According to Wikipedia :-

Engineering tolerance is the permissible limit or limits of variation in: a physical dimension; a measured value or physical property of a material, manufactured object, system, or service; other measured values (such as temperature, humidity, etc.)

Do you know the amount of tolerance required for you to master Tai Chi at different levels of skill?

Before I go into this let me relate something that I heard somewhere. Apparently, in a particular school of Tai Chi you are required to first learn a short form, then a long form and after five years be admitted as a disciple before you can learn how to apply the art.

The skeptic in me just wanted to know “Why?“.

Indeed, why do you need to jump through three loops and lose 5 years of your life before you can learn the real thing? Even then how do you know you are getting the real thing?

Everyone will claim they are teaching the real thing even if they are not unless they don’t care about having students. And of course, the student not knowing what he does not know will not be able to tell if he is learning the genuine stuff or not.

As far as standards go it is still a wild, wild west out there in Tai Chi la-la-land. Anyone can claim to have the real stuff but they can’t tell you exactly what qualifies their Tai Chi as genuine. The only thing they can do is fajing the clueless, gullible beginner into worshipful belief.

In the field of engineering such practices would not be accepted. This is because there are reference standards, manufacturers’ standards and tons of ways to check and verify if a piece of machinery can be accepted for use in manufacturing. In aviation the level of tolerance would be even more stringent, up a few notches at least, because mistakes can lead to loss of lives. But in Tai Chi mistakes are OK cause no life lost, only time and money, and maybe loss of your innocence once you’ve been fleeced one time or maybe a few.

Let me tell you what I know. The practice of Tai Chi can be exact. The principles in the Tai Chi Classics can be regarded as a set of reference standards. If you come across a Tai Chi teacher who does not refer to it, does not know what it means, and tries to downplay its importance to avoid having to explain it then the best favor you can do yourself is walk away, no, run away………… quickly.

The principles can only be fulfilled if you have a defined set of practices. These set of practices at the beginner level need to be exacting, in order to meet the requirements at various levels of tolerance. If you are a beginner a tolerance level of 15% can be acceptable. However, if you are an instructor you need to meet a tolerance level of 5%, for starters.

This is why it is meaningless for us to define a practice as acceptable at an absolute level particularly for beginners. You could be right at the 15% tolerance level but wrong at the 5% tolerance level. So if you think by 15% tolerance level you have already hit an absolute level then you are condemning yourself to be stuck at this level.

Those of us who want to go higher will aim for the 1% tolerance level. When you reach here then the Tai Chi Classics will make a lot of sense. On the flip side, those who read the Classics and tell you its not important or nonsense is indirectly telling you how much they really know about Tai Chi.

On a related topic though we want to be exact from the word go, chances are we will still make mistakes, tons of it, as part of the learning journey. Mistakes are your friends but only if you are made aware what is wrong, you work on the problems and you fix them. It is not uncommon for students to keep making the same mistakes even after it has been informed to them REPEATEDLY.

Yes, I know. We can be stubborn when it comes to mistakes. We say we don’t want to make mistakes but we just keep making them anyway. Most of the time this can be attributed to our unconscious action. But a number of them are due to our inability to maintain our control over our conscious actions.

This has implications on our mastery. How often have you heard that it takes years to be able to fajing. Let me tell you – this is a lie, perpetuated to prevent students from getting there too fast and losing a cash cow. If you understand standards of performance in relation to tolerances you would know that anyone can learn to fajing and be able to do it the first time they learn it. Its just that they cannot freely do it and this is because, yes you guess it, the inability to maintain the standard required of that particular movement.

Example, I taught a student to do Press and he said is that it, cause he didn’t feel powerful. There is logic fallacy here that most students and even masters fail to understand. To use an engineering logic if a motor is rattling, and running with increasing temperature is the motor running properly and within operational tolerance?

The ordinary practitioner is conditioned to think of the human body trying to fajing as huffing and puffing, swaying, shaking and jerking violently. But this is wrong. You can easily understand the reason by examining parallels in the field of engineering and natural disasters in which violent forces are at work.

When your thinking is able to make a breakthrough here you would right away understand why you can fajing the first time you learn it by strictly adhering to the requirements which are very straightforward, clear and unambiguous. It is our natural tendency to refuse to listen, to see, to stop and ponder, to rein in our natural habits that cause us to keep slipping out of tolerance that prevents us from being able to fajing all the time, all night long. Quite a tragedy, isn’t it? That something natural and easy is difficult to attain but something unnatural is regarded as correct and easier to grasp.

So there you have it, a rant, a lecture, call it whatever, on an important topic, at least to me it is, relating to mastery of Tai Chi.


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