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
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
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
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.