Internal practice 2

The point of Practice

My beginning students often ask me how to practice at home. They want to know if they should memorise the long form or the short Foundation Form our school uses to teach the basic principles. I say, no, because that takes a while to learn. I also mention that the learning by rote memorisation is harmful and will not give them much to work on in and of itself. Some might learn the form in a few months. Most need at least one calendar year or even a little more for the twenty or so movements. Some students take years. The length of time is not important.
Nevertheless, the form without the Chi Kung is little more than just movement and of no real practical use. That is why I always give my keen beginner students a very basic single movement using my Sifu’s Chi Kung opening and closing positions requiring only one movement and no knee bending. I let them know that doing chi kung is a very deep form of stretching and that if they learn to relax in that first position they will be doing basically three things which will take them forward in their practice. The first is to find a space in their life for their practice. This can be just five minutes each session and two or three days a week other than their regular lesson with me. Second, they will begin to centralise their energy by standing still for three to five minutes at a time. Standing energy cultivation is the most efficient form of internal energy cultivation. Third, the body will begin to relax and sink down, while the top of the head rises up as if suspended from a string. I say to them that they need to picture themselves like a suit of clothes hung up by a hanger. I explain that this is practicing the very first principle in Yang Chen Fu’s list. It also includes Principle 2 and then 3.
Anyone who wants to achieve internal power must take the first five years of their learning and try to practice every day, even just a little bit. That will then give a suitable foundation for progress. Some days, I don't have the time I would like to have to practice. Maybe I have a lot of work to do, or an appointment, or I get up late. Why is not important. What is important is that I get to practice. That's the point. Practice has to become something like eating or breathing. At least, that is how it seems to me. Doing tai chi is a way of taking in nourishment that I will use in my life. It provides me with energy, balance, relaxation and wellbeing. Then when my practice is particularly effective, it allows me to store just another little bit of internal energy in my body, which will then translate into smoother, softer, more effective Tai Chi Chuan in practice or application and to achieve those all-important breakthroughs that keep us moving forward.
When studying internal martial art, regular practice is the only way to build the knowledge and skill base necessary to achieve any breakthroughs leading to development of internal power that is applicable to self-defence or to your everyday life. Most of us do not have to defend ourselves to get through the day. Those of us who do, will usually find more expedient and modern means to do so.
Today, I did not have time to practice in the morning. Nonetheless, I feel good and know that the work I have done this last week will be sufficient to take me through tomorrow, when hopefully, I will have time. For me, this is more than acceptable as my practice has been regular for the better part of 10 years since I met my Sifu. Even before meeting him I was practicing tai chi nearly every day. However, since that tai chi as it was taught by my former master included no internal principles, my practice, which was not properly corrected or guided, only brought me sore knees and some short-lived wellbeing. I, like many of my fellow students were, was convinced that what we were doing was real internal tai chi. The master told us it was many times. He once used Yang Chen Fu as an example and said that the more we practiced the long form the more power we would build up.
The only problem with that claim was that it was false. You can practice any form you want for many, many years and achieve nothing, no matter how much you are convinced that what you are doing is real. The only way to achieve real internal power is to learn from someone who can demonstrate that they themselves have achieved it. Then they must be willing and able to guide you toward it because unlike external power exercise, just doing the work will not necessarily bring any results. For example, if you are learning Judo and you want to compete, you must go to lessons and learn from someone more skilled than you are. Then you should verify your learning by competing with people who are better than you are. If you do this, you will achieve some success. You may not win a lot, if you don’t work very hard and you don’t understand the finer points, but you will progress basically in the same proportion of your input. A golfer who goes to the driving range regularly and plays once or twice a week for several years will improve their game.
This is very different in internal martial art. When doing tai chi, you must first learn to not be a goal seeker. You need to practice, even mechanically at times, just to get the feel of what you are doing. Then you go for correction. If you are lucky, you will pick up the points that the teacher gives you and you will notice a slight but definite change. Then you must practice, practice and practice some more until that change becomes reality. You cannot force it to happen. You cannot make it happen by will, desire or belief. You must let it happen. Once this idea is clear in internal practice and you have a method that teaches you how to use principles and you have a teacher who is willing to correct and guide you, you will improve. However, this occurs only if you practice, practice and practice some more. Mere memorisation and mechanical practice of forms will not cut it when it comes to developing internal practice. You must learn to let it happen through cultivation. It is very similar to growing a tree. You might buy a seedling and plant it properly and water it diligently, with not too much or too little. But there is no guarantee that the tree will grow big and strong. Children are also like this. There are no guarantees. You have to do the best you can each day and let nature take its course.

Achievement in internal martial art is a natural process that occurs only if and when the time and conditions will permit it to happen. That is why any great teacher will have just a few achieved students. Beware of teachers with lots of disciples. What they are teaching is of little impact except for the value they give it with their promises of secret teachings and internal power just as long as you pay and pay and pay.