Seven Ways of Validating Your Progress in T’ai Chi (taiji)
by Robert Chuckrow, Ph.D.
After learning the movements of the empty-hand T’ai-Chi form fairly accurately, a student might ask, “What’s next?” Aside from learning push-hands and other forms (sword, broadsword, staff, two-person), a very important facet is acquiring the correct internal state. But how can students know that they have achieved that state? Let us consider possible ways of knowing, the particular value of which will then be considered in detail:
1. It agrees with what your teacher says and does.
2. It agrees with what is written in the T’ai-Chi Classics.
3. It agrees with the T’ai-Chi principles and philosophy.
4. You can use it successfully in push-hands and martial applications.
5. It feels good.
6. Everything fits together in a satisfying manner.
7. It automatically causes the movements of the form to fit the principles.
1. It agrees with what your teacher says and does. Whereas this criterion has value, it has some limitations. The teacher may be withholding information or not explaining it clearly. Moreover, the teacher may be showing movements in a manner that facilitates learning them at the expense of transmitting important details or principles. These details might or might not be taught at a later date. Even if the information is ideally transmitted, students may not fully understand it, and they may incorrectly believe that they know what the teacher is doing in his or her movements. Physical contact with the teacher’s arms and body in doing push-hands is very important in capturing a feeling of his or her internal state.
2. It agrees with what is written in the T’ai-Chi Classics. Because T’ai-Chi Ch’uan was historically a secret martial art, the T’ai-Chi Classics were written in a compact, seemingly contradictory manner that would not be understood by those other than inside students (usually family members), who were taught freely. The Classics were a way of hiding knowledge to outsiders and preserving it for inside students to remind them of what they were taught and to test their understanding. If such students read and could understand what was written, that meant that they were on the right track.
It should be kept in mind that the Classics were written in old Chinese, then translated into modern Chinese, and then into English. Therefore, there is room for translation errors based on the skill level of the translator(s). Books elucidating the Classics are similarly limited. Nevertheless, the Classics and their elucidation are of great value and should be read and periodically re-read by all T’ai-Chi students regardless of level.
3. It agrees with the T’ai-Chi principles and philosophy. The main principles are the balance of yin and yang, continuity, circularity, and the relaxation of contractive muscular force.
4. You can use it successfully in push-hands and martial applications. It takes a lot of skill to be able to do push-hands effectively with the correct principles, and it is fairly easy to “win” by using speed, techniques, rooting and resisting, blocking, and contractive strength. Some who practice that way feel quite virtuous and are often closed to any advice that runs counter to their accustomed modality. A similar statement applies to self-defense.
5. It feels good. Whereas the feeling of exhilaration and flow of ch’i (qi) are very important, many students can be on the wrong track and not know it. Explaining certain internal states is like communicating what salt tastes like to someone who has never tasted it. Also, there are myriad things that feel good that are not T’ai Chi or do not fit the principles.
6. Everything fits together in a satisfying manner. As one progresses in practicing correctly and learning T’ai-Chi, pieces start to fit together more and more like those of a jigsaw puzzle. That is a positive sign.
7. It automatically causes the movements of the form to fit the principles. To the extent that the principles of yin and yang, circularity, continuity, and absence of contractive muscular action are expressed in the form, it is a sign that the corresponding inner state is correct.
Conclusion: As more of the above seven ways—and possibly others such as involving books, videos, and the Internet—of confirming your understanding fall into place, you can have more certainty that you are on the right track.
©Copyright 2016 by Robert Chuckrow
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