How often should I practice my Tai Chi and for how long? (And some other stuff like a few points about “warming up the system”)

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So how much should a Tai Chi practitioner practice Tai Chi and for how long? Sometimes I read books from people as Yang Jwing-Ming who has very special demands on very slow speed of form practice as well as tons of jibengong exercises, (basic practice) advice on sitting meditation (about two hours a day recommended by the mentioned teacher) and has a whole lot of different Qigong sets with different demands. So I wonder if he and similar teachers practice about 36 hours every day. At least, they can’t get any food, because they never eat one or two hours after training. But then I think about that they still have time to write a whole lot of books and make videos. So their demands can’t be so serious after all.

Others says that 20 minutes a day is quite enough. They speak about form practice of course, as there was nothing else in Tai Chi worth practicing. Sun Lutang, the creator of the Sun Family Internal Arts, proposed 20 minutes of standing meditation in wuji stance before practicing form. So there goes the twenty minutes that the common “Yang short form” teachers speak about, just on preparation. Jibengong, other stance practice, stretching and  similar is not included.

So how much should you practice your Tai Chi and for how long? First, I must ask you: Why the heck do you ask me? I am not your teacher. And besides that, everyone has different goals with their practice. What do you want to accomplish and why do you practice Tai Chi? If you can’t answer those questions, how could you know how much you should practice? If you know the answers to these questions, just practice enough so you can see that you develop in the speed that you want to develop. Easy answer, huh?

But then, are there no general rules or any minimum amount of amount of time for practice? No, of course there are not. Again, it depends on what style you practice, what exercises you are working on for the moment, your own level and it depends on what you want to accomplish, i.e. your personal goals. You need to come to your own understanding about what is enough, what is too much or what is too little.

But I can tell you something about practice, like this: When I practice form, I need at least 20 minutes to “get into the flow”. After twenty minutes, and often it takes the double amount of that time for my system to warm up properly, I get my “motor” running. AND first after that time, the real practice and the real progress begin. I will move, breath and focus in a completely different way after that time of warming up. This is my own personal experience. But of course, sometimes I might focus on drills and jibengong, and stance training instead of form practice. Then it’s another way to deal with the whole thinng, another way to warm up the system, a shorter or a longer time. And also there’s another way of dealing with my own body after this time of warming up the system. “You need to pump up the qi”(ch’i) as a Qi non-believer so wisely said.

This might be the very reason for practicing long forms instead of short forms or drills. And I agree with this. Drills has it’s own place, but there is really something very special about longer forms that other kind of martial arts practice can not give you. So from my own experience, I have become a real fan of long forms practice. It can be both very demanding and very rewarding.

Then after “getting warm”, how much do I practice? Hopefully one or two hours, at least. But mostly, I won’t have the time to practice as much as I would like to. I am a busy man. But there’s another component to the deal than the time you do practical exercises. You are not actually limited to the time you do physical practice. If you practice regularly, practice is a way to tune and refine your system. It’s a way to develop your nervous system and muscle memory. Practicing Tai Chi, if you do it regularly, 20 minuets a day or 2 hours a day, a progress of development that goes on 24/7. If you are very passionate about the art, and do a lot of thinking and reading about the art, the overall development will go faster and reach deeper. This is my conviction anyway. I haven’t read things like this in other places, but  I know something about learning. And I speak from my own experience.

No, I have never heard anyone speaking about practicing time the way that I do in this article, or have read anything similar. You can throw everything I said into your mental bin if you like, but still, I hope that you will think more about thus subjekt in terms about how you develop yourself into your tai chi, or how you personalize your practice to suite your own goals and your own personality. This is actually a more “Chinese thinking” than giving general advice about time and amount of practice. A Chinese doctor creates an individualized cure for every patient. The way to handle a decease, how to cure it, is different for every situation. I look at Tai Chi as a “good decease”. You must be like a good doctor and treat yourself according to your own prerequisites. Don’t listen to other “doctors” as different teachers. The only way to develop in Tai Chi is to find the right road by yourself. Maybe easier said than done, but the art of Tai Chi really demands responsibility from the person practicing it. You can’t really hide away from your own responsibilities if you want to develop and progress for real.

