If you study tai chi, you learn tai chi, right? Is it that simple? Really? Sometimes it’s necessary to make things more complicated than necessary. This can make you think and help you to re-evaluate your own motifs for practicing, or make you better aware about them.
There are a whole lot of different variations of T’ai Chi out there and people have different reasons for starting to practice the art. You really must have a very strong idea about what you want to achieve and why. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to practice the art without really studying, without really learning.
First, let us return to some basic statements so we can agree about what Tai Chi is before going on with the discussion on what we actually practice when we study tai chi. First, tai chi as an art has the potential of three main fields.
These are: Studying the art
1) as a martial art/ for self defense
2) for health
3) as meditation
These are the three pillars of tai chi. I would rather say that these are not three different potential. Tai chi is the same and is one art that has the potential for three different main fields of studying. It’s one art and we don’t need to study the art very differently to study any of these areas.
Also, tai chi is an art of movement and stillness. It’s an art of the body. It’s about movement, but also about stillness. We practice slow movements, fast movements. We practice different ways of standing in postures. Some schools also believe that you should practice sitting meditation, but there are only a few schools that incorporated this way of practicing. Sitting mediation is not a prerequisite for the meditation of tai chi practice. For health practice, you don’t need to add anything outside as qigong sets. And for self defense and combat, tai chi is a complex and complete art. There’s no need to add any methods from other styles or combine tai chi with anything else.
So Tai Chi is a complete art. Yet, how we practice and what we achieve varies. Many practitioners and teachers believe that practicing the movements of the form is enough. We all practice tai chi form slowly, focused. Still there’s a difference between doing the movements and really doing them. Many practitioners just do the movements over and over again, regarding the physical movement and performance of them to be the way of development. Doing the same thing, over and over again, day out day in is this the way to develop? From health perspective, physically and mentally, together with the meditative aspects will still be good practice. But the question is, don’t you want something more? Don’t you want to explore what Tai Chi can give you? And how do you know if you are good at what you do if you don’t evaluate what you do? So many people let their teacher do the thinking for them, or don’t let anyone think at all because they practice themselves what they have learned and think that the movements of a form is all that is needed to practice. This assumption is true in some ways if you only are concerned with keeping your health as you grow older.
But as you get older, not only as you get old, but for every year, you will continue to learn and grow as a human. You will re-evaluate a lot of things in your life, get better, learn more. Don’t you want your Tai Chi to grow and develop together with you?
And above all of those three pillars, health, meditation and self-defense/martial art, there is actually something else. There is self-discovery. Without self-discovery, there is no Tai Chi and none of the three pillars. By learning more about yourself, you discover more about your Tai Chi. The more you learn about about your tai Chi, the more you learn more about yourself. But your Tai Chi is always only as good as you know yourself.