There is a story often told about bamboo farmers in China. They clear a field and plant bamboo seeds. They need to nurture and care for the seeds even though there is no visible growth for years. The farmer must make sure the seeds get watered every week. The seed is slowly building a root system that will support it later in life. The story goes on to say that nothing is visible until the 5th year. The seed suddenly sprouts and the plant shoots up many feet in a very short time.
I'm sure the story has grown over the years, but it does illustrate a couple of important points: perseverance and plateaus. An important element of learning tai chi is perseverance. Tai chi does not feel comfortable at first. You have to have faith that it will eventually "work" for you. You need to continue to practice. Read more here.
When you start tai chi, you may find it slow and even awkward. This is because tai chi is very different from most western exercise and sports. Tai chi puts emphasis on soft flowing movement while delivering powerful internal energy. That is why we move slowly and in a curve. It can appear easy but it really does take time to get used to.
The slow, yet controlled, movement balances the stressful fast pace of today’s life. In nature, slow and fast and soft and hard complement each other. Persevere and soon you get used to the rhythm and feel of tai chi. Begin to enjoy the wonderful feeling of well being and serenity from within. You have to have faith that something good will come out of it even though you don't see much happening at first.
The other thing to remember is that we move through plateaus before we can climb the peaks. Read more here. Even with deliberate practice and slow and steady learning, learners often reach a plateau where it seems that improvement is not happening. A practitioner can seem to stay at the same level for some time until one day something new becomes obvious. This is a sudden, steep rise in growth and learning. Then the learner works at this new level for some time until something new becomes obvious.
Plateaus and steep rises are yin and yang. The plateaus are yin where energy is stored before it can be delivered in the steep rises of yang. Some students can get bored during the necessary plateaus. This causes some students to drop out and miss out on the benefits of long-term taiji practice. It is the teacher’s responsibility to discuss this with students so that they know what to expect.
This article is primarily about learning tai chi. However, the lessons apply to all aspects of life. According to a translation of the I Ching, “Heng [Perseverance] demonstrates how, faced with the complexity of things, one yet does not give way to cynicism.” Sometimes we hit rough patches in life and become distracted from practice. However, achievement comes from steady effort at improving. Improvement comes from perseverance and continued practice. Success comes to those who endure and have faith in themselves because of their long hard work.
© 2012 Eric Borreson