Not a beginner?
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Beyond the beginning

Compare your current level of knowledge and skill to that of a new starter... Generally speaking you probably have a better sense of your body and a vague idea of tai chi principles.
You may well feel better and move better. Your balance should have improved. But, how much have you REALLY learned? How much progress have you made?

A beginner forever?

In tai chi is quite common for a student to reach a rudimentary level of skill and simply remain there. They may learn many new forms and exercises. But everything is performed in a simplistic manner.
Why stop there? Remaining a beginner forever is pointless. No matter how much you learn it is still at the first level of skill. Years of practice don't mean anything if you're still a beginner.

It seems to be the way things are going, people donít want to commit to anything long term. Above all they donít want to do the work.

Iím judging a scriptwriting competition at the moment. People openly say theyíve applied because they think if they win they won't have to do much work and itíll be an easy life. They havenít got a clue how hard you have to work or how much hardship is involved. All theyíre asked to do is submit 10 pages of their writing. Some of them canít even be bothered to do that. All of these people are in for a major disappointment, not just in this competition, but in the industry generally. Itíll eat them up and spit them out. Their dreams will be shattered and theyíll blame everyone but themselves. One or two will re-work their scripts and strengthen them, but most wonít.

Itís the age of entitlement. Itís really stupid and lazy but itís everywhere. I donít really get it either. It must be very puzzling for Sifu who is offering gold, when people (myself included) can only grasp tin.



Modern culture/media/movies present people with the illusion that great skill can be gained overnight. Without long-term effort. This is naive.


It is common for students to train a martial art for a number of months or even a year or two and then quit.
Some may even last until black belt, only to leave then as though black belt was the end of their training. A few years of practice really amounts to nothing.


An internal martial artist is thinking in terms of decades. They train patiently every day. Their expectations are realistic.
Neither lazy nor complacent, the student works through the many challenges and obstacles, becoming stronger, calmer and more adept.


The earnest student is honest about their degree of commitment. They recognise that progress is their own responsibility. You get out of tai chi what you put into it.


The beginners grade requires practice. There are no shortcuts and no secrets that will aid your tai chi. You simply need to do the work.
A student finds that a little home practice will enable them to learn the skills required to pass the grade quite easily.


The internal arts seek to employ the tai chi without tensing-up, without using force and without aggression. This is a tall order.
Consequently, the training is more detailed, methodical and thorough. Every new skill challenges the student to become increasingly sensitive, relaxed and adaptive.


The truth about tai chi training is that you need to do the same thing over and over again if you want it to become familiar. There is no way around this.
If you are enthusiastic and enjoy the training, then it will not be boring at all. You will feel great and habit patterns will be established.

Learned helplessness

Most students who study tai chi are looking for something easy. They do not want to do the work. This is fine. Be honest with yourself and take from the class what you want.


You cannot reasonably expect to get into a higher grade without making a tremendous effort. This is simply unrealistic.
In any endeavour, you must be willing to sacrifice time, money and work hard to make progress. Tai chi is no different. No matter what you think.


It is common for a beginner to become quite clumsy and forceful.
Problems encountered:

∑ Fighting back
∑ Fear of falling
∑ Use of tension
∑ Lack of composure
∑ Confusing jing and li
∑ Poor understanding of peng
∑ Seeking to control rather than allow
∑ Failure to employ 4 ounces of pressure

The student must be gently encouraged to let-go, relax and go with the flow.

Form is how you move

Students normally underestimate the significance of form. Bad form = bad tai chi. It is that simple. Your form reflects and determines how you move, how you use your body.


Practice. Practice. Practice. This is the secret of tai chi. Without a massive amount of practice, you will forever be swimming in the paddling pool.
It is not uncommon for students to get a short distance into intermediate training and then falter. Unwilling to commit more time and effort to the training, the student simply remains where they are.

Concentrated practice in the early stages of an endeavour dramatically improves the value of future practice.

(Michael Gelb)


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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 17 February 2020