Steve from the United Kingdom writes:
“I took up Tai Chi to help me overcome the stress of everyday life, but find I am getting stressed out if I can’t seem to get a move right or forget a move, when training. Can you help me or give me advise?”
I aksed Sifu Bill if I could take this question because it has been a long time since he was a beginner and felt these things. He agreed.
Steve, when I started Tai Chi, I experienced some of the same frustrations as you. First, let me tell a little bit about where I came from.
Growing up, I was pretty active. I was often playing outside, riding my bike, running around… in fact, my family would always joke that I didn’t know how to walk, because it seemed I was constantly running. But in spite of my being pretty active, no one ever would have accused me of being athletic. I was one of those kids who dreaded gym class because I was usually the last one picked for a team, and I was often laughed at as I tripped all over myself because I was so uncoordinated. Seriously, I had quite a talent for stumbling over thin air! So as you might imagine, I didn’t have such a great self-image in this area.
So anyway, about 8 years after my gym class days, I decided it was time to bring some physical activity into my life. I chose Tai Chi, which may seem quite strange, because although Tai Chi Chuan translates to “Supreme Ultimate Fist,” it might as well be “Supreme Ultimate Coordinated Body,” and as I just mentioned, coordinated my body was not. But I really felt compelled to give this a try.
My first few Tai Chi classes went something like this: “OK, now, let your arms come up… and draw them back… and down… now, step out… no, like this, at this angle. See? OK. No… your other left foot. OK. Try again.” Everyone who taught me was extremely patient, and I knew immediately that the very appropriately named Patience T’ai Chi was the right school for me. But still, I felt extremely frustrated that I couldn’t get it together, and I couldn’t remember it once I had it right. And of course, the more frustrated I got, the less I was able to learn. Sound familiar?
Shortly after I started Tai Chi, though, I was very fortunate to come across something on this very site. It was a quote from one of Sifu Bill Phillips’ senior students, Sifu James Leporati, who said, “There is no hurry. It takes a lifetime to learn Tai Chi anyway!” And just like that, BAM! I felt this incredible sense of freedom. It didn’t matter if I couldn’t get everything coordinated right away. It didn’t matter if I couldn’t remember complex sequences of postures. It didn’t even matter if my classmates were better than me. Why? Because learning this, really learning this, was going to take a whole lifetime to learn anyway!
After I developed this newfound attitude, Tai Chi came much easier to me. Sure, sometimes I learned it slower than my classmates. But sometimes I was faster. It really didn’t matter one way or another, because I was enjoying what I was doing, and not stressing over it anymore. And now, 7 years later, I’m still refining my form. And incidentally, Sifu Bill Phillips, who has been at this for over 40 years, is still refining his form. It never ends.
Tai Chi has a way of teaching us our life lessons. The biggest lesson I needed to learn was to lighten up and be able to laugh at myself and my lack of coordination. I was so embarrassed and frustrated by it. It’s amazing how much my coordination improved seemingly overnight once I was able to do that. Some may need to learn not to care when they don’t appear to be the best student in the class. Others may need to learn to be patient with themselves, because learning Tai Chi isn’t like learning anything else, including most other martial arts. The lessons to be learned are as endless as the art itself. I encourage you to approach Tai Chi with an open mind and an open heart, without preconceptions and without judgment of yourself. If you do so, you may achieve something far greater than you ever imagined you could by studying some beautiful, flowing movement.
In T’ai Chi,