In my last message, "No Pain, No Gain?" I addressed the issue of inappropriately grueling training -- the kind that breaks us down rather than builds us up. But by using the expression, "No Pain, No Pain", I may have inadvertently left the wrong impression. As one commenter put it, "that's also the credo of the couch potato." True enough, so allow me to elaborate.
Physical training aimed at accomplishing a significant goal requires significant effort. There is no getting away from this fact. The question becomes, when does signficant effort become damaging effort? The early days of Yang Family Taijiquan have stories about young sons of master who ran away from home or half-heartedly attempted suicide in order to avoid legendarily grueling training. Ah, for the good old days!
Seriously though, Tai Chi Chuan is famously misunderstood for the level of effort required for true accomplishment. Jon Stewart of The Daily Show once cracked a joke to this effect: "Chinese men are taking up golf. Apparently Tai Chi isn't easy enough for them." Aside from comedians, most people understand that mastery of Tai Chi requires long term effort with a lot of repetition of form. Fewer people understand that it also requires strengthening and conditioning exercises that push us to the limit of our physical abilities. These are not the same exercises you practice in a
modern gym, but we push ourselves.
Does this apply to everyone who practices Tai Chi? Some people practice "only for health", while others want to achieve their full martial potential. Are the requirements different for them?
Yes and no (he laughingly answers in true Yin-Yang fashion). People who practice only for health need to remember that strengthening and conditioning is an important component of staying healthy. But it seems obvious that serious martial artists must train harder than those with no martial intent.
Where do you draw the line? Not everyone believes in drawing the line. My number one teacher, Master George Hu, is such a person; he believes in total immersion. My own experience as a teacher is that when no line is drawn, a lot of people who can benefit from Tai Chi will drop out before they get a
chance to get healthier. As a result I choose to initiate students more gradually than he does. At least within my own practice, I see that people who are older, injured, or not martially inclined are sticking with it longer, and become more adventuresome as their practice progresses. And if you
want to be pushed to the limit, I am happy to oblige.
Where should you draw the line? Please don't. Let me draw it for you. Practice diligently, and push yourself. Allow yourself to feel the "pain" that goes with strain but not injury. As you get stronger and healthier, it will take more and more effort to feel such pain. And that's a good thing.
To read or review the previous message, "No Pain, No Gain?",