Marketing people love a good catchphrase.

For example – 10,000 hours to become an expert. This sounds so alluring. Except that its misleading.

Malcolm Gladwell made this popular in his 2008 book Outliers when he wrote “ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.” He has since clarified that :-

“There is a lot of confusion about the 10,000 rule that I talk about in Outliers. It doesn’t apply to sports. And practice isn’t a SUFFICIENT condition for success. I could play chess for 100 years and I’ll never be a grandmaster. The point is simply that natural ability requires a huge investment of time in order to be made manifest. Unfortunately, sometimes complex ideas get oversimplified in translation.”

Today I know this is true because from my own learning of Tai Chi just practicing, especially blind practice is not enough. This is why I tell students that if they want to succeed they need to practice correctly and then practice a lot.

If you keep practicing without knowing what the right way to practice is then you are just wasting your time. To succeed you first must know what you are practicing particularly the method of practice. Even then you will still screw up your practice. Its not unusual nor surprising. No one wants to make mistakes but they are a way to show us the right way by helping us to eliminate the wrong ways in order to arrive at the right way.

You can be shown a right way. Told what to avoid doing. And guess what. In the next instance when you apply it you promptly forgot all about the right way and instinctively do the wrong way. Over and over. Again and again. You cannot help yourself. So the 10,000 hour rule is to help you to overcome your instinctive habit and replace it with a trained habit.

Reading about how experts get their own practice right in a way validates what I do. For example chess grandmasters study the past games of other grandmasters. Why?

When I read the reason it promptly reminded me of the reason why we practice solo forms. Actually, there are a few reasons for it. For example, chess grandmasters use the study of past games to understand pattern of movements in a game and the possibilities accorded by certain positions.

This is exactly the same reason we learn the form because its a map for how we can move and change in push hands. This is also why from one position we can change many ways. This is the same thing I see in other styles I have learned particularly amongst the better teachers.

This does not mean that your form has the same thing. Not all forms are equal. Some forms are just empty dance moves. The better forms are learning forms, always some lesson to be learned, principles to understand, changes to explore. So when you see a person do a form one way and fail to apply it in push hands you know that either the person’s form is not a useful physical textbook or the person has not mastered the form.

So don’t always blame yourself if you can’t seem to make any headway. If you practice a form that has little learning value then no matter how much effort and time you invest in it you will still get little returns. If you have a good form but you don’t practice to get really into it then you still won’t get any skills.

Trying to master Tai Chi can be a fine balancing act. To move ahead first make it a goal to find a good learning form, understand what you are supposed to learn from it, what the movement details are, the layers of depth and so on. Then put in the practice and by the time you hit 10,000 hours this rule will come true and not just another catchphrase.


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