Passing grades when older

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Older students can make progress

The main consideration is this: go slow and easy. Do not push anything. Do not force anything. Allow things to happen nice and slowly.
Developing coordination, balance, martial insights and sensitivity will take time.

Returning to training

It is quite common for young people to attend martial arts classes. At some point they quit and do other things with their lives. Later, they reconsider learning a martial art.
It is important to remember that starting a martial art in your 30's, 40's or 50's is altogether different to learning it when younger.
Your body and your mind are quite different. You also have commitments and responsibilities that you did not have in the past.

Internal arts

Learning the internal arts is not the same as learning an external martial art.

Training attitude

External arts require the student to push themselves hard, and regularly. The internal arts are more difficult to learn than the external ones.
Patience and time are necessary. However, the student is not required to push. Instead, they must take things gently and mindfully; paying attention to how things are being performed.
Training little and often is advocated. A commitment to daily practice is encouraged.

Learning the material

A judo student will attend 2-3 times a week, train hard and make progress. Are you prepared to train this much? The internal arts are harder to learn than judo.
In order to learn the material you must commit to lessons, study and home practice.

Repetition and familiarity

The only person that can train your body do tai chi is you. Talking, watching video clips or reading books will not lead to skill. You must get on your feet and do the work.
This means regular repetition of movement patterns, and familiarity with attacks.

From coarse to refined

A beginner lacks the experience necessary to see the art in a refined way. They are taught large, coarse movements appropriate to their ability level.
Only by training frequently can the journey towards subtlety be undertaken in earnest.
Neglected practice perpetuates the coarse. Insight arises from regular consideration, from exposure to the concerns of the art and strict adhesion to the corrections.

Using your mind constructively

All learning begins in the mind so it is important to use your mind well. Reading the website, the reading list and watching the class DVDs will furnish your mind with the necessary background information.
Focus on the basics. Gain knowledge and understanding that will assist you in class. Train at home. Move up the syllabus. Complete the questionnaire.

Hampering yourself

Do not pollute your mind with questions, comparisons, opinions and speculation. A student is not capable of assessing the skill of the instructor or the art itself.
They see only what they are exposed to (the beginners syllabus) and draw knowledge from their own minds.
Your values and insights are based on your own education, experience and criteria. Upon what you can see and what you consider to be important.
Given that you do not possess any real skills yourself and have no experience to speak of... are you equipped to make any worthwhile assessment concerning the art?


The instructor needs to assess your level of competence in order to determine whether or not you are ready to cope with new material. You also require an opportunity to gauge your own skill.
If you are struggling and showing a limited degree of competence, you will not move up a grade. More time must be committed to the existing material.
A threadbare, sloppy standard is not good enough for tai chi. We want accuracy, precision, rhythm, timing. Any martial art would ask this of you.


To pass belts in judo, a student must compete with other students and score points in combat. Although there are rules, these tests of skills are very useful.
Only by successfully defeating non-cooperative opponents can the student move up a grade. We do not use this approach ourselves, but the Chinese internal arts do have similar challenges.

Self defence challenges

As the syllabus unfolds, the martial student is eventually required to prove their skill against full-speed, full-power attacks from other students and also from the master.
We employ relay attacks and melee scenarios. Sometimes it is one-to-one. The attacker(s) may be armed or unarmed.
Our aim is to challenge your nervous system, to put you under pressure, to see if you panic, or if you remain composed.
Nobody will be asked to do anything that is beyond their ability. By facing an increasingly realistic range of attacks, the student becomes seasoned to violence and is not flustered.

Making progress

As an adult, you must be realistic in your expectations. The only person that can bring tai chi to life is you, using your own body.
Think about this for a moment... If you attend lessons, practice at home, study the DVD's and read the website... you should make steady progress.
If you neglect training, miss lessons, leave things to the last minute, and blame other people for your own shortcomings, you will never learn the internal arts.
Taking responsibility for your own circumstance is the necessary first step. As an older student you must be patient. You must be committed. You must be honest. You must be realistic.


Facing up to your age can be a bit hard if you have an ego. Your body is probably not as coordinated as you might imagine and you may not be as fit as you once were.
You may not be overly motivated. Accept all this. Fighting against the reality of aging is foolish and pointless. Just do what you can.
It may take you longer to learn things than you expect... so what? You are not in competition with anyone.


Make sure that you have fun. Be inspired by what you encounter in class, surprised by the physics and the applications. But do not take yourself too seriously.
If you can have fun, learning is easy. Play with the art but do not struggle with it.
You are where you are and you are as good as you are. If your ambitions demand more of you, then practice more often, but keep it relaxed.

Seeing an old man who wanted to take up philosophy but was embarrassed, Socrates said to him, "Don't be embarrassed to become better at the end of your life than you were to begin with."

(Thomas Cleary)

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 29 August 2019