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© 2002, Thomas M. Krapu, Ph.D., All rights reserve

Developing, Maintaining and
Enhancing Daily Practice

by Thomas M. Krapu, Ph.D.

Published in: Taijiquan Journal,
VOLUME 3 Number 3 Summer 2002

Daily practice is critical to development in taijiquan, yoga, meditation, relaxation training and other systems of personal development. All contain a form of physiological conditioning that can only occur through regular practice. The paradox here is that relaxation, the cornerstone of taijiquan principles, must be practiced in order to be attained. The research on methods of relaxation is very clear on this matter: the prolonged, long term benefits of relaxation techniques are realized through frequent repetition.

We can't easily see our progress from day to day, so it is helpful to keep in mind the Chinese notion about practice: just as a book is made up of individual, thin pieces of paper, our practice is made up of small repetitions that, done over and over, really amount to something in the long run.

When I first meet people and it comes up that I practice taijiquan, they express an interest in it -- some have had experience in taijiquan or another martial art. I usually ask them, "Do you practice daily?" The answer to this innocent question is oftentimes, "No," accompanied by a slightly guilty, ashamed look on their face.

In this article I make the distinction between practice and training. Although practice is training and training is practice, to me, practice is what is done outside of the classroom setting. Training on the other hand, is the act of being in a formal, classroom structure with others as students and teachers. Though daily practice is the foundation of personal development in the art of taijiquan sometimes practice, like training, is the most difficult aspect of taijiquan. It is, in fact, easier to talk about taijiquan (and write articles about it) than it is to practice daily.

In beginning taijiquan classes, it is common for teachers to introduce the topic of daily practice. In introductory classes that I teach, I usually ask at the beginning of each if anyone wants to acknowledge to the class that they have practiced every day. If they do, the class usually spontaneously recognizes their achievement. I try to make this a positive experience for the whole class to inspire them to strive for daily practice. My observation of other teachers is that they often have a ďdonít see, donít tellĒ policy about practice discipline. If I donít see you not practicing, and you donít tell me you aren't practicing, then we will just assume that everything is going fine. But I believe that this is one of the contributing factors to attrition in tíai chi classes. People who do not practice regularly outside of class, get lost IN the class. Eventually they quit. (Quitting does not have to ruin your taijiquan practice. It seems to be human nature that it is hard to QUIT bad habits and difficult to ESTABLISH good ones. There is some comfort to be found in the stories about taijiquan masters who quit their taijiquan practice, but then managed to find their way back to what taijiquan offers and reestablish a regular daily practice. Most people who start taijiquan practice and quit are not so fortunate. It would be best if you never quit so it is important to discuss daily practice.)

Developing and Maintaining Practice

Why is it that some habits, such as brushing our teeth every day, come easily, but others, such as practicing taijiquan daily, are difficult? The minimal amount of practice to strive for is once in the morning and once in the evening, but many people struggle to make even this small a change in their lifestyle. Those who are successful in making this change usually begin to notice the benefits of taijiquan in their life more quickly and this, in turn, reinforces their daily practice. Still, for many others the results are not immediate enough for them to maintain their practice just on ďfaithĒ. And this really is one way that faith is a part of taijiquan. You are committing your time and effort, with no guarantee of results.

Lenzie Williams, a taijiquan teacher in Oakland, California proposes an idea of "minimal practice". He points out that taijiquan happens as a part of life, but when life interferes with daily practice people often find that they sometimes skip a practice. Practicing taijiquan is learning the Dao. In practical terms, what this mean is that there has to be a balance between rest and activity. When we find ourselves too busy to practice, we need to be open to being instructed by that very experience to help us regain balance in this aspect of our life. William's solution is to do something that represents your practice at your practice time, even if it is only the first few movements of the form. This can be very helpful for two reasons. First, it acknowledges the commitment to practice. Secondly, it can help ward off negative, self-critical thinking about having missed a practice. This negative thinking can become an obstacle to continued daily practice.

Other ideas that can be helpful in maintaining daily practice are to make a commitment to NEVER let two days go by without practice. Why two days? If you think of taijiquan as a priority, then if you miss practice ONE day, it has to become a TOP priority the next day or a bad pattern will develop. Two days easily become three, and three days too easily become four... suddenly you are not practicing taijiquan anymore! This absence of practice - even if you are still attending classes - almost always leads down the road of quitting, or at best, not being able to fulfill the commitment that you have made to taijiquan. It is only through commitment and disciplined follow-through that one learns perseverance. And tíai chi really can teach you perseverance. This can have a positive benefit on the rest of your life.

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