It’s obvious the answer for all of us must be: “Yes”. Even Professor Cheng Man-Ch’ing himself talked about continuing to learn late on in his life when he was teaching in America. What’s not so obvious is how you continue to discover new things and deepen your tai chi long term. We all know it takes practice, but we may not know that the research on performance (in sports, performing arts, medical surgery and even business) has shown that continued learning doesn’t necessarily come just through simple repetition.
As we get reasonably good at something, there is a natural human process of “fixing” our way of doing it. This is just the way our brain is designed to work. For efficiency, the brain pathways which represent regularly repeated patterns are strengthened and “fixed” – like putting tarmac on a well-used footpath to make it a permanent road. This process is, of course, mostly a good thing – it’s how we learned the choreography of the tai chi movements in the first place, and it’s how the underlying tai chi principles become embodied as a permanent way of being.
The trouble is that at some point the “fixing” is so strong that it prevents further change. The result is that we stop learning and our development reaches a plateau. To move off the plateau, we need to find a way to deliberately re-create the learning (or “discovery”) mode that helped us to develop so rapidly in the early years of tai chi. We are calling this “deliberate” practice.
The simple picture below captures the idea visually. It can change things just to reflect on where you are, and where you want to be, when doing your tai chi practice. Often, we are doing our tai chi not to learn, but simply for the many benefits it brings in the here and now. So being on our plateau is fine, wherever it is. It’s only if you are looking to take your practice to another level that you need to create the right conditions for “discovery”. What’s important is that this deliberate practice is exciting and inspiring, not a chore.
If you’d like to hear about what brought this topic to our attention please watch Mike Barkham’s video at this link:
As an example of how to free ourselves up to explore, let’s show you what we did at the Winter Trainings in both Amsterdam and Florida. We used one important element of deliberate practice – “playful exploration” – to see if we could find something new about “sitting” in tai chi.
This first video shows Patrice playfully exploring what goes on in her body when she moves while sitting – on a real chair, not just in her imagination! A few key things to notice: It’s not practicing within the normal context of the form – that’s very deliberate. She’s exploring – not predicting the outcome, but noticing what happens, with curiosity and a bit of excitement when she feels something new. She isn’t forcing herself to do this, she’s having fun – playing with it!
In this second video Sherry is also exploring sitting, but she is playing with some different aspects and making some different discoveries.
Link 2: https://youtu.be/Cf96j3tRiCk
We hope you also enjoy playing with sitting. But we also hope you’ll be inspired to explore other things and use playful exploration to find a deeper level of practice.