I recently wrote about the importance of visualization in solo Tai Chi practice. Visualization is a powerful tool, but I believe it’s even more important to practice with a partner.
But how can we find partners? And how should we practice with them? I’m writing this post to share some of my insights on training with other people; I hope you find it helpful!
The ideal situation is to find someone who shares the same love of the art and determination to constantly improve his or her understanding. Having a partner will not only help you understand movements more deeply by applying them on a real person, but it will also help build up your accountability and help you persevere when you’re feeling too lazy to practice (accountability is a huge factor in building sustainable rituals!).
Having another person to practice with can also help foster a competitive spirit, which makes practice feel more like a game rather than mindless repetition. Competition can be a great motivator; however, it can also become a hindrance if we forget why we’re competing. The purpose of competition is not to win; the purpose of competition is to make development more enjoyable. If all you want is to win, then whenever you lose you’ll wound up feeling upset or discouraged. If all you want is to get better, whether you win or lose makes no difference. In fact, you’ll probably learn more from losing, so maybe you’ll learn to enjoy it more than winning!
However, we can’t always find a consistent Tai Chi training partner. Don’t let this discourage you! I remember in elementary school there was a banner on the wall that said “you retain 10% of what you hear, 20% of what you read, 50% of what you do, and 90% of what you teach.” So if you can’t find a partner, just teach any friend or family member enough to practice a specific concept you’re working on; not only does this solve the problem of having a partner, but the act of teaching itself is likely to help you remember a movement much more succinctly.
I remember when I first had the feeling of not being the biggest newbie at my kung fu school. At first it was great, but when I had to practice with people who weren’t as familiar with the art as myself, I would get frustrated. It felt like a waste of my time to go over moves I thought I’d mastered, let alone with people who didn’t know what they were doing. Eventually I realized the inherent negativity in this way of thinking and started thinking about how I could make practicing with beginners more useful.
I realized that every movement has an infinite amount of depth. Bruce Lee famously said, ”I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” You can practice the basics ad infinitum and still learn new things; the only limitation to learning new things from old moves is a failure to look more closely.
Also, when my practice partners would do an exercise ‘wrong,’ that used to always annoy me. Until I realized that nobody will ever do a technique the ‘right’ way in a real fight. Now, if my partner does an exercise improperly, this is an opportunity to practice my ability to react on the spot. If I get hit because my partner did something they weren’t ‘supposed’ to do, it’s my fault; I should have reacted quicker. Even if you’ve completely mastered a technique’s application, it won’t be very useful if you can’t react quick enough.
For those readers who have found a partner already, how did you find him or her? And how do you make sure you’re practicing effectively? Share your answers in the comments section and lend a helping hand to those still in need of a partner!