Dr. Noel Bormann

Perseverance Furthers Learning T'ai Chi.

Perseverance Furthers Learning T'ai Chi.

  • Learning T'ai Chi
  • Practice
  • Listening and Following
  • Rhythm in Practice
  • 'Burning In'
  • Relaxation
  • Getting Corrections

Learning T'ai Chi

Learning T'ai Chi can be seen as a process like pealing an onion layer by layer. The outermost layer is the largest. It has to be pealed off before going on to the smaller layer underneath. As you continue to peal, the layers continue to get smaller and smaller.

When learning T'ai Chi, the student goes through stages of learning. Each stage must be experienced thoroughly before going on to the next. These stages grow progressively more and more subtle.

In the beginning, there is a feeling of satisfaction gained from being able to do more and more of the Form. However, there comes a moment of understanding that learning T'ai Chi is more difficult than one had thought before. Following are some examples of unexpected difficulties in learning T'ai Chi. By persevering through these difficulties, one gains a better understanding of himself and T'ai Chi.


You try to practice and find that you can only remember parts of the Form the sequence of the Form is lost. You can become discouraged remembering how easy it looked at first sometimes to the point of wanting to quit your practice.

This is a normal stage in learning T'ai Chi. If you stop your practice, you will very likely also forget the parts that you can now remember. The point here is to keep practicing whatever you know and to ask questions. Pay special attention in class to what you have forgotten.

Listening and Following

In class, you might find that you 'space out' and miss the indications, or that you can not make your body do the same moves as the teachers. By persevering, you increase your abilities to 'listen and follow' in class. This is the first layer of two important principles of T'ai Chi. Later on, listening and following are more intensely studied to the point where you can easily interpret the movements of a partner.

Rhythm in Practice

To gain the benefits of T'ai Chi, a rhythm of regular practice sessions is essential. This is much more important than long practice sessions once a while. Recommended are five to ten minutes after rising from bed and five to ten minutes before sleeping. You quickly find, however, so many reasons to distract yourself from establishing this practice. You may think yourself too tired before bed, or too busy before work. Five to ten minutes of practice each day may sound simple, but actually doing it is quite something to achieve.

This stage of establishing regular practice is an example of 'investment in loss'. Professor Cheng says it this way:

"If you can give up your ego through five to ten minutes a day of practicing T'ai Chi morning and evening, the rewards will be great".

He also says that it is better to miss breakfast or a few minutes of sleep than to stop the rhythmic practice of T'ai Chi.

It can be compared to brushing ones teeth. The greatest benefit comes if you brush after meals for a few minutes. What would you think if some one decided to brush his teeth for a whole hour only on Sunday instead?

'Burning In'

At times in class you may resist holding positions - because you have sensations of heat, shakiness, weakness, stiffness: what you identify as pain - are usually not dangerous or to be avoided. Rather they are signs of growth, new awareness. If you can preserver, or go through these sensations, your body will learn the principles of correct posture.


Students come to class often thinking that they are already relaxed, so the experience of their own tension is a shock. It is, however, that very sensation that should serve as a reminder to concentrate even more on relaxation. T'ai Chi teaches a pattern of relaxation but it is not like being asleep or without strength. It is a relaxation with vitality - remaining relaxed under pressure. With true relaxation, there is still tone in the body and alertness in the mind. As we practice, this pattern of relaxation begins to extend into our daily activities.

Getting Corrections

You might become discouraged because of all the corrections that you get in class. It is hard to accept that you are not already doing T'ai Chi correctly. In this case, the way to 'invest in loss' is by giving up your ideas about how well you are doing (or how poorly), and how you think the postures should be, in order to see clearly what mistakes you are making. Only once you see your faults and accept them, can you really hope to correct them.

Professor Cheng says that the two most important conditions for learning T'ai Chi are good teaching and perseverance. Natural talent is another factor, but he also says that a good dose of perseverance can overcome any lack of talent.

The teachers of The School of T'ai Chi Chuan are dedicated to providing guidance to people wishing to learn T'ai Chi. It is, however, up to you to provide the perseverance which is necessary to carry you, onion peel layer by onion peel layer, through the various stages of learning T'ai Chi.

© 1999 The School of T'ai Chi Chuan