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The Value of Solo Practice and Study in Tai Chi, Hsing-I and Bagua

I was reading an article in an ancient Tai Chi magazine about Zhu Tiancai, one of the "Four Buddha's Warriors" of the Chen Village. He was asked how masters at his level continue to learn.

He said that, since all his teachers are now dead, his progress is slow, but he continues to make progress by carefully analyzing his own movements and delving deeper into the possibilities of the movements, and the principles of tai chi.

My belief is that your best progress will come during solo practice. A lot of people go to class and get corrections, but they become too dependent on that. Some of them never go home and really analyze the movements slowly. They think too much about choreography. Sometimes, your best practice would be to spend an hour on just a couple of movements, such as Buddha's Warrior Attendant Pounds Mortar and Lazy About Tying the Coat, watching and slowly going through each subtlety in the body mechanics until that light bulb turns on above your head as you try to sit back before turning, try to connect the entire body, and try to feel where you aren't connected or when your peng leaves a movement. Are you using silk-reeling properly? Does it feel right?

Last week in class, it was obvious that one of the students was going through the choreography well, but I could see "emptiness" in one of the arms. Just working on details like this can elevate your skill, and you don't need a teacher to do it. You need to know WHAT you have to work on and then study as you would for a college exam -- really trying to UNDERSTAND every detail of the movement.

And once you feel progress, go to the next movement and apply the same principles.

There have been many years in which I've lived 2 hours from my teacher. There were years where I lived halfway across the nation from my teacher. I still made progress. You should take notes, and if you can learn one thing in each class (or each video lesson on the online school's website), work on it in solo practice and study so you can truly internalize it.


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Sean C. Ledig

Amen! Testify Brother Ken!

Many people forget that learning martial arts is like learning math, English, foreign languages, science, etc. You have to do your homework!

I'm taking college classes right now to be a paralegal. There's no way I could learn what I need to know by just going to class once a week. I have to read the textbook, I have to do research, I have to write, I have to study my class notes.

Just because you get together with your instructor only once a week, it doesn't mean you only have to practice once a week.

There's one other tip I'd like to add. Remember in High School or College you would get together with friends and study for exams? It's the same way in martial arts. You can get together with your class mates on days you don't have class and form a study group.

Do some push-hands, some chin na or sparring. Check each other's form. Even if you can't be with your instructor, you don't have to be completely alone.


Brother Sean,
How's the weather in Tampa? I heard it was around 80 today. It was raining and 50 degrees here. Sheesh!!! I miss my backyard video studio. :)

Sean C. Ledig

Hey Ken,

We're getting some cooler weather. We had a couple of days with lows in the 60's.

Sorry, I can't resist. Don't worry - I do that to all my northern friends and relatives.

But yes, outdoor training is one of the benefits of living in Florida.

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