Tai chi teachers will often find that beginning tai chi students might be reluctant to practise at home. A popular reason given by the students is that they “don’t want to practise incorrectly.” They fear that by practising skill that they have not yet mastered, they will somehow ingrain the bad habits over the course of a week, and their form will be so bad when they come back to class that the teacher will be unable to repair it.
The irony of this all-too-common attitude is not lost on the teachers. All of whom will likely claim to “practise wrong” every day. Each will have their own unique way to respond to the beginner who is concerned about making mistakes. Here are some of the answers that a teacher might give:
“We all make mistakes in practice.” Occasionally we make glaring errors that go uncorrected for some time.
“The truth is that we make more mistakes by not practising.” The errors that we see in the form are mistakes that we make constantly in our daily lives. The practice of tai chi makes us aware of these errors, and our awareness enables us to correct them.
“The more you practise, the worse you will get.” Practice helps us to expand our awareness of ourselves. In the beginning, we are unaware of our flaws. The awareness expands as we improve our skills. But for every gross error we correct, we become aware of several more subtle errors that we previously couldn’t see.
Sometimes a student, who has been practising regularly will say, “The more I practise, the worse I get”
I reply with, “Congratulations! The fact that you feel that way shows that you are improving.”
Grandmaster Shouyu Liang once explained to us that he is still not comfortable with the 24 form taijiquan. This is in spite of the fact that he is the only person I know of who has been practising and teaching the 24 form non-stop since the routine was created in 1956! (Grandmaster Liang is regarded by some as one of the top 100 masters of the 20th century.)
When my friend, while teaching in a park, was asked by a curious bystander “How long does it take to get really good at this stuff?” he answered, “I don’t know. How long do you have?”
Tai chi is a profound art. The deeper you go, the deeper it gets. It is like lifting a weight that gets heavier as you get stronger. But the converse is also true. Tai chi is as easy as you want to make it.
If your goal is to perfect your skill, that may be an honourable ambition. But part of perfecting the art is relaxing your ambition. You must calm the mind. That will allow you to relax the body. With a relaxed body and a calm mind comes greater awareness. As you improve your awareness, your skill will improve. Ambition is a great starting point. But it can be an obstacle to the journey itself.
The beauty of tai chi is that even beginners can experience profound improvement.
What you see as profound may seem obvious later as you develop an even more profound awareness. Then later, the same thing will become profound again.
Don’t try to be perfect. Just relax, practise, and allow your diligence and expanding awareness to make the improvements for you.
Your teacher will let you know of you are missing anything important.