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What is condition?
Consider this example:
You decide that you are unfit and you commit to a 3 mile daily walk every morning. On the first day when you complete the walk, you are out of breath and your limbs are shaky.
After two weeks you can finish the walk without losing your breath and you feel pleasantly energised.
Eventually the walk feels too easy and you look to try a more challenging route. What has changed?
You can undertake the hardship of the walk without undue difficulty. You need to use just as much energy to complete it.
Yet, your body has grown stronger. More efficient. Compared to somebody who does not undertake daily training you will be far more capable of sustained exercise.
Being in condition entails:
• Increasing your strength
• Improving your ability to last (endurance)
• Overcoming fatigue
• Being fitter
• Being more efficient in your body use
• Being more capable
• Overcoming stress
• Improving circulation
Most new starters are not prepared for the amount of physical work involved in learning a martial art. The public image of tai chi creates a false sense of effortlessness.
Few people expect to train hard. This is naive.
Hard work alone is not enough, though. Simply working hard will not necessarily lead to progress.
It needs to be deliberate, focused improvement designed to improve your practice by developing key skills outlined by your instructor.
The student must implement corrections, study the recommended books, undertake assignments and challenge their comfort zone.
Set aside talk about relaxation, qi, softness and other concerns... Your body is flesh and bone. It is moved by muscles.
In order to be strong, agile, flexible and adaptive in combat - you need to strengthen your body.
External training methods such circuit training, running or sit-ups are not part of the tai chi repertoire.
Many exercises actually create muscle tension, and tension impedes the natural movement of the muscle itself.
The less easily the muscle can move, the less effective you are in combat.
Students become strong by practicing:
Efficient use of the body (biomechanics)
Neigong qualities & insights
Tai chi is intended to improve health and wellbeing through frequent, regular practice using low effort.
Beginners focus upon practicing (and learning) a series of fundamental standing and moving qigong exercises. These are quite easy to perform and build a foundation level of strength.
Partner exercises are mild, with the emphasis placed upon awareness and sensitivity.
Tai chi warm-up
The first 30 minutes of class involve a rigorous tai chi warm-up featuring a variety of qigong exercises and leg stretches.
The training is done carefully, gently - in a controlled manner - without exertion or strain.
Qigong exercises should be repeated 5-10 times per side. This encourages the body to relax more and the root to grow.
Although no one should be sweating, the exercises are far from easy at first.
The aim is to train every day. There is no need push yourself, strain your body or perform high repetitions.
Train gently. What is needed is presence and mindfulness. Have your mind on what you are doing and train slowly and carefully.
Life offers many obstacles, surprises and set-backs. When it comes to your own fitness and wellbeing, you need to be very selfish.
Children grow up and leave home. Jobs end. Marriages fail.
There is never a time in your life when your fitness ceases to be fundamental. Put your fitness first. Invest the time. Find the time. Make the time.
Make the time
Each stage of the syllabus offers new opportunities to build strength. There is plenty of time to learn the new material.
Aim to supplement class tuition with home practice. Home practice (optional but recommended) is usually staggered across the week.
Why is tai chi trained slowly?
Some of tai chi is trained slowly, but not all of it. Certain concerns are practiced slowly in order to improve accuracy, control, balance, rhythm and flow.
Smoothness and relaxation are paramount. Performing the material slowly is far more difficult than doing it quickly. It will tax your muscles.
High repetitions are not recommended
High repetitions dull the mind. Aim to train little and often instead. Be thorough, accurate, aware. Cultivate familiarity and ease.
You want your movements to be natural, relaxed, smooth and controlled.
The main qigong exercises contain all of the fundamental movements used in tai chi. But it takes time to really understand these methods.
You must train diligently for many years. By patiently working through the exercises day-after-day, you slowly become stronger.
Your clumsiness fades. Improved body awareness enables you to perform the exercises more effectively. Layer-upon-layer of detail increases your comprehension and your fitness improves significantly.
It is not easy to commit to daily training. Your mind will resist. There are many pleasant alternatives.
Yet, over time, the habit of training takes hold and your body begins to experience unexpected strength and mobility.
Eventually, you reach a point where you could not imagine ever missing your daily training.
In order to use a martial art, you need to be fit. The required degree of fitness will not occur if you simply attend classes once a week. It is not necessary to do the splits, break boards or fight people.
But you do need to train every day.
Becoming fit is a journey that brings considerable joy. Tai chi training will not stress your joints or damage your body. You will become notably stronger.
In your everyday life you will feel the benefits.
Being in condition means that your can train for hours and not feel worn out. Your body is filled with energy and you can perform your art with strength and ease.
If you ignore the importance of condition, you will remain mediocre. Your body must be familiar with the Way of moving we associate with tai chi.
In time, the movements feel to almost happen by themselves. It is hard enough learning the sophisticated skills of the art. Do not make it harder by being lazy.
To bear that which you think you cannot bear is really to bear.
18 March 1997
Last updated 16 June 2023