In the last release of this website, I posted Part 1 of two articles on “The Essence of Taijiquan: Perspective from Taiji Push Hands,” and said that Part 2 “The Essence of Taijiquan: Perspective from Taiji Qigong” will be posted in this release. I decided that the Part 2 article will be posted in the next release in December 2007. In its place, I have posted this article “Visualization as a Tool to Learning Taiji.”
As we know, Taiji is practiced by millions of people all over the world. So Taiji must be something that is not that difficult to learn. It is true that anyone with a commitment to learn Taiji and who has a knowledgeable instructor to learn from and is willing to spend the time to practice it will eventually be able to learn it. However, this does not mean that one can pick up Taiji quickly, or one can learn it without putting in the time and effort to practice it. As a matter of fact, anyone who has tried to learn Taiji will tell you that it is not so easy to learn and to remember all the forms, even in a simple set like the Yang Style 10 Form or the Simplified Yang Style 24 Form. Furthermore, after one has learned it, if one doesn’t practice it for several days or a couple of weeks in a row, then there is a high probability that one will have forgotten some of the forms. This is true for everyone, but especially true for senior citizens who learn more slowly and forget more quickly.
There is a tool called “visualization” that can help you to learn Taiji quicker and better, and also retain your knowledge of Taiji longer. Visualization is a tool that is frequently used by athletes of almost every sport. The tool’s usefulness is not just confined to sports, but is also useful for learning or practicing almost any skill in school or in work.
Visualization is to practice your Taiji forms in your mind. You go through in your mind each form in a form set. Your mind sees an image of yourself performing the forms. If you are not sure whether you are doing a particular form correctly or don’t remember at all a particular form, don’t worry about it, just do what you know or just skip over that form and continue in your mind with doing the next form. It is like seeing a video of your performance without first needing to shoot a movie of your performance and then playing it back on a VCR or DVD player.
Visualization is best used with the availability of a video of an instructor/expert performing the form set. After you have finished your visualization exercise, you can turn on the VCR or DVD player and refresh your memory of any form that you weren’t sure that you did it correctly or that you have forgotten.
There are two distinct advantages of using visualization as a tool. One is that it can be done almost anywhere, anytime. You can practice visualization while you are taking a shower, lying in bed before you fall asleep at night or before you get up in the morning, waiting for a bus or train, etc. Another advantage is that the time it takes you to visualize the performance of a form set can be much shorter than the time it takes to actually perform the form set. This is because you can speed up the visualization without significantly reducing the effectiveness of the visualization. Therefore, you can practice your forms via visualization more frequently and more quickly.
I want to mention a common mistake that beginning Taiji students often make which is that their practice consists totally of following someone else in doing the forms. That someone else may be their instructor, a more knowledgeable fellow student, or an instructor on a VCR or DVD. I can almost guarantee that you will not be able to learn a form set if you never practice the form set yourself over and over again. Doing a form set (or just trying to do a form set) once yourself is more beneficial for learning and remembering the form set than doing the form set 10 times while following someone else.
As previously mentioned, visualization is used by many athletes in preparing for a performance or a meet. Besides sports, visualization can be used in schools, e.g., visualize in your mind the locations and names of various bones and muscles while preparing for a test in an anatomy and physiology class. Visualization can also be used at work, e.g., visualize in your mind the presentation that you will be giving for a customer, your boss, or your colleagues.
Using visualization as a tool in learning Taiji can help you learn the forms faster, remember the forms better, and determine better whether you are doing the forms correctly. It is a tool that you can use to enhance your practice essentially anywhere and anytime.
I want to end this article by mentioning a mental attitude shift that I have found extremely beneficial in my own Taiji journey. We all know that learning any new skill always requires practice. In my first few years of learning Taiji, I looked upon practice as something that “I have to do,” that it is something that my instructors have told me that I need to do. However, starting several years ago, I changed my mental attitude toward practice and started looking upon practice as something that “I want to do.” Ever since I changed to that new mental perspective, I have enjoyed practicing Taiji much more, even though the practice has become significantly longer. When I am practicing, I no longer constantly check the clock to see how much more time I still need to practice. As a matter of fact, now if three-to-four days go by without practicing Taiji, I can’t wait to go back and practice again. I strongly recommend that you give such a mental perspective a try.