…Three years later…

Three years, time moves too fast. Time moves like a high speed train, always accelerating towards the end station. What is three years in the perspective of a life time? Nothing really. But when you look back at it, at least when I do, it seems like a long time.

So I started this blog for three years ago. I didn’t really know where to bring it. I am happy that people from the start still follows it, even though I made a break on almost one whole year. Actually, I didn’t know where to take this blog or what I wanted to do with it. I had an idea to trying to make a blog that reached a whole lot of people by writing about Chinese martial arts, medicine and philosophy. But I made it like a diary or notebook just to have somewhere to write down my almost thirty years of thoughts. And it became a blog about Tai Chi and only about this art.

Tai Chi is too personal for me. I don’t think I ever could commercialize my Tai Chi or myself in regards to this art. In fact, I do have another blog, but this blog is about movies. But this one is in Swedish only. For about five years ago when I worked hard on it, it reached about 3000 unique visitors every day. And I will tell you that in Sweden, this is already really good. But somewhere I lost my soul in blogging. I was good on commercializing the subject, something I could never do with Tai Chi. This blog also helped me to gain a bit soul again in writing and I found a more personal way to express myself again.

I will try to continue writing on this blog, sporadically, maybe a few times every month, maybe more. As soon I have something good to say, I will write it down. If I get time, I’ll make some videos as well. Not now, but maybe next year. I have changed the tagline on the blog to better fit what the blog have become. You are always welcome to give me suggestions. What do you want to read about? Please write your thoughts in the comments. Thank you for reading and for listening.

Body awareness – The real key to success in Tai Chi Chuan.

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If I were going to mention only one thing, or the most important thing, that I believe that anyone who practice Tai Chi Chuan should focus on more than anything else, and would ultimately lead to success in the art, well, that would be body awareness.

What we do in Tai Chi and why practicing slow, focused with awareness is for developing control, fine and refined motor skills. The kind of fine motor skills a Tai Chi artist wants is the kind of skills dealing with small details of painting, or operating with a laser. There’s an absolute precision we are looking for. When we can control our movements in an absolute manner and with awareness, spontaneity and freedom of movement will be the result.

Therefor, when we practice form slowly, we should try to be aware of every slight tension that might occur in our body. Sometimes, or often, it’s good to move really slow so we have time to feel what is going on throughout the body, from toe to fingertip, from the bottom of the feet and up to the crown of the head. Try to feel what ever slight change do to your body. When does tension occur and where are weaknesses in movement? Move in an absolute even pace. Pay attention to your movement at every inch of your movement. When the movement is straight, it’s perfectly straight. When it’s round, the round form is perfectly even. Perform your movements as you were operating with a scalpel or a laser.

This is in my opinion “correct” form practice. Drills and push hands can be practiced with the same kind of focus. This kind of practice demands extreme focus and concentration. Yet demanding, but it’s actually not hard to achieve. Just know how to practice and continue to practice. A kind of awareness should be developed throughout the whole body. Also calmness of mind and a certain natural beauty of body movement could be the result. If you look at professional dancers, they often move with a certain authority or beauty that looks perfectly natural. If you look at “masters” of different martial arts there is often something similar. Sometimes when they enter a room, there might be the impression like they take up the whole room. I believe that this is an expression of moving with awareness, a type of body awareness that is achieved through many, many years of practicing with awareness.

How to practice Tai Chi applications

There are some general advice regarding Tai Chi application practice that I would like to share, some things that have been important for my own development in the art. These are general advice for all styles. But of course there can be different kind of exemptions for different styles, depending on what kind of application you practice. I would say that there are some things different schools do that I personally don’t agree with. Often applications practice become more or less like any another martial art’s practice like Jujutsu or Shaolin qinna. But this kind of practice without the study of Tai  Chi principles is not true Tai Chi practice.

Let’s say that we practice a simple thing like parrying a straight fist, in the same matter you go in to a “holding a ball posture”, like the very start of “Ye ma fen zong” (parting the wild horses by their mane). Sounds easy, right? But in the beginning, you need to think of many different details. After time, all of these details will become second nature. Everything that is hard in the beginning will eventually become a part of your “shenfa”, or body method.

what you need to think about when you parry/deflect that incoming punch:

Adjusting distance and angle.

