This week, I’m going to answer a question that has been asked of me, and doubtless countless other instructors, for time eternal: How can I improve my Tai Chi?.
This depends on what you have been doing. When the movements have been learned, there are several “after elements” which give your Tai Chi “added value” so to speak.
You need to practice for smoothness. This is one thing I always tell my students, as well as competitors, as I am sometimes a tournament judge. I get to see other teacher’s students, as well as my own at tournaments, both those who think smoothness is important and those who do not. If you want to use Tai Chi to change your life, you need to develop smoothness. Pick a speed, preferably at least a 7 minute form speed (for Cheng Man-Ch’ing’s Tai Chi), and keep to it, day-in and day-out. When you get your hands moving at that speed, remember your feet, which are probably moving faster than your hands. When the whole body moves at one speed, then you are ready for the challenge of the next level.
Professor was asked about smoothness and evenness. He said it was important. When questioned he said he always was smooth and even. And he was asked, “What about in Four Corners?” (“Fair Lady Weaves Shuttles”), as he appeared to move, stop and then move the opposite way. He said the movement is the same speed coming in and going out, and at the physical pause, the chi is moving at the same speed as before and after.
So becoming aware of the flow of the chi is also important, as well as your surroundings, and the people in them.
Also, is your Tai Chi a moving meditation? This is an important goal in the lifelong practice of Tai Chi, doing it as a moving meditation. Empty your mind, think of nothing. Actively think of nothing (you may want to review my article Tai Chi as Meditation).
As you advance in your practice of thinking of nothing, become increasingly aware of the Tai Chi in your body, as well as, but not limited to, your energy (or chi), the straightness of your spine, the position of your elbows and knees, your smoothness. This is followed by your adding to your attention the details of the room you are in, and the people and animals around you.
Know that you do not always, in fact you rarely, do the form as it can be best done according to your understanding. Beware if you get to that place. If you can not see where you can improve, you are stagnating. I almost always see how I can do it better, how I missed a mark by a degree or two, or my balance can be better rooted in the ground, my evenness or smoothness can be more uniform, or my feet more coordinated with my hands. This is part of the fruit of being aware of the form as you do it. And you will see changes. Maybe not from week to week, or even month to month. But year to year, and decade to decade. You will see improvement as you travel the path of life.
In T’ai Chi,