In my own opinion, for learning how to really understand T’ai Chi Ch’uan, the mind-set or attitude is far more important than the practice itself. Forms, drills, stance work, they can be visually perfected in every detail. But there will always be something missing if you don’t have the correct mind. If you have a certain attitude and mind-set, if you are eager to learn, always eager tio improve and to become better, to always understand more about what it really takes to master the art, then this attitude itself will help you to fill in the blanks, help you to understand details and to incorporate everything you learn in a way that will help your learning process to become the most efficient learning process as possible. When you are determined, focused, have endurance and understand how to approach the art with passion and creativity and take responsibility for your own learning process, then you have the right mind-set to understand the art and become good in it. There is hope for everyone, even the most miserable failure. The road for success is a road that you start in your own mind.
Determination – Set a clear goal and work towards it.
Set your goal and have it in mind. The more clear, specific and detailed this goal is, the more easy it will be for you to work to become what you will be. Every class will become like sculpturing your own progress according to your strong idea of what you want to become.
I remember my very first class when I was eleven years old. I remember exactly what I thought. I decided to become as good and better as my teacher, to achieve what he showed and what he spoke about, if it so will take twenty years to achieve. I told myself right there that I should continue to practice and never give up. The years to come, I tried to read as much on Tai Chi as I got hold on. I borrowed books from my teacher and I ordered books through Martial Arts stores. I also read a whole lot of books on Chinese philosophy, history and culture. When I was thirteen, I had already finished reading English translations on all of the major Chinese Taoist Classics, the Yijing and a whole lot of books on Chinese martial arts in general.
Focus – keep attention on what you are doing and keep the details in mind
Always focus whatever you do. When you practice your form, pay attention to every small little details. Never let anything slip away. When you are in front of your teacher, pay attention to everything he says. Never let your mind wander or think about other things. Your Tai Chi class is the time to forget about everything else, to forget about duties, problems at your job, about your annoying Facebook friends. You need to really listen and take every word your teacher say very seriously.
When I had practiced about 8 years I started to go to summer sessions, and I think I went to them seven years in a row. The thing is that I have and I have always had a very good memory for what people say to me. Some stories and lectures from this time more than 20 years ago, I remember exactly, word for word, what my teachers said. From one summer camp to another, some of my fellow summer class mates seems to totally have forgot what a teacher said or showed a year later. I was always surprised because I had focused very deliberately on every word the teachers have said and I remember everything clearly. But some people don’t care very much, they are there, having a good summer time and don’t put effort in understanding and to make effort to consciously incorporate what a teacher say into his or her own practice. It’s a shame, but right here, most Tai Chi students own attitude really lacks.
Responsibility – Don’t blame your teacher when you suck
No one can give you success. No one can teach you but yourself. There are no shortcuts, no secret ingredient, no magic pills. The time and effort is all yours and the road is yours to walk. You have the responsibility to listen to your teacher, learn what to learn, make effort and make the time needed. No one can help you to walk the road. That is something you must do by yourself. As long as you wait to find secrets or anything that can work as a shortcuts, you don’t have the correct attitude, not the right mind-set. Because Tai Chi Chuan is all about you. It’s not about your teacher, not about style or lineage, not about gaining something you can use to show off with. It’s only about you. And the sooner you realise that all your accomplishments depend on you taking responsible, the sooner and faster you will develop in your art. This part of your overall attitude is so important that I have written a blog post only on this, about taking responsibility.
Creativity – Independent thinking & a little craziness doesn’t hurt
Creativity is a concept that lies close to responsibility. I know what you ask yourself now or would like to ask me: Oh, why? Because learning Tai Chi and come to understand what it is, well, this is a bit like putting together a puzzle where there’s a whole lot of pieces missing. Tai Chi is a cultural phenomenon, something that has grown for centuries to become what it is today. It’s from another culture and another history. The terminology and concepts come from another kind of thinking, often abstract, often very different from ours. Thus, to understand Tai Chi and develop it as your own property of your own knowledge, you really need a creative approach. You need to turn around the puzzle pieces, examine them from different directions. You need to put all of the pieces together to form a comprehensible picture. And where pieces are missing, you need to create them by yourself to make the pieces match together. It’s quite a hard work, both mentally and physically to learn how to understand the art. But it’s also a lot of fun and a highly creative process.
Endurance – Keep the spirit & enjoy the boredom
In Tai Chi, endurance is not only to work hard or to practice a lot, but it’s more the persistence to not give up. When practice is fun and you feel like you develop rapidly or even take big leaps in the process, practicing a lot is not hard or difficult. The hardest part is in my own experience when things are going slow. Everyone experience periods when we feel that we don’t develop and everything stand still. This is the time you need endurance to stand boredom, to practice when it’s boring and keep on struggling when nothing happens. Just go on and practice and try to remind yourself of some of the other points here, as creativity, passion and humor. You will find ways to keep on struggling and find meaning in the practice as long as you don’t give up.
Humor and self distance – Be able to laugh at yourself… Otherwise everyone else will…
A very wise man said that all kind of human development is the development in a certain pattern: “Two steps forward, one step back.” How true isn’t this? Practice becomes easier if you understand this. You don’t need to develop in the same pace all of the time and too much eagerness or trying to press yourself too much is never good. One time when I succeeded to have a private talk with best teacher I’ve ever had, I told him that I really wanted to practice and become as good as possible. He smiled and said: “Just practice and don’t take it too seriously. Development needs to grow, so let it take the time it needs.” This was the best advice I’ve ever had. Don’t take it too seriously. You need some humor and be able to laugh at all your short-comings and mistakes. Starting to practice Tai Chi can be a very painful process. You will discover that you can not move as you want, that you have a lousy body control, balance and coordination. Even later when you find people who can handle you just as easy as a wind sweeps a way a leaf, you are bound to have your self-confidence broken. Many discovered flaws and many failures in many years ahead, you will eventually become aware of what it means to become good in your art. And then you will surely have a laugh when you think back on your struggles.
Passion – Love what you do or quit
There’s a saying that endurance can take you to the top, but it’s the passion that makes you stay on top. To be frank, I don’t believe that Tai Chi becomes very difficult if you really love it. The passion for the art makes everything more easy, makes every aspects of the practice more enjoyable. However, if you don’t have the passion needed, the practice might become more hard and boring than necessary. Endurance alone won’t get you to the top in Tai Chi. You really need to love the art. The hard truth is that if you don’t find joy in the practice and don’t really love the art of Tai Chi Chuan, you should probably find something else. But if this message rings a bell within you, don’t be too sad. Try to find another teacher or another internal art. What you drove to practice Tai Chi might still be there inside you. And the world of the internal martial arts is vast and varied.