Through the whole movement, be aware about the distance between his and your body. If you need to move your body, attach your distance to him. Don’t let him dictate the distance or angle. Lead the game by not giving any gaps or let him closer than what you have decided the distance to be.

Maintain a firm stance.

Stand comfortable, bend the knees slightly and relax so you sink the strength down to the feet. This will be better understood as you develop rooting.

Maintain the integrity of zhongding.

Your centerline is a most essential point. Stand firm and straight. Turn around the centerline with weight transitions and the waist like a wheel. This means that when the punch comes, you cannot flinch, you cannot bend spine backwards. You can try to have a slightly forward lean, or at least the feeling (intent) of going forward. Maintain this feeling for the whole defensive action.

Don’t go against his force.

Don’t resist by using force, try to keep as light pressure as possible, follow and direct his movement by following his own his own force. Move in the exact same speed as he does. Use your limbs to feel the speed. Don’t think, feel.

Stick – tie.

Sticking, or “tie”, is important in Tai Chi. Slightly twisting the arm/wrist at the contact point will do the trick. Twist as you move together with his force. Twist in the same speed and move slightly against his arm. If you are very relax and follow his speed and movement, your arm can stick to his with very little pressure. You can follow his change by changing or adding twisting movements.

And yet there is more…

Indeed, there are many other details we could get into. But I think the ones above are a good start. You must try to feel the posture, your own body, at every part of the movement. Try to feel your posture, your feet, the legs, movements of the waist, the centerline, the upright turning movements of the zhongding. Get everything of this and the above correct and together at every single second of practicing the movement. All together, all at once.

At the beginning, practice slowly to get everything together. Later, add speed and power to the punches and continue to get everything together.

Developing Roots in Tai Chi

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Rooting in Tai Chi is not something developed fast. There are some stages you need to go through. Then, even if you think that you have passed the first stages and that your progress have come to an end, rooting can always be further developed, deepened, stronger, better controlled, better used in movement etc. Rooting is not only static, it can be dynamic, moving. Rooting is sinking the strength down to the foot. It’s also about storing strength in the legs, like pressing a steel spring together. In a year or two, the roots should be good. In five years or so, the understanding and use of rooting should be much better. But maybe it’s only after ten or more years of practice, rooting will be fully understood.

In the beginning of our Tai Chi Journey, maybe after a few month of practice, a half year or a year, many of us experience our legs uncomfortable, hard to be stable, like wobbling or even shaking. It can be discomforting, the self confidence might slag. But this is a very normal part of our progress. It means that we are developing more awareness in our legs and using the muscles in them in a different way than earlier. This is the stage many of us goes through in order to develop roots.

Some people try to force their stances, compensate the feeling of instability by using lower, stronger stances. This is okay, but it’s important to let progress take it’s time. More important than feeling stable through artificial help, is to sink. Sink by relaxing from the face, relax through and drop the shoulders, empty the chest, soften the lower back and relax through the legs right down to the toes. Roots and balance will grow stronger after time. Don’t force yourself.

If you study a form with higher stances, like yang short forms or Sun and Hao styles, instead of practicing lower stances than your teacher suggests, you can add stance training to your schedule. Some teachers teach this, some don’t. Practicing Mabu, Xingyi Santishi, as well as ding shi, can speed up your progress, build stronger roots in a shorter amount of time. The key here is also to relax, relaxing the legs through the pain and breath deep. But you need the instructions of a good teacher for deep stance practice. If you think this is necessary for your progress in Tai Chi, find it from your own teacher or seek further. It’s hard to understand the precision of angles, and feel them by yourself, as well as it is hard to feel what is good pain and what is not.

Good, effortless rooting is paramount to good Tai Chi. A strong stance, perfect understanding of zhong ding, and the strength sunken deep into the soles of the feet. Without true understanding through your own personal experience, everything else in your Tai Chi will lack. Everything in Tai Chi starts and ends in your foot.