Saturday, July 21, 2012

Doing It Right

As a tai chi teacher, I am often asked, "Did I do that right?", or, "How do I know if I am doing this right?" My answer is always the same. "It looks about right. You have to practice and pay attention. Then you will know." Students never like that answer very much.

It's a valid point from the student's point of view. My response does not directly answer the question. However, learning tai chi is not like learning arithmetic, where there is one correct answer. Tai chi is an experiential art. It can only be learned by practicing and paying attention. A teacher can explain the mechanics of how to rotate the body during a form. Only the person doing the forms knows how it feels.

The student needs to pay attention to what the teacher says. Then the work of understanding it has to follow. Tai chi is much more than copying the teacher's movements. Every person has different body mechanics and anatomy. We have to pay attention to anything that feels uncomfortable. That's an indication that something isn't right. You need to experiment a bit to see what works. However, don't go wild and disregard what your teacher has told you.

Try some minor variations in what you first learned. During practice, make tiny adjustments and see how it works. Place your foot at a slightly different angle or in a slightly different place. Pay attention to what happens to the stress in your knee. Pay attention to how it affects your weight shifts. Find the way that works best for you and your unique anatomy. Practice it until it happens automatically. The next time you practice, pay attention to something else. Notice how it affects what you learned before. Make new adjustments and practice. With enough practice, you can start to learn what feels "right".

There is an old saying in tai chi that says, "The first 10,000 times don't count". That isn't literal. It means you must do your forms many times. There are no shortcuts. You can read about it. You can think about it. But in the end, tai chi is an experiential exercise. You have to do it.

© 2012 Eric Borreson