An anonymous reader writes:
“I think my teacher is holding me back. I learned Tai Chi form and now I am in correction. I do not think I need correction. What order should I learn the Tai Chi skills in, and how long should I spend at each level?”
Well, the first thing I recommend is that you learn the Tai Chi form. Understand that during your first pass through learning the form, you only learn its “outline”. You learn the stances, and approximate hand, foot and body placement and movement. This happens, almost no matter how much information the teacher gives, because a person has only so much ability to absorb and learn things. And these movements, and principles of movement, are probably not like any the student has learned before. Of course if the student has studied Tai Chi previously, or another martial art, he or she is better prepared to get more from the first teaching.
However everyone can learn from at least one round of correction after first learning the form. When you have a foundation to build upon, you can absorb the fine details and change your form for the better.
After going through some correction, it is time to learn exercises for push hands. At this point, ideally, you learn the exercises first to prevent push hands from becoming a wrestling match. You learned new ways of moving in Tai Chi form. Now you learn new ways of applying that movement to push hands. It can be very counter-intuitive and so it takes practice. Some of the exercises improve flexibility and other exercises improve strength, but the rest of the exercises show you the pathways of neutralization that are necessary for successful play. Then learn to push, so that you are not using strength. There are several types of pushes to learn, to understand, and to practice.
Next, play push hands, and learn to neutralize and push with a partner. First you used the exercises to learn neutralizing movements. Then you learned individual pushes. Now you learn which push goes into which neutralization. You will also learn when a person is off balance and may be pushed without neutralizing. Trial and error will teach you when and how far and in which direction to go.
Then I recommend tournament, if you want to learn to keep calm in the face of a threat, face a threat, but that is another story.
At this point you can go one of two ways, into sword form or into martial applications.
If you go into sword form, you learn to extend your energy, to the end of a sword and ways to move that sword.
After sword form you go into solo dueling exercises. You learn to control your sword as an extension of your hand.
Then on to dueling itself. You learn to listen to the energy and intention that some one else is putting into your sword, and to manipulate your sword to best advantage.
If you go to martial applications you again go to exercises to get the underlying skills you need to perform the applications. And then on to the applications themselves.
If you do not rush through the levels, you can become proficient in all. On the other hand, when you are ready, your teacher must recognize it, as you can always improve at any level. It is not necessary for you to wait after you have reached a certain level of proficiency. You still improve at what came before, but you can go ahead.
So go forth and practice with patience and with purpose.
In Tai Chi,