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More Learning Tai Chi
further observations and conversations on learning tai chi

Do this a Thousand Times and it Becomes Yours

When folks come to me to learn tai chi (in particular the Yang Long Form) I am inclined to sooner or later say "Do this a thousand times and it becomes yours". Prior to this I will have said to them, no matter who or what they are, "It takes me about 3 years to teach a person the Yang Long Form".

I can say that it takes me that long to 'teach' the Long Form because I have been teaching it for long enough now to know that as a statistical fact. Some teachers may do it quicker and some slower; that's their business. Fact is, that's how long I take. And sure, some people are able to learn fast and some learn slower; but this does not concern me or cause me to alter my pace at all either. I make no assumptions, allowances or exceptions - because I do not seek to change people; I just teach the Yang Long Form - and it takes me that long to teach it - to my satisfaction - and the (statically) average student would be unable to 'absorb' its nuances and dynamics anyway. No one gets 'fast-tracked' yet at the same time I discourage complacency by telling everyone that does happen to come here to learn this thing I teach that they should also, no matter who or what they are, "Practice Everyday".

It doesn't really bother me personally whether a student does or does not practice every day, that's up to them; they know best and they will have their reasons. But if that were to be, well then after a while I would be obliged to point out that it is bound to take them longer than 3 years for them to 'learn' the Yang Long Form - on both the physical and cognitive level. The "cognitive" part is the remembering of it all … and the order that it comes in. This mental effort should, just like the physical, be 'learnt beyond knowing' and so intimately understood that it may be consistently actioned effortlessly and instinctually - that is, without 'thought' or any effort of 'remembering' or doing. It is this that takes about 3 years to 'master' and this is why it takes this long for it to become yours!

The Math's and the Facts
Within all this talk of "practice every day", "do this a thousand times" and "it takes 3 years" there is a correlation, and the fact of the matter can be confirmed with a bit of basic math's and resolved with the following equation:
Days in a year = 364 X 3 years = 1,192. Less high-days, holidays, various 'duvet days', other inevitable sicknesses - and then less the (mere!) 150 or so days that are spent receiving instruction … ... … that equals around about a thousand!

The fact of the matter re: "the (mere!) 150 or so days spent receiving instruction" is that by "days" I actually of course mean "hours". So it is not 150 days that I take to teach all I know about the Yang Long Form, it's 150 hours. Fact is (and it maters to me if only because it is my living and I have to be aware of such statistical certainties) the math's again confirm a pretty consistent 60% 'no-show' rate every week.

So it seem to be that to adequately teach the Yang Long Form I require the personal attention of the average student for around about 150 hours. I do not talk all of that time, I talk for perhaps half of that … say 75 hours … … … so that's just a tad over 3 days of listening and just as much watching and copying. In all - less than week out of a lifetime. No bad really eh? I reckon that is a fair investment for a lifelong practice that may just assist and ease the practitioner into a healthy, happy and contented old age and indeed may actually extend the life of that practitioner! It sure won't do any harm.

Question: What would happen if I taught 'intensively', say over a residential long weekend?

What I reckon would happen is this: If I just talked, demonstrated and asked the group to copy me for three days I would have to send these students away with a syllabus detailing which posture or sequence of postures they should practice in successive weeks thereafter. This syllabus would contain 100 modules with each requiring a minimum of 5 hours study and practice time for each module. In other words, I could say all that I need to say all at once over a long weekend; but it will still take any individual student 3 years (at one module a week - practicing each 5hrs - say an hour a day - five days a week) to learn, master or 'absorb' it all anyway. Even then … the student may have by then done "Grasp the Sparrows Tail" a thousand times and come to share in the timeless owning of it; but this is only so because it was one of the first to be subject to this idiosyncratic repetitive practice.

When my personal tuition with any individual student nears its end (not fanciful and flawed schemes like the long weekend thing above), I have seen to it that they have 'done' Grasp the Sparrows Tail a thousand times. However, as far those new postures towards the end of Part Three are concerned ("Sweep Lotus" and "Bend Bow and Shoot the Tiger" for instance), all I know for sure is that they can physically 'do' them without harming themselves or falling over!

So, and in review, what happens is this: I meet with a student once a week, teach them either a new posture or a series of postures and suggest that they then go home and practice all week. I suggest specifically that, starting from the beginning, they practice what they already know over and over and each week extend their knowledge and experience accordingly.

About 3 years later - notwithstanding any above average high-days, holidays, various 'duvet days' or sicknesses - I can usually confirm that the Yang Long Form has been basically 'learnt' and they should now go off on their own and complete the process that will lead to them eventually 'owning' it all. Theoretically this next process should take about another 3 years.


When folks come to me to learn tai chi (in particular the Yang Long Form) I am inclined to sooner or later say "Do this a thousand times and it becomes yours". Prior to this I will have said to them, no matter who or what they are, "It takes me about 3 years to teach a person the Yang Long Form".
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