The other day, during a class, when we would start to practice our form, I noticed a student moving left & right to get into the right spot. I asked him what he was doing, and he replied: “I’m getting to the place where I can see the mirror.”
Your Tai Chi form isn’t in the mirror. It’s in you. The form isn’t about how you look; it’s about how you feel. You need to bring the form off the mirror, and into your body. Inside is where the Tai Chi goes. Relax. This won’t happen all at once. Moving Tai Chi inside is a process, not an event.
In the beginning, students are worried about which way the hand goes, and do I have the right foot forward? (Especially hard to figure out while looking into the mirror) And am I doing it the way the instructor is doing it? For beginners, the mirror is a useful tool, but make sure you don’t get trapped into watching Tai Chi instead of doing Tai Chi.
I had to learn this the hard way. (Don’t we all?) If I watched the instructor, I could follow along, but following along is not the same as knowing the form. Once I was able to follow the instructor through the form, I graduated to joining the entire class practicing the form. Naturally I put myself in the center of the class so that no matter which direction we were facing, I had someone I could follow. But, you know what? I still didn’t know the form. Only when I got home and tried to do it, in the garage, by myself, did I realize I didn’t know the form. It wasn’t mine.
When you are practicing like this, trying to memorize the form, pay careful attention to the place where your memory runs out. Mark it! Then when you go to class, and you get to that spot, you will pay special attention to the next thing you need to learn. Then take the new information home and practice that part again. Viola! Don’t forget to use the list of moves, videos and any other helpful materials that can give you hints about the move that needs attention. (Careful – following the moves on video is the same as following moves in the classroom. Just use the video long enough to make sure you are doing the move correctly, then turn off the video. )The move only becomes yours when you can do it yourself without any outside clues.)
Tai chi isn’t just moves, it is you doing the moves.