Thoughts On Practicing

Posted by Stuart Herbert on February 21st, 2010 in Podcast, Teaching, Your Practice.

This blog post was originally published as a podcast in June 2009. Iā€™m slowly transcribing all of my podcasts, to share them with my readers who either cannot play podcasts on their computer, or who simply prefer reading instead of listening.

I’ve just completed tonight’s class teaching the beginners on a Thursday night, and there are two key lessons we’ve taken from tonight’s class.

First of all, no matter what the weather, no matter how hot or how cold it is, the class always goes easier if it is nice and lighthearted, and people are able to have a good old laugh as part of the class. It makes them enjoy themselves a lot more; as a result they actually find that they’re more focused. As a teacher, you’ll see that in the students because they’re not looking to escape – they’re not watching the clock; they’re here, they’re in the moment, and they are enjoying themselves.

And then the second lesson we’ve taken from tonight’s class is that there’s no substitute for hard work, no substitute at all. Repetition – going over the moves bit by bit, breaking them down and practicing, practicing, practicing 10, 15, 20 times a night in the class really helps people learn and re-enforces the teaching they’ve already picked up for each of the moves.

It’s amazing what difference you can see in two hours between everybody in the group, and it’s a real joy to see … it’s one of the things that as a teacher keeps bringing you back to class week in and week out.

And then there’s a third thing as well … as beginners, T’ai Chi is something that they cannot yet understand. They’re being taught the form because the form is a teaching tool [it’s also a martial fighting form – Ed] to teach true T’ai Chi afterwards. At this stage of learning the form all the movements are … they’re not flowing because it’s all muscular, it’s all hand and foot mentality, as my teacher would have said. It’s a case of always reassuring them and let them understand that they’re actually doing very well because at this stage they’re doing the best they can. It’s all you can ever ask from anybody. And encourage them to come back every week.

This is week 26 now for the Thursday group, and just seeing the difference from week 1 when they came in having not done any T’ai Chi before; and now they’ve played the form twice tonight, and we’ve done corrections on five / six separate moves, and had a good debate about how things should be and why, and such a short period of time really from when they first came through that door and this is just the start of their journey. It’s a real joy as a teacher, and as a student of the art, to share that with people.

You may be listening to this on the podcast and wondering what this has to do with T’ai Chi, and how does it help your practice … try and bring these things into your practice. Look for the enjoyment in your form and the moves and the principles that you are applying and the goals you are working towards. Put in the work to achieve those goals. Have a plan about what you’re going to do, what you’re going to explore. Stick to it: do the work. And then finally, accept that when you get there, what you really do is achieve a new level of understanding and a new set of goals to work towards. It never stops. You’re capable – everyone is capable – of infinite polishing; being polished more and more, improving more and more as time goes on.

And that’s just as true in solo practice as it is in a group teaching situation.


  1. drunkenbear says:
    February 21st, 2010 at 11:26 pm

    Interesting to hear it from a teachers perspective, hearing what you get out of a taking a class, other than just the chance to practice and get paid for it! šŸ™‚

  2. Stuart Herbert says:
    March 17th, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    Although I teach, I strive to be a student of the art first. So much of our art has been lost (arguably since Yang Luchan) that I’m never comfortable talking about how much I know; I’d rather look to how much there is to learn.

  3. Ken Gullette says:
    February 22nd, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    Good stuff, Stuart. And very true.