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90 minutes a day
Dr Michael Greger (author of How Not To Die) recommends 90 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every day.
The three doctors who wrote The Okinawa Program maintain that tai chi - with its ancient origins and incredible health benefits - is the ideal form of exercise for modern people.
If this sounds like a lot of exercise, why not chop it up into smaller increments spaced throughout the day?
Usually the student decides for themselves how much practice is suitable for them. This approach has drawbacks if you are seeking to gain skill.
In what way are you qualified to determine how much training is necessary to get good at taijiquan? Which criteria are you applying? And why? Based on how much actual skill and experience?
The more time you commit to form practice, the better your taijiquan will be. Practicing form every day at home will aid with coordination, mobility, strength, relaxation and balance.
Even 10 minutes a day is worthwhile. Do more if you can.
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.
The risk of injury in combat sports is especially high. To prevent injury,
do the following: 1) Learn to warm-up well before any exercise, 2) Do
everything possible to accelerate recovery between workouts.
The different exercises in the syllabus usually take between 2-5 minutes to complete e.g. core strength, psoas exercises, Taoist Yoga, moving qigong, drills... and so on.
Some take longer but most don't. The modular nature of the syllabus allows the student to train briefly if they choose to, or commit to a longer session.
It doesn't get easier. You get stronger. But only if you practice.
One major advantage of consistent on-going home practice is the cultivation of muscle memory. Rather than having to recall every movement, the exponent's body knows where to go and what to do.
This is the first step in moving in a taijiquan way... What's the catch? To accomplish this, frequent, mindful practice is needed. There's no other way to attain this skill.
The more often your body performs taijiquan movements, the more likely it is to remember them automatically.
High repetition of qigong and taijiquan movements results in muscle memory. The muscles are familiar with how and where to move and the brain directs the action.
It will feel as though they moved by themselves. This is essentially no different to what happens when you drive a bicycle or a car.
However, with taijiquan you are learning long, complex sequences of movements/combat drills/applications, so the challenge is greater and more diverse. The advantage of muscle memory is habit.
You do not have to think as much. You can become immersed in the event itself.
When your teacher
demonstrates something for you, you are obligated to practice it, or else
you may invoke the following consequences of your own free will:
1. Your teacher may not correct you because your actions have shown that you did not really want to learn the skill.
2. You will not achieve the skill.
3. If you learn the next stage of the skill, it will be weak because it has no foundation.
4. Your skill will not rise to a high level until your attitude changes.
Many people who commence taijiquan practice are essentially 'daydreamers'.
They have fanciful notions of becoming a martial artist but entirely lack the grit and determination required to accomplish the task.
Instead of committing to a challenging regime of on-going comprehensive, rigorous training, the student is contented with the dream.
Learn from sport
People who undertake sporting activities usually invest a lot of time in thorough training designed to promote good body use, muscle growth and recovery.
These same concerns apply to martial arts training, including taijiquan. All martial arts require the student to be fit for combat.
Taijiquan students train: core strength, massage, leg stretches, cardio work, yoga, qigong, neigong, form, partnered work, martial sets & drills, combat and weapons.
The training is done carefully, gently - in a controlled manner - without exertion or strain.
Combat is not easy and there is a risk of injury if the student is unfit. This is true of any martial art. To reach a high level of skill, the student needs to take a lesson from sport.
They must become a martial athlete.
Sifu Waller got into yoga in the early 1980's, cardio work and then Alexander Technique, Pilates and light weights (not body building).
His body awareness is quite good; with opportunities being offered to teach Alexander Technique and Pilates over the years.
He's combined good body skills with a growing, ongoing learning process and brought it all into our class.
Most taijiquan people are too naive to learn from sports and modern exercise methods. Sifu Waller isn't like that. If it works, doesn't conflict with the goals of the art and makes us fitter, it's in.
One important point is to recognise that there are many different kinds of fitness. e.g. a marathon runner couldn't necessarily do shuai jiao without injury.
Nor could a wing chun guy... but they'd have far less risk of harm than a runner.
Gaps & deficiencies
Our fitness program focuses upon filling the holes/weaknesses inherent in Chinese martial arts transmission. Deliberate omissions and things that were simply never there. Times change.
Body knowledge changes.
Students must commit to a regime of strength-building exercise: cardio work, core strength, qigong, leg stretches, yoga...
An increased degree of whole-body strength is necessary if the student expects to eventually be capable of employing the art in combat.
Taijiquan simply will not work unless you firstly have strength and secondly can use it in a unified manner.
This Zen story perfectly expresses the situation:
Kung Yi-tsu was famous for his strength.
King Hsuan of Chou went to call on him with full ceremony,
but when he got there, he found that Kung was a weakling.
The king asked, "How strong are you?"
Kung replied, "I can break the waist of a spring insect,
I can bear the wing of an autumn cicada."
The king flushed and said,
"I'm strong enough to tear apart rhinoceros hide and drag nine oxen by the tail
- yet I still lament my weakness.
How can it be that you are so famous for strength?"
Kung replied, "My fame is not for having such strength,
it is for being able to use such strength."
(Zen story/David Schiller)
There is a significant difference between the two qualities Schiller mentions: having and using are not the same thing.
King Hsuan has strength but is not famous for using it. Kung Yi-tsu can use strength but does not have any real strength.
The taijiquan student must possess strength and be able to use it.
Taijiquan involves a balance of external and internal qualities. Understanding this is crucial. Talking about qi won't cut it.
Square on the inside, round on the outside
You need to be externally and internally strong, and that requires hard work (kung fu). In actual combat application, the external strength is subsumed within the internal principles of usage.
The student must connect the separate body parts together and start using the body and mind as one unit. This is the real start of your internal strength training.
Start your day right
Training first thing in the morning makes your body feel great. Your mind is sharp and your nervous system responsive. The benefits of the training will last all day.
Nothing can substitute for serious practice. Practice seriously, correctly and patiently. Use your brain, not just your body. Don't hide weaknesses in your training. Don't lie to yourself. If you cheat, you only cheat yourself.
Page created 2 March 1995
Last updated 25 April 2019