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A student asked me at our last taiji camp what my personal training looks like. As it changed quite a bit over time (I started practicing in the 1990's) I always find it a bit difficult to answer such a question in a way which helps the students with their own training. Now, a couple of days after our camp, I came up with the following thoughts. 

When we start with a practice like Taijiquan, I think next to training the art we will always have a lot of learning (1) to do. Learning comprises stuff like learning movements, learning patterns, drills, learning names for movements, learning concepts (like in the image on the left from Chen Xin about the requirements of a certain posture) and some theory which we need to be able to practice well. After a while the learning aspect may subside a bit so the training (2) aspect can increase and become our main focus. Training then means drilling movements and movement patterns by using the specific concepts we learned. 

After some more time our focus can shift again. Training means we want to drill something and adhere more to external aspects. For example, our teacher might put us into a deep stance and realign arms and legs to help us understand the "three external connections" or something similar. In this phase we adapt to the practice to make it our own. Once we own it, however, we can cultivate (3) it. And in cultivation the practice adapts more to our needs as it has become internalized already. We use it as a cultivational practice, for our health, our mind work, our rehabilitation, our fitness, our spirtuality maybe. In training the practice changes us, while in cultivation we change the practice.      

Of course, all three aspects are interwoven and our focus can change to and fro. Learning Taijiquan is not a linear process, but rather a learning spiral where we revisit a lot of material we already learned to deepen it and integrate it more. And I mean this in a very precise and concrete way. Lifting yourself up will be quite different in the beginning compared to later practice. It is the same, but something entirely different, too.   

But in my personal experience there is a change which happens over the years. There is a bit more learning to do when we set out to start with something entirely new to us. Later there is a lot of training with sweat and burning muscles to adapt to the new body structure, new alignment, new power generation methods and so on. And later again there is an internalization and a cultivation so we make the art our own and so it helps us in our lifes in a number of ways. This graph is an over-simplification but maybe it helps to understand what I mean:

And while we can always and continuously learn, train and cultivate again and again they are still slightly different aspects. And they should be! I can see that in students sometimes. When they come for some cultivational practice in the beginning, it will actually be difficult for them as they haven't done the learning and training yet. There is simply not much to cultivate, yet. Or someone comes who is intrigued by the new knowledge and the sometimes weirdly "arcane" sounding concepts. And once they understood it intellectually they might not want to put in the training but look for more intellectual knowledge instead. So the training aspect will be hampered with and the real progression and skill will never really happen. This is why I thought it is very interesting to think about training in different ways, as our motivation in these different aspects of learning, training and cultivating our art will be different and if we want to make Taijiquan a life-long practice all three stages seem equally important.