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Our school uses grading as a means of charting progress and teaching the curriculum. We do not encourage a McDojo belt-collecting attitude... Gaining a black belt is not the completion of your training.
The danger with grading is that a student may pass a grade but not maintain the standard required of that grade.
Maintain the standard
If you are wearing a black T-shirt, but your material is poor, then you should really work on improving the standard.
Our syllabus involves building layer-upon-layer of skill. Without a solid foundation, you will make poor progress.
It is necessary to gain a reasonable degree of competence at each stage before moving on. If something is lacking, you will falter.
A student should be competent at every drill and exercise studied prior to that grade. If they are not, then the student is not really a taijiquan student. Take the time to sort the problem out.
You are only as good as you are
Keep in mind that a T-shirt is just a piece of fabric. It symbolises a degree of skill. However, if you do not possess the skills associated with that grade, what does it symbolise?
The grade is merely a learning aid. In reality, you are only as good as you are.
If your skills are beginner but you are wearing a black T-shirt, then you need to spend as long as it takes to rectify the deficiency.
We are all different
Do not let ego prevent you from training what you need to train. You must proceed at your own pace, relative to your own abilities and degree of commitment and practice.
Who cares what other students are learning? Avoid getting caught-up in competition. Focus on your own training. Only your progress matters. Be honest with yourself.
Work on the level of material you need to work on. This will lead to both competence and confidence.
Not getting anywhere?
Where is it you are hoping to get? What steps are you taking to accomplish this ambition? Be honest concerning your commitment. You determine your level of progress.
How long will it take?
That entirely depends upon you. Everyone is different. There are so many variables. How easily do you pick-up new material? How much time do you set aside for home practice?
Are you a failure?
Failing to make the degree of progress you might have anticipated makes you unrealistic in your ambitions.
It does not make you a failure. People who talk large, do little, and then quit... are failures. They fail themselves.
Recognising that you are struggling requires courage and honesty. It also demands patience. And hope.
Small steps lead to progress
The ability to perform 2 things well is better than being able to perform 18 things badly. Nobody is hopeless. Nobody is useless. Have patience with yourself. Have faith.
Regular, mindful, focussed practice will lead to progress. And if the pace is slow, so what?
Many years ago, Sifu Waller once reached a stage where he was dissatisfied with his level of skill and attended tai chi master Peter Southwood's class as a new starter once more.
He re-learned every exercise, drill and form posture from scratch again in order to improve the overall level of his skill.
It is not easy to take a step back. It requires an admission that you have gone astray.
Are you faltering?
Ask yourself the following:
Have you missed a lot of classes?
What was your last assessment like?
When was the last time you moved up a grade?
Do you dread the next grading?
Are you training at home?
Is the quality of your tai chi not as good as it should be for your current grade?
How good are you at the fundamentals?
Is your training sloppy?
Are you having problems at home or at work?
There is no shame in
being honest with yourself. It is easy to remove any pressure you may
If the master speaks to you about the diminished quality of your practice, it is important to be honest.
Self-deception is pointless. Your instructor would not be talking to you if you were not experiencing problems... Pretending that things are ok (when they are not ok) is foolish.
Fixing the problem
Begin by stopping what you are doing or thinking. Then, look at your training dispassionately; without ego, pride, vanity or defensiveness. Recognise the need to address the problem.
If a student is failing, then working on material from earlier grades is a sensible option.
Usually, training at a lower grade serves to remove any pressure from the student and provides an opportunity to work on the appropriate material.
The student may resist the remedy; but this is not constructive.
Do not mistake the menu for the food
It is important for each student to recognise that you are only as good as the skills you can manifest. If you wear a black T-shirt but have the skills of a beginner, then you are only a beginner.
The T-shirt itself is a piece of fabric. Your skills (or lack of) speak for themselves. We are not going ask you to give-up your T-shirt, but we will expect you to remedy the situation.
Training the material you should be training will give you a sense of ease. Instead of feeling pressured and out of your depth, you will feel relaxed and comfortable.
You will be free to work at your own pace. To do things in your own time.
If you are seeking gratification,
you will naturally find what you desire, but do not let us call it truth.
18 April 1995
Last updated 15 February 2020