Be impatient with Classical Tai Chi but don't throw out the baby with the bath water.

Enter the New Year by first recognizing then taming your dragons of impatience, frustration and boredom. How do you tame them? Realize that you can’t fight them but you can learn to live with them with some equanimity by simply remaining aware from whence they come.

Speaking of impatience, one wonders how many students are so impatient that some will only read my email notice for 10 seconds and not the blog. Who wants to even admit they are impatient, right? I have met many students who talk about the Tai Chi as an art that has to prove itself to them. It has to prove its efficacy and its fighting ability over other martial arts.I don’t attempt to talk about the efficacy of Tai Chi over other martial arts here but I do attempt to analyze why students may feel this way.

The most common scenario is a student who in various ways expresses their displeasure over the “slowness of the learning curve” whether for health or martial purposes. They express their impatience at their “slow” rate of “progress” in gaining experience or new skills in Tai Chi. Most simply leave the training early on rather than verbally expressing their displeasure. It is interesting that each student who expresses this seems to feel that they are the only student in the world who experiences this. Additionally, they state they alone are “impatient”, they never mention “I guess I am not unique but I’m really like all the other students who have such impatience”. If they did admit that they were not alone I think they would realize that they have literally fallen prey to boredom, impatience and frustration, which are states of mind universal to all humans and not Classical Tai Chi per se.

In falling prey, they blame the Tai Chi for their impatience but in truth they are not aware of the source of those maladies. The source is something that every bored, impatient and frustrated student possesses and that is a nervous system. They figuratively throw up their hands or slap their sides and disavow the Tai Chi . In that moment how can they see what they experience as “impatience, frustration, slowness, boredom” is really proof that they need the benefits of Tai Chi even more. The more impatience over slowness of the learning curve, the more you need the benefits of the Classical Tai Chi. I wonder if they know that the true meaning of “learning curve” is really to present a graphical representation of a common sense principle. In the case of Classical Tai Chi the principle being that the more one does something, the better one gets at it. The common sense of it dictates that the more one works to curb their impatience, frustration, boredom, the better one gets at it.

My own teacher Stephen Hwa addressed this common sense principle and even provides a methodology for achieving it just recently, to a student who expressed his impatience at the slowness of the learning curve when it comes to martial application. There is no mystery to be good at martial art application.This is discussed in my book and video.

One needs to go through three steps:

  1. Develop internal energy or power through Form practice, so that one can deliver the power at any angle and position.

  2. Practice the form such that the ability of delivery becomes instinctive, no need to think.

  3. Practice push hand and sparing to develop sensitivity and finesse.

Some students visit me in Florida and express their impatience but also show me they are not close to master step 1. They are able to use internal at several moves but not all angles. From their description of your sparring experiences, (Tai Chi vs. Wing Chun, etc.) they still need to think when they move. No wonder they were always one step behind, and being controlled by the opponent.

Step 3 needs a partner to practice. There is no short cut to that.

I understand this a little better now in light of this analysis. Those many students also do not see that we all swim in a literal culture of impatience. The dubious virtues of multi-tasking, and hurry, hurry, hurry are extolled to say nothing of our being unaware of how much we even compete with the very machines we design to “make our lives better”. When we do the Tai Chi we bring a desire for Tai Chi to get into the batter’s box and knock one out of the park. What’s it worth, how good is it, how fast can I get it, why can’t I “get it” now? Then even though we are “swimming in a culture of impatience”, it does not mean we are aware that we do so. So what we are working with is like a house with a poor foundation for living that we don’t know has crumbling brick. What kind of an environment do we have here for success in Tai Chi? If the environment is shoddy to begin with, why would we add to such impatience with more impatience of our own? Then there is the inherent difficulties one faces in remembering “how to do things” in Tai Chi. What else to do but throw in the towel?

I cannot help but think here of the many students who do not even make it past basic walking practice, much less get on the path to martial expertise. The common refrain I hear is when I see students wobbling and even losing their balance. The refrain goes like: “I thought Tai Chi was supposed to improve your balance”. To which I say, “what it does is point out to you where you are unbalanced, the improvement is up to you”. That’s Classical Tai Chi, it shows you where your work is cut out for you, doing the work is up to you. Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.