Part of learning how to practice Tai Chi properly is the cultivation of a discriminating eye. This is important because it will help you in your learning. I mean if you can’t tell the difference between what you are looking at then you would copy all and sundry.
However, if you can tell the difference between what you see then you will be more discerning in what you are learning. Its OK to look at bad as well as good Tai Chi. From bad Tai Chi we can learn what not to do and from good Tai Chi we learn what to do.
One of my students was telling me how he was observing a class lately and he could see that even the movements of the person leading the class was not really rounded. This is not surprising because some practitioners cover up their mistakes by speeding up. However, if you have a quiet eye you can still see it.
A very important consideration is making progress in your learning of Tai Chi is the ability to see what you are doing wrong. This is because if you are not aware that what you are doing is wrong then you will not take steps to correct it. Having seen what you are doing is wrong you then need to be able to see what the right movement looks like.
The fact that many students cannot see what they are doing wrong is the reason why the majority of students require a teacher to point out to them the exact thing they are doing incorrectly. A general comment from the teacher such as you need to relax more is generally not very helpful. In fact, for such teachers there is no difference between putting a parrot at the front of the class and teaching it to say “Relax, relax. You need to relax”.
If you want to improve your Tai Chi the principles of deliberate practice would suggest that you to ask questions like :-
What is wrong?
Why is it wrong?
What is the root cause of the problem?
How do I rectify the problem?
How can I tell if I am doing the movement correctly?
For example, I taught this student who made the observation how to generate power in a vertical direction downward direction. He showed me the result of his practice but it was still not as powerful. Using the analysis above we can examine where the shortcomings are :-
What is wrong? – the downward movement is sloppy, power is lacking and unfocused; the hand position is wrong, arm shape is distorted
Why is it sloppy? – this is due to the shoulder rotation not being controlled properly thus resulting in improper generation of power
What is the root cause of the problem? – inability to maintain focus when performing the movement and maintain the awareness of the correct parameters throughout the movement
How do I rectify the problem? – perform the movement slower while paying attention to the movement of the shoulder. Use a mirror if you have to
How can I tell if I am doing the movement correctly? Check procedure 1, 2, etc. before performing each movement, pay attention to the procedures, observe if in compliance, if not repeat until you can comply to the standards of performance
This is one example. The actual explanation I gave my student is a lot more detailed and simpler in some ways. Hence, after a few tries he could get it. This is why if you want to improve you must learn to see and tell the difference between a correct and incorrect movement.