Monday Morning Tai Chi Training Tip # 226
Judging Progress
I recently got an email asking me how does one know if one is progressing in their Tai Chi studies. Other martial arts have belt systems. Belts are given by testing forms and competitive skills. The student is judged by the instructor, advanced students, or in the case of black belt and higher, panels of advanced belt holders from other schools. What about Tai Chi?
I once asked Master Choy how one was judged to be a master, and he replied, “ You have to beat a master in combat.” That didn’t appeal to my peaceful nature. Anything else?
Tournaments were popular some years back. Forms, including weapons forms, as well as push hands competitions, are a way to get some idea of how your skills compare to others. For advanced practitioners, the surest way is to be recognized for your skills by other recognized Tai Chi experts. Of course, there are plenty of fine instructors who live in small communities, and don’t go out into the greater Tai Chi world often or at all.
So here I am at 76. Yet I think I am still making progress in my practice. How do I know if I am? Self awareness goes a long way to finding the answer. After many years of study, one should have enough self awareness to feel how the body is acting in accordance to the dictates of the mind. But what about beginners and intermediate students?
Assuming you have an instructor, he or she will either share with you how you are progressing, or just ask the instructor how you are doing. At our Studio, we have an informal progressive scale. When a new class starts, the instructor starts to get an idea of how the student will do by observing, first off, how the student follows directions, and if he or she practices. The instructor will judge not so much on natural ability, but on desire to learn. The flame of this desire will go along way in burning up shortcomings of bad habitual movement patterns and physical limitations.
The next step is how much time the instructor is spending on the particular student. I spend more time correcting a student who is progressing than on one who is not. Students, don’t take corrections as a negative. The instructor thinks you are worth the time. Yet the instructor should not have to make the same corrections more than once or twice. Listen and integrate.
The next step is that the instructor will use you to help demonstrate techniques, and ask you to help other students. Do your best to make the instructor look good, and the technique or movement as clear as possible. Do not show off your own skills or ideas. Just help the instructor explain. Remember, do not help others in class unless asked by the instructor.
While this progression is playing out, the student is developing a stronger sense of inner feelings and is able to evaluate his own own progress. Is the body more relaxed? Is the breathing longer and deeper? Is the body stronger, the muscles more responsive, the mind quieter? These skills are relatively easy for most people to experience.
Next, the student will be asked to help, assistant teach, in the formal classes. This is where major learning takes place. You are asked by the beginning students to answer questions, and you have to either remember or research the answers. Dedication is deepened.
And finally, the student is asked to teach a class of their own, or will break away to start a class in a new location, hopefully not in competition with the old school.
Every master instructor will have his or her own ideas of how to move students towards his own mastery. Be weary of instructor certificates, or a fancy title, awarded after a week-end workshop. Even for the most naturally athletic individuals, there is much to learn about the history, philosophy, and classic teaching, and this takes time. I also recommend the student take occasional videos. This way, one can usually judge progress from a truly subjective view. Yet this time is well spent, as it results in a deeper appreciation for and interest in, life.
Schedule Update
There are several changes this semester. You can always check the web site – Classes for the latest changes. John continues working on the 34 Form with seniors. New students always welcome. Susan will be starting a new beginning 108 class on Tuesdays 5:30 – 7 PM, starting Sept. 10. Stephanie will be offering two classes. Hun Yun Gong (Tai Chi Chi Kung) 4 to 5 PM on Thursday starting Sept. 12, and 2ndsection 108, 5:15 to 6:30 PM, also on Thursdays, starting Sept. 12. I continue with the morning classes on Mondays and Wednesdays, and start a San Shou (partner form) class on Fridays at 9 to 10 AM.
Our First Saturday Workshop will focus on the Yang Style 54 Sword form, and due to Labor Day, our first workshop will be on Saturday, Sept. 14, 1 to 4 PM. Learning this form will require several months of study.