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If you repeat something often enough it becomes unconscious. Unconscious behaviour is known as 'habit'. We all develop habits throughout our lives.
Some help us to avoid making mistakes and forgetting things. Other habits are not so useful; they can actually hamper your fitness.
Learning tai chi
Our syllabus was designed in such a way that it creates habit patterns within the body. Many martial arts do this via forms and drills, so it is not without precedent, but our approach is slightly different.
We consider the essence, rather than the outcome, the product. This is a process-oriented approach.
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.
Variety of applications
If you understand the underlying physical principles of tai chi, you can explore a wide variety of possible applications and insights.
Your body is trained to naturally, unconsciously employ the essence of tai chi in any given situation, rather than plan and think. It is all a question of habit.
We aim to cultivate muscle memory. Your body - rather than your thoughts - will respond. But only if you practice. Repetition over long periods of time is the only way to create nerve and muscle memory.
The abstract quality of the tai chi exercises help the body to re-shape your habitual responses.
Training at home may seem like a chore at first. If this is the case, do not force yourself to practice. Give it time. Do only what you feel like doing...
Eventually you forget that there was a time when you did not do tai chi. The tai chi seeps into your everyday body usage and you begin to do things differently, with more awareness.
Again, this becomes habit. For the tai chi to work, you must relax and be receptive to it. If your enthusiasm grows you will exercise because you want to. Not because you think that you ought to.
One of the first things that you notice from daily training is reflex and coordination. Your body subtly alters its relationship with the world around you.
Clumsiness fades, you feel more alert, more energised, stronger and confident. Forms and drills become easier. It is as if your hands move by themselves.
When this happens to you for the first time it can be quite disconcerting.
One risk of familiarity is carelessness. Being sloppy will destroy all the work you have undertaken. It is essential to be patient and constantly scrutinise your tai chi for errors.
Pay attention to the physical relationship of the different limbs, torso, weight and balance.
Neigong is all about cultivating good habits. These are habits of body usage that augment how you move during tai chi practice.
Learning new neigong can be difficult, but with perseverance, you incorporate the habit and forget about it.
Not all habits are good. People often start tai chi with bad habits and these will affect their body as they learn tai chi. If you have weak knees, or poor posture - the tai chi will highlight these qualities.
There is a danger in thinking that the tai chi has caused the problems. Most likely, you brought them with you or have been practising the tai chi with poor awareness.
There are many common mistakes. Identify the ones that you are making and change; allow your bad habit to disappear. Replace it with a good one.
It will take time, patience and persistence to lose the accumulated bad habits of a lifetime. Be ambitious, but allow time for your body to change.
The more impatient you are to proceed through the syllabus, the more mistakes you will make and the more bad habits you will develop. Racing through the material is unwise.
This is one of the reasons why the first tai chi form is slow - you need to feel every nuance and be totally present as you move. Cultivate good habits through careful, gradual practice.
18 March 1997
Last updated 16 June 2023