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Humans are biologically predisposed to remain within their comfort zone. This is the essence of laziness. It is an energy saving measure.
Rather than exert energy seeking new endeavours we remain where we are. The problem with this is stagnation and deterioration. The world around us in flux; continual change. We are not.
Tai chi new starters often comment that the exercises feel weird, unfamiliar, unnatural, odd or counter-intuitive. Good. Such responses reflect that fact that the person is experiencing something new.
They are no longer in their comfort zone.
The only thing that should concern a tai chi student is the danger of feeling comfortable. This would signify the end of learning.
At some stage people expect to reach a plateau where things become familiar. They can then settle into a new comfort zone. They can experience security.
In learning, there are no plateaus. If you have found one, then you have stopped learning. You have become complacent and smug.
Complacency signifies an end of growth and development. Instead of delving deeper, reading more, uncovering new insights, the complacent person has stopped learning altogether.
They are resting on their laurels. Everything they do is within the realm of the familiar, the known.
Tai chi people seek to avoid complacency by learning new forms, visiting travelling masters and acquiring new skills. To some extent this is good. It may show a desire for growth.
But it can also reflect restlessness, boredom and the yearning for novelty and entertainment.
Immaturity is the craving for
greater and wider experience.
Pick a style
Pick one style and stick to it. Providing your teacher is good, any bona fide style of tai chi can offer everything you need to penetrate the mysteries of the art.
Collecting forms and styles reflects restlessness rather than knowledge and insight. It takes you further from the truth, not nearer.
Instead of looking outside of yourself for answers, look within. Explore what you are doing. See how it operates.
Discover for yourself
Traditionally students were required to discover and develop their own martial applications employing the principles of the art.
The role of the instructor was to poke holes in these; suggest improvements and encourage further ideas.
Given that every form movement contains at least 7 applications, many more can be uncovered.
The subtlety of your applications is contingent upon practice, experience, continual refinement and a deeper grasp of the principles.
The greater your understanding of the nature of the art, the more skilful your application will be. Remember that 'understanding' is a physical expression, not just chit-chat.
Beyond form application is the consideration of tai chi biomechanics, neigong (whole-body movement) and the leverage/anatomical precepts contained within jing, shuai jiao and chin na.
In essence the student is required to figure out how tai chi is constructed, how it works and why.
This requires an immense degree of familiarity with one style of tai chi and no leaves no room whatsoever for complacency, boredom or form collecting.
2 September 1998
Last updated 25 April 2019