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"How long will it take to learn tai chi?"
A lot of new students ask this question. It sounds reasonable enough but what exactly are they asking? What do they mean by "learn"?
The tone of the question suggests a conclusion, and end, a point of finality. Like graduating, being fully healed or passing your driving test. Such a question is rather simplistic and erroneous.
It is akin to asking how long it will take to play the piano. The answer surely depends upon you... What are your ambitions? Expectations? Capabilities? Commitment level?
Our first priority is always on coordination rather than flexibility. Those who are not dancers and gymnasts require only a modest degree of flexibility to comfortably engage in everyday activities, but the ability to coordinate appropriately is highly beneficial for our comfort, wellbeing and health.
How good do you want to get?
The level of skill you reach in tai chi is going to depend upon a wide range of considerations e.g.
How healthy are you to begin with?
Is it your intention to practice every day at home? If so, for how long?
Are you good at remembering things?
Can you concentrate?
What level of fitness do you have? (By whose standards?)
Are you coordinated?
Do you approach new activities with an open mind?
Are you able to pay attention?
Do you tend to over-think things or just follow instructions?
Whether or not you fulfil your ambitions is
going to depend largely upon how healthy you are and what sort of person you
Physiotherapists and Doctors often encourage people with medical problems to study tai chi. This is fine. It may well help. However, many new students are expecting a miracle. This is naive.
The reason why the individual is being asked to do tai chi is simple. Tai chi has been used in medical trials by people with arthritis (and other conditions) and there have been tangible health benefits.
Also, the training is not strenuous or physically exertive, which means that - within reason - most people can do tai chi. Tai chi is not going to fix a broken/damaged body. How could it?
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King’s horses and all the King’s men
couldn’t put Humpty together again.
By the time people reach adulthood there are often a number of bad physical habits present. Slouching, stooping, leaning, hunched shoulders, inflexible legs, tight elbows. Many adults cannot even squat.
These actively impede natural, free movement. Essentially many of the joints are incapable of accomplishing a healthy range of movement.
This is further restricted by residual muscle tension throughout the body.
Tai chi involves motor learning
Motor learning is about the process of using the body, rather than simply exercising the body e.g. agility, mobility, relaxed spontaneous movement, balance, structure, alignment, biomechanics, efficiency, ambidextrous body use, joint health, coordination, skill, emotional wellbeing or psychological flexibility.
Qigong - an easy start
Qigong is a great starting place for new students. It offers an interesting way to exercise the body. There is no sweating, straining or panting for breath.
When performed correctly, qigong feels to be so mild that it is hard to believe that anything is really happening. Students focus upon cultivating good alignment, balance, coordination and relaxation.
Tai chi for health - increasing the benefits
Tai chi for health is a simplified, slow motion exercise designed to improve health and wellbeing through frequent, regular practice using low effort.
There are no physically demanding movements, no sweating, no hardship. Students who become adept at qigong find tai chi for health to be an agreeable challenge.
Partner work provides necessary biofeedback; enabling the student to discover whether or not they are actually using their body in a relaxed, natural, comfortable, whole-body manner.
Once people have lost their everyday underlying coordination, they have also
lost their ability to kinesthetically sense what they are doing with their
body with any accuracy. Anyone with unreliable
sensory appreciation will invariably
interpret the instructions using his or her
kinesthetic sensations as a guide.
Tai chi for fitness - cross-training tai chi
Students seeking a more challenging workout can ask to study 'tai chi for fitness'. A committed regime of on-going tai chi for fitness training transforms your health.
Your body becomes stronger, more mobile, balanced, flexible and supple. Stamina and awareness improve significantly. Energy levels are boosted.
Being fit entails a wider range of concerns than tai chi for health e.g. increased flexibility, suppleness, strength, cardiovascular health/fitness, agility...
Taijiquan - an advanced martial art
Taijiquan follows a different path to most martial arts. It teaches all the skills associated with the external arts (albeit performed differently) and also a large number of unorthodox considerations.
Internal skills are not easy to acquire. They are subtle, hard to learn and require a high degree of awareness. Many insights are seen as being counter-intuitive.
The art is based on the yin/yang concept. Force is not blocked. There is no bracing. No aggression. Every movement and every potential application must be produced by a whole-body action.
Our aim should not be just flexibility, but a proper balance between flexibility
and strength, which we can develop through proper coordination.
The best way to get the hang of the basics is to do them every day. The more time you commit during the early stages of practice, the more progress will be made long-term.
Do the movements a number of times: patiently, slowly, mindfully and carefully. This way, they become comfortable, familiar and habitual. Easier to remember.
Almost every problem facing a tai chi beginner can be whittled down to laziness. In a transparent attempt to save face, a beginner will manufacture almost any excuse to hide their indolence.
The solution is practice. It is the answer to virtually every question.
Hard or easy?
Whether or not you consider an activity to be hard or easy is simply a matter of perspective... Often linked to pleasure/enjoyment/gratification.
If you enjoy the tai chi training, have a good time and feel that the practice is worthwhile, you won't find it hard work. If you are expecting some sort of 'therapy', you may be disappointed.
Take it easy
A final consideration is the fact that tai chi encourages people not to get stressed out. Instead of punishing your body and becoming anxious, just relax. Things take time.
Your body is not a car, a machine. You cannot swap out a shoulder as though it were a tyre. Your body is biological. It needs time to grow, to change. So does your mind.
Trying to force a result is pointless. Just take it easy... Let it happen.
Gradually easing the body out of overcontraction with intelligent practice will bring more ease and comfort to everyday movement and release built-up tension.
18 April 2005
Last updated 13 January 2020