This blog post was originally published as a podcast in June 2009. I’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.

After having no class on Thursday and on Saturday, it was really nice to get back to teaching tonight. I’m really going to miss teaching every week over the summer. One of the reasons I’m going to miss it is I find that working in a group (even though I’ve got a decade now of T’ai Chi, and the students I’m teaching are just completing the end of their third year of T’ai Chi) is that the group discussion can still help me find and understand points that had passed me by beforehand.

An important one came up tonight that I want to share with everybody.

We were talking about daily practice and how people were getting on with that and how the people in my Beginners’ group [my Thursday night class – Ed] were getting on with that. A couple of the ladies tonight mentioned that when they practice, they sometimes forget to do certain sections, but that it’s a different section each time. The point I wanted to emphasis to them, and what I want to share with everybody else, is the difference between what my Improvers are experiencing when they miss out pieces of the form from time to time compared to my Beginners, who find that they hit a wall and stop.

With the Beginners, they practice the form until they get to a point where they don’t know what to do, and they get stuck. They get stuck because they don’t know that part of the form, and they stop. They are unable to continue and unable to complete the form because they don’t know it well enough to play it on their own yet. The difference with the Improvers is they do know the form the whole way through, and on any given day they’re able to play so much of it, but they miss bits out. Not because they don’t know the form, or they don’t know the sequence of the form or the individual moves, but they miss bits out because they’re now working at the next level, which is their attention and their mindfulness, and they miss bits out because their concentration isn’t yet at the level where they can practice for 15 to 20 minutes and keep the form in mind the whole time.

And that is an important difference: they know the form, and are now working on the next level, which is their mindfulness and being there for the whole time they are playing the form.

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This blog post was originally published as a podcast in June 2009. I’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.

Tonight, for some of my students, it was the end of their second year with me, and their third year overall playing T’ai Chi. One of the things we concentrated on tonight was the difference between when they started and where they are now. One of the points that was made, which I thought was very valid, was that it is the regular practice – playing T’ai Chi regularly – that makes the difference in how you feel. You feel completely different after a while. As you progress, you feel different again, and the feeling keeps changing and it keeps improving.

The reason it gets even better is that it is the practice of the form, and the application of the principles to the form that ultimately change you on the inside, both mentally and physically.

On the website, we’ve got a lot of studies listed, including medical studies of how practicing T’ai Chi improves various aspects of people’s health. You don’t have to take my word for it [in fact, you never should have to – everything any T’ai Chi teacher tells you should be verifiable and backed up by evidence – Ed] you can go and see what medical studies – proper research – has been finding out.

Those things aside, I always come back to the point that T’ai Chi is not a mechanical skill that you learn. It is not a tool that you pick up and use for a certain purpose and then put back. T’ai Chi is something that you make part of you – it becomes part of you, and you become part of it. It is a symbiotic relationship, and those people who come to class learning the form to keep themselves happy, and who don’t practice during the week (they only play the form in the class) and then drop it for whatever reason – they’ve completely missed out on what T’ai Chi has to offer them for the rest of their lives.

If you’re listening to this podcast, and you’re thinking that you don’t know when you’re going to practice between classes, I imagine that your teacher would be like my teacher, and like me, imploring you to practice this every day, twice a day if you can, rain or shine. No matter how you feel, do what you can every day, and the benefits mentally and physically will soon add up.

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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. I’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.

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Where Do You Play?

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

This blog post was originally published as a podcast in June 2009. I’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.

If you learn your T’ai Chi as part of a class, do you only ever practice indoors in a training hall, or do you go out and practice outside?

One of the great joys of this time of year for me (remember I recorded this in June before the record-busting winter snows beset us all!) is to watch my Beginners’ Class as it comes to an end make that transition to joining us on a Saturday morning practicing outdoors down at the Knapp out by the sea or, on wet days like today, down undercover in Whitmore Bay.

It is a completely different experience playing T’ai Chi outside, and a much better one, I think personally. And, the reaction of people who have made that transition is always very positive too. You’ve got the whooshing of the sea and the waves and you’re no longer constrained by four walls. It’s just you, the sun, sea, and the wind.

So if you’ve never tried playing T’ai Chi outside, please go and do so. I hope you’ll find it as much an enjoyable experience as we do.

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