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Practice until you can do the movements without thinking about them. This is the key.
If you have to pause and think, you do not know the skills well enough.

To hand?

If someone attacks you in the street and you seek to use your tai chi, what is going to happen? This is a good question.


To a large extent the outcome depends on how much you have practiced and upon the quality of that practice. The skills need to be familiar and comfortable. Habit. Second nature.
There will be no time to think, to remember, to ponder... You just need to do the tai chi without hesitation.

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.

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

(Arnold Schwarzenegger)


Class practice and home practice involves no danger, no threat. It is a safe situation. If you fail to practice when there is no actual risk, what is going to happen when faced with a real threat?
Nothing good.

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.

Memory problems?

Beginners sometimes struggle to remember things. This is partly due to unfamiliarity, both with learning and with the tai chi itself. Learning is not a passive process.
You need to pay attention and you need to practice.

Small steps

Reading books about tai chi or watching an expert can be stimulating for the beginner, but it can also promote unrealistic goals. A beginner needs to learn the basics. And the basics are far from glamorous.
Methodically and patiently training the fundamentals is essential. Building a strong foundation will enable you to make strong progress.


Repeating movements in class can never be the sum total of your practice. If you want to remember the tai chi - and improve - the practice needs to be taken home.
Tai chi was designed to be performed on a daily basis.

Repetition over time mounts up

You do not need to commit a vast amount of time. Even 5 minutes spent repeating a single movement would produce a positive outcome. Do not be dulled by too much repetition.
Keep your mind on what you are doing, and perform the exercise slowly, mindfully and carefully. Pay attention to the details.

During the exercises, the mind, soul, breath, balance, co-ordination, and various parts of the body are combined to work simultaneously and spontaneously during each movement. In other words, the total person is acting totally here and now. When the class is over, the tai chi does not stop.

(John Lash)


We remember things that are familiar to us. This tends to be things that we encounter every day. Has the penny dropped yet?
If you want to gain skill at tai chi, you need to make it familiar, comfortable, habitual. That way, you can use it in your everyday life rather than just once a week in class.

1, 2, 3 of memory

We use a 1, 2, 3 approach to learning an exercise:

  1. The pattern
    - learn the shape, the outline, the sequence
    - practice this until you can perform it/remember it without effort

  2. The substance
    - imbue the pattern with substance
    - focus on alignment, frame, connection, neigong
    - ensure that the correct parts of the body are generating the movement
    - remove physical tension


  3. The flow
    - whole-body movement
    - easy and natural
    - gentle and soft, yet substantial

This is a simplified overview. 1 is very straightforward. 2 and 3 require considerable work, and patience.
A beginner can pick up material quite easily, especially when they practice between lessons.

I don't have time to practice...

Marcus Aurelius (2000+ years ago) said that "not having time" was one of the most pathetic excuses a person can give. It was considered lame back when the Roman Empire was at its peak.
We all have the same amount of time. What we do with it... this is the issue.

Consider this: Most people live lives that are not particularly physically challenging. They sit at a desk, or if they move around, it's not a lot. They aren't performing manoeuvres that require tremendous balance and coordination. Thus they settle into a low level of physical capabilities - enough for day-to-day activities or maybe even hiking or biking or playing golf or tennis on the weekends, but far from the level of physical capabilities that a highly trained athlete possesses.

The reason that most people don't possess extraordinary physical capabilities isn't because they don't have the capacity for them, but rather because they're satisfied to live in the comfortable rut of homeostasis and never do the work that is required to get out of it.

The same thing is true for all the mental activities we engage in. We learn enough to get by but once we reach that point we seldom push to go beyond.

(Anders Ericsson)

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023