1.e.-suggestions-for-beginners-study Section

Ten Recommended Study Habits

Written by Nick Gudge

Gaining good study and practice habits is a major step forward in both developing good taiji (tai chi) skills and gaining  benefits from practicing taijiquan. Below I have outlined the ten recommendations I use in my Limerick tai chi classes.

1. Ask questions if you don't understand something. This is so important that all thoughts of “Holding others back”, or “ Not wanting to look stupid” or “ Not wanting to appear that you don’t understand” or even “I’ll get it later” should be set aside. The more questions you ask the more your understanding is likely to increase. Once you have an answer intellectually, work to translate it into your normal body movement and habits through lots of practice before asking more questions on another topic.

2. Practice regularly. Without regular practice your body will not come to achieve the understanding your mind has reached. If this passage of understanding does not move from mind to body then eventually, after a few hours, days or weeks, it will be lost. Short amounts of practice frequently are best initially: 5 - 10 minutes morning and evening. This will also help develop self-discipline and perseverance.

3. Don’t move onto something new until what has gone before is clear. If there are others in the class who are able to move onto new postures, well good for them. Do not let it concern you. (It may be that they don’t understand what has gone before: they can simply copy it well.) Take your time. You can’t build well on unstable foundations.

4. Don’t worry what others are doing or what their skills are; just do the best you can. Everyone has different skills and abilities. It is best to work to improve your weakness and what you do not understand rather than your strengths. It is your weaknesses, which will let you down a hundred times more frequently than your strengths. Trying to keep up with others is working on their timetable not yours. Comparison with others is seldom helpful in this process.

5. Do not put undue pressure on yourself to practice: if time doesn’t allow, don’t worry about it or simply try to do one minute of practice. Equally don’t use laziness or distraction as reasons not to practice.

6. Enjoy yourself! Although it may be hard work at times, it is there to be enjoyed not merely endured. If you can find the fun in it you are much more likely to persevere. However nothing much comes without dedication. If something hurts at this stage you are doing it wrong - ASK FOR CORRECTION.

7. Try to attend classes regularly. Regular practice and correction over time, which both require and increase perseverance and self-discipline, is usually the easiest beginners’ path forward. If you need to miss a class, try and attend the revision class or to talk with your instructor. They can try and find some time for you before, between or after classes during the week. Most of all don’t worry about it. Missing a class does not mean you “won’t be able to keep up.”

8. Cultivate a beginner’s mind. Try to look at everything as though you are seeing it for the first time. Try and understand what exactly your instructor is trying to convey. There is an old Chinese Taiji saying “ Don’t overlook the near for the far.” First master the obvious (what is near) before looking for the subtlety (what is far.)

9. Don’t let hurdles become problems. If a problem of any sort arises talk with your instructor. That is what in part they are there for. Let them help. Old injuries, diet, changes in mind and body and other personal matters can all be affected by the practice of Taiji. Your instructor may have encountered something similar before and may be able to help you or direct you to someone who can.

10. Try and bring your new learned skills into every day life. Learn to keep your body relaxed (shoulders and lower back particularly) during your daily activities e.g. when answering the phone, cleaning your teeth and driving your car. Only then are they likely to bring significant benefit and bring about unconscious repatterning of your physical and mental habits.

Remember: The choreography of the form is merely a framework within which you study taijiquan. It is the core principles that must be embodied within the movements. These will bring the attributes and benefits of taijiquan.