One of my interests outside of tai chi is Tudor painting. I just love all the detail and all the bling, as well as the symbolism used. Today I visited the National Portrait Gallery, which has an excellent collection of Tudor portraits. It's really great to get so close to these paintings, which are hundreds of years old and to be able to see all the details, down to the actual brush strokes.

Tudor painting is like tai chi in that the stunning effects of realism and sparkling jewels are built up through putting on one layer then another on top and another, to achieve a 3D effect. With tai chi, some people like to rush their way through learning the whole sequence, but it's actually more effective to take your time and work on a little bit, then add a little bit more, and keep adding one more little bit at a time, until one day you find to your surprise that you're at the end. This way what you're achieving is true quality stuff!

One of my friends was writing recently that he'd achieved his red belt and someone else asked "what kind of a tai chi place does belts?"  But this is precisely because the school I learn at ( takes the approach of building up layer by layer. You do one set of practises and achieve that level, then in the next level class you are taught new things as well as how to improve the quality of what you have already covered. So that at each level you are not only learning more new things, but also building up on the internal qualities of things that seemed just beginner's stuff. 

For instance, the warm up exercises are done at all levels of training, but the way a beginner is taught is just to do the exercises as they look, whereas the way someone of a higher level does the very same exercise is with using internal stretches as well. The exercise looks precisely the same to an onlooker, but feels very different to the person doing it, because of that internal quality.

Many people talk about tai chi being an internal art, but actually practising it as an internal art is only achieved through passing through each level, working on the quality one new layer at a time, not worrying about rushing things, but just working away until you find one day that you have achieved that new quality in your own practise, in your own time.