Mastering Tai Chi or Qigong

Mastering Tai Chi or Qigong

Mastery through Practice
What is Mastery? At the heart of it, mastery is practice. Mastery is staying on the path.

Mastering Tai Chi or Qigong

“Learning Qigong takes minutes but takes a lifetime to perfect …”, is what I usually say to people thinking about trying a class, “… Tai Chi takes longer”. (read “10 Top Tips for Faster Learning“)

Once the novice has been coming to class for a while, the next most common question is, “I’ve learnt these moves, what’s next?”

To learn Tai Chi and/or Qigong is to take the path towards mastery. It is a long path and not a smooth journey and progress along the way looks a bit like the image below, which applies to anything difficult but worthwhile.

The Path to Mastery

The Path to Mastery

The path to mastery is characterised by short bursts of improvement and long periods, ‘plateaus’, where no improvement seems to occur. The secret to staying on the path is to enjoy practicing. Practice carefully with attention to detail, noticing that each repetition is slightly different and learning from the experience. Keep working to improve but accept that there will be ups and downs along the way.

Once you know the moves of the form, start working on the transitions between them. Then, work on refining your alignment, work  on releasing tension as you become more aware of it and allow your breath to lead the movements. As each goal is reached another comes into view.

Path to Mastery - 2. The Dabbler

The Dabbler

Not everyone stays on the path to mastery. The Dabbler is fired with enthusiasm as they tackle a new project but quickly loses interest as results as more elusive than they thought. Quickly they find very good reasons (excuses) why Tai Chi or Qigong is not for them and move on to another project fired with enthusiasm once again.

Path to Mastery - 3. The Obsessive

The Obsessive

The Obsessive wants results instantly and doesn’t care how they are achieved. They throw all their effort into the project from the start and want to know everything immediately. When things don’t work out as expected they become even more obsessed and try anything, everything, desperately looking to get the right answer.

This is not a style that I have encountered in Tai Chi but I have seen it in business and in relationships. It always ends badly for everyone involved.

Path to Mastery - 4. The Hacker

The Hacker

The Hacker is someone who makes good early progress but then just drifts along. They are content to keep doing what they’re doing but do so mindlessly. They are comfortable knowing that they are better than complete beginners but have stopped looking to improve and just drift along. They are still on the right path but are missing out on the experience of the journey.

This style I have seen many times in Tai Chi, still coming to class but still making the same mistakes as always. It passes the time and the social aspects of the class are probably more interesting than the challenge of developing further.

Path to Mastery - 5. What's Your Path?

What’s Your Path?

Do you recognise your path as being that of a Dabbler, Hacker or Obsessive? Or are you on the path to mastery?

At different times and in different fields I think I have been all these types to a greater or lesser extent.

Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Further Reading

The ideas here come from an excellent book: Mastery by George Leonard, published in 1991 and still available. It’s concise but well observed and well written. Not only does he identify the different types of strategy undertaken by those learning a new skill he also includes lots of helpful advice about how to stay on the path to mastery. Its use goes way beyond Tai Chi or other martial arts (George was a master of Aikido) as his observations and suggestions apply equally to sports, work and relationships.

Highly recommended.

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  • serenacross23
    Posted at 14:37h, 30 July

    Thank you for the information on ‘The Path to Mastery’, very helpful indeed.
    Kind Regards
    Serena Cross

  • waterfield08
    Posted at 07:27h, 06 August

    Very interesting, I am definitely not a dabbler but have met many people that are. I am probably a bit of a hacker but I do want to improve it’s just finding that time to practice I have to work on. Thanks for this article it’s certainly made me think about my approach to Tai Chi and Qigong.


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