No matter what athletic pursuit, hobby or skill we enjoy, there always comes a time when we wonder if we are practicing correctly, spending enough time honing our skills or even over-practicing. It’s our natural human instinct to desire improvement regardless of whether we compete with others, because we are still competing with ourselves.
To improve at anything requires diligence and dedication. We don’t necessarily have to become the absolute best at our chosen skill, but in order to satisfy our thirst for self-gratification we must put in a certain amount of time so that we continue to make small steps forward. And importantly that is exactly how we should practice; one small step at a time, focusing on a particular goal.
In tai chi you may have a particular aspect of the form that you are working on. That could be a core principle aspect, a style aspect, a movement aspect or a sequence aspect. Try focusing on one thing at a time, taking it slow while trying to repeat your lesson over and over. Most of all, try to stay loose and relaxed and let go of any tension you feel, both body and mind.
Grasp Sparrow’s Tail is a perfect example of the use of repetition in the tai chi form. Use it to your benefit by making an exercise out of it. Instead of doing the entire form, just do Grasp Sparrow’s Tail but each time you finish the four consecutive postures of Ward Off Right, Rollback, Press and Push, perform a 180 degree turn-around like you’re doing single whip, then step right into Grasp Sparrow’s Tail again – but this time you are on the other side. Then do it again but just turn 90 degrees. Then your next one would be another 180 degree turn-around. You can do this endlessly while working on any of the personal practice aspects of your tai chi form.
Like any other recreational activity, tai chi players gain the most from endless repetition. Students should be mindful that the way to make progress is through the process of recurrent conditioning. Don’t get upset with your teacher if it seems that they do the same thing over and over again. That is how you should practice grasshopper.