Early Stopping

The science of algorithms mirror many of the issues we encounter in the learning and training of Tai Chi.

Learning Tai Chi is like making a double boiled soup. It takes work and it takes time. If you are short of time the easiest way to make soup is to buy a can of say Campbell, heat up and that’s your soup. If you want to spice things up you might throw in some vegetables and meat. If its from can to pot then 5-10 minutes is about the time you need to prepare the soup for eating.

If you want to make soup using fresh ingredients then you would need at least 3, I would normally make it 4 hours to allow the flavor of the meat and vegetables to come out.

For double boiled soup you would need to let the soup stand overnight and boil it one more time while adding in more ingredients, hence the term double boiled. That’s a lot of work but if for example you are making beef bouillon you will end up with a clear and tasty soup.

I’ve done all the above soups before either at home or working in a restaurant so I’m speaking from experience.

When you make soup using fresh ingredients the longer you boil the tastier the soup. However, there is a point beyond which the meat disintegrates and the flavor has already been boiled out of the ingredients. If you want to have chunks of vegetables and pieces of meat to bite then you would opt to stop boiling the soup early rather than later unless you are making a creamy soup.

In learning martial arts sometimes we end up chasing fads. When Donnie Yen’s Ip Man movies took off it sparked a boom for learning Wing Chun. Many sign up for lessons but after some time the boom died down. Fads can be fun but should we jump at every fad? In the fitness industry they come up with a new fitness gimmick every few months. I suspect the reason is because fitness buffs become bored doing the same routine over and over again. Its like you reading this same sentence over and over again. How many times do you think you can read it before becoming bored? What if you were to read this entire paragraph – would your boredom set in quicker than when you have to read only a sentence?

The science of algorithms tells us that we don’t have to ignore fads and neither do we have to jump on the latest bandwagon. However, there is no harm to jump towards it. This thing about jumping towards the fad is what we would consider as cross training. Its good and beneficial at a certain point in time but if you are developing a more robust training regimen you could make progress faster by knowing which is the first thing you should master. Doing more does not always yield the result you are looking for. Sure, you know more but does it mean you have mastered more?

It can be counter intuitive but to make faster progress you should just do the following :-

i) Before you commit time to training think about what are the important factors you should be working on

ii) Once you have the list focus on training these important factors in their order of importance

iii) Train less rather than more

Example, for beginners they would learn the 108 Yang style long form. However, they do not have not rush to finish the form. If they want to make quick progress they only have to learn the first 13 movements. In particular pay attention to how the 3-Count principle is to be practiced throughout the 13 movements.  Set a training schedule and commit to it – for example an hour’s practice per day for 3 months.

You would notice that though the achievement of Sung is important I have not mentioned it in the training example above. This is because though Sung is an important factor it is also very difficult to achieve in a short time. Instead, we go for more achievable results which if attained will help us to be more Sung than when we started out.

Some students can master the 3-Count in a few weeks, some in a few months, some take years and some never master it. This is why when training don’t set grand goals, don’t rush to master the art because though its an ideal the reality is that it is not achievable. It is possible to train a student to perform a form in a passable manner but those who know the art will see the obvious flaws in the performance. Many of us especially those who have learned simpler styles like Wing Chun fear complicated arts like Tai Chi but as pointed out in this book on algorithm “The more complex, unstable, and uncertain the decision, the more rational an approach that is” – this already reads like sheer nonsense to the befuddled beginner setting out to Master Tai Chi Today but to those who have gone through the journey I’ll bet that they will agree with it.


Want to learn Tai Chi in Singapore? At Singapore Tai Chi Yang Style (TaijiKinesis) lessons covering forms, weaponry, push hands, fajing and applications are offered. Lessons are conducted in English. Send enquiry today

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