselves under pressure and end up hurried, excitable and clumsy.
Rather than work at their own level, at their own pace, they are impatient.
This hurried approach may give the student a false sense of their own competence when working with class mates but would cost the student dearly if faced with a genuine assailant...

Read further

Many books address the folly of over-confidence and are well worth reading.
e.g. Peak by Anders Ericsson, Grit by Angela Duckworth, Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg, The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli and The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking by Burger & Starbird. 

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Page created 18 April 2005
Last updated 16 June 